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A Return to the Dunbar Family

This week I was able to dive into the research on my ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). Originally from Massachusetts, he and his family moved to Ohio shortly before his death.

The last time I looked at this family, over ten years ago, I did quite a bit of research on his children. His daughter Olive (1823-1902) was my second great-grandmother. He had eleven other children, but oddly I have had little success in locating descendants of any of them. I exchanged family photos with one woman who contacted me, but she did not know which of Benjamin’s children was her ancestor.

With no identifiable cousins available for swapping information, I have been on my own in tracing this family. They left few footprints.

I decided to begin the research on Benjamin by taking another look at his children, working down the list in birth order. The eldest was a daughter, Sophronia Dunbar (1805-1849). I know this about her:

  1. She was born at Chatham, MA on 29 July 1805.
  2. She married George Tiffany in Portage (now Summit) County, Ohio on 3 May 1832.
  3. Her husband served with Sophronia’s mother Rhoda as co-administrator of Benjamin Dunbar’s estate. They were accused of mismanaging it, and some of the property was sold at a Sheriff’s sale.
  4. Sophronia and George seem to have had no children. In 1840, a 5–10-year-old girl lived with them, but I suspect she was one of Sophronia’s younger sisters. A daughter that age was absent from Rhoda Dunbar’s household, two doors away.
  5. Sophronia may have known she was terminally ill. She executed a will in the spring of 1849 leaving everything to George. She died that same year.

And what happened to the widower, George Tiffany? He would have been about 45 years old when Sophronia died.

Another researcher surmises that he was the George Tiffany, gold miner, found on the 1850 census in California. Perhaps he did leave Ohio to seek his fortune after his wife passed away.

Later, we find him back in Ohio in 1853 when he married Sophronia’s sister Lucy Snow Dunbar (1827-?). They appear in the Summit County, Ohio records a couple of times in subsequent years when they sell interest in the Dunbar land.

After 1856, the couple disappears. I have not found them on the 1860 census. But I do have a couple of clues:

  1. A woman named Lucy Tiffany resided in Waukegan, IL in 1870. If this is our Lucy, perhaps George had passed away by then.
  2. There are two graves for men named George Tiffany in Waukegan, IL. One marker is badly eroded, and the death date could say either 1869 or 1889. This George is buried with a wife named Roxanna, so he may not have been the George who married the Dunbar sisters. The marker for the second George Tiffany appears to say he died in 1869, and no wife is buried under a shared marker. This may be our George Tiffany. More research is needed to verify that the George and Lucy of Waukegan are the couple I seek.

I have yet to look at the land deeds from George Tiffany that are recorded in Summit County. After I do that, I will see if I can find anything in Waukegan, IL that connects the family there with the one in Ohio. If so, I need to follow this Lucy’s trail to see how her life ended. I would like to know if she ever had children.

This inquiry may not reveal any more about Benjamin E. Dunbar, but any information I uncover can help me prepare a more complete family history. His children’s lives are part of his story.

New Year, Clean Office

In December I do not pursue much genealogy. Instead, I spend some time straightening up my office—sorting and filing stacks of papers, wiping down surfaces, shelving reference books. This helps me make a fresh start on a new research project in the new year.

This year I even have a new office chair. I had been admiring the active sitting chairs from QOR360 (qor360.com), and I was thrilled to receive one for Christmas. It has an unstable seat with no armrests or lumbar support. The idea is to keep the body moving to improve posture, prevent back pain, strengthen the core, and improve whole-body health. It was developed by a trauma surgeon who developed back pain when he switched to a desk job.

So far, I like my new chair, and I am taking advantage of my newly-cleaned-up office. I plan to pursue two research projects through 2021 in this wonderful workspace:

  1. My subject for traditional, paper trail research will be the study I described last week of my third great-grandparents, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) and Rhoda Hall (1784-1850).
  2. I continue to learn more about how to interpret DNA tests, and that will continue. I still hope to learn the identity of my dad’s maternal grandfather. I think that tools like cluster research and software like DNA Painter (https://dnapainter.com/) can help me with that, but the learning curve is steep for me. If I cannot crack this mystery on my own, I may look into hiring a genetic genealogist.

I have big plans for the genealogy year ahead. As always, I am eager to see what exciting family information I can uncover.

 

New Year, New Project

A new year will arrive in a few hours. With it will come the time for me to begin a new genealogy research project.

Each year I target an ancestor to learn more about. At the end of the year, I send my findings around to my extended family. Maybe someone will preserve what I have learned for their own descendants.

In 2021 I will try to find more information on my third great-grandfather, Benjamin E. Dunbar. He was a salt maker on Cape Cod for many years.

Benjamin is listed in the Dunbar family genealogy, The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin.

From this and other sources, I have already collected enough documentation relating to his life to create a short timeline:

    1776 Born in Halifax, Massachusetts

    1805 Married Rhoda Hall at Chatham, Massachusetts

    1814 Served in the War of 1812 as a private in the Massachusetts militia in the defense of Eastham

    1831 Died at Stow, Ohio

Benjamin Dunbar was just 55 when he died. He had recently sold his saltworks and relocated to Ohio. He left a widow and twelve children.

I have a few questions about his life that I would like to answer this year:

  1. Who was his mother? The Dunbar book says she was Hannah Hathaway, but online sources claim a different Hannah was his mother.
  2. Who were his siblings? The Dunbar book says he had a younger brother, Hosea Dunbar. Their father died when the boys were toddlers. Did Hannah re-marry? Did Benjamin have half-siblings?
  3. Did he leave any male line descendants? He had three sons, Daniel H., Benjamin S., and Moses. I have found no records on Daniel or Moses after 1843 when the Dunbar land in Ohio was partitioned. Benjamin S. lived until at least 1880 and is buried in an unmarked grave near his parents in Stow, but I know little about his life.
  4. Has anyone discovered Benjamin’s Dunbar roots in Scotland? When the Dunbar book was written in 1992, no birth family had been found for the patriarch Robert although family tradition claimed he was born in the 1630’s in Morayshire. Dunbar researchers at the time concluded that Robert had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar (1650) or the Battle of Worcestor (1651) and deported to the colonies. Is there any more recent scholarship on this man?

After a year of studying my Snow family in New England, I am ready to turn the page and look at a new family. I can apply much of what I learned in 2020 about New England research to this new project.

The Dunbars should provide an interesting subject. After all, my distant cousin the philosopher Henry David Thoreau belonged to this family. His mother was Cynthia Dunbar.

 

    

    

Mayflower Lineage Preserved

All year I worked to document my Mayflower lineage. I applied to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

As the year wound down, it became time to follow my usual custom and share my findings with my family members.

I wrote a little about what I had learned of the lives of our Mayflower ancestors Stephen, Constance, and Gyles/Giles Hopkins. Then I constructed a descendant report to give to everyone for Christmas.

I listed my paternal grandmother Grace Riddle Reed’s (1896-1976) direct line from the Hopkins passengers. She was the tenth generation of descent.

I doubt that my grandmother even knew she was a Mayflower descendant. Her cousins’ families seemed to be just as ignorant of their heritage. They never mentioned it during the years I collaborated on the Riddle family genealogy with them.

All of us were stymied in our hunt for the parentage of Grandma’s second great-grandmother, Lucy Snow. It was not until a little over a year ago when I saw Lucy’s Mayflower heritage posted on WikiTree that the door to her heritage blew open for me.

With Grandma’s lineage found and charted at last, my Christmas report continues with a list of all my grandmother’s descendants, at least the ones I know about. It ends with the 15th generation from the Mayflower passengers.

It was time to update this list of Grandma’s descendants. The previous list, The Reeds of Ashmore by Michael Hayden, was published over thirty years ago. People not even born when that book was compiled are now grown and have children of their own.

Now we know that those Reed family members who also descend from my grandmother are Mayflower descendants. I wish we had possessed that information 35 years ago when we were all contributing information for The Reeds of Ashmore.

I hope the documentation I am creating this year will preserve this identity for future generations.

Benjamin E. Dunbar, Mayflower Descendant?

Most people with Mayflower lineage are descended from more than one Pilgrim. Does my family? I have some clues to pursue.

This month I wrapped up my research into the Mayflower lineage of my ancestor, Lucy Snow Hall (1760-1795). I have documented her descent through both her father and her mother from Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins.

I still need to investigate the possibility that she had another Mayflower ancestor. In addition to Stephen Hopkins, her father Thomas Snow (1735-1790) may have counted William Brewster as his ancestor. The line would run through Thomas Snow’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Freeman.

I thought this was the only other Mayflower line I might have, and I do need to investigate this possibility.

Then earlier this week, a surprising hint of yet another Mayflower ancestor landed in my inbox. Family Search sent me a message claiming that my 3rd great-grandfather, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1774-1831) descends from Mayflower passenger Mary Chilton. Dunbar was Lucy Snow’s son-in-law having married her daughter Rhoda (1784-1850) in 1805.

I wonder about this proposed Mayflower line. The family tree posted on Family Search lists Dunbar’s Mayflower pedigree as running through his mother Hannah. They say she was Hannah Latham, daughter of Joseph Latham II.

My copy of the Dunbar family genealogy, the heavily-researched The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chapin (1992), says Benjamin E. Dunbar was the son of Hannah Hathaway, not Hannah Latham.

Who was his mother, and what is his maternal heritage? I had already settled on Benjamin Dunbar as my research subject for 2021. A possible Mayflower line for him would make the research year all the more interesting.

Thanksgiving Stories

During these months of the Covid-19 virus, holiday celebrations differ from those in times gone by. As my husband/tech advisor and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner at home this year, I thought about my grandmothers’ Thanksgiving stories. Their holidays were not as I would have expected.

 

Grace Riddle Reed (1896-1976)

My Dad’s mom descended from the Pilgrims. You would think Thanksgiving would be a big day for her. Yet she never spoke of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. Nor did my dad remember celebrating the holiday in his childhood home. Perhaps they never did.

Grandma Grace grew up on a poor homestead in the Nebraska Sandhills. She raised her own kids as a widow during the Great Depression. Money was hard to come by, perhaps not to be spent on a lavish dinner.

Even if she could scrape together the necessary funds, she may not have bothered to put together a Thanksgiving meal. Grandma never cooked, leaving the task instead to Dad’s older brother Owen. His signature dishes were rhubarb and oatmeal, probably all they had available. Once he left home, Dad never ate either of those things again.

Under these circumstances, I believe Dad never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner until he married my mom. Odd for a man with his ancestry.

And what about Grandma? I asked her one Christmas what she had eaten for Thanksgiving dinner that year. She vaguely replied, “Oh, some canned chicken noodle soup.”

 

Martha Mattila Bentsen (1906-1977)

My mom’s mother was the child of Finnish immigrants. They made every effort to leave their Finnish culture behind and to become as Americanized as they could.

They wholeheartedly embraced the Thanksgiving tradition as soon as they learned about it. The family held large Thanksgiving family gatherings. They learned to roast a turkey with all the trimmings.

Of course, these meals had a Finnish twist. There were several types of pickles—cucumbers and beets. There was a rutabaga casserole. There was Finnish bread.

After her parents died, Grandma Martha continued to host Thanksgiving dinners for family members. We joined her several times during my childhood. I always enjoyed these Finn-style Thanksgiving dinners, never knowing there was anything unusual about them.

 

As I look back, I realize that I developed my idea of a proper Thanksgiving celebration and meal from my experience with the holiday as celebrated by Finnish immigrants. My American ancestors contributed nothing to my understanding of the holiday because they did not participate in it.

You would think it would be the other way around. But in my family, the 11th-generation Americans did not celebrate Thanksgiving while the recent immigrants did.

 

On a Hunt to Sort the Ryans

This week I continued trying to find a connection to the Ryan family. Richard Ryan (abt. 1851-1925) lived near my Riddle family in Hayes County, Nebraska during the 1890’s. He signed my great-grandmother Laura Riddle’s homestead affidavit in 1892 and bought her land in 1902 when she left the area.

My grandmother was born on that homestead during that time in 1896. She never knew her father. I am trying to identify him using DNA clusters. The man I seek may have been a Ryan because everyone in one of my dad’s DNA clusters has distant Ryan ancestors. Was the neighbor Richard Ryan related to my grandmother?

I began this week by looking up the Ryan surname to see if its distribution in Ireland would give me any clues. To my dismay, I found it is among the 10 most common Irish surnames, and Ryans today live all over Ireland.

Research on the Ryan family will not be easy.

Undaunted, I jumped in and tried to find out more about these Ryan neighbors.

The household in 1900 included a father, Richard Ryan, and daughters Jennie Ryan Cable Geispert (1880-1961) and Mary Ryan (abt.1883-?).

I quickly lost Mary’s trail in subsequent years. I think she returned to her parents’ home state of Illinois to teach school. If she has descendants, I have not found them yet.

Jennie remained in Nebraska, and her family was easier to trace. I identified surnames for her descendants but did not find any of those names on our match lists at the DNA testing companies I have used—23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, My Heritage. Does this mean we do not match, or does it mean that none of Jennie’s family ever took a DNA test? No way to know.

With no luck tracing descendants, I looked next for Richard Ryan’s ancestors.

His mother was Jane Lawless (abt. 1829-abt. 1853). She immigrated from Ireland to Illinois with her family in May, 1849. She married and died young, when her only child Richard Ryan was just a boy. Richard had no siblings for me to trace.

Richard’s father was Daniel Ryan (abt. 1829-1863). He served in the Civil War and contracted a fatal disease while posted in New Orleans. He is buried in a military cemetery in Louisiana.

I have found nothing about Daniel Ryan’s ancestry. Again, the stumbling block is that all-too-common Ryan surname.

So where does that leave me? Our DNA matches have Ryan ancestors. My family lived near and interacted with a man named Richard Ryan. It is tempting to assume my grandmother’s father was a Ryan. But so far, nothing is linking up.

The Irish in Cluster 3

My dad’s DNA cluster report from My Heritage (www.myheritage.com) returned 21 clusters of matches. I continue to hope that one of these will reveal the identity of Dad’s unknown maternal grandfather.

As I analyzed this report, I focused first on the biggest clusters, 1-10. I recognized relatives in eight of those clusters, so I assume the people in them are relatives of either Dad’s father or his maternal grandmother, not his unknown grandfather. I can eliminate these clusters from my search.

The other two clusters, 3 and 6, are peopled with strangers to me. They may be members of the family I seek.

Unfortunately, no one in these clusters is a close match of 60 cM or more, the threshold for ease of relationship identification. They all fall in the more distant 3rd-5th cousin range. That means our most recent common ancestor would be 2nd great-grandparents at the closest. Some of my dad’s 2nd great-grandparents were born during the Revolutionary War.

Still, this match list is the best clue I have for finding my mysterious ancestor, so I will work with what I have. The methodology for cluster research tells us to reconstruct the family tree for each match in the cluster to look for a common ancestral couple. Then, follow the lines of descent from them to identify the unknown ancestor.

Creating family trees for each match presents a daunting task, but I worked on it for the six matches in Cluster 3 this week. Except for one, these people appear to be Irish. I could find no family information for one of the Irish-surnamed people.

For the man with an other-than-Irish surname, I found no family tree on My Heritage. I did find him on our match list on the 23andMe DNA testing site. He provided brief family information there, saying they came from New York and St. Louis. Not much help there. I then searched the site for our common matches there and found we have Irish relatives in common although the man himself does not have an Irish surname.

The other four matches on the cluster report provided family trees on the My Heritage site. I worked backwards, looking for their common ancestor.

I found that two of the matches were closely related to each other, an aunt and her niece. The other pair of matches seem to be second cousins. If Dad is their 3rd-5th cousin, I need to compile the family trees for all three groups going back 4-6 generations to find a common ancestor for us and all of them. None of their posted trees go back that far. There was no common ancestor for all four people provided on My Heritage. But I did learn that all four of the matches have Ryan ancestors.

The aunt and niece are descended from Patrick Ryan (1838-aft. 1911). The pair of second cousins is descended from Mary Ryan (1812-1865). Both these Ryan families lived in County Limerick, Ireland. Were they related?

The online trees I have searched so far (Family Search, WikiTree, Ancestry) do not have any more information for Patrick Ryan. Mary Ryan seems to be the daughter of Daniel Ryan (1787-1831) and Catherine Brien. I still need to look for these names on Geni.com. After that, research into the paper trail will be required.

As I worked on these family trees this week, I found no surname that fits into my family tree as I know it. Cluster 3 must be my unknown family branch. If their only common ancestors were the Ryans, then the Ryans must be our ancestors, too. I still need to find the common Ryan ancestor for all of us.

Only then can I follow the names of the Ryan descendants who came to America and try to guess which one is my great-grandfather. I sure wish a closer Ryan match would do a DNA test. Is it too much to ask for a second cousin?

The Cluster Slog

Earlier this fall I learned about DNA cluster research for identifying recent ancestors. I decided to try this to see if I can learn something about my dad’s maternal grandfather.

This mystery man fathered my grandma late in 1895. I do not know where my great-grandmother was at the time. She may have been living at home on her Nebraska homestead or visiting relatives in Michigan. I have done a tremendous amount of research for both locales, but no clues have turned up to help me identify this man.

DNA research offers my best hope for learning his identity. The My Heritage website offers a simple-to-use cluster tool to sort DNA into family groups. I have run my dad’s report twice, about a month apart.

The second report clustered the matches a little differently and included a few more people. It puts our matches into an overwhelming 21 clusters.

I recognize only one person in the first, largest cluster 15 people. She is a third cousin on dad’s paternal side. Similarly, Clusters 2 (7 people), 4 (6 people) and 5 (5 people) seem to be paternal relatives. So do the smaller Clusters 10 and 12. Since I am looking for Dad’s maternal grandfather, I did not look any further into these clusters of paternal relatives for now. I need a cluster of closely related people whose names I do not recognize.

In the remaining clusters I do not recognize anyone, but they are not close matches, either. The instructor who introduced me to cluster research said to focus on those clusters where no one is familiar, particularly those individuals who have a greater than 60 cM match. Unfortunately, no one in any of these clusters meets that threshhold.

Still there are some clues here. My dad’s ethnicity estimate says he has a lot of Irish heritage, yet no one among my known relatives is Irish. All seven of the matches in Cluster 3 have Irish surnames—Cusack, O’Brien, O’Neill, Ryan. Are these people relatives of my dad’s grandfather? Was he Irish?

And what about Cluster 6 where I do not recognize any of the five matches? Again, these people are very distantly related. No distinctive ethnicity appears from surnames in this group.

To do cluster research, I must begin somewhere, even if we have no 60cM or greater match to anyone in the unfamiliar clusters. This week I started by trying to construct family trees for the matches in Cluster 3, and the Ryan surname appears in two of them so far.

This is going to take a long time. I have learned to run a new report periodically to see if any new matches show up. Any other children of my mystery man would be my grandma’s half siblings, their offspring would be dad’s half-cousins. If we have relatives out there who fit this profile, I wish they would provide their DNA tests to My Heritage so I could find them.

This cluster research is fascinating and aggravating at the same time. I had hoped a simple answer would leap out. Instead, this is a slog or hard work over a period of time.

 

An Assist from the NEHGS

Many Americans, including me, can trace their ancestry to Massachusetts. My fourth great grandparents, Lucy Snow (1760-1795) and Gershom Hall (1760-1844), lived in Harwich on Cape Cod where the sea was a part of everyday life. The water, with all its opportunities and vicissitudes, dictated much of our family history.

Four of the couple’s family members died far from home while away on sea voyages. Lucy’s father Thomas Snow (1735-1790) died in Barbados. Lucy’s son Daniel Hall (1781-1820) and his half-brother Gershom Hall (1798-1820) died in Havana. Daniel’s son Oreck Hall (1805-1830) was lost at sea. This week I began trying to determine the circumstances of these deaths.

Living in landlocked Colorado, I know little about sea travel and maritime records. I turned to the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston for some help. They have a handy online chat feature available.

I asked what type of records I might find for these men if they were on commercial ships. Crew lists? Newspaper accounts? Anything else?

I learned that the U.S. did not require crew lists until 1803 so I am unlikely to locate a record like that for Thomas Snow, who died in 1790. For the other three, the closest ports would have been Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, Boston, Salem, or Newburyport.

Family Search has some crew lists. I looked at those for Edgartown, the nearest port to Harwich, but found nothing.

The friendly NEHGS staffer told me that local newspaper accounts for these deaths will not be available. Cape Cod did not have its own paper until the Barnstable Patriot began publication in 1830. For news of earlier events, I will need to search the Boston or Newport, R.I. newspapers.

The public libraries in both these cities have digitized their historical newspapers. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to look at them because I do not reside in those states. Their websites instruct me to visit the libraries in person, but wait! They are closed due to the Covid-19 virus. As a retired librarian myself, I cannot understand motives for withholding information from people. My library always bent over backwards to provide access, requiring cards only for the nationwide commercial databases whose contracts require it.

I went instead to The Ancestor Hunt (https://www.theancestorhunt.com/), a wonderful free source of historic newspapers. There I found an early Newport paper, but it contained no mention of my lost ancestors.

I have not yet exhausted this search. Thanks to the folks at NEHGS, I have a direction for this quest and some hope that I will still find something about the Snow and Hall men who went to sea. If I cannot locate any American records, perhaps I can find something from Barbados or Havana.