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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.

Some Research Alternatives for Thomas Snow

Thomas Snow (1735-1790), my 5th great-grandfather, remains an elusive research subject. Last week I received his probate documents from Barnstable County, MA, but the packet contained only an appointment of Executor and a Final Account, with no listing of the heirs to his estate. I need some new avenues of inquiry for him.

Three possibilities appeared this week when I reviewed FindAGrave.com for Thomas:

  1. Oddly, Thomas has two memorials. One claims a burial in Brewster Cemetery in Brewster, MA. This record was created in 2009 and even provides the middle name “Rogers” for Thomas although it offers no source for this information. The second memorial, created in 2012, lists his burial in Old Burying Ground, Brewster, MA. How can a man be buried in two cemeteries? Hoping to get some answers to the question of why Thomas has two FindAGrave memorials, I have sent a message to the man who created the second one to see if he can provide some clarification.
  2. Thomas’ cemetery marker states he died at age 54 in the West Indies. The Brewster Cemetery FindAGrave memorial claims a more specific place of death, Barbados. Again, no source is provided. Is this information correct? What happened to Thomas in Barbados? Did he die of natural causes or for some other reason like effects of a storm, an epidemic, or a pirate attack? This week I asked an acquaintance who has Barbados ancestry for some guidance on researching records there. She did a little research and found there were no hurricanes in Barbados in 1790. She provided me with contact information for a repository in Barbados that might have information on other events the occurred in Barbados in 1790.
  3. The cemetery marker on Thomas’ grave names him as Capt. Thomas Snow. If he was a sea captain, a maritime record of his ship might exist in Massachusetts. My acquaintance pointed out that if Thomas’ body was returned to Massachusetts from Barbados, the ship record would tell the story. I have never looked at any maritime records, and this would be quite a learning curve for me. I will need to educate myself on how to do this.

None of these records will likely show the connection between Thomas and his daughter Lucy that I need to clinch my pedigree, but it would be interesting to fill in his life story. Ancestors feel more real when we know the particulars of their lives. I would love to know what happened to Thomas Snow.

A Dead End


As I await a response to my application for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, I continue to search for records strengthening the argument that Lucy Snow Hall (1760-1795) of Barnstable County, Massachusetts was the daughter of Thomas Snow (d.1790) and Hannah Lincoln (d.1817), both Mayflower descendants. My pedigree hinges on this link. I have no primary evidence of this relationship, only a biographical entry from the 1916 Encyclopedia of Massachusetts. On the other hand, I have not been able to prove that Lucy was not their daughter.

Recently, I came across a consolidated probate index for Barnstable and other Massachusetts counties that lists a 1790 will for Thomas Snow, Jr. of Harwich. My Thomas Snow, also known as Thomas Snow, Jr., died in Barbados that year but resided in Harwich, Barnstable County. I hoped the will would name a daughter, Lucy Snow Hall, as an heir.

The index says this will was filed as Case Z3. I could not find the probate case online, so I wrote to Barnstable County for the record.

They replied promptly.

The record they sent contains just two pages. The first is a copy of the Letters of Administration granted to Edward Snow in 1790, the same year Thomas died.

No relationship between Thomas the deceased and Edward the Administrator was specified, but Thomas and Hannah Snow did have a son Edward baptized at the Brewster church in 1763. Same person? This appointment lends weight to the argument that the Thomas who died in 1790 is the same Thomas who, with his wife Hannah, was the parent of children Lucy, Edward, Bethiah, Hannah, Priscilla, and Benjamin, all baptized in Brewster in the 1760’s and 1770’s. This does not prove that Lucy Snow, baptized daughter of Thomas and Hannah, assumed daughter of Thomas who died in 1790, is the same Lucy Snow who married my ancestor Gershom Hall.

The only other page sent to me by the county was an Inventory filed by Edward Snow over a decade after the estate was opened. It lists debts settled. Dashing my hopes, the last line mentions Legacies paid, but it does not name any of the recipients. It lists only an aggregate amount.

These two pages, the Letters and the Inventory, do not contain enough personal information to tie my ancestor Lucy Snow Hall to this Thomas Snow. Questions remain. Why is there no will in this file? Why did Edward not name the Legatees who received money from the estate? I do not like Edward.

This probate file is yet another disappointing dead end in the search to connect Lucy to her parents and her husband.

Leif Erikson Day

All the proud Scandinavians like to remember Leif Erikson Day every year on October 9.

The day honors the Viking explorer who is thought to have been the first person from the old world to set foot in the new. Five hundred years before Columbus, Leif the Lucky, as he was known, was perhaps blown off course while sailing from Norway to Greenland. Or maybe he traveled there deliberately after hearing of lands to the west from an Icelandic trader. The Norse sagas tell conflicting tales.

When Leif and his crew landed in North American, they noted the vast forests. They also spotted abundant grapes growing so they named the new land Vinland (Land of Wine).

Unfortunately, the sagas do not tell us the coastal location of Vinland. It remained a mystery until archaeologists found Viking-type ruins in northern Newfoundland at a place called L’Anse aux Meadows. Perhaps this is where Leif Erikson stopped.

Americans began observing Leif Erikson Day in 1964. President Lyndon Johnson began the tradition of issuing an annual proclamation to remember the Viking and to honor the contributions of Americans of Nordic descent.

October 9 has no connection to Leif Erikson himself. The day was chosen because the wave of Norwegian immigration to America began on October 9, 1825 when the ship Restauration from Stavanger, Norway arrived in New York.

How will I celebrate Leif Erikson Day and my Viking heritage tomorrow? One of the Sons of Norway lodges in California is hosting an online talk about the explorer, and I may tune in for that.

Leif Erikson Day calls for Nordic refreshments, too. My husband/tech advisor and I plan to bring out the aquavit as we honor the Viking spirit of discovery. Skål!