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An Updated Approach to My DNA Research

Yesterday I listened to a webinar at on how to make DNA network graphs. The presenter was Diana Elder who, together with her daughter Nicole Dyer, runs the Family Locket website and podcast (

I have used the cluster tool on the My Heritage site to create cluster graphs, but Diana took this analysis a step further. She pointed us to other online tools that can reveal relationships between clusters. The idea is to use this data to break down genealogical brick walls.

She suggested using DNA Gedcom ( to upload a match list from Ancestry and create a spreadsheet of matches and shared matches. Then import the spreadsheet to online tools such as Rootsfinder (, Node XL (, or Gephi ( Use these sites to create charts and graphs that will assist in identifying matches on specific lines. The targeted matches can then provide insight for the family line in question.

All this computer work seems daunting to me, but help is available. Diana’s daughter Nicole has created several blog posts on Family Locket explaining how to do it all. The Family Search website also has instructional videos. Some of the sites, such as Node XL, offer online tutorials.

After discussing these tools, Diana offered a case study from her own family research. She was not able to answer her own question, but the tools did enable her to disprove some hypotheses for the parentage of her ancestor.

If I get desperate, I may try to learn how to do this for some of my mystery ancestors:

  1. John Carter (abt. 1790-1841). Online trees do not agree on who his Tennessee parents might be.
  2. Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-abt. 1863). This Kentucky man seemed to drop into that state from nowhere. I would love to know who his people were.
  3. Katherine Stillgenbauer/Stillabower (dates unknown but living in Indiana in 1865). She came from Germany. Who were her parents?
  4. John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). Reportedly born in Pennsylvania, he was in Ohio by the 1840s and then in Michigan by 1850. Who was his family?

Putting in the time and effort to learn how to do more advanced DNA analysis does not attract me. But if it would mean solving even one of these mysteries, it might be worth it.

NARA Has Me Locked Out

War of 1812 records are not available online and must be ordered from the National Archives. This week I tried to order my ancestor John Carter’s Bounty Land Warrant Application without success. I could not place an order on their website.

This tale has a backstory.

Years ago, maybe 10, when online ordering was new, I did request several files for the National Archives. I must have been required to set up an account at that time.

Neophyte as I was to computer transactions, I did not keep a good record of how to log in to their website.

When I tried again this week, I may or may not have had the correct username and password. Ordinarily this would not be too much of a problem, because they will email new ones if you forget yours.

The bigger problem was the security question. Did they even have a security question when I first registered for an account? After such a long time, I have no memory of it.

When the site asked for the question and answer this week, I was stumped. They denied access and offered no way to retrieve this information.

Because I was blocked from logging in with my old credentials, I attempted to set up a new account. The site would not let me do this, saying I already had one.

What can I do? Without a viable account, I cannot order anything from NARA. There is no way to log in to the account I already have, and they will not let me set up a new one unless I use an alias. I am not about to start lying to the federal government.

I cannot understand why I need to answer security questions to place an order for a 200-year-old record. No one’s privacy is at stake. I shop online all the time, and other merchants to do bother with this extra step. By imposing this, the Archives has prohibited me from buying anything from them.

The workaround? My husband/tech advisor kindly set up an account of his own and ordered the record for me. We used a joint email address so I will receive my document without him having to act as a go-between.

NARA, clean up your act. Put the records online or make your site more user friendly.

The Carter Project

Last year I wrote about my pioneer ancestors Thomas Reed and Anne Kirkham. This year I will tackle their contemporaries John Carter (abt. 1790-1841) and Mary (Polly) Templeton (1792-1857). Both couples were original settlers in Coles County, Illinois in 1830.

They had all migrated from Kentucky, and their children Caleb Reed and Jane Carter eventually married.

Although these people had lived in the Bluegrass State for a time, they did not reside near one another. Thomas and Anne lived in Spencer County, and he born in Pennsylvania.

John and Mary had traveled to Wayne County, Kentucky from Tennessee after their marriage. Prior to that, he had served in the War of 1812

This week I dug into my cousins’ research yet again to see what they collected about the Carters. They had half a dozen Carter genealogies written by various people. I found photocopied pages from county histories and Mary’s application for a war widow’s pension. There were several issues of a family newsletter for Mary’s people called The Templeton Times.

This will give me a good start on the research into this couple. I anticipate a challenging year. I know nothing about doing Tennessee research and will face a learning curve there.

The Carters were a large family with a common name, and it will be difficult to keep all the family lines straight. Online trees attribute several different sets of parents to John and Mary. Will I be able to make a good case for their true parentage?

The research begins this week with a review of the original sources—the widow’s pension application, and the family Bible pages as reproduced in the Reed family history.

Changing Projects for 2024

In this final week of the year, I am setting aside the old research project and preparing to begin the new. The Reeds belonged in 2023. The Carters will take center stage in 2024. Again, I will work on my third great-grandparents.

Just as Anne and Thomas Reed did, Mary and John Carter migrated to Coles County, Illinois about 1830. The Carters traveled from Tennessee.

For the Reed research, I had a tremendous amount of paperwork collected by many family members. It covered several generations of Reeds from my own grandfather to Thomas’ grandfather. I have sought to organize it and discard duplicates, focusing on Thomas and Anne first.

I sorted it into piles by generation. Now, at the end of the year, I have eliminated Thomas’ and his son Caleb’s stacks. Three others remain. They will have to wait until the Reeds come up again in my research rotation. Again, the Reed bin will be full and look unmanageable.

In comparison, I have little material on my Carter family. My family did not retain much information about them. They seem to pose a more difficult line to follow with lots of family members and scarce records.

Next week I will begin the quest to learn more about John Carter (1790-1841) and Mary Templeton (1792-1857). Again, I will pull out the notes and documents my cousins collected. I will look at online trees to see if I can verify what if find there.

The new year awaits.



Solstice 2023

Tonight we celebrate the winter solstice. This was a big holiday for our Viking ancestors, and we enjoy celebrating Yule each year in memory of them.

We like to mark the occasion in a way we hope they would have approved.

This year, we began a week ago when we attended a museum program about the customs followed during the historic solstice. Attendees sat in a room configured to resemble a Viking longhouse. Seated in a circle in this darkened room, we each held a candle. The northern lights were projected onto the ceiling. We all munched on Norwegian pastries as we listened to the speaker.

For our dinner menu tonight, we will serve Nordic food. This includes cod chowder and a cake fashioned to look like a Yule log. We will enjoy mead, or honey wine.

Burning a Viking-style Yule log presents a bit of a challenge as we do not have a wood burning fireplace. In lieu of this, depending on the days’ weather, I either turn on the gas fireplace or play a DVD of a huge burning log to set the mood while we eat. Later in the evening, we will sit outside beside the fire pit.

Here in Colorado, the weather today seems more autumn-like than wintery. We do not have the cold and dark weather that our Norwegian family experiences on the solstice. Still, we can see how little daylight we have on this shortest day of the year.

We will have our solstice meal this evening knowing that the days will now begin to get longer once again. Skål!

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day

Today marks 82 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The event pushed America to enter World War II. My parents were school students then, but my uncle Owen H. Reed was already in the military. It was his birthday.

Owen was born December 7, 1922. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps when he turned 18 in 1940. Just one year later the country was at war, and he became a career military man.

He flew 35 combat missions over Japan and Japanese controlled territory during WWII.

On August 10, 1944 he was a crew member of the longest bombing mission of the war. The plane left Ceylon, bombed a refinery at Sumatra, and dropped mines over the Moesi River. They flew 3800 miles nonstop.

Owen later served in Korea and Vietnam. For his years of service, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Owen was not the only family member with a Pearl Harbor Day birthday. One of my brothers was born that day, and so was one of my nephews. It is an easy date for us to remember.

But my uncle was always the one with the closest connection to Pearl Harbor Day.

Thank you, Owen, for bravely facing the danger that began on that long ago birthday.


Two Men Named Caleb Reed

The name Caleb occurs often in my Reed family. One must be careful not to confuse them in the genealogical record. Several such men who lived in Kentucky and Indiana during the early 1800s appear as one in the online record and need to be separated into their individual identities.

Caleb C. Reed

  1. He was born, say, 1788 although the 1820 U.S. census for Shelby County, Kentucky gives his age as over 45 (born by 1775, or prior to his parents’ marriage). The 1810 census includes a male 16-26 (born 1784-94) in his father’s household. A new 16-year-old male appeared in the father’s household in 1804 (born 1788).
  2. He married Prudence Kirkham at Harrison County, Indiana on March 18, 1812. The families were close because two of Prudence’s siblings also married two of Caleb’s. The Kirkhams had relocated to Indiana by 1812 while the Reeds remained in Kentucky. Caleb C. Reed was about 24 years old at the time of this marriage, and he took his bride back to Kentucky.
  3. Caleb C. Reed purchased land with his brothers Thomas and John in Shelby County, Kentucky in 1817.
  4. Caleb C. Reed passed away before 1829. In January of that year, his infant heirs Milbourne, Mildred, Claybourne, Sarah, Shelbourne, and Seybourne received title to their share of the land Caleb C. had owned with Thomas and John Reed.
  5. No burial place for Caleb C. Reed has been found. He was likely buried on family land in Kentucky with the location now lost.

Caleb S. Reed

  1. Caleb S. Reed, born in Harrison County, Indiana in 1793, the same year as Prudence Kirkham Reed, died in 1866. He is buried in the same Indiana cemetery as Prudence Kirkham Reed. They are linked as a married couple on the Find A Grave site. Yet we know Prudence was the widow of Caleb C. long before Caleb S. Reed’s death in 1866.
  2. The cemetery marker for Caleb S. Reed is weathered, but one reader thinks it tells that Caleb S. Reed was about 19 when he died (born abt. 1846, long after the Kirkham-Reed marriage in 1812).
  3. Caleb S. Reed is also linked on the site as the sibling of John Reed. Kentucky records naming both Caleb and John always give Caleb’s middle initial as C., not S.
  4. Find A Grave links the children of Caleb C. Reed, named in his 1829 estate papers, to Caleb S. Reed who died in 1866.

None of the contributed information on the Find A Grave memorial for Caleb S. Reed makes sense. It seems clear to me that the Caleb buried in Indiana in 1866 cannot be the same man who died in Kentucky about 1828. I believe Find A Grave has Prudence Kirkham Reed linked to the wrong husband. I cannot fix this because I do not manage the memorials for Prudence and Caleb S. Reed.

These records were conflated on the Family Search tree, too, but I believe I have managed to untangle them there.

One must be so cautious when a family regularly uses the same forename for its sons. People who have similar information are not necessarily the same person. Two different men deserve their own identities.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Renewal Time

Many of the genealogy societies operate on a calendar year for their memberships. We are sending in our dues, but how many others will do the same?

I belong to several clubs, and many have struggled to attract new members in recent years. If people do not join, the future of these organizations is in jeopardy.

From information I have seen in their newsletters, I think most of my associations may be in trouble:

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society: This group seems to have plenty of members, but recruiting volunteers presents a problem. Both the President and the Vice-President resigned for family reasons this year, and it feels like the club is limping along. We are back to meeting on Zoom where people cannot interact and feel like part of a group. They do have a lunch bunch where people can meet in person.
  2. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society: This club has half the membership it did when I joined several years ago. We lost our meeting space at the local library but finally found a stable location at the LDS church. The club is trying to get people engaged with special interest groups like DNA study and Germanic genealogy.
  3. Colorado Palatines to America: Many of our members live out of state, and we do not know one another. We do not have regular meetings, only twice-yearly seminars. People do not step forward as leaders, and this club may fold next year. Other state chapters have closed.
  4. W.I.S.E.: This British research club has a full slate of officers this year. They use aggressive tactics to recruit help, and it seems to work. They, too, offer activities beyond their regular meetings. Next month they will have a fun-sounding holiday party.

No club can run without volunteers. The Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies tried last month to address the problem by providing free training in society management. I heard they had good attendance, so perhaps we will see some new faces in the leadership ranks.

My husband/tech advisor and I serve as editors for the Palatines newsletter. I am a past board member for the Colorado Genealogical Society. Doing these jobs has allowed me to meet other like-minded people and has given me a purpose.

In these days where loneliness and alienation have become such a problem, I wish more people would join civic these organizations. They provide real value to our society, and the work offers personal fulfillment. You can find a local club for general genealogy or one that focuses on your ethnic interest.

Take a chance and step up!

Look Beyond the Index

At a recent genealogy meeting, the speaker reminded us that an index is only that. We do not stop there in our search for an ancestor. We follow up by viewing the original source.

I applied this concept as I did my research on the Reed family this year. My cousins had located our ancestor Caleb Reed’s name in an 1833 supporting affidavit for a Revolutionary War pension application. They made a copy of his statement.

Although this was not an index, I thought it best to follow the same advice to look at the original source and review the entire application file. I wondered what else might be in there to shed light on the life of my ancestor.

Revolutionary War pension applications can be found online at the subscription Fold3 database. I searched there for the applicant mentioned in Caleb’s affidavit, Joseph Young, who had served from Pennsylvania.

When I located his record, I found the affidavit executed by Caleb Reed. I also found affidavits signed by two of his siblings, Joshua Reed and Abigail Reed Stillwell.

These papers gave three different but similar recollections of their friend Joseph Young and his service. This unfortunate man had contracted smallpox at his military camp. Caleb’s father heard of this and sent him to bring Joseph back to Fayette County. Joseph was ill for months and lost an eye to the disease. The Reeds housed him during his ordeal.

Both Caleb and Joshua mentioned their father in their statements, but they did not name him. Abigail’s affidavit provides this crucial genealogical information when she refers to her father Thomas.

I would have missed out on this important evidence if I had stopped with the affidavit that my cousins had transcribed. Abigail, by including that detail of her father’s name, gives me the critical link between generations. It was well worth my time to read the entire 37-page application file.

So do not stop with an index or one piece of paper from an entire file. Locate the original source and look at everything available there.