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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

I Triangulate

In my quest to connect my ancestor Lucy Snow Hall to her parents Thomas Snow and Hannah Lincoln, I have yet to find a primary source document that spells out this relationship. The paper trail still hinges on an entry for the Hall family line in The Encyclopedia of Massachusetts. I continue to search for additional sources that could verify this relationship.

In the meantime, I can tinker with analyzing DNA results to search for clues. After listening to a presentation by local DNA detective Greg Liverman, I decided to modify the cluster approach he suggested for identifying unknown ancestors. He described how to use online family trees and the 1940 census to fill in the family lines of matches back to a common ancestor.

As I perused my dad’s match lists on the sites where he tested his DNA, I looked for people with New England ancestry. I focused on those with surnames that appear in my own tree, but I did not find much of interest.

I did notice a couple of matches who claimed Nickerson forebears. My ancestor Lucy had two close relatives, a sister and a daughter, who married into the Nickerson family. I spent a couple of days trying to put together the family trees for these Nickerson descendants, and I think they also descend from my Thomas and Hannah:

Thomas Snow and Hannah Lincoln descendants

Lucy Snow Hall                                       Bethia Snow Nickerson

Rhoda Hall Dunbar                                Thomas Nickerson VI

Olive Dunbar Riddle                              Thomas Snow Nickerson

Laura Riddle                          Annie Nickerson Mills        Alva Nickerson

Grace Riddle Reed                Mildred Mills Cushman       Maude N. Kaliher

Earl Reed                                Alta Cushman Brodie           Private

                                                  Private                                     Private


The last two people in the threads of the Bethia Snow Nickerson line, Dad’s predicted 5th cousins, both match him on the 13th chromosome. They match each other in the same place.

This is called triangulation. It means people who are not closely related match one other, indicating a common ancestral couple.

In this case, I think the couple must be Thomas Snow and Hannah Lincoln although it is possible there is a different common ancestor. If Thomas and Hannah are the common ancestors, Dad descends from their suspected daughter Lucy. The two men who match his DNA descend from their suspected daughter Bethia.

Thomas and Hannah did have daughters Lucy and Bethia who were baptized at the Brewster, MA church in the 1760’s. Are these the same girls who married into the Hall and Nickerson families?

I still do not have a paper trail proving these relationships, but the DNA result adds weight to my hypothesis.

Genealogists and Home Libraries

I am in the 5%.

Every week the New England Historic Genealogical Society sends around an electronic newsletter called The Weekly Genealogist. It always contains a survey, and last week’s question asked how many books are in personal genealogy libraries.

I answered that I have 251-1000 genealogy books, and only 5% of the respondents fell into that category. The largest group, 20%, had 26-50 books.

Luckily for me, I did not have to purchase all my books, although my husband/tech advisor still grumbles that he had to buy and install bookcases for them. I inherited most of what I have from my dad’s cousin.

I rarely use most of them, but I like having them around for when I need them. I do keep a few, well-thumbed references on my desk that I consult regularly:

  1. Black’s Law Dictionary. I received a copy of the 1891 first edition for Christmas one year, and it really helps for finding definitions of unfamiliar words in old legal documents.
  2. Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I regularly turn to this reference when creating source citations.
  3. The Handybook for Genealogists, ninth edition. I won this as a door prize once, and it provides a quick reference for county information across the United States.
  4. Historical and Genealogical Atlas and Guide to Barnstable County, Massachusetts. This gem has great, detailed maps of the towns on Cape Cod.
  5. A Primer for The Master Genealogist by Terry Reigel. I still use the no-longer-available TMG for my genealogical database, and this wonderful handbook gives clear instructions for using all its intricacies.
  6. Rand McNally Road Atlas. My ancestors lived all over the United States, and I find it useful to consult the maps of their states.
  7. The Reeds of Ashmore by Michael Hayden. My distant cousin Michael put this together in 1988 as part of his doctoral dissertation. It traces our Reed lineage from colonial times. I use his book to determine how modern-day descendants fit into my family tree. In recent years, it has become helpful in determining my relationship to DNA matches.
  8. A Research Guide for Norwegian Genealogy, sixth edition by Carol A. Culbertson and Jerry Paulson, editors. This book is packed with information about Norway, Norwegians, and how to do Norwegian genealogy. It includes a useful glossary of Norwegian genealogical terms.

I like having print resources available. In seconds I can use these familiar tools to lay my hands on the information I need without having to take time to scour the internet for it.

Most of the people who responded to The Weekly Genealogist survey had fewer than 50 books. I would fall into that category, too, if it were not for the inheritance from Dad’s cousin.

Few of the newsletter readers have the large library I do. I am glad to have it during these months of the pandemic when I cannot visit libraries in person to find sources that have not been digitized.

I enjoyed taking this survey to see where I fall on the spectrum of researchers and their books.


I Discover a DNA Cluster Tool

This week I had the opportunity to hear a genealogy presentation by a local DNA expert. Dr. Greg Liverman of Pinewood Genealogy addressed the first meeting of the Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society’s 2020-2021 season via Zoom.

He showed us how to use DNA clusters to identify unknown ancestors in recent generations. I have such an ancestor—my dad’s maternal grandfather. According to Greg, this is just the sort of research problem that cluster analysis can solve.

The task of sorting all of Dad’s DNA matches by hand was overwhelming. I learned from Greg that I do not have to do that. There are tools available that will do the sorting for you. He mentioned several.

I decided to try the Auto Clustering feature on the My Heritage ( online genealogy platform. It is free to use when you have an account, and my husband/tech advisor had already uploaded my dad’s DNA data to the site. All I had to do was run a report.

To my surprise, what takes hours to do by hand required only a few minutes with the sorting tool. I soon had a color-coded report that put my dad’s DNA matches into relationship groups, or clusters.

To find relatives of an unknown ancestor, Greg told us to look for a cluster of matches who are not related to any family members whose family tree you already know. Locate the names of people in that cluster who are most closely related to you, who match you at the level of 50 cM or more. Then look at the family trees provided by these people for their common ancestor. This ancestor is probably yours, too.

This seems a simple enough process. I needed to search for people not related to anyone in Dad’s paternal line or his direct maternal line.

The report came back with twenty clusters of matches, some including only a couple of people who are quite distantly related to us. I set those small, remote clusters aside for now and began with the first, larger clusters to see if I could recognize anyone:

  1. Cluster 1 had three people who matched at over 50cM. Two I do not know, and they have no family trees on My Heritage. The third is a descendant of my Dad’s paternal cousin. I assume the others belong to the same paternal line.
  2. Cluster 2 included two people closely related to us. Both had family trees on the site, and both are descended from Dad’s paternal grandmother’s family.
  3. Cluster 3 had two close relatives, both descended from another of Dad’s paternal cousins.
  4. Cluster 5 included Dad’s double cousins, who descend from both his father’s family and his direct maternal line.
  5. Clusters 6-20 included either no close relatives or else relatives who barely met the 50cM threshold. Many of them also matched someone in Clusters 1, 2, 3, and 5.

That left cluster 4. It contains just 5 people, none of whom reach the 50cM match level. But these people do not match those in the other clusters, all of whom descend from the families of Dad’s three known grandparents.

If Greg is right, these people in Cluster 4 should belong to the family of my unknown great-grandfather. If I can identify their common ancestor, I can learn who his family was.

I was disappointed when I found that none of these people has placed a family tree on My Heritage. Learning about their families will take more legwork. That is the next step.

Perhaps with the tool of cluster analysis I have at last found the key to discovering the identity of my unknown great-grandfather. He has hidden himself from us for over 100 years. I hope his DNA trail can now force him to step out from behind the curtain.

Celebrating Labor Day

Labor Day weekend approaches. As we take this holiday to visit the outdoors or enjoy picnics, we see little mention of why we have this holiday in the first place.

President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law as a federal holiday in 1894 to acknowledge the role of the organized labor movement in our society. We owe them our 8-hour workday, among other things.

Yet Labor Day never meant much in my family except as a paid day off. Few of us entered a trade. We were originally farmers and ranchers whose children left the homesteads and often went to college or joined the military.

As I grew up, I was oblivious to any labor activities that may have taken place around me. Unions had little clout. I lived in a right-to-work state where an employee need not join a union even if the workplace is unionized.

I my later years, I have wondered whether any of my ancestors ever belonged to a labor union. I can think of only a handful who may have had the opportunity:

  1. My maternal grandfather, Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986) worked in a couple of industries that are often unionized today. He was an electrician for an iron mine and later at a power plant. Between these jobs, he worked as a police officer for several years. He never mentioned union membership to me.
  2. My mother, Joyce Bentsen (1929-2000), and her mother, Martha Mattila Bentsen (1906-1977) both taught school. They served in small town and rural communities, and neither belonged to a teacher’s union as far as I know.
  3. My paternal grandfather, Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935), worked as a railroad freight agent and later as a trucker. He died long before I was born, and no one ever mentioned any unions in relation to him.
  4. My dad, Earl Reed (1927-2017), worked briefly for the railroad while he was in college. I do not know whether he joined the union during that time.

If any of these people did belong to a labor union, they paid their dues but did not engage in union activities or rhetoric. I never heard of any of them going on strike to get better working conditions or benefits.

Only one relative by marriage was an outlier to this pattern. My grandmother’s brother-in-law, John Kerzie (1915-2012) worked as a mechanic in the U.S. Steel Sherman iron mine near Hibbing, Minnesota. He was a labor leader there and became Vice President of the U.S. Steel Workers Union.

In my family today, no one engages in unionized work. But we owe gratitude to those people who did organize, for they brought us reasonable hours, paid vacations, and safer working conditions. We can be thankful for all those things as we enjoy our barbeques this weekend.




A 90th Birthday

We just returned from Wyoming where we joined in the celebration of my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. In these days of Covid-19, we could not throw the party we would have liked, but we all enjoyed our time together despite the need for social distancing.

As the woman we all know as Grandma reached this milestone, I thought about my own family members who reached their nineties. There have not been many.

In my own generation, we are all years away from our nineties. We cannot tell who among us might reach this age although we know one who will not. My brother James Reed (1959-2017) has already passed away.

Of my parents and those in their generation, only my father Earl Reed (1927-2017) reached ninety. My mother did not, and neither have any of their siblings. One still has a chance, though. My maternal aunt is eighty-one.

None of my grandparents lived to be ninety. My grandmothers’ siblings did not, either. My grandfathers’ families had more longevity:

  1. Annie Reed McDavitt (1870-1967) was my paternal grandfather’s half-sister.
  2. Bertha Reed Richards Evert (1884-1981) was my paternal grandfather’s eldest full sister.
  3. Viola Mae Reed Gwinn (1889-1983) was another of the same grandfather’s full sisters.
  4. Otto Sigurd Bentsen (1918-2013) was my maternal grandfather’s younger brother.

We had some nonagenarians in my great-grandparents’ generation as well:

  1. Ida May Reed Bovell Thompson (1864-1954) was my paternal great-grandfather’s youngest sister.
  2. Anna Petronellia Sherman Reed (1865-1961) was my paternal great-grandmother.
  3. Ole Jørgen Bentsen (1880-1976) was my maternal great-grandfather.
  4. Olga Mattila Silberg (1874-1969) was another maternal great-grandfather’s older sister.

My father always claimed that people normally do not live into their nineties and that only occasional outliers actually do. He may have been right about that, at least in our family. In three generations, only eight of my own family members, out of 90 people, have reached this age.

It was somewhat ironic, then, that he would reach ninety himself. My mother-in-law, too, has lived this rare, long life. We were glad to join in with other family members to celebrate this achievement yesterday. The drive to another state for the day was worth it.

Remembering Ben

My family faces a sad day today. We must say good-bye too soon to a beloved family member.

My nephew, Ben Carrier, passed away two weeks ago. His memorial service is today.

His family lives many states away from my own. During this time of the coronavirus, I cannot travel there to lend my support to my sister and her family.

Instead, I will attend my first-ever Zoom funeral service this afternoon.

We feel many things today. Regret that we cannot be there in person. Sadness that we have this empty space in our family where a smiling young man used to be. Empathy for my sister who has lost her only son.

Yet this is not the only death we have suffered in this year of death. My husband/tech advisor has lost a step-father and two aunts.

But somehow this seems different.

His loved ones were all in their 90’s and had lived long, productive lives. My nephew was just twenty-eight.

The memorial service this afternoon will be a sad one, indeed.

A Disciplined Approach

Last month I viewed a webinar on creating a research plan for cluster research. I hope this method will help me find every resource I can to make the case for the parentage of my ancestor Lucy Snow Hall (1760-1795).

Cluster research involves searching for records not just for the ancestor of interest (Lucy Snow) but for records from everyone that person knew. In genealogy circles this is known as the person’s FAN club or network of Family, Associates, and Neighbors.

The webinar instructor suggested beginning with family and creating a spreadsheet page for each family member. There you list all the found records for the family member alongside the pertinent information the records contain. Looking at the data this way ensures you do not overlook anything.

This week I created the first page of my spreadsheet. I began with Lucy herself and her known husband, Gershom Hall. I have their marriage banns and records, children’s birth registrations, 1790 U.S. census record, and Lucy’s cemetery marker. None mention Lucy’s parents.

I also have a baptism record I believe is Lucy’s. Yet I have no real proof that the Lucy Snow, daughter of Thomas Snow and Hannah, who was baptized in Brewster, MA in 1760 is the same Lucy Snow who married Gershom Hall at Harwich in 1781. I can make a case for it, though.

The cemetery marker for Lucy Hall, wife of Gershom, provides an inferred birth year of 1760, the same year as the Brewster baptism. Lucy and Gershom married and lived in Harwich, MA, just north of Brewster, so the location is feasible. I have not found any records for another Lucy Snow Hall living during this time in Brewster or Harwich.

Still, it would be nice to have something more. Hence the FAN club approach. I plan to use a cluster research plan to search for wills and land records with anything that may have connected my Lucy Snow Hall to her parents.

Once I have methodically reviewed the Massachusetts records for clues to Lucy’s origins, I can draw a good conclusion about whether or not my Lucy was the daughter of Hannah and Thomas Snow of Brewster.

I Enjoy a Completed Task.

Finished! In our home office, the new carpet lies on the floor, the new baseboards hug the walls. My husband had a two-week vacation scheduled in May due to the coronavirus, so we took on a home improvement project. But the minor remodeling was not all we did.

Our office was cluttered, really cluttered. Because we had to move all the furniture out anyway to install a new floor, we took the opportunity to clear out some of the things we were storing in there. Some items we moved elsewhere, and others we discarded:

  • We cleaned off the worktable. Because what good is a worktable if you cannot use its surface for work?
  • We emptied file drawers. I discarded or consolidated files pertaining to former jobs and deceased family members.
  • We removed a shelving unit we no longer need. This freed up some floor space, making the office seem roomier.
  • We weeded a couple of bookshelves. I do not need two thesauruses or two road atlases at my fingertips.

Today I can begin working in my newly refreshed office. It feels like time and money well spent.


A Coronavirus Project

What can you do with a sudden two-week vacation during the coronavirus pandemic?

We faced this question when my husband/tech advisor’s employer required everyone to take two weeks of their vacation before Memorial Day this year. We could not use the time to go anywhere during a stay-at-home order even if we wanted to go out and expose ourselves to the virus.

Instead of frittering the time away, we hoped to do something productive. We hit on the idea of replacing the deteriorating floor in our home office.

Not wanting to have workmen come into our home at this time, we ordered all the supplies we thought we would need to do the job ourselves. We were ready to get to work as soon as the calendar said Vacation.

Putting in a new floor requires moving around a lot of office furniture like desks, computer equipment, file cabinets, and bookcases. Putting in a new floor takes a lot of time.

With the office torn apart and my attention on the flooring task during these two weeks, I am not doing much genealogy.

Once we complete this project, the office will be oh-so-nice, and I will be back on the genealogy beat.

Webinar Opportunities Right Now

I keep getting nowhere in my effort to document the pedigree of my ancestor Lucy Snow (1760-1795) of Harwich, Massachusetts. Time again for some professional help.

Yesterday I registered for two webinars being hosted this month by American Ancestors. Perhaps they will help me uncover records that have eluded me so far.

  1. Searching Databases on will run this afternoon. I have tried using this subscription site, but I find it overwhelming. Searches I attempt often return hundreds of results, most of them irrelevant to my Lucy Snow. In this webinar, the American Ancestors database coordinator will discuss the scope of the site and how to leverage search terms.
  2. Creating a Research Plan for Cluster Research runs next week. I am familiar with cluster research where you include an ancestor’s extended family, associates, and neighbors to solve a genealogical mystery. So far, my attempts at using this technique have been unsuccessful for Lucy Snow or any of my other brick wall ancestors. I hope the Director of Research Services at American Ancestors can help me craft a research plan that works.

I am nearly 5 months into my search for Lucy and her forebears. I have her marriage record and her burial site. I have the names of her children with Gershom Hall. I have what may be her baptism record, if she is the daughter of Thomas Snow and Hannah of the Brewster, MA church.

But there were several Thomas Snows and several Lucy Snows who lived on Cape Cod during the second half of the 1700’s. How do I distinguish my Lucy and put her in the correct family? I need to find the records of each and untangle them to discover the thread of my Lucy’s pedigree.

If some education available from home can help me do that, sign me up!