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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

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.

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.

The Search for the Ryan Branch

Every week I look at my dad’s DNA matches. I focus on his line because that lineage holds all the brick walls in our family tree. I look for new matches, and I try to identify the most recent common ancestor for any relatives I do not recognize. This summer, I am focusing on the Ryan branch of my family.

We have numerous Irish DNA matches, many with Ryans in their family trees. These people must fit on my tree somewhere. Yet I have not found a single common ancestor for my dad and his Irish-surnamed matches. The one I worked on last week turned out to be related to us through an English line, the Carters.

We descend from Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) who was born in Ireland, immigrated to Illinois, and died of disease while serving in the Union Army at New Orleans. On a marriage record, he reported that his father’s name was Edmund Ryan.

None of our DNA matches descend from Edmund Ryan.

Yesterday I worked on the puzzle again. I traced most of the Ryan matches back to Denis Leonard and Mary Ryan who were born in County Limerick (or perhaps County Clare) in the early 1800’s. Dates vary, and I suspect researchers may have merged two couples into one.

Our DNA matches living in Ireland today almost uniformly reside in Limerick or nearby Tipperary. I believe this area, not County Clare, must be where my roots lie.

One Ancestry family tree for Mary Ryan and Denis Leonard offers tantalizing clues. It extends back in time much further than other posted trees. Family names include Daniel and Edmund, the same names I have in my tree. They resided in Limerick, where I think my family may have originated.

Could these people be my family? I have half a dozen other matches to work through to see if I can make sense of it all.

This Ryan ancestry provides me with quite a challenge. I would like to resolve the mystery this year in time to write it up and distribute it to the family for Christmas.

DNA Clues

We have had our DNA tested at several of the companies hoping to identify my dad’s maternal grandfather. Last summer we found success when my sister’s test revealed the name that had been elusive for 125 years.

I began research into this man’s line only to encounter a brick wall the next generation back. Now I hope to use our DNA matches to more distant cousins in the same line to learn more about this Irish family.

Many of our matches have Irish surnames. Is one of them the link to breaking down the brick wall? I am going through them, one by one, to look for common ancestors in hopes of creating a family tree.

The DNA research experts who speak to my local genealogical societies have suggested a process for this:

  1. Knowing that many DNA test takers are “of a certain age”, one can often locate their names on the 1940 and 1950 U.S. census records. Use this information to begin building family trees for matches of interest.
  2. If you cannot find the match’s name on these census records, try searching on sites like Facebook for family tree clues.
  3. Look for online obituaries where the match is either the decedent or is named as a survivor. These articles often list previous generations.
  4. Use the contemporary information to locate the family on the public trees found on genealogy web sites such as Family Search and Ancestry.
  5. Keep working back in time on the match’s tree to look for your own surnames. In my case, these are Hamill, Junk, Lawless, and Ryan.

This week I tried this approach with a 23andMe match to a man in his 80’s who has an Irish surname. His paternal family came from Illinois, the same state where my Irish family lived. This match looked promising. I began to build out his family tree, looking for an overlap to my own.

I learned his father’s full name and his mother’s first name from U. S. census records. Then I found the father’s family tree posted on Ancestry.

Working the lines back to the early 1800’s, I found none of my surnames.

Perhaps the match was related to us through his mother’s family? Was she Irish, too? Again, I checked the posted family trees. Her maiden name was Carter. Uh-oh.

I have Carter ancestors, but they were not part of my unknown Irish line. A family tree comparison showed that the DNA match and I both descend from my English 3rd great-grandparents, John Carter (1790-1841) and Mary Templeton (1792-1857) of Ashmore, Illinois.

I can check this fourth cousin with an Irish surname off my list.