Aunt Margaret’s Bombshell Letter – 52 Ancestors #210

Aunt Margaret (1906-2005), one of my Crazy Estes aunts, wrote a bombshell letter on January 26, 1978. Little did I know that I had unwittingly been the catalyst, nor that the bomb itself would explode in my own hands a quarter century later.

That letter answered a lot of questions, but it also introduced many, MANY more mysteries, some of which I’ve been able to solve. Others, however, remain stubbornly elusive, nagging reminders of how little we sometimes know about even our closest relatives.

Introducing the Characters

Before I share the letter, I need to give you a dance card with a cast of characters, and believe me, they are truly characters. Otherwise you’ll surely miss some of the essence of the soap-opera-esque plot.

Let’s start with a pedigree chart. Three charts, actually, one for each of my grandfather, William George Estes’s marriages. He’s the character in red, below.

Lazarus Estes and his wife Elizabeth Vannoy lived at the end of Estes Holler in Claiborne County, Tennessee and died in 1918.

While Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, called Betty, had several children, only two are mentioned in Margaret’s letter – Cornie Epperson and my grandfather who is Margaret’s father, William George Estes (1873-1971.)

William George Estes was married three times, assuming all three “marriages” were legal. I’m positive that the first one to Ollie Bolton was official, as I have the marriage documentation. The others, well, you can decide for yourself.

  • William George was first married to Ollie Bolton, having a total of 10 or 11 children. Six are mentioned in this letter and five survived to adulthood. They are, in age order, Estel, my father, Joseph “Dode,” Margaret, Minnie and Elsa.
  • William George’s second marriage was to Joice Hatfield and they had one daughter, Virginia Estes, also mentioned in Margaret’s letter.
  • William George’s third marriage was to Crocie Brewer who had a total of four children with him, but only two of which, Josephine and “red headed” Evelyn are mentioned by Margaret.

White and Black Sheep

Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy’s daughter, Cornie Estes (1878-1958), married Worth Epperson (1873-1959) and set up housekeeping right across the dirt road from Lazarus where they lived and died.

Cornie Estes and Worth Epperson celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. They seemed to be the glue in Estes Holler after Lazarus and Elizabeth died.

Cornie and Worth are buried together in the cemetery called Cedar Hill, at least it was called that by the family, on Lazarus’s land. The road between Cornie’s house and Lazarus’s was barely a two track at the time I first visited in the 1980s.

You can see the cemetery beneath the cedar tree in the center of the photo above.

William George Estes with his sister, Cornie Estes Epperson

While Lazarus seemed to have been the stable cornerstone of the family in Estes Holler, his son, William George was quite the opposite. Put bluntly, William George was unquestionably the black sheep. A very interesting black sheep, but a black sheep nonetheless who seemed to exasperate everyone around him as he drifted from one marriage and crisis to the next, leaving a trail of human carnage behind for others to unravel and clean up, as Margaret’s letter bears witness.

Aunt Margaret

William George and Ollie’s daughter Margaret, the letter-writer, born in 1906, married Edward Wyatt O’ Rourke and moved to California before 1942. The photo below was taken in 1944 and Margaret notes it was in San Francisco.

Margaret and Ed had one son who apparently married, then died (or disappeared) after having one child, a daughter, according to discussions with Margaret back in the 1970s. Unfortunately, Margaret’s stories about her son and the granddaughter were very convoluted and tangled, sometimes contradicted themselves and may have been partly the product of confusion, a propensity towards twisting the truth and mental illness that manifested as paranoia. I wasn’t sure who lived and died, when or where, but I do know it was an ungodly mess.


Aunt Margaret and her sister, Minnie, were both known to be somewhat eccentric in their later years. Ok, maybe in their earlier years too. Both were inclined to stretch the truth from time to time, and sometimes, they simply flat out fabricated stories. They were quite creative as well as experts in manipulating people to draw attention to themselves. These ladies seemed to be addicted to drama, and if there wasn’t any, they stirred some up. Before judging too harshly, read the rest of their story.

When I first read Margaret’s shocking letter, I knew that Margaret had previously been dishonest and manipulative with me. So you’ll appreciate that I had a healthy amount of skepticism about the veracity of the “truths” this letter revealed.

Margaret seemed to grow much worse as she aged as her inclination for tall tales stretched into outright paranoia. I think at one time she knew her stories were untrue, but by the 1970s and 1980s, she appeared to become increasingly unable to discern truth from fiction. The last time I spoke with Margaret who was then living in California, she insisted that I had visited her in either her second home in Hawaii or third home in Singapore and I “knew what I did.” I never met Margaret, nor did Margaret have three homes in different parts of the world, at least not to the best of my knowledge. And clearly, I didn’t “do” anything. Her accusations were nasty, unsettling and frightening. Rather than be drawn into her drama, I simply stepped away entirely, permanently.

Being aware of that history, suffice it to say, I didn’t know what to think, reading Margaret’s 1978 letter a quarter century later. I did what genealogists do, I set forth to prove, or disprove as much as possible.

Come follow along.

Solving the First Mystery

I am summarizing parts of Margaret’s 22-page hand-written tome but directly transcribing much of it, in the order in which it was written. Trust me, it needs her own words.

The letter, written in early 1978 to my step-mother, Virgie, long after my father’s 1963 death, is obviously quite friendly. Margaret opens with “My Dear,” and refers to Virgie as “my darling Sis,” although a red flag shot up when Margaret insisted on paying for a long-distance phone call by sending Virgie a check, even though “we are both on pensions.”

I learned years before that Margaret never did anything without some level of guilt being inflicted. She would voluntarily insist on doing something nice, and then inform you of what a hardship it had caused her. She seemed to live to make everyone around her feel guilty by elevating her own actions. I was a young adult when I was first exposed to Margaret’s behavior. I had never encountered anything like this before and didn’t exactly know what to “do” about it, but I did know it made me feel awful and icky. What I didn’t realize at the time is that’s exactly what it was meant to do. I’ll not ascribe motive, but since Minnie and Margaret exhibited many of the same behaviors, I suspect the root may have been family based, nature or nurture (or lack thereof,) or perhaps all three.

Margaret mentioned in her letter that she had called Virgie “a few years back” and had sent a letter as well to “the address on Hickory” in Dunkirk, Indiana which was returned.

I must say, the mention of the Hickory Street address confirmed something I had suspected from my father’s obituary and Google maps today. 501 Hickory, where Virgie lived when my father was alive is now 202 Shadyside. The houses had been renumbered, apparently between 1963 when my father died and 1978. Virgie’s home was at the intersection of the two streets.

I then thought to check in my mother’s old address book, and sure enough, Virgie’s address on Hickory had been struck through and replaced by the Shadyside address. Virgie never moved, closing her life in the house where it opened 86 years earlier.

These two side by side pictures show the house in 1919 on the left, with my father in uniform, and about 1963 on the right.

The house looks very different today, but it’s still recognizable. One mystery solved!

Margaret Thinks I Ask Too Many Questions!

Margaret begins:

“I have been trying to decide what to do about Roberta’s letter which was so abrupt and chuck full of personal questions regarding my family tree – since her mother seems to have withheld information regarding her connections with my brother, I do not feel it is any business of mine to reveal any knowledge I might have of Bill’s personal affairs or of any members of my family – and certainly not mine.”

Truthfully, this made me bristle.

All I can say is that I did ask lots of questions because there was no one else to ask and Margaret had encouraged me to do so – going so far as sending me letters with photos. I was grateful to find someone, anyone, who might have any answers. Margaret certainly never exhibited this attitude when we talked on the phone. I initially felt welcomed, even embraced. Margaret provided information, copied and sent photos and gave me the names of other people to contact. I was shocked and hurt to read that paragraph about myself.

Margaret was very uncharitable towards my mother who suffered from the behavior of my father in many ways. She didn’t live near my father’s family in Tennessee, and to the best of my knowledge, had only met his father and step-mother on one trip. She didn’t know the rest of the family, so she could hardly have withheld information she didn’t know.

Not only did Mother raise me alone, without financial support from him or support of any kind from any of his family, including Margaret, mother endured the disgrace that his choices reflected upon her. In many cases, Mother believed I was better off not knowing details of his exploits, as she did not want my opportunities to be painted with his brush after his death. Mother believed wholeheartedly that the choices she made were for my own good and in my best interest, given that she could not go back in time and “unmake” my father my father.

Ironically, Margaret closed her letter by saying exactly the same thing – that I was better off not knowing. But, now I do.

It’s wryly humorous that the very letter in which Margaret tells Virgie she isn’t going to provide me with information is the exact letter that provides me with that information. And what a revelation it was…

The First Secret Revealed

“Now I will give you a little secret of Bill’s you may have already have found out.

Our parents were divorced while young. Our father never contributed one dime to any of our support.”

Seems my grandfather had something in common with my father.

“We were all placed in foster homes and seldom had a chance to see each other until we became adults. We would then arrange a meeting at my mothers in Chicago over some holiday – never more than one or two at a time.”

I never knew that. All placed in foster homes? How incredibly sad. My heart melted. Ollie seems to have a perpetually sad look about her, even when she smiles as shown in the tiny photo at left.

My Father Ran Away to Join the Service

“Bill ran away and joined the army in 1916 by hiking his age from 14 to 18 – was a top Sargent during WWI and married Martha Dotter [sic] at Battle Creek Michigan at the age, correct age, of 16. Edna Miller was born while he was still in service. He was later divorced. My mother interfered and had the marriage annulled because of his age plus the fact that she disliked Martha who was much older than Bill.”

Had the marriage annulled? I realize that my father’s marriage to Ilo, another wife, might have been annulled, because he married under an assumed name, but I never heard anything about his marriage to Martha Dodderer being annulled. I would think a judge, especially at that time, would be very hesitant to annul a legal marriage into which a child had been born, effectively making the child illegitimate.

My sister Edna did say something about Ollie kidnapping her and taking her to Chicago when she was young, or at least trying to. So the word “interfered” might be somewhat understated.

Margaret continues:

“Bill was born in 1902 in Springdale, Arkansas. I had two other brothers born there – older ones.”

My father, according to his delayed birth certificate, was born in Sneedville, Tennessee in 1903, but then again, that birth certificate was issued based on his father’s affidavit and a Bible, also produced by my grandfather. His father wasn’t exactly the pillar of integrity.

Who knows why that birth certificate was obtained at that time, or why in Hancock County, Tennessee. If my father was born in Sneedville, or near Sneedville, that suggests that perhaps Ollie was living with or near her family at that time.

I would love to see that Bible. I had no idea a family Bible existed, nor where it is today.

Other records indicate that my father was born in 1901, so who knows for sure.

Given that Margaret was born a few years later, in 1906, she would have been recalling from memory, and she’s correct that the older children were born in Arkansas.

Margaret was only counting living siblings when she referred to “2 older brothers.” She had 4 older brothers in total. Brother Robert burned to death in a cabin in Estes Holler either not long before or about the time Margaret was born. Brother Sammy was born and died in the summer of 1893 and another child of unknown gender was born about 1896 and died before 1900 in Arkansas.

“When you were here I gave you a 8X10 picture of Bill taken at Battle Creek during WWI. I am having copies reprinted of that picture now for other members of the family.”

Ironically, Margaret did indeed copy this photo along with several more and sent them to me. Regardless of how she characterized me in this letter, without her generosity, I would not have the pictures of my family today that are included in this article. Thank you Margaret.

“It was his second hitch in the service when he was in trouble that I had investigated for you after his death.”

My father’s time in the service, including the “problematic” second hitch is detailed in the article about his love letters to Virgie.

Whatever information Margaret found went to her grave with her. Her investigation would have been before the devastating St. Louis National Personnel Record Center fire in 1973 in which my father’s records were burned.

New Year’s Day, 1944

“I last saw Bill on New Year’s Day 1944. I think the year is correct. Mother had phoned me in San Francisco that she was ill and I took a 72 hour leave from work and caught a flight back from the airfield.”

Margaret labeled this photo, “1944 New Years,” so it must have been taken in Chicago during that visit.

“She had also contacted Bill and we had arrived at mother’s the same day – we also left the following day (New Years.) Bill had some woman with him but I don’t recall her name. I think they worked at the same place and he had promised to show her Lincoln Park Zoo. She was not dressed for the freezing weather and I loaned her my fur jacket and gloves and stayed home with mother until they returned.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “some woman” in conjunction with my father.

This comment suggests that my father was coming from someplace else, since Margaret says they arrived the same day. It may also mean he came from a location significantly further south, where the weather was warmer.

On November 19, 1943, I believe my father married Ethel Hinton in Chicago, so Ethel would clearly have understood Chicago weather. However, by March of 1945, 16 months later, my father had married Dorothy Kilpatrick who lived in Richmond, Indiana. Dorothy should have been prepared for winter weather too – Richmond isn’t terribly far from Chicago. Is this woman with my father at New Year’s a new mystery woman?


“Then we each returned [to] our work. I never saw him again to speak to. However I’m sure I saw him at the post office in San Pedro in 1958 or 1959. He avoided me and seemed to just disappear in the crowd.”

In 1978, when she wrote this letter, Margaret would have been 71 and the paranoia that became very evident by the early 1980s had apparently begun. It may have been present back in the 1950s. I’m not entirely convinced that Margaret, as well as Minnie, didn’t have a form of mental illness that included paranoia well before dementia set in. They both exhibited the same types of behavior relative to being untruthful, as did my father (to some extent, minus the paranoia) and their father.

Another “Clink,” Another Teenage Girl

“Sometime before that I had received a letter from him in some clink in Kentucky.”

Wonderful, another jail record to search for before New Years of 1944. Or did she mean before 1958 or 1959? Sigh. Thanks Dad.

“Seems he had given some gal a ride across the line and she turned out to be [a] teenage runaway. He was caught with her and was in trouble because of it. He needed financial aid. I sent it to him. He also asked me to assist his wife Ethel. I had a letter from her also but can’t remember the details except that she was very much in love with him and would wait for him.”

Lord have mercy, here’s Ethel in Margaret’s letter waiting for Dad. Another piece of evidence that suggests that my father was the William Estes who married Ethel Hinton, and they are one and the same. How I would love to see that letter from Ethel.

If the woman at New Years of 1944 had been Ethel, Margaret would surely have connected those dots wouldn’t she?

Margaret may have been confused about the date or the state in which my father’s brush with the law over the teenage girl occurred. Here’s a brief timeline:

  • November 1943 – A William Estes married Ethel Hinton in Chicago. Uncertain if this is my father, but strongly suspect so, given that Margaret also mentions an Ethel.
  • New Year’s 1944 – Dad in Chicago with a woman he worked with and took to the zoo. Margaret doesn’t recall her name, but this is just 6 weeks after he married Ethel if the William Estes who married Ethel Hinton is my father.
  • December 29, 1944 until March 12, 1945 – My father worked at Eastern State Mental Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee according to their records. He was married, no wife’s name given, but a relative named Dortha Estes was also a state employee.
  • By March 15, 1945 – Dad was in Walker County, Georgia marrying a teenage girl. He was roughly 43, but lied about his age.
  • According to subsequent court records, at the time he married in Walker County, Georgia, he was already married to Dorothy Kilpatrick who lived in Richmond, Indiana. He was convicted of bigamy in Georgia. However, that episode doesn’t include an underage girl running away or Kentucky. My father and his Georgia bride were married where she lived in Walker County, Georgia under the nose of her disapproving father.
  • March 1945 through December 1948 – As a result of his “error in judgement,” he got to spend time in jail until December, 1948 when he was released and returned to Chicago.
  • February 1949 – Married Ellen in Chicago.

What happened to Ethel (Hinton?) and Dorothy Kilpatrick? Your guess is as good as mine! I’d love to know.


On November 19, 1943, one William Estes married Ethel Hinton in Chicago.

I have been unable, in spite of writing to the Cook County Clerk’s Office multiple times, to obtain the actual application which both the bride and groom would have signed, which would confirm if the groom was indeed my father. If any of my readers know how to obtain the application from Cook County, please let me know.

Name: William Estes
Marriage Date: 19 Nov 1943
Spouse: Ethel Hinton
Marriage Location: Cook County, IL
Marriage license: {7DD8EEDE-D87A-4D33-AF3D-EDFB858ECB23}
File Number: 1795725
Archive Collection Name: Cook County Genealogy Records (Marriages)
Archive repository location: Chicago, IL
Archive repository name: Cook County Clerk

Based on this information from Margaret about an Ethel along with his propensity for getting married, it surely appears likely that this is him.

If Dad married Ethel in November 1943, was in Chicago with another woman at New Years of 1944, in Knoxville married to a Dorothy by the 1944/1945 winter, and then marrying another young gal in Walker County, Georgia in March of 1945, when the heck did he have time to get in trouble in Kentucky? Oh, wait, it’s my Dad after all!

The logical gap appears to be between New Year’s of 1944 and late 1945 when he was with Dorothy which “should be” between Ethel and Dorothy as well. His bigamy conviction in Georgia provided me with Dorothy Kilpatrick’s name and that she was living in the Richmond, Indiana Camping Park at that time.

The piece of information that throws me, however, is that Margaret says that Ethel was waiting for him. This surely must be before March 1945 when Dad was married to Dorothy and marrying in Georgia and before 1949 when Dad married Ellen in Chicago, so maybe Ethel was waiting for him when he was in jail in Georgia? But he was married to Dorothy then. I’m really confused. Could he have been a trigamist – married to the gal in Georgia, Dorothy and Ethel all at the same time? Is trigamist even a word? I can’t believe I have to look this word up in connection with my father. Bigamist was bad enough.

I suspect there’s another juicy chapter buried here someplace. Was he in jail someplace ELSE involving a teenage runaway a different time? In Kentucky? Is Georgia the “clink” Margaret is talking about. Seems unlikely. I need digitized court records. That’s what I’m putting on my Christmas list! Santa, are you listening?

Ollie’s Death

“The next I heard was after mother had died in 55 and I had received the funeral bill some months later. I ate his bottom out about what he had done and why he had let Jean pass herself off as me in Chicago. Also why I had not been notified of mother’s illness. I had been sending money orders and cashiers checks to her monthly. They were easier for her to cash at the store, P.O. or bank than my personal check which was from an out of state bank. I don’t believe she had a bank account but she did have a safety deposit box. She told me that much.

She was also receiving a RR [railroad] pension from my step-father’s death – also her own social security check. Someone had to be cashing them and signing her name. Every time I phoned the house I was told she was out.”

During this time period in Chicago, my father was involved with two women. He had married Ellen in 1949 and my mother later. In 1955, my mother, while pregnant for me, was taking care of Ollie who lived with them, was terminally ill and had terrible bedsores. Ollie did not live in her own apartment, could no longer get herself out of bed, was gravely ill and in a great deal of pain before her death on April 9th. Her death certificate says that she had atherosclerotic heart disease for 1 year and multiple decubitus ulcers for 4 months. This was not a sudden illness.

My mother was VERY unhappy with my father about the circumstances. While Mother was taking care of his gravely ill mother, he was drinking heavily and was more often absent than present. I guarantee you, if Margaret had called and my mother answered, Mother assuredly would have told her that her mother was ill and asked her to come and help.

Mother didn’t know for another year and a half or so that my father had another family and the “other wife” was pregnant too, at the same time! No wonder he was drinking.

I don’t doubt that someone was cashing those checks. It could well have been my father and he might have been spending the money on liquor. On the other hand, that money could have been buying medicine for Ollie and food. Regardless, I find it odd that Margaret didn’t realize how ill her mother, then nearly 81, was and had been for some significant time. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much, justifying her own absence when her mother so desperately needed her presence. Margaret’s mother’s care fell to my pregnant mother. I assure you, my mother would have been extremely grateful for any assistance.

“He didn’t answer for awhile and then to say he tried but couldn’t find me. My address was always on my envelopes with the checks to mother. I write fairly plain and when he needed a favor he had no difficulty in locating me very very quickly – phone reverse charges, telegrams, collect or special delivery.”

My father had a way of finding people when it suited his purposes.

The Halcombs

“A couple years afterwards I was calling on Dad in Lynch, KY. We stayed at the Cumberland motel – not with the Estes or Holcomb family.”

This would have been about 1957.

I had no idea who the Holcomb family was, but a hint like this was too important not to pursue. In fact, I had never heard that name before. How important could this be, anyway, if I had never heard this name?

Buckle up and hold on!!!

A revelation emerged around 3 AM after a long day/night of searching. Bless those Kentucky birth registers, even if they are incomplete.

It seems that both of William George Estes’s daughters by Crocie had children by Halcomb (not Holcomb) men.

On April 4, 1943, John J. Halcomb was born to William Halcomb and Josephine Estes who was then aged 20 years and one month.

Josephine, above, born in 1923, was Aunt Margaret’s half-sister through their mutual father, William George Estes and his third wife, Crocie, who lived in Harlan County, Kentucky.

I don’t know if William Halcomb and Josephine were married or not. With this family, I’ve come to view the word “married” not as a legal condition, but a description used when socially convenient. However, they must have been living as a family, because Margaret says they didn’t stay with the Holcomb’s, indicting that there was a Holcomb household.

Sadly, Josephine’s son, John Halcomb perished tragically on August 9, 1965 at 9:45 PM, at the age of 22, per his death certificate. His parents were both listed on that document, and Josephine Jackson, his mother, then married to Andy Jackson, reported the death.

John died in a car accident, immediately, of multiple internal and external injuries causing shock and hemorrhage. The note on his death certificate says, “ran off roadway” on Highway 160 near Lynch. Highway 160 is the dogleg road in Harlan County that runs upwards through Lynch, beside the creek and the coal mines, to the top of Black Mountain. William George Estes and Crocie lived in “Shack 74.” on Highway 160. Everyone there lived in shacks.

John Halcomb was buried in the D. L. Creech Cemetery, the same location where William George Estes was buried a few years later, along with John’s grandmother, Crocie, who had died 4 years before his death. Neither John Halcomb nor William George nor Crocie have tombstones. Josephine and Andy Jackson’s graves are marked with funeral home markers. Once those are gone, if they aren’t already, their graves will be entirely unmarked.

The only person in this entire family to have a stone is Josephine’s sister, Evelyn, who shares one with her second husband, Marco Pusice.

John Halcomb was Josephine’s only child. In the few pictures I’ve seen of Josephine, she is never smiling. Now I have a much better idea of why.

I never knew my grandfather had this grandson, or that the grandson was killed in a car accident two years after my father was killed the same way. William George was 90 when my father died and 92 when his grandson was killed.

The Second Halcomb

Next, I discovered in the Kentucky birth records that a daughter, Joyce Lee Halcomb was born on December 13, 1953 to a Halcomb male, who I believe is Jake (maybe Jack?) Halcomb and Evelyn Estes. The Kentucky birth index doesn’t provide the entire record, only the child’s and mother’s names. Of course, Evelyn is Josephine’s sister.

Both sisters had children by Halcomb males? What???

I had to recheck these records, because frankly, I was dumbstruck. I could find no Estes and Holcomb or Halcomb marriages for either Evelyn or Josephine.

This soap opera truly never ends, but back to Margaret’s letter.

“Bill and some woman along with mother’s dog King had been there.”

I suspect that woman might have been Ellen. Margaret apparently knew my mother, at least by name, but never referenced Ellen in her letters, although my father had been married to Ellen since 1949. King died tragically when I was about a year or maybe 18 months old, so Margaret’s visit, and my father’s, was after April 1955 when Ollie died and before 1957 when King died.

Bad Checks

“Bill had cashed a bogus check on some New York Pharmaceutical Company he was said to be working for. The store that cashed the check (Balls) was looking for him. Dad had promised to make it good but he was only drawing $10 from KY state – so I went down and paid it off. Also he later wrote one on himself which bounced.”

According to a court case, Smith Ball, a controversial man, died in 1964 and had operated a second hand store in Harlan County, engaged in the business of lending money and accepted promissory notes.

A New York Pharmaceutical Company? As odd as that sounds, my father was practicing medicine in Tennessee as he came and went, so that’s entirely feasible. Maybe by this time he was one of the early “drug reps.” At that time, doctors dispensed their own medicine when they saw patients.

“Seems mother used to sign notes for him on Chicago banks and I’d end up paying them off to save his neck. Since they were always paid his credit was good so he just kept repeating it and mother kept signing and I kept paying.”

Joe “Dode” Estes

“I was also sending Dad money and helping Joe [Dode] with his medical bills only to find out he was spending it on trips to Tazewell, Tennessee while working at the same time.”

Tazewell, in Claiborne County, the epicenter of the Estes clan, was about an hour south of Harlan County. I suspect Joe, nicknamed Dode, was visiting Claiborne County from Illinois.

“I also chewed him out in 57 when Ed and I visited Eppersons and Dode was working in the cain patch after telling me he was down and couldn’t get up. We went after him and when Aunt Corny Epperson told me Joe had come there splurging money received from his son’s death in the armed service – yet crying hard luck to me, I flipped my lid and really laid him out flat with a good lecture. I never wrote to him since and was told several years later he was killed in a accident but it’s only hearsay I’m repeating what Josephine wrote me and Edna Seal had told her.”

Above, Worth Epperson, husband of Cornie Estes Epperson, at left and William George Estes, at right.

Edna Seal (1917-1987) is Edna Epperson, daughter of Worth and Cornie Estes Epperson, who married Wilson Seal (1900-1961).

Joe Estes wasn’t killed in an accident, despite the family stories to the contrary, but died an old man in 1994. His life, like my father’s, was shrouded in mystery.

My mother also thought Joe had been killed in an accident, which suggests my father believed the same thing, but Joe died in 1994 in Fairfield, Wayne County, Illinois where he apparently had been living in 1942, according to Margaret’s letter.

Joe’s granddaughter told me that her father, Charlie, at about age 10, so about 1938, witnessed “men with guns” come and take Joe away. Joe was not seen by Charlie again until he was an adult.

I did find a record from 1926 in Fowler, Indiana where Joe was arrested for stealing a car. In a 1930 newspaper article, Joe admitted that he stole 21 chickens from the farm where he was employed and was sent to the penal farm for 6 months.

In another document, the police in Indiana were questioning my father in 1938 or so about whether or not he had seen Joe. shows that Joe’s wife filed for divorce in September 1940, giving their marriage date as 1926 and separation date as September of 1930.  Their son, Robert Vernon Estes was born in March of 1931, so she didn’t file for divorce for another 9 years, which would have been after the 1938 timeframe when Joe’s oldest son, Charlie, remembered the men with guns taking Joe away.

We know Joe was in California visiting Margaret in 1942. I originally thought perhaps Joe was involved with a witness protection program, but now, I’m thinking possibly prison. The Indiana and Illinois records might yield interesting information. An “accident” would be a good way to “cover” the fact that Joe was “missing” while in prison, although that accident supposedly occurred after 1957, not between 1938 and 1942. Like I said, this man’s life is full of inconsistencies.

Joe may well have been in an accident at some point, because his granddaughter reported that he had amnesia and would wander away. Margaret also mentioned medical bills. I surely will be glad when brings the newspapers from that part of Illinois online.

Older folks in Claiborne County during my 1980s visits mentioned that at one time Joe had purchased a diner in Claiborne County with the money from his son’s death, then lost it. The son who died in the military was named Robert Vernon Estes whose family apparently discovered after the end of the Korean War in 1954 that he had perished in Korea in 1951. In August of 1952 when Robert’s mother, who had remarried, died, Robert Vernon was still listed as missing in action in her obituary.

William George Estes Dies

“Dad wrote me a nasty letter and I also cut him off. I had been sending him $25 a month and also when he was in Tazewell [Tennessee] I was sending Eppersons $25 towards his food. $50 here and there costs money and couldn’t take any more pressure. Seems I was a SOB and everyone else was just dandy.

When Dad died no one knew where to reach me and Josephine’s husband Andy arranged the funeral. Some 3 or 4 years later I learned about it and sent them double what they had paid out. Andy spent $750 and I sent $1500. Plus other amount at different times. Then I went back in the hospital for care and never contacted any of them since.”

William George Estes, my grandfather, died in 1973, 4 months shy of his 99th birthday. Andy Jackson was Josephine’s husband by 1965. I called the house in about 1978 when I was first trying to piece the puzzle of my family together. A boy, maybe age 10, answered the phone and a gruff man yelled at the boy to,”hang up, you know we don’t answer the phone after dark.” I’ve never heard of that tradition before, but mountain people were sometimes “funny” about things.

Regarding Margaret’s hospitalization, she told me in 1978 that she had liver cancer, but when they opened her up, they found a second functioning liver underneath and removed the cancerous one. Miracle or myth? I don’t know. Amazingly, she didn’t pass away until 2005, 3 months shy of her 99th birthday, so if she had cancer in one liver, with an extra one next door, the cancer clearly hadn’t spread which would be extremely unusual.

Bombshell – Grandpa was a Bigamist Too

Boom, mic drop!

“Dad was never divorced from Virginia’s mother.”

Virginia’s mother was William George’s second wife, Joice Hatfield, at left, with Virginia at right.

I can’t find any record where William George Estes and Joice Hatfield were actually married, although many of the Hancock County, Tennessee records were destroyed by fire. I’ve checked the records of Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. If you never get married legally, you don’t have to bother to get divorced. So much less hassle. So maybe William George Estes wasn’t technically a bigamist after all. Maybe.

“Josephine doesn’t know that. But there’s something Virginia doesn’t know either.

My mother caught Joice and Dad one day in bed together and nearly beat Dad to death with a plow rope because of it and the only thing that saved Joice was her Aunt, Mrs. Tom Folley pulled mom off before she killed them both. Then is when our family was broken up. Dad later got the divorce with Mrs. Folley as witness of the beating but never the reason.”

So William got divorced because Ollie beat him after catching him “in the act” of cheating? He’s lucky she didn’t kill him.

This picture appears to be the last family picture taken, in 1914, in Fowler, Indiana. Ollie looks anything but happy. Children are Margaret at left, Joe “Dode” behind her, Estel the oldest in the middle top, my father, William Sterling at right in the rear, and Minnie, the blonde child beside Ollie.

I called the clerk and rechecked for divorce records in Benton County, Indiana, where Fowler is located, from 1908-1922, with no records found. I had checked previously, but sometimes rechecking yields different results. Those divorce records might make for interesting reading as there may be more to the story. The story at this point IS that there aren’t any records in Benton County. Were William George and Ollie ever officially divorced?

Ollie moved to Chicago by 1918. Surely Mrs. Folley wouldn’t have been testifying in Chicago about something that happened in Indiana with William George who was then living in Tennessee or Kentucky with Joice.

The Hatfield-Estes-Brewer Drama

“Hatfield forced Dad to marry Joice when Virginia was born. They sent for her cousin Crocia Brewer to come and help take care of Joice and the baby. Low and behold Joice caught them in the same way mother had caught her. Joice grabbed a shot gun and was going to kill Dad and Crocia and Aunt Corney Epperson took it away from her and Grandpa Estes [Lazarus] run Dad and Crocia both off and told them if they ever came back he’d kill them both. Aunty told me this herself years later.”

This had to occur before 1918 because Lazarus died July 7, 1918. However, Virginia wasn’t born until November 25, 1918, so clearly something is amiss with this story, because Virginia was born 4 months after Lazarus died.

I heard this same story about Lazarus running William George and Joice off because of how they treated Ollie, after Ollie caught them. Same story, but cheating on different wives.

On September 12, 1918, William George Estes registered for the draft in Tazewell, Tennessee, giving “Joisce Estes” as his wife and the address as S. Tazewell, so they were apparently “married” by this time – or at least had moved back to Tennessee and were living as a couple. Joice would have been about 7 months pregnant at that time.

Clearly Margaret’s story or dates are a bit confused.

Two years later, in the 1920 census, Joice was still living with William George in Claiborne County, and Crocie along her son Horace were living with them as well. Crocie was Joice’s cousin, 2 years younger. So it appears that the incident where Joice caught William George “with” Crocie didn’t happen before the census of 1920 – because they assuredly didn’t live together after that event. By that time, Lazarus had been dead for 2 years.

If indeed Cornie Epperson took the gun away from Joice, this tells me that they were living in Estes Holler, not in Kentucky at that time – and indeed, the 1920 census bears that out.

So, I’d wager that Lazarus actually ran William George and Joice out, that William George moved back to Estes Holler in 1918 after Lazarus died, where he was living in 1920, and that the incident where he was caught carnally with Crocie happened in Estes Holler, where Cornie Estes Epperson lived, after the 1920 census.

William George Estes was a serial “cousin cheater.”

Crocie Brewer

Margaret didn’t mention this, but according to my mother, Crocie Brewer was deaf. I don’t believe she was able to speak either. My mother accompanied my father to visit William George and Crocie just one time between 1950 and 1955 and reported that my grandfather treated Crocie terribly. Mother refused to ever return. She used to shudder discussing it and flat out refused to provide any details.

Margaret continues:

“Well, the old man took her [Crocie] over in Arkansas where he and mother had started out. He made a good living for awhile with his camera. He was also a master carpenter.”

William George was a photographer, among other things. Many people had multiple skills and did whatever combination of things they could to make ends meet.

William George Estes and Ollie lived in Springdale, Washington County, Arkansas for several years after they were married. Crocie’s first child with William George, Josephine, was born March 19, 1923 in Arkansas, so Margaret’s information seems to be accurate. Perhaps he had truly worn out his welcome in Estes Holler by that time.

Given this information, Crocie would have gotten pregnant in about June of 1922, so Joice and William George would have split sometime between mid-1920 (census) and mid-1922.

“He was pretty old when he showed up at my brother Estel’s place in Appalachia, VA and confessed he had never married Crocia but by then there was children by her also. Estel didn’t know Joice had never divorced the old man so he took them over on the KY side and got them married.”

Children implies more than one child.

We know that William George Estes was in Arkansas in 1923 when Josephine was born. Daughter Helen May Estes was born in 1925, but her death certificate doesn’t indicate where. I can’t find William George in the 1930 census, so he may have been in transit or back so far on the mountain that the census taker missed him.

We know that by 1935, William George is back in Harlan County because the 1940 census says he lives in the same residence that he did in 1935 which would have been “Shack 74.” In the 1930 census, shacks 71 and 72 exist, but shack 74, apparently “up above” Lynch towards the top of the mountain, doesn’t. His appearance at his son, Estel’s house, in Appalachia, VA would have been sometime probably between 1925 and 1935.

In 1925, when the second child was born, William George was 52. He had two more children, the last one being born in 1935 when he would have been 62.

Appalachia, Virginia is located on Highway 160, down the other side of Black Mountain, across the line into Virginia, 15 miles along hairpin turns crossing the summit of the highest mountain in Kentucky.

William George lived near the top of the mountain on the Kentucky side. My mother said the drive was harrowing and treacherous and that was before the days of guardrails and paved roads.

For most of the 15 mile distance, the road is but a thread between rocks on one side and a precipice on the other, more comfortable for mountain goats than cars. It’s easy to see why John Halcomb died when he ran off the road. Today, the road has guardrails.

The first flat land that includes houses of any kind is about a mile east of Lynch on Main Street.

When I visited a few years ago, William George’s place was described by locals as “up above Lynch.” I’m sure Shack 74 is long gone. This shows Highway 160, heading “up” out of Lynch where the last houses are found today.

Bombshell Two – Worse Than Bigamy

Wow, I didn’t expect that bigamy bombshell. My grandfather was a bigamist, assuming he was actually married to either (or both) his second and/or third wives. For all I know, he could have been a trigamist too. Indeed, William George provided a right fine example for my father and the rest of his children. It’s possible that we have double trigamists, a father and son pair.

Margaret was right. Karma struck Joice for what she did to Ollie.

“The grandparents had long been dead when Dad took Josephine over to visit her relatives at the age of 15.”

The grandparents would have been Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy who both died in 1918. Josephine, born in 1923, would have been 15 in 1938. “Over to visit her relatives,” would have referred to “over the mountain,” meaning to Claiborne County.

“After that he went alone and stayed lengthy vacations leaving Crocia and the kids to make out the best way they could.”

This information implies that William George has been absent from Claiborne County for many years, from the time he and Crocie left before 1923 until about 1938. Yep, I’d say he wore out that welcome. After an absence of 15 years, as a fairly old man, he returned. But why, and why then?

In 1938, Crocia had two living children. Josephine born in 1923 (so age 15) and Evelyn (age 7,) born in 1931, just a month after smallpox killed Crocie and William George’s daughter, Helen May.

However, a baby boy, James, died in 1937 at 17 months of age…apparently of starvation. His death certificate generously says that he died of “acute intestinal indigestion due to improper feeding.” This was the secret to terrible for anyone to discuss openly.

Of course, when I read that, pieces suddenly fell into place. I remembered being told that my father and his siblings were fed moonshine in order to ease the pain in their stomachs so they could sleep when there was no food. And that was 24 years before baby James died, when William George was more physically able (assuming he was willing) to work.

Apparently Crocie and the children weren’t doing well at all, and Crocie was dealing with this alone. Where the hell was William George? Why was he hanging out in Claiborne County when he was clearly needed at home?

The 1940 census tells us that the neighbor families on Lynch Road in Harlan county were working most of the time and made $1350, $1820, $2600, $1190 (3 families) and $1720, compared to the paltry $144 made by William George Estes in the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 1939. William George, age 67, claimed he was unable to work as a farm hand, Crocie was doing housework and Josephine, age 17, was working at “other.” William George had worked no hours the previous week, and only 24 weeks the previous year.

In addition to bootlegging, William George reportedly cut timber to shore up the mine shafts. I don’t know how a man could be an unsuccessful bootlegger on a mining mountain, but apparently he was.

Oh, and if you think we’re done with the bombshells – we’re not!

Bombshell Three – A Third Halcomb?

“I helped Estel and I helped out as best we could. He wasn’t working half the time and I helped out all the way around doing without myself.

Aunt Corny was sick [died in1958] and Bill Epperson’s wife Lou wasn’t well [died 1962] but was taking care of everyone else. Meanwhile, my step-father died [1941] and I had double responsibility, no help from the others. Somehow we [we is struck through] managed to plug along – dishing out here and there and raising our own son. Both Ed and I was well fed up with the whole mess but continued to do the best we could by all of them until we caught up with what was going on. Seems like the old man would roost at Eppersons until the red headed Evelyn would go after him to come home and sign for my registered check. He’d cash it, give it to Crocia and catch the next bus back to Tazewell.”

For “red-headed Evelyn” who was born in 1931 to have been old enough to drive, this would have had to have been after 1947, or so, assuming she drove a car.

“Uncle Worth was pretty disgusted and so was everyone else. Lou wrote me and explained they hardly could feed themselves as I would send one check to Lou at Tazewell, one to Dad at Lynch so everyone didn’t show up to be fed free. It seems because people who live on farms is expected to have a generous supply of food on hand at all times and all relations welcome. First one and then the others.

I contacted the undertakers at Tazewell for an estimate of funeral cost for the old man and was going to make arrangements for his internment at the family burial plats on Cedar Hill. I was afraid he would get down sick at Eppersons and no one to pay for his funeral bill. I would have prepaid when the estimate came back. Well I never got such an eaten out as to mind my own business. His son-in-law would take care of his expenses, etc., etc. So I washed my hands of the whole shebang.

Later I was told his son-in-law, Jake, walked out on the whole mess when he learned that Evelyn, his wife, was not Dad’s daughter, but his own uncle’s daughter by Crocia. Yup!

Then the fat was in the fire. Seems Jake had been working in the mines and paying the bills. Now they were all out on their cans.”

OK, now I’m really confused. Jake was a Halcomb. If Evelyn was Jake’s uncle’s daughter, that means that Jake and Evelyn were first cousins. That’s not so unusual, but that also means that if Evelyn’s daughter or granddaughter ever DNA tests, and that’s a true allegation, I’ll never know because Evelyn wasn’t an Estes. Of course, if they test and match me, then obviously Margaret was wrong.

So both of William George’s daughters AND his wife were carrying on with and having children by Halcomb men? Lordy, I want to see what these men looked like!

I can’t exactly piece the Halcomb line together, but this is Philip Halcomb from Letcher County, KY, born in 1898, probably from the same line. He is quite handsome, but still…

In the 1930 census, there are two William Halcomb’s in Harlan County, both sons of different William Halcombs. The only Jack of even approximately the right age was born in 1926, son of Melvin and Armilda Halcomb. There’s another Jack born in 1928 to a mother named Susie – the Kentucky birth indexes don’t provide the names of the father.

So, we’re left with the question – who is Jake’s uncle? For that matter, who, exactly, was Jake?

Margaret STILL isn’t done!

The State Mental Hospital

“From what Estel told me the red headed one [Evelyn] done a time for drunkenness in the State Hospital.”

That doesn’t surprise me, given what we know about William George’s bootlegging, not to mention that Estel (left, below), Evelyn’s half-brother, reportedly continued that family tradition – having his daughters (also below) deliver moonshine in the mining town of Fleming, Letcher Co., KY where they lived in the 1940s.

Furthermore William George Estes was the grandson of Joel Vannoy (1813-1895), one of the first patients in the Eastern State Mental Hospital in Knoxville, TN when it opened it’s door in 1886. Some of Joel’s descendants were patients there as well. According to Uncle George Estes, Joel’s great-grandson who was born just 16 years after Joel died and clearly knew the family, Joel simply “lost his mind.” There is no evidence that Joel drank, but the Estes clan certainly did, and mental illness and alcohol are a very, VERY bad combination.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of “red headed Evelyn” but she is reported to have been stunningly beautiful.

The “State Hospital” in Kentucky at that time was located in Lexington, KY. Unfortunately, admissions records aren’t public after 1913.

Josephine and Andy Jackson

“Dad went to live with Josephine. Crocia died [1961]. All a mess. But my guess is with all the trouble Josephine and Andy [Jackson] went through with them it must have been a relief when both old folks died.”

I don’t know when Josephine and Andy Jackson married, but it was before her son, John Halcomb, died in 1965.

I also never knew that William George lived with daughter Josephine, apparently after Crocie’s death. He would have been 88 when Crocie passed away.

Dumping Evelyn

“Bill tried to dump Evelyn off on some of the kin folk and it didn’t work. I will always believe that’s what he was up to when I saw him in San Pedro. I think he got cold feet.”

Margaret’s paranoia was showing. The first flaw in her logic is the question of why my father, who lived in either Chicago, Illinois or northern Indiana at that time was in any way involved with Evelyn’s life in Harlan County, Kentucky, hundreds of miles away.

If my father wanted to dump Evelyn off with kinfolk, there were a heck of a lot closer places than California. Not to mention, where would he have gotten the money for that trip? My Dad was always poor as a church mouse.

Evelyn was with Jake Halcomb by 1952 when her daughter was born, so this “dumping” attempt in Margaret’s mind that supposedly happened in 1958-1959 would have been after Evelyn had been with Jake for at least 6 years and was 27 or 28 years old. That just doesn’t make sense.

Foster Homes and Elsa, the Lost Sister

“Elsa my younger sister was born 5 months after my parents was separated.”

Oh my God, poor Ollie. Forty years old, five living children, pregnant for the sixth, and a husband cheating with her 20-year-old cousin. The only child old enough to be on their own was Estel who married in February of 1914. Elsa was reported by Margaret to have been born in 1914.

“My mother had placed the rest of us in foster homes by that time. I was with the Freeman family. Dad’s x-boss, Bert Freeman was a building contractor. Dad his master carpenter. Minnie was with the Hamptons and Dode was at Pete LaFountains in Royal Center, Indiana.”

Abuse and Near Starvation

At one time, Margaret told me that my father had been married to Laila LaFountain. I wonder now if Margaret had the names Laila and Ilo confused, and the surname LaFountain mixed in for good measure. Joe was associated with that family, not my father. After all, it had been more than 60 years by the time Margaret was recalling that information.

Margaret told me that Laila used to hook Dad to the plow like a mule and whip him to plow the field. Said she saw it with her own eyes in Indiana. I was horrified and at that time, couldn’t even imagine such a thing.

The 1910 census shows no Laila LaFountain in Benton County. I’m relieved, but did someone hook Dad to a plow and whip him? Or Joe? Why would Margaret make something like that up? There is surely some grain of truth someplace. Did someone really do that to my father? Is this really why he ran away and joined the army in the middle of a war? My heart just aches.

“Sterl [my father’s nickname] had just arrived from Tazewell all tattered and torn – hungry and hollow eyes – he had stayed behind with Dad but it seems he got run off. Mother sent her cousin Ebb Cook money for his train passage and Cook sent him on to mother. “

Ebb Cook was Albert Rice Cook (1860-1942) who married Mary Jane Bolton, daughter of Milton Halen Bolton, half-brother to Ollie’s father. Ebb was Ollie’s half first cousin.

Obviously, Ebb was someone Ollie felt she could trust, and indeed, he did prove trustworthy. He probably saved my father’s life.

“A more pitiful sight you never saw. Mrs. Freeman would send me over every night with fresh milk and food for mother, Bill and clothing for the baby. Grapes were ripe so there were always plenty of juice for them. Later mother hired out as a cook in a café. Elsa was turned over to Dr. Nellie Green to care for. Dr. Green had no children of her own.”

Oh NO! Ollie had to give up her baby too??? Margaret once told me that “something was wrong” with Elsa and she died as a child, but Margaret never mentioned that Elsa was placed outside the family. Downs syndrome of course was my first thought, given Ollie’s age, but nutrition or birth trauma may have been a factor as well. I doubted the story of a female being a doctor in Benton County, Indiana, in 1914, but lo and behold, according to the 1910 census, it’s true and indeed, Nellie Green had no children.

In 1920, Nellie was still practicing, and her 19 year old nephew was living with her, but no Elsa. There are no Elsa’s or Elsia’s listed in the 1920 census that look to be candidates with the possibility of Elsie D. Bonham born in 1912. Did Elsa die in Benton County? Did she go to Chicago with Ollie and die there? Did she actually exist at all? I can find absolutely NO RECORD of this child’s birth or death, anyplace.

Margaret also told me that Ollie had twins about 1913 that both died as well, and again, no records. How can so many records be constantly missing for the same family?

1914 must have been the bottom of the barrel for Ollie – reduce to accepting charity, twins dead, another child born with challenges, no way to feed your children, and a  husband cheating with your cousin who also betrayed your trust.

“Bill was placed out on a farm with some people named Harkrider. Later mother also went to work there. Bill was at Harkriders when he ran away and joined the Army.”

For obvious reasons, my father never spoke of any of these dark and terrible days. They must have seared his soul. In 1914, he would have been between 11 and 13. So much death, grief, fear, hunger and pain.

My father would have lived and worked on that farm for about 3 years. At least he ate. This also explains why he enlisted on May 14, 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis. Apparently Ollie and the kids were still residing in Indiana at that time. I thought they had already moved to Chicago by then, but this explains why Dad enlisted in Indiana. The military was his escape from worse – never mind that the US was heavily engaged in WWI. War was better than Hell.

“Mother didn’t know where he was for several months and by then decided it was a good place for him. In the mean time Dode was lonesome for the hills and mountains so he left LaFountains and hopped a freight train back to Tazewell only to find Dad was no longer there. Hungry, cold and rejected by both Dad’s people and mother’s, the boy was afraid of being beaten and worked to death so he stretched his little skinny neck another foot tall and hiked up his age, borrowed some long pants off a clothesline and hiked over the mountains to Fort Monroe, VA and enlisted in the army. I’ll send you a picture of the lad in uniform. You can judge for yourself what a scared dejected little boy looks like trying to be a man of war.”

“He and I was always very close until he just didn’t give a hoot about anything but wine. I sent for and had him come out here and work in 42 but he just couldn’t adjust to California life.”

Joe in California in 1942, photo from Margaret.

I had heard from other sources that Joe had an alcohol problem. This means that all 3 of William George’s sons had alcohol addiction issues, along with at least one daughter. It’s no wonder.

“He went back to Fairfield, Illinois.

My brothers were very tall tho they were very young. Hard life gave them the older appearance.”


“Minnie was about 8 when she went to live with Dr. Pierce in Rose HiIl, VA. She was with mother very seldom after that.”

Photo of Minnie, age 8, Rose Hill, Virginia, according to Aunt Margaret.

Minnie was born in October of 1908 according to Margaret, but Minnie’s actual birth record says she was born on September 13, 1909 in Tazewell, Tennessee, so that would have meant she went to Rose Hill in about 1916. Dr. David Q. Pierce and his wife Kitty, a childless couple, raised Minnie. Margaret told me they wanted Minnie to help take care of the doctor’s wife who was somehow disabled. In the 1920 census, Minnie is age 13, listed as their granddaughter, and shown living with them. Minnie married John Raymond Price (1896-1977) in Lee County, Virginia about 1926, when, according to Minnie years later, “I was young and he was old.” By 1934, they were apparently divorced, because John R. Price married Marie Anderson in Claiborne County.

Minnie, above.

Margaret Talks About Herself

Margaret moved to Chicago with Ollie. I don’t know exactly when, but Margaret sent a photo with the words, “Mother, Franklin Park, Illinois 1918” written on the back. Given that we know that Ollie was still in Indiana in August 1917 when my father enlisted in the military, and was in Illinois in 1918, the move was apparently either in late 1917 or  1918.

Ollie looks extremely old in this photo, so much so that I wondered if this was actually Ollie’s mother, Margaret Clarkson/Claxton, of whom I have no photos. In 1918, Aunt Margaret would have been 12, Ollie would have been 44 and her mother, Margaret Claxton Bolton would have been 67. Given that Aunt Margaret labeled the photo and is in the photo, I suspect the picture is Ollie. After the living Hell Ollie had been through in the past several years, it’s no wonder she looks ragged.

“I worked for one family after another till I could get into the Cook County Hospital in Chicago and took nursing. Married young and like many other teenagers in and out of pitfalls of troubles but always managed to come out on top. Mussed up but never beaten down where I couldn’t catch a handful of hair to pull to my feet. It was not been an easy life by any means but I’ve managed to keep a fairly decent one.”

Margaret, modeling in 1925 in Chicago. Margaret was in Milwaukee in 1937, then in California by 1942.

The Plain Facts

“I’m giving you an outline of the plain facts. You will hear various tales. Just sort out facts for yourself and go from there.

I don’t think there’s anything in the family history that could be of any help to Roberta but only dampen her spirit, so I would not divulge any of this history to her. She no doubt feels she’s entitled to know but she better off to leave well enough alone. She may not be any better received by the relatives than I was. All had plenty of bread but only Uncle Howard Friar and Aunt Mary shared theirs with Mama and her Estes brats.”

James Howard Friar (1875-1962) was married to Mary Ann Bolton (1873-1942), daughter of Daniel Marson Bolton (1841-1924,) half brother of Ollie’s father. That made Mary Ann, nicknamed “Ropp,” Ollie’s half first cousin, who just happened to be her best friend as well.

Mary Ann Bolton and Howard Friar, above. The photo was probably taken by William George Estes. Notice that Mary Ann is dressed to the 9s, but Howard has worn through his shoes.

This photo taken about 1913 in Fowler, Indiana shows William George, at far right rear, with Ollie to his left. I believe the lady that Ollie has her arm around is Mary Ann “Ropp” Bolton Friar, and her husband beside her. The two men in the front right are “Smith cousins,” but I don’t know who they are or how they connect. Margaret is in the middle, Minnie in front of her mother, my Dad front left and Estel beside him. Joe was absent from the photo and at scouts, according to Margaret. It’s amazing with all of the poverty, pain and grief how these people put on happy faces for the few photos of that time. You’d never guess their struggles.

Little did Ollie know that in just a few short weeks or months, her life and that of her children would be shredded so tragically, traumatically scarring all of them permanently, the devastation rolling like an avalanche downhill to the next generations, yet to be born.

“Now you know your husband’s secret. We all loved our parents and tried to understand their motives – never loved or cared for by either and all going in different directions. Just a bunch of scared lost lambs that grew up to be a herd of hard fighting black sheep.”



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Family Tree DNA’s PUBLIC Y DNA Haplotree

It’s well known that as a result of Big Y testing that Family Tree DNA has amassed a huge library of Y DNA full sequence results that have revealed new SNPs, meaning new haplotree branches, for testers. That’s how the Y haplotree is built. I wrote about this in the article, Family Tree DNA Names 100,000 New Y DNA SNPs.

Up until now, the tree was only available on each tester’s personal pages, but that’s not the case anymore.

Share the Wealth

Today, Family Tree DNA has made the tree public. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Family Tree DNA.

To access the tree, click here, but DON’T sign in. Scroll to the bottom of the page. Keep scrolling, and scrolling…until you see the link under Community that says “Y-DNA Haplotree.” Click there.

The New Public Haplotree

The new public haplotree is amazing.

This tree isn’t just for people who took the Big Y test, but includes anyone who has a haplogroup confirming SNP OR took the Big Y test. Predicted haplogroups, of course, aren’t included.

Each branch includes the location of the most recent known ancestor of individuals who carry that terminal SNP, shown with a flag.

The branches are color coded by the following:

  • Light blue = haplogroup root branches
  • Teal or blue/green = branches with no descendants
  • Dark blue = branches that aren’t roots and that do have at least one descendant branch

The flag location is determined by the most distant known ancestor, so if you don’t have a “Most Distant Known Ancestor” completed, with a location, please, please, complete that field by clicking on “Manage Personal Information” beneath your profile picture on your personal page, then on Genealogy, shown below. Be sure to click on Save when you’re finished!

View Haplotree By

Viewing the haplotree is not the same as searching. “View by” is how the tree is displayed.

Click on the “View By” link to display the options: country, surnames or variant.

You can view by the country (flags), which is the default, the surname or the variants.

Country view, with the flags, is the default. Surname view is shown below.

The third view is variant view. By the way, a variant is another word for SNP. For haplogroup R-M207, there are 8,202 variants, meaning SNPs occurring beneath, or branches.


On any of the branch links, you’ll see three dots at the far right.

To view reports by country or surname, click on the dots to view the menu, then click on the option you desire.

Country statistics above, surname below. How cool is this!


The search function is dependent on the view currently selected. If you are in the surname view, then the search function says “Search by Surname” which allows you to enter a surname. I entered Estes.

If I’m not currently on the haplogroup R link, the system tells me that there are 2 Estes results on R. If I’m on the R link, the system just tells me how many results it found for that surname on this branch and if there are others on other branches.

The tree then displays the direct path between R-M207 (haplogroup R root) and the Estes branch.

…lots of branches in-between…

The great thing about this is that I can now see the surnames directly above my ancestral surname, if they meet the criteria to be displayed.

Display criteria is that two people match on the same branch AND that they both have selected public sharing. Requiring two surnames per branch confirms that result.

If you want to look at a specific variant, you can enter that variant name (BY490) in the search box and see the surnames associated with the variant. The click on “View by” to change the view from country (maps) to surnames to variants.

Change from country to surname.

And from surname to variants.

What geeky fun!!!

Go to Branch Name

If you want to research a specific branch, you can go there directly by utilizing the “Go to Branch Name” function, but you must enter the haplogroup in front of the branch name. R-BY490 for example.

When you’re finished with this search, REMOVE THE BRANCH NAME from the search box, if you’re going to do any other searches, or the system thinks you’re searching within that branch name.

My Result Isn’t Showing

In order for your results to be included on the tree, you must have fulfilled all 3 of these criteria:

  • Taken either a SNP or Big Y test
  • Opted in for public sharing
  • More than one result for that branch with the same exact surname

If you think your results should be showing and they aren’t, check your privacy settings by clicking the orange “Manage Personal Information” under your profile picture on your main page, then on the Privacy and Sharing tab.

Still not showing? See if you match another male of the same surname on the Big Y or SNP test at the same level.

If your surname isn’t included, you can recruit testers from that branch of your family.

How Can I Use This?

I’m like a kid with a new toy.

If any of your family surnames are rather unique, search to see if they are on the tree.

Hey look, my Vannoy line is on haplogroup I! Hmmm, clear the schedule, I’m going to be busy all day!

Every haplogroup has a story – and that story belongs to the men, and their families, who carry that haplogroup! I gather the haplogroups for each of my family surnames and this public tree just made this task much, MUCH easier.

Discovering More

If the testers have joined the appropriate surname project, you may also be able to find them in that project to see if they descend from a common line with you. To check and see, click here and then scroll down to the “Search Surname” section of the main Family Tree DNA webpage and enter the surname.

You can see if there is a project for your surname, and if not, your surname may be included in other projects.

Click on any of those links to view the project or contact the (volunteer) project administrators.

Want to search for another surname, the project search box is shown at the right in this view.

What gems can you find?

Want to Test?

If you are a male and you want to take the Big Y test or order a haplogroup confirming SNP, or you are a female who would like to sponsor a test for a male with a surname you’re interested in, you can purchase the Big Y test, here. As a bonus, you will also receive all of the STR markers for genealogical comparison as well.

Wonder what you can learn? You will be searching for matches to other males with the same surname. You can learn about your history. Confirm your ancestral line. Learn where they came from. You can help the scientific effort and contribute to the tree. For more information, read the article, Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story.

Have fun!!!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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The Leeds Method

This is the first in a series of two articles. This article explains the Leeds Method and how I created a Leeds Spreadsheet in preparation for utilizing the results in DNAPainter. I stumbled around a bit, but I think I’ve found a nice happy medium and you can benefit from my false starts by not having to stumble around in the dark yourself. Of course, I’m telling you about the pitfalls I discovered.

The second article details the methodology I utilized to paint these matches, because they aren’t quite the same as “normal” matching segments with identified ancestors.

Welcome to the Leeds Method

Dana Leeds developed a novel way to utilize a spreadsheet for grouping your matches from second through fourth cousins and to assign them to “grandparent” quadrants with no additional or previous information. That’s right, this method generates groupings that can be considered good hints without any other information at all.

Needless to say, this is great for adoptees and those searching for a parent.

It’s also quite interesting for genetic genealogists as well. One of the best aspects is that it’s very easy to do and very visual. Translation – no math. No subtraction.

Caveat – it’s also not completely accurate 100% of the time, especially when you are dealing with more distant matches, intermarriage and/or endogamy. But there are ways to work around these issues, so read on!

You can click to enlarge any image.

I’ll be referring to this graphic throughout this article. It shows the first several people on my Ancestry match list, beginning with second cousins, using pseudonyms. I chose to use Ancestry initially because they don’t provide chromosome browsers or triangulation tools, so we need as much help there as we can get.

I’ve shown the surnames of my 4 grandparents in the header columns with an assigned color, plus a “Weird group” (grey) that doesn’t seem to map to any of the 4. People in that group are much more distant in my match list, so they aren’t shown here.

I list the known “Most Common Recent Ancestor,” when identified, along with the color code that so I can easily see who’s who.

All those blanks in the MCRA column – those are mostly people without trees. Just think how useful this would be if everyone who could provide a tree did!

What Does the Leeds Method Tell You?

The Leeds Method divides your matches into four colored quadrants representing each grandparent unless your genealogical lines are heavily intermarried. If you have lots of people who fall into both of two (or more) colors, that probably indicates intermarriage or a heavily endogamous population.

In order to create this chart, you work with your closest matches that are 2nd cousins or more distant, but no more distant than 4th cousins. For endogamous people, by the time you’re working in 4th cousins, you’ll have too much overlap, meaning people who fall into multiple columns, so you’ll want to work with primarily 2nd and 3rd cousins. The good news is that endogamous people tend to have lots of matches, so you should still have plenty to work with!


In this article, I’m using Dana’s method, with a few modifications.

By way of a very, very brief summary:

  • On a spreadsheet, you list all of your matches through at least third cousins
  • Then check each match to see who you match in common with them
  • Color code the results, in columns
  • Each person what you match in common with your closest cousin, Sleepy, is marked as yellow. Dopey and I both match Bashful and Jasmine in common and are colored Red. Doc and I both match Happy and Belle and are colored blue, and so forth.
  • The result is that each color represents a grandparent

To understand exactly what I’m doing, read Dana’s articles, then continue with this article.

DNA Color Clustering: The Leeds Method for Easily Visualizing Matches  
DNA Color Clustering: Identifying “In Common” Surnames 
DNA Color Clustering: Does it Work with 4th Cousins? By the way, yes it does, most of the time.
DNA Color Clustering: Dealing with 3 Types of Overlap

Why Use “The Leeds Method”?

In my case, I wanted to experiment. I wanted to see if this method works reliably and what could be done with the information if you already know a significant amount about your genealogy. And if you don’t.

The Leeds Method is a wonderful way to group people into 4 “grandparent” groups in order to search for in-common surnames. I love being able to perform this proof of concept “blind,” then knowing my genealogy and family connections well enough to be able to ascertain whether it did or didn’t work accurately.

If you can associate a match with a single grandparent, that really means you’ve pushed that match back to the great-grandparent couple.

That’s a lot of information without any genealogical knowledge in advance.

How Low Can You Go?

I have more than 1000 fourth cousins at Ancestry. This makes the task of performing the Leeds Method manually burdensome at that level. It means I would have had to type all 1000+ fourth cousins into a spreadsheet. I’m patient, but not that patient, at least not without a lot of return for the investment. I have to ask myself, exactly what would I DO with that information once they were grouped?

Would 4th cousin groupings provide me with additional information that second and third cousin groupings wouldn’t? I don’t think so, but you can be the judge.

After experimenting, I’d recommend creating a spreadsheet listing all of your 2nd and 3rd cousins, along with about 300 or so of your closest 4th cousin matches. Said another way, my results started getting somewhat unpredictable at about 40-45 cMs, although that might not hold true for others. (No, you can’t tell the longest matching segment length at Ancestry, but I could occasionally verify at the other vendors, especially when people from Ancestry have transferred.)

Therefore, I only proceeded through third cousins and about 300 of the Ancestry top 4th cousin matches.

I didn’t just utilize this methodology with Ancestry, but with Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe as well. I didn’t use GedMatch because those matches would probably have tested at one of the primary 4 vendors and I really didn’t want to deal with duplicate kits any more than I already had to. Furthermore, GedMatch is undergoing a transition to their Genesis platform and matching within the Genesis framework has yet to be perfected for kits other than those from these vendors.

Let’s talk about working with matches from each vendor.


At Ancestry, make a list of all of your second and third cousin matches, plus as many 4th cousins as you want to work with.

To begin viewing your common matches, select your first second cousin on the list and click on the green View Match. (Note that I am using my own second kit at Ancestry, RobertaV2Estes, not a cousin’s kit in these examples. The methodology is the same, so don’t fret about that.)

Then, click on Shared Matches.

Referring to your spreadsheet, assign a color to this match group and color the spreadsheet squares for this match group. Looking at my spreadsheet, my first group would be the yellow Estes group, so I color the squares for each person that I match in common with this particular cousin. On my spreadsheet, those cousins have all been assigned pseudonyms, of course.

Your shared match list will be listed in highest match order which should be approximately the same order they are listed on your spreadsheet. I use two monitors so I can display the spreadsheet on one and the Ancestry match list on the other.

Lon is shared in common with the gold person I’m comparing against (Roberta V2 Estes), and me, so his box would be colored gold on the spreadsheet. Lon’s pseudonym is Sneezy and the person beneath him on this list, not shown, would be Ariel.

Ancestry only shows in-common matches to the 4th cousin level, so you really couldn’t reach deeper if you wanted. Furthermore, I can’t see any advantage to working beyond the 4th cousin’s level, maximum. Your best matches are going to be the largest ones that reveal the most information and have the most matches, therefore allowing you to group the most people by color.

Unfortunately, Ancestry provides the total cMs and the number of segments, but not the largest matching segment.

One benefit of this methodology is that it’s fairly easy to group those pesky private matches like the last one on the master spreadsheet, Cersei, shown in red. You’ll at least know which grandparent group they match. Based on your identified ancestors of matches in the color group, you may be able to tell much more about that private match.

For example, one of my private matches is a match to someone who I share great-great-grandparents with AND they also match with two people further on up that tree on the maternal side of that couple, shown above, in red. I may never know which ancestor I share with that private match specifically, but I have a pretty darned good idea now in spite of that ugly little lock. The more identified matches, the better and more accurate this technique.

Is the Leeds Method foolproof? No.

Is this a great tool? Yes, absolutely.

Family Tree DNA

Thankfully, Family Tree DNA provides more information about my matches than Ancestry, including segment information combined with a chromosome browser and Family Matching. I often refer to Family Matching as parental bucketing, shown on your match list with the maternal and paternal tabs, because Family Tree DNA separates your matches into parental “sides” based on common segments with others on your maternal and paternal branches of your tree when you link your matches’ results.

At Family Tree DNA, sign on and then click on Matches under Family Finder.

When viewing your matches, you’ll see blue or red people icons any that are assigned to either your maternal, paternal side, or both (purple) on your match list. If you click on the tabs at the top,  you’ll see JUST the maternal, paternal or both lists.

This combination of tools allows you to confirm (and often triangulate) the match for several people. If those matches are bucketed, meaning assigned to the same parental side, and they match on the same segment, they are triangulated for all intents and purposes if the segment is above 20 cM. All of the matches I worked with for the Leeds Method were well above 20 cM, so you don’t really need to worry about false or identical by chance matches at that level.

Family Tree DNA matches are initially displayed by the total number of “Shared cM.” Click on “Longest Block” to sort in that manner. I considered people through 30 cM and above as equivalent to the Ancestry 3rd cousin category. Some of the matching became inconsistent below that threshold.

List all of your second and third cousins on the spreadsheet, along with however many 4th cousins you want to work with.

Then, select your closest second cousin by checking the box to the left of that individual, then click on “In Common With” above the display. This shows you your matches in common with this person.

On the resulting common match list, sort your matches in Longest block order, then mark the matches on your spreadsheet in the correct colored columns.

With each vendor, you may need to make new columns until you can work with enough matches to figure out which column is which color – then you can transfer them over. If you’re lucky enough to already know the family association of your closest cousins, then you already know which colored column they belong to.

All of my matches that fell into the Leeds groups were previously bucketed to maternal or paternal, so consistency between the two confirms both methodologies. Between 20 and 28 cM, three of my bucketed matches at Family Tree DNA fell into another group using the Leeds method, which is why I drew the line at 30cM.

For genealogists who already know a lot about their tree, this methodology in essence divides the maternal and paternal buckets into half. FTDNA already assigns matches maternally or paternally with Family Matching if you have any information about how your matches fit into your tree and can link any matching testers to either side of your tree at the 3rd cousin level or closer.

If you don’t know anything about your heritage, or don’t have any way to link to other family members who have tested, you’ll start from scratch with the Leeds Method. If you can link family members, Family Tree DNA already does half of the heavy lifting for you which allows you to confirm the Leeds methodology.


At MyHeritage, sign in, click on DNA and sort by “largest segment,” shown at right, above. I didn’t utilize matches below 40 cM due to consistency issues. I wonder if imputation affects smaller matches more than larger matches.

You’ll see your closest matches at the top of the page. Scroll down and make a list on your spreadsheet of your second and third cousins. Return to your closest DNA match that is a second cousin and click on the purple “Review DNA Match” which will display your closest in-common matches with that person, but not necessarily in segment size order.

Scroll down to view the various matches and record on the spreadsheet in their proper column by coloring that space.

The great aspect of MyHeritage is that triangulation is built in, and you can easily see which matches triangulate, providing another layer of confirmation, assuming you know the relationship of at least some of your matches.

The message for me personally at MyHeritage is that I need to ask known cousins who are matches elsewhere to upload to MyHeritage because I can use those as a measuring stick to group matches, given that I know the cousin’s genealogy hands-down.

The great thing about MyHeritage is that they are focused on Europe, and I’m seeing European matches that aren’t anyplace else.


At 23andMe, sign in and click on DNA Relatives under the Ancestry tab.

You’ll see your list of DNA matches. Record 2nd and third cousins on your spreadsheet, as before.

To see who you share in common with a match, click on the person’s name and color your matches on the spreadsheet in the proper column.

Unfortunately, the Leeds Method simply didn’t work well for me with my 23andMe data, or at least the results are highly suspect and I have no way of confirming accuracy.

Most of my matches fell into in the Estes category, with the Boltons overlapping almost entirely, and none in the Lore or Ferverda columns. There is one small group that I can’t identify. Without trees or surnames, genealogically, my hands are pretty much tied. I can’t really explain why this worked so poorly at 23andMe. Your experience may be different.

The lack of trees is a significant detriment at 23andMe because other than a very few matches whose genealogy I know, there’s no way to correlate or confirm accuracy. My cousins who tested at 23andMe years ago and whose tests I paid for lost interest and never signed in to re-authorize matching. Many of those tests are on the missing Ferverda side, but their usefulness is now forever lost to me.

23andMe frustrates me terribly. Their lack of commitment to and investment in the genealogical community makes working with their results much more difficult than it needs to be. I’ve pretty much given up on using 23andMe for anything except adoption searches for very close matches as a last resort, and ethnicity.

The good news is that with so many people testing elsewhere, there’s a lot of good data just waiting!

What are the Benefits?

The perception of “benefit” is probably directly connected to your goal for DNA testing and genetic genealogy.

  • For adoptees or people seeking unknown parentage or unknown grandparents, the Leeds Method is a fantastic tool, paving the way to search for common surnames within the 4 groups as opposed to one big pool.
  • For people who have been working with their genealogy for a long time, maybe not as much, but hints may lurk and you won’t know unless you do the discovery work. If you’re a long-time genealogist, you’re used to this, so it’s just a new way of digging through records – and you can do it at home!
  • For people who have tested at Family Tree DNA, the family grouping by maternal and paternal based on people linked to your tree is more accurate and groups people further down your match list because it’s actually based on triangulated matching segments. However, the Leeds Method expands on that and adds granularity by breaking those two groups into four.
  • For people who want to paint their chromosomes using DNAPainter, the Leeds Method is the first step of a wonderful opportunity if you have tested at either Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or 23andMe.

Unfortunately, Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you can’t chromosome paint from Ancestry directly, BUT, you can upload to either Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch and paint Ancestry matches from there. At GedMatch, their kit numbers begin with A.

What Did I Do Differently than Dana?

Instead of adding a 5th column with the first person (Sam) who was not grouped into the first 4 groups, I looked for the closest matches that I shared with Sam who were indeed in the first 4 color groups. I added Sam to that existing color group along with my shared matches with Sam that weren’t already grouped into that color so long as it was relatively consistent. If it looked too messy, meaning I found people in multiple match groups, I left it blank or set that match aside. This didn’t happen until I was working at the 4th cousin level or between 30 and 40 cM, depending on the vendor.

Please note that just because you find people that you match in common with someone does NOT MEAN that you all share a common ancestor, or the same ancestor. It’s a hint, a tip to be followed.

There were a couple of groups that I couldn’t cluster with other groups, and one match that clustered in three of the four grandparent groups. I set that one aside as an outlier. I will attempt to contact them. They don’t have a tree.

I grouped every person through third cousin matches. I started out manually adding the 4th cousins for each match, but soon gave up on that due to the sheer magnitude. I did group my closest 4th cousins, or until they began to be inaccurate or messy, meaning matching in multiple groups. Second and third cousin matching was very consistent.


  • Don’t use siblings or anyone closer than the second cousin level. First cousins share two grandparents. You only want to use matches that can be assigned to ONLY ONE GRANDPARENT.
  • In the spreadsheet cell, mark the person you used as a “match to.” In other words, which people did you use to populate that color group. You can see that I used two different people in the Estes category. I used more in the other categories too, but they are further down in my list.
  • At Family Tree DNA, you can utilize the X chromosome. Understand that if you are a male, you will not have any X matches with your paternal grandfather. I would not recommend using X matches for the Leeds Method, especially since they are not uniformly available at all vendors and form a specific unique inheritance pattern that is not the same as the other autosomes.
  • Ancestry, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA allow you to make notes on each match. As I group these, and as I paint them with DNAPainter I made a note on each match that allows me to identify which group they are assigned to, or if they match multiple groups.
  • Look at each match to be sure they are consistent. If they aren’t, either mark them as inconclusive or omit them entirely in the painting process. I write notes on each one if there is something odd, or if I don’t paint them.

What Did I Learn?

Almost all of my (endogamous by definition) Acadian matches are more distant, which means the segments are smaller. I expected to find more in the painted group, because I have SO MANY Acadian matches, but given that my closest Acadian ancestor was my great-great-grandfather, those segments are now small enough that those matches don’t appear in the candidate group of matches for the Leeds Method. My Acadian heritage occurs in my green Lore line, and there are surprisingly few matches in that grouping large or strong enough to show up in my clustered matches. In part, that’s probably because my other set of great-great-grandparents in that line arrived in 1852 from Germany and there are very few people in the US descended from them.

I found 4th cousin matches I would have otherwise never noticed because they don’t have a tree attached. At Ancestry, I only pay attention to closer matches, Shared Ancestor Hints and people with trees. We have so many matches today that I tend to ignore the rest.

Based on the person’s surname and the color group into which they fall, it’s often possible to assign them to a probable ancestral group based on the most distant ancestors of the people they match within the color group. In some cases, the surname is another piece of evidence and may provide a Y DNA lead.

For example, one of my matches user name is XXXFervida. They do match in the Ferverda grandparent group, and Fervida is how one specific line of the family spelled the surname. Of course, I could have determined that without grouping, but you can never presume a specific connection based solely on surname, especially with a more common name. For all I know, Fervida could be a married name.

By far the majority of my matches don’t have trees or have very small trees. That “no-tree” percentage is steadily increasing at Ancestry, probably due to their advertising push for ethnicity testing. At Family Tree DNA where trees are infinitely more useful, the percentage of people WITH trees is actually rising. By and large, Family Tree DNA users tend to be the more serious genealogists.

MyHeritage launched their product more recently with DNA plus trees from the beginning, although many of the new transfers don’t have trees or have private trees. Their customers seem to be genealogically savvy and many live in Europe where MyHeritage DNA testing is focused.

23andMe is unquestionably the least useful for the Leeds Method because of their lack of support for trees, among other issues, but you may still find some gems there.

Keeping Current

Now that I invested in all of this work, how will I keep the spreadsheet current, or will I at all?

At Ancestry, I plan to periodically map all of my SAH (Shared Ancestor Hints) green leaf matches as well as all new second and third cousin matches, trees or not.

In essence, for those with DNA matches and trees with a common ancestor, Ancestry already provides Circles, so they are doing the grouping for those people. Where this falls short, of course, is matches without trees and without a common identified ancestor.

For Ancestry matches, I would be better served, I think, to utilize Ancestry matches at GedMatch instead of at Ancestry, because GedMatch provides segment information which means the matches can be confirmed and triangulated, and can be painted.

For matches outside of Ancestry, in particular at Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage I will keep the spreadsheet current at least until I manage to paint my entire set of chromosomes. That will probably be a very long time!

I may not bother with 23andMe directly, given that I have almost no ability to confirm accuracy. I will utilize 23andMe matches at GedMatch. People who transfer to GedMatch tend to be interested in genealogy.

What Else Can I Do?

At Ancestry, I can use Blaine’s new “DNA Match Labeling” tool that facilitates adding 8 colored tags to sort matches at Ancestry. Think of it as organizing your closet of matches. I could tag each of these matches to their grandparent side which would make them easy to quickly identify by this “Leeds Tag.”

My Goals

I have two primary goals:

  • Associating segments of my DNA with specific ancestors
  • Breaking down genealogical brick walls

I want to map my DNA segments to specific ancestors. I am already doing this using Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage where common ancestors are indicated in trees and by surnames. I can map these additional Leeds leads (pardon the pun) to grandparents utilizing this methodology.

To the extent I can identify paternal and maternal matches at 23andMe, I can do the same thing. I don’t have either parents’ DNA there, and few known relatives, so separating matches into maternal and paternal is more difficult. It’s not impossible but it means I can associate fewer matches with “sides” of my genealogy.

For associating segments with specific ancestors and painting my chromosomes, DNAPainter is my favorite tool.

In my next article, we’ll see how to use our Leeds Method results successfully with DNAPainter and how to interpret the results.



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William Sterling Estes and the Backwards Tombstone, 52 Ancestors #209

You know, I was already feeling bad enough that I hadn’t been back to visit my father’s grave, but then…well…this. My father’s life, it seems, was never straightforward and was always twisted around, backwards, and confusing. Dad hasn’t changed one iota, not even now in death.

His grave is backwards. Seriously.

You know, I swear…I think he was laughing at me!

The “Accident”

My father, William Sterling Estes, died following an automobile accident on August 27, 1963, in Jay County, Indiana where he lived with my step-mother, Virgie.

It was just a week before the beginning of my third grade year. For many reasons, none of which I understood at the time, I was not allowed to attend his funeral. Back then, children were often “protected” from sadness and death, but retrospectively, that was a very bad idea. For years, I never really believed he was dead.

The following summer, Virgie invited me to visit and I went to Dunkirk for a week.

I adored Virgie. She was a lovely, kind woman and I looked forward to spending time with her. She told me stories about my father, some of which I never forgot. All of which I wish someone had written down.

Her mother, “Grandma,” who lived with Virgie, was the grandmother I never had and spent long hours reading to me, playing Barbie, making doll clothes and telling me fascinating stories about the cards I viewed through a stereoscopic viewer, like the one below.

Grandma, born in 1878, was a bit more reserved and didn’t say much about Dad at all, except for a grunt now and again which I found interesting, but I didn’t exactly know how to interpret. Grandma was very kind to me and I have very fond memories of long hot summer afternoons spent playing with Grandma. She was one of the few adults that actually had time and enjoyed spending it with children.

I think her own grandchildren had grown up far too fast for her liking.

Hidden Messages

My mother and father hadn’t seen eye-to-eye for years, to put it mildly. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that he was married to another woman at the same time, but I’m just guessing😊

After being divorced from both women, however that worked, he then married Virgie, his teenage sweetheart from when he was enlisted in WWI, on April 24, 1961.

While my mother had absolutely nothing nice to say about my father, when she said anything at all, Virgie had nothing bad to say about him. Virgie truly loved and cherished my father. I’m glad, I think he really needed that.

Dad left Virgie love notes scattered in hiding places around the house. She found them for years after his death, tucked behind photos in frames and other out-of-the-way places.

Dad’s death was ruled an accident, but retrospectively, I believe it was a suicide based on what his employer, ironically, the funeral director, told me and things Mom said combined with tidbits like those loving mementos. If you didn’t plan on “leaving,” why hide things for someone to find after you were gone?

The First Cemetery Visit

My visit during the summer of 1964 was spent talking with Virgie about Dad. We both missed him.

We spent time going back to the places we three had visited together, like the VFW post. Dad and Virgie played the two slots that sat on the end of the bar, and Dad let me pull the handle. I thought that was loads of fun, especially when it was followed by that nice clanging sound! What fun. Mother would have had a fit.

Everything however, wasn’t fun and games.

Virgie took me to visit the IOOF Cemetery where Dad is buried. I recall that the grave she showed me that summer didn’t have a headstone. Virgie explained that when Dad’s sister, Aunt Margaret, whom I had never met, came from California to visit, they would select a headstone together.

I stood looking at the barren dirt that marked the location of the grave that Virgie told me belonged to my Dad. It seems so raw, so unkempt. The grass was just beginning to grow over the barren grave in raggedy tufts. The earth was still mounded up, washed round by rain but quite pregnant with a casket underneath. In there, Dad’s body.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

I desperately wanted to reach out those few feet to touch him one more time, but I couldn’t. Standing there in the glaring sun, looking at the all-too-silent grave of my father ripped my heart out. I had no idea a child could feel grief so profoundly. Tears streamed down my face in the searing heat. My heart ached too badly to even sob. I just stood trance-like as the waterfall tears wouldn’t stop.

Was Daddy really there? Really dead? If anyone would have told me the truth, surely Virgie would have. I didn’t want to believe it.

At Virgie’s house, the cemetery was visible from the end of the street. She allowed me to walk across the field to the cemetery. I could find Dad’s grave, because it was in the new row, towards the back, closest to the house.

I walked to the cemetery every day, a heartbroken little girl. I sat and talked to Dad, and cried, for hours, as curious cemetery-goers looked on but eventually left me alone again. I missed what we had, Dad’s visits, fishing, our special coffee each morning which was mostly milk and sugar with a splash of coffee for color. I grieved for what we would never have.

I grieved and grieved and grieved with no respite.

The Accident

Virgie told me little about the accident, other than Dad had hit a pole after having a heart attack. At 8, that’s all I needed to know.

She never told me the rest of the story, if she even knew it herself.

The unanswered question wasn’t so much his official cause of death, but why he had the accident in the first place.

What Virgie did say is that his last words, in the hospital before he passed away at 1:10 AM, were about me. Messages of love and encouragement, telling me to never give up and to graduate. I assumed then that he meant high school, but Dad may have had far more in mind.

A Decade+ Later

Virgie wrote letters to both me and Mom over the years, but the next time I would see her would be more than a decade later. In true Hoosier fashion, I just decided to drive to Dunkirk one day a few weeks after my son was born. I wanted to see Virgie and to visit Dad’s grave.

Truth be known, I wanted share my baby with Dad.

I had slowly come to believe that Dad probably was dead. Not because my mother or even Virgie told me so, but because I knew he would never willingly stay away from me that long if he had any choice.

I had also grown up, matured and realized that just because I didn’t want him to be dead was no reason to believe that he wasn’t. 99% of me believed that he was gone. But then, there was that skeptical 1% that still stopped and stared at men who resembled him – to the point of approaching a man on the sidewalk just a couple years earlier, my heart pounding so hard I thought it would burst through my chest.

I wish I had been allowed to say goodbye in the casket.

Calling Virgie in advance to ask if a visit was convenient, for some reason, never dawned on me. She was family – of course it was OK.

I pulled up to Virgie’s house in my bright red Chevy and knocked on the door. Cars were parked outside, and she was hosting a ladies’ card luncheon. She graciously introduced me and her grandbaby that she had never seen before. The women, grandmothers all, ooed and awed. After Virgie finished her hostessing, we caught up on news for awhile before I suggested that we take a ride to the cemetery.

Dad had been gone a decade. The grass had long ago covered the scar of his burial. The earth recovered, flattening itself, as if nothing had gone wrong.

Why was there still no stone on his grave? Aunt Margaret obviously came and went, if she had come at all.

At that time, I was in no position myself to purchase a headstone. It was all I could handle to buy baby formula and diapers.

A headstone in place would have quenched that tiny flame of doubt, but it wasn’t to be.

Another Three Decades

Time passed, life changed. As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.

I did graduate from high school and then college with degrees in computer science, a field completely foreign to my father’s world. I left Indiana as a single parent for an opportunity working for a think tank. My trips back to Indiana were to visit my Mom and step-father on the much beloved farm.

The raw urgency of my father’s death had faded and was now only a distant ache, and sometimes a painful stab. Dunkirk wasn’t close to or on the way to anyplace.

I still wrote to Virgie from time to time, always pleased to receive her letters which took me back to a much gentler time and place. She was a lovely lady.

When I remarried, she wrote that she was having health issues and trouble leaving the house for shopping and such, so there would be no wedding present. I didn’t care about presents, but I did care about her letters, and her, and told her as much.

I wanted to see Virgie again and called her from time to time, but in 1989, Virgie died.

After Virgie’s death, her daughter found items of my fathers and sent them to me. I am forever grateful for receiving the veteran’s flag that was placed on his casket at his funeral, then folded and presented to the widow. Oh how I wish I had been present.

Virgie had shown me something signed by President Kennedy after my father died, and now that “something” was mine.

Virgie’s daughter also sent 11 love letters that Virgie received from my Dad when he was young and in service – when they first met in 1919. Virgie saved these for 42 years, thinking of course that she would never see him again, let alone marry him one day. Love letters that would steal your heart, written in his own hand. Hers to cherish then, and mine decades later.

Reading those letters, I understood why they had married 42 years later and why she missed him so desperately. She used to tell me that no matter what anyone told me, he wasn’t all bad, and that no one understood the things that had happened to him. She was right, I had absolutely no idea and wouldn’t for several more years.


In 2003, 40 years after my father died, Virgie’s daughter found a letter from Aunt Margaret, written in 1978, to Virgie. It was this letter, written some 15 years after my father’s death, and coming into my possession another quarter century later that finally shed light on the hole in my father’s soul. That letter is the subject of a future article and it’s a bombshell, believe me.

About this same time, I asked Virgie’s daughter if she could show me where my father was buried, convinced that I would never be able to find it myself. She graciously agreed, and I traveled to Dunkirk.

We met at the cemetery. I had presumed that when Virgie died, that she and my father would share a headstone, but I was wrong.

Virgie did have a stone, beside my father’s grave, but he still had no stone. I was both shocked and saddened and couldn’t help but wonder why.

Virgie’s daughter suggested that we request a military stone based on his service. I didn’t realize that military stones were available. She contacted the funeral home and was informed that they would order the stone, and the family was only responsible for having it set once the stone arrived.

Dad would finally, finally, 40 years after his death, have a marked grave.

Meeting Elizabeth Wilson Ballard

I had meant to visit again shortly after the headstone was placed, but once again, life simply got in the way. Mother became ill, passed away, and suffice it to say, I simply didn’t make it back to Dunkirk. At least, not until this summer.

My 52 Ancestors series has had the effect on me of highlighting unfinished business in terms of research. However, in this case, the unfinished business was visiting my father’s grave.

I was making a trip back to Indiana for research in Fort Wayne, a trip to visit mother’s grave and a class reunion – fully aware that that trip was probably my last trip back – except perhaps to the library in Fort Wayne.

I refer to this as the “Goodbye Tour,” like rock stars😊

For me, in many ways, it was about unfinished business.

After a highly emotionally couple of days, I was messaging back and forth with a genealogy friend from Indiana, Elizabeth Wilson Ballard who writes at Diggin’ Up Graves.

Elizabeth asked where I was, and did I want to meet in person to say hello. I did, but it occurred to me that she was actually relatively close to the cemetery where my father is buried – and what better thing to do with a fellow genealogist.

We agree to meet for lunch, and then drive cross-country on an adventure.

The Cross Country Journey

Indiana farmland is a lot more fun with someone else in the car. Elizabeth and I had never met personally before, but we are convinced that somehow we are related and just can’t figure out how. “Sisters from another Mister,” as Elizabeth quips. Our conversation picked up like we were old acquaintances and had never not known each other.

Using our phones for navigation, we set out cross-country for Dunkirk and the cemetery. My father’s grave is listed on Find-A-Grave, so I at least had an idea of where the cemetery was located.

Leaving Cracker Barrell, the first thing we found was a pink farm, or better stated, a B&B with pink outbuildings. We laughed and joked about how they gave directions, such as, “When you see the pink barns you’re there. Yes, really, you REALLY CANNOT MISS IT.”

And then we laughed all over again.

Comic relief perhaps, but the cornfields and scarecrows felt good as we laughed and chatted our way across the Indiana backroads.

As we approached the cemetery area, from the country side, our tone became more somber, in part, because we had to pay close attention to find the cemetery since we were approaching from the backroads side.

In part, because we both knew what was lurking ahead and neither of us really knew quite what to expect.

The Cemetery

Finding the cemetery was a bit comical. Two experienced genealogists really shouldn’t have had this much trouble, but the corn was high and the address was not available from Find-A-Grave so we were doing what I call “dead reckoning.”

I had always approached the IOOF Oddfellows Cemetery from within Dunkirk, and I knew it was within sight of Virgie’s house. But that wasn’t how we arrived. The GPS had a mind of its own.

On the map below, you can see the location of Virgie’s house marked with the red pin, along with the cemetery directly across the field to the west, with the curved end. That part is new and did not exist when my father was buried.

I couldn’t remember where Dad’s grave was located, except that it wasn’t near the county road, and it was near an internal road. It was at the back of the cemetery in 1964.

I looked for the stones that showed burial dates of 1963 and finally found him in the quadrant below with the red arrow.

Finding Dad’s Grave

Finding Dad’s grave in the cemetery was somewhat more of a challenge. We finally found it by finding Virgie’s stone, which was larger and her name faced the main road, or west, as you see it below. This is what we saw driving down the internal cemetery road from the main county road.

The “other” side of Virgie’s stone, which I would have considered the front, is where the dates are carved, and that side faces towards her house, or east.

Before we move on, I want to mark the location of Dad’s stone for posterity. I don’t know who would ever want to visit, all things considered, but if someone does, the red arrow below is pointing to his stone.

Here’s the location from a different perspective.

In the cemetery, you’ll notice that Dad’s small white stone is directly behind and to the right of the red McGraw stone, and to the left of the Brown stone when driving in from the main road.

Here’s my vehicle parked in front of the spruce tree in the photo, at the intersection of the little cemetery roads inside the cemetery. You can see the red McGraw stone directly behind my rear bumper.

Ummm, But Where’s Dad?

Ok, now we found the stone, but where is Dad actually buried? And why would I even ask a question like this? It’s obvious, isn’t it?


Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is that while Virgie and Dad both have carving on the front (West) side where his dates are carved, Virgie’s birth and death dates are carved on the “other” (East) side. His East side is blank, above.

Which begs the question of where the bodies are buried.

What the heck???

This is beginning to sound like a murder mystery, not cemetery stomping!

I thought burials were on the “date” side, so you’re standing on their head as you look at their birth and death dates. After all, it’s called a headstone.

And regardless, if it’s the other way around, and they are buried on the back side, you’d think it would at least be consistent in the same cemetery. And if not in the same cemetery, at LEAST consistent with a couple who share the same burial plot? But their dates are carved on opposite sides.

What happened?

And where are they actually buried?

Clearly, one is not buried on one side and one on the other, so one is buried on the date side and the other is buried on the “other” side – since I’m making a leap of faith here and assuming that they are actually both buried side by side on the same side.

Elizabeth and I were both confused, and we were not leaving without figuring this out.

But how does one do that?

Thank goodness we were the Genealogy Dynamic Duo!


The first thing we did was to look around at the other graves. If you look behind me as I’m leaning against Dad’s grave (the blank East side), you’ll notice that the stones behind me aren’t consistent either.


We realized that some graves have flat stones that look to be between graves, which was very confusing. A grave consumes a certain amount of space.

However, I walked until I found a flat one that was a footstone for the headstone in the same row as Dad’s grave. AHA!

This footstone confirmed that the bodies were buried on the “back side,” meaning the side with Virgie’s dates and the side that is blank on my Dad’s stone, that I’m leaning against, above. So I was sitting on Dad in that picture.

Why the heck would someone set the stones for a couple differently? Why would they set Dad’s stone with his body on the blank side, and Virgie’s the opposite? Her’s was already in place when they placed his. Wouldn’t they have faced it the same way?

Elizabeth remembered that she had been told that cemeteries always face the east so that when the Rapture comes, the bodies will “rise up” from the graves facing east. If this is the case, then Dad’s head is indeed at the headstone, right where this headstone/footstone grave down the row would seem to indicate. And true to the religious custom, if he stood straight up out of his grave, he would be facing east.

So this is where Dad is actually buried, below, at the back of his marker.

NOT on the date side (below). All I can say is that I’m EXTREMELY glad I didn’t exhume Dad for DNA testing, given the possible confusion. Whoever considered that he might have been buried on the OTHER side of the tombstone?

I hadn’t thought about taking flowers, since this visit was very much a spur-of-the-moment event, so Elizabeth and I picked some wildflowers and decorated their graves as best we could. No, these are not weeds. Weeds are a matter of perspective:)

I can tell that Virgie’s family comes to visit her grave.

Dad’s grave looks naked by comparison.

Truthfully, I still wasn’t convinced, so after returning home, I called the funeral home and the cemetery sexton. When I said I was confused, they both started laughing. Apparently there is no consistency and yes, the bodies ARE BURIED, at least in this section, on the east side of the markers.

So, Dad is buried on the blank side and Virgie is buried on the date side and they are buried side by side. That explains why the little angels and things her family leaves sit on that side of the stone.

For the record, I did inquire as to how much it would cost to turn his tombstone around. I never heard back after three calls, so I’m not going to have it rotated. However, if anyone should ever visit and discover that it has been turned, someone did a veteran a favor.

One mystery solved, but now a difficult decision.

To Go or Not to Go?

My father died by suicide. I didn’t know that until I was an adult. I found the newspaper article and using Google maps, I had determined where his accident occurred.

When I was a child, clearly Virgie never discussed this nor took me to the place that claimed his life.

As an adult, should I go or not?

Grief is an exceptionally private emotion – especially when it involves suicide. So many thoughts swirl through your brain.

Elizabeth already knew about the circumstances of my father’s death, and she and I had previously talked about all sorts of difficult topics, of which suicide was only one. Her understanding, nonjudgmental presence was comforting to me.

Was I prepared to see where my father died?

Did I even want to?

I knew it was either now or never.

What would it be?

I asked Elizabeth her opinion, as we sat in my car in the cemetery, beside my father’s grave.

If I could have only turned and asked him why.

Elizabeth and I discussed the pros and cons, and eventually reached the consensus that I should “go for it” and that we were both mentally prepared. Neither of us quite knew what to expect. How do you prepare for something like that?

How could I anticipate how I would feel? It’s not something I’ve ever done before – and not something I ever want to have to do again either.

The first thing I did, however, was to drive to where I thought I remembered Virgie’s house being located.

Virgie’s House

I remembered, as a child, walking from Virgie’s house, directly down the street, across the field, to the cemetery. It was a straight shot. As I drove to where I thought it was, I was rewarded with this vision. This is the same view I remember from those hot summer days that I spent sitting beside my father’s grave.

I drove on down the street and indeed, found Virgie’s house. It looks a lot different today, of course, but it’s still the same house. That window above the kitchen was the upstairs bedroom where I slept. I pretended it was a fun secret room in a castle.

The porch looked so familiar. Grandma and I used to sit there, fanning ourselves during the heat of the day. Sometimes Grandma would read and I would sew my Barbie clothes, with her looking on watchfully, of course. The address on the porch confirms that indeed, it’s 202 Shadyside.

Mt. Auburn at Main

My father died at the location of Mt. Auburn and Main. The newspaper article about his death stated that he “was traveling westbound on Mt. Auburn at the time of the accident and his car struck a pole 100 feet west of North Main Street.

Please note that my name is listed incorrectly as Barbara, his half-sister is listed as his step-sister, all of his other siblings are omitted as are other children.

Using Google maps, I had already determined that the pole he hit was the one at the location of the grey pin on the map, below, far left. What looks like a street where the pole is located is actually an alley.

Once again, Elizabeth navigated using her phone as I drove.

This time, we proceeded in silence, except for an occasional “turn right” or “turn left.”

Sitting at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Main, I can see the pole in the distance in the alley, beside the yellow garage and behind the trash container, dead center ahead. This would have been where he sat, or didn’t, those last few fateful minutes.

I felt like I was in a time warp. There it was.

Looking up the street, there isn’t another pole that could be hit without going through a house and the article would surely have mentioned hitting a house had that occurred.

No other poles were visible in either direction.

Did he intentionally aim between the houses?

Why this location? Was it a split second decision? Had he been drinking? Or was he remorseful because he had fallen off the wagon.

Or, was there something else? My mother thought that he was ill at the time of his death, based on his health when they lived together. More specifically, she thought he had cancer, but there was no mention of that and he had an autopsy.

Elizabeth and I knew that particular pole was the only candidate, and it was located exactly as the article described. Utility poles aren’t often moved because the wires are attached.

We pulled down the alley.

A fist-sized lump appeared, not in my throat, but in my stomach as we approached.

That pole is old, bearing the scars of many years of climbing. It’s possible that it could be the same pole that was there at the time. Or was the pole was replaced when he hit it?

Looking back from the other side, it’s somehow ironic that red paint had been sprayed on the pole. I know it’s meaningless, but just the same…

Physics of the Accident

Because I’m who I am, I have to understand this.

Dad would have hit the pole from the back side, towards the road and away from the alley. Given the speed involved, I suspect that the pole would have been damaged, and this pole does not seem to bear that kind of scar – although I’m certainly not an expert in utility pole collision damage. Wooden utility poles are generally expected to survive for about 40 years although some last much longer. He died 55 years ago.

How fast was he going, and what would have happened to the pole?

At 40 MPH, your body (and car) are moving at 58 feet per second. This was also before seat belts, so his body would have crashed into the steering wheel, which was moving towards him at the speed in which his car, a Rambler, crashed into the pole. The pole would probably not have fractured at those speeds, according to impact studies, but would clearly have been damaged.

At 40 MPH, his car would have traveled that entire distance of 100 feet between the intersection and the pole in less than two seconds. If he was traveling at 20 MPH, the distance would have taken a total of 3.5 seconds. In a Road and Track article, Lt. Dan Bates says that in older cars, just 20 years ago, one stood a good chance of dying if you were traveling at 20 MPH and had a head-on accident into a stationary object like a pole. Dad didn’t die right away, so he probably wasn’t traveling at a terribly high speed.

This causes me to ponder another question.

If Dad had floored the gas pedal, he would have hit harder and faster – at least I would think so.

Did he change his mind part way through a suicide attempt, but too late to stop?

That thought nauseates me.


Elizabeth and I sat in the alley for several minutes and discussed the dynamics of the situation – both physical and personal. I’m surprised no one called the police.

She asked me if I was alright. I tend to “go silent” at times like this and just think. My thoughts were swirling and tumbling over each other in a 55-year-delayed grief-filled blizzard of emotions.

I was more saddened by visiting the place that took his life which looks so innocuous than by visiting the cemetery where he is buried. The place where he decided to die. The place where uncontrollable grief and agony of some description overtook him, then took him. The place where the darkness won and death seemed like the best option. The place where his heart ached enough to end his life and remove himself from mine.

I could feel it all, sitting there, just a few days shy of that terrible anniversary – a summer day much like when he pushed that gas pedal, knowing full well what would happen.

Seeing that pole rush towards him – what was he thinking?

All parents pass away eventually. We will all one day have a cemetery to visit, but not everyone has a utility pole. Not everyone has to deal with the knowledge of suicide and wonder why? What pained a loved one that much?

Did he think or know that he was ill and dying? If so, that’s easier to handle than other demons that might have driven him here.

Did he fall off the wagon, again, as Virgie’s daughter suggested, and unable to deal with the guilt, personal disappointment and pain it would cause others, decide to end that never-ending battle with alcohol forever? God, I hope not.

I wonder what might have been different had he lived? How would my life have changed? And would it have been for the better or worse?

Unanswered questions. Unremitting pain and sorrow. But there’s no turning back time. No other road. Just this one – the path he chose.

He’s my father. The childhood me adored him. I love the man I knew.

I ache for his pain and the loss that affected us both so tragically. His pain ended that day, but mine was just beginning.

Heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth, indeed, sister-from-another-mister, for her support and encouragement during the final chapter of this part of my journey.



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DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

MyHeritage Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files

In this Upload-Download Series, we’ll cover each major vendor:

  • How to download raw data files from the vendor
  • How to upload raw data files to the vendor, if possible
  • Other mainstream vendors where you can upload this vendor’s files

You can both upload autosomal DNA raw data files from another vendor to MyHeritage, and download your DNA file from MyHeritage. Please note that downloading a copy of your raw data file from any vendor does not interfere with your matches at that vendor.

Uploading TO MyHeritage

Upload Step 1

To upload your DNA to MyHeritage, click here and then click on the purple “Start” button.

Upload Step 1 If You Already Have an Account at MyHeritage

If you already have an account, click here to sign in and then click on the DNA tab to display the “Upload DNA Data” option which displays the graphic above. Click on the purple “Start” button. This is the same process you’ll use whether it’s the first time you’ve uploaded a kit, or you’re uploading subsequent kits to your account that you’ll be managing.

At this point, you’ll see the “Upload DNA data” screen – sp click on the purple “Start” button. .

Upload Step 2

If you’re not a member, you’ll be prompted to create a free account by entering your name, e-mail, and password, and from there you can upload your autosomal DNA file.

You’ll be asked whose DNA you’re uploading and prompted to read and agree to the terms of service and consent.

Click the purple upload button.

Then click done when the file is finished uploading.

You’ll be notified by e-mail within a couple days when the file is finished processing.

Downloading FROM MyHeritage

Download Step 1

Sign on to your MyHeritage account.

Click on DNA on the upper toolbar.

The dropdown menu includes “Manage DNA Kits”

Download Step 2

At the right of the kit you wish to download, click on the three small dots which will include an option for “Download kit.”

Download Step 3

You’ll be presented with a box titled “Learn more about DNA data files.”

Click the purple “Continue” button.

Download Step 4

You’ll need to confirm that you want to download your data, and that you understand that the download is outside of MyHeritage and their protection.

Click the purple “Continue” button. You’ll see a notice that an email has been sent.

Download Step 5

You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail. Click on “Click here to continue with download.”

This e-mail link is only valid for 24 hours.

Download Step 6

Enter your password again, and click on the purple “Download” button.

Download Step 7

Save the file as a recognizable file name on your computer.

MyHeritage DNA File Uploads TO Other Vendors

You can upload your MyHeritage file to other vendors, as follows.

From below to >>>>>>>>>>> Family Tree DNA Accepts Ancestry Accepts 23andMe Accepts GedMatch Accepts
MyHeritage Yes* No No Yes

*To upload to Family Tree DNA, you must have tested at MyHeritage after May 7, 2019.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accepts uploads from any vendor.

MyHeritage DNA File Uploads FROM Other Vendors

You can upload files from other vendors to MyHeritage, as follows:

  From Family Tree DNA From Ancestry From 23andMe From LivingDNA
To MyHeritage Yes Yes Yes No

Testing and Upload Strategy

Uploading to MyHeritage is always free. You can view your ethnicity, your matches and their trees, and utilize the DNA tools, but you won’t receive the full benefit of SmartMatching, Triangulation, Theories of Family Relativity and other records without a subscription. You will be limited to building a tree of 250 people for free, but you can upload a Gedcom file of any size, although you do need to subscribe to change anything in that file if it contains more than 250 individuals.

My testing/upload recommendations are as follows relative to MyHeritage:

I wrote a step-by-step guide about how to download from Ancestry here.

I wrote a step-by-step guide about how to download your DNA raw DNA file from 23andMe, here.

Click here for step-by-step instructions for how to upload or download your FamilyTreeDNA file.

Have fun!

Please note that this article was updated in August 2021.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Heinsmann (Heinrich) Muller (<1635 – <1684) of Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #208

The 1684 Miesau, Germany marriage record of Johann Michael Muller, widower, to Irene Liesabetha Heitz identified him as, “Michael Müller, legitimate son of the deceased Heinsmann Müller, resident of Schwartz Matt in the Bern area.” Of course, Bern is in Switzerland.

Thank goodness for the location and name of Michael’s father, because without those tidbits, we would never have found that information and Michael would have been our dead end.

Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland

My trusty friends Chris and Tom drilled down on the available information to determine what could be discovered. Chris says:

“Schwarzmatt” is/was part of the church books of Boltigen.

The Boltigen church books are online here among the Bern area church books:

So it should be possible to verify if there was a Michael Müller, son of a Heinsmann Müller in Schwarzmatt.

Heinsmann is a very unusual name. My friend Chris has been researching the Boltigen Muller family on my behalf and he contacted Konstantin Huber who had searched for the Millers from that area years ago. Konstantin didn’t have additional information about the Boltigen family but did state that “Heinsmann” is a rare, old-fashioned form of “Heinrich” that he has never seen before in the 16th/17th century church books from Switzerland. Hence, he suggests that the original name of Michael Müller`s father in Switzerland may have been “Heinrich” and was maybe changed to or simply recorded as “Heinsmann” in the German Palatinate. Chris believes that with Konstantin`s decades of experience on Swiss emigration to Germany that this is a valid suggestion, and I agree.

Chris continues:

I also found that a daughter of a Müller from Boltigen married in Dudweiler, Sulzbach, Saarland, Germany:

“Am 03.05.1718 wird Anna Magdalena Müller, Tochter des …. Müller aus Boltigen im oberen Simmental, Kanton Bern in der Schweiz, dem Johann Jakob Blatter, Sohn von Michael Blatter und Maria Mögel auf Neuweiler Hof, angetraut.”

On the page about Swiss immigrants in Saarland, you will find this in the first half of the page (and a few records below a Hans Stutzmann in Völklingen).

Chris subsequently discovered another document discussing the Muller family in Schwarzenmatt.

In the description of the old house in Schwarzenmatt it is stated on the first page:

“Vor 1615 gab es im Dorf Schwarzenmatt nur wenige Hofstätten. Mit Sicherheit lassen sich bloss deren vier nachweisen, dazu gehörte auch das Haus auf der Kreuzgasse. Wie Eintragungen in den Kirchenbüchern zeigen, besass stets die gleiche Familie Müller dieses Haus, mindestens seit 1700; im Jahr 1872 verkaufte aber David Müller den ganzen Besitz seinem «Tochtermann» Friedrich Bhend, der 1868 von Unterseen nach Schwarzenmatt geheiratet hatte.”

Translated to: “Prior to 1615 there were only few houses in the village Schwarzenmatt. We can only safely verify four, among them the house in the Kreuzgasse. As records in the church books show, this house was always owned by the same family Müller, at least since 1700; but in the year 1872 David Müller sold the entire property to his son-in-law Friedrich Bhendd, who, coming from Unterseen, married to Schwarzenmatt in 1868.”

I am aware this is very weak evidence to assume a relationship to the Michael Müller family, but at the very least it goes to show that a Müller family was among the first in the village Schwarzenmatt.

If Heinsmann/Heinrich is identified as Johann Michael Muller’s father in 1684, and Michael was born in 1655, then we know that Heinsmann was born no later than 1635, and possibly significantly earlier in the 1600s. It’s only 20 years between 1615 and 1635.

What else did Chris find?

Here is a Margaretha Müller, born about 17 December 1696 in Boltigen-Adlemsried. She moved to Bruchsal-Heidelsheim (Northern Wurttemberg, close to the Palatinate), where she married on 6 May 1727 and died on 15 Feb 1728:

I looked up the original marriage and burial record, but no further information on her family there.

If Michael Müller was a widower at the time he married Irene Liesabetha Heitz in 1684, who was his first wife? Did she die in Steinwenden or in the area or rather already back in Switzerland? Maybe it is worth to have another close look at those burials in the Miesau church book from 1681 to 1684 to maybe find her there?

Alas, there was nothing more in Miesau.

Tom found a 1681 Boltigen record where one Michael Muller married Anna Andrist.

Is this our Michael, son of Heinsmann/Heinrich? We don’t have any way of knowing. Parents weren’t listed in these early records. Michael would have been about 26, a typical age for a man to marry at that time. Right time, right name, right place.

What do we know about Schwarzenmatt? Was it large or small? How likely would it have been to find two Michael Mullers of about the same age?

The Village and the Valley

We do know one thing. We’re getting a lot closer to Michael Miller’s cousin, Jacob Ringeisen. In the Steinwenden, Germany records, Jacob is identified as Michael’s cousin and is stated as being from Erlenbach, Switzerland. Schwarzenmatt is only 17 km away, or about 10 miles down the same valley, on the one and only road.

Schwarzenmatt today is a tiny village – about 150 feet East to West.

Clicking on the red balloon shows us the Swiss vYntage Chalets of Schwarzenmatt nestled in the mountains.

Looking at property booking sites (yes you can rent the chalets,) this red pin location is billed as a 400 year old house. If this is indeed true, then that property dates back to 1618, and would be one of the 4 original properties. Heinsmann or Heinrich Muller would have known this house and assuredly, visited, even if it wasn’t his.

Another house nearby is billed as 325 years old, so dating from 1693 or not long after Heinrich had died.

You can see a variety of photos here and here. Just click on the photos at left.

This winter view is stunning, as is the summer one below.

I love old photos! This is similar to what Heinrich and Michael Muller would have seen.

These black and white photos, even though they are from the 1900s, give us at least a peek at what life was like in this valley before the modern era.

Did Michael and Heinrich ski? Was skiing a way for residents to navigate in the winter instead of a sport like it is today? Note that tiny house.

Are these my relatives? I’d bet that almost everyone in or from Schwarzenmatt is my relative!

The alps are breath-taking.

Be still my heart.

I surely wonder what these men were carrying, and why. Did Heinrich do this too? They kind of look like human trees.

Seriously, I want to walk down this street beside the chalets. The entire village is only a block or two. I want to under those umbrellas and drink in the luscious mountain air.

Going for a walk, perhaps? What are they carrying?

The chalets and valley are shown here in an early aerial photo.

The Muller family may have lived in this valley for centuries before the first recorded history that includes the surname in 1615.

This place is stunning, no matter the season.

I’m so grateful that these preserved chalets provide us with a glimpse through the door to the past.

Looking at this door, I do have to wonder if it’s original, meaning perhaps was found in the village when Heinrich lived there. Did he open it himself?

Where did Heinrich Muller actually live?

Historian Peter Mosimann

Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.

Chris found Peter Mosimann who, as fate would have it, wrote a book about Schwarzenmatt and even more miraculously, owns the Muller chalet. Yes, THAT Muller chalet.

The book is out of print, but here’s the forward, translated from German by Google translate. This isn’t the best translation in the world, but it certainly conveys the idea.

In 2009, the couple Mosimann the Earning a parent’s home, a former mountain farmhouse at the Kreuzgasse in Schwarzenmatt Boltigen im Simmental, dating back to 1556 and certainly one of the oldest houses in the Bernese Oberland is at all. Since the spouses do not live here themselves you can take with the foundation «Holidays in the monument» of the Swiss Homeland Security concluded a license agreement for thirty years.

The foundation had the house renovated and refrained from advise the preservation of monuments. When planning the renovation the thought came to the future holiday guests to make a booklet out of which they have something about the past of the house, the place and the valley could learn. This is now an extensive book from over 340 densely written pages, that you read with great pleasure and profit – even if you are not a holiday guest in Schwarzenmatt.

It is dedicated to Mrs. Mosimann by her husband, who since 2009 innumerable archives visited, innumerable books read and interviewed countless people.

Is in itself the approach of the couple Mosimann – the purchase of the house and its conversion – very much correct and praiseworthy, so does the book the whole still the crown on. Not only was the house saved, but also his story, including the story of one whole valley. Peter Mosimann has been through many sources worked, so to only the most extensive series to name, through twelve choral court manuals the Congregation Boltigen (1648-1875) and six choral court manuals the parish of Oberwil im Simmental (1587-1768) and thirteen parish registers of Boltigen (1556-1875) and fifteen from Oberwil (1562-1875). He has cleverly understood the “little” stories, which he found here to be associated with the “big” story, which he drew from the secondary literature. On example: standing in the gable triangle of the rescued house the year 1556 – at that time Emperor Charles V thanked Habsburg, in whose empire the sun never set, and set up the first parish register in Boltigen (page 30).

Everywhere you can feel the ordering hand of the former Secondary teacher.

The fact that at the house on the Kreuzgasse the former Saumweg led into Jauntal, not over the Jaunpass, but over the Reidigenpass, gives rise for a whole nice chapter about the traffic history. This is very clever with old and new.

Illustrated are photos showing tracks in the terrain sees who would miss out on the terrain itself.

The road led to Jauntal, the catholic («idolatrous») remained and for the severely reformed disciplined Simmentaler the country of vice – but also the temptations and pleasures par excellence – represented. But you also like reading the chapter about the “companions”, as there are: restaurants, Mills, saws, forges, a lime kiln, cheese dairies (initiated by Welschen Greyerzern!), school houses, castle ruins and stones. It’s not just the good, but also the bad old time to the language, alcoholism, the poor, home and child labor, at the for a few cents matches for the matches were produced in Wimmis.

The result is a home customer in the best, namely in the critical sense of the word.

Peter Mosimann is not content with the old one time, but asks to the present. He speaks from the revival of livestock in the Simmental in the 19th century, from the introduction of electricity and the damming of the simme. He is very well aware that in today’s, rushing changes a whole world to disappear threatens, and he therefore has older Simmentaler asked about their knowledge and memories, so operated “oral history”. A nice example is the reconstruction a mining year around 1960, probably with the help of his wife and in-laws. Only here it becomes clear how far already 1960 – not 1860 and also not 1760! – is past. Especially nice and consistent is when people each speak for themselves: one Hemmer sitting in a tavern in Freiburg had shared the bed a bit too much (p. 94), the Daughter of the Wegmeisters Eschler, in the first half of the 20th century for the maintenance of the Jaun pass was responsible (p. 111 f.), the last geisshirt of Eschi (p.180 f.) Or Peter Mosimann’s wife Berti itself, from which the last chapter comes, that the house is dedicated in Schwarzenmatt. Or from the pastor of Boltigen, who died during the plague at the end of the 16th / beginning of the 17th century. Century not only lost all his children, but also three wives (pp. 12 f.). So sad this last one.

History is – you can Mr. Mosimann to his just congratulate factory.

State Archives Freiburg

PD Dr. phil. Kathrin Utz Tremp

Scientific Associate

In essence, we can thank the ski industry today for encouraging the salvation of these old chalets.

These lifts are only a few miles away and tourists need a place to say. Who wouldn’t love to stay in an alpine chalet?

The Swiss Alps tower above Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen.

The Muller Chalet

Chris found several links, and more information. This photo taken about 1912 in front of the chalet shows:

“Susanna Katharina and Friedrich Bhend-von Allmen with their children Fritz, Karl and Hans.”

Peter Mosimann’s wife’s father was Hans Bhend, so Susanna Katherine was apparently a Miller by birth, perhaps a descendant or at least a relative of Heinrich Muller from the middle 1600s. I would so love to see if my mother or other Miller descendants would match her DNA!

This house was built in about 1556 and was in the Muller/Miller family from before 1615. I can’t help but wonder how the date of 1556 was established. Perhaps by tree ring dating of the wood (dendrochronology.)

There is no ownership record before the Muller family, so they could have built it. In 1872, David Muller sold the property to his son-in-law, Freidrich Bhendd. Peter Mosimann’s wife was born a Bhend and grew up in this same house, shown above.

The article, in German, also shows additional photos.

I can’t reproduce the article here, but I can summarize.

Peter Mosiman, the local historian, states that this is one of the earliest dated peasant residential buildings in Boltigen and perhaps in all of the Bernese Oberland.

The sunny location where the house was built was on the mule track over the ridge to Juan and then to Gruyere, although the translation suggests that the house was on the path to Juantel, which I cannot locate on a current map.

I do wonder this this village was a stop-over location, and people rested the mules at this farmstead.

The ancient Juanpass through the mountains is first mentioned in 1228 as Balavarda and again in 1397 as Youn. Was the Muller family here then? What originally brought them to this high, remote location, and when?

The road was paved in 1878 and today is on the list of the highest paved roads in the world. Looking at the map, you can see the switchbacks. The pass peaks at just below 5,000 feet, the ascent 8 miles long and rising almost 2000 feet.

By Norbert Aepli, Switzerland, CC BY 2.5,

Take a look from the pass here.

The photo of the pass, above, is exactly how I remember the Alps.

Here’s the same map with Gruyere, on the other side of the mountain, added.

I have to stop and admit right here that I love the Alps. And I mean LOVE them with all caps. I spent an amazing, life-changing summer in 1970 living in Versoix, Switzerland and spending time in those beautiful mountains and meadows not far from this very location. If you could see across the mountaintops, I lived about 25 miles as the crow flies. I know, what are the chances??

The summer in ski resorts is an inactive time. I spent a month or more there, hiking and wandering the beautiful alpine meadows. Today that resort is Crans-Montana, but then it was a sleepy, tiny Swiss mountain village.

The fact that my family actually originates here stirs my heart and touches my soul in a way I simply cannot put into words. It feels like my ancestors reached out to me, infusing their love of these mountains, even though I didn’t know them then.

But back to the Muller chalet.

Peter Mosimann says that he has documented the house ownership back to at least 1700 in the Muller family. Clearly, Heinrich lived in Schwarzenmatt in the first half of the 1600s. He would have been born either in or before 1635, probably right in this village or at least this valley. Most likey in this peasant house.

The walls were wood and stone that came from the surrounding area. Some stones are outcrops of the mountainside on which the house perches. The stones were connected with lime mortar and whitewashed. A stable was connected to the house, and the “goat-lick” still survives and is shown in photos in the document. Do you know what a goat-lick is? Neither did I!

The ground floor originally only had one small room. A “smoke kitchen” allowed the smoke to drift up between the slats in the rafters where meats were hung to be smoked and cured. The beams there are still black with centuries of accumulated soot.

Water came from the village well or fountain. Schwarzenmatt was lucky and had their own well. Kreuzgasse, the street where this chalet is located had their own fountain.

When I hiked the Alps, we drank from the icy-cold streams, although we were warned about drinking only near the headwaters because mountain goats tended to contaminate the water. We didn’t worry much about that.

In the Muller chalet, it appears that there was a loft type of structure upstairs where the children slept. They warmed some type of sack on the stove and took it to bed with them. Of course, as a quilter, today I think of this in terms of a quilt.

The original windows were sold at some time and installed in a restaurant in Obersimmental, about 10 miles distant. The homeowners thought they got the better end of that deal, because they installed new windows which were surely more winter-resistant, weathertight and warmer.

Clothes and dishes were washed in a basin on the table, and clothes were dried on a wooden rod in the kitchen.

Plums, pears and apples were dried for the winter to go along with the smoked meats.

Peter says that the renovation exposed 1705 construction with holes in posts suggesting that earlier building had occurred and the 1705 construction itself was either an expansion or a remodel. A stable was added at that time to house 4-6 goats and two pigs.

A cheese tower yet preserved shows that cheese was manufactured on this farm. Three circular pieces of wood are attached to a pole set in stone and connected to the rafters.

Chris located a photo before the renovation occurred.

Drum roll please…here’s the beautiful chalet today from a different angle. And look, just look at those mountains.

This chalet even has its own Wikipedia entry. At this link, you can see what it looks like in the winter. Another photo here and the renovation here.

The Muller Chalet, shown with the red pin below, is almost next door to the Swiss Vyntage Chalets I first found on the booking site.

I can’t tell you how much I want to visit this location and see the Muller chalet in person. Actually, I don’t just want to see it, I want to stay and sleep there, basking in the ancestral glow.

Johann Michael Muller

We know that Michael Muller, a widower, who married in 1684 in Steinwenden was from Schwarzenmatt. We know that a Michael Muller married in Boltigen in 1681 in the church where the Schwarzenmatt residents attended. There was no other church in the valley. The question is, is this the same Michael Muller?

This area was very small at the time, not to mention remote. Chances are very good that the Michael who married Anna Andrist was the same Michael Muller, but there could have been more than one. We also know that our Michael’s father was Heinrich, recorded as Heinsmann in Germany, who was from the tiny block long village of Schwarzenmatt.

In Switzerland, when a resident left, they were required to register. In essence, they carried a lifelong passport with them and as long as they left in good standing, they could always return as a citizen.

Those rolls were called Mannrechten and they exist for 1694-1754 from the Bern region. Of course, that’s after our Michael left, but several Millers from Boltigen were listed. Chris checked with the archives, and has kindly translated their reply, as follows:

– There are no “Mannrechtsrodel” earlier than 1694, so probably no direct proof of Michael Müller`s emigration to Germany.

– Mr. Bartlome (archivist) writes that at the time no permission was required to leave Switzerland. However, there was a heavy tax on money transferred abroad (“Abzugsgelder”). If an emigrant transferred money abroad, at the same time the emigrant passed on their citizen rights in Switzerland. This was done to prevent the emigrants possibly returning to Switzerland later on as a poor person.

– Only around 1700 an alphabetical name register was started for Swiss citizens who passed on their citizen rights. The register (listed in the link above,) is such a register. Please note that this passing on citizen rights could be done by children or grandchildren of the original emigrant! So the listed persons are not necessarily the emigrating persons!

– The register does not list the emigration date, but the date on which the citizen rights were passed on, plus the money that was transferred abroad and to which place.

– Finally, Mr Bartlome notes that emigrants may also be found in the protocols of the Bern government (“Ratsmanuale”). The transferred money (“Abzugsgelder”) was also listed in bills of the bailiffs (“Rechnungen der Landvögte”). So this may be another way to find emigrants in old documents, but it is a tedious process and with no guarantee.

As Chris comments, clearly not what we had hoped, but still, the door isn’t entirely slammed shut.

Chris later discovered a list of Swiss emigrants from 1694-1754 who settled in the Palatinate, Alsace-Lorraine, Baden-Wurttemberg and Pennsylvania in an article by Kary Joder in the October 1983 Mennonite Family History Newsletter, Volume II, #4, available in the book section at Family Search. In this document, one Michael Miller is noted on page 136, along with Miller men from Boltigen, as follows:

Chris wondered where my Johann Michael Miller the second, the son of the original Johann Michael Miller, from Schwarzenmatt, was located in 1720.

Chris translates from the original German version:

“2.12.1720 Michel Müller von hinter Zweisimmen zieht nach Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Translation: “2 December 1720 – Michel Müller from behind Zweisimmen moves [read: “his money”!] to Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Could this Michel Müller possibly be identical with Michael Müller the Second? I am not as familiar with his life dates as you are, so I have to ask you if this remains a possibility. I know that in 1721 he became a citizen in Lambsheim. Lambsheim and Leistadt are 8.5 miles apart from each other. Do we know for sure that in 1720 Michael Müller the Second was still in Steinwenden or was he maybe “on his way” to Lambsheim?

“From behind Zweisimmen” suggests to me that possibly this Michel Müller could not name the place of origin of his father. “Behind Zweisimmen” would definitely go well along with Schwarzenmatt. Zweisimmen and Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen are only 6 miles apart from each other.

It’s amazing how quickly ancestral knowledge of locations and events fades. By 1720, Michael Muller the first had been dead for 25 years, having died when his son was only 2 years and 3 months old. It’s no wonder that Michael Muller the second couldn’t remember the name of the town in Switzerland where his father was from. He never knew his father – only through his mother’s remembrances.

In April of 1718, Johann Michael Muller (the second) is identified as the farm administrator of (the farm) Weilach in a baptismal record for his child in Kallstadt. He is still living in Weilach on April 5th, 1721, but by January 15, 1722, when he is once again mentioned in a Kallstadt baptism record where he stands up as a godparent, he is a Lambsheim resident about 12 miles distant from Weilach. Citizenship records tell us that Michael moved to Lambsheim between April and July of 1721.

As the map above illustrates, Leistadt is very close to Weilach and Kallstadt, both. It was less than a mile from Weilach to Leistadt, the closest village. Certainly close enough to walk. The Michael Muller on December 2, 1720 who moved money from Schwarzenmatt to Leistadt is very likely Michael Muller the second, son of the Michael Muller the first, son of Heinrich Muller. Perhaps he moved the funds in preparation for his move to Lambsheim. It was only a few years later that he emigrated to America.

Until that time, Michael Muller the second had been a Swiss citizen, although he was born in Germany.

Mullers in Boltigen and Schwarzenmatt

The Mullers were clearly visible in the Boltigen area, which includes Schwarzenmatt. Several (in addition to Michael) were mentioned in the Mennonite document that references moving money.

  • Muller, Benedicts from Boltigen to Eppingen-Churpfalz on November 29, 1726
  • Muller, Wolfgang from Boltigen to Maulbronn-Wurttemberg on May 6, 1732
  • Muller, Johannes from Boltigen to Horbach-Swiebrucken on March 14, 1754

These three Miller men transferred funds to the same region of Germany, near where Michael had moved.

Were all of these men from the same Muller family from Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen?

Were there multiple Miller families living in Schwarzenmatt or Boltigen by that time?

If so, did they descend from a common Miller ancestor, or different men that just happened to carry the same surname?

Is this the same Muller family that had a coat of arms awarded in 1683, right about the time Michael Muller the first is found in Germany?

The Miller family in Boltigen had a coat of arms awarded in 1683 which looks to be a cogged wheel of some sort, perhaps a miller’s wheel?

The history of German heraldry isn’t terribly helpful, except to say that noble coats of arms included a barred helmet, and burgher’s/patrician’s coats of arms included a tilted helmet. The Muller coat of arms includes neither, so this tells us that the family wasn’t noble. It’s noted that in Switzerland, in the 17th century, Swiss farmers also bore arms. Given that the Schwarzenmatt Muller family, as evidenced by the restored home, was clearly a farm family, the coat of arms isn’t as surprising as it might otherwise seem. I am very curious though at the meaning of the yellow symbol on the coat of arms and if the blue background has any significance. I also wonder if this coat of arms would have included “all” of the Muller family or clan, or only one specific family unit.

There’s no way, of course, without Y DNA testing or non-existent records to tell if this is the same family. The Boltigen church records were lost in a fire in 1840. I have a DNA testing scholarship for any Miller male from the Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen area, or whose ancestors lived there.

A painting, below, remains of the old Boltigen church and parsonage from 1822, before the fire. This would have been the church that Heinrich attended, and where Michael was married in 1681.

From this photo of the current church, built after the 1840 fire, it looks like the new church was built in the same location and in the exact same style and footprint as the old church.

By Roland Zumbuehl – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Boltigen is just down the valley, about a mile from Schwarzenmatt. A lovely Sunday walk to church.

You can walk home from church in half an hour, but of course, it’s uphill! Probably not very pleasant in the winter.

Schwarzenmatt was tiny then and it’s tiny now. Heinsmann (Heinrich) and Michael lived here – lost in time today, but not lost to memory anymore.

Leaving Schwarzenmatt

This part of the world is truly beautiful – nature at her finest. I wonder what compelled Heinrich’s son to leave. It’s certainly possible that the isolation was a factor. The family that lived in this house, with who knows how many children, were peasants, and their children would be peasants too. Perhaps Michael wanted something more. Perhaps he found no comfort here after his wife died. Did she pass away giving birth to their first child?

The Thirty Years’ War had devastated and depopulated most of the Palatine and the Swiss were invited to come and settle, tax free, with a promise of land. Looking at the tiny Swiss village, and having lived in the Alps, I understand that this area could only support a limited population and had little potential for expansion. The German offer meant, for Michael, that opportunity was knocking and perhaps providing an escape from the pain of his wife’s death.

Once Michael left Schwarzenmatt, given the distance to Steinwenden, he likely never returned, which meant he never saw his parents or family again. Perhaps both of Michael’s parents were deceased before he left. We know, according to his marriage record in 1684 that his father was already gone by that time, but what about his mother and siblings – assuming he had siblings?

Heinrich likely was born and died in Schwarzenmatt and is buried in the churchyard of the old church that burned in 1840. Perhaps generations of Heinrich’s ancestors are buried near him there as well.

Michael would have passed that location one last time, perhaps stopping to say one final goodbye to his father and wife, on his way down the valley, through the village of Erlenbach, perhaps gathering his cousin Jacob Ringeisen, on his way to Germany.

Heinrich was the last of his generation here, at least in my line, and Michael was the first generation in Germany.

We think of the Muller family as German, but in reality, Michael the first only lived in Germany as an adult, retraining his Swiss citizenship the entire time. His son, Michael the second lived in Germany until 1727 when he emigrated to the US. He only relinquished his Swiss citizenship in 1720. In total, the Muller family lived in Germany for between 43 and 46 years. They were only exclusively German, meaning no Swiss citizenship, for 7 years. Before that, they were Swiss, probably for generations. After that, American.

How long had the Muller family been settled in Schwarzenmatt? When did they arrive? And from where? Is the surname Muller the trade name for the local miller? Does it reflect the occupation of Heinrich or his ancestors? Were they millers on the creek that runs through the valley?

We don’t have answers to those questions, but we can look at what the Miller line Y DNA tells us.

Genetic History

Our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller took the Big Y DNA test in order for Miller descendants to learn as much as possible about our heritage.

Our Miller terminal SNP, or haplogroup, is R-CTS7822.

SNP Estimated Age
CTS7822 5000-5300 (Bulgaria)
Z2109 5300 (Russia, India)
Z2106 5300-5500
M12149 5500-6100
Z2103 5500-6100

In the R1b Basal subclade project, our sample is the only one with a terminal SNP of CTS7822.

There are other people who have another SNP downstream that we don’t have, some in Germany and Switzerland, and many in Scandinavia. Those would be descendants of CTS7822. In other words, at some point in time, a branch of the family headed north, long before surnames were adopted. Another branch headed south, across the Alps to Italy. One branch is found in Bulgaria and another in England.

Z2109, the branch immediately above ours, also our ancestor, is found in India, the Russian Federation and Turkey. That’s a fascinating span and suggests that the person who carried the ancestral SNP, Z2109 might well have been in the Caucasus before his sons and their descendants fanned out in all directions.

Unnamed Variants

Perhaps even more exciting is that eventually our Miller line is likely to have a different terminal SNP. Cousin Richard has 36 total unnamed variants.

This means that mutations, SNPs, have been found in these locations on his Y chromosome that have never been found before. These SNPs aren’t yet named and placed on the haplotree. Our line will be responsible, when another male tests that has these same locations, for 36 new branches, or updated branches, on the Y tree.

I always knew our Miller line was quite unique, and Heinrich’s Y chromosome, passed to Miller men today proves it!

Heinrich Muller’s DNA will be providing new discoveries in a scientific field he had absolutely no clue existed. His final legacy wouldn’t be written into record until more than 337 years after his death in the tiny village of Schwarzenmatt in the Swiss Alps. Not chiseled into stone, but extracted from his descendants Y chromosome.


I know this is the last stop on the Miller/Muller road, in this picturesque tiny village in the Swiss alps. There are no more records. I am attempting to contact Peter Mosimann, and if I’m lucky, there may be more photos!

With the difficulties in colonial America determining who Michael Miller (the second) was, and where he came from, never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d find our original homeplace in Switzerland two generations earlier.

And not just Michael’s home location, but his actual swear-to-God home, as in house.

I’m still reeling from this stroke of amazing luck – but then luck favors the prepared. My amazing German genealogist and cousin, Tom and my German-speaking friend, Chris receive all the credit for their amazing sleuthing work. None of this would have happened without their diligence.

I am ever so grateful.

I have wanted to visit Germany for decades. With this latest discovery, I’m checking airfares. My husband is in the other room having a coronary at the potential cost of the trip, but I’m focused on the emotional toll of not going. I always regretted not taking my mother back to Mutterstadt before her death, and count on it, she’ll be accompanying me in spirit😊

Maybe she has been guiding the way all along.

It was a long journey, in terms of miles, ships and time, from Schwarzenmatt to where I sit today. Ten generations and almost 400 years of mule paths, rutted wagon roads and 3-masted ships. From a farmhouse of stone and wood on a mountainside sheltering people, goats and pigs, with water hauled from the community well to an electrified dashboard from which I can travel the world, even back to Schwarzenmatt, without leaving my driver’s seat.

Yet, I know that there’s nothing like visiting in person. Walking where Heinrich walked. Standing where he stood. Visiting his grave, or at least the graveyard where he, his wife and their ancestors are surely buried in unmarked graves.

I hope to be reporting back to you in a year or so from Schwarzenmatt as I trace my ancestors’ footsteps and generations back in time.



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Ancestry 2018 Ethnicity Update

When ethnicity estimates were first produced by vendors, they tended to resemble the wild west.

Today, results are becoming more refined and hopefully, more accurate as reference populations grow and become more reliable.

The Ancestry ethnicity update has been in beta for several months, but this week, Ancestry rolled out the ethnicity update for everyone.

Checking Your New Results

To see your updated results, sign on and click on the DNA Story to the left with Ethnicity Estimates.

Ancestry then explains that while your DNA doesn’t change, the estimates (pay attention to that word) do as the science improves.

Ethnicity Estimate Aren’t Precise

I’ve said this before, and I want to say it again. Ethnicity is the least precise and the least accurate of DNA tools for genetic genealogy. Ethnicity estimates are the most accurate at a continental level. Within continents, like Europe, Asia and Africa, there has been a lot of population movement and intermixing over time making the term “ethnicity” almost meaningless.

I know, I know – ethnicity estimates are also the simplest because there isn’t much learning curve and they’re easy to understand at a glance. This deceptive “ease of use” also makes them interesting to people who have only a passing curiosity. That’s why they attract so many test takers who either love of hate their results, but never fully understand the true message or utilize any other genetic genealogy tools.

Let’s take a look at how ethnicity estimates have changed over time and if they have improved with the latest version.

Ethnicity Estimate Changes

In my case, my original Ancestry ethnicity estimate in 2012 was:

  • British Isles 80%
  • Scandinavia 12%
  • Uncertain 8%

To say it was really bad is an understatement.

In 2013, Ancestry introduced their ethnicity V2 version which provided a lot more granularity.

Version 2 was dramatically different, with the British Isles moving from 80% to a total of 6%. Like a pendulum swinging, neither was accurate.

Ancestry introduced new features and combined their Genetic Communities with their ethnicity estimates in 2017.

In this new 2018 version, Ancestry has divided and recombined the British Isles and Western Europe differently and the resulting differences are significant.

My mystery Scandinavian is entirely gone now, but sadly, so is my Native American.

The New Results

I just got really boring – but the question is whether or not the new results are more accurate as compared to my proven genealogy. Boring doesn’t matter. Accuracy does.

Various Ancestry Ethnicity Versions Compared to Proven Genealogy

I created a chart that reflects the three Ancestry ethnicity versions as compared to my proven genealogy.

For the current version, I also included the ranges as provided by Ancestry.

As you can see, generally, the results are much more accurate, but the regions are also fairly broad which makes accuracy easier to achieve.

Until this current version, Ancestry didn’t show any Germanic, but now the Germanic estimate is exact at 25%.  The Germanic range is also very tight at 24-26%, right where it should be.

The England, Wales & Northeast Europe category is somewhat high, but that could be accurate because I do have some ancestry that is unknown.

Unfortunately, my Native is proven, both through Y and mtDNA and by triangulating the Native segments to others descending from the same Native ancestors. That portion is now missing in my Ancestry ethnicity.

Ancestry V1 Test Versus the V2 Test

For the record, I’m using my Ancestry V1 test because I’ve used that test version for all previous ethnicity comparisons.  My Ancestry V2 test ethnicity results are approximately the same, as follows:

  • England, Wales and Northeast Europe – 76%
  • Germanic – 22%
  • Ireland and Scotland – 2%

The same tree is attached to both tests.

On my V2 test, which I seldom use, I had to answer a couple of question regarding my expectations about ethnicity testing changes and how accurate my previous results were perceived to be before I could access my updated results.

Regions Changed

In Ancestry’s FAQ, they provided this list of how the regions were and are defined.

Previous Region New Regions
Scandinavia Norway, Sweden
Iberian Peninsula Spain, Portugal, Basque
Europe South Italy, Greece and the Balkans, Sardinia
Europe East Baltic States, Eastern Europe and Russia
Caucasus Turkey and the Caucasus, Iran/Persia
Europe West Germanic Europe, France
Native American Native America—North, Central, South; Native America—Andean
Asia South Southern Asia, Western and Central India, Balochistan, Burusho
Asia East Japan, Korea and Northern China, China, Southeast Asia—Dai (Tai), Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Philippines

Ancestry has addressed lots of other questions in their FAQ as well, and I suggest taking a look. I particularly like their comment, “Some places are complicated.” Indeed, that’s true with population churn both in historical times along with unknown pre-history and that complexity is exactly what makes intra-continental ethnicity estimates so difficult. Of course, people whose ancestors are from Europe, for example, want as much granularity as possible.

Previous Ethnicity Versions

For the first time, Ancestry explains what happened between versions, at least at a high level.

Click on the little “i” in the upper right hand corner of your ethnicity estimate box.

You’ll see more information.

Click on “View Previous Estimate” at the bottom.

Your previous ethnicity estimate is shown.

To see how your estimate changed, click on “Compare these results to your most recent Ancestry DNA estimate.”

This display shows you the differences compared to the previous version. In my case, England, Wales and NE Europe increased by 69%, but that’s because Ancestry redefined the regions. Note the little slide box underneath the regions on the map. You can slide back and forth from previous to current (update.).

I do wish Ancestry had told us where the “Scandinavian” went, what category it fell into. Are those segments, as a group, included in another region? Was the previous estimate simply flat out wrong? Was Scandinavian a vestige of Vikings who invaded much of Europe? What happened?

New Regions and Reference Samples

By clicking on “See other regions tested” at the bottom of your Ethnicity Estimate box, you can view the locations of Ancestry’s current reference populations.

The regions tested in which you have results are colored, and the regions where you aren’t showing results are shades of grey. This is an improvement over the previous version which people routinely misinterpreted to mean that they had results in those tested regions.

Best Features

In my opinion, the best feature of the combined ethnicity and Genetic Communities is the combined mapping. For example, the screenshot below combines the ethnicity regions with the ancestors from my tree who immigrated from that region in that timeframe.

By clicking on the 1700 box, the people from that time period in my tree are displayed. I can enlarge the map to make the display larger, until finally individual “people” icons are displayed, as shown with Johann Peter Koehler, below. Clicking on the individual person pin shows that individual in the box at right.

By clicking on the “Lower Midwest and Virginia Settlers,” I see this region and Ancestry tells me where those settlers likely originated.

You can then scroll down to the bottom of the information box where you see “Ancestry DNA Members.”

Click on the 1000+ link and you will then see the people who match you in a specific region or migration.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t always accurate. My 2nd cousin match is showing as a “Lower Midwest and Virginia” match and our ancestors came from the Netherlands directly to Northern Indiana. Ironically, she shows up in three of the 4 regions I can select from. This feature is not 100%, but it’s still nice to be able to see where that match is grouped in terms of ethnicity and Genetic Communities, according to Ancestry.

Given this combined functionality, I do wonder if Ancestry’s new ethnicity isn’t simply population genetics, but a combination of population genetics, ancestors in my tree, my matches and corresponding DNA Circles with their associated history. If so, that would make sense, both in terms of what I’m seeing as my new ethnicity results and the map functionality as well. Could that be where my Germanic came from, and why it’s so precise at 25% which matches by tree exactly?

In Summary

For me, Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are significantly improved with the exception that my Native disappeared. I’ve worked long and hard on the Native aspect of my genealogy, and I know that part of my ethnicity mix is valid. However, that is a very small percentage overall (about 2%), and the combined improvements certainly outshine that one negative.

Of course, your mileage may vary. What are you seeing in terms of your new ethnicity estimates as compared to your known genealogy? Better? Worse? Did you lose any categories that you know are valid? What about small amounts of minority heritage?



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MyHeritage Now Accepts Living DNA and 23andMe V5 Transfer Results and Partners with European Retailer

MyHeritage has been busy – making two major announcements this week.

European Retail Market Penetration

I was very encouraged a few days ago when I received an email from MyHeritage stating that they have partnered with British Retailer WHSmith to sell their tests in retail stores in Europe. The new in-store products will be called the MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kit which will bundle the DNA test with a 3 month subscription of the Complete MyHeritage plan which combines Premium Plus, Data Subscription including historical records and DNA integration.

MyHeritage has not yet released the price, but I expect it will be competitive. I’m very grateful for the MyHeritage push into Europe and look forward to new European matches. My mother carries a very high percentage of both German and Dutch and matches from those countries have been slim. Retail marketing and an in-store presence may signal the end of that problem – at least I hope so.

The great news is that MyHeritage DNA matching supports filtering DNA matches by location.

MyHeritage Accepts Illumina GSA Chip Transfers

I’ve written before about the Illumina GSA chip and compatibility issues between the that chip and existing data produced on the other Illumina chips, including the chip utilized by both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA.  However, MyHeritage also just announced that they are accepting GSA file transfers, which means that people who have tested at the following vendors can now transfer their raw autosomal data results to MyHeritage for free.

  • 23andMe began utilizing the Illumina GSA V5 chip in August 2017, so if you have tested since that time, you haven’t been able, until now, to upload to MyHeritage.
  • LivingDNA launched with the Illumina GSA chip, so if you have ever tested at LivingDNA, you haven’t been able to upload your raw data files. Now you can!

The good news is that the upload to MyHeritage, along with the MyHeritage DNA tools are free until December 1st, and will remain free for those who upload before that date. After that, MyHeritage will begin charging a fee or subscription for advanced features such as ethnicity estimates, the chromosome browser and other features. The $$ amount will be announced closer to December.

Of course, you can also upload results from Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and earlier versions of the 23andMe test.

So, don’t wait, click here to upload now, while the upload is totally free.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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In the Beginning – First Steps in Genealogy

Everyone starts someplace in their genealogy. A lucky few have the opportunity to springboard from another family member who has documented the family carefully. Most of us, me included, began in the simplest of ways – asking family members.

Thank goodness I did that while there were at least a few family members left of older generations. I wish I had begun sooner, but that’s probably the most common lament of genealogists.

The next most common lament, today, would be that we wish we had DNA tested every single person in the older generations. If you haven’t, please do, immediately, while you can – and be sure they are in at least in the Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage databases. I also recommend uploading to GedMatch as well which will catch genealogists that test at 23andMe. Generally, only genealogists upload  to GedMatch.

I didn’t start out to be a genealogist. I was simply interested in my family. I didn’t even really grasp what a genealogist was. One day someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re a genealogist,” and I replied, “No, I’m just curious about my family.”

Famous last words.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a pedigree chart, and my notes for the first few years were on plain paper with little organization other than a page or folder for each person. I then advanced to a green bookkeeping columnar pad to keep track of what was in the folders.

Eventually, some poor soul took pity on me and gave me a pedigree chart. I started filling in what I knew and it would be another decade before I made my first “genealogical” find in the local Family History Center. I refer to that as my first genealogical find because I wasn’t talking to a family member and had begun researching through records. My curiosity had gotten the best of me!

I remember the thrill of that obsession-defining moment well.

It was my first visit to the Center, following a brief introductory session that I had discovered in the local newspaper, and I was filled with trepidation. I didn’t want someone trying to convert me, but I was also very curious. I needn’t have worried. In all the years I visited the local FHC at the Mormon Church, no one ever tried to convert me and I visited regularly, making discovery after discovery.

The first discovery that life-changing evening, the marriage of Lazarus Estes to Elizabeth Vannoy, is what hooked me. We found it in an index, and I was terribly disappointed to discover that I had to order a microfiche and wait until it arrived from some distant location to find out WHEN Lazarus married Elizabeth. Oh, the torture!

But hooked I was, and I anxiously awaited the call from the FHC librarian telling me that my fiche had arrived. I drove to the church in record time!

I had taken my daughter with me on the first trip to the church, just in case I needed a quick “escape.” Kids are always great for “not feeling well” and she was always having stomach aches. Obviously, no escape was needed – except maybe for her.

Recently, while going through some papers, I discovered my very first pedigree chart. My first reaction was, “ahhh, how sweet,” which quickly turned to mortification when I realized how much was blank or worse, incorrect.

Let’s just bask in the “oh so sweet” for a moment.

We all start with the information we gather from family. You can see by the different ink and white-out (you do remember, white-out, right?) that I gleefully added to this pedigree as new information was discovered. Some is written in pencil, with question marks. People weren’t sure about some things, but I made notes anyway. Thankfully!

The blank spaces aren’t blank anymore, today, but that information was revealed slowly, like peeling an onion, through records research. I had talked to my mother and my great-aunt on my maternal side, and my father’s sister on my paternal side, and I gathered all that they knew. From that point forward, I had to do the research. It fell to me.

When I looked at this pedigree chart and realized how much was wrong, my initial reaction was horror – BUT – we all have to start with what we have available. If there was ever a textbook example of why verification and documentation is essential – this is it.

Much to my embarrassment, the red arrows point to information that was wrong. I’ve sized the arrows relative to the magnitude of the inaccuracy.

For example, the biggest error is that Rebecca Rosenberg or Rosenbaum was NOT the mother of Margaret Clarkson/Claxton. For the record, Elizabeth Speaks was, but she was related to the Rosenbaums through her father’s sister’s marriage. My aunt had her in the right neighborhood and family, but attributed the wrong person as her mother.

Of course, if I hadn’t figured it out through records, eventually DNA might have revealed the problem. BUT, since the Rosenbaum descendants were related to the Speaks family, autosomal DNA might not have divulged the problem since the Rosenbaums would have matched some Speaks too. However, mitochondrial DNA would have immediately showed a discrepancy because their matrilineal ancestors weren’t the same. Don’t forget to utilize all tools available.

Oh, and based on the Rosenbaum/Rosenburg surname, my aunt informed me that we were Jewish. Also that the Bolton’s were German, and that my great-grandmother Elizabeth Vannoy was Cherokee, all of which were subsequently proven to be incorrect by using historical records plus DNA, but I digress. Point being that I believed my aunt at the time, because surely she knew – and she obviously knew more than I did which was absolutely nothing.

Notice that several of the dates have smaller arrows. Those are off by one or two years, so again, the right ballpark but the wrong information. At least the information for my parents was accurate! (humor)

It’s also interesting that on my mother’s side, much more was known about the female side of the family. But then again, my great-aunt who I was able to interview was my maternal grandmother’s sister.

My Aunt Margaret on my father’s side didn’t grow up in Tennessee and most of what she knew was second hand. For example, she told me that her Bolton grandparents, Joseph and Margot (Margaret) had both died a day or so apart in the 1918 flu epidemic. He died first and the family put him in the barn waiting for her to die the next day so they could bury them in the same coffin. I didn’t know if that was romantic or simply expeditious for the survivors, under the circumstances, especially if many were ill and coffin-makers and grave-diggers were in short supply.

Well, Aunt Margaret was close. Joseph died on February 23, 1920, not during the 1918 flu epidemic. Still, they did both die of pneumonia following the flu, according to their death certificates, which certainly weren’t available to me in the 1970s or 1980s. Joseph’s wife died on March 11, 1920. Of course, there’s no way to know if they were buried at the same funeral, or in the same coffin. Their deaths were separated by more than two weeks.

I’m certainly glad I recorded every tidbit that I did. I’ve returned to my original notes years later and found extremely valuable hints that I had originally forgotten about or didn’t understand the value of the hint initially.

How could I forget something important? It wasn’t important then or we’re human and we do forget.

Every piece of family information needs to be viewed as a hint, not as gospel. As well-meaning as our family members are, and lovely for sharing, they can only provide us with the information they know or have been provided by others. Who’s to say if it has been conveyed or remembered accurately? The most reliable information is first person, but even that is subject to lapses of memory or the softening of time.

Don’t believe it? Just remember how often you forget what you went into the other room for😊

Documenting every piece of information is up to us and seldom does that documentation process and subsequent review not provide some new tidbit or surprise.

How accurate was your original pedigree chart?



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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Ancestor Birthdays Mean Presents for YOU!

I’ve been wanting to celebrate my ancestors’ birthdays for some time now, and I’ve finally figured out exactly how to accomplish this goal in a really fun way.

Being reminded once a year about their birthday and the anniversary of their death reminds me to work on their genealogy, and in particular, genetic genealogy. With more people testing every single day, meaning different people at every vendor, we need to check often with specific ancestors in mind. You never know who’s going to be the person who puts the chink in that brick wall.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a spreadsheet to track what I know about each ancestor. This makes it easy to schedule those dates in my calendar, with a reminder of course, and then to check my spreadsheet to see what information might have been previously missing that might be able to be found today.

It’s like a birthday present for them, but now for me. I am, after all, their heir, along with the rest of their descendants of course! If I’m lucky, I inherited part of their DNA, and if not, their DNA is still relevant to me.

Checking the List

Here’s my spreadsheet checklist for each ancestor:

  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • Spouse
  • Y DNA haplogroup (if male)
  • Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup
  • Autosomal confirmed
  • Ancestry Circle

New information becomes digitized every year making new information available.

Additionally, some items may change. For example, if a base haplogroup was previous known, a deeper haplogroup might be available a year later if someone has taken a more detailed test or the haplogroup name might have been updated. Yes, that happens too.

I originally had a triangulation column on the spreadsheet too, but I pretty quickly discovered that column was subject to lots of questions about interpretation. Is the actual ancestor triangulated, or the line? I decided that “autosomal confirmed” would suffice to cover whatever I decide constitutes confirmation and a comment column could hold the description. For example, my grandparents are autosomal confirmed because I match (and triangulate) with cousins who are descended from ancestors upstream of my grandparents. If my grandparent wasn’t my grandparent, I wouldn’t be related to those people either. In particular, first cousins.

I also added an “Article Link” column to paste the link to that ancestor’s 52 Ancestors article so I can quickly check or maybe even provide this spreadsheet to a family member.

Here’s an example of what the first several entries of my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet look like.

Ancestor Birthday Presents for You

In order to remind myself to check on my ancestors’ status, on their birth and death days, I schedule reminders in my phone calendar. Every morning when I wake, I’m greeted by my ancestor – well – at least this much of them.

  • First, I check at Family Tree DNA for new matches, haplogroups and the presence of my family lines in surname projects.
  • Then it’s off to Ancestry to see if I have any new green leaf DNA or record hints, to add or update the circle for this particular ancestor, and to see if any of my matches would be a candidate for either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, assuming they reply to messages and agree to test at Family Tree DNA. I keep a separate spreadsheet of each person that I’ve identified as a match with an identified ancestor. I know it’s extra work, but that spreadsheet is invaluable for determining if the ancestor is autosomal proven and if the match is a candidate for Y or mtDNA testing.
  • Then I get another cup of coffee and check at MyHeritage for new record matches for that ancestor, along with new DNA SmartMatches.
  • GedMatch and 23andMe aren’t as easy to check for matches specific to ancestors, but I still check both places to see if I can find matches that I can identify as descending from that ancestor.
  • While I’m at it, sometimes I run over to FamilySearch to see if there’s anything new over there, although they don’t deal with DNA. They do, however, have many traditional genealogical records. I may add another column to track if I’m waiting for something specific to be digitized – like court minutes, for example. FamilySearch has been on a digitization binge!
  • As I go along, I add any new discovery to my genealogy software and my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet as well.
  • Last, I paint new segment information from Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch or 23andMe at DNAPainter. My three articles about how I use DNAPainter are here, here and here.

I just love ancestor birthdays.

Any day that I get to find something new is a wonderful day indeed – fleshing out the lives, history and DNA of my ancestors. With this many places to look, there’s seldom a day that goes by that I don’t discover at least something in my ancestor scavenger hunt!

Ancestor birthday presents for me😊



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research