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Church Records Hold the Keys

Most of our ancestors had church affiliations. The records of these religious bodies can give us family information that we cannot find anywhere else.

This weekend our Colorado Genealogical Society will offer a program entitled Faith of Our Fathers by Sylvia Tracy-Doolos to help us locate these records. I will tune in to see what new information I can learn about this type of research.

I have used church records in the past, when I can find them. They have provided me with information on several branches of my ancestors:

  1. The Lutheran Church was the state church of Norway, and all residents had contact with it in some way or another, even if they were dissenters (Catholics, Quakers, etc.). Norway has put their religious records online, free of charge, at Using this site, we have traced our Norwegian families back until church records began in Norway, shortly after the Reformation.
  2. As in Norway, the Lutheran Church was the state church of Finland. Family Search has digitized many of the Finnish church records. They were kept in two languages, Finnish and Swedish, because Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the 12th century until the Napoleonic Wars. I have struggled to decipher these records and was grateful to find a Finnish relative who had already done much of the work.
  3. Since I learned last year that I have an Irish Catholic great-grandfather, I have sought Catholic records for him and his family. I have had mixed results with access. In the United States, the Diocese of Springfield allowed Family Search to film their records, and they are easy to use. The nearby Diocese of Peoria restricts access and will not even do lookups—a disappointing dead end. My husband/tech advisor needed information on his German Catholic family from the Diocese of St. Louis, but for many years they would provide only a transcription. When we finally got our hands on the original record, we learned they had erred in the transcription, sending us on a fruitless search for a non-existent person.
  4. Ancestors in my other lines belonged variously to the Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist denominations. I learned this about them because they were buried in church cemeteries. With one exception, I have not found any other church records for these ancestors. The one Methodist record I located was a digitized record of my second great-grandfather Thomas Sherman’s marriage to Mary Scott in Edgar County, Illinois in the 1870s.

For those with German ancestors, one valuable source is Roger P. Minert’s German Immigrants in American Church Records series. I checked the volume for Indiana looking for the first marriage of Thomas Sherman, mentioned above. Family lore tells us he married a Stilgenbauer near Indianapolis during the Civil War, but I found no record of this marriage in either Minert’s book or the civil register.

The records for Protestant denominations can be tricky to locate, if they exist at all. They did not have central repositories. I wonder if Sylvia Tracy-Doolos will have any new insights to share on this type of research.

Call for Volunteers

Several local genealogy and heritage organizations have begun the nomination process for new leadership for the coming year.

Each time it seems harder to recruit Officer candidates. Often the same people end up just trading jobs in an effort to keep the clubs going.

The task seems even more difficult this year. After nearly three years of a pandemic when many of the meetings took place on Zoom, we all have a harder time meeting and getting to know people who might be willing to serve if asked.

Some examples:

  1. Palatines to America. The Denver chapter of this Germanic genealogy group needs a President and a Vice-President. The office of President has been vacant in 2022. The most recent seminar took place via Zoom with its limited opportunity for recruiting. I am on the nominating committee for this club, and I wonder how much success we will have in putting up good candidates when I know so few of the members, and we have no upcoming in-person events.
  2. Sons of Norway, Fjelldalen Lodge 6-162. The Lodge has a full complement of officers, but the Lodge leadership roster has contracted in recent years. Jobs have been combined or eliminated as fewer people have been willing to serve. This practice results in a smaller pool of people who might step into positions as committee chairmen or Officers in the future.
  3. WISE. This study group for the genealogy of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England needs either a President or a Vice-President. As a new member, I do not have a feel for how difficult recruiting is for this club. I hope a more seasoned member will step forward to be an Officer.

Membership in all these organizations has been rewarding for me over the years. I have met other members with similar interests and learned from their programs.

Running all these valuable meetings and seminars takes volunteers. Without them, our genealogy and heritage community will not have the rich opportunities for learning and fellowship it has had in the past. We all need to do our part.

More Continuing Education

Here in the Denver area, genealogy programs abound. This week offered me two:

  1. Megan Koepsell, President of the Colorado Genealogical Society, spoke to the Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society on Tuesday about how to search for Irish roots. Since I identified my most recent Irish ancestor last summer, I have been working to fill in his family tree. Megan gave me a good list of sources to try.
  2. Professor Neil Price, one of the leading authorities on Viking history, will present to the Swedish Genealogical Society of Colorado this weekend on research in this field. I am not Swedish, but the club has graciously opened this meeting to everyone with Scandinavian heritage.

Both these meetings offered hybrid options.

I opted for the Zoom call on the Irish program. I was disappointed that the organizers chose to mute the business portion of the meeting, which they conducted first. It left those of us online, including the speaker, twiddling our thumbs for 20 minutes or so of dead air. I would not recommend this approach going forward. First, as a member of the club, I would have liked to hear the business meeting. Second, if it is a problem to let those online hear the meeting, why not have the speaker go first and then let the online attendees leave when the business meeting begins? Or at least schedule the program to begin at a specific time?

For the Swedish meeting, I have registered to attend in person. I am still leery of Covid exposure, but this program will take place in a large, high-ceilinged venue where I know I can keep my distance from others.

It is great to live in an area where so many people work so hard to schedule numerous events for the genealogy community. Without all this continuing education, I would not have had the expertise to compile the large family trees I have.

Early American Migration Routes

This month I had the good fortune to participate in a webinar about migration trails in America. During the early years of our country, people followed established routes to settle new lands.

The webinar speaker, Ann G. Lawthers, told us about the push and pull factors that led to this massive migration. Then she discussed the migration trails the settlers often traveled.

My own family moved and resettled along with all the others. I have incomplete information about their travels, but I know this much:

  1. Carter and Templeton—My ancestor John Carter’s (1790-1841) family settled at Carter Station, Tennessee in the 1780’s. John Carter and his wife Mary Templeton (1792-1857) migrated to Kentucky and then to Coles County, Illinois.
  2. Day and Howe—John Day (1760-1837), born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, served in the Revolutionary War and eventually settled in Morgan County, Kentucky with his wife, Rebecca Howe.
  3. Dunbar and Hall—These New Englanders lived on Cape Cod until 1831 when they moved on to Summit County, Ohio.
  4. Kirkham—Robert Kirkham (1754-1819) was born in Virginia and served in the Revolutionary War at Boonesborough, Kentucky. From there, he moved on to Indiana.
  5. Lawless and Ryan—these Irish immigrants arrived on the east coast before 1850 and settled in Illinois.
  6. Reed and Carr—This family lived in Morris County, New Jersey during Colonial times but had relocated to Fayette County, Pennsylvania by the Revolutionary War. From there they settled in Kentucky, fanning out from there to Indiana, Illinois, and Texas.
  7. Sherman—Daniel Sherman, born somewhere in New York around 1800, had arrived in Morgan County, Kentucky by the 1820’s.
  8. Stilgenbauer—This Bavarian family was living in Bartholomew County, Indiana by the 1850’s.

While attending the webinar, I learned that William Dollarhide’s classic book Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1725-1815 (1997) has been updated and expanded to a 2-volume set. I ordered it right away, and it arrived this week.

The first part covers Indian paths, Post Roads, and Wagon Roads in early colonial America. The second volume describes stagecoach, steamboat, canal, and railroad routes. Both are chock-full of maps.

My family likely used all these means of transportation. This set will be a valuable reference tool for me as I delve further back in time with my American family history.

A Refreshing Break

Sometimes I need a break from my frustrating search for my Irish roots. What better way to recharge than to indulge in some genealogy continuing education?

Two opportunities came my way this week:

  1. Yesterday I listened to a webinar on Colonial Migrations. The speaker, Ann G. Lawthers, talked about settlers along the eastern seaboard—everything from their ethnicities and religions to where they moved when they decided to leave. My brick wall ancestors likely had ancestors who followed these migration routes. Where did you come from John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) and Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-abt. 1863)?
  2. On Saturday, our local WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) chapter will offer a Zoom program on the Ulster plantations. My grandmother always claimed our Reed family was Scots Irish, but so far no one has been able to verify this. Its time for me to learn a little more as I prepare to do additional research on the Reed family.

After I hear a good genealogy program, I muster some fresh enthusiasm for my own research. I am ready again to chase down those Ryans.

Zeroing In on the Ryans

The birth family for my ancestor Daniel Ryan (1829-1863), continues to elude me, but I feel like I am closing in. I continue to pursue clues that point to a small geographical area in Ireland where I hope to place my ancestors.

The strongest evidence points to a 40-mile tract between the towns of Limerick and Tipperary:

  1. Daniel Ryan first married Jane Lawless (1826-1853) at Peoria, Illinois. Their only child was baptized at Kickapoo in 1852. Several Ryans were buried in that parish cemetery about the same 1850’s time period. All came from Emly, County Tipperary, a small village of a few hundred people. Were they Daniel’s relatives?
  2. Our closest Ryan DNA match at 55.7 cM claims Ryan ancestors from Caherconlish, County Limerick, a village about 10 miles from Emly.
  3. Another DNA match at 42 cM has Ryan ancestors from Pallasgreen, County Limerick, a village about 5 miles from Emly.
  4. Our other DNA matches trace their ancestry to Counties Limerick and Tipperary but do not specify a village.

This DNA and circumstantial evidence tells me that my Ryans may also have lived in the general area of Caherconlish, Pallasgreen, and perhaps Emly. The shared DNA falls within the range to be about 3rd cousins. This would be about right if we all descend from Daniel’s father or grandfather.

I still have not been able to identify a common ancestor among the Ryans of Emly/Kickapoo, Caherconlish, and Pallasgreen. Most of the online family trees go back only to Daniel’s generation. The numerous Ryan families have children with forenames that repeat again and again making it difficult to distinguish one family from another. No one has an ancestor named Edmond, the parent’s name that Daniel reported when he married his second wife.

I did manage to cull one potential ancestor from the group. An online tree for one of the DNA matches claims descent from Mary Ryan (1811-1855), purported daughter of Daniel Ryan (d. 1831) of Inch House in Tipperary and his wife Catherine Brien. According to a Wikipedia article, however, the Daniel who lived at Inch House and died in 1831 was unmarried. Unless Mary was illegitimate, this Daniel was not her father. I am not convinced the online family tree has the correct parents for their Mary Ryan.

Continued work on the family trees of these Ryan matches, and others that are not as strong, will take more time. I am just beginning to learn what Irish records are available to help me with this task. As I dig further into the family lines of our DNA matches, I feel like the road from Limerick to Tipperary holds the key to identifying the ancestral home and connections of my Ryan family.


Digging Through the DNA

My father descends from Daniel Ryan (1829-1863). Born in Ireland, Daniel immigrated to the United States sometime before 1851 and settled in Illinois. We know nothing about his life in Ireland. The frustrating search for his roots continues.

We have not been able to isolate census records or a ship passenger record for Daniel. A marriage record tells us his parents’ names, Edmund Ryan and May Junk, but so far these names have led nowhere. The commonality of the Ryan surname compounds the problem.

I have hoped that DNA matches might help. Although we match several people with Ryan ancestors, none of their Ryan families seem to match up with one another. The descendants live all over the place—the United States, Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

I have searched for the earliest Ryan ancestor for all our matches. Most online trees extend back only to the early 1800’s, about the time our Daniel’s parents would have been born. No one has ancestors named Edmund and May.

The strongest matches fall into these family lines and groups:

  1. Denis Leonard (1802/1810 – 1866) and Mary Ryan (1811/1819 – 1865) of Pallasgreen, Limerick. This group looks promising because Mary’s father may have been named Daniel, and she named a son Edmund. Our closest match in this group matches my father at 55.7 cM.
  2. Timothy Ryan (1825-1881) and Bridget McDaid (1832-1882) lived on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Their descendants match us at 54 cM and 38 cM.
  3. Ellen Ryan. This match has two ancestors with this name, and he matches us at 52.5 cM.
  4. Timothy Ryan. This man’s descendant matches us at 43.6 cM.
  5. John Patrick Ryan (abt. 1795-1862) and Margaret Maher (1798-1866). This couple may have lived in Tipperary. We match at 43.2 cM.
  6. Cornelius Ryan (1807-1877) and Bridget Real (1807-1880), like Denis Leonard and Mary Ryan above, lived at Pallasgreen, Limerick. He had a half-brother named Richard, and our Daniel named his son Richard. Our matches in this group share about 42 cM with us.

All other Ryan matches fall below the 40 cM threshold. Our most common ancestors would have lived long ago, too far back to research easily.

I need to focus on the half dozen strongest matches and try to learn more about their families to see where my Daniel might fit in. I think it likely that all come from Limerick or Tipperary where the Ryan name is so common.

My plan will be to begin with our closest match, the great-grandchildren of Denis Leonard and Mary Ryan. Mary’s parents on some trees were reported to be Daniel Ryan (1787-1831) and Catherine Brien. Did he have a brother named Edmund?

Colonial Diseases

Genealogy webinars provide the opportunity to gather skills and information to help our research along. This afternoon I will tune into one offered by the Mayflower Society. We will hear about diseases and epidemics in colonial New England.

My paternal grandmother’s family lived in New England from 1620, when the Mayflower landed, until they left for Ohio around 1830. For those two hundred years, many of my ancestors lived and died in Massachusetts, near Boston or on Cape Cod.

I have no record of the cause of death for any of them. They must have been affected by the diseases and epidemics of the time. What health problems did they face? Did some succumb during an epidemic?

This webinar will not tell me anything about illnesses experienced by my individual family members. It will provide me with an idea of when and where epidemics circulated. I could compare those dates to the death dates for my ancestors to see if any died during a widespread illness.

I can also learn what other conditions led to colonial deaths. Poor diet or living conditions can result in a population afflicted with illnesses like scurvy, rickets, or tuberculosis. The webinar today may provide this type of information.

Learning about colonial diseases will not give me any missing names, dates, and places for my family tree. It will help me fill in the story of my ancestors’ lives by telling me about health challenges they faced and how they may have dealt with them. Disease timelines can lead to identifying specific outbreaks that would have affected my family.



I Create a System

More and more often I find myself searching my DNA matches for clues to my brick wall ancestors. I run cluster reports and try to construct family trees for my matches, hoping to find a familiar surname. I jot down information as I run across it, but these stacks of notes and trees were getting out of control. I needed a new system.

This week I worked on the record-keeping problem.

First, I found some space in a file cabinet drawer. I know, I know, I am a Luddite who likes to work with paper files. For me an electronic file is a file lost. The file cabinet works best for me.

I began by creating folders for DNA related information:

  1. I have attended numerous presentations and webinars on DNA research. I gathered the notes from these in a folder.
  2. I have run several auto cluster reports for my Dad. I put them all in a folder.
  3. The testing companies periodically update our ethnicity reports, and I print out this helpful information. Monitoring these has already assisted in identifying one unknown ancestor. For example, when the companies began separating English and Irish ancestry, I realized my mystery great-grandfather must have been Irish. Ethnicity reports went into another folder.
  4. I made folders for printouts of match lists from each of the companies we have used for DNA testing.

In the cabinet behind these folders, I placed alphabetical dividers. As I work on a particular match, I can alphabetically file the notes and trees for that person.

Organizing my work this way accomplishes two things:

  1. I can retrieve information with ease.
  2. I have less office clutter with everything in neat files.

As work evolves, so must organizational systems. My DNA research was overdue for a re-do. I should have done it a long time ago.

Honoring Patriot Ancestors on

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) take patriotism seriously. One way they do this is through a partnership with to mark the memorials of Patriot ancestors. A Betsy Ross symbol and a Patriot profile can be added to the memorial.

This week I am taking a look at the sites for my own proven ancestors to see if this has been done. Both graves have military headstones provided by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA):

  1. Gershom Hall (1760-1844). He is buried in the First Congregational Church Cemetery in Harwich, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. His grave is marked with an American flag and a Revolutionary War medallion. FindAGrave has no mention of his Revolutionary War service, and there is no Betsy Ross symbol on the site.
  2. Robert Kirkham (1754-1819). He is buried in the Kirkham Cemetery near New Middletown, Harrison County, Indiana. The grave is marked with an American flag but no medallion. A Daughter (perhaps a distant cousin of mine!) has already placed a description of his War service and the Betsy Ross symbol on this site.

Since Robert Kirkham has been taken care of, I will turn my effort to updating the memorial for Gershom Hall.

I know of no other descendant of Gershom Hall who is a current member of DAR. A DAR application from nearly 100 years ago was approved based on descent from his daughter, Thankful (1785-1863). If a current Daughter descends from Thankful, she has not yet updated the FindAGrave memorial.

I descend from Gershom’s eldest daughter, Rhoda (1784-1850), and no one else has applied on her line. I had to prove my descent back 6 generations through her to join DAR.

I suspect I am the only person who would see that the upgrade to Gershom Hall’s memorial gets done. I need to do a little research to learn how to do this.

I want to see Gershom Hall’s service honored this way.