John Whitney Ferverda: Morse Code, Telegraphs and Trains – 52 Ancestors #213

My Grandfather, John Whitney Ferverda (1882-1962) worked for the railroad for several years. In fact, it was the railroad that was responsible for John meeting my grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore.

Born in 1882 and trained as a teacher, John Ferverda instead went to work for the Big Four railroad in 1904 as a station agent and telegraph operator in Silver Lake, Indiana, near where his family lived. By 1907, John had accepted a position in Rushville, Indiana as station agent where he would meet Edith who was destined to become his wife – and my grandmother.

A station agent, especially in smaller stations, was responsible for everything. People, cargo, schedules and especially telegraph communications known as telegraphy which kept everyone on time and safe.

On their marriage application on November 16, 1908, John lists his occupation as a telegraph operator.

In January 1910, Edith and John returned to Silver Lake where he became the station agent. They purchased the house next door to the depot.

John’s brother, Roscoe Ferverda bought the house across the street and he too eventually became the station agent after my grandfather resigned the position. In the 1930 census, Roscoe was the station agent at Silver Lake.

In 1913, based on newspaper articles, it appears that John was assigned to Markleville, just north of Rushville, perhaps only temporarily.

He was back in Silver Lake before 1915 when, according to the November 13th edition of the Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper, another agent was sent as a relief agent for “John at the Big 4” while he had surgery on his eye in Cincinnati. Hmmm, I didn’t know my grandfather had surgery on his eyes. I wonder why. Photos in later years show a droopy eyelid. I also wonder if either the condition or the surgery had anything to do with what happened in January 1916.

John was apparently back at work by November 27th, when the newspaper announced that the stork had left a baby boy at the home of ” John Ferverda, our genial agent at the Big Four station” and his wife.

On January 8, 1916, the Rushville Republican newspaper carried an article stating that John Ferverda, “the Big Four Agent at Silver Lake,” had resigned his position with the railroad and had purchased a hardware store with a partner.

The History of Kosciusko County, Indiana, published in 1919, provides us with a little more information about John Ferverda.

Having mastered the art of telegraphy, he entered the service of the Big Four Railway as an operator, was assigned at different stations along that system and remained in that service about 10 years.

The Big 4 Railroad

I had never heard of The Big 4 before, and as it turns out, there are two Big 4s, also written as Big Four. The one that interests us is the railroad company that operated across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

This map shows the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four) drawn on the New York Central system as of 1918.

In 1906, the Big 4 was acquired by the New York Central Railway which operated it independently until 1930. In 1968, the line was incorporated into Penn Central and later into Conrail, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Telegraph Operator

How or why John Ferverda learned to operate a telegraph machine is lost to history. The local history book indicated that he lived at home until he was 22. John attended a teacher’s academy, was credentialed to teach, but never did. In 1904, he would have been 22 and finished with his classes.

Given that the article in the Kosciusko County History book states clearly that he had mastered the art of telegraphy, then entered the Big Four Railroad service as an operator, we know that he didn’t learn on the job. This causes me to wonder where he practiced, given that his parents were Brethren, lived in the country, and assuredly did not have electricity in their home.

One cannot learn Morse code, the “language” of the telegraph without practicing and becoming proficient. Proficiency using Morse code is measured by either words per minute or characters per minute, and a telegraph operator for a railroad had to be proficient and speedy, which means he had to have practiced regularly using a unit to both send and receive.

I’ve been curious for some time – what, exactly, did a telegraph operator for a railroad do? How did they communicate before the remote areas were entirely wired for electricity? According to my mother, their house didn’t have electricity initially, so the depot next door probably didn’t either. John worked at this profession for a dozen years, a significant amount of his life.

I wanted to know more. Genealogists always want to know more!

By the time I came along, telegraph operators were either obsolete, or at least I had never come across one. The Big Four was gone, and my grandfather died before I could ask him any questions at all.

My mother wasn’t born until 1922, several years after John had resigned the position, so she wouldn’t have been able to answer many questions either.

However, I do have a secret weapon resource at my disposal.

My husband, Jim.

No, Jim didn’t know my grandfather, but Jim is a super bright geeky “radio guy,” meaning an amateur radio operator, known colloquially as a “ham,” and has been for about 50 years. Literally since he was a kid. He was licensed by the FCC to operate a radio before he was old enough to drive! And, he’s proficient at Morse code. Sends, receives and understands it. Plus, he’s a history buff. My lucky day!

If you have a question about radio, or anything to do with radio or electronics, just ask Jim, because if he doesn’t know the answer, guaranteed, he’ll find it for you. And he’ll enjoy it to boot.

Jim and the ARRL

Jim (call sign K8JK) just happens to be the Michigan section manager for the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League, headquartered in Newington, CT.

Recently, Jim attended training at the ARRL headquarters and invited me along. While Newington, in and of itself, unless you’re a “ham” isn’t any sort of Mecca, I like to support his endeavors AND I’m a ham myself, just barely.

I am also extremely interested in genealogy and history, which I know comes as a shock to my readers, and when I discovered that I had ancestors that settled within an hour’s drive, I was all in. Oh yea!

Each day I dropped Jim off at ARRL headquarters, and at the end of the day, picked him up again.

On the last day, the class attendees really did get to go to “ham Mecca” and entered the sacred ground of the small house located in front of the current ARRL building. That initial house had been the location purchased by the founder of the ARRL, Hiram Percy Maxim, whose “rig” has been preserved with its original call sign of W1AW.

The building includes several operator booths, along with antique radios and telegraph keys. Each class attendee was able to spend time transmitting in the original W1AW “ham shack” as a guest operator.

Now you know where this is going, right?

Amateur radio operators still use Morse code at times to communicate, and telegraph keys were created and used for exactly that purpose – in train stations and depots. My grandfather clearly knew how to use this equipment and did daily for a dozen years. I’d still love to know why he decided to take up telegraphy, because aside from trains, I don’t know why or who else in northern Indiana would have a need for a telegraph operator. Perhaps he saw an opportunity and embraced it.

Thank goodness he did, or I wouldn’t be here. So you could say I’m in eternal debt to Morse code for my very existence.

Who knew?

Questions – So Many Questions

I really enjoyed visiting the museum in the W1AW building – and peppered Jim with questions.

What is that?

How does it work?

Which one of these keys, the device used by telegraph operators to transmit Morse code, would have been used by the railroads?

Between 1904 and 1916?

How about on the Big 4 Lines?

How did the keys work?

What is that lever?

How do these connectors work?

What’s this?

Why is there air?

Morse Code, Telegraphs and Why There’s Air

Jim very graciously agreed to explain all this, in technical terms, but not too technical. Just technical enough. I get the idea somehow that he made the offer in self-defense, because by that time, I was digging through his boxes of “sacred antique stuff” (also referred to as “junk”) hoping to find an old telegraph key that might have been used in a Big 4 depot.

I allowed myself to be shooed out of his office when he offered up the article:)

Jim’s guest article begins here:

Hi, my name is Jim Kvochick (K8JK), or Mr. Estes as I’m called at genealogy and DNA conferences. My lovely wife, who is also a ham operator (K8RJE), has asked me to explain what life was like for a telegraph operator when her grandfather, John Ferverda, was working for the Big 4 Railroad in Indiana between 1904 and 1916. It’s hard to believe that was a century ago. Morse code was invented in 1836 by Samuel Morse and is still used in various formats today. In many ways, Morse code as a language is universal and timeless.

Ever since the beginnings of time, people have been trying to communicate over distances greater than the human voice could reach. Early attempts included the use of smoke signals, signal fires, waving flags, and the moving arms of semaphores, shown below.

Mirrors were also used to flash the image of the sun to distant observers.

Railroads had a need for communications as well and clearly their requirement extended beyond the range of visual communications. Early attempts involved a method for attaching hand written messages called “train orders” on a large hook extending from the station. As the train slowly approached the train depot, the conductor on the moving train would reach out to grab the incoming messages, and “hook” the messages or mail destined for that location. If the conductor missed, the station operator had to run alongside the moving train with the messages on a long pole, reaching towards the conductor.

Train orders advised the locomotive engineer of changes in schedule, planned stops, or any other details needed to complete their run. Harnessing electricity was a welcome innovation but adapting that technology to long distances was challenging.

Utilizing electricity, wires were stretched from one point to another and an electric current was either allowed to flow through the wires or broken by a switch called a telegraph key. The key below dates from about 1900.

By Hp.Baumeler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61723472

The electric current was first used to make marks on a paper tape and later, it was used activate a “sounder” which made clicking sounds. The short and long times between the clicks could be decoded into letters from the alphabet.

By Sanjay Acharya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15733842

The round discs on the sounder key above are electromagnets and the sounder portion is the spring lever with the tab on the left, shown with the red arrow. The lever gets pulled up against the large metal bar to its right, between the sounder and the electromagnets and makes an audible click when the two pieces of metal touch.

By the early 1900’s most train stops utilized mechanical sounder devices and trained the station operators on sending and receiving Morse code.

The schematic shown above is the design of a typical station telegraph, like what would have been on John’s desk.

This revolutionary discovery allowed people to communicate instantly over distances that had required days or weeks for horse or train-carried messages.

Telegraph stations were set up along railroads first because the right-of-way had already been cleared and it was easy to set up poles to carry the telegraph wires, although unexpected challenges arose. For example, while curved train tracks weren’t problematic, it took several failed attempts before learning that poles located on curves needed to be braced or they fell over due to the weight of the wires. Copper wires stretched, steel wires rusted and broke. Eventually, through trial and error, the right combination was achieved of braced poles and copper coated steel wire.

Railroad dispatchers sent messages via telegraph to control the movement of trains and the wires also began to carry messages telling of news events and business transactions.

Of course, this also meant that the telegraph operator knew everything within the community, and in particular, was the first to receive messages deemed important enough to be telegraphed to the recipient.

It has been said that the “electric telegraph” was the most significant invention of the 19th century. At the very end of the 19th century, it became possible to communicate by telegraph without using wires. This ‘wireless’ telegraph system paved the way for all of today’s complex wireless communications systems.

Although telephone communication began in the 1880’s within a local geography and expanded into long distances beginning in the 1890’s; telegraph signaling held the advantage due to lower costs and minimal infrastructure required. Radio communications was beginning to come into popular usage, but the cost per unit was too prohibitive to deploy widely. To further reduce the cost of installing the telegraph system, only a single wire was used, with reference to an earth ground to complete the circuit.

Many of the stops along the train tracks did not have electric power, so to successfully operate the telegraph stations at that time required the use of batteries.

Batteries in the 1900’s were large open jars containing electrodes and acid, requirimg constant attention by the station operator. Remember too that in many cases there was no commercial power available to charge these batteries. John Ferverda would most likely start out each day with a check of the battery condition and perform the required maintenance to keep his telegraph station running.

Early batteries used highly toxic chemicals which were stored in the station agent’s office. These batteries and their chemicals including sulfuric acid, zinc and copper, created toxic gasses which were eventually vented outside the agent’s office. Perhaps it’s a good thing that John Ferverda only worked as a station agent for a dozen years.

Early telegraph operators would have used the American Morse code, a predecessor to the more widely used International Morse code of today. While the American version relied heavily on the specific timing between the dots and dashes, the International version was far more forgiving, in trade for making some of the letters and numbers slightly longer.

There were numerous styles and variants of older telegraph keys and many are still being used by amateur radio operators today.

Telegraph key collection at the ARRL W1AW building

Most likely John Ferverda used a variant that looked similar to the model below from the ARRL collection.

The telegraph operator was still in demand and used for information at depots or stations well past the 1950’s. Although many train lines experimented with two-way voice radio during the 1930’s, a truly practical solution wasn’t installed in volume until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Today, radio and satellite communication dominate tracking and routing our modern railways.

The humble telegraph paved the way for the wireless communications that all phone “operators” today utilize – those small electronic boxes that we carry in our pockets and love. John Ferverda was a very, very early adopter of the predecessors to cell phones of today.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone happens to run across the telegraph key from the station in Silver Lake or Rushville, Indiana, or any of the Big 4 depots in that region, perhaps at an auction or antique mall, please let me know because I’ve love to surprise my wife. (Shamelessly added to this article by said wife.)

Acknowledgements:

My thanks to the ARRL for their hospitality and to Jim Kvochick for explaining the history of telegraphy and why there’s air, or least why there’s Morse code.

And seriously, if you do run across a telegraph key from the early 1900s in Northern Indiana, I really do want one and would be forever grateful. I sure wish I had John Ferverda’s original equipment.

What’s the history of radio or railroads in your family?

Family Tree DNA’s New Chromosome Browser

Family Tree DNA has released their new, updated chromosome browser with a completely new look and feel. It’s quite different from the previous version, so let’s take a test drive.

The first thing you notice is a new link on your personal page in the Family Finder section.

You can access the chromosome browser in one of two ways.

  • Matches button
  • Clicking on the Chromosome Browser button

Either way, you eventually get to the same place.

Matches

By viewing your matches, you can now select a total of 7 people, increased from 5 previously, to compare to you in the chromosome browser.

After selecting the people you want to view in the chromosome browser, click on the Chromosome Brower button above your matches, just like before.

Note that on your Matches page, the other tools, such as In Common With (ICW), Not In Common With (NICW), Search by name, Search by ancestral surname, the list of ancestral surnames for each match and other information is exactly where it has always been located. Nothing else changed on the Match page except your ability to select 7 people instead of just 5.

The Chromosome Browser

The new chromosome browser tool looks different. A lot different. It’s also much more intuitive.

If you make match selections on your match page and click the chromosome browser button, you see the following page reflecting your choices. The link no longer immediately compares the individuals in the chromosome browser.

Your match list is shown to the right of the selected individuals, shown at left.

This is also the page where you land if you click the Chromosome Browser button on your dashboard.

From Your Dashboard

If you don’t click on your Matches button first, and click directly on the Chromosome Browser button, this is what you’ll see.

Your matches are shown at right, and when you select them, they will appear on the list at left.

Select as many as 7. You’ll see them appear to the left as you make your selections.

Features

To aid in your selection, you can utilize the filter above the matches to view only specific levels of matches.

The “name search,” at upper right, searches for an individual match with that first or last name.

However, if you enter the full name, it finds that individual person, so if you know you want to compare Uncle Rex Doe’s kit, you just search for his name as Rex, Doe or Rex Doe.

This page does NOT search the ancestral surnames. If you want to do that, you need to work from the matches page which does search for people with that ancestral surname in their Ancestral Surname List.

I’m very glad to see this new search feature for matches at the browser level. It makes searching for a particular match a LOT easier.

Notice that not all of the match information is available on this page. X matching, match date, linked relationships and ancestral surnames are only available on the Matches page.

The icons for contacting matches, notes and the tree are also only available on the Matches page.

However, a new field is available here, the number of shared segments. This number includes segments to the 1cM level so long as they are 500 SNPs or larger. For most (nonresearch) purposes, I generally use segments of 7cM or larger, although I do sometimes want to see smaller segments.

At right, the In Common With and Not In Common With functions are available by clicking on the three dots:

In Common With and Not In Common With

The In Common With (ICW) and Not In Common With (NICW) features have been greatly improved.

By selecting an individual, such as William Sterling Estes in this example, then clicking the In Common With (ICW) link, I see all of the people I match in common with William Sterling Estes. Furthermore, the system now automatically puts William Sterling Estes into my match list. By making additional selections from that ICW list and adding them to the list, I can then easily compare my DNA, that of William Sterling Estes and the people that we both match to determine if we have common matching chromosome segments.

The Not In Common With feature works exactly the same way.

Compare

To view the new chromosome browser, click on the orange compare button at the bottom of the list. It’s so large you can’t miss it!

Chromosome Browser Format

The new chromosome browser itself looks a LOT different. To begin with, the color and design of the chromosomes themselves has changed. There is now space for 7 people in the comparison on each chromosome, plus you as the “background” person that those 7 are being compared to.

Chromosomes 1-5 with 7 matches being compared to me are shown below. At the top of the page, the colors of the segments are coded by the colors at the top of the profile placards of the matches I selected.

You can view information about any individual by clicking on their profile button.

By clicking on the Update Selected Matches button, at right above the chromosomes, you can change the individuals being compared.

Now, let’s take a look at how to interpret these matches.

Reading the Results

As before, the centromere is notated by the little white “waists” in each chromosome, and the light grey represents regions not tested, so you won’t see matches there.

Please note that you can click any image to enlarge.

Notice Charlene, the navy blue person match on my chromosome 1.

Reading left to right, we have:

  • At the beginning of the chromosome, dark grey tested region with no match
  • Beginning with the red box, navy blue match region
  • Light grey untested region, crossing centromere and continuing until small navy blue region
  • The entire small tested region is navy blue, indicating a match
  • Small light grey untested region
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match
  • Navy blue region that does match to the end of the red box
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match to the end of the chromosome

We would read this as 2 matching segments, not 3, with the first large navy segment and the tiny middle navy segment forming one contiguous segment across the centromere and untested regions. The third navy part of that chromosome is a separate matching segment, because it’s separated from the first two by a darker grey area that is tested but does not match.

By positioning your cursor over the colored portions of the chromosome, and waiting for a second or so, the information about that specific segment will appear.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

Downloading Just These Matching Segments

Clicking on Download Segments, the blue link at right just above chromosome 1 downloads just the information in a csv file for the people currently being compared in the browser. It does not download all of your matches. That feature is elsewhere.

Options

The default minimum centiMorgans display view is still 5, and you can select 1, 5, 7 or 10. All matches displayed are 500 SNPs or larger.

Detailed Segment Data

Another new feature is the Detailed Segment Data tab. Click to view.

In essence, this is the same information as the csv download file, except you don’t have to download the file and you don’t have to know anything about Excel. However, you can’t sort this data by chromosome like you can in a spreadsheet.

You can select which DNA match you wish to view, one by one.

I hope that Family Tree DNA will add the feature of being able to sort each column.

Downloading All Matches

For those interested in downloading all matches, not just the matches displayed, you can perform that function at the bottom of your matches page:

Or at the bottom of the initial Chromosome Browser selection page, but BEFORE you click on compare.

Quick Reference Feature Navigation Chart

I’m always grateful for new features and updates, but sometimes new features feel a bit like someone rearranged the furniture in the room while you were sleeping. I’ve created a quick reference chart to show you what’s available where and to help you navigate.

Summary

I like the updated chromosome browser as well as the new In Common With feature. The new browser facilitates 7 comparisons at once and is a LOT more user friend with new ease-of-use features. The new ICW page eliminates several steps and confusion that exists when trying to use the function from the Matches page.

I’m hoping that this update is a new skin in preparation for more nifty new features, such as triangulation. Hint, hint, Family Tree DNA. Christmas is coming😊

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Countdown: MyHeritage LIVE in Oslo or Bust

Just two weeks, and you know what is happening?

If you said the MyHeritage LIVE User Conference in Oslo, you would be right.

I’m so excited! I can hardly wait!

Speakers

This promises to be a wonderful conference with 20 speakers and panelists presenting over 2 days.

You can take a look here for yourself and then scroll down for the schedule.

Sessions

The only hard part will be choosing which sessions to attend!

Three tracks are offered: Genealogy, DNA and Workshops.

For some reason, I’m partial to the DNA track. Just sayin’😊

If you’re attending MyHeritage LIVE, I’ll see you in the DNA track at 4:30 on Saturday for the panel discussion DNA, Genealogy and Privacy which is MCed by Thomas MacEntee with Prof. Yaniv Erlich and yours truly.

Yes, I said MCed. If you know Thomas, well, you’ll appreciate why I said that. If you don’t know Thomas, please come and get to know all of us.

Here’s a picture of Thomas MacEntee from Rootstech. You just know looking at him how much fun he is!

On Sunday at 3:30, I’ll be with Prof. Yaniv Erlich again along with Dick Eastman discussing What’s Next for Genetic Genealogy?

As you might guess, this is one of my favorite topics.

Registration

There are still a few tickets for MyHeritage LIVE available for 100 Euro, about $115 US, which is a great value. Your all-inclusive ticket provides:

  • Reception with drinks on Friday night
  • Choice of lectures and workshops on Saturday and Sunday
  • Lunches on both Saturday and Sunday
  • Party with live band on Saturday night

That’s some bargain!

To register, keep scrolling to the bottom until you see the registration form.

I just checked airfares and there are some great deals out there. It’s not too late.

Have you ever been to Oslo? Me either, and I’m going to treat myself to Norwegian culture after the conference. Food, chocolate, museums, how can any of that be bad?

My Heritage did me the favor of detailing the Top 5 Destinations You Should Visit in Oslo over MyHeritage LIVE.

Registration Discount for My Friends

I received an e-mail from MyHeritage saying if I referred a friend, the friend would receive a 25% discount upon registration if they use the following code at checkout.

All my blog followers are my friends, so here you go:

mh25ticket

Now, the deal is even sweeter. Please friends, in Oslo, make a point of introducing yourself and tell me you’re a blog follower!

Excuse Me, Did You Say Party?

Not that a party would influence you one way or another. Right? Of course not, but let’s just say that the MyHeritage parties are legendary.

At Rootstech, earlier this year, this photo was taken of me with Gilad Japhet, the Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. If you’re wondering about the orange feather bouquet, it was a flapper theme party with many people in full costume.

Gilad, of course, will be our host in Oslo, and you’ll see him at all of the events. He’s opening with the keynote and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find him speaking at one or both lunches and the closing session. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Gilad speak, it’s the equivalent of going to a genealogy revival. You leave unbelievably stoked and inspired!

Can’t Go?

Bummer. I’m really sorry.

However, since I’m attending, I’ll see what I can do to help out. Is there something in particular you want to learn? I don’t mean a question about your own personal genealogy, but a more general question.

Let me give you an example.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out which features and functions are included with each subscription level or package. I just can’t get it straight, so one of my goals is to come back with an answer and if a chart doesn’t exist, to make one for you.

Is there something in particular that you’d like to understand better about MyHeritage DNA or products? I’m not making any promises, but I’ll do my best on your behalf.

If so, post your question in the blog comments.

Social Media – #MHLIVE2018

If you follow any type of social media, including Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, follow the hashtag #MHLIVE2018 during the conference.

Daniel Horowitz, the MyHeritage Genealogy Expert will be posting on all 3, as will other attendees.

I’ll be blogging from the conference daily, assuming of course that I have decent Wi-Fi. Don’t forget that you can subscribe to this blog for free (if you don’t already) by clicking on the grey “follow” button in the upper right hand corner and every article will automatically come directly to your email inbox.

Harnessing the Power

We’ve never had more or better tools!

In order to fully harness the power of genealogical research today, it’s essential to test your DNA and let the gift of your ancestors work for you to find them. The MyHeritage combination of DNA, trees and records is second to none and I would encourage you to order DNA kits for yourself and family members by clicking here.

If you have already tested at either Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, LivingDNA or 23andMe, you can upload your results for FREE between now and December 1st. The upload will always be free, as will matching, but after December 1, some of the advanced tools will require payment. So, upload today.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

Troll Houses and Salt Boxes – 52 Ancestors #212

Just when I thought I wasn’t going to have an article ready for this weekend, my ancestors came to my rescue. Well, my ancestors with the assistance of two very generous friends, Jennifer Zinck and Keith Wilson, lured by a troll. Yes, a troll!

I’ve been on the road again, and it just so happened that this past week, I was in Connecticut. As luck would have it, about three years ago, a brick wall fell when I discovered that Nabby Hill (married name) was actually Nabby Hall (birth name), and that Nabby was a nickname for Abigail. I knew she was born in Connecticut from the census, but connecting the dots between her parents, Gershom Hall (c1770->1840) and Dorcas Richardson (1769-c1840) to Nabby was a long, complex story.

Nabby’s parents’ stories aren’t quite ready for prime time, in part because I had been unable to complete their research in Mansfield, Connecticut where they lived before they migrated to Vermont sometime after the birth of their last child in 1797.

Identifying Gershom and Dorcas opened the door to several generations of ancestors, including Mayflower and Plymouth Colony lines.

While my trip to Connecticut this past week only scratched the surface of that entire group, it was an incredible experience that I’d like to share with you as an example of how old deed and property records can be a goldmine! Or, in this case, a troll house.

Seriously!

I have proof!!!

Preparing to Visit

In order to maximize my short time in Connecticut, I prepared a summary, in two formats.

  • By ancestor including birth, death, burial location, church, places lived between birth and death, parents, a link to FindAGrave and my online tree. These are quick reference sheets, 2 or 3 pages max each.
  • By location, meaning that for each location, I included all ancestors born there, lived and died there, churches, burial location, home location, etc. This summary would guide my time in the two Connecticut towns, Mansfield and Willington.

Before I arrived in Connecticut, my friends Jennifer and Keith had surprised me by copying and analyzing the deeds from the town of Mansfield. That was the first location my ancestors settled inland from Cape Cod where they had lived until the later 1600s into the early 1700s. A few of my ancestors then moved another 10 miles up the road to Willington, Connecticut about 1727 where they died and are buried. Both towns are in Tolland County.

Towns are different in Connecticut than in other states further west. In Connecticut, an entire county consists of towns which aren’t just a central settlement, but include rural, forest and farm areas as well. Elsewhere, a town would be much smaller and the surrounding area would either be a township or simply fall into the county outside of the town.

In Connecticut, all records are kept in the town clerk’s office, not the county seat. The down side is that you have to know where to look by town, while a county-wide index makes it much easier to search in general. With town records, you can easily miss something if you don’t know exactly which town’s records to review.

The great news is that each town tends to have a library, often a historical/genealogical society and sometimes a town historian.

I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for all of these organizations and individuals. The historian and societies are entirely volunteer organizations, and without them, much of the transcribed, published and indexed town information and histories wouldn’t exist and would be lost forever.

Mansfield, Connecticut

Gershom Hall’s great-grandfather was William Hall, born in Yarmouth, Massachusetts on June 8, 1651 and who died In Mansfield, originally called Ponde Place, on June 11, 1727. He’s buried in the Old Mansfield Center Cemetery on land he originally owned and traded for other land in order that his original land could be utilized for the local “burying ground.” The original cemetery was only a quarter acre, right in the center of town, but has expanded significantly today.

Here I am with William’s stone on the land he once owned. I can’t even begin to explain the thrill of standing where he stood and visiting his gravesite in person.

In 1696, William Hall arrived “from Plymouth,” [MA] and acquired town land in 1703 by charter. As with many of the early settlers, he bought and sold land, leaving a respectable legacy to his heirs who passed the land to their heirs, often for generations.

Keith discovered work of an earlier researcher who had analyzed the various William Hall deeds and discovered that part of the land William sold to son Theophilus Hall was subsequently sold to Lemuel Barrows; 55 acres and a dwelling. The location noted in 1758 is shown at the intersection of Spring Hill Road and Dunhamtown or Mansfield City Road. By the way, towns change their road names, sometimes more than once.

We know that this property had a “dwelling” in 1747 and we know where the dwelling was located in 1758. What we don’t know, for sure, is whether or not the structure located there today incorporates the original home, or even part of the original.

Regardless, I love to visit the property of my ancestors.

Jennifer, Keith and I set out on a grand adventure to find this location.

We found the house, right where the 1758 notation indicated.

Jennifer started mumbling something about trolls and I was confused, until we turned the corner. Was I EVER amazed at what we discovered next.

I mean, whoever would have thought to look UNDER there for ancestors?!!

Hmmm, maybe that helps to explain this…

Where’s my spare DNA kit when I need one??? What does troll DNA look like anyway?

Willington, Connecticut

The following day goes down in history as starting out as one of the most frustrating days EVER. I won’t go into all of the details, because it would sound like a solo whine-fest, but suffice it to say that without Jennifer and her husband helping me for more than an hour on the phone as I tried to navigate massive road closures that encompassed nearly all of downtown Hartford due to a marathon and associated festivities, I would still be stuck in that mess days later! Of course, I didn’t discover the road closures until after I was already downtown and trapped.

I’m incredibly grateful and I hope I didn’t sound as grouchy as I felt.

After being unable to reach the Connecticut State Archives, I gave up entirely and decided to go to Willington, even though it was raining. In fact, it has rained so much in Connecticut recently that the ground squishes up around your shoes everyplace you walk and mildew is a cash crop.

Willington is less than an hour away from Hartford. I hadn’t prepared at all for this on-the-ground Willington journey that day, because I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to visit. I was headed to the archives, not the cemetery! The last thing Jennifer did, after explaining how to get OUT of Hartford, was to give me the actual physical address of the Olde East Cemetery in Willington.

I figured I didn’t really NEED that address, because the old town cemeteries are always in or near the center of town. I entered the address in the GPS so that I would have at least exit reminders, even though the route was straightforward, or so I thought.

Wow, was I ever wrong.

The rain continued its cold grey countenance as I drove eastward. Many expressway exits were closed due to the challenges in downtown Hartford, and I was simply glad to get on any road out of dodge. Plus, I now had an available day that I didn’t anticipate. How would I spend it wisely?

The dreary rain matched my mood. I was frustrated, dejected and so disappointed. But there has to be some lemonade in here someplace – and I was going to find it.

After exiting where the GPS instructed for Willington and driving several more miles, I found Old Cemetery Road, and it looked nothing like I expected – nor was it in the center of anything. In fact, Old Cemetery Road was a dirt road up a hill.

Willington should have been named Hillington. This looks more like Appalachia than Connecticut – or at least what I thought Connecticut looked like.

Was I lost, again? I was just sure that I had made a mistake. Nope, the cemetery was up the hill to the right, past the swamp.

While I have no ancestors with stones that remain today, there are large gaps in the older front section where stones clearly stood at one time and unmarked graves remain today. Not to mention this was the only cemetery when the town was founded in 1727, and for a long time thereafter.

I honored my ancestors, said their names out loud and talked to them, even though I don’t know exactly where they are buried. Rest assured, they are here someplace, probably in the front near the other stones belonging to people who died about the same time. At least after those hours of frustration, the cemetery was soothing and peaceful. I felt the stress melting away as my ancestors welcomed me.

The rain continued.

Seeing nothing that remotely resembled a town, I decided to find the library and ask for help. Love those librarians who set me up with a fold-out map that included a road index.

Using that map, I located the historic district, the common green, the church and then set off to find the land of Amos Richardson.

Amos was the great-grandfather of Nabby Hall on her mother, Dorcas Richardson’s side. Amos was born August 10, 1698 in Woburn, Massachusetts and died on April 16, 1777 in Willington.

Mark Palmer, the town historian mentioned the following in correspondence a few years ago:

Amos and Abigail Richardson lived off current Polster Road, slightly to the east of where John Watson lived (site of the present-day saltbox.) The time period is sometime from 1725/6 to 1735/6.

I made an important discovery about locating Connecticut farmsteads. Just drive until you see the old rock walls. Whether the original structure remains today, or not, all farms originally had rock fences, and all structures had rock foundations. Those old rock structures have such personality today, holding their centuries-old secrets and memories of those ancestors who stacked the rocks and traversed the dirt roads.

Polster Road isn’t exactly close to the center of the town itself. Miles away, it is very hilly, remote and wooded. After navigating several hills and S curves, I noticed a sign for a one lane bridge ahead. After clearing a sharp curve, into view popped this utterly amazing “salt box” home across the meadow from the river.

Look at the side. I do believe they have a “troll house” underneath too, although I bet they don’t know that’s what it is😊

While this is apparently not the actual Amos Richardson home place, his land, according to Mark, who had not reviewed the deeds at that time, was just east and then subsequently just northwest of this property. Amos’s home was probably similar to this amazing salt box historic treasure.

The raindrops slowed to a drizzle and the sun shyly peeked out from time to time as I was taking my last photos with my phone, happily trotting up and down the road.

It’s really, really difficult to remain upset at not being able to visit the archives when you make wonderful discoveries like this. These aren’t the only photos taken that day, nor the only properties, but I’m saving the rest for the articles about these ancestors.

I do hope these photos and process that I used will entice you to do deed work and search for properties of your own ancestors. Google maps today can overlap older, historic maps and neighbor’s deeds along with landmarks help locate your ancestor’s lands. Sometimes, I need to bring the deeds to current owners, or at least until contemporary addresses came into being, in order to find the property.

Don’t let the fact that you don’t live locally and can’t visit deter your search.

You don’t have to visit in person, although that’s always wonderful. I’ll clearly never be able to visit all of my ancestors’ lands, but I can visit virtually with Google map street view and it’s free. Except for the cemetery up the dirt road. Google cars don’t traverse gravel or dirt roads, or roads without center lines. They also aren’t allowed in some countries overseas,

When I returned to the hotel at the end of the day, I stepped out of the car and was greeted by this stunning double rainbow. It’s like Amos and my other Willington ancestors were apologizing for having to make me so miserable so that I would leave Hartford and visit Willington instead. Or maybe they were just thanking me in the only way they can for remembering them.

My heartfelt thanks to Jennifer Zinck, professional genealogist extraordinaire who writes at Ancestor Central and Keith Wilson, past president of the Mansfield Historical Society for their generosity in making this a wonderful trip and helping me find my very own troll house.

Family Tree DNA’s Mitochondrial Haplotree

On September 27th, 2018 Family Tree DNA published the largest Y haplotree in the world, based on SNP tests taken by customers. Now, less than two weeks later, they’ve added an exhaustive mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) public haplotree as well, making this information universally available to everyone.

Family Tree DNA’s mtDNA Haplotree is based on the latest version of the mtDNA Phylotree. The new Family Tree DNA tree includes 5,434 branches derived from more than 150,000 full sequence results from 180+ different countries of origin. Family Tree DNA‘s tree has SIX TIMES more samples than the Phylotree. Furthermore, Family Tree DNA only includes full sequence results, where Phylotree includes partial results.

This new tree is a goldmine! What does it provide that that’s unique? Locations – lots of locations!

The Official Phylotree

Unlike the Y DNA tree, which is literally defined and constructed by the genetic community, new mitochondrial DNA branches cannot be added to the official mitochondrial Phylotree by Family Tree DNA. Haplogroups, meaning new branches in the form of SNPs are added to the Y tree as new SNPs are discovered and inserted into the tree in their proper location. The mitochondrial DNA phylotree can’t be expanded by a vendor in that manner.

The official mitochondrial Phylotree is maintained at www.phylotree.org and is episodically updated. The most recent version was mtDNA tree build 17, published and updated in February 2016. You can view version history here.

Mitochondrial Phylogenic Tree Version 17

Version 17 of the official mitochondrial tree consists of approximately 5,400 nodes, or branches with a total of 24,275 samples uploaded by both private individuals and academic researchers which are then utilized to define haplogroup branches.

Individuals can upload their own full sequence results from Family Tree DNA, but they must be in a specific format. I keep meaning to write detailed instructions about how to submit your full sequence test results, but so far, that has repeatedly slipped off of the schedule. I’ll try to do this soon.

In a nutshell, download your FASTA file from Family Tree DNA and continue with the submission process here. The instructions are below the submission box, so scroll down.

In any case, the way that new branches are added to the phylotree is when enough new results with a specific mutation are submitted and evaluated, the tree will have a new branch added in the next version. That magic number of individuals with the same mutation was 3 in the past, but now that so many more people are testing, I’m not sure if that number holds, or if it should. Spontaneous mutations can and do happen at the same location. The Phylotree branches mean that the haplogroup defining mutations indicate a common ancestor, not de novo separate mutations. That’s why analysis has to be completed on each candidate branch.

How do Mitochondrial DNA Branches Work?

If you are a member of haplogroup J1c2f today, and a certain number of people in that haplogroup have another common mutation, that new mutation may be assigned the designation of 1, as in J1c2f1, where anyone in haplogroup J1c2f who has that mutation will be assigned to J1c2f1.

While the alternating letter/number format is very easy to follow, some problems and challenges do exist with the alternating letter/number haplogroup naming system.

The Name of the Game

The letter number system works fine if not many new branches are added, branches don’t shuffle and if the growth is slow. However, that’s not the case anymore.

If you recall, back in July of 2012, which is equivalent to the genetic dark ages (I know, right), the Y tree was also represented with the same type of letter number terminology used on the mitochondrial tree today.

For example, Y DNA haplogroup R-M269 was known as R1b1a2, and before that the same haplogroup was known as R1b1c. The changes occurred because so many new haplgroups were being discovered that a new sprout wasn’t added from time to time, but entire branches had to be sawed off and either discarded or grafted elsewhere. It became obvious that while the R1b1a2 version was nice, because it was visually obvious that R1b1a2a was just one step below R1b1a2, that long term, that format just wasn’t going to be able to work anymore. New branches weren’t just sprouting, wholesale shuffling was occurring. Believe it or not, we’re still on the frontier of genetic science.

In 2012, the change to the SNP based haplogroup designations was introduced by Family Tree DNA, and adopted within the community.

The ISOGG tree, the only tree that still includes the older letter/number system and creates extended letter number haplogroup names as new SNPs are added provides us with an example of how much the Y tree has grown.

You can see that the letter/number format haplogroups to the far right are 19 locations in length. The assigned SNP or SNPs associated with that haplogroup are shown as well. Those 19-digit haplogroup names are just too unwieldy, and new haplogroups are still being discovered daily.

It’s 2012 All Over Again

That’s where we are with mitochondrial DNA today, but unlike Y DNA naming, a vendor can’t just make that change to a terminal SNP based naming system because all vendors conform to the published Phylotree.

However, in this case, the vendor, Family Tree DNA has more than 6 times the number of full sequence mitochondrial results than the mitochondrial reference model Phylotree. If you look at the haplogroup projects at Family Tree DNA, you’ll notice that (some) administrators routinely group results by a specific mutation that is found within a named haplogroup, meaning that the people with the mutation form a subgroup that they believe is worthy of its own haplogroup subgroup name. The problem is that unless enough people upload their results to Phylotree, that subgroup will never be identified, so a new haplogroup won’t be added.

If the entire Family Tree DNA data base were to be uploaded to Phylotree, can you imagine how many new haplogroups would need to be formed? Of course, Family Tree DNA can’t do that, but individual testers can and should.

Challenges for Vendors

The challenge for vendors is that every time the phylotree tree is updated and a new version is produced, the vendors must “rerun” their existing tester samples against the new haplogroup defining mutations to update their testers’ haplogroup results.

In some cases, entire haplogroups are obsoleted and branches moved, so it’s not a simple matter of just adding a single letter or digit. Rearranging occurs, and will occur more and more, the more tests that are uploaded to Phylotree.

For example, in the Phylotree V17 update, haplogroup A4a1 became A1a. In other words, some haplogroups became entirely obsolete and were inserted onto other branches of the tree.

In the current version of the Phylotree, haplogroup A4 has been retired.

Keep in mind that all haplogroup assignments are the cumulative combination of all of the upstream direct haplogroups. That means that haplogroup A4a1, in the prior version, had all of the haplogroup defining mutations shown in bold in the chart below. In the V17 version, haplogroup A1a contains all of the mutations shown in bold red. You might notice that the haplogroup A4 defining mutation T16362C is no longer included, and haplogroup A4, plus all 9 downstream haplogroups which were previously dependent on T16362C have been retired. A4a1 is now A1a.

Taking a look at the mitochondrial tree in pedigree fashion, we can see haplogroup A4a1 in Build 15 from September 2012, below.

Followed by haplogroup A1a in the current Build 17.

Full Sequence Versus Chip Based Mitochondrial Testing

While Family Tree DNA tests the full sequence of their customers who purchase that level of testing, other vendors don’t, and these changes wreak havoc for those vendors, and for compatibility for customer attempting to compare between data bases and information from different vendors.

That means that without knowing which version of Phylotree a vendor currently uses, you may not be able to compare meaningfully with another user, depending on changes that occurred that haplogroup between versions. You also need to know which vendor each person utilized for testing and if that vendor’s mitochondrial results are generated from an autosomal style chip or are actually a full mitochondrial sequence test. Utilizing the ISOGG mtDNA testing comparison chart, here’s a cheat sheet.

Vendor No Mitochondrial Chip based haplogroup only mitochondrial Full Sequence mitochondrial
Family Tree DNA No Yes – V17
23andMe Yes – Build V7 No
Ancestry None
LivingDNA Yes – Build V17 No
MyHeritage None
Genographic V2 Yes – Build V16 No

Of the chip-based vendors, 23andMe is the most out of date, with V7 extending back to November of 2009. The Genographic Project has done the best job of updating from previous versions. LivingDNA entered the marketplace in 2016, utilizing V17 when they began.

Family Tree DNA’s mitochondrial test is not autosomal chip based, so they don’t encounter the problem of not having tested needed locations because they test all locations. They have upgraded their customers several times over the years, with the current version being V17.

Family Tree DNA’s mitochondrial DNA test is a separate test from their Family Finder autosomal test while the chip-based vendors provide a base-level haplogroup designation that is included in their autosomal product. However, for chip-based vendors, updating that information can be very challenging, especially when significant branch changes occur.

Let’s take a closer look.

Challenges for Autosomal Chip-Based Vendors Providing Mitochondrial Results

SNP based mitochondrial and Y DNA testing for basic haplogroups that some vendors include with autosomal DNA is a mixed blessing. The up side, you receive a basic haplogroup. The down aide, the vendor doesn’t test anyplace near all of the 16,569 mitochondrial DNA SNP locations.

I wrote in detail about how this works in the article, Haplogroup Comparisons Between Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. Since that time, LivingDNA has also added some level of haplogroup reporting through autosomal testing.

How does this work?

Let’s say that a vendor tests approximately 4000 mitochondrial DNA SNPs on the autosomal chip that you submit for autosomal DNA testing. First, that’s 4000 locations they can’t use for autosomal SNPs, because a DNA chip has a finite number of locations that can be utilized.

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s devilishly difficult to “predict” haplogroups at a detailed level correctly. Therefore, some customers receive a partial haplogroup, such as J1c, and some receive more detail.

It’s even more difficult, sometimes impossible, to update haplogroups when new Phylotree versions are released.

Why is Haplogroup Prediction and Updating so Difficult?

The full mitochondrial DNA sequence is 16,569 locations in length, plus or minus insertions and deletions. The full sequence test does exactly what that name implies, tests every single location.

Now, let’s say, by way of example, that location 10,000 isn’t used to determine any haplogroup today, so the chip-based vendors don’t test it. They only have room for 4000 of those locations on their chip, so they must use them wisely. They aren’t about to waste one of those 4000 spaces on a location that isn’t utilized in haplogroup determination.

Let’s say in the next release, V2, that location 10,000 is now used for just one haplogroup definition, but the haplogroup assignment still works without it. In other words, previously to define that haplogroup, location 9000 was used, and now a specific value at location 10,000 has been added. Assuming you have the correct value at 9,000, you’re still golden, even if the vendor doesn’t test location 10,000. No problem.

However, in V3, now there are new haplogroup subgroups in two different branches that use location 10,000 as a terminal SNP. A terminal SNP is the last SNP in line that define your results most granularly. In haplogroup J1c2f, the SNP(s) that define the f are my terminal SNPs. But if the vendor doesn’t test location 10,000, then the mutation there can’t be used to determine my terminal SNP, and my full haplogroup will be incomplete. What now?

If location 10,000 isn’t tested, the vendor can’t assign those new haplogroups, and if any other haplogroup branch is dependent on this SNP location, they can’t be assigned correctly either. Changes between releases are cumulative, so the more new releases, the further behind the haplogroup designations become.

Multiple problems exist:

  • Even if those vendors were to recalculate their customer’s results to update haplogroups, they can’t report on locations they never tested, so their haplogroup assignments become increasingly outdated.
  • To update your haplogroup when new locations need to be tested, the vendor would have to actually rerun your actual DNA test itself, NOT just update your results in the data base. They can’t update results for locations they didn’t test.
  • Without running the full mitochondrial sequence, the haplogroup can never be more current than the locations on the vendor’s chip at the time the actual DNA test is run.
  • No vendor runs a full sequence test on an autosomal chip. A full mitochondrial sequence test at Family Tree DNA is required for that.
  • Furthermore, results matching can’t be performed without the type of test performed at Family Tree DNA, because people carry mutations other than haplogroup defining mutations. Haplogroup only information is entertaining and can sometimes provide you with base information about the origins of your ancestor (Native, African, European, Asian,) but quickly loses its appeal because it’s not specific, can’t be used for matching and can’t reliably be upgraded.

The lack of complete testing also means that while Family Tree DNA can publish this type of tree and contribute to science, the other vendors can’t.

Let’s take a look at Family Tree DNA’s new tree.

Finding the Tree

To view the tree, click here, but do NOT sign in to your account. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page where you will see the options for both the Y DNA Haplotree and the mtDNA Haplotree under the Community heading.

Click on mtDNA Haplotree.

If you are a Family Tree DNA customer, you can view both the Y and mitochondrial trees from your personal page as well. You don’t have to have taken either the Y or mitochondrial DNA tests to view the trees.

Browsing the mtDNA Tree

Across the top, you’ll see the major haplogroups.

I’m using haplogroup M as an example, because it’s far up the tree and has lots of subgroups. Only full sequence results are shown on the tree.

The basic functionality of the new mitochondrial tree, meaning how it works, is the same as the Y tree, which I wrote about in the Family Tree DNA’s PUBLIC Y DNA Haplotree.

You can view the tree in two formats, countries or variants, in the upper left-hand corner. View is not the same thing as search.

When viewing the mitochondrial DNA phylotree by country, we see that haplogroup M has a total of 1339 entries, which means M and everything below M on the tree.

However, the flags showing in the M row are only for people whose full mitochondrial sequence puts them into M directly, with no subgroup.

As you can see, there are only 12: 6 people in Australia, and one in 5 other countries. These are the locations of the most distant known ancestor of those testers. If they have not completed the maternal Country of Origin on the Earliest Known Ancestor tab, nothing shows for the location.

Viewing the tree by variant shows the haplogroup defining mutations, but NOT any individual mutations beyond those that are haplogroup defining.

For each haplogroup, click on the three dots to the right to display the country report for that haplogroup.

The Country Report

The Country Report provides three columns.

The column titled Branch Participants M shows only the total of people in haplogroup M itself, with no upstream or downstream results, meaning excluding M1, M2, etc. Just the individuals in M itself. Be sure to note that there may be multiple pages to click through, at bottom right.

The second column, Downstream Participants – M and Downstream (Excluding other Letters) means the people in haplogroup M and M subclades. You may wonder why this column is included, but realize that branches of haplogroup M include haplogroups G, Q, C, Z, D and E. The middle column only includes M and subgroups that begin with M, without the others, meaning M, M10, M11 but not G, Q, etc.

Of course the final column, All Downstream Participants – M and Downstream (Including other Letters) shows all of the haplogroup M participants, meaning M and all subclades, including all other haplogroups beneath M, such as M10, G, Q, etc..

What Can I Do with This Information?

Unlike the companion Y tree DNA, since surnames change every generation for maternal lineages, there is no requirement to have multiple matching surnames on a branch to be displayed.

Therefore, every person who includes a location for a most distant known ancestor is included in the tree, but surnames are not.

I want to see, at a glance, where the other people in my haplogroup, and the haplogroups that are the “direct ancestral line” of mine are found today. Clusters may mean something genealogically or are at least historically important – and I’ll never be able to view that information any other way. In fact, before this tree was published, I wasn’t able to see this at all. Way to go Family Tree DNA!!

It’s very unlikely that I’ll match every person in my haplogroup – but the history of that haplogroup and all of the participants in that haplogroup are important to that historical lineage of my family. At one time, these people all shared one ancestor and determining when and where that person lived is relevant to my family story.

Searching for Your Haplogroup

I’m searching for haplogroup J1c2f by entering J1c2f in the “Go to Branch Name.”

There it is.

I can see that there are 17 people in Sweden, 13 in Norway, 5 in Germany, 3 in Russia, etc. What’s with the Scandinavian cluster? My most distant known ancestor was found in Germany. There’s something to be learned here that existing records can’t tell me!

The mother branch is J1c2 which shows the majority of individuals in Ireland followed by England. This probably suggests that while J1c2f may have been born in Scandinavia, J1c2 probably was not. According to the supplement to Dr. Doron Behar’s paper, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA tree from its Root, which provides ages for some mitochondrial DNA haplogroups:

Haplogroup How Old Standard Deviation Approximate Age Range in Years
J1c2 9762 2010 7,752 – 11,772
J1c2f 1926 3128 500 – 5,054

I happen to know from communicating with my matches that the haplogroup J1c2f was born more than 500 years ago because my Scandinavian mito-cousins know where their J1c2f cousin was then, and so do I. Mine was in Germany, so we know our common ancestor existed sometime before that 500 year window, and based on our mutations and the mutation tree we created, probably substantially before that 500 year threshold.

Given that J1c2, which doesn’t appear to have been born in Scandinavia is at least 7,700 years old, we can pretty safely conclude that my ancestor wasn’t in Scandinavia roughly 9,000 years ago, but was perhaps 2,000 years, ago when J1c2f was born. What types of population migration and movement happened between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago which would have potentially been responsible for the migration of a people from someplace in Europe into Scandinavia.

The first hint might be that in the Nordic Bronze Age, trade with European cultures became evident, which of course means that traders themselves were present. Scandinavian petroglyphs dating from that era depict ships and art works from as far away as Greece and Egypt have been found.

The climate in Scandinavia was warm during this period, but later deteriorated, pushing the Germanic tribes southward into continental Europe about 3000 years ago. Scandinavian influence was found in eastern Europe, and numerous Germanic tribes claimed Scandinavian origins 2000 years ago, including the Bergundians, Goths, Heruls and Lombards.

Hmmm, that might also explain how my mitochondrial DNA, in the form of my most distant known ancestor arrived in Germany, as well as the distribution into Poland.

Is this my family history? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the clustering information on the new phylotree provides me with clustering data to direct my search for a historical connection.

What Can You Do?

  • Take a full mitochondrial DNA test. Click here if you’d like to order a test or if you need to upgrade your current test.
  • Enter your Earliest Known Ancestor on the Genealogy tab of your Account Information, accessed by clicking the “Manage Personal Information” beneath your profile photo on your personal page.

The next few steps aren’t related to actually having your results displayed on the phylotree, but they are important to taking full advantage of the power of testing.

  • While viewing your account information, click on the Privacy and Sharing tab, and select to participate in matching, under Matching Preferences.

  • Also consent to Group Project Sharing AND allow your group project administrators to view your full sequence matches so that they can group you properly in any projects that you join. You full sequence mutations will never be shown publicly, only to administrators.

Of course, always click on save when you’re finished.

  • Enter your most distant ancestor information on your Matches Map page by clicking on the “Update Ancestor’s Location” beneath the map.

  • Join a project relevant to your haplogroup, such as the J project for haplogroup J. To join a project, click on myProjects at the top of the page, then on Join Projects.

  • To view available haplogroup projects, scroll down to the bottom of the screen that shows you available projects to join, and click on the letter of your haplogroup in the MTDNA Haplogroup Projects section.

  • Locate the applicable haplogroup, then click through to join the project.

These steps assure that you’ve maximized the benefits of your mitochondrial results for your own research and to your matches as well. Collaborative effort in completing geographic and known ancestor information means that we can all make discoveries.

The article, Working with Mitochondrial DNA Results steps you through you all of the various tools provided to Family Tree DNA testers.

Now, go and see who you match, where your closest matches cluster, and on the new mtDNA Haplotree, what kind of historical ancestral history your locations may reveal. What’s waiting for you?

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

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Jacob Lentz Speaks: Rescue From the Death Ship – 52 Ancestors #211

Granddaughter, can you feel me beside you here today?

Can you sense my presence?

Can you hear me as I tell you my story about the death ship – the Zee Ploeg?

Have you come back for me?

Bless you, child.

Listen.

Listen…

You can hear my whispers on the cool Nordic winds that whip through your hair. It’s not the wind. It’s the breath of time and the power of memory.

It’s me.

I am standing with you as you look out over the fjord where my life, and that of my wife and her parents unfolded in unimaginable tragedy.

I tried, oh how I tried to tell you the story.

It was there, right there, in the North Sea.

Can you feel me near you?

I am here with you.

Your mother was born half a century after I died. She never knew my name, nor did her father.

But you do.

You found me, and then found my truth.

I am so relieved that someone is interested in my life, although I passed over some 147 years ago this past spring.

My name is Jacob Lenz, or at least that’s how it was spelled in Germany.

The original document is in the “Weinstadt city archive”, which kindly gave permission for the reproduction. Document was graciously retrieved by Niclas Witt.

You can see that’s how I signed my immigration papers before I left my home village of Beutelsbach, but I’m getting ahead of my own story.

In Ohio, where I settled in 1829 or 30 after a long, long journey of 12 or 13 years, it was spelled Lentz, because that’s how it sounds. Since that’s what’s on my tombstone in the Happy Corners Cemetery, that’s how you spell it today of course.

In Ohio, I bought land that I had only dared to dream of in Germany, near the cemetery where you first found me, but that’s not where I began my life. It was an incredibly difficult journey. We nearly didn’t make it. In fact, not all of us did.

Life Began in Germany

I was born in the small town of Beutelsbach, Germany on May 15th in the year of our Lord 1783.

The old Hans Lenz family home stood for a long time after I left.

My birth was recorded in the local church records and I grew up there, a good Lutheran boy.

You can see the church in the middle of the village, even today, surrounded by those beautiful vineyards.

I began working in the vineyards as soon as I was old enough, just as my ancestors for time immemorial had done – trimming the vines, harvesting the grapes and making wine.

I don’t remember ever not being in the vineyards. From the time I was first able to toddle, I went with my parents each morning and all of the village residents, most of whom were family, were working there too. I grew up in those vineyards among the grapes.

It was a good life as a vinedresser, well, until it wasn’t anymore. The wars and devastation took a terrible toll.

And then, those dreadful years descended upon us like a plague of locusts. One would think God himself was angry. The crops failed and finally, in 1816, summer never arrived. At all.

There were no grapes, nor any other food. No crops. Some of our neighbors thought that the Biblical end of times was upon us. Hunger was our constant companion. So was the fear of death. We suffered.

Can you imagine how terrible it is to witness the hunger of your wife, children and parents and be unable to do anything to ease their suffering? Oh, the ache in my heart was far worse than the pain in my belly.

Finally, the King of Wuerttemberg lifted the restrictions on emigration because there were too many hungry people in Germany. Maybe some would leave, reducing the number of people who sought relief and who pathetically begged for food when there was none to be had.

I turned 33 years old the 15th of May in 1816 although I was far too worried about the unrelenting cold weather to remember by birthday. Crops in the vineyard had already failed for the past three years, and 1816 promised to be even worse.

I had married Frederica Ruhle in our little village church more than a decade before. Our oldest son, Jacob Franklin turned 10 in November of that year with no summer, but there was no celebration. By the time November rolled around, everyone knew something was terribly wrong and that there would be no food to survive the winter.

Worse yet, on a cold day in August, yes, a cold day in August – August 22nd, 1816, Frederica gave birth to our daughter Barbara. I’ll never forget, because there wasn’t enough food for the children we already had, yet God blessed us with another.

What was a father to do?

As our plight became increasingly desperate, I realized that the sun would never arrive and we would descend into the winter darkness with the crops never maturing. Tragedy would follow as starvation came knocking at our doors. Riots over the small amount of food available, even flour, were already occurring in the cities. Desperation abounded. The grim reaper was waiting like a gleeful vulture.

I looked over the mountains and down the rivers, and although I was afraid, I knew that America would be our Salvation.

America!

America!

Some of the Separatists in the neighbor village, Schnait, had already left a year or two before and wrote letters home encouraging us to join them. Maybe we should follow. Maybe they were right. It seems that God has smiled upon their countenance, but not ours.

In February of 1817, with no bread in the house, I no longer had to dream. I was done with dreaming and praying, seemingly to no avail, so I acted.

In order to receive permission to emigrate, Wuerttemberg citizens had to pay all of their debts and advertise publicly for any unpaid debts. I paid everyone, although we had to sell almost everything, but we received permission to emigrate and I knew we must leave very soon – before someone changed their mind and before what few provisions we had were exhausted. The horrible demon breath of starvation was hot upon our necks.

To America

We weren’t traveling to America alone.

Frederica’s parents, Johann Adam Ruhle and Dorothea Katharina Wolfin joined us. They were old by then. Dorothea Katherina – we called her Katharina – was about 62 and Adam was 53. Everyone had been suffering for the past 4 years, but 1816 was the worst. Knowing the future was bleak and uncertain, we took our family with us. We could care for them in America. We couldn’t even provide for ourselves in Germany.

Besides, Frederica’s two brothers, Jacob Christian Breuning, 34, and Johann George Ruhle, 23, who had never married were leaving with us too, as well as her sister, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, age 17, and many hands makes light work. We would own land in America.

Land!

Land of our very own and we would work it together as a family! We would grow grapes! I could smell that earthy soil as I stood, eternally hungry, in Germany. Yes, yes, America was the answer!

A large group of people, 75 or more, was leaving together from Beutelsbach and Schnait, most of us related one way or another. After all, our families had lived there forever and you could see from one side of the village to the other. You could even see the next village and walk there easily, about a mile or maybe 20 minutes – if you didn’t stop at anyone’s house along the way to talk. Of course, that seldom happened.

The vineyards grew on the hillsides behind the houses, and people from both villages walked to the vineyards everyday to tend the vines and grapes.

But the spring of 1817 was different.

Before the green sprouts of spring leaves emerged, or should have, Frederica and I, we packed our few belongings, gathered our four children together and said our goodbyes all around, knowing it was the last time we would ever see our German family members. It was heartbreaking.

Perhaps some of them would follow us to America. We were hopeful. We told them we would write and the minister could read them our letters.

Of course, what we didn’t know is that not all of us would make it to America. The price of passage would be death for many.

What would we have done had we known?

I don’t know.

Heilbronn

The village of Beutelsbach grew up beside the river, Rems, between the river and the mountains long before written records. We floated down the Rems to the Neckar River to Heilbronn, where we met up with other immigrants. A large barge would be loaded with emigrant families and whatever they were taking along, which wasn’t much, I assure you. Space was very limited and we had sold everything except for a few clothes.

In the village of Heilbronn, we stayed at the inn named Zum Kranen, The Crane, while the barge was loaded, by crane, with immigrants and our meager possessions for the trip to Amsterdam.

On April 30th, as we tried to wait patiently, a commissioner, Friedrich List arrived and asked us why we were leaving Germany. (1) Adam Ruhle, my father-in-law, an outspoken man, probably uttered more than he should have:

“You just have to look at the tax documents and you will find out by yourselves [the reasons for] our complaints. From a land property of 6 Morgen [according to Wikipedia, a Morgen in Wurttemberg was about 3500 square meters = 37700 square feet] I had to pay 279 Gulden taxes in 3 years. The king`s tax amounts to almost nothing, but the local taxes is exorbitant. If you complain about it, the district mayor does not respond. The citizens are not allowed to look at things.”

Another man from our village, Georg Friedrich Hähnle, had assets remaining of 1000 Gulden and he said:

“The forestry district does not even give greenery to the citizens, and there is also a shortage on dung. If all citizens were able to seel, then half of all citizens would emigrate. The head forester does not either give out wood. Hence people have to take it by theirselves, which is punished immoderately. If one would like to talk about everything [meaning: about all complaints], one would not be finished today.”

And another, Johann Georg Dentler, said:

“The forester treats us despotically. Two years ago, we had to collect the wood, without being allowed to take even a single stick home with us. There is no vine since four years, which has ruined the [lives of the] vintners.”

And yet another, Daniel Gaup:

“The taxes are unbearable and the worst is the sculduggery. Since half a year, a complaint against the district mayor has been filed to the authorities, and the plaintiff would have emigrated as well, if he were not to wait out the outcome of his complaint.

This citizen`s name is Hansgeprg Hammer and he has a property of 8000 Gulden. I have taken with me a letter from him to a good friend in America, in which he writes that he will emigrate next year. Besides him, many more citizens are willing to emigrate due to the bad governance. One is able to find everything [all complaints] in a protocol that has been sent to the authorities. We are at least 25 citizens, who emigrate because of these reasons. I could tell you a lot more, if only there would be the time for it.”

The commissioner asked, “Why didn`t you complain to the district office?”

“We are put off filing complaints; complainers are held captive in eternity. It is a lost try right from the start.”

And then he asked further, “Why didn`t you complain at the higher authorities?”

“A poor man like me cannot go that far to file a complaint to the high authorities. I am not influential enough for that. The other citizens will lose lots of money through their complaints and they do not know yet, how the matter will end. The costs already amount to over 2000 Gulden.”

The commissioner: “What are the complaints?”

“They are about various sculduggeries of the district mayor and several complaints against the forester and the bailiff.”

The commissioner wrote those words in a book and left. I couldn’t wait to climb onto that barge and get underway, because I was afraid we would not be allowed to leave. Complaining in Germany wasn’t safe!

The Neckar and Rhine

We floated down the Neckar and Rhine rivers on barges towards the sea as the winter ice slowly melted.

We passed villages and castles and more hillside vineyards – sights like we had never seen before.

You’ve seen these sights yourself Granddaughter, those same castles. The Rhine was our highway to America.

The land flattened as we approached Amsterdam and windmills appeared on the horizon.

The vineyards and Germany were behind us and there was no going back now.

Amsterdam

We were supposed to sail for America from Amsterdam on March 30th, but our departure was delayed, first by one thing, and then by another.

Once in Amsterdam, after many false starts, we contracted with a sea captain for passage. The contact for our voyage stated that the captain, 21 sailors and 400 passengers would sail for Philadelphia. By the time everyone was crammed into the ship, more than 565 passengers were on board, with supplies for only 400.

I was proud that I was able to pay our way, although it took every penny and we were packed into the bottom of the ship, Zee Ploeg (Sea Plow), like sausages, all passengers together in a space smaller than our home in Germany. Still, we knew that life would be better once we landed in America so we didn’t mind the discomfort.

We had hope, something that no longer existed in Germany.

Others who immigrated to America earlier had written letters back home describing the bountiful harvests and freedoms there, and we knew that God would deliver us., although he seemed to be testing our will.

But that was all in the past. We were sailing to America now!

Embarking

At first, we were delayed leaving the port of Amsterdam because of bad weather but we were able to live on the ship. Lord knows, there was no money to rent a room. In fact, there was no money left at all.

At last, after a few weeks, on May 25th we departed with one Captain Manzelman at the helm, a man I never trusted. He seemed mean, but we needed him and after all, a ship is a ship. A deal is a deal, and we had already paid.

At long last, we sailed into the sea, but then had to stop for several weeks, a month or more, on the island of Texel near the Netherlands. More foul weather. Perhaps it was an omen, but a man died and had to be buried. Yet another storm was brewing.

We had already used much of our ration of food allotted each person for the journey, and the captain’s mood became sourer and fouler with each passing day. That man is the devil incarnate – mark my words.

We took on more supplies and water in Texel, and a few weeks later, finally set sail again as soon as the winds abated. But it was only the lull before the next storm.

Pummeled by another storm, we had to return to Texel, again. Everyone, passengers and crew alike, avoided the captain who seemed angry that we existed. We felt like he wanted us dead, and truth be known, he did, as we would soon discover.

Finally, finally, on the last day of August we set forth again into the Atlantic, expecting to be in America in just a few weeks.

Our spirits soared!

America, here we come!!!

Forsaken by God

Less than one day into the Atlantic, the wrath of God descended upon us in an angry torrent. A terrible hurricane tossed our ship like a cork in the sea. The massive waves first threw the Zee Ploeg ship skyward into the air, then as we descended into the abyss, crashed over us like deafening thunder. People, passengers and crew alike were drown and swept overboard. Our food was washed into the sea as well, and what wasn’t, was ruined. The water casks crashed through the deck into the passenger hold, below, as did the cannons.

We prayed to the Lord to save us, for food and for fresh water, but day by day, we drifted with none in the unceasing storms. Dying little by little, inch by inch. I can’t even think of that horror. It haunted my waking hours and my dreams until the day I died. I could barely speak of it and Frederica could not.

In the darkest of nights in the worst of gales, we heard a monstrous thunderous crashing, then splintering. The mast twisted, shrieking amidst the squalling of the storm and broke in two, like a mere twig. We knew we were doomed, never expecting to see the light of day. We clutched each other as the water rose in the bowels of the ship and awaited our fate. Frederica hugged the baby to her breast. We held each other as tightly as we could and prayed. We would die as a family.

By some miracle, that ship stayed afloat.

A day or two later, more damage to the ship – the bowsprit snapped too. The sea broke the windows in the ship, and water poured in from every hole.

My God, my God, what have we done to deserve this?

Then, our young Elizabeth, just four and a half years old, died. Wet and ice cold, we huddled together for warmth below deck, starving – with no food or water. The stench of death and sewage enveloped us. We no longer knew whether to pray for life or death. Death seemed more humane.

To make matters worse, the captain tried to poison what little food we had. The men, starving or not, well, we had to take matters into our own hands. We were a captainless, rudderless mass of starving humanity adrift on the angry sea. Completely forsaken or at least forgotten by God. Why? Why?

Oh God, why?

A couple weeks later, we drifted by the Faroe Islands and tried to gain their attention with a shot, but that was not to be and we drifted on, devoid of all hope, starving and utterly forlorn.

Death became our constant companion.

Two Months Later – Norway

At the end of September, after being adrift for nearly two months – I don’t rightly recall the day as they all ran together by then, we thankfully, thankfully, shipwrecked into the shore of Norway near an island called Herdla.

You know the place. I saw you there today, standing at the monument honoring the passengers on the Zee Ploeg.

Lakes, salt, sun, universe, eternity and heaven – the symbols on the monument..

I was with you Granddaughter, as you came back to see me. My heart swelled with pride.

See the islands behind you – that’s where the Zee Ploeg came to rest, rocking back and forth, teetering precariously on the rocky island near the Skjellanger lighthouse.

“Please God, we beseech of you, do not let us break free and wash out to sea again.”

We gave thanks because we were sure that the people ashore would help us as soon as they could see us through the fog. In the name of all humanity, how could they ignore or refuse our great suffering?

Herdla was a small island, maybe a mile long and a quarter or half a mile wide. Fishermen in boats kindly brought us food, but the sight of the dead and nearly-dead on the death-ship, reaching out, screaming in an unknown language and desperately begging frightened the local people. We must have appeared mad, and indeed, we were crazed with hunger and thirst.

They didn’t know what to do with us, whether we were just starving or also carrying some plague that would kill them too. There were so many dead. Some we buried at sea as we could, but when the sea was too rough, our dead family members simply remained with us below deck amid the stench.

Perhaps the people on Herdla wondered if we were even of this world. We looked like the walking dead.

They were kind enough to allow us to bury some of our deceased in the churchyard. I hope they said prayers over their bodies and for the souls of our relatives.

We were dying every day now. Entire families perishing, one by one.

The wailing never stopped. The screams and moans of unimaginable night terrors, except it was real and there was no escape. The only escape was death itself.

Bergen

The men in Herdla sent an emergency message to Bergen, the capital of Norway, further down the fjord. What were they to do with a ship full of starving, sick castaways?

We didn’t know anything about Norway. In fact, we weren’t supposed to be anyplace close to Norway. Driven by the storm, after the mast and bowsprit broke, we could neither navigate nor control the ship, nor did we know exactly where we were.

Fortunately for us, the Norwegian people, at least near the sea, were at least somewhat familiar with Germans. Hanseatic League German merchants had been trading with Norwegians for hundreds of years. A few people spoke a little German and all people living by the sea understood a shipwreck and hunger.

Norway itself was struggling. The country had been gifted to the Swedes by the Danes just three years before, and many of the bureaucrats in charge had little experience.

We were devastated, crushed, when they decided that we could not remain in Herdla and in fact, we could not come ashore at all. It appeared that our incredible relief at being washed up on the island and being discovered was premature.

Overwrought, we were trapped on the ship in our misery which deepened day by day.

Elsesro

The Zee Ploeg was towed to a shipyard north of Bergen, called Elsesro, where we were quarantined on the ship in this bay, right beside the buildings with the red roofs, for 30 days.

This is how Elsesro looked in 1814. It’s still recognizable today – even the red roof buildings

I stood beside you as you stood witness at Elsesro overlooking the sea, where the Zee Ploeg was tied, feeling our sadness across two centuries. Palpable, you can still touch our grief, and through it, you touch us.

The disabled Zee Ploeg was tethered to the dock beside one of those warehouses with the red tile roofs, just beneath you Granddaughter. Perhaps, if I could have peered up into the future, I could have seen you perched upon that hill, reaching out to me through the mists of time.

I was with you in Elsesro today, my Granddaughter.

You stood where we stood, where our children played and we heard their laughter once again as the sun grew warm. You touched the trees that were saplings when I staggered upon that land, falling upon the ground in thanksgiving after emerging from that hell-hole ship, reeking of death.

You stood just a few feet away.

Ahh, some of those sturdy trees are gone now, as am I, but the stump remains, just as part of me remains in you.

Purgatory

We hoped that our fate had turned for the better at Elsesro, but we questioned if it could be so. We didn’t know the language and wondered what would become of us. America was never further away. Germany was in the past. We were in limbo. Purgatory on Earth.

While incredibly relieved to no longer be adrift, we looked out at this bay for 30 long days, wondering if we would leave before that time, feet first.

Death seemed to be the only way off of this terrible ship.

God, it seems, wasn’t yet done testing our will.

Those 30 days and nights were endless, relentless. Still, more people died. And more. And more.

When that eternity had passed, we were allowed to depart the ship. We had no place to go, we still had no food, our clothes were in tatters and as the local residents described us, we “were more dead than alive.” Begging was against the law, but what choice did we have?

Thank God, some of the residents at least took the pitiful wailing orphans into their homes, hearts and families.

You met one of their descendants today, Granddaughter, Christian Rieber. He built that lovely memorial for the Zee Ploeg survivors in Herdla where we stood together.

Christian’s ancestors died on the Zee Ploeg and we tried to comfort the orphans, but could not.

The Zee Ploeg was so badly damaged that she could not be repaired. The breaking masts had crashed through the deck and broken the sides.

Not knowing what to do with us, the Norwegians are a resourceful lot.

At Elsesro, another ship with no masts called the Noah’s Ark was tethered to the Zee Ploeg, upon her deck. Those of us left alive lived between the two ships lashed together in the cove, cold, miserable and suffering as the gloom of winter fell upon us.

Still, it was better than dying one by one, adrift at sea.

The Noah’s Ark Tragedy

Elsesro, where you stood today, was where the tragedy of the Noah’s Ark took place, as if there hadn’t been enough tragedy already. More terror and death.

In January, on the 14th, in the dead of the winter during yet another horrific storm that blew in from the north, the Noah’s Ark broke loose from the Zee Ploeg, crashing into the sea and drowning many of the people who had already survived a shipwreck and starvation, sweeping them out to sea. Then another 20 died in the next fortnight from terror.

The survivors, nearly drown, became very ill. Today, you might call it pneumonia or maybe they had heart attacks, but we didn’t know why back then. Slowly, more died and were buried in the churchyard behind St. Mary’s Church, the church in the neighborhood where the Hanseatic League Germans lived.

Thank goodness those Germans spoke our language and we could at least have the comfort of a funeral service we understood to bury our unfortunate dead. They wrote the names of our dead in their church book, giving us at least some semblance of normalcy and consolation.

Those we had to bury at sea had nothing more than a prayer, and those swept overboard…I can’t bear to think…

22 Kong Oscar’s Gate

You probably didn’t know there were hospitals in 1817, but one, of a sort, existed in Bergen, left over from the war with Sweden three years earlier where captive soldiers needed treatment. That’s where the desperately ill were sent, often to await the grim reaper. 22 Kong Oscar’s Gate, meaning house 22 on King Oscar’s Street.

The building that served as our hospital isn’t there anymore, of course, but I walked beside you when you climbed the cobblestone street, the same one I trod, and visited the building in that location today to see where we lived.

I was fortunate, if you can even use that word to describe our plight, that most of our family was in the hospital and had been since October. They had to carry us off of that ship. We couldn’t walk and were very nearly dead. So I wasn’t on the Zee Ploeg on January 14th when the Noah’s Ark accident happened.

More than 100 people had died by this time, including all 30 babies born during the journey. We no longer knew who was still alive. Confusion reigned.

After the Noah’s Ark accident, many more were sent to the hospital to recover, or die. Twenty more died that next week. There were funerals every day. Graves couldn’t be dug fast enough.

Thankfully, kindly townspeople brought us food, and clothes, for we had none.

The Lawsuit

I know the Bible teaches us forgiveness, but I could not forgive that despicable captain for what he had done to us. Manzelmann, of course, had secreted food away and he didn’t suffer the same fate as we did. Then, he tried to poison us. He was seen acting suspiciously and slipping poison into the kettle of gruel.

Some of the ruined food was saved and indeed, it proved exactly as we suspected – POISON. We should have made him eat it. We had to dispose of that poisoned food, meaning what little food we had was wasted as we starved. His murderous intentions and incompetence in so many ways caused the terror, torture and deaths of our countrymen and cousins. He didn’t care.

In essence, he killed our beloved daughter, Elizabeth. No, I could not forgive that man.

By January 8th, I was once again able to walk, so Johann Fidler and I filed suit against Captain Manzelmann, asking for our passage money to be refunded so that we could pay our Norwegian benefactors and once again purchase passage to America.

Manzelmann claimed that he was not responsible for our predicament, that we needed to sue the company in the Netherlands that we contracted through for his services. Under the dark of night, Manzelmann stole board a ship and returned to the Netherlands, leaving the misery and devastation he caused behind, never having to answer for his actions. We should have hung him on the ship when we had the opportunity.

The Zee Ploeg was too badly damaged to be repaired or rebuilt and her wood became part of those warehouses you saw at Elsesro today, Granddaughter. Who knows, maybe part of her still remains in those rafters.

New Beginnings – A Wedding and a Baby

On February 8th, my wife Frederica’s brother, Johann George Ruhle, married Catharina Koch, a girl from Schnait who was also emigrating. Her mother was a Ruhle, related to my wife, and her grandmother was a Lenz, related to me. Actually, in those two villages, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t related, several times over.

George and Catharina courted while we floated down the Rhine past those majestic castles and after we climbed aboard the Zee Ploeg in Amsterdam.

Those castles were a romantic sight alright and enough to inspire anyone. In June, they announced their engagement, although we certainly suspected. They would marry after we arrived in America. We all celebrated and well, they might have celebrated a bit too much.

Georg and Catharina married in Bergen in the old Cross Church, just around the corner from the hospital where we had all been taken. The door was always open then too.

I walked beside you in the church today, my Granddaughter. The inside looks much the same as it did when we fervently prayed for safe deliverance.

We sat in these pews and prayed at this alter, day by day, to God to deliver us to America. With no resources, we were entirely at his mercy.

Was there a way for us? Was there any salvation on this side of the grave? How many more would die? I would rather die than go on alone.

I know it sounds odd to say that we were fortunate to be so ill, but the hospital is what saved us. We weren’t on board when the Noah’s Ark broke free, plummeting into the sea.

The hospital was barren and stark. The townspeople of Bergen brought us food and a few clothes. We were so grateful because, austere as it was, it was so much better than the ship. Somehow, we had been transformed from hopeful emigrants to pathetic beggarly refugees.

As we could, we wove and repaired fish nets and anything else we could do, but we were far more of a burden to the people of Bergen than anything else. They too had suffered at the hands of Mother Nature, with starvation knocking at their doors as well. They had little to share, but shared what little they had.

Not to mention that having been defeated in the Napoleonic Wars, they had been overcome by Sweden just three years before. They were terribly poor, just eeking by. Thank God for the blessings of the bounty of the sea, or we would surely have perished altogether.

A Secret

Let me tell you a little secret. No one can hear, can then?

Frederica’s brother’s wife, Catharina, when they married in Bergen, was “with child.”

Shhh….

There was no way for Georg and Catharina to marry on the ship, and although they were properly penitent for their immoral behavior, celebrating their upcoming marriage prematurely one would say, it was too late. A child, we thought, would brighten all of our spirits. This child seemed ordained by God, especially since the baby was born in February, even though his mother was starved during her pregnancy. We gave her as much of our food as we could.

Little Joseph Ruhle was born at the hospital on February 28th. We rejoiced and baptized him right away right around the corner at Cross Church, where his parents were married.

We were so thankful to have a place to worship so close by, less than a block away, around the corner just past the green house.

I proudly carried little Joseph to the church myself as his mother rested! He was the newfound joy in our life. The symbol of our hope for our new lives.

I saw you lovingly touch that baptismal font inside the church today, Granddaughter. We gathered around that font as baby Joseph Ruhle was baptized. We were so grateful to hear him cry, full of life, despite the odds. That day seemed to be the turning point. Frederica’s father, Adam, the baby’s grandfather proudly served as his godfather. Joseph’s birth gave us all renewed hope. Yes, life was improving now!

Things were looking up.

But Baby Joseph too was soon cruelly ripped from us, exactly three months later in May of 1818. We sorrowfully wrapped his tiny body for burial and said our goodbyes. The funeral was held the next day, on May 28th in St. Mary’s Church with a German service, his little body laid to rest in the pauper’s corner, beside the rest of the Germans from the Zee Ploeg who had perished.

More than 2200 people were buried in that field above the church. It’s a Park now, still known as “The Grave.”

Most of the graves weren’t marked then, and all are gone now.

I saw you here too, Granddaughter, searching for his lonely grave in the rain today.

None of us could afford a stone. No one knows now where his little body was left behind, his grave lost to history forever.

We washed you with our raindrop tears, but do not grieve, we are with him now.

The Rappites

After baby Joseph died, our despair seemed to deepen with every new day. We knew that we could not stay in Bergen forever. The Norwegians didn’t want us, and we couldn’t blame them. We didn’t want to live as paupers, taking charity. We couldn’t support ourselves. We still needed to find a way to America, but there were very few options.

Frederica’s half-brother, Christian Breuning managed to arrange passage for himself on a ship for America in July. The Rappites from the Harmony settlement in Indiana were willing to pay the passage for anyone who would join their colony, but of course their way of life was very strict and included complete celibacy. Being a young father, I didn’t feel that was the right answer for our family. Lucky for you, Granddaughter, because your mother’s grandmother, our daughter Margaret wasn’t born until the last day of December in 1822, the day before our 3rd anniversary setting foot on American soil. If we had joined the Rappites, well, to put it daintily, you wouldn’t be here.

Christian Breuning left Bergen on August 13th on a ship that held 80 Rappites, although we understand that the Rappites later felt the German boys were too rowdy for their settlement. Some passengers disappeared after arriving in America and never made it to the Harmony settlement, apparently having a change of heart. We always wondered what happened to Christian.

After Christian departed, our countrymen continued to die. Three of our cousins from Schnait named Daniel Lenz died and are all buried with the others in the poor section in Fredens Bolig Cemetery, above St. Mary’s Church. Conrad Lenz died too. One grief on top of another.

The Ship Prima

The Norwegian grey skies and never-ending winter rains had begun, the sun disappeared for days at a time, and darkness was descending on the country.

The people of Bergen were as desperate to be rid of us as we were to be gone. We could not return to Germany without money, as the king made it very clear when we left that we would never be allowed to return. Germany didn’t need any more poor people and the Rhine was in essence a one way river. Our families there were all in desperate straits as well, with the crop failures and high taxes and could not sponsor our return.

Finally in the late fall, the Norwegian government found the captain of the ship Prima who agreed to transport us to America and allow us to be sold into indentured servitude after arrival in order to pay our passage. Indentured servitude would take another 7 years. Surely Frederica’s parents, Adam and Katharina Ruhle would never live that long. She would be 70 and he would be 61 by then. Who would even purchase them? Indeed, 11 people on the ship were too old to be sold after we arrived in America.

This was Captain Manzelmann’s fault – that evil, despicable man. He had brought this disaster upon our heads. Passage to America should not cost us another 7 years, 7 very long dear years of our lives. It has already cost us one and a half years, and we were destitute refugees in Bergan, not near America yet.

By the time we sailed to America, were auctioned and served 7 years, it would be nearly 10 years since we left Germany, hoping to start a new life. Adam and Katharina’s life would be over. They would have sacrificed and suffered for nothing.

I had paid the first passage for the entire family, but without a penny to my name, we were reduced to charity and utter dependence in Norway. Our sole request was that we would be sold together as a family. With that agreement 270 Germans, us included, climbed aboard the ship Prima and set forth again.

Frederica cried as we boarded the Prima. Terror was in our hearts. Our unsteady legs shook, but we had to climb aboard that ship.

Our child’s body along with so many of our countrymen already rested beneath the sea with more left behind in St. Mary’s churchyard. Of the almost 600 people that sailed on the Zee Ploeg from Amsterdam, only about 350 left Bergen. That doesn’t count the newborns who perished of course, and it doesn’t count the few orphans who survived and stayed behind in Bergen with their new families either.

The first few weeks on board the Prima were almost normal, as voyages go. Captain Woxland chose the southern route due to the lateness of our sailing. Along the coast of Portugal, we caught the never-failing trade winds and sailed across the sea to the West Indies. We heaved a collective sigh of relief, but once again, the unholy seas turned on us.

Captain Woxland had to fight a raging storm, a hurricane that nearly caused our ship to capsize. Terror filled our hearts once again, but Woxland was a skillful Captain and a good man, not at all like Manzelmann.

To help quench our fear, we prayed aloud and sang songs. The Lord had brought us this far and surely, surely, He would not let us perish now. We did not arrive in the fall as planned, and not in Philadelphia as we intended, but weeks later limped into Baltimore midwinter, on New Year’s Day 1819. We had been delivered. We had escaped the dragons of the sea for the sixth time. Thanks be to God.

Of course, we were yet to be sold, auctioned, but we would never have to set foot on another ship, nor would we, for the rest of our lives. Nor would our descendants for five generations, until you, that is. I don’t know, my dear, if you are brave or foolhearty! But you are assuredly one or the other.

Your Return

Granddaughter, I’m so glad you returned in the ship in the sky. I hope you can feel my love and gratitude across the years.

I’m so thankful that you made your way back to look out over the fjord to the island across from Herdla. Never was anyone so glad to be cast upon rocks!

The simple church on the hillside there gave us such hope as we saw the boats approaching from the shore with food. We rejoiced, watching the arrival of our saviors.

I’m so grateful that you returned to give thanks in the church in Herdla for the people who saved us. They’re buried in that churchyard by the sea, you know. We owe those good people our life, and yours.

It’s fitting that a replica of the Zee Ploeg graces that church today, commissioned by Christian Rieber, a fourth generation descendant of one of those pitiful orphans. Our descendants sure have done us proud.

I’m sure you know of the Norwegian custom of building a replica of a shipwrecked ship and donating it to the first church the survivors worshipped in to give thanks to the Lord Almighty for their rescue. See the Zee Ploeg hanging there from the rafters? Now you know why.

You walked in our footsteps in Elsesro too. A place of great relief and also of great sorrow.

So much to bear, when life was already unbearable. Elsesro’s peaceful beauty today belies the tragedy tucked away beneath years of forgetfulness.

The hospital, our place of salvation and our makeshift home for so many months is gone now, but you visited us there too. Our spirit remains. We trod those same ancient cobblestones as we walked up and down the hills streets of Bergen, and around the corner to the Cross Church.

By Thomasg74 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 no, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21771343

I saw you at the church door today, exactly where we stood too. We passed through that very door.

I was so touched that you walked up the aisle in the Cross Church were Frederica’s brother was married and baby Joseph was baptized with his grandfather standing proudly beside the baptismal font. That was one of our few days of happiness and joy in Bergen.

Bless you for your prayers for our souls there. We pray for yours as well.

The Cross Church provided us with peaceful respite then, just as it did you today.

Sermons at St. Mary’s Church were in German, a comfort to us, and Lord knows, we walked up the streets to that church for another funeral every week, it seems. Sometimes every day.

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We stood in St. Mary’s Church beside you today, just as we stood there the day we buried baby Joseph, and Daniel Lenz, all three of them, and Conrad Lenz and so many more.

The tiny bones in the cemetery on the hill behind St. Mary’s Church are long returned to dust. You did what we could not do, standing in our stead at the grave of that sweet baby boy and others that we left behind in that pauper’s field.

The burying ground is a park now, but we walked that sacred land with you. Our dust still remains.

Our memory lives again. We became you. You carry us in your veins. Remember, our and your DNA rests in the Bergen cemetery too, beneath the sea, and in churchyards in Germany, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

Frederica’s parents, Dorothea Katharina and Johann Adam Ruhle never made it to Ohio with us to see our new land. We lost them along the way.

Thank you, Granddaughter for rescuing us from the death ship of oblivion. For finding us and telling our story of that tortuous journey. The wonderful people of Bergen saved us then, and you saved us again. As long as someone remembers us, knows our story, we aren’t entirely dead. Well, we may be dead, but we aren’t gone and forgotten.

If you doubt that I was with you today, look upon this rainbow across the harbor at Elsesro, a gift from me and your ancestors already here – your mother too! We struggled to help you find your way to Norway and we are smiling, ear to ear!

You made it!! We never doubted your resolve. After all, you carry our blood.

The rainbow begins, or ends, in Elsesro, in the shipyard – just like it begins and ends with you. Indeed, Elsesro is the pot at the end of the rainbow, on the left end of the faint double rainbow, the beginning of the next generation.

Need God speak louder?

You, Granddaughter, are our pot of gold – although you think that we are yours.

Yes, that journey was terrifying, devastating and our hearts still ache, but it was the path to you. We did survive and live on through you. You make us proud!

Know that as we watched you sail away on a very different ship, we stood on the mountain top watching over you. As we will, Granddaughter, all the days of your life.

Grateful acknowledgements:

Many people played a part in in bringing the life of Jacob Lentz, his wife Frederica Ruhle, her parents, Johann Adam Ruhle and Dorothea Katharina Wolfin, and Frederica’s siblings together in Germany, then in Bergen, and finally in the US. I am eternally indebted to the following people who helped me along this path in so many different ways with rescuing these ancestors, and their story, from oblivion.

  • Christian Rieber – Benefactor for many Zee Ploeg descendant historical contributions including the monument and pavilion being built nearby and the museum documentary. Christian is an inspiration for all generations.
  • Sigmund Steinsbo – Our gracious host on our Herdla day – thank you so much for driving.
  • Arnfrid Dommersnæs Mæland – Bergen historian extraordinaire who served as a wonderful liaison in Bergen. I couldn’t have had this amazing Bergen experience without Arnfrid. Most of the historical images and some of the contemporary photos are courtesy of Arnfrid.
  • Arvid Harms – Arnfrid’s husband, wonderful, patient  and amazingly unique companion (who drives a very cool Bentley).

  • Arne Solli – Bergen historian and researcher.
  • Herdla Church – Steward of the Zee Ploeg ship replica.
  • Herdla church historian – Generously provided access to church and prepared a historical presentation.

Herdla Church visit, left to right, Arvid Harms, Arnfrid Dommersnæs Mæland, church historian, me, Sigmund Steinsbo

  • Herdla Museum and staff – Welcoming guardians of the Zee Ploeg video (in both Norwegian and English) that resides in the museum. The Zee Ploeg monument and pavilion are also located on this lovely property.
  • Gunnar Furre – Herdla Museum Director who hosted our visit and tolerates Zee Ploeg descendants who return like homing pigeons.
  • Yngve Nedrebø – Historian at the Bergen archives.
  • Håakon Andersen – Amazingly talented creator of the Zee Ploeg ship model.
  • Liv Stromme – Assistance with Zee Ploeg research.
  • Lisbeth Lochen – Assistance with Zee Ploeg research.
  • Martin Goll – Assistance with Beutelsbach and Schnait research.
  • Niclas Witt – Assistance with German archival material and retrieval.
  • Jim – My husband who accompanies me on any number of insane adventures and claims to like it:)

Wonderful traditional Norwegian dinner in Bergen with Arnfrid, Arvid, me and Jim. The perfect evening. Jacob Lentz may have been there too, but if so, he didn’t eat much nor drink any of the local brew.

Researchers wishing to remain anonymous:

  • Tom – My cousin, retired professional German genealogist and research partner, whom I adore for many reasons.
  • Chris – Native German speaker, my friend who loves history, is eternally curious, finds the most amazing resources and rounds out our research team perfectly. I met Chris on this trip too, but that’s a story for another time.

Without the consistent combined efforts of Tom and Chris, Frederica Ruhle would never have been identified, which ultimately led me to Beutelsbach, Schnait and then Bergen in person. None of this would have happened without them. These men have never-ending patience and there isn’t a big enough thank you.

I am amazed, over and over again how, through genealogy, we meet complete strangers and emerge fast friends. For that gift, I guess I have to thank Jacob Lentz.

Footnotes:

The interviews by Friedrich List were extracted from the book by Günter Moltmann 1979, “Aufbruch nach Amerika. Die Auswanderungswelle von 1816/17,” and translated by Chris.