Free MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Webinars Are Online

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars

For everyone that has been waiting for the MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars, they are available free at Legacy Family Tree Webinars, here.

One really nice thing MyHeritage did was to include the actual speaker’s slides on the left side of the screen, with the speaker shown to the right. This means that you’re going to be able to see the slides better than many people attending the conference.

I spy several that I need to watch – like learning more about the MyHeritage Mobile App, Newspaper Research strategies and how to more effectively use SuperSearch.

I mostly attended the DNA sessions, so I need to watch the genealogy ones online.

I do have a recommendation for you though.

Gilad Japhet’s keynote was incredible. So inspirational, powerful and moving – in a way that all genealogists can relate to. Riveting is the word that comes to mind. You could have heard a pin drop.

The great thing is that Gilad is making the changes happen in how records are searched and indexed at MyHeritage that will benefit his own research – and ours too, right along with his. Not to mention leading edge genetic technology like extracting DNA from envelopes and stamps. The jury is still out on this, so stay tuned.

Happy Holidays to You

You can give yourself an early (free) holiday present by setting time aside to watch these information-filled sessions.

There are a total of 18 free sessions from the conference and another 27 free classes about how to use MyHeritage for a total of 45.

Make yourself a list of the sessions you’d like to watch and watch one a day – sort of a genealogical version of the 45 days of Christmas😊

Of course, genealogy research works much better if it includes DNA testing.

Upload Your DNA

Don’t forget that DNA uploads and tools are free at MyHeritage until December 1, but after that there will be a cost for their advanced tools. Anyone who tests there or uploads before December 1 will be grandfathered in for free. That’s just 2 more days so don’t wait!

Click here to upload your DNA for free.

I wrote step-by-step instructions here for downloading your DNA from other sites and uploading to MyHeritage.

Test Your DNA

If you haven’t tested your DNA, order a test now by clicking here while the holidays sales are in full force.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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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Genealogy Research

Concepts – Paternal vs Patrilineal and Maternal vs Matrilineal

Sometimes a single word – and its interpretation – makes a world of difference.

For example, maternal versus matrilineal and paternal versus patrilineal.

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

In genetic genealogy, it’s very important.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA Lineage

When we explain the differences between Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA, we used to tell people that Y was your paternal line and mitochondrial (mtDNA) was your maternal line.

People became confused.

Y and mito

Here’s the pedigree chart generally used to explain the people in your tree represented by Y (blue boxes) and mtDNA (red circles) testing. Unlike autosomal, Y and mitochondrial only tests one line, but tests that one line VERY deeply, providing information not available through autosomal testing.

Y DNA tests only the Y DNA of the line shown with the blue boxes, NOT everyone on your paternal side.

Mitochondrial DNA tests only the line shown in red circles, NOT everyone on your maternal side.

That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, because this type of testing reveals information and matching opportunities not available through autosomal testing.

Maternal Versus Matrilineal, Paternal Versus Patrilineal

When we say maternal and paternal, the meaning can easily be confused.

Paternal and maternal

Anyone on the father’s entire side of the tree literally is paternal, and anyone on the mother’s side literally is maternal. The line is drawn straight down the middle, with half of your ancestors on each side.

Paternal and Maternal sides

What we really mean when we discuss Y and mtDNA testing is patrilineal and matrilineal. Those words mean the direct paternal line only, and the direct maternal line only, shown below.

patrilineal vs matrilineal

There doesn’t seem to be as much confusion with understanding that the Y chromosome follows the patrilineal line – probably because we’re used to this concept as the surname follows the same Y DNA path.

Matrilineal means the same thing on the maternal side, but there isn’t any key anchor concept, such as surname to go along with it. Therefore, when I’m discussing mitochondrial DNA testing, I say, “matrilineal, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s line, on up the tree until you run out of mothers.”

Why is this So Important?

Aside from the fact that expectations can easily be mis-set resulting in misinterpreted results, the concept of patrilineal and matrilineal are important because this confusion results in the confused person in advertently confusing others.

For example, when people want to take a mitochondrial DNA test to see if their Native American ancestor is on their mother’s side, what they are really testing is their matrilineal line, not everyone on their mother’s side of the tree.

Native American mitochondrial haplogroups are known to be subsets of haplogroups A, B, C, D and X. If the matrilineal line is Native, the mitochondrial results will fall into the proper Native subgroup. If not, they won’t.

However, a maternal Native American ancestor could well exist in any other ancestor or ancestors whose circles and squares aren’t colored at all – shown below by haplogroup B2a.

Native nonpatrilineal nonmatrilineal

Conversely, a male Native American ancestor could exist in any of those other lines as well, shown above by C-M217. The only way to discover that information is to DNA test someone who carries the Y or mitochondrial DNA of each of your ancestral lines.

At Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, the only vendor that does full Y and mitochondrial testing and matching, one of the information fields that testers are asked to provide is titled “Earliest Known Ancestors.”

FTDNA earliest known ancestor

Although this field says specifically how to determine the relevant ancestor they are asking about, many people either don’t read this, or don’t understand, or they enter the information before their results come back and never think to update this field when they discover that this isn’t their Native line after all.

On the Matches Map tab, where this information can also be entered, there is no explanation for which ancestor they are asking for. Often, I see males names have been entered in the direct maternal field, so the person interpreted this as their OLDEST person on their mother’s side – which of course is inaccurate – instead of their most distant matrilineal ancestor.

The problem is that if the tester enters a person who was born in Germany, and the matrilineal ancestor is a Native American female (or vice versa), this provides incorrect information to the system which then uses that compiled information to populate Haplogroup Origins, Ancestral Origins and the locations on the Family Tree DNA universal Y haplotree and mitochondrial public haplotree for other people. This is why you often see people in European haplogroups shown as “Native American.” Other testers’ information is part of what is provided on those pages. Collaboration is the underpinning foundation of genetic genealogy, but it also carries with it the opportunity for error.

Family Tree DNA provides a lot of information to customers, but some of it relies on information from other testers, so please test, and please be sure that your information is accurately reflected in these fields. Now might be a good time to check.

What About My Other Lines?

You can’t test for lines other than your patrilineal (males only) and your matrilineal (both genders) personally, BUT, other family members can – and you can surely gift them with tests. I look at it this way; they are testing for me, and if I could, I’d test for that line in a heartbeat – so I’m more than willing to provide a scholarship for their testing.

In the situation above, your mother’s father carries the mitochondrial DNA that you seek, shown as Native American B2a. If he’s not living, his siblings carry that same mitochondrial DNA. If he has sisters, their children, both male and female carry his mother’s mitochondrial DNA too. You need to follow the lineage through all females to a living relative who’s willing to test.

To obtain the DNA of the Native male, shown above as C-M217, you’d need to test your father’s mother’s father, or her brothers, or their sons. Follow this line up and down in the tree to find a male who carries that surname who is not adopted into the family.

I wrote about determining who to test in this article, along with a more detailed article about who to test for your father’s Y and mtDNA DNA, here.

DNA Haplogroup Pedigree Tree

I’ve been gathering my own ancestors’ Y and mtDNA information, because only Y and mtDNA provides a periscope view directly down a single line without admixture from the other parent.

DNA 8 grandparent

There’s just so much to learn! Where they originated, the history of their lineage, who you match and more. Y and mtDNA reaches back before surnames.

What can you learn about your family lines, and who can you ask to test?

What About You?

You can order the Y DNA for males and the mtFull test for either males or females at Family Tree DNA. When I ask a family member to test, I always offer to also purchase a Family Finder test at the same time so we can utilize their autosomal DNA as well, which is inherited from all of their lines. The cousin and I both get to know our ancestors better and advanced matching feature allows combined matching between all kinds of tests.

The Family Finder test can then be leveraged by uploading the autosomal DNA files to other free databases such as GedMatch and MyHeritage to obtain even more matches.

Your cousins and family members are goldmines containing the DNA nuggets of your ancestors just waiting to be found!

Ready for More?

If you have enjoyed this concepts article, you may enjoy other articles in our concepts series.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

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End of Free DNA Uploads to MyHeritage November 30th

5 day countdown

You have just 5 more days to upload your autosomal DNA raw data files from other sites to MyHeritage for entirely free. As of December 1st, MyHeritage is changing their pricing model for uploads and a charge of some sort will be put in place for the more advanced tools.

MyHeritage hasn’t said exactly what that charge will be, whether it will be a one time unlock or a subscription of some sort.

What they HAVE said is that anyone who transfers DNA from any of the other major vendors before December 1st or has transferred in the past will have free access to all of the DNA tools.

Here’s the exact quote from their blog:

As of December 1, 2018, our policy regarding DNA uploads will change: DNA Matching will remain free for uploaded DNA data, but unlocking additional DNA features (for example, ethnicity estimate, chromosome browser, and some others) will require an extra payment for DNA files uploaded after this date. We will announce the full details of the new policy once it is finalized, closer to December 1st. All DNA data that was uploaded to MyHeritage in the past, and all DNA data that is uploaded now and prior to December 1, 2018, will continue to enjoy full access to all DNA features for free. These uploads will be grandfathered in and will remain free.

You can upload multiple files from different people to be managed under one account at MyHeritage. For example, I manage several kits for multiple family members. The e-mails have been flying back and forth the past several days as I’ve been requesting permission to do the free uploads by the end of November. If your family member opens a MyHeritage account someday, you can transfer their results to them – no problem.

You can transfer Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and LivingDNA raw DNA files.

So, click here to upload now while uploads and all tools are still free.

Need help? No problem!

Step-By-Step Upload Instructions

I wrote a step by step guide for how to upload to MyHeritage here, including steps to download from other vendors in the article MyHeritage Step by Step Guide How to Upload-Download DNA Files.

If you haven’t uploaded yet, or have family members whose files you manage that you haven’t uploaded, you don’t want to wait. The clock is tick-tocking! Upload now so you don’t forget like I almost did.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

Lydia Brown’s 3 Daughters: Or Were They? Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA to the Rescue – 52 Ancestors #218

There has long been speculation about what happened to Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III, and when.

It doesn’t help a bit that William Crumley, her husband, was actually William Crumley the third, being named for both his father and grandfather.

William Crumley the second was born in 1767 or 1768 in Frederick County, Virginia. He married, but his wife’s name is unknown. We do, however, know that her mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is H2a1. Without any other moniker, H2a1 has in effect become her name, because I have nothing else to call her that identifies her individually.

We don’t know much about H2a1, only that she was having children by about 1786 and had her last child, Catherine Crumley was born in 1805, suggesting that H2a1 herself was born about 1766.

It was Catherine Crumley’s descendant who took the mitochondrial DNA test that provided us with H2a1. Ironic that we have her mitochondrial DNA and know her haplogroup, but not her name. Of course, we are presuming that indeed, she was William II’s only wife, meaning that her haplogroup applied to her eldest child, Susannah Crumley born about 1786 and the other 8 children born between Susannah and Catherine.

H2a1’s son, William Crumley III was born between 1785 and 1789. William would have inherited his mother’s mitochondrial DNA, H2a1, but he would not have passed it on to his children. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by females. William’s children would have inherited their mitochondrial DNA from his wife, their mother.

William III married Lydia Brown on October 1, 1807 in Greene County, Tennessee, where the family had moved by 1793. Lydia was the daughter of Jotham Brown and his wife Phoebe, whose surname is unknown, neighbors who lived close by.

As couples do, William III and Lydia set about starting a family right away, having their first child, the Reverend John Crumley in 1808 or 1809. John was followed by William Crumley the fourth in 1811 and Jotham Crumley in 1813. Sarah may have been a twin to Jotham, born in 1813 or she may have been born in 1815. Of course, there were no birth or death certificates back then.

In 1817, daughter Clarissa was born on April 10th.

That’s where the confusion starts.

Enter Elizabeth Johnson

Enter Elizabeth, known as Betsey, Johnson who married William Crumley in Greene County, TN on October 20, 1817.

Which William Crumley, you ask? Well, so have we, for years. In fact, it’s discussed at length, here.

Given Elizabeth’s age of approximately 17 years when she married (assuming she is who we think she is,) and the fact she was remembered as the cousin of Lydia Brown, we presumed that she married William Crumley III. William III at approximately age 35-40 was closer to her age than William II at approximate age 55 – and Lydia Brown was the wife of William III so it stood to reason that they family would know her cousins.

Seems logical, right?

Except, the next child born to William III and his wife, Lydia or Elizabeth, my ancestor, Phoebe Crumley was born on March 24th, 1818, not even 50 weeks after her sister, Clarissa had been born. Furthermore, Phoebe had been born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, near the border with Lee County, Virginia, not in Greene County where earlier children were born. Also of note, Lydia’s mother, Jotham Brown’s wife was named Phoebe.

It’s certainly possible that William Crumley III’s first wife, Lydia Brown had died and he had remarried quickly to Elizabeth Johnson, then moved to Claiborne County. Except, the dates don’t work well.

We know that Lydia Brown Crumley was alive on April 10, 1817 when Clarissa was born.

Phoebe’s mother, whoever she was, got pregnant in June of 1817, 4 months before Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley.

Pregnancy as a motivator for marriage happens, but it seemed odd that a 34 year old man with a 2 month old child, whose wife had just died was impregnating a 17 year old girl.

I discussed all the pros and cons of the situation in the articles about Lydia Brown and Phoebe Crumley, but the only other alternative is that Elizabeth Johnson had married the elder William Crumley II. It seems even odder that a man of 50+ would be marrying a girl of 17. But that too happened. Or, maybe Elizabeth was actually older than we thought.

Furthermore, William Crumley II had no additional children after 1817, at least none that we know of, but William III did. Yes, it looked quite probable that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley III. Young wives tended to have children, regardless of the age of their husband – so the preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointed to Elizabeth marrying William Crumley III, or Jr. as he was called in Greene County. William Crumley II was referred to as William Sr.

This seemed like the most reasonable (at least tentative) conclusion, based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that it was wrong.

DNA Upsets the Apple Cart

One of my cousins who descends from Clarissa (born in April 1817) through all females kindly tested her mitochondrial DNA years ago. My line, through Phoebe, the younger sister of Clarissa had tested too, and they matched exactly at the full sequence level. Furthermore, both of those women also matched a descendant of a daughter of Jotham Brown, confirming that those three women had a common ancestor.

This tells us that very likely Clarissa and Phoebe are full siblings. However, dates weren’t always recorded correctly and people simply forgot. Were those two girls’ births recorded in the correct order with the correct years?

I really wanted to test a descendant of the daughter, Melinda, born April 1, 1820. That child was unquestionably born after the 1817 marriage to the second wife, if she was a second wife.

Not long ago, as a result of the article about Lydia, a descendant of Melinda came forth and volunteered to test.

Believe me, those weeks spent waiting for DNA results seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the results were ready, and sure enough, Melinda’s descendant matches Clarissa’s descendant and Phoebe’s descendant at the full sequence level, exactly.

The proof doesn’t get any better than this.


One Final Hitch

I’d feel a lot better if there wasn’t one last rumor to contend with. The rumor that Elizabeth Johnson was Lydia Brown’s cousin.

Elizabeth Johnson had to be either the daughter of Zopher Johnson, or the daughter of Moses Johnson, both of Greene County, TN. Moses was either the brother or the son of Zopher Johnson. Those are the only candidate fathers for Elizabeth.

Let’s look at the various possible relationships.

Possibility #1 – Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, is Zopher Johnson’s Daughter as is Elizabeth Johnson

I already discussed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, here.

In the scenario above, Elizabeth and Lydia would not have been cousins, but aunt/niece. Their mitochondrial DNA would have matched, but in the article about Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, we dismissed the possibility that she was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, so Possibility #1 isn’t possible after all.

Possibility #2 – Jotham Brown’s Wife, Phoebe, is the Daughter of Zopher Johnson and Elizabeth is Zopher’s Granddaughter Through Son Moses

In the above scenario, if Moses was the son of Zopher, these women would be first cousins, but the mitochondrial DNA lineage would be broken at Moses, so their mitochondrial DNA wouldn’t match.

Additionally, we dismissed the possibility that Phoebe is Zopher’s daughter, so Possibility #2 is not, for 2 different reasons. It’s possible that we’re wrong about Phoebe being Zopher’s daughter, but it’s NOT possible that we’re wrong about the mitochondrial DNA not matching in this scenario.

Furthermore Moses is believed to be the brother of Zopher, not his son.

Possibility #3 – Phoebe is Zopher’s Daughter, Moses is Zopher’s Brother and Elizabeth is Moses’s Daughter

The possibilities really aren’t endless, they just seem that way! 😊

In this third scenario where Moses and Zopher are brothers, not father and son, Elizabeth and Lydia would be 1st cousins once removed, but they would not share mitochondrial DNA unless Zopher and Moses had married sisters or women who also shared the same exact mitochondrial DNA.

The only scenario in which the mitochondrial DNA would be shared with cousins, assuming that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were indeed cousins, is Possibility 1 where Jotham’s wife is Zopher’s daughter.

The evidence suggests that Phoebe Brown is not the daughter of Zopher Johnson, eliminating Possibility 3 as well.

Possibility #4 – Zopher Johnson’s Wife and Jotham Brown’s Wife Were Sisters

I’m going to presume here that the individual who recorded that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were cousins meant first cousins, although it’s possible that cousin means further back and possibly not in the direct matrilineal line.

For Elizabeth Johnson’s mitochondrial DNA to match that of Lydia Brown’s exactly, they must both descend from the same common female ancestor in the direct matrilineal line.

How might that work, assuming Jotham’s wife is not Zopher’s daughter?

If the child of both Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown had matching mitochondrial DNA, then the cousin lineage had to be through their mother’s matrilineal side.

This means that the wives of Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown would have been sisters, or possible matrilineal cousins with no interweaving male generations.

Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown were both found in Frederick Co., VA by 1782 where the tax list tells us that Zopher had 2 people in his household, indicating that he had not been married long.

Jotham Brown and Phebe, his wife are having children by 1761 in Virginia according to the 1850 census record of their oldest child.

These couples are probably at least 20 years different in age.

Unfortunately, we know very little about where Jotham originated. We know that Zopher’s parents were living in Northampton Co., PA in 1761 about the time he was born.

In order for Jotham’s wife, Phoebe to be the sibling of Zopher Johnson’s wife, they would have had to be living in the same location in roughly 1780, which was probably Frederick Co., VA.

Is it possible that the reason that Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda’s mitochondrial DNA matches is because they actually do have two separate mothers who were cousins? Yes, it is.

Is there any evidence of that? No, not today.

However, this is the only alternate possibility that works at all.

Of course, the most reasonable scenario is that Lydia Brown didn’t die, and Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda are all 3 her daughters. This evidence is strengthened of course by the fact that Phoebe is named after Lydia Brown’s mother.

What Other Tools are Available?

Unfortunately, Jotham Brown is 6 generations back from me. If Phoebe’s mother was Elizabeth Johnson instead of Lydia Brown, Zopher Johnson would be the same number of generations back in my tree as Jotham Brown.

The absence of Johnson autosomal matches in and of itself at that distance wouldn’t be remarkable for any particular individual, but with as many people from this line who have tested, it’s increasingly unlikely that I would match no one from the Johnson line.

At Ancestry, I added Zopher Johnson in my tree, as Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe’s father, creating a “honey-pot” of sorts for matches. I have no one that shares Zopher except for people who also have Phoebe listed as Phoebe Johnson. In other words, no one who descends from Zopher through any other line.

I have 27 people who I match through Jotham Brown through his other children, which I wouldn’t have as matches unless Jotham Brown was my ancestor as well.

At MyHeritage, I also added Zopher Johnson, but I have not had SmartMatches there either. Like at Ancestry, I do have Jotham Brown matches.

Several people match at Ancestry who has no chromosome browser. I have a Jotham Brown Circle at Ancestry with 45 members, of which I match 16.

Not all my matches are from Ancestry. Other matches are found at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch which allow me to paint their segments on my DNAPainter profile, triangulating with others.


We have multiple pieces of evidence including three matching mitochondrial DNA tests for the sisters, children of William Crumley III, on the following timeline:

Crumley birth timeline

  • We’ve proven that Clarissa, Phebe and Melinda all share the exact same mitochondrial DNA. These births occurred both before and after the marriage of Elizabeth Johnson to one of the William Crumleys in 1817.
  • I have more than 30 matches to several of Jotham Brown’s descendants through multiple children other than through Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III.
  • I don’t have any matches to Zopher Johnson through anyone except people who list Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe, as the daughter of Zopher Johnson in their trees.
  • Jotham Brown’s wife’s name was Phebe, a rather unusual name, certainly suggesting that Lydia Brown was the mother of Phebe Crumley born in 1818.

I believe the combination of these factors confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that the mother of Phoebe Crumley born in 1818, as well as the younger children born to William Crumley III and his wife were all born to Lydia Brown, the first and only known wife of William Crumley III.

I believe that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley II, not William Crumley III based on this as well as new research evidence to be discussed in a future article.

Based on the cumulative evidence, Elizabeth Johnson did not marry William Crumley III and Lydia Brown, William Crumley III’s first wife did not die before the birth of either Phebe or Melinda Crumley.

Based on the fact that I have no autosomal DNA matches to Zopher Johnson’s descendants, I believe we’ve removed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe is the daughter of Zopher, or the child of Zopher’s brother, Moses. In other words, there is no hint of a biological connection between the Johnson and Brown families upstream of Jotham Brown and his wife, Phoebe whose surname remains unknown.

As far as I’m concerned, we can put this question to bed, forever.


Thank you to the descendants of Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda Crumley for mitochondrial DNA testing. We could never have solved this without you.

Thank you for descendants of Jotham Brown and Zopher Johnson for autosomal DNA testing.

Thank you to Stevie Hughes for her extensive research on the Zopher Johnson line.

If You Want to Test

If you want to test your mitochondrial DNA, click here and order the mtFull test.

If you want to test your autosomal DNA, click here and order the Family Finder test, or click here and order the MyHeritage test.

You can also order a Family Finder test and then transfer free to MyHeritage.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

Thankfulness Recipe

Sometimes I talk to myself, and truth be told, I answer myself too. Often my own questions and research are what provide the foundation for my articles that I share with readers. Today, I’m talking to myself once again, and you’re invited to eavesdrop.

Thanksgiving is about thankfulness. Really, it’s not about turkey, pie or the football😊 I know, that’s hard to digest. Pardon the pun.

As we age, sometimes holidays become very bittersweet. The pain of loss is intermixed with the thankfulness, and from time to time, that pain is overwhelming and swamps everything else. It’s sometimes hard to be thankful, so I need memory-joggers – hence talking to myself.

We all experience these type of life events, because the human state is not static. We are born, live and die. If we are born, the only question left is the duration of the other two. And, how we decide to live for the time we have on earth.

I’m sharing my own personal thankfulness recipe, because Lord knows sometimes I need to be reminded. In no particular order. Mix, serve and repeat as necessary.

Feel free to improve this “recipe” by substituting or adding your own ingredients.

Thankfulness Recipe

  • I’m thankful for my cousins that I’ve met through genealogy, because they far, far outnumber my immediate family that has dwindled to only a few.
  • I’m super thankful for all of the cousins who have agreed to DNA test. None of us can do this alone. Thank each and every one of you!
  • I’m grateful for social media to connect us, even though that same platform has been used to manipulate people as well. I hope I, we, are all smarter now and evaluate everything from every source for accuracy. I’d hate to lose social media as a connection mechanism because it has so much positive to offer.
  • I’m thankful that I can shop on the internet and don’t have to enter any store or drive anyplace close to any mall on Black Friday!
  • I’m thankful for my fur family, who is always here for me – even though their lives are proportionally shorter and their crossing the rainbow bridge is excruciatingly painful for their humans left behind. I hope I’ve enriched their lives as much as they’ve enriched mine. (Confession – I have funerals and write “obituaries” for my fur family. It helps – a little.)
  • I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve enjoyed. Yes, I’ve worked hard to be “available” for those opportunities to appear, so I won’t call them “luck,“ but sometimes being in the right place at the right time eclipses everything else. Call it synchronicity, fate, whatever – I’m grateful.
  • I’m thankful for my genealogy and DNA friends who have helped me immeasurably over the years. You know who you are.
  • I’m incredibly thankful for Chris and Tom, two men who reached out to me through my blog years ago and have shepherded me unflaggingly through my German lineage. I’d be lost without them. They are now among my fast friends.
  • I’m thankful for my home, and that it still stands, unlike so many in California and elsewhere. Makes me feel guilty for the fact that I hate cleaning it.
  • I’m thankful that I’m in a position where I can make “care quilts” for others, not need one for myself. And for my quilt sisters who work as a team in this endeavor. And that I can express love in such a tangible way.
  • I’m thankful for the physicians, nurses and support staff that work hard and study initially for years, plus incessantly for their entire careers to provide medical care that enables us to escape the grim reaper that gathered our ancestors far too early.
  • I’m thankful for every year that I continue to be healthy, or at least healthy enough to do what I love. When I can’t do that any longer, I want to join the ancestors and the fur family across the rainbow bridge. Family, take note!
  • I’m thankful for genealogical DNA testing that has allowed us to piece our disparate families back together again and to Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan for founding this industry 18 years ago. Really, we are all one family – it’s only a matter of distance and degree.
  • I’m thankful that my ancestors were my ancestors, even those who I really can’t embrace personally (one probably murdered his wife), because without each and every one of them, I wouldn’t be here, or wouldn’t be me.
  • I’m thankful to be able to identify the DNA I carry of each ancestor. This confirmation process helps me bond with each ancestor personally. I cherish the chase of discovery and documenting their lives as best we can from a distance. I’m still awed by the fact that the clues to their identity are held within me and their other descendants. The life journey I’ve taken as a result of chasing them is amazing indeed – movie worthy!
  • I’m thankful to my mother for her many sacrifices that I never understood until I was an adult. I’m correspondingly sorry for being a shit (yes, I was), but perhaps that tenaciousness ultimately served me well. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
  • I’m also incredibly, INCREDIBLY grateful that Mom DNA tested before she left us. I thank her for this every single day.
  • I’m thankful to my father but I’m not exactly sure why. He was quite the wild child, but he also had a hole in his soul not of his own making that he spent his entire life trying to patch. I’m working on this one.
  • I’m thankful that I have the ability and willingness to learn and change and that much of the “normalcy” of the time and place in which I grew up came to serve as an example of what I oppose, not embrace.
  • I’m thankful that I’m not too stubborn to admit when I’m wrong, because you can’t change directions until you admit that you’re lost. This one took awhile, trust me😊
  • In an odd way, I’m thankful to the people and circumstances that have made me miserable (but not too miserable), because they, retrospectively, became learning tools and catalysts of change, enabling me to grow and mature personally. (This is a tough thing to be thankful for.)
  • I’m thankful for my step-father, who I met too late, loved with all my heart, and who left too soon. His quiet steadfast example and Hoosierisms have served as my guiding light for many years. “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. You get muddy, the pig enjoys it and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” Many of his sayings were much more colorful and I smile every time I recall them😊
  • I’m thankful that I learned what racism and discrimination (of all types) were in an era and place where I’m not condemned to suffer the full effects of either. My heart breaks for people that suffer so unfairly. In my step-father’s words, “I don’t care if he’s purple, as long as he’s good to my daughter.” I hope to see the demise of the weaponization of human differences within my lifetime.
  • I’m thankful for my brother Dave who turned out not to be my brother, who I met as an adult, who loved me by choice and in sharp contrast to other biological family members who did not. He taught me a lot about the definition of unconditional love.
  • I’m thankful for my husband in spite of the fact that he sometimes exasperates me terribly, and because he bakes me the panettone bread that I love – from scratch. I’ve come to recognize that there are different ways to say “I love you,” many of which we may not recognize as such. (I think I’ll tape this up on the mirror so I can remember this when I really need it😉)
  • I’m thankful that I’ve learned how, when and where to draw the line to eliminate toxic people from my life. My gut knows even when my head doesn’t. When it’s time to walk away, it’s time to walk away.
  • I’m thankful for my family and “family of heart” who over the years have stepped up to the plate when there was nothing in it for them. That’s the measure of true love.
  • I’m thankful for my son-in-law who took care of me when I was ill and couldn’t take care of myself.
  • I’m thankful for my grandchildren, both human and canine, and every minute I get to spend with them.
  • I’m thankful for my daughter-in-law who I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know as a friend over the years. It takes a strong woman to deal with the rest of us!
  • I’m thankful for second chances – for everyone (except for the Charles Manson level ilk). Second chances arrive in the form of addiction support groups, surgery, treatment, divorce, returning to school, life-changing decisions, etc.
  • I’m thankful to my children for becoming such fine adults, in spite of the fact that when they were teens I wondered if any of us would survive and if I would ever receive the gift of being this thankful. I’m immensely proud of both of them. Both are amazing in such different ways and I swell with pride to see the mark they are  leaving on this earth and humanity. Sorry for the brag on them. I can’t help myself. Our children are our lasting legacy, one way or another.
  • But mostly, this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that a decades-long rift within my family seems to be healing. Sometimes love can be entirely masked by pain, and isolation becomes a reinforcing form of self-defense. Risk, reaching out, makes people vulnerable to rejection and pain. I’m so very grateful that this healing appears to be happening before my funeral. Fingers crossed – about the rift closing of course, not the funeral.
  • Last, but not least, I’m thankful to all of you for the time you allow me into your lives. I hope you are having a wonderful time with your family and friends – or that you’re blissfully buried in your genealogy. Better yet, maybe these two things are one and the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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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Whole Genome Sequencing – Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Dante Labs is offering a whole genomes test for $199 this week as an early Black Friday special.

Please note that just as I was getting ready to push the publish button on this article, Veritas Genetics also jumped on the whole sequencing bandwagon for $199 for the first 1000 testers Nov. 19 and 20th. In this article, I discuss the Dante Labs test. I have NOT reviewed Veritas, their test nor terms, so the same cautions discussed below apply to them and any other company offering whole genome sequencing. The Veritas link is here.

Update – Veritas provides the VCF file for an additional $99, but does not provide FASTQ or BAM files, per their Tweet to me.

I have no affiliation with either company.

$199 (US) is actually a great price for a whole genome test, but before you click and purchase, there are some things you need to know about whole genome sequencing (WGS) and what it can and can’t do for you. Or maybe better stated, what you’ll have to do with your own results before you can utilize the information for genealogical purposes.

The four questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Why do you want to consider whole genome testing?
  • What question(s) are you trying to answer?
  • What information do you seek?
  • What is your testing goal?

I’m going to say this once now, and I’ll say it again at the end of the article.

Whole genome sequencing tests are NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR GENEALOGICAL DNA TESTS for mitochondrial, Y or autosomal testing. Whole genome sequencing is not a genealogy magic bullet.

There are both pros and cons of this type of purchase, as with most everything. Whole genome tests are for the most experienced and technically savvy genetic genealogists who understand both working with genetics and this field well, who have already taken the vendors’ genealogy tests and are already in the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal comparison data bases.

If that’s you or you’re interested in medical information, you might want to consider a whole genome test.

Let’s start with some basics.

What Is Whole Genome Sequencing?

Whole Genome Sequencing will sequence most of your genome. Keep in mind that humans are more than 99% identical, so the only portions that you’ll care about either medically or genealogically are the portions that differ or tend to mutate. Comparing regions where you match everyone else tells you exactly nothing at all.

Exome Sequencing – A Subset of Whole Genome

Exome sequencing, a subset of whole genome sequencing is utilized for medical testing. The Exome is the region identified as the portions most likely to mutate and that hold medically relevant information. You can read about the benefits and challenges of exome testing here.

I have had my Exome sequenced twice, once at Helix and once at Genos, now owned by NantOmics. Currently, NantOmics does not have a customer sign-in and has acquired my DNA sequence as part of the absorption of Genos. I’ll be writing about that separately. There is always some level of consumer risk in dealing with a startup.

Helix sequences your Exome (plus) so that you can order a variety of DNA based or personally themed products from their marketplace, although I’m not convinced about the utility of even the legitimacy of some of the available tests, such as the “Wine Explorer.”

On the other hand, the world-class The National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project now utilizes Helix for their testing, as does Spencer Well’s company, Insitome.

You can also pay to download your Exome sequence data separately for $499.

Autosomal Testing for Genealogy

Both whole genome and Exome testing are autosomal testing, meaning that they test chromosomes 1-22 (as opposed to Y and mitochondrial DNA) but the number of autosomal locations varies vastly between the various types of tests.

The locations selected by the genealogy testing companies are a subset of both the whole genome and the Exome. The different vendors that compare your DNA for genealogy generally utilize between 600,000 and 900,000 chip-specific locations that they have selected as being inclined to mutate – meaning that we can obtain genealogically relevant information from those mutations.

Some vendors (for example, 23andMe and Ancestry) also include some medical SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on their chips, as both have formed medical research alliances with various companies.

Whole genome and Exome sequencing includes these same locations, BUT, the whole genome providers don’t compare the files to other testers nor reduce the files to the locations useful for genealogical comparisons. In other words, they don’t create upload files for you.

The following chart is not to scale, but is meant to convey the concept that the Exome is a subset of the whole genome, and the autosomal vendors’ selected SNPs, although not the same between the companies, are all subsets of the Exome and full genome.

I have not had my whole genome sequenced because I have seen no purpose for doing so, outside of curiosity.

This is NOT to imply that you shouldn’t. However, here are some things to think about.

Whole Genome Sequencing Questions

Coverage – Medical grade coverage is considered to be 30X, meaning an average of 30 scans of every targeted location in your genome. Some will have more and some will have less. This means that your DNA is scanned thirty different times to minimize errors. If a read error happens once or twice, it’s unlikely that the same error will happen several more times. You can read about coverage here and here.

Genomics Education Programme [CC BY 2.0 (

Here’s an example where the read length of Read 1 is 18, and the depth of the location shown in light blue is 4, meaning 4 actual reads were obtained. If the goal was 30X, then this result would be very poor. If the goal was 4X then this location is a high quality result for a 4X read.

In the above example, if the reference value, meaning the value at the light blue location for most people is T, then 4 instances of a T means you don’t have a mutation. On the other hand, if T is not the reference value, then 4 instances of T means that a mutation has occurred in that location.

Dante Labs coverage information is provided from their webpage as follows:

Other vendors coverage values will differ, but you should always know what you are purchasing.

Ownership – Who owns your data? What happens to your DNA itself (the sample) and results (the files) under normal circumstances and if the company is sold. Typically, the assets of the company, meaning your information, are included during any acquisition.

Does the company “share, lease or sell” your information as an additional revenue stream with other entities? If so, do they ask your permission each and every time? Do they perform internal medical research and then sell the results? What, if anything, is your DNA going to be used for other than the purpose for which you purchased the test? What control do you exercise over that usage?

Read the terms and conditions carefully for every vendor before purchasing.

File Delivery – Three types of files are generated during a whole genome test.

The VCF (Variant Call Format) which details your locations that are different from the reference file. A reference file is the “normal” value for humans.

A FASTQ file which includes the nucleotide sequence along with a corresponding quality score. Mutations in a messy area or that are not consistent may not be “real” and are considered false positives.

The BAM (Binary Alignment Map) file is used for Y DNA SNP alignment. The output from a BAM file is displayed in Family Tree DNA’s Big Y browser for their customers. Are these files delivered to you? If so, how? Family Tree DNA delivers their Big Y DNA BAM files as free downloads.

Typically whole genome data is too large for a download, so it is sent on a disc drive to you. Dante provides this disc for BAM and FASTQ files for 59 Euro ($69 US) plus shipping. VCF files are available free, but if you’re going to order this product, it would be a shame not to receive everything available.

Version – Discoveries are still being made to the human genome. If you thought we’re all done with that, we’re not. As new regions are mapped successfully, the addresses for the rest change, and a new genomic map is created. Think of this as street addresses and a new cluster of houses is now inserted between existing houses. All of the houses are periodically renumbered.

Today, typically results are delivered in either of two versions: hg19(GRVH37) or hg38(GRCH38). What happens when the next hg (human genome) version is released?

When you test with a vendor who uses your data for comparison as a part of a product they offer, they must realign your data so that the comparison will work for all of their customers (think Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, for example), but a vendor who only offers the testing service has no motivation to realign your output file for you. You only pay for sequencing, not for any after-the-fact services.

Platform – Multiple sequencing platforms are available, and not all platforms are entirely compatible with other competing platforms. For example, the Illumina platform and chips may or may not be compatible with the Affymetrix platform (now Thermo Fisher) and chips. Ask about chip compatibility if you have a specific usage in mind before you purchase.

Location – Where is your DNA actually being sequenced? Are you comfortable having your DNA sent to that geographic location for processing? I’m personally fine with anyplace in either the US, Canada or most of Europe, but other locations maybe not so much. I’d have to evaluate the privacy policies, applicable laws, non-citizen recourse and track record of those countries.

Last but perhaps most important, what do you want to DO with this file/information?


What you receive from whole genome sequencing is files. What are you going to do with those files? How can you use them? What is your purpose or goal? How technically skilled are you, and how well do you understand what needs to be done to utilize those files?

A Specific Medical Question

If you have a particular question about a specific medical location, Dante allows you to ask the question as soon as you purchase, but you must know what question to ask as they note below.

You can click on their link to view their report on genetic diseases, but keep in mind, this is the disease you specifically ask about. You will very likely NOT be able to interpret this report without a genetic counselor or physician specializing in this field.

Take a look at both sample reports, here.

Health and Wellness in General

The Dante Labs Health and Wellness Report appears to be a collaborative effort with and also appears to be included in the purchase price.

I uploaded both my Exome and my autosomal DNA results from the various testing companies (23andMe V3 and V4, Ancestry V1 and V2, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, DNA.Land) to Promethease for evaluation and there was very little difference between the health-related information returned based on my Exome data and the autosomal testing vendors. The difference is, of course, that the Exome coverage is much deeper (and therefore more reliable) because that test is a medical test, not a consumer genealogy test and more locations are covered. Whole genome testing would be more complete.

I wrote about Promethease here and here. Promethease does accept VCF files from various vendors who provide whole genome testing.

None of these tests are designed or meant for medical interpretation by non-professionals.

Medical Testing

If you plan to test with the idea that should your physician need a genetics test, you’re already ahead of the curve, don’t be so sure. It’s likely that your physician will want a genetics test using the latest technology, from their own lab, where they understand the quality measures in place as well as how the data is presented to them. They are unlikely to accept a test from any other source. I know, because I’ve already had this experience.

Genealogical Comparisons

The power of DNA testing for genealogy is comparing your data to others. Testing in isolation is not useful.

Mitochondrial DNA – I can’t tell for sure based on the sample reports, but it appears that you receive your full sequence haplogroup and probably your mutations as well from Dante. They don’t say which version of mitochondrial DNA they utilize.

However, without the ability to compare to other testers in a database, what genealogical benefit can you derive from this information?

Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA also has “versions,” and converting from an older to a newer version is anything but trivial. Haplogroups are renamed and branches sawed from one part of the mitochondrial haplotree and grafted onto another. A testing (only) vendor that does not provide comparisons has absolutely no reason to update your results and can’t be expected to do so. V17 is the current build, released in February 2016, with the earlier version history here.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who tests your full sequence mitochondrial DNA, compares it to other testers and updates your results when a new version is released. You can read more about this process, here and how to work with mtDNA results here.

Y DNA – Dante Labs provides BAM files, but other whole genome sequencers may not. Check before you purchase if you are interested in Y DNA. Again, you’ll need to be able to analyze the results and submit them for comparison. If you are not capable of doing that, you’ll need to pay a third party like either YFull or FGS (Full Genome Sequencing) or take the Big Y test at Family Tree DNA who has the largest Y Database worldwide and compares results.

Typically whole genome testers are looking for Y DNA SNPs, not STR values in BAM files. STR (short tandem repeat) values are the results that you receive when you purchase the 37, 67 or 111 tests at Family Tree DNA, as compared to the Big Y test which provides you with SNPs in order to resolve your haplogroup at the most granular level possible. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs here.

As with SNP data, you’ll need outside assistance to extract your STR information from the whole genome sequence information, none of which will be able to be compared with the testers in the Family Tree DNA data base. There is also an issue of copy-count standardization between vendors.

You can read about how to work with STR results and matches here and Big Y results here.

Autosomal DNA – None of the major providers that accept transfers (MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, GedMatch) accept whole genome files. You would need to find a methodology of reducing the files from the whole genome to the autosomal SNPs accepted by the various vendors. If the vendors adopt the digital signature technology recently proposed in this paper by Yaniv Erlich et al to prevent “spoofed files,” modified files won’t be accepted by vendors.


Whole genome testing, in general, will and won’t provide you with the following:

Desired Feature Whole Genome Testing
Mitochondrial DNA Presumed full haplogroup and mutations provided, but no ability for comparison to other testers. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the only vendor doing comparisons not available.
Y DNA Presume Y chromosome mostly covered, but limited ability for comparison to other testers for either SNPs or STRs. Must utilize either YFull or FGS for SNP/STR analysis. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the vendor with the largest data base not available when testing elsewhere.
Autosomal DNA for genealogy Presume all SNPs covered, but file output needs to be reduced to SNPs offered/processed by vendors accepting transfers (Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch) and converted to their file formats. Modified files may not be accepted in the future.
Medical (consumer interest) Accuracy is a factor of targeted coverage rate and depth of actual reads. Whole genome vendors may or may not provide any analysis or reports. Dante does but for limited number of conditions. Promethease accepts VCF files from vendors and provides more.
Medical (physician accepted) Physician is likely to order a medical genetics test through their own institution. Physicians may not be willing to risk a misdiagnosis due to a factor outside of their control such as an incompatible human genome version.
Files VCF, FASTQ and BAM may or may not be included with results, and may or may not be free.
Coverage Coverage and depth may or may not be adequate. Multiple extractions (from multiple samples) may or may not be included with the initial purchase (if needed) or may be limited. Ask.
Updates Vendors who offer sequencing as a part of a products that include comparison to other testers will update your results version to the current reference version, such as hg38 and mitochondrial V17. Others do not, nor can they be expected to provide that service.
Version Inquire as to the human genome (hg) version or versions available to you, and which version(s) are acceptable to the third party vendors you wish to utilize. When the next version of the human genome is released, your file will no longer be compatible because WGS vendors are offering sequencing only, not results comparisons to databases for genealogy.
Ownership/Usage Who owns your sample? What will it be utilized for, other than the service you ordered, by whom and for what purposes? Will you we able to authorize or decline each usage?
Location Where geographically is your DNA actually being sequenced and stored? What happens to your actual DNA sample itself and the resulting files? This may not be the location where you return your swab kit.

The Question – Will I Order?

The bottom line is that if you are a genealogist, seeking genetic information for genealogical purposes, you’re much better off to test with the standard and well know genealogy vendors who offer compatibility and comparisons to other testers.

If you are a pioneer in this field, have the technical ability required to make use of a whole genome test and are willing to push the envelope, then perhaps whole genome sequencing is for you.

I am considering ordering the Dante Labs whole genome test out of simple curiosity and to upload to Promethease to determine if the whole genome test provides me with something potentially medically relevant (positive or negative) that autosomal and Exome testing did not.

I’m truly undecided. Somehow, I’m having trouble parting with the $199 plus $69 (hard drive delivery by request when ordering) plus shipping for this limited functionality. If I was a novice genetic genealogist or was not a technology expert, I would definitely NOT order this test for the reasons mentioned above.

A whole genome test is not in any way a genealogical replacement for a full sequence mitochondrial test, a Y STR test, a Y SNP test or an autosomal test along with respective comparison(s) in the data bases of vendors who don’t allow uploads for these various functions.

The simple fact that 30X whole genome testing is available for $199 plus $69 plus shipping is amazing, given that 15 years ago that same test cost 2.7 billion dollars. However, it’s still not the magic bullet for genealogy – at least, not yet.

Today, the necessary integration simply doesn’t exist. You pay the genealogy vendors not just for the basic sequencing, but for the additional matching and maintenance of their data bases, not to mention the upgrading of your sequence as needed over time.

If I had to choose between spending the money for the WGS test or taking the genealogy tests, hands down, I’d take the genealogy tests because of the comparisons available. Comparison and collaboration is absolutely crucial for genealogy. A raw data file buys me nothing genealogically.

If I had not previously taken an Exome test, I would order this test in order to obtain the free Dante Health and Wellness Report which provides limited reporting and to upload my raw data file to Promethease. The price is certainly right.

However, keep in mind that once you view health information, you cannot un-see it, so be sure you do really want to know.

What do you plan to do? Are you going to order a whole genome test?



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

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Jacob Lentz’s Signatures: Cursive and Genetic – 52 Ancestors #216

What is a signature anyway?

A signature is defined as a mark or something that personally identifies an individual. A form of undeniable self-identification.

Of course, that’s exactly why I seek my ancestors’ signatures, both their handwriting and their genetic signature.

Jacob Lentz was born in Germany in 1783 and died in 1870 in Ohio.

Most documents of that timeframe contained only facsimiles of actual signatures. Original deeds indicate that the document was signed, but when recorded in deed books at the courthouse, the clerk only transcribed the signature. The person recorded the physical deed that they had in their hand, and then took it home with them. Therefore, the deed book doesn’t hold the original signature – the original deed does. I was crestfallen years ago when I discovered that fact. ☹

Hence, the actual physical signature of an ancestor is rare indeed.

Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to find not one, but two actual signatures of Jacob Lentz – plus part of his genetic signature as well.

Jacob’s Handwritten Signatures

When Jacob Lenz, later Lentz in the US, petitioned to leave Germany in 1817, he signed the petition document.

The original document is in the “Weinstadt City Archive”, which kindly gave permission for the reproduction and was graciously retrieved by my distant cousin, Niclas Witt. Thank you very much to both!

Here’s Jacob’s actual signature.

The story of Jacob’s life and immigration, and what a story it is, is recorded here, here, here and here.

Jacob’s life has a missing decade or so, after he completed his indentured servitude about 1820 or 1821 in Pennsylvania and before he arrived in Montgomery County, Ohio about 1830. In Ohio, he purchased land and began creating records. That’s where I found him initially.

Jacob’s youngest child, Mary Lentz, was born in May or June of 1829, before leaving Pennsylvania. She married in Montgomery County, Ohio on December 19, 1848 to Henry Overlease. That marriage document contains the signature of her father, Jacob Lentz.

This signature is slightly different than the German one from 31 years earlier, but it’s still clearly our Jacob, as the document states that the parents have signed. It looks like he’s also incorporated the “t” into the name now as well.

Jacob Lentz’s Genetic Signatures

As I was celebrating the discovery of not one, but two versions of Jacob’s written signature, I realized that I carry part of Jacob’s genetic signature too, as do others of his descendants. I just never thought of it quite like that before.

His genetic signature is every bit as personal, and even better because it’s in me, not lost to time.

There are three types of DNA that can provide genetic signatures of our ancestors; mitochondrial, Y DNA and autosomal.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all genders of their children, but only their daughters pass it on. Therefore, it’s primarily unchanged, generation to generation.

Being a male, Jacob couldn’t pass his mitochondrial DNA on to his descendants, so we have to discover Jacob’s mitochondrial DNA by testing someone else who descends from his mother’s direct matrilineal line through all females but can be a male in the current generation.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to discover Jacob’s mitochondrial DNA that he inherited from his matrilineal line, meaning his mother’s mother’s mother’s line.

However, we only identified his parents a few months ago. Most of Jacob’s family didn’t immigrate, so perhaps eventually the right person will test who descends from his mother, or her matrilineal line, through all women to the current generation.

Jacob’s matrilineal line is as follows, beginning with his mother:

  • Jacob’s mother – Maria Margaretha Gribler born May 4, 1749 and died July 5, 1823 in Beutelsbach, married Jakob Lenz November 3, 1772.
  • Her mother, Katharina Nopp born April 23, 1707 and died November 27, 1764 in Beutelsbach, married Johann Georg Gribler on October 26, 1745.
  • Agnes Back/Beck born November 26, 1673 in Aichelberg, Germany, died February 10, 1752 in Beutelsbach and married Johann Georg Nopp from Beutelsbach.
  • Margaretha, surname unknown, from Magstadt who married Dionysus Beck who lived in Aichelberg, Germany.

If you descend from any of these women, or their female siblings through all females to the current generation, I have a DNA testing scholarship for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA for you! I’ll throw an autosomal Family Finder test in too!

If you’d like a read a quick article about how mitochondrial, Y DNA and autosomal DNA work and are inherited, click here.


On the other hand, Jacob did contribute his Y DNA to his sons. Lentz male descendants, presuming no adoptions, carry Jacob’s Y DNA signature as their own.

We are very fortunate to have Jacob Lentz’s Y DNA signature, thanks to two male Lentz cousins. I wrote about how unique the Lentz Y DNA is, and that we’ve determined that our Lentz line descends from the Yamnaya culture in Russia some 3500 years ago. How did we do that? We match one of the ancient burials. Jacob’s haplogroup is R-BY39280 which is a shorthand way of telling us about his clan.

On the Big Y Tree, at Family Tree DNA, we can see that on our BY39280 branch, we have people whose distant ancestors were found in two locations, France and Germany. On the next upstream branch, KMS67, the parent of BY39280, we find people with that haplogroup in Switzerland and Greece.

Our ancestors are amazingly interesting.

Autosomal DNA

Jacob shares his Y and mitochondrial DNA, probably exactly, with other relatives, since both Y and mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from generation to generation, except for an occasional mutation.

However, Jacob’s autosomal DNA was the result of a precise combination of half of his mother’s and half of his father’s autosomal DNA. No one on this earth had the exact combination of DNA as Jacob. Therefore, Jacob’s autosomal DNA identifies him uniquely.

Unfortunately, Jacob isn’t alive to test, and no, I’m not digging him up – so we are left to piece together Jacob’s genetic signature from the pieces distributed among his descendants.

I realized that by utilizing DNAPainter, which allows me to track my own segments by ancestor, I have reconstructed a small portion of Jacob’s autosomal DNA.

Now, there’s a hitch, of course.

Given that there are no testers that descend from the ancestors of either Jacob or his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, at least not that I know of, I can’t sort out which of these segments are actually Jacob’s and which are Fredericka’s.

In the chart above, the tester and my mother match each other on the same segments, but without testers who descend from the parents of Jacob and Fredericka, through other children and also match on that same segment, we can’t tell which of those common segments came from Jacob and which from Fredericka. If my mother and the tester matched a tester from Jacob’s siblings, then we would know that their common segment descended through Jacob’s line, for example.

Painting Jacob’s Genetic Signature

The segments in pink below show DNA that I inherited from either Jacob or Fredericka. I match 8 other cousins who descend from Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle on some portion of my DNA – and in many cases, three or more descendants of Jacob/Fredericka match on the same exact segment, meaning they are triangulated.

As you can see, I inherited a significant portion of my maternal chromosome 3 from Jacob or Fredericka, as did my cousins. I also inherited portions of chromosomes 7, 9, 18 and 22 from Jacob or Fredericka as well. While I was initially surprised to see such a big piece of chromosome three descending from Jacob/Fredericka, Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle aren’t really that distantly removed – being my great-great-great-grandparents, or 5 generations back in time.

Based on the DNAPainter calculations, these segments represent about 2.4% of my DNA segments on my maternal side. The expected amount, if the DNA actually was passed in exactly half (which seldom happens,) would be approximately 3.125% for each Jacob and Fredericka, or 6.25% combined. That means I probably carry more of Jacob/Fredericka’s DNA that can eventually be identified by new cousin matches!

Of course, my cousins may well share segments of Jacob’s DNA with each other that I don’t, so those segments won’t be shown on my DNAPainter graph.

However, if we were to create a DNAPainter chart for Jacob/Fredericka themseves, and their descendants were to map their shared segments to that chart, we could eventually recreate a significant amount of Jacob’s genetic signature through the combined efforts of his descendants – like reassembling a big puzzle where we all possess different pieces of the puzzle.

Portions of Jacob’s genetic signature are in each of his descendants, at least for several generations! Reassembling Jacob would be he ultimate scavenger hunt.

What fun!


You can order Y and mitochondrial DNA tests from Family Tree DNA here, the only company offering these tests.

You can order autosomal tests from either Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage by clicking on those names in this sentence. You’ll need segment information that isn’t available at Ancestry, so I recommend testing with one of these two companies.

23andMe and Gedmatch also provide segment information. Some people who test at both 23andMe and Ancestry upload to GedMatch, so be sure to check there as well.

You can transfer your autosomal DNA files from one company to the other, with instructions for Family Tree DNA here and MyHeritage here, including how to transfer from Ancestry here.

You can learn how to use DNA Painter here, here and here.

Whose genetic signatures can you identify?



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Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Veterans Day Ancestor Lineup

This Veterans Day stands apart from the rest, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.

I wondered how many of my direct line male ancestors served in some capacity.

I decided to make a chart tracking what I know of their service along with their Y DNA which represents that surname lineage. This was a fun project and will provide a discussion topic with family members at that not-too-distant holiday dinner.

Do you know how many ancestors you have that served their country?

Creating and sharing a chart like this just might result in a male descended from that same ancestor, or ancestral line who carries the surname today and is willing to Y DNA test. What a wonderful way to fill in that missing portion of your ancestor’s history.

If you are a male, carry the surname and descend from one of the men (or direct paternal lines) below, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

Name Birth Death Service Y DNA
William Sterling Estes October 1, 1901, 2 or 3 August 27, 1963 Army, WWI, 3 tours of duty R-ZS3700
John Y. Estes Dec. 29, 1818 September 19, 1895 Civil War, CSA, POW R-ZS3700
Samuel Claxton June 6, 1827 Dec. 5, 1876 Civil War, North, died as a result of injuries R-JFS2001
Jacob Kirsch May 1, 1841 July 23, 1917 Civil War, unproven, wife applied for pension We have a tester
John R. Estes Mar-June, 1787 May 30, 1885 War of 1812, bounty land R-ZS3700
George Estes Feb. 3, 1763 July 1859 Revolutionary War, 3 enlistments R-ZS3700
Moses Estes 1711 1787 French and Indian War R-ZS3700
Marcus Younger Before 1740 1816 Revolutionary War Contributor I1-M253
Jacob Dobkins 1751 Augusta Co., VA March 4, 1833 Claiborne Co., TN Revolutionary War DNA Testing Scholarship Available
Lazarus Dodson 1760 1826 Claiborne Co., TN Revolutionary War R-P25
Capt. John Dobkins After 1787 Augusts Co., VA Revolutionary War DNA Testing Scholarship Available
William McNiel 1760/61 1830 Revolutionary War R-DF104
Rev. George McNiel 1720 June 7, 1805 Revolutionary War, unproven, Battle of King’s Mountain R-DF104
William Crumley III 1788 Feb. 18, 1859 War of 1812 I-M223
Henry Bolton 1759 Nov. 24, 1846 Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania Militia R-BBY69454
William Harrell 1789/90 October 8, 1859 War of 1812 I-P37
John Harrold 1761 1828/30 Revolutionary War I-P37
Michael McDowell 1747 After 1840 Revolutionary War R-Z16432
James Lee Clarkson/Claxton about 1775 Feb. 20, 1815, Fort Decatur, GA War of 1812, died in service R-JFS2001
Samuel Muncy 1740 ? Dunsmore’s War I-Y92887
Col. Robert Craven 1696 May 1782 French and Indian War R-M269
Abraham Workman April 27, 1708 1813 Militia I-M253
Jan Derik Woertman 1665 Revolutionary War I-M253
Nicholas Speak March 3, 1782 August 4, 1804 War of 1812 I-BY14004
Gideon Faires Before 1748 March 1821 Revolutionary War, Campaign Against the Cherokees DNA Testing Scholarship Available
Philip Jacob Miller 1726 September 1799 Rev War Militia R-CTS7822
Johann Nicholas Schaeffer Jan. 3, 1736 Jan. 20, 1796 Revolutionary War R-U106
William Hall June 8, 1651 July 11, 1727 Militia Uncertain if descendant has tested – may be scholarship available

I was surprised that there were 28 veterans. One, James Lee Claxton, died in the War of 1812 and Samuel Claxton, his grandson, died as a result of his service in the Civil War.

Philip Jacob Miller was a Brethren and managed to serve in the militia in spite of that.

Several men served in frontier forts.

Two men, my father and George Estes served 3 terms each.

Furthermore, all men in colonial times were militia members, so in essence, they all served in some capacity.

I’m sure there are more veterans whose service records I just haven’t discovered yet.

Discovering Your Veterans’ Haplogroups

If you would like to compile the Y haplogroups of your service veterans, or any other male lines, first check the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA to see if anyone has tested in your line by clicking here and scrolling down until you see the area to enter the surname you’re searching for.

Check the surname project to determine if any of the most distant ancestors listed are yours.

Then, find a male who carries that surname in your family line to Y DNA test to confirm a match to your surname line. No one listed from your line yet? Not everyone joins projects, so be sure to test. You’ll never know what you’ll learn.

I’m upgrading several of my Y lines to Big Y tests one by one. As genealogists, we want every scrap of information about our ancestors and what better tool to tell stories about the past than their own DNA.



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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Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755-?), Despair in the Abyss of the High Sea – 52 Ancestors #215

In 1816, most German women who were 61 years old would have been playing with grandchildren in the sunshine. Not Dorothea.

Of course, nothing had ever been “normal” in Dorothea’s life, not the entire time she had lived in Beutelsbach, on the banks of the Rems river, in the vineyard region of Wuerttemberg, Germany.

As a child, her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin had been “taken away” for 15 years to serve in the military. Her mother, Dorothea Heubach, worked in the vineyards to support Dorothea while waiting those long years for her father’s return. They married the year he returned and Dorothea’s only sibling was born two years later, in 1772, dying the next year.

Dorothea married Johann Friedrich Breuning in 1780 and after they had three children, he died in 1786, the youngest of their 3 children being just 5 days shy of her first birthday. That baby would perish in 1790, just a few months before Dorothea’s mother’s death. Another of Dorothea’s 3 children had died in 1783.

In 1787, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, the man she would spend the rest of her life with, at least as far as we know.

It seemed like Dorothea’s life calmed down and was settling into the familiar rhythmic pattern of village life after her marriage to Adam, and for a while, it did.

Between 1788 and 1800, Dorothea and Adam had 6 children. Three lived past childhood, 3 did not. As sad as that is, it was also normal in that time and place.

Although Dorothea’s father had been absent during her entire childhood, not of his own choosing, mind you, he also lived 15 years longer than Dorothea’s mother. Not that those early years could ever be replaced, but one had to make the best of things and it was surely a comfort to Dorothy having her father’s presence in her life as she, and he, aged.

Dorothea would celebrate her 60th birthday 10 days after her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin passed away on July 31st, 1805. Probably not a terribly joyful birthday.

It was very unusual for someone to have no siblings in a German village, but that was Dorothea’s situation. With no siblings and no parents, Dorothea might have felt a bit like she didn’t fit in.

Dorothea was different, and perhaps it was because of that very fact that in another 11 years, in 1816, Dorothea was willing to take the risk of her life.

Dorothea wasn’t afraid of challenges, that’s for sure.


The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia would render devastating consequences around the world in 1816 as the smoke and ash blocked the warming rays of the sun. However, at that time, no one in Germany knew about a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have associated cause and effect.

By 1816, known as “the year without a summer,” Dorothea was 61 years old. Her daughter, Fredericka had married Jakob Lenz in 1808 and had blessed Dorothea with 5 grandchildren, of which one had died in 1814.

The rest of Dorothea Catharina’s children lived with her and husband, Johann Adam Ruhle, a vinedresser. 1816 was brutal – and the 4th year in a row that the vineyards hadn’t produced. But 1816 was the worst by far. The grapes didn’t ripen and neither did the rest of the crops. Food was in short supply and rioting broke out in many parts of Germany for basic foods, such as wheat and flour.

No one was interested in waiting for a repeat performance in 1817, so many families prepared to leave over the winter months.

In February, Dorothea Catharina’s husband, Adam, and her son-in-law, Jacob Lenz petitioned for permission to emigrate.

If someone wanted to emigrate, they needed official permission from the Kingdom of Württemberg, insuring that all debts had been paid to creditors. Therefore, the applicant either had to wait a certain amount of time so debtors could report a bill, or the applicant had to find a guarantor.

Permission to emigrate was published in the years 1816 to 1820 in the “Royal Württemberg State and Government Gazette.” If the person wishing to emigrate could not provide a guarantor, the “Government Gazette” contained up to three calls to potential creditors to file their claims. Otherwise, the creditor could turn to the guarantor.

Permission was obtained for Johann Adam Ruhle to immigrate and in February, the family sold their possessions, paid off any outstanding debt, and departed.

Only one of Dorothea’s children remained behind – Johann Ludwig Ruhle. A single man, for whatever reason, he chose to stay in Beutelsbach. He would have waved goodbye to his entire family; parents, three siblings and four nieces and nephews as the wagon pulled away from the vineyards. Why he stayed and where he lived between then and his marriage in 1830 is unknown.

Immigration – Why and Why Now?

German’s were emigrating by the thousands, and not just to the United States.

A man named Friedrich List was commissioned by the Württemberg government to ask citizens on the docks in Heilbronn about the reasons for their emigration. He recorded his interview with Johann Adam Rühle on April 30, 1817.

Adam provided the following commentary about the reason for his decision: “Just look at the tax papers and you will find our own complaints.”

Other men from Beutelsbach who were also interviewed mentioned governmental corruption and deprivation as motivations as well.

Other reasons for immigration are set forth in a letter from Frederick Rapp (who had immigrated to the US and set up a German colony of religious Rappites) to Joseph Leobold explaining why a German might want to immigrate. Frederick said, “Much less would they have to worry that their sons would be taken away as soldiers, the laws of the land here are exactly the opposite of a monarchy.” This would have rung true for Dorothea whose own father was forcibly absent for the first 15 years of her life – and she had sons.

Furthermore, the ban on immigration that had been in effect in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg since 1807 was lifted in 1816.

It appears that a combination of crop failure and high taxes combined with the allure of available land in America and opportunity for all was the shiny object that lured the Lenz (Lentz) and Ruhle (Reuhl) family down the rivers through Germany to Amsterdam, and onto a ship sailing for the promised land.

Except, that wasn’t what actually happened at all.

The Rhine to Amsterdam

In an obscure article by Dr. W. Weintraud titled “Schicksale wurttembergischer Auswanderer im Jahre 1817″ (“Fates of Wurttemberg Emigrants in 1817”) about the Zee Ploeg shipwreck survivors, he tells us on page 16 that:

The emigrants from Wurttemberg boarded rafts in the town of Heilbronn in Germany and traveled on those on the rivers Neckar and Rhine to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, they spent weeks to find a shipping company willing to take them onboard to the United States.

Heilbronn isn’t far from Beutelsbach, but I wonder why they didn’t board boats or barges on the Neckar at either Remseck or Bad Cannstatt, both of which were closer.

The family group traveled up the rivers to intersect with the Rhine at Mannheim and down the Rhine to Rotterdam, through bucolic castle country of the middle Rhine Valley.

By Alice F.A. Mutton Karl A. Sinnhuber (Enc. Britannica) – Rhine River History and Maps Rhine river, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The immigrants must have enjoyed the beautiful German countryside, places they had never seen before and would never see again. They were sailing in May, and spring would have been unfurling green leaves like tendrilled fingers and colorful spring flowers.

For the Germans, the Rhine was a one way ticket out.

The trip would have been chilly in the spring time, but beautiful nonetheless and their hearts would have been joyful and filled with hope.

The Middle Rhine is chocked full of castles on vistas overlooking the river and vineyards perched on hillsides which would have made them feel right at home.

They were leaving Germany, so this float trip through some of the most beautiful country in the world was somehow a fitting goodbye that would leave them with memories of the best that Germany had to offer.

In 2017, I traced the route that Dorothea and family would have taken. I wondered what they thought as they passed the castles representing thousands of years of German history. Had they even heard of these locations and did they have an appreciation for the beauty, or were their sights so firmly planted on their distant destination that they didn’t notice their surroundings as they floated towards the ocean?

By Alexander Hoernigk – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

As the group of immigrants floated closer to the sea, the land flattened out and became low and floodprone.

The Rhine intersected the Ijssel where the barge would turn towards Amsterdam. On the horizon, windmills became visible to manage waterflow and drainage canals appeared in the distance.

As they sailed further into the spring time, tulips and daffodils began to bloom in the flat Dutch countryside, beside the canals. This land was dramatically different from Germany and would have looked like an entirely different world. Vistas of beauty opened before their eyes on every horizon.

On they traveled.

As spring burst into full bloom in April and May, it must have seemed like Mother Nature herself was blessing their journey.

After arriving on the coast of the Netherlands, probably in May, the trip was delayed week to week and then month to month, until at last, in July, the group found a ship in Amsterdam on which to book their passage and prepared to leave port.


Amsterdam was a hub of maritime activity, even though sailing from Amsterdam meant sailing around barrier islands in the sea. Why didn’t they sail out of Rotterdam, a closer and more accessible port? That answer is forever lost to time.

Today, Amsterdam houses the museum of the East India Trading Company with a reconstructed ship that would have been similar to the ship that Dorothea Catharina and her family boarded to set sail for Philadelphia.

I visited Amsterdam, knowing that my ancestor Govert Van Oy (Vannoy) along with his wife and children set sail from here in 1664 for New Netherlands. However in the summer of 2017, I didn’t yet know that Dorothea Catharina’s family, consisting of 4 of my ancestors set sail from this very same location exactly 200 years ago. In fact, they were in Amsterdam, probably on this very quay, waiting to sail 200 years and 2 days before I stood there, in complete ignorance, in 2017.

Sometimes synchronicity is simply amazing. I like to think Dorothea might have had a hand in this!

The Zee Ploeg

The ship on which they booked passage was named the Zee Ploeg, also spelled Zee Ploug and was 136 feet long, 32 feet wide and 16 feet high. Of course, that 16 feet was without masts. The masts were a LOT taller.

This drawing is of a similar ship. No actual drawing of the Zee Ploeg exists today.

Touring the reproduction ship at the Amsterdam West India Company Headquarters Museum was quite interesting.

I looked up!

Nope, I could never be a sailor.

This reproduction ship was 157 feet long, so 21 feet longer than the Zee Ploeg, and those masts are 183 feet tall. Reaching the crow’s nest was accomplished by climbing the rope ladders. Nope. Just no.

Let’s go inside.

I had never really thought about bathroom facilities. This lid opens directly over the ocean. There was one “toilet” per side of the ship. The captain and officers had their own.

Crates and barrels with food and water were stored below deck, along with the passengers.

Wealthy passengers had boxes that resembled small bunk beds, but our family, according to Jacob Lentz’s later letter, in essence had the cheap seats. Cheap seats weren’t beds at all, but hammocks where you simply pulled the side fabric over you for a blanket. I wonder how many people slept in each hammock.

Here, my friend Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire, and I are practicing. Getting in and out of the hammock required far more grace than I possess. All I can say is that it’s a good thing there isn’t movie evidence, because it would be a comedy, trust me!

Setting Sail

On July the 7th, 1817, finally, the Zee Ploeg set sail from Amsterdam.

Four days later, they were skirting the island of Texel, where the ship had to pass in a channel between Texel and either the island to the south or Vlieland to the north in order to enter the Atlantic ocean.

From Amsterdam to the southern point of Texel is about 65 miles, but the nautical route wasn’t as direct. In this wonderful article, the author visited the Jutters Museum and provides photos of dioramas as well as several old maps that show the location of the West India docks in Amsterdam and the water “roadway,” as they were called at the time, to Texel where the ships would resupply, taking on their last fresh water for the voyage.


When the emigrants arrived in Texel, foul weather ensued and continued until August 5th, nearly a month. They spent the month riding out the bad weather on the ship at Texel, waiting for the storms and wind to abate.

You can see Amsterdam in orange and the island of Texel near the top on the old maritime map below. This map was actually created with north to right, but I’ve rotated it to reflect the actual geography.

In this contemporary satellite view, you can see the treacherous waterways between the island and the mainland (in green) that require a highly qualified pilot or Captain, in the terms of 1817, to navigate.

All of the green area between the island and the mainland are shallows that used to be land not long ago.

I stood on the island of Vlieland looking at Texel to the south, exactly 200 years later, to the day, that they were anchored in this very location. Of course, I had no idea the significance at the time. What I did know is that another ancestor of mine, Govert Van Oy had died en route to New Netherlands in 1664 at age 39 and was buried on the island of Texel.

Texel is the island in the distance. The weather was much better the day I stood on these sands staring across the channel.

However, the grim reaper reached out for me there too. I was felled by a cobblestone, broke my femur, messed up my knee in such a way that I have a permanent souvenir, and suffered from blood clots in my leg. I think those islands have it in for my family – although the Island of Vlieland possesses a sorceresses’ hypnotic, alluring charm – beckoning one to return.

Ironically, the letters in the sand created by specially cast tires for the tour bus are poetry that translates roughly as:

What makes the deepest impression
Will be touched by the water
Let no man disturb
The sea will have the last word

Each year a tire poetry contest is held, but the 2017 winning poem seemed particularly prescient for Dorothea 200 years earlier.

The Most Difficult Ancestor

This is the point where I have to tell you how difficult this article was to write. Where I get to explain that I have nightmares about what Dorothea endured. Where I confess that I almost couldn’t write this one. That I feel compelled to provide you with a PTSD trigger warning. No movie could be more dramatic. You may forget to breathe. You may wish you hadn’t read this when you’re done.

You’ve been warned.

I also get to reveal that I think Dorothea survived, but I’m not positive. What I am positive of is that not everyone in the family did.

This is the wrench-your-heart-right-out-of-your-chest-through-your-throat ancestor story. A Halloween nightmare come true.

As if Dorothea’s life hadn’t already been difficult enough before leaving Beutelsbach; the worst, by an immeasurable degree was yet to come. The indescribable terror of what lay ahead made Beutelsbach with all the death, burials and challenges look like an ice cream social on a balmy sun-kissed Sunday afternoon.

The storm clouds were gathering, figuratively and literally, and they would unleash in an unimaginable, eternal, hell-fire torrent of terror.

But first, let’s take a look at what we know already.

Jacob’s Letter

Dorothea’s daughter, Frederika Ruhle/Reuhl had married Jacob Lenz (spelled Lentz in America.) They, of course, were passengers on this ship as well. Jacob Lentz and Frederika’s grandchildren documented the story that Jacob told them about the journey.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz, born in 1867 in Indiana recorded what his father, Johann Adam Lentz, reportedly born in 1819 in Shippensburg, PA, told him about his parent’s trip.

George William reportedly wrote the story for his son, Roscoe, born in 1891. By process of elimination, we know that this story, styled as a tribute to Jacob Lentz, was recorded for posterity sometime between 1891 and 1946 when George William died. Thank goodness it was! There was also a slightly different second documented story. Each story provided a few details that the other didn’t.

In essence, Jacob said that he along with his wife, Frederica, 3 or 4 children (depending on which letter) and his wife’s sister immigrated.

One of Jacob and Fredericka’s daughters, Elizabeth Lentz, died during the passage. We know she left with the family, because the children’s citizenship rights were preserved in the immigration document where they were specifically named.

According to William George’s letter, the entire family became shipwrecked on the western coast of Norway where they were “brought to a disappointment in life that they were never able to find words to express. Six months later, they found a captain that would transport them to America, stipulating that they would sell themselves as indentured servants upon their arrival to pay for their passage.” The only caveat was that the family would not be separated.

The rest of the tribute letter deals with Jacob’s later life after arrival.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was clearly recording what his father had told him. Johann Adam Lentz, named after his grandfather Johann Adam Ruhle, was born seven months after Jacob and Frederica arrived, apparently while they were indentured, and died in 1906. Finding Johann Adam Lentz’s baptism record would shed light on a more precise location where they were indentured.

In 1867, when Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was born in New Paris, Indiana, Frederica Ruhle Lentz had already passed away and Jacob Lentz was an old man of 84 years, living peacefully in Montgomery County, Ohio, on a farm a few miles outside of Dayton. Jacob died in 1870, three years later.

I expect that Jacob never met grandson, George William, and if he did, George William would never have remembered, because he was 3 years old when Jacob died in another state 190 miles distant over dirt roads that would have been traversed in a wagon, if at all. That’s a nontrivial trip of between 9 and 20 days, depending on how difficult the travel. In other words, George William certainly didn’t personally remember Jacob telling stories about his journey to America.

What George William wrote is what Jacob Lentz had told William George’s father Adam, and what Adam conveyed to him.

Given what I’ve recently discovered, it’s entirely possible that Jacob Lentz couldn’t bring himself to even think about 1817 and 1818, let alone talk about those events.

However, there was one piece of information not recorded in the tribute document that surfaced from another cousin, descended from another child of Jacob Lentz, and that was the place name of Bergen. Bergen is a city in Norway, on the coast, but far north of where they were supposed to be. Bergen is just about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. What would the Zee Ploeg have been doing up there?

But more important, who could make up something that specific? An out-of-the-way off-the-beaten-path place name that I’d never heard of before, tucked in a Norwegian fjord? Was there perhaps some grain of truth in the shipwreck story after all?

Nah, couldn’t be.


My friend and cousin, Tom made the discovery that broke through this brick wall. Not only did he discover that Fredericka’s surname was Ruhle, he then used that information to unravel the location where they lived in Germany. Then, as the icing on the cake, he found documentation of their shipwreck in, you guessed it, Bergen, Norway.

It was Tom that found the ship’s name, the Zee Ploeg, translated as the Sea Plow.

This experience as it was unfolding was intensely surreal. Bergen, Norway, a shipwreck, a list of survivors and deaths of people in a hospital. Was this Jacob’s ship? Was he really shipwrecked? Was that story actually true?

The Lawsuit

The dates fit and we found mention of a Jacob Lentz filing a lawsuit in Bergen against the captain. Jacob and another passenger filed to request that the Captain, who was accused of negligence and attempted murder refund the price of their passage to the immigrants so that they could purchase tickets on to America.

Apparently, there was indeed a lawsuit, although the outcome is questionable. The Jacob Lentz tribute says that the Captain was hung.

According to this information from the Norwegian archives website, and auto-translated, it looks like the Captain may have been in jail and the suit may have been dismissed. However, look who filed the suit.

Carl O Gram Gjesdal mention proceedings against Zee Plogs captain in jail in the new year 1818. The occasion will, according to Gjesdal, have been that two passengers, Jacob Lentz and John Fiedler, had appealed to the authorities and received a licence to ‘ on ustemplet paper for the person in question under the law that let make the cases that they find themselves occasioned that grow toward the bemeldte captain, kapt. Poul Jan Manzelmann‘.  Do you know where this thing is located? It should have been accusations of drunkenness, poor seamanship, embezzlement, brutality, abuse, and murderer tampering attempts. He was also of some of the responsibility for that small children died during the crossing due to malnutrition. It was difficult with the evidence, and DOM’s formulation, according to have been Gjesdal,: ‘ the captain should replace them to citanterne for erholdt forlite provisions after unwilling men’s discretion … By the way he should as far as compensation is concerned, is considered to be free.  Iøvrig rejected the case. ‘ Mvh Arnfrid

From a publication by Dr. Karl J. R. Arndt titled “George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of Norwegian Migration to America,” we discover a letter from one passenger to his brother describing the shipwreck.

“On September 5th, we lost all masts, also we were very badly treated by our disloyal captain. He did not give us the food which he was obligated to give us according to contract. This bought about great sickness so that over 200 souls died.”

In other words, the Captain intentionally starved his passengers…slowly…to death.

After reading that, my stomached tightened into a knot and I had to take a walk to deal with the intense overwashing emotions as the horrific ugly truth sunk in.




My ancestors.

No Justice

The suit filed in Bergen asked that the Captain be required to refund the immigrants’ money so that they could book other passage, but Captain Manzelman maintained that refunds were the responsibility of the shipping company. Under cover of darkness, he stowed away on a ship and left Norway for the Netherlands to escape being held accountable for his actions.

Jacob Lentz’s story indicates that the Captain was put to death, but that didn’t happen. Perhaps that’s what Manzelman deserved and what Jacob wanted. After all, Jacob’s own daughter, Elizabeth, was one of those that died. Elizabeth was Dorothea Catharina’s granddaughter. The entire family, along with the other passengers, probably despised the Captain. He was lucky that they didn’t simply take matters into their own hands and dispense their own brand of high seas justice. Who could have blamed them!

We already knew that Jacob and Fredericka’s daughter, Elizabeth, had died, but the fact that the rest of the family had survived belied the severity and terror of what actually happened.

Furthermore, from Jacob’s letter, we didn’t know how many family members were included in that journey. There were several more than were initially recorded.

Why did Jacob say nothing about them?

Who Was Traveling?

In the Ruhle/Lenz family group from Beutelsbach, we have the following documented immediate family members.

Name Birth Death Comment
Johann Adam Ruhle – Fredericka’s father January 30, 1764, Schnait After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Dorothea Katharina Wolflin (Ruhle) – Fredericka’s mother August 10, 1755, Beutelsbach Either January 14, 1818 or after October 7, 1818 Survived to Bergen, not in Bergen church death records, may have drown on January 14th or may have left Bergen in October 1818
Jacob Christian Breuning – Fredericka’s half-brother June 8,1783, Beutelsbach After August 1818 Left Bergen August 1818
Johann Georg Ruhle – Fredericka’s full brother April 25, 1794, Beutelsbach After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Katharina Koch – Johann Georg Ruhle’s fiancé/wife February 27, 1793 After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Friederika Ruhle (Lenz/Lentz) – Dorothea and Adam’s daughter March 3, 1788, Beutelsbach March 22, 1863, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Lenz (Lentz) – Fredericka’s husband May 15, 1783, Beutelsbach April 10, 1870, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Franklin Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s son November 28, 1806, Beutelsbach March 23, 1887, Dayton, Ohio Survived to America, married Sophia Schweitzer
Fredericka “Fanny” Lentz (Brusman) – Fredericka and Jacob’s daugther July 3, 1809, Beutelsbach October 9, 1897, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America, married Daniel Brusman
Elizabeth Katharina Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter March 28, 1813, Beutelsbach Between September 5 and October 17, 1817 Died at sea on way to Bergen
Maria Barbara Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter August 22, 1816, Beutelsbach November 9, 1899, Elkhart Co., Indiana Survived to America, married Henry Yost

The Zee Ploeg

This beautiful model of the Zee Ploeg was lovingly crafted by model builder Knut Hanselmann. The model can be admired in the church at Herdla. Photo by Håkon Andersen / Askøy Church Joint Council. My gratitude to both men as well as the church and Christian Rieber who commissioned the model. You can read more here.

Bergen City Archives

The Bergen City archives tells us that the ship, Zee Ploeg, carried approximately 560 German immigrants who were sailing for Philadelphia when they became stranded in Norway after their ship lost a mast and floundered in the North Sea.

How, in Heaven’s name, did they ever fit 560 people in a ship that was 126 feet long by 32 feet wide at the widest point – in addition to supplies, food and their possessions? How did the passengers even lay down, at all?

In Bergen, a committee consisting of the magistrate’s president, a councilor, the police chief, the city physicist and three citizen representatives was appointed to carry out the onerous task of looking after the refugees. Most were housed on the ship Noah Ark which was tethered to the Zee Ploeg in a harbor north of Bergen as they waited. There was no housing to accommodate that many people. The committee received supplies, housing and medical assistance from local people as well as from the Norwegian royalty. Keep in mind that Norway too had suffered from the crop failures associated with 1816, plus a recent war in which they were defeated and given to Sweden, as a spoil of war.

In the summer of 1818, about 80 stranded Germans who could obtain or had funds remaining departed, but the remainder of the 250-270 poor people were sent to America on the ship, Prima, departing on October 7th.

The Bergen City Archives possesses the negotiation protocol that the committee utilized in an unbound booklet of 107 pages. It contains a summary of the committee’s many meetings and discussions. There are also two lists of emigrants, namely those who went on with “Captain Fischer’s Ship” (probably Susanna Catharina) and secondly the Prima on October 7, 1818. It is possible that this protocol has not yet been used in the research around this event, as Professor Semmingen never mentions this document.

I am not yet in receipt of a translated (or untranslated) copy of this second list from the October sailing. That list will, I hope, resolve the question of whether Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Reuhle survived.

The Letter

I have been extremely fortunate to have the assistance of my German friend, Chris, who has been able to unearth several research sources due to the fact that German is his Native language and he has at least a rudimentary understanding of Norwegian.

I am ever so grateful.

Chris found a letter, written by a German survivor in Bergen to his family back home.

The next part of this story about the actual voyage itself is best told in the author’s own words, translated from German which I’ve included as a footnote for reference.

Chris was unsure of some words (in italics) in modern language. Chris’s comments to the original in [italics].

English Letter Translation

Unfortunate ride of the Dutch frigate d`Zeeploeg

Bergen in Norway, February 23, 1818.

I made a promise to you in Amsterdam last year to give you some report from North America both on the country’s customs, as well as on the life and destinies of the German expatriates, and about my sea voyage. But I cannot fulfill this promise, because the Lord has decided to cross my plans to come to America. I want to describe to you as much as possible our misfortune, but I do not know exactly where to start, and from where to take the colors to faithfully design our misfortune and the misery of the passengers. For the unfortunate accident which came over us on this journey by the loss of our masts was terrible in every case. For 28 days we were in mortal fear, no rescue seemed possible, death and destruction threatened us on all sides, and despair had almost seized the emigrants on the high seas, if religion and hope had not been the support, on which our self-preservation would have been founded.

After 2 months of rest, I left the port of Amsterdam on the evening of July 7, 1817 at 7 o’clock with several families from Wurttemberg, Mr Heinrich Diezel, merchant from Lahr in the Breisgau, and equipped with the best recommendation letters from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, with the plan to board the frigate d’Zeeploeg in Texel, and to start the voyage to America. However, the tide prevented us from leaving the road, and so it took until 12 o`clock until we were able to make our way. On July 11 in the evening at half past ten we happily arrived there. I was greeted by the ship`s captain H. E. Manzelmann with all humanity and hospitality.

Our ship personnel consisted of the captain, the main steersman, the subordinate steersman, the ship surgeon, 3 passengers in the cabin, 30 seamen, and many passengers, men and women, all from the state of Wurttemberg.

The wind was always unfavorable to us, although the anchors were hoisted several times. But as soon as the sails unfolded, storms and adverse winds overtook us and the anchors had to fall again. The sky always seemed unfavorable to us, and so it lasted until the 5th August, when we left the dockyard in Texel in the afternoon at 4 o’clock, with the favor of a good wind from North-East. We arrived at the water mouth at 5 o’clock, when our ship was brought in instant danger through a crooked direction. The residents of Den Helder already started to bring their small boats from the shore to the water to help us, when we were suddenly rescued and brought to anchor by a clever turn of our ship. But we did not stay long in this embarrassing situation, for at six o’clock we happily sailed around the dangerous places, which filled us with horror, and with full sails we passed through the night, happily facing our destinies.

We were already in view of the English coast on 9 August, and no obstacle seemed to be in our way anymore to reach the channel. But the wind from South-West, which soon became stormy, forced us to retreat on the 10th at 1 o’clock in the morning. And so we maneuvered through the Northern Sea to the left and to the right, fighting with the elements. The result of our 17-day voyage was, therefore, that we had to anchor on the evening of the 16th in the North Sea, at the mouth of the Texel and on the 17th at 6 o’clock in the morning we anchored at the dockyard in Texel, and did not know, when we would be able to leave the dock again, since we first had to fill our food supplies. However, on 24 August, at 3 o’clock in the morning, the anchors were again hoisted to leave the dock, after we were provided with provisions at 9 o’clock in the evening of the 23rd by two ships. A favorable north-east wind filled our sails, and at 6:30 we had already passed the most dangerous places of the estuary. A heavenly sky had a beneficial effect on the minds of the emigrants, everyone was in a happy mood and seemed revived, and with a calm heart we confidently faced towards a better future. But alas, only too soon we were interrupted again in our course, because on the morning of the 26th at 11 o’clock the wind turned south again, so that we could not enter the canal, but rather had to sail around the whole of England. On the morning of the 27th at 8 o`clock we saw the coast of Norway, and on the 29th the coast of Scotland. The Arcadian Islands offered us a beautiful sight. Until then we still had good weather.

On 31 August we sailed with a favorable wind into the ocean, but it lasted scarcely 24 hours, when we were attacked by contrary winds and heavy storms, continuously raging until 4 September, when the storm turned into a terrible hurricane. It is impossible to describe how our heavy ship was thrown high into the air by the waves, and thrown back into the abyss of the sea. People fell overboard from the all-too-strong movement, and drowned. But the horror was still ahead of us: On the evening of 5 September at 5:30 pm the “Kleverbaum” mast broke. With great difficulty the sailors barely had it fixed again when, at 6 o’clock, the great mast with the pram masts went overboard. Caused by strong winds and the high sea flooding the ship. We all tried as hard as we could to cut the ropes to get rid of the broken ship masts. Now we were glad to have kept at least one mast, but at 6:30 pm the foremast broke and at 7 o’clock the bowsprit. So we found ourselves in the absence of anything that otherwise would have provided the ship with its stability. The sea broke the cabin windows from the back, so that the water came streaming in, but the damage was soon repaired.

Now we drifted without masts in the high sea, on all sides over 300 miles from the firm land. At 2 o’clock in the night, boats and sloops (which were mounted on the roof) broke loose and we were forced to throw them overboard, along with the barrels of water, bacon and meat. The cannons, having been loosened by the vigorous movements of the ship, also rolled across the deck and destroyed the hatchways, so that now the water also flew down to the passengers. The water stood three to four feet high in the emigrants` beds. We all believed that this would be our last night, and it was a misery to watch one sailor carried the other on his back into the cabin to lay him down and then go back to work, because almost all the sailors were blessed. One had broken his arm, the other one a leg, and the third one had crushed his feet by a water barrel rolling over it. Only five sailors remained able to work, which is why we had to jump in to work as well. I was just on the deck, when the high sea struck the ship, and we all lay in the water. I am only still alive today, because I was holding fast to a rope, otherwise the sea would have washed me away. Two sailors and six passengers lost their lives, so we always had death occurring in front of our eyes. The captain and the helmsmen, who were also blessing, and the sailors all gave up their hope. On the 10th we put up a piece of wood, which had to serve us as a mast to at least have a sail and to steer with it, God willing, to the solid land.

On 13 September we made the first emergency shot, but no one on the high seas came to our aid; drearily we had to continue steering. By 11:15 pm we got to see the island of Ferro [Faroe Islands?]. We made several shots early in the morning, but in vain. With no pilots on board we were not allowed to sail ashore. We also could not row towards the shore, because we did not have any small boats left. We had lost everything, everything. Here we finally hoped to enter the harbor. No, no! A new storm from the southwest hurled us back into a cliff-top sea, and so we drifted along for another 14 days, until the 29th of September, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when we got to view the northernmost coast of Norway. The wind was favorable to us to sail along the coast. We kept firing our canons, but nobody came to help us. A cup of water was on sale on our ships for 4-5 Dutch Stbr. [some kind of currency], the emigrants received two pounds of bread for an entire week since we had lost the masts until, thank God, on 4 October, we were seen by a fisherman, who came towards us, and piloted us in between the Norwegian mountains. In the evening, at 9 o’clock, we came to anchor between mighty high mountains at Seillanger, 10 miles from Bergen in Norway. Here we had to hold quarantine for 8 days, because the Norwegian government was afraid we could bring an infectious disease into the country. But on the 8th day we were freed from quarantine and we headed towards the city, where we anchored on 13 October in the night at half past eleven, in Sandviken, fifteen minutes from Bergen. The ship’s staff was sick, both sailors and passengers. I had to endure a serious illness as well, and probably would have been robbed away by death, if not the upright German family of Captain Christian Petersen, native of Hamburg, had accepted and fed me. I had to stay in bed for two months, but now I am pretty well again. Truly, Germany has good people! I am staying happily with this family now. They offer with German cordiality everything they can contribute to make my stay pleasant.

Because I do not know how to describe our misfortune faithfully and dreadfully enough, I note only the following points, which were most terrible.

1) The unfortunate coincidence of our ship losing its masts was in any case terrible.

2) To hear the terrible shouting, while the poles were being cut off, in the cabin of the wounded sailors, on the roof of captain and helmsmen. Below the deck, screams of anguish of the poor passengers, to whom the water had already penetrated 3-4 feet high into the ship, and terrible was the whizzing of the high seas, which towered up high above us.

3) The starvation of the poor passengers, which killed many small children (because you were not able to get any food from the storage room because of the huge storm. For four to five days we received nothing to eat or drink.

4) Upon our arrival in Bergen, the passengers were transferred to another boat without masts, which was tied to the frigate Zeeploeg. A dreadful storm from the northwest raged on January 14, forcing the boat off the frigate, driving the unfortunate passengers towards the sea. I was just on the “Aark Noa” (the small boat) to visit the new rooms of the emigrants, when the boat started to drift away. Big boats and sloops were sent to us, but too late to save us all. The ship came to a cliff, whereupon it failed; I jumped for life or death 8-10 feet across towards a small boat approaching us, which was already half full of water, approaching us, and succeeded with this dreadful leap. Of the 200 passengers on board, 75 drowned. Eight days later, 20 more died of terror; the rest were all sick.

On the journey from Amsterdam to Bergen died: 150 passengers.

Washed away with the high seas aboard: 6 passengers and 2 sailors

Injured on the “Aark Noa” in Bergen: 95 passengers

                                                                  In total: 251 passengers

Just take a minute and breathe.

Zee Ploeg Timeline

I have constructed a timeline based on the above letter as well as other sources such as the Rappite letter.

  • February 12, 1817 – permission to emigrate granted
  • March 30, 1817 – scheduled boarding
  • April 30, 1817 – Heilbron, Germany, barge being loaded at the inn, the Krane
  • May 7, 1817 – approximate arrival in Amsterdam based on the letter referring to departing “after 2 months of rest”
  • May 25th – left Amsterdam (per the Rapp letter,) where Johannes Hasert died and was buried on the island of Holder (probably Den Helder, across the channel from Texel)

  • July 7th – left Amsterdam, per the above survivor letter
  • July 11th – Texel, boarded the Zee Ploeg, waited for good winds and no storms
  • August 5th – left Texel, nearly capsized
  • August 9th – saw the English coast
  • August 16th – back in Texel again due to storm
  • August 17th – at the docks in Texel to replenish food supplies
  • August 24th – food supplies replenished, left Texel again
  • August 26th – high winds forced ship to sail around England
  • August 27th – saw coast of Norway
  • August 29th – saw coast of Scotland, Orkadian Islands

  • August 31st – favorable winds for 24 hours
  • September 1-4 – heavy storms, continuously raging
  • September 4 – hurricane
  • September 5 – 5:30 PM – “Kleverbaum” mast broke

                        6 PM – great mast with pram masts went overboard

                        6:30 PM – foremast broke

                        7 PM – bowsprit broke, now adrift 300 miles out to sea

  • September 6 – 2 AM – boats, sloops and barrels broke loose, had to be thrown overboard, 2 sailors and 6 passengers dead, cannons rolled across deck and crashed through the hatchway
  • September 10 – raised piece of wood for mast.
  • September 13 – emergency shots fired, saw Ferro Island (Faroe Islands?)

  • September 27 – had been adrift for 14 days (letter above)
  • September 29 – saw the coast of Norway
  • October 4 – Seillanger (Skjellanger, on the north of Holsnoy near Herdla) – 10 miles from Bergen, fisherman piloting us, quarantine for 8 days (note, Zee Ploeg Norwegian wiki page says this was on September 25th)

  • October 10, 1817 – list of survivors created after docking in Bergen
  • October 13 – freed from quarantine after 8 days to be towed into Bergen, anchoring in Sandviken 15 minutes from Bergen

Note – wiki page says the ship was anchored as Elsesro. Elsesro is in the same bay and very near Sandviken.

  • November 13 – Bergen records indicate they were quarantined for another 30 days after arriving in Elsesro

  • January 14th – Noah Ark was tethered to ship Zea Ploeg when a storm forced the small ship off of the Zee Ploeg into the sea. Of 200 passengers on board, 75 drown.
  • January 22 – 20 more passengers died from terror and the rest were ill

Take a Break

I feel like I just need to take some time here to gather myself and recover a bit before even trying to evaluate this letter and what it tells us.

I can’t even begin to imagine the raw terror, day and night, for a month, drifting at sea. Knowing every minute that it might very well be your last. Watching your loved ones suffer terribly.

And die.

And die.

And die.

The fact that you survived the last minute, the last hour or the last day had no bearing on the probability that you would survive the next minute, hour or day – or at all. Most ships in this predicament didn’t. This scenario played out hundreds if not thousands of times with ships full of passengers that DIDN’T survive. This is what they endured as their ships were ripped apart, board by board, by an angry, malevolent sea.

It took me days to mentally ”process” this letter, knowing that FOUR of my ancestors were on this ship. Not one, not two, not three, but four.

The information varies somewhat with various sources, both in terms of total number of passengers as well as the total number of deaths.

How many people were involved?


Totals from the passenger letter:

  • Amsterdam to Bergen – 150 died
  • Washed away at sea – 6 passengers, 2 sailors
  • January 14, Ark Noah – 75 drown
  • January 24, Died of terror – 20
  • Total Dead – 251 passengers, 2 sailors
  • If you add 80 people who left Bergen in August of 1818 and 270 that left in October 1818, the total number of passengers is 601 plus any that went back to Germany and several orphans who were adopted and stayed in Bergen. Twelve surnames are reported among the Germans who remained permanently in Bergen, although those may have been children who were not included in the original passenger count. Bergen sources indicate that as many as 100 Germans returned to Germany, although I don’t know how that number was arrived at. It could have been an assumption to account for a discrepancy in the number of passengers who left Bergen, the number known dead from church records, and reports of very few who died on the ship before shipwrecking.

Total number of passengers and death totals from other sources vary:

From the Rapp letter:

  • 500 passengers out of Amsterdam
  • 200 deaths on way to Bergen
  • 100 went back to Germany
  • Several stayed in Bergen (orphans were placed in homes and adopted)
  • All 30 infants born at sea died
  • Passengers on Susanna Constant Bergen to Philadelphia in August 1818 – Rapp letter says 80 wealthy passengers paid their way, but also that 107 arrived in Philadelphia.
  • These combined equal about 758 passengers total, if you add the 270 passengers who also left on the ship Prima in October and the people buried in Bergen.

From the Bergen city site:

  • 24 people were buried at the new graveyard, Fredens Bolig, which was built on Stølen. The last of these tombs was removed in 1968 and the graveyard later converted into a park. The area is located at Krohnengen School and is still called “Graven”.

  • 41 people died and were buried at St. Mary’s Church, according to parish records

  • 80 left on Susanna Catherina
  • 270 left in October on Prima
  • There is no mention of anyone returning to Germany, nor of the orphans who remained in Bergen.

From the Zee Ploeg Wiki site:

  • 560 immigrants, 21 man crew plus captain
  • 10 passengers died of food shortage before arriving in Bergen
  • 16 died after ship was towed to Bergen but before passengers allowed to leave ship
  • 24 additional died in the hospital in Bergen
  • 80 left on ship Susanna Catherina
  • 273 left on ship Prima
  • 100 returned to Germany
  • List of 41 dead and buried in St. Mary’s Church (unclear if the 24 or 16 above are included in this number, although 24+16=40)

Where is Our Family?

From scattered piecemeal documents, we discover that Johann Adam Ruhle survived, in part because there is a hospital record for him in 1818, after the treacherous January Noah Ark ship catastrophe. I have been unable to find him in America, although he isn’t listed in the burials in Bergen.

Adam Ruhle is listed as being in the hospital in August of 1818:

  • Adam Ruhle fra Do. til nu Han og Søn 2 Børn Except Spiise for 6 Uger Hele Tiden
  • Adam Ruhle from Do. until now he and son
  • 2 Children Except Spiise for 6 Weeks all the time

The archive document states that Adam Rühle and his two sons had been in the Bergen hospital. This old document presented challenges to translate, and not just the words, but the meaning.

My Norwegian friend translated this passage as meaning that Adam and his two children received support from October 1817 until “now” meaning August of 1818. It appeared that Adam and one son had been at the hospital the whole time period and they received food except for 6 weeks. That means he would not have been on the Noah’s Ark. In other words, being in the hospital probably saved his life.

The original hospital building is gone but was located where the yellow building stands today.

In a second entry, Johan Georg Ruhle with wife both began receiving support from December 14th. Johann until May 24th, but his wife until now, “August.” Both had been at the hospital for two months, sometime between December 14th and May 24th, 1818.

There is no mention of Adam’s wife! So, either Dorothea isn’t ill, or she isn’t there. Perhaps the reason that they didn’t receive food at the hospital for a 5-week period is because Dorothea was bringing food to them. But how and from where?

We know that Dorothea’s son, Johann George Ruhle survived at least until May 24th, as did his wife, because they bury their baby May 27th, 1818. They apparently left, because they aren’t listed in the burials. Presumably, they both survived the crossing in the fall of 1818, although I have been unable to find them in America.

We know that Jacob, Fredericka and three of their 4 children survived, because they lived to tell about it in America, and I was able to identify those family members in Ohio after 1830. We know that daughter, Elizabeth, perished during the journey to Bergen because the list of survivors compiled in October shows only 3 children with Jacob Lenz and we know that 4 left Germany. Furthermore, Jacob’s own account tells us that daughter Elizabeth died “on the sea.”

That must have broken his heart.

Where is Dorothea?

Everyone is accounted for one way or another except Dorothea Katharina.

Where is Dorothea?

What happened to her?

One possible hint is found in the article by Weintraud where he provides information, as follows:

This list was compiled on 10-13 October 1817 of 424 passengers (including women and children), who started the voyage on the Zee Ploeg. The label “F” stands for “wife” and the number behind that for the number of children.

From Chris:

In case you wonder about the number “424 passengers”: It is stated earlier, on book page 17, that this list does not include the ship passengers who died before 10 October 1817. Furthermore, the list does not include orphan children of parents who had died before. Hence, in summary this is not a complete list of all Zee Ploeg passengers, but only the ones, who were adults and survived until 10 October 1817.

Hence, for example Adam “Rijle”/Rühle boarded with his wife and three children (“F, 3”).

That little one letter, “F” means that Dorothea survived, at least until October 10-13. This also tells us that the three “children” that were with them, meaning adult children, survived as well. Her son Jacob Christian Breuning, her son Johann George Ruhle and daughter Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, the sister of Fredericka referred to in Jacob’s letter. If Johanna Margaretha had died, Jacob would surely have said so, given that he mentioned that Elizabeth died and stated that Fredericka’s sister accompanied them.

Dorothea isn’t on the list of burials at St. Mary’s Church during the time that the immigrants were in Bergen, so her funeral wasn’t in the German church in Bergen, and she wasn’t buried in the cemetery.

What we don’t know is whether Dorothea drown on January 14th, her body being swept out to sea. It’s possible because the hospital states “except spouse.” So, Dorothea arrived, but she is not hospitalized with Adam Ruhle. She is also not recorded as having died and being buried.

So, she either drown in the Noah’s Ark accident, or she wasn’t ill and left Bergen in October.

If she did survive the January 14th accident, we don’t know if Dorothea survived the next leg of the journey after leaving Bergen, because the family is not home free just yet!

One additional piece of information that may be relevant for Dorothea and Adam is a final note stating that 28 immigrants weren’t sold as indentured servants in America, because no one was interested in them. Dorothea was a traumatized woman approaching 64 years old, so she may have been considered not worth “purchasing” for any amount of money.

Maybe, just maybe, that is what finally saved her. Although she surely would have accompanied her indentured family. What else could she have done?

Dorothea’s Son, Jacob Christian Breuning

The letter tells us that:

Before the “Susanna Catharina” left on 13 August 1818, a thank-you letter was written and addressed to the King of Norway, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian nation, who all had supported the emigrants during their stay for more than a year This letter was signed by Joseph Viedler, Adam Kuhl, Johannes Noedlinger, Christopher Ehemann, Jacob Christian Breuning, Leonhard Boss and Christian Fritz Ilg.

I was quite surprised to find Dorothea’s son listed here, because this implies one of two things. Either he had money to pay his own way, and was willing to leave his family behind, or he was a celebate Rappite. He was born in 1783, so 35 years old, and unmarried – which could mean that he had accumulated his own money, especially if he lived at home with his parents. The fact that he was unmarried could also mean he believed in the Rappite religion.

Regardless, he apparently left in August and presumably landed in Philadelphia with the rest of the passengers. From that point forward, his trail goes cold. Of course, if he was and remained Rappite, he has no descendants.

A Rappite Connection?

I have often wondered if there is a Rappite connection. In several letters written by members of Rapp’s colony, Harmonie, located in Indiana, 17 adults, by name, and a total of 29 people are mentioned as being part of the stranded Bergen passengers who were Rappite followers. A total of 60 people were reported to want to have their passage paid from Bergen to Philadelphia with the goal being to join the Rappites. I’m presuming that number is adults only, since children had no choice in the matter.

The letters mention one David Lenz, from Schnaith, who was already in Harmonie in 1816. Furthermore, although not referenced by name, 5 families from Schnaith are explicitly mentioned.

Furthermore, at least 15 of those adults were on the ship, Susanna Catharina that sailed in August from Bergen. In the Bergen records, the passengers on that ship were referred to as the wealthier passengers, but Rapp’s followers weren’t wealthy, they were simply going to be redeemed by Rapp when they arrived. However, Rapp’s funds became tied up in various ways, and either those passengers became stuck on the ship until they were ransomed by Rapp, or they were sold into indentured servitude. Rapp was able to redeem at least some of the passengers, which is why we know who they were.

At least 13 adult Rappite followers, plus children, sailed on the Susanna Catharina in August. There may have been more whose names aren’t included in the article, George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of the Norwegian Migration to America by Karl Arndt.


Chris discovered a list of Separatists from both Beutelsbach and Schnait.

The list of Beutelsbach Separatists can be viewed here and Schnait here. Not all of the Separatists immigrated, only the ones noted in Germany by “Auswanderung.” By copying and pasting these links into the Chrome browser and translating, information is available in English.

The page indicates that from about 1680 to 1820, thousands of people separated from the church in Württemberg (until 1803 Duchy, then Electorate, since 1806 Kingdom) for religious reasons. Hence, they were called separatists. Since membership in the Lutheran church and regular attendance at the services and sacrament were compulsory, the separatists were interrogated and punished.

The names and biographical data of the Wurttemberg separatists and their co-thinkers in other dominions were collected from the files. The life data in brackets were determined by recalculation and should indicate the approximate age of the person.

Fundamental to the theme is the book by Eberhard Fritz: Radical Pietism in Württemberg. Religious ideals in conflict with social realities. Epfendorf 2003.

The source references refer to the following archives:

  • HStAS = Main State Archive Stuttgart
  • LB = State Archive Ludwigsburg
  • LKA = State Church Archive Stuttgart

I copied the Beutelsbach and Schnait families to an Excel spreadsheet, with the English translation, as follows:

I added color coding.

  • Yellow = immigrated in 1817. This may or may not have been on the Zee Ploeg, but 5 families were mentioned as being Rappites from Schnait, and there are 5 Separatist families listed as having left in 1817. Four are from Beutelsbach, but the two Lenz men could well have been born in Schnait. The villages are neighbors. Note that the Beutelsbach family page indicates that Ignaz Dobler immigrated to Russia.
  • Green = immigrated some other time. It’s worth noting that Jacob Hoffman and Margaretha Schillinger seem to be ringleaders, and both immigrated in 1818, along with Johann George Schwerdt, all going to Indiana. Both Jacob and Margaretha were on the Zee Ploeg and survived.
  • Red = Lentz or Lenz related family. Of these, two immigrated in 1817 from Beutelsbach, one went to Harmony, but we don’t know when and two went to Harmonie in 1804.

A more legible version of the above chart is available in the pdf file, Zee Ploeg Beutelsbach Schnait Families.

It’s evident from the number of red boxes that the Lenz family was heavily influenced by the Separatist movement. Even though Adam Ruhle and his wife weren’t listed as such, given that their daughter had married Jacob Lenz, and they lived in the same small village, the Ruhle family had clearly been exposed to this theology.

Who were these people?

  • Daniel Lenz born October 19, 1758 in Beutelsbach was the son of Daniel Lenz and Magdalena Kuhnle, the son of Daniel Lenz and Anna Katharina Lang, the son of Hans Lenz and Barbara Sing, an ancestor of the Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Daniel Lenz Married Katharina Grotz born May 9, 1760 in Schnait and who is listed as having died in America. Translated, that means she left Schnait. Four of their children, Anna Maria born in 1788, Christina Magdalena born in 1791, Johannes born in 1794 and Daniel born in 1802 are also listed as having died in America. Therefore, if Daniel was on the Zee Ploeg, he would have departed with a wife and 4 children. There was a Daniel with 3 children who arrived. It’s certainly possible that one child died on the ship.
  • Johannes Lenz born in 1794 is likely the son of Daniel, above. There was a Johannes on the Zee Ploeg.
  • Gottfried Lenz, unmarried, was born September 4, 1782, the son of Adam Lenz born in 1740 in Beutelshach and Elizabetha Lenz born in 1736 in Schnait. Adam was the son of Johann Adam Lenz and Maria Katharina Bauer who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Sibilla Muller, who was an ancestor of Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Elisabetha Lenz was the daughter of Hansjorg Lenz, of Schnait and Anna Barbara Kipler. Gottfried left for America in March of 1817, shortly after his last parent died, and nothing more of him is known. However his Lenz roots in both Beutelsbach and Schnait run deep. There is no Gottfried on the Zee Ploeg unless he is traveling as a member of another family.
  • Elisabetha Lenz born October 24, 1749 married Israel Stark in 1782. Their children were Johanna Margaretha born in 1788, Israel born in 1784 and immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie. Christian Stark, born in 1752 and who immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie was likely the brother of Israel and brother-in-law of Elizabetha. According to the Family Book, Elisabetha’s parents were Johann Jakob Lenz and Elisabetha Schmidin who married in 1756 in Beutelsbach. Johann Jakob’s parents were Hans Jakob Lenz and Anna Christina Jetzle, who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Anna Marit Vetterlin, the son of Georg Lenz who died in Beutelsbach and Barbara Kettler. There is a Johanna Stark listed on the Zee Ploeg.
  • I can’t tell who Johannes Lenz born in 1790 was. There is second Johannes Lenz on the Zee Ploeg.

The Separatists were not only Rappites, but anyone who separated from the traditional church. One has to wonder if people, both at home and onboard ship wondered if God indeed was punishing those who had left the church.

The Lenz family in Schnait seems to be full of rabble rousers, along with the Stark family perhaps. Given the circumstances, and their misbehaving ways, the rest of the community might well have been glad to see them depart. Dorothea Catharina Wolflin and her husband, Johann Adam Ruhle didn’t seem to be either Rappite or Separatist, nor was their daughter, Fredericka and her husband, Jacob Lenz, but they were, nonetheless, on that same ship.

Given the age of Dorothea’s two the adult sons, their unmarried state, and the fact that the Rappites were celibate, I wonder if the family was perhaps split in their beliefs. In America, after arriving in Ohio in 1829 or 1820, Jacob and Fredericka Lentz had become Brethren someplace along the way although not all of their children practiced the Brethren faith. Their eldest son, Jacob, did not and was Lutheran.

Dorothea’s son, Jacob Christian Breuning, born in 1783, so age 34, was single and left in August on the ship with the Rappites.

However, the Rappite theory doesn’t apply to Johann George Ruhle, born in 1794, who was age 23 and single. What do we know about Johann George Ruhle?

If he was a Rappite when he left Germany, he wasn’t by June.

Dorothea’s Son, Johann George Ruhle

We have multiple pieces of evidence that Johann George Ruhle survived, at least long enough to leave Bergen.

First, he’s listed as one of the children with Adam and Dorothea. Second, he is recorded as being in the hospital, by name.

Third, in a surprise twist of fate, a child by the name of Joseph Ruhle died on May the 27th and was buried the 31st.

That baby can’t belong to Dorothea and Adam, the only married Ruhle couple on the ship. Dorothea was 63 years old. The only other possibility is their son, Johann George Ruhle, but he isn’t married.

Or is he?

He wasn’t when he left Beutelsbach a year earlier.

We needed the baby’s baptism record.

Tom excavated the entry that states the child was baptized on February 27th, 1818.

Between Tom and Chris, the following information was pieced together.

“Son of Johann Georg Rühle og [and] Catharina Kochin, married in Bergen, Germans on the way to America.”

Adam Ruhle is one of godparents.

So, who was Catharina Kochin?

Sure enough, Tom found a marriage entry for Johann George Ruhle in Mariakirken parish as was the baptism.

The marriage took place on Feb. 8, 1818 and Johann George Ruhle is age 25.

“Johann Georg Rühle, vintner (vinedresser) from Wurttemberg. He plans to go to America. Catharina Kochin from Beutelsbach in Wurttemberg. [Witnesses] Gallus Stoll, butcher, Johann Melchior Fiedler [undecipherable], [married] in the church”

This Johann Melchior Fiedler could be identical or related to the “Johann Fidler,” who on January 8th filed suit together with Jacob Lentz against the ship’s captain.

Two things come to mind. They were married just two weeks after the terrible event of the Noah’s Ark breaking loose from the Zee Ploeg, drowning 75 people. Maybe they weren’t on that ship, or maybe that accident convinced them they should marry now and not wait until they arrived in America. Either way, they were both incredibly lucky to be alive.

Perhaps the baby wasn’t as fortunate. Born just 13 days later, the child could have been at least somewhat premature. He did live for 3 months, but weeks of his mother being starved and any other sort of health compromise could have contributed to or caused his death.

Dorothea’s son was married, and her grandchild was baptized in the Cross Church right around the corner from the hospital.

Little Joseph’s funeral was at St. Mary’s Church, a few blocks away.

The baby’s death was one more sadness and grief for our family on top of the rest.

For Dorothea, she didn’t just lose one grandchild, Elizabeth, who would have only been about three and a half and was buried at sea. A few weeks later, she lost her grandson by her son, born in Bergen – and that was AFTER managing to keep the baby’s pregnant mother alive and nourished for those miserable weeks on the sea.

I have to wonder if Dorothea gave some of her own food to her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Katharina, in order to save that baby. The baby who died anyway.

Who was Katharina Koch anyway?

Katharina Koch

The marriage record tells us that Katharina is from Beutelsbach, so she was clearly traveling with this group. An unmarried female would not have been traveling alone, even if she was 24 years old. She is not listed on the October survivor’s list by her own name, so she clearly was traveling with another family

Checking back with the Family Book, we discover a candidate to be Katharina.

This Katharina was born in 1793, so just a few months younger than Johann George Ruhle.

And look at who her mother is – one Anna Maria Ruhle, daughter of Michael Ruhle from Schnait and Anna Maria Vollmer. Michael would have been born no later than 1734, and possibly quite a bit earlier. We already know from Johann Adam Ruhle’s ancestry that a Michael Ruhle born in 1716 was born and died in Schnait and was married to Anna Barbara Lenz. These two families were quite intertwined.

Katherina Koch’s father had died in 1808, leaving her mother with children yet at home, including Katharina who would have been 15 when her father died.

Katharina’s mother died just three years after Katharina left for America.

As it turns out, Katharina Koch had an illegitimate child on January 16, 1815. The child died that same year. A second illegitimate child was born to her on September 22, 1816 and also died before year end. Katharina had certainly endured her fair share of heartbreak. In Bergen, her third child died.

A father was not listed in the birth record for either of her first two children. Tom indicates that a father would only be noted if he were present for the baptism and acknowledged that he was the father of the child.

Was Johann George Ruhle the father of her first two children? I’m guessing probably not, or he would have been present. Whatever the reason the father was absent, Katharina assuredly suffered from that humiliating situation, followed by the deaths of both children.

1816 was the year of drought, so it’s possible that her she was malnourished during that time, then starved at sea during her third pregnancy.

Regardless of the reason, by the time that her extended family was pondering leaving Beutelsbach, she had buried two babies in two years, had no husband and leaving for a new opportunity probably sounded like a fine idea to Katharina. We’ll never know if she left because she was romantically involved with Johann George Ruhle in Beutelsbach, or whether they became involved while traveling up the Rhine. If their son born in February was born full term, she would have gotten pregnant sometime between June 2nd and June 10th while the family was searching in Amsterdam for a ship to transport them to America.

Perhaps Johann George Ruhle and Katharina Koch had already decided to marry before leaving or in route. Perhaps by the time she discovered she was pregnant, the oceangoing portion of the trip was already underway and it was too late to marry. In fact, marriage was probably the last thing on her mind. Death would have been front and center – every single minute of every single day. Johann George was likely her only comfort and she was probably entirely convinced that both she and her unborn child would die in his arms. The fact that she actually managed to carry that baby to at least near-term is utterly amazing – considering what that young woman went through.

The Next Journey

Having said goodbye to their friends in Bergen, and certainly not without some amount of trepidation at boarding another ship, on October 7th, 1818, the 273 remaining German passengers climbed aboard the ship Prima, captained by Jacob Woxvold, and set sail for yet the fifth time for America.

The ship’s original goal was Philadelphia, but once again, Mother Nature got in the way, and they arrived in Baltimore on January 1, according to Jacob Lentz’s letter.

On May 4th, 1819, a few months after the Prima’s arrival earlier that year in January, another Harmonite letter tells of yet another near catastrophe. These ships carrying Jacob and Fredericka seem jinxed. I can only imagine their unrelenting, horrific fear as they were once again endangered on the sea, seemingly sure to perish.

This letter reports that the group passed through a violent hurricane that threatened to capsize their ship.

No, no, not again!

We find additional information about this journey in a paper written by Ingrid Semmingsen titled “Haugeans, Rappites and the Immigration of 1825,” published in “Norwegian-American Studies, Volume 29” in 1983. Semmingsen discussed the voyage of the Prima:

The Norwegian government had advanced 1,300 pounds toward their transportation which it hoped would be refunded when the ship reached an American port. The full cost of transportation ran to 2,200 pounds and the difference was arranged for by a naturalized German in Kristiana named Grunning.  More is known about this second crossing.

One of the crew of the Prima, presumably one of the officers if not the captain himself, wrote an account of the journey which was published in a Norwegian newspaper in 1826. He reported that there were 2 Catholic families among the passengers and the rest were Lutherans.

The people were described as religiously-minded, virtuous, and, considering their social class, well-bred. All of them had prayer books. Every morning and evening they prayed to God in a solemn and touching manner and sang hymns in clear, pure voices.

Before retiring they entertained themselves with song, dance, music, and games. On occasion they also passed the cup of friendship among themselves.

Skipper Woxland chose the southern route. This was undoubtedly wise considering the lateness of the season when he set sail. He took the Prima south to the coast of Portugal so as to utilize the trade winds, and it paid off. “With the never-failing dominance of this wind” they reached the West Indies, but there they ran into trouble. They had to fight a raging storm, the shipowner reported to the government, and they had to dock in Baltimore instead of in Philadelphia, which was their real destination.

But according to the report the ship, crew, and passengers were well received. A committee was appointed by the citizens, which consisted partly of fellow-countrymen of the newcomers. They brought food aboard the ship and also raised money to help defray travel expenses.

Furthermore, arrangements were made to secure employment or land for the emigrants. Everything was managed “in the best of order” to everyone’s satisfaction.

Only the leave-taking with the skipper and the crew was a sad experience for the emigrants. Many of them had learned to speak Norwegian during the long stay in Bergen, and they promised that they would never forget dear Norway or “the kindly disposed citizens of Bergen.”

Not all the passengers were as favorably impressed by their reception in America as this report would imply — at least not four persons who were bound for Harmony and who, a few months later, sent a letter from Philadelphia to “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in God’s congregation in Bergen.”

To be sure, they praised the skipper and crew who, with God’s help, exerted themselves to the uttermost in order to save ship and passengers when a “terrible storm” almost caused the ship to capsize; but they were dissatisfied with Harmony, which had not “given orders to redeem us.” They also had encountered trouble with getting their passage paid for, and they were forced to seek release from paying the big bill “charged against us for the care we received in Bergen.” Clearly, the emigrants also had to work as indentured servants. “Then we were sold for the passage money: one down south, another up north; only four of us are here together, the others are scattered.”

However, they continue, “America is a good country. Poor people live better here than the wealthy ones in Bergen and Germany. Wages are good. While we are in service, we are given good food and clothing and we have many free periods. We hope that we will soon earn our freedom and then be gathered together as one congregation.”

This account is interesting, especially in light of the following article dated January 20, 1818 from the Brooklyn, New York, Long Island Star, page 3.

In retrospect, it‘s difficult to discern if this article is actually suggesting that the ship docked on Long Island in New York, the area near where the Hamptons are located today, or if it is actually reflecting the region still known as Hampton Roads which is in the North Carolina/Virginia region of the Chesapeake.

If the ship arrived on the 5th instant, that means the ship arrived on January 5th in that vicinity.

On the map below, Hampton Roads, or at least the area considered such today, is shown with the red pin.

The ship did not arrive at the original destination of Philadelphia, but instead docked in Baltimore. The article was reported in the Long Island paper, further north yet.

Given the commentary about their reception in Baltimore, and that “a committee was appointed by the citizens,” I wonder if there are any newspaper accounts or perhaps court notes in Baltimore that would provide additional information. I would surely love to find the indentured servant auction notes as they would provide us with the next chapter in Dorothea’s life – if she was still alive. And if not, her death would be confirmed and we could follow her family forward.

This view of Baltimore, painted just a few years before the family arrived probably looked quite similar to the landscape that greeted them – and terra firma had never looked better!

What Happened to Dorothea?

I sure wish I knew the answer to that question.

The last we truly know of Dorothea was on October 10th or 13th in Bergen where she, as Adam’s wife, was listed as present. She is absent on the hospital list, but not listed in the burial records.

The passenger letter indicates that several people drown on the Noah’s Ark, but Professor Simmingen in her paper states that all of the Germans were housed in the city before that time. However, it’s also speculated that Semmingen did not utilize the 107-page protocol from the Bergen City archives, as that document is never mentioned. It may have not yet been discovered at the time she wrote her article.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that the letter-writer would or could make up something as outrageous as the Noah’s Ark tragedy out of thin air. Perhaps both versions of the story are true, and the Germans had been removed temporarily in December into the city of Bergen while the Noah’s Ark was being tethered to the Zee Ploeg, with the accident happening in January as stated. The letter writer did state that he was “just on the Aark Noa to visit the new rooms of the immigrants” that had been created for the German families. It seems logical that the Zee Ploeg was uninhabitable by that point in time, given the extent of the damage incurred, and that in December of 1818, the ship was sold for scrap.

I am hopeful that one day, we’ll perhaps be able to locate Dorothea and maybe even Johann Adam Ruhle in the 1820 census. However, it’s likely that the entire family was indentured at that time, although if we could figure out who they were indentured to, our family is likely listed with them.

Barring indenture purchase records surfacing, or perhaps a baptism record of Johann Adam Lentz (Lenz), presumably someplace near Shippensburg, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania about August 30, 1819, it’s unlikely that we’ll reveal where the Ruhle and Lentz families spent the next decade – meaning of course that we won’t discover what happened to Dorothea.

Shippensburg spans the counties of Cumberland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. As much as I hate to replow fields, I need to review the records in both counties for Reuhl/Ruhle/Ruhl as well as Breuning records on the off chance that Dorothea’s oldest son had second thoughts about Rappite life.

Additionally, Fredericka’s sister, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, if she survived, would have been the right age to marry by 1820. If they were in Shippensburg at that time, a trace might be left, if not of Dorothea directly, then perhaps through her children.

Jacob Lentz and Fredericka had a child in Pennsylvania in 1829, and according to a newspaper article about their eldest son, moved to Montgomery County, Ohio in 1829. They are not found in the census in 1830 and could have been in transit or living with another family while they got established.

By 1830, Dorothea, if still living would have been 75 years old. Not impossible that she would be living, of course, but also not terribly likely either. If living, she would likely have been residing with a child.

Dorothea simply dissolves into the mists of time.

Regardless of how or where Dorothea died, she truly lived a remarkable life and survived an unprecedented tragedy. Actually, multiple tragedies.

I was blessed to trace Dorothea’s steps, in person, in Bergen, and narrated that journey from the perspective of Dorothea’s son-in-law, Jacob Lentz.

One thing is for certain, Dorothea was not the typical peasant girl from the tiny village of Beutelsbach. Forged, iron to steel, Dorothea survived against all odds.


Footnote of passenger letter transcription in German, courtesy of Chris:

Transcription of letter from a Zee Ploeg passenger in Bergen back to Germany (in: “Zeitung für die elegante Welt”, 15/16 May 1818, pp. 740-742 and 745-748):

Unglückliche Fahrt der holländischen Fregatte d`Zeeploeg

                                                                                 Bergen in Norwegen, den 23. Februar 1818.

Das Versprechen, welches ich Ihnen in Amsterdam v. J. [vorigen Jahres] gab, aus Nordamerika Ihnen einige Berichte sowohl über die dasige Landessitte, als auch von dem Leben und Schicksale der deutschen Auswand`rer, und über meine Seereise zu geben, kann ich nicht in Erfüllung bringen, denn dem Höchsten hat`s – gefallen, meinem Plane, nach Amerika zu kommen, entgegen zu seyn. Ich will Ihnen hiernach so viel als möglich unser Unglück beschreiben, nur weiß ich nicht recht, wo anfangen, und wo die Farben hernehmen, um unser Unglück und den Jammer des Passagiers treulich genug entwerfen zu können. Denn der unglückliche Zufall, welcher uns auf dieser Reise durch das Verlieren unserer Masten überfiel, war in jedem Falle schrecklich; 28 Tage lang schwebten wir in Todesangst umher, keine Rettung schien uns mehr möglich, Tod und Verderben drohte uns auf allen Seiten, und Verzweiflung hätte beinahe auf der hohen See die Auswand`rer ergriffen, wenn nicht Religion und Hoffnung die Stütze gewesen wären, worauf sich unsere Selbsterhaltung gegründet hätte.

            Nach 2 Monat langen Rasttagen verließ ich den 10. Juli 1817 Abends 7 Uhr mit einigen württembergischen Familien, Hrn. Heinrich Diezel, Kaufmann von Lahr im Breisgau, und mit den besten Zeugnissen von Amsterdam nach Philadelphia ausgerüstet, den Hafen von Amsterdam, um uns im Texel and Bord der Fregatte d`Zeeploeg zu begeben, und damit die Reise nach Amerika anzutreten, allein die Ebbe hinderte uns, die Rhede zu verlassen, und so konnten wir uns erst Nachts 12 Uhr flott machen. Den 11. Abends 10 ½ Uhr trafen wir auch glücklich da ein. Die Aufnahme, welche mir der Schiffskapitän H.E. Manzelmann wiederfahren ließ, war mit aller Humanität und Gastfreiheit verbunden.

            Unser Schiffspersonale bestand aus dem Kapitän, dem Obersteuermanne, dem Untersteuermanne, dem Schiffschirurgen, 3 Passagieren in der Kajütte, 30 Schiffsmatrosen, und vielen Passagieren, männlichen und weiblichen Geschlechts, alle aus dem Württembergischen.

            Der Wind war uns immer ungünstig, zwar wurden einigemal die Anker gelichtet, aber kaum hatten sich die Segel entfaltet, als uns Sturm und widrige Winde überfielen und die Anker wieder fallen mußten, der Himmel schien uns immer ungünstig, und so dauerte es bis den 5. August. Nachmittags 4 Uhr verließen wird unter Begünstigung eines guten Nordostwindes die Rhede im Texel, um 5 Uhr waren wir an der Mündung, wo unser Schiff durch eine schiefe Richtung in augenblickliche Gefahr zu stranden gerieth, die Bewohner des Helders waren schon beschäftigt, die am Ufer sich befindenden Kähne auf`s Wasser zu bringen, um uns damit zu Hülfe zu eilen, als wir plötzlich durch eine geschickte Wendung gerettet und vor Anker gebracht wurden; wir blieben jedoch nicht lange in dieser peinlichen Lage, denn um 6 Uhr passirten wir glücklich die gefährlichen Stellen, welche wirklich Grausen und Schrecken erregen, und mit gefüllten Segeln steuerten wir die Nacht durch, unserer Bestimmung glücklich entgegen.

Den 9. Aug. waren wir schon im Angesichte der englischen Küste, und kein Hinderniß schien uns mehr im Wege zu seyn, den Kanal zu erreichen, allein der Südwestwind, welcher bald in Sturm ausartete, nöthigte uns den 10. Morgens 1 Uhr zum Rückzug, und so lavirten wir, mit den Elementen kämpfend, auf eine angstvolle Weise die Nordsee links und rechts durch. Die Resultate unserer 17tägigen Seereise waren also, daß wir den 16. Abends in der Nordsee, vor der Mündung des Texels, die Anker werfen mußten, und den 17. Morgens 6 Uhr wieder auf der Rhede vom Texel vor Anker lagen, und nicht voraussehen konnten, wenn [wann] wir die Station wiederverlassen könnten, indem wir uns frisch verproviantieren mußten. Jedoch am 24. Aug. Morgens 3 Uhr wurden die Anker neuerdings gelichtet, um die Rhede zu verlassen, nachdem wir den 23. Abends 9 Uhr durch 2 Lichterschiffe mit Proviant verstärkt wurden. Ein günstiger Nordost[wind] füllte unsere Segel, und um 6 ½ Uhr hatten wir schon die gefährlichsten Stellen der Mündung passirt, ein heit`rer Himmel wirkte wohlthätig auf die Gemüther der Emigranten, alles war froher Laune, ein jeder schien neu belebt, und mit ruhigem Herzen sahen wir getrost einer bessern Zukunft entgegen, allein nur zu bald wurden wir in unserm Laufe unterbrochen, denn am 26. Morgens 11 Uhr drehte sich der Wind wieder nach Süden hin, so daß wir in den Kanal nicht eingehen konnten, sondern um ganz England herum segeln mußten. Den 27. Morgens 8 Uhr bekamen wir die Küste von Norwegen zu Gesicht, und den 29. jene von Schottland. Die arkadischen Inseln boten uns einen schönen Anblick dar. Bis dahin hatten wir noch immer gutes Wetter.

                        [here end of first part]

Den 31. August segelten wir mit einem günstigen Winde in`s Weltmeer, aber dieser uns günstige Wind dauerte kaum 24 Stunden, als wir von conträrem Winde und schwerem Sturme überfallen wurden, wlecher bis den 4. Immer schrecklich wüthete, da artete der Sturm zu einem fürchterlichen Orkane aus; nicht zu beschreiben ist`s, wie unser schweres Schiff von den Wellen Thürme hoch in die Luft, und wieder bis in den Abgrund des Meeres geschleudert wurde; Leute fielen von der allzustarken Bewegung über Bord, und ertranken, aber welcher Schrecken stand uns noch bevor, den 5. August Abends halb 6 Uhr brach der Kleverbaum. Mit aller Mühe hatten die Matrosen diesen kaum fertig, als um 6 Uhr der große Mast mit dem Pram-Maste vom zu starken Winde und der hohen See, die überschlug, über Bord fielen. Ein jeder bemühte sich nun, so gut er konnte, mit dem Abhauen des Tauwerks, um glücklich die Masten vom Schiffe los zu werden. Nun waren wir noch froh, einen Mast behalten zu haben, aber halb 7 Uhr brach auch der Fockmast und um 7 Uhr der Bogspriet, und so fanden wir uns nun ohne alles, was dem Schiffe sonst seine Haltung gibt. Die See schlug von hinten die Kajütten-Fenster entzwei, so daß das Wasser stromweise bei uns einlief, welches jedoch bald wieder gestillt wurde.

Nun trieben wir ohne Masten in der hohen See, auf allen Seiten über 300 Meilen vom festen Lande entfernt. Um 2 Uhr in der Nacht brachen Bote und Schaluppen los, (die auf dem Verdecke angebracht waren) man sah` sich gezwungen, diese, nebst den Wasserfässern, Speck- und Fleischtonnen über Bord zu werfen. Die Kanonen von der allzuheftigen Bewegung des Schiffes los geworden, rollten nun auch über`s Verdeck, und schlugen die Lucken entzwei, so daß das Wasser nun auch zu den Passagiers herunterschoß. Drei bis vier Fuß hoch stand das Wasser in den Betten der Emigratnen, wir glaubten alle, daß diese unsere letzte Nacht seyn würde, und es war ein Elend anzusehen, wie ein Matrose den andern auf dem Rücken in die Kajütte trug, ihn niederlegt, und dann wieder zur Arbeit ging, denn beinahe alle Matrosen waren blessirt, einer hatte den Arm, der andere ein Bein gebrochen, dem hatte ein Wasserfaß, das über`s Verdeck rollte, die Füße gequetsche, nur noch 5 zur Arbeit taugliche Matrosen hatten wir, deswegen mußten wir mit arbeiten. Ich war gerade auf dem Verdecke, als die hohe See das Schiff niederschlug, und wir alle im Wasser lagen, nur weil ich mich gewaltig an einem Taue fest hielt, blieb ich noch am Leben, sonst hätte mich die See mit weggespült. Zwei Matrosen und sechs Passagiere verloren dabei das Leben, und so hatten wir immer den Tod vor Augen. Der Kapitän und die Steuerleute, welche auch blessirt waren, und die Matrosen gaben alle Hoffnung auf. Den 10. Setzten wir ein Stück Holz auf, welches uns zum Maste dienen mußte, um doch wenigstens ein Segel zu haben und langsam dem festen Lande, so Gott wollte, zuzusteuern.

            Den 13. Septbr. [September] thaten wir den ersten Nothschuß, aber Niemand auf der hohen See kam uns zu Hülfe; trostlos mußten wir weiter steuern. Bis Abends 11 ¾ Uhr bekamen wir die Insel von Ferro [Färöan Islands?] zu Gesicht. Wir thaten des andern Morgens früh mehrere Schüsse, aber vergebens. Ohne einen Lootsmann am Schiffe zu haben durften wir nicht einlaufen. An`s Land konnten wir nicht fahren, denn wir hatten keine kleinen Fahrzeuge mehr; alles, alles hatten wir verloren. Hier hofften wir endlich in den Hafen einzulaufen. Doch nein! Ein neuer Sturm von Südwest schleuderte uns zurück in ein klippenvolles Meer, und so trieben wir noch 14 Tage umher, bis wird den 29. Sept. Nachmittags 2 Uhr die nördlichste Küste von Norwegen erblickten. Der Wind war uns günstig, um längst der Küste vorbeizusegeln; wir thaten immer Schüsse, aber Niemand kam zu uns. Der Schoppen Wasser wurde auf unserm Schiffe für 4-5 Stbr. Holländisch [some kind of currency] verkauft, 2 Pfund Brot bekamen die Emigranten für die Woche, seitdem wir die Masten verloren hatten, bis wir, Gott Dank, den 4. October, einen Fischer erblickten, welcher auf uns zufuhr, und uns zwischen die Gebirge von Norwegen einlotsete, und des Abends 9 Uhr zwischen mächtig hohen Gebirgen an Seillanger, 10 Meilen von Bergen in Norwegen, vor Anker brachte. Hier mußten wir 8 Tage Quarantaine halten, weil die norwegische Regierung befürchtete, wir würden eine ansteckende Krankheit in`s Land bringen, jedoch den 8. Tag wurden wir von der Quarantaine befreit und bogsierten der Stadt zu, wo wir den 13. Oct. In der Nacht halb 12 Uhr in Sandwigen [probably Sandviken], 1 Viertelstunde von Bergen, die Anker warfen. Das Schiffspersonal ist krank, sowohl Matrosen als Passagiers, auch ich habe schon eine schwere Krankheit ausstehen müssen, und wäre wahrscheinlich ein Raub des Todes geworden, wenn nicht die rechtschaffene deutsche Familie des Kapitän Christ. Petersen, von Hamburg gebürtig, sich meiner angenommen und mich verpflegt hätte; 2 Monate mußte ich das Bett hüten, jedoch befinde ich mich jetzt ziemlich wohl. Wahrlich, Deutschland hat gute Menschen! Bei dieser Familie befinde ich mich jetzt glücklich. Sie bieten mit deutscher Herzlichkeit alles auf, was sie dazu beitragen können, um mir den Aufenthalt angenehm zu machen. Diese Familie muß man lieben, als ein echtes Bild biederherziger Vorältern.

            Weil ich nicht recht weiß, unser Unglück treulich und fürchterlich genug zu schildern, so bemerke ich blos nachstehende Punkte, welche am schrecklichsten waren.

            1) Der unglückliche Zufall unseres Mastenverlierens war in jedem Falle schrecklich.

            2) Hörte man das fürchterliche Geschrei während des Abhauens der Masten, in der Kajütte von den blessirten Matrosen, auf dem Verdecke von Kapitän und Steuerleuten. Unter dem Verdecke das Angstgeschrei der armen Passagiers, zu denen das Wasser schon 3-4 Fuß hoch in`s Schiff gedrungen war, und schrecklich war das Zischen der hohen See, welche Thürme hoch über uns her schlug.

            3) Das Hungern der armen Passagiers (weil man wegen des allzugroßen Sturmes keinen Proviant aus dem Raume holen konnte), woran sehr viele kleine Kinder starben. In 4-5 Tagen bekamen wir nichts zu essen noch zu trinken.

            4) Bei unserm Ankommen in Bergen wurden die Passagiers auf ein anderes Fahrzeug auch ohne Masten, welches an der Fregatte Zeeploeg festgebunden war, verlegt. Ein fürchterlicher Sturm wüthete den 14. Januar aus Nordwest, welcher das Fahrzeug von der Fregatte fortriß, und so die unglücklichen Passagiers nach der See zu hintrieb. Ich war gerade auf der „Aark Noa“ (so nannte man das kleine Fahrzeug), um das neue Quartier der Emigranten zu besuchen, als wir forttrieben. Große Bote und Schaluppen wurden uns nachgesandt, allein zu spät uns alle zu retten. Das Schiff kam auf eine Klippe, woran es scheiterte; ich selbst that einen Sprung auf Leben oder Tod nach einem kleinen Fahrzeuge schon halb voll Wasser, welches sich uns näherte, 8-10 Fuß weit in die See, um mich zu retten, und dieser gräßliche Sprung gelang mir. Von 200 Passagiers, die gerade am Bord waren, ertranken 75. Acht Tage nachher starben 20 vor Schrecken; die übrigen waren alle krank.

            Auf der Reise von Amsterdam bis Bergen starben: 150 Passagiers.

            Mit der hohen See von Bord weggespült: 6 Passagiers und 2 Matr. [Matrosen]

            Verunglückt mit der „Aark Noa“ in Bergen: 95 Passagiers_________________

                                                                                       251 Passagiers



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Norwegian Cultural Gems – Burial Practices, Cemeteries, Heritage Clothing and Family Traditions

I must say, I’ve never had such an enjoyable airport bus ride before. Unfortunately, based on my flight time, I was boarding a bus at my Oslo hotel before 5 AM for the hour ride to the airport. Oslo was deserted.

I sat in the front seat, as I tend to suffer from motion sickness. The bus had one, count ‘em, one other rider. I intended to sleep.

The driver must have been bored out of his mind, as he pulled up to stop after stop with no one waiting. He asked me what brought me to Oslo.

“A genealogy conference,” I replied, and he told me that his aunt had done their family genealogy and was watching some “special” on her computer all weekend. Yep, you guessed it, she was watching the MyHeritage LIVE conference.

As we drove through the Norwegian night, he explained a great deal about their family customs and in particular, funerary culture.

Burial Traditions

His family had lived in Oslo for generations, as long as the records reached back in time. They used to own land in the city center, being wealthy merchants and traders. As such, they bought a “row” of 10 cemetery plots generations ago.

I asked where the current generation would be buried because, given how long his family had owned their row, surely it was full by now.

That’s when my education began.

Triple-Bunk Burials

First, he told me that they bury people 3 deep, stacked one on top of the other.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s interesting,” – wondering silently about how deep that bottom person needs to be planted. I asked about concrete vaults and he said they don’t use them in Norway. He asked why we’d want to. I’ve wondered the same thing myself, many times.

Of course, I’m pondering the logistics of how this triple-bunking works, but they’ve had generations to perfect the details.

Then, I wondered whose name is on the gravestone? Or is there a gravestone? He explained, “With each new person buried, another name gets added to the stone.”

He told me that his parents are divorced, but when his mother’s “time comes” they will bury her in the family “row,” but not on top of Dad. Neither one of them would like that. “No, no!” he reiterated, shaking his head vigorously. I’m sure there’s a story there.

Next, I asked when their 30 “slots” would be full and what happens then?

Recycled Graves 

“Well,” he replied, “then we dig up everyone and start all over, reusing the entire grave.”

What? How would they know that the top person was “ready.”

He indicated that they have special probes and they poke around in the grave to be sure the casket and body are sufficiently decayed.

Ok, that took a moment to sink in. I was trying desperately not to see visuals of this at 5 in the morning and couldn’t help but think of bad puns.

Hmm, OK, that makes sense – but that would take a long time. I looked into decay rates when I was considering exhuming my father and discovered that after 50 years, the skin has started to decay – but then, that’s with embalming. Maybe these people weren’t embalmed.

I asked how long they wait before using the entire gravesite again.

Expecting to hear an answer something like 50 or 100 years, I was shocked when he said “10 years.”

So I asked, “What do they do with the bones?”

“There aren’t any bones.”

I decided to spare him the morbidity of the decay rate study I read and the archaeology digs I’ve been a part of. Clearly, there are some bones that survive for hundreds of years.

“What if there are bones?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they have ossuaries in Norway for any remaining bones to continue returning to dust?”

“What’s an ossuary?”

Thinking that maybe translation was an issue, since ossuary isn’t a common word, I explained that an ossuary is a little house in the cemetery for the bones to be housed in, similar in size to a shed, while they finished decaying. 

“No, he said, nothing like that.”

The Honor of Payment

He paused for a few minutes to pull over at the next stop, then said that the honor of paying goes to the oldest son.

“Paying? For what?”

“For the graves?”

“For maintenance?”

“No, the cemetery takes care of mowing the grass. It’s so that no one else can be buried in the grave.”

“But your family bought the land?”

“Yes, but if we don’t pay every year, someone else will be buried in the grave.”

“How soon?”

“Whenever we no longer pay, unless the entire plot is full, and then it’s as soon as the top grave is decayed so they can dig them all up and reuse the spot.”

“What happens to the headstones if someone else is buried on top that isn’t a family member?”

“The old headstone is removed.”

“Thrown away?”

“No, moved to a different location in the cemetery. The person who keeps the books can tell you where it is.”

“So your ancestors could be in graves 1 and 2 of the triple-bunk graves, then no one pays the annual bill so a non-family-member is buried in the top grave. Your family stone is removed and only the top person has a stone, but your ancestors are still actually buried there, even though the stone has been removed? What happens then?”

“If the family of the third (top) person pays the annual fee, the grave won’t be used for at least 10 years, and maybe not after that if they continue to pay.”

“When they stop paying?”

“Then all 3 graves get dug up and someone else is buried there.”


“Are people cremated in Norway?”

“Sometimes. It’s not very popular, but it’s gaining popularity now. Sometimes they create small rows in cemeteries, or you can bury the cremated remains in your own row if you have one. But it’s not traditional.”

“Do they cremate people here because of cost?”

“I don’t know. A full funeral with a visitation costs about 2500.” (US)

“Wow, that’s at least 4 times less expensive than in the US.”

He paused as we rounded a corner.

Gallows Hill

“See that church in the distance? That’s called Gallows Hill. In the dark ages, when someone was hung, everyone from the city came and sat on the hill, looking up, watching the top where the person would be hung, near the church. The actual place of execution is gone today, but it’s still called Gallows Hill.”

I love old cities.

We drove on, stopping at another stop with no people waiting. He had to wait a minute or two, just in case, so he pointed to the right, into the inky night.

Grave Candles

“See those tiny lights flickering over there?”

I squinted.


“Those are candles in the cemetery, on the graves.”

“Candles? It’s 5 AM.”

“Yes, people leave them to honor their family and ancestors and almost anytime you can see candles burning.”

I saw quite a few, and it was a weekday early morning.

“At Christmas, people decorate the graves and everyone lights candles. The cemetery is lit up beautifully and if it snows, it’s incredibly scenic with an otherworldly glow. I can’t explain it.”

You can read more about candles in Norway, here. Norwegians love candles. You view photos here.

“How do the flames keep from being extinguished?”

“There are special kinds of long-burning candles, but some people just use regular candles. There’s no electricity in the cemetery, of course.”

“Does your family do that?”

“Yes. Several of my siblings and myself don’t believe in religion, but we still all go to church together as a family on Christmas Day. We wear our traditional Norwegian folk costumes. Afterwards, we all go to the cemetery to visit the ancestors. For those people we knew, we light candles, and sometimes we light candles on all of the 10 spaces.”

Birthday Celebrations in the Cemetery

“When it’s warm, we go on their birthday and have coffee and crackers (cookies) and sit round, laugh and reminisce fondly. It’s a celebration. When it’s cold, we don’t stay so long.”

“So, it’s a happy time. No tears?”

“Well, it can sometimes be sad too, but we are together. Often we stay a couple hours and talk about the person, remembering their life. My grandfather, he was the best, most honorable man on earth. I miss him but I like spending time at his grave.”

I reflected on this lovely custom for a few minutes. 

“I like that your culture views it as an honor to be selected to pay for the plots, and not a burden.”

“We have other similar traditions.”

Inheritance of Heirlooms

“In my family, a hand-made clock always goes to the eldest son before he is age 30. It has never been owned by a woman. That clock, when my parents were getting divorced, it was sad.”


“Yes, sad. We knew because it lost 8 minutes every night. When the divorce was over, it recovered and never lost time anymore. 

Specific antique chairs go to the second eldest child, whether male or female.  That’s me!” and he smiles broadly.

“Another heirloom goes to the oldest living family member. In my case, when my Dad dies, that will be my aunt, if she is still living then.

An ax gets passed to someone, although who gets it is always a surprise, along with the story of who owned the ax and the legend of the ax. It was used by my ancestor to clear the trees for Oslo.”

“Was he a Viking?”


He smiles.

Traditional Clothing

“Sometimes our traditional costumes get passed down too. They are very, very expensive, costing several thousands of dollars.” (US)

So, I thought, funerals are cheap by comparison and traditional costumes (called Bunads) are more expensive than funerals, beginning at about $3000 (US).

“Tell me about the costumes.”

“Every person in Norway is either supposed to purchase a traditional costume, their parents purchase the costume, or it’s made or bequeathed to you by a family member. Each village and region has their own style, and you’re supposed to make a traditional style that connects you with where your ancestors were from. There is traditional jewelry that goes along with them too.

See that store over there? They specialize in traditional costumes, but the costumes are very expensive no matter where you purchase them.”

“When do you wear them?”

“I ordered mine for a friend’s wedding, because I needed it quickly. No time to have it made. I also grew a celebration mustache for having my niece baptized last weekend. I wore my costume then too. We wear the costumes for special occasions like that, National days of celebration plus holidays sometimes. When we want to dress up. It’s our finest, most proud clothing and reflects the unique culture of where our ancestors were born, no matter where we live today. Some people can identify your family place of birth by looking at your costume. It’s our way of wearing our heritage.”

Here’s an example of a girl from the fjord near Hardanger, with beautiful traditional Hardanger embroidery on her apron.

Arvind (அரவிந்தன்) – Self-photographed

If you’d like to view some lovely Norwegian heritage clothes, click here and then click on the front, back and side views.

Culture of Tradition 

I so enjoyed his family stories and was so grateful that he chose to enlighten a stranger on his bus in the middle of the night.

These traditions may not be shared by all families, but certainly, they provide a perspective of life in Scandinavia in a family that still values and cherishes their ancestors and family customs.

And yes, I did ask if he had DNA tested and he said that his brother and aunt had both tested, and they were mostly Scandinavian. He was wondering why they were ethnically anything else, which is highly ironic since many of us have been trying to figure out for years why we are Scandinavian.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my bus ride. I surely did!



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