Barbara Jean Ferverda “Bouché”: The Dancing Years – 52 Ancestors #220

As a grandparent, I love attending my granddaughters’ dance and theater performances. Every time, I think of mother and miss her. At every single performance, as I sit in the dark as the lights drop, before the program begins, I ponder how much mother would have loved to see her granddaughters’ perform. How proud she would be. I touch her ring that I always wear, bringing her with me, as much as I can.

My eldest granddaughter performed this fall in “The Music Man” at the local college. I see my mother clearly in her face.

My youngest granddaughter danced in “The Nutcracker” this year. She shares mother’s zest for life.

They sing, they dance, they play the piano beautifully. They didn’t get that from me.

It came directly from my mother, a woman they would never get to meet. But boy, would she ever be proud of them.

Girls, I’d like to introduce you to your great-grandmother. Long before she was a great-grandmother (although she was always a great grandmother😊), she was a grandmother and before that a mother and before that, a beautiful young woman with aspirations, just like you.

Like you, she was beautiful, both in body and soul, and it showed through her entire life in her every action. She was a glowing presence, leaving no one’s heart untouched. She saved lives, changed lives and loved deeply. She perfected dance, and through it she learned, inspired and taught. Dance changed her life, propelling her into an uncertain, amazing, terrifying future.

I’d like for you to meet that incredible woman, that hard-working professional dancer.

Mom danced tap and ballet in a modern style for the 1930s and 1940s when she was performing. She also sang beautifully and played the piano.

She began with local dance lessons and danced in recitals, just like you.

I think you’ll like her. Get a cup of tea and pull up your iPads, because hers is quite an incredible story that we’re about to unfold.

Silver Lake, Indiana

This older black and white picture of the house where Mom was born looks somewhat bleak, but the house still stands today. The porch has been enclosed and everything looks better in color and drenched in sunlight. Mom’s bedroom was upstairs in the little roof area that you can see extending over the porch.

Now, don’t laugh, but Mom’s childhood home is a funeral home today. Mom avoided all funerals held here. She just didn’t think she could deal with that.

Mom was born and raised in Silver Lake, Indiana back in 1922 when people used horses and buggies to get from place to place and cars were rare.

Mom began dancing about 1932 after a long painful bout with rheumatic fever, a disease that damaged her heart. She was 10 years old, exactly the age of my youngest granddaughter.

Mother spent months recovering and told me stories about how the weight of her own arms hurt her so badly she couldn’t stand the pain – or stand up. Her father carried her up and down the stairs and laid her on the couch. Her lifelong love of books began with him reading to her for hours to distract her through the characters in the book from her all-too-present unrelenting pain.

Physical therapy didn’t exist at the time, so dancing was suggested by her doctor to strengthen her heart after she recovered. Of course, dancing was vorbotten by the conservative churches in Silver Lake – but mother danced anyway. After all, it was for her health, not her enjoyment.

Dancing apparently worked. Mom lived another 73 years, until 2006 when she passed away at 83 years of age, still carrying the scars of that childhood disease but it did not defeat nor define her. Neither did the conservative churches nor the wagging tongues of the church women. Even her Brethren grandmother, Evaline Miller Ferverda who helped care for mother during the long months of her illness relented and approved.

Mom danced for years, studying with Violet Reinwald in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a nationally known dance instructor and performer. As mom got older, she began teaching and then performing professionally with Violet’s dance company. They toured northern Indiana, performing in theaters and in colleges. Her mother, Edith Lore Ferverda often played the piano and accompanied the performers.

Marriage, WWII and Divorce

Mom’s life took shape in another way, marked by WWII, graduation from high school, a marriage to her high school sweetheart, Dan Bucher, a child and divorce. All of those things happened quickly, in 1942 and 1943. Mom was all of 19 and 20 years old.

Mother and my brother John lived with her parents as she waited for her husband to return from WWII, but that marriage was destined to dissolve before he ever came home. Let’s just say that he wasn’t ready to settle down.

Divorced with a baby, Mom had to earn more than she could in tiny Silver Lake teaching dancing. There weren’t many options in a farming crossroads town – actually – there weren’t any options.

The divorce decree called for Dan to pay $4 per week child support, and no one could live on that and support a child as well.

The closest big city that sported a professional dance troupe – the only thing Mom knew how to do – was Chicago. Mom told me many years later that dancing, let alone dancing in Chicago far from her family wasn’t at all what she wanted to do. But she had no choice.

Mom wanted to go to school and become a bookkeeper, but her family didn’t believe in spending money on educating a female. Her brother, on the other hand, was sent to college to become a chemist. Besides, they had already spent all that money on dance lessons. So dance is what she did. And how!

Mom always made lemonade out of whatever lemons life served up.

Off to Chicago

Wearing an old borrowed fur coat and a hat made out of a muff, Mom traveled to Chicago with fingers crossed to audition for the Dorothy Hild Dancers.

Mother must have been terrified. Trembling in her dance shoes. What would have happened if she hadn’t gotten the job? Her life would have taken a dramatically different path, that’s for sure.

Mom aced the audition, got the job and began the next chapter of her life in Chicago. That sounds glamorous and seductive, but the reality was much different. She worked at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and lived in a hotel room with another dancer as a roommate with Dorothy Hild acting as both the house mother and the warden, enforcing strict rules.

According to the Chicago Tribute whose posh entertainment columns covered the Dorothy Hild Dancers’ every move, shows were offered in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel daily at 8:30 and 10:30, except for Sunday when the dinner show was performed at 7:30.

The challenge in show business, of course, was to keep up and stay one step ahead of the competition. Acts couldn’t get stale.

An article on March 11th, 1945 mentions that the Dorothy Hild Dancers in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel would offer four new routines; Arabian Nights, a swing novelty, Paper Dolls and Spangled Bolero. The dancers were accompanied by the full Wayne King Orchestra. At other times by Emil Vandas and his orchestra.

The Dorothy Hild Dancers’ reviews were glowing, such as, “the dazzling production numbers staged by Dorothy Hild who is doing the sort of work that should make some veteran producers search their souls and see if they haven’t been resting on dusty laurels.”

I even found a Thanksgiving dinner ad in the Chicago Tribute for the Marine Dining room, so we know what Mom was doing on Thanksgiving Day 1944 – and it wasn’t eating turkey with her family.

She was smiling through the pain of knowing that her family was gathered together and she was not there with them and her 17 month old son.

Judging from the reviews in the Tribune for just 1944 and 1945, it looks like the dancers prepared for at least a new set of 4 shows every other month, so 24 new complete shows each year – plus the renowned Christmas Extravaganza. On some of Mom’s clippings, the dates indicate that a particular specialty show only ran for 3 or 4 weeks. No wonder they were known as the most ambitious and the best show in Chicago.

What a grueling schedule. Learning the next set of shows while you were practicing and performing the current shows.

Stage Name

Mother’s birth surname was Ferverda and her married name was Bucher. Neither name made a good stage name, so she became Barbara Boucher or Bouché, with a French flair and a stage presence that belied her humble conservative Brethren roots in small-town Indiana. It may have only been 139 miles from Silver Lake to the Edgewater Beach Hotel, but show business was another world entirely.

This photo of Mom, one of my all-time favorites, was taken at the height of her dancing career when she was dancing in Chicago in the early 1940s. She always told a funny story about this picture, which was one of the marque slicks outside the theater.

Apparently in her haste to get to the studio in time for her photo shoot, Mom forgot her dance trunks. Trunks are like shorts that cover underwear. Costume skirts are short and you’re really not seeing anything risqué underneath.

She had a running tug-of-war with the photographer (Maurice Seymour) who kept exposing more of her legs for artistic purposes, and mother kept readjusting her skirt more modestly.

Based on the final photo, mother won. If you knew my mother, there was never any doubt about that.

As beautiful as mother was, and as glamorous as her life seemed, she missed her family, and in particular, her son desperately.

This photo was taken during these years and she looks profoundly sad. Makeup can hide a lot, but not this.

Dorothy Hild Dancers at the Edgewater Beach Hotel

By July of 1944, John had just celebrated his first birthday and Mom was in Chicago performing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers at the esteemed Edgewater Beach Hotel.

This was during the heyday of grand hotels who each tried to outdo the others with their Hollywood big band type shows. The Edgewater Beach was Chicago’s finest luxury hotel, on the waterfront with its own private beach, catering to the rich and famous including several presidents of the United States. One of their claims to fame was that they offered seaplane service.

The hotel was surrounded by a private park and gardens which you’ll see in some of the following photos.

Below, one of the lounges at the Edgewater Beach hotel.

A rare aerial photo at the time shows the massive structure on the lake.

Today, all that remains of the Edgewater Beach hotel built in 1916 and the apartments built in 1928 is the apartment building, now upscale condos with a pink façade.

The Scrapbooks

Mom faithfully kept scrapbooks, at least for the first couple of years she lived in Chicago.

I think that the scrapbooks of yesteryear were much like today’s resume. If you were looking for another dancing position, or side work, you took your scrapbook along. Not to mention my grandmother loved it!

Mother didn’t always use her stage name.

Above, a promotional photo of the Dorothy Hild Dancers with Mom second row far right. Look at those eye lashes! On the following page, on the back of the picture, Mom wrote the 10 dancer’s names.

Mary Lou Hai, probably not her real name, was mother’s roommate. Mother recalled that during World War II, Mary Lou’s family was “detained” in one of the detention camps in Arizona where the government secretly sent Americans of Japanese heritage living in this country. Mother said they were always afraid the authorities would come after Mary Lou, so Mary “became” Chinese. The war was very difficult for these young women, especially Mary Lou and mother whose families were affected in dramatically different ways.

Mary Lou couldn’t communicate with her family for fear of discovery. No letters, no calls, nothing. The US was at war with Japan, and Mary Lou couldn’t be exposed as Japanese or she would be sent to the detainment center with the rest of her family. All Japanese at that time and those with Japanese heritage, more than half of whom were US citizens, were suspected of being enemies.

Mother, on the other hand, was dating and then engaged to a man in the military. He was actively fighting the Japanese and would ultimately die in the war – yet these two women shared a room and a bond, dance, that transcended prejudice.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel advertised the shows on theater marquis style billboards outside like the old-time theaters. The Dorothy Hild Dancers opened for the big bands and famous acts like Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Wayne King, among others.

These photos were taken by Maurice Seymour known as “the photographer to the celebrities.” His specialty was theater, dance and in particular, ballet.

These “Maurice” photos, in addition to the one at the beginning of the article have been framed and hanging in my home for decades. He was clearly a talented photographer, catching Mom at her best. I’m so very grateful to have these.

I would love to have seen those larger-than-life marquee slicks outside the Edgewater Beach Hotel, advertising the performances by these lovely ladies. My grandparents and family members were also given copies of these photos. I hope that all those small-town naysayers who gossiped so cruelly about my mother caught a glimpse.

A friend sent me this video of the glitzy Chicago nightlife in 1947.

I believe mother was still dancing with the Dorothy Hild dancers at that time, and the Dorothy Hild Dancers are featured at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in the video. I think Mom may be the dark-haired woman in the front beginning at about minute 6:14. The Dorothy Hild group begins at minute 5:45 but the dancing horse received more coverage than the humans. I was so excited to see this – transporting me back 75 years in time – allowing me a brief glimpse into mother’s world.

Regardless of whether this is actually mother in the video, it’s the vibrant Chicago that mom knew.

Promotional Photos

The great news about being a dancer is that photos were taken. In fact, lots of photos.

If you’re wondering why I’ve included so many photos, that’s all I have left now. Photos and memories, and oh yes, her DNA. But as time creeps on and I pass from this earth and join mother, eventually, no one will have the memories to share, and fewer still will carry her DNA. The only thing I can pass on are the photos and the stories so that she isn’t forever erased.

The following pictures found in Mom’s scrapbook were taken in order to provide photos to the newspapers and for other publicity purposes. As I worked with these photos, I do believe we have an entire photo shoot here. How many people are that fortunate!

The above two photos were also pressed onto wood about one quarter inch thick. Then small statues approximately 6 inches high were cut in the shape of the outline of the dancer from the wood. The feet of the cutout were placed in a small wooden base. When I was a child, these two “dancers” stood on the table in the living room. Eventually, the extended hand broke off. I surely wish I had these mementoes today.

Mother had beautiful legs even into her 80s. She wore heels and skirts her entire life.

At one point, mother became almost skeletally thin. There are photographs of her  where her cheeks are sunken and she looks virtually anorexic, although anorexia had not been defined as a disease yet at that time, and I know that she did not have an eating disorder. She had a dancing disorder!

I also know mom missed a lot of meals, both due to scheduling and finances. The Dorothy Hild Dancers were regularly performing two shows per evening, plus one practice daily, and Mom told me she would lose 9-12 pounds a day during this time. She couldn’t keep weight on.

The metabolism she acquired during her dancing career would stay with her for the duration of her lifetime and would successfully see her through many years of 3 desserts, chocolate Hershey bars and plates of homemade fudge without gaining an ounce. I didn’t get that from her either.

As a teen, I was incredibly envious of how much Mom could eat. I would gain weight just watching her. She could and literally did make and eat copious quantities of anything and everything and never gained weight. When she passed away, weighing less than 100 pounds, we thought she had frozen prepared meals in her freezer, but the entire freezer was crammed full of different kids of ice cream. “Second” and “third” dessert she called them.

Mother loved chocolate. That, I did get from her!

The War Interferes

Once again, the War would directly affect Mother’s life.

Sometime before the end of 1944, mother met Frank Sadowski, a medical student who had enlisted to serve in the Army in February of 1943.

Frank’s sister, Margie or Maggie, also danced with the Dorothy Hild dancers which explains how they met – especially given that Dorothy’s dancers were not allowed to date nor to go out in the evenings. There would be no rumors about her dancers!

By the end of 1944, Mom and Frank were an item and planned to marry when his military tour was over.

Frank’s military service ended brutally when he was killed on April 19, 1945 on Okinawa, attempting to save another man.

Frank’s body wasn’t returned to the family until March of 1949, just a couple of weeks before Mom abruptly ended her dancing career. I don’t know positively, but suspect those two things are related.

I wrote about Frank here, here and here. (Entire case of Kleenex warning.)

The Premonition

Mother confided that she knew Frank would be killed, in the same way she knew so many things she couldn’t have known. Mom said she cried too long the last time Frank left from the train station, and couldn’t stop crying…because she knew it would be the last time she saw him on this earth. Frank’s death devastated mother – to the point where she was never the same. Throughout the rest of her life, this chapter was extremely difficult for her to discuss. It only closed when she rejoined him across the divide.

In 1945, the war was drawing to a close. Had Frank managed to survive just a little longer…

If only.

If only.

Victory in Europe Day

Mother was at the home of her voice coach in Chicago when the word of VE (Victory in Europe) Day arrived on May 8th, 1945, via a call from the Mayor’s office requesting a group of singers for a victory celebration in the circle that evening in downtown Chicago.

Her coach hung up and asked Mother if she could perform. Mother said yes, she could, and she did, singing her heart out for America and “the boys” on State Street, along with 20-25 others, many of whom were vocal students at Northwestern University.

This photo from the Chicago Tribute shows the massive crowds. The city literally shut down. In the paper the next day, the following column tells more about the atmosphere.

I never realized until I read this article that lights were dimmed to conserve resources during the war.

Mom said that the VE Day announcement was wonderful and that some of the people she worked with had family in the European theater.

She also told me that she almost didn’t make it through her solo, knowing that while many would come marching home, Frank would not. He hadn’t even been gone a month. I’m amazed she could perform at all. It’s a testament to her strength. She straightened her back and stiffened her spine and that mighty women simply did whatever was required. If any single moment defines my mother, this is it.

In a 1995 interview with the Kokomo Tribune to celebrate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Mother said “we were kind of a chorus on a hastily constructed stage.” Festivities began “two o’clockish and the downtown was very, very crowded.“ Everyone was celebrating. Mom said they performed songs that everyone knew, such as God Bless America, the National Anthem and “most everything of a patriotic nature.”

The program lasted about 90 minutes and “I remember I got tired standing.” Her voice breaking even then, a half century later, as she recalled “the sad undercurrent. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was VJ Day too?” (VJ = Victory in Japan)

For Frank, and for mother, victory had come too late.

The newspaper article indicated that Mother communicated with two men fighting the Japanese, and she mentioned “underneath the festivities was the fact that there was still war in the Pacific; you couldn’t see any end in sight.”

Mom wasn’t alone. This small buried article tells what was happening in Okinawa on VE Day, and how those men felt.

Mom continued, “I felt kind of lonesome in the crowd…there was no one I knew there. But I did sing…I did what I was supposed to do. I was glad those people in Europe were ready to come home.”

What she never told the reporter was that Frank had just been killed – 19 days earlier. I’m not sure how long Mom had known. Dan had returned alive, but that relationship and her hope of being his wife and raising a family in Indiana was lost to mother just the same. WWII was nothing but one heartbreak after another for Mom – and she danced and sang through it all.

I asked mother if she was excited, and she said that she was, but she knew all of the problems were not yet over. Many of her friends were serving in Europe and Japan, and not all of them would return alive.

Frolicking on the Lawn

Mom continued dancing. At some point in time, a roll of film was taken of her friends in the Dorothy Hild Dancers enjoying themselves on the lawn of the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Cameras and film were both rare, and many items were rationed during this time in order that the country’s resources could be focused on the war effort. A roll of film was a luxury indeed.

There’s more than one way to climb a slide! Success!!

Mary Tan Hai

Mom at the wishing well. I wonder what she was wishing for.

Mom is sitting second from left in the chair.

I’m glad to see that the ladies knew how to have fun. I suspect Mom took these photos since she isn’t in the ones above.

I love this candid. Mom is so beautiful.

Mom in both photos, above. These photos were taken on two different days because she has two outfits on, and coats are worn on one day and not the other.

Mom and Mary look so happy in this photo. It’s one of my favorites. Two lovely young souls. Sadly, Mom lost track of Mary and her address book, still in my possession lends no clues.

Mom’s and Mary’s two worlds collided head on. Mom’s fiancé was killed by the Japanese in the war, while she was rooming with Mary. Mary’s family had been incarcerated in the US because they were of Japanese heritage, despite being citizens.

It would have been so easy to blame each other for circumstance neither woman could either influence or control, but they didn’t. They loved each other as sisters and the protective shield that the dancers wove around Mary may well have spared her life. It certainly preserved her freedom.

On the Road

At some point, the dancers began to travel. I know that Mother met my father on a train between Philadelphia where she was dancing and Chicago where the troupe was returning. There are other hints as well in the various newspaper articles in her scrapbook.

Below, she performed at the State Fair at the Coliseum, with Jimmy Dorsey, but it never says what state’s fair.

Mom’s second left from the end.

Judging from the newspaper article, Andy’s was in Minneapolis.

A few of the girls formed their own smaller dance troupe. Mom also performed on her own.

The Club Belvidere was in Springfield, Illinois

At least one of Mom’s engagements was in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I have to laugh. “Slick tap routines.”

1331 Hennepin Avenue was in Garden City, Michigan, which surprised me. I had no idea she had danced in Michigan.

The Silver Cloud was located in Chicago.

Mom performed at the Faust Club in Peoria, Illinois. I see her stage name was Boucha here, or misspelled.

Wayne King was a Big Band leader. This appears to be the gentleman in the dance promotional photograph with mother.

This photo looks like another from the Maurice Seymour studio.

More clippings from Mom’s scrapbook.

I sure wish I had the originals of these photos.

Fencing? Well, I had to admit that’s different!

The Club Hollywood was located at 9000 West Belmont in Franklin Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Today, this location is the O’Hare Logistics Center for the airport.

There’s a significant gap in Mom’s scrapbook entries. I wonder if she simply got tired of clipping, or if an entire book went missing.

While many of Mother’s engagements were in the Chicago area, some were fairly distant. The program for this event tells us that she was Miss Zenith Radio.

Who knew. It looks like this might have been in 1948.

The event below took place in Omaha, and they thought she was sweet.

The Trocadero was a well-known up-scale club in Omaha in the 1940s. I’m sure mother received lots of propositions and proposals too.

Mom probably developed a second sense about situations like this. However, as a very interesting side-note, George Bentley IS in Mom’s address book with two phone numbers. Four digit phone numbers no less. Now you know I just HAVE to research this person.

In the 1940 census, George, an electrician is married and 41 years old, if it’s the same George. Of course, by 1948, he might not have been married, although his wife is still listed as his SS death beneficiary in 1972. Or he might have been separated, or not been truthful about being married. I might have the wrong George Bentley too, as the address doesn’t match that of the City Directory or the 1940 census, but there isn’t another George Bentley in Omaha.

Looking at the map today, 1411 N. 30th, the address in mother’s book is a residential neighborhood with a contemporary church on the property, not the type of area where clubs are located. Judging from this and other hints, it appears that mother might have been attracted to older men. My father was about 20 years older than Mom. Hmmm….

Was George another heartbreak that we know nothing about? Is that why his note is in her scrapbook and his name in her address book?

The above photo is inside the Memories of Omaha folder. I just have to ask myself, what was Mom doing in Omaha and is there a “rest of the story?”

This is also the only photo in existence where my Mom appears to be a bit “chubby.”

The duration of a dancing career is by necessity, short. A dancer’s body just can’t withstand the prolonged abuse. At some point, mother broke her foot, the kiss of death for a dancer.

In 1949, she withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists, officially ending her career as a performer just a couple weeks after Frank’s body was returned home and buried. I can’t say for sure that those two things are connected, but I’m willing to bet that they are.

The Scrapbooks End

Mother’s Chicago scrapbook ends between 1945 and 1948 although she didn’t withdraw from the guild until 1949. The Miss Zenith Radio clipping was from 1948 and she was clearly still performing at that time. Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace.

There’s no question that dancing profoundly influenced Mother’s life. Dancing probably saved her life when it functioned as physical therapy to strengthen her heart, but it also cost her greatly in many ways, as she was never able to be “normal.” Mother traveled and performed, a lifestyle not conducive to a traditional relationship. And far from anything she had seen or dreamed of growing up in Silver Lake. This was not in any of the accepted role “scripts” for women of that era.

Because of her nontraditional career, in a time when few women had any career and most women aspired to marry, have children and not work outside the home, she was never a candidate to become a traditional wife and mother. Mom struggled mightily with that dichotomy. It “shouldn’t” have mattered, but it did.

Like other women, mom very much wanted a loving relationship and a family. She was also divorced which carried with it a shameful stigma at that time as well, not to mention that her parents were raising her child. Mother was supposed to somehow fit into a traditional mold, which she clearly couldn’t, and was judged personally by failing at those “traditional” standards. She was trapped between two worlds and didn’t fit in either.

Whether dancing ultimately benefitted her more or cost her more, only she could say.

Looking Back

As I look back on her life, I’m impressed at the incredible bravery and fortitude my mother exhibited. Of course, I had no idea of the challenges she faced when I was younger. True to form, she never shared the negative aspects of her life.

I could not have realized the magnitude of the discrimination faced by women and the stigma painted upon women who worked, especially in the entertainment industry, that many conflated, intentionally or otherwise, with “working girls.”

Mother spent the first third of her life working hard and training to be “good enough” to dance professionally, and the rest of her life trying to leave her showgirl life behind and simply be considered be “good enough,” period. Good characteristics of an outgoing performer weren’t considered assets in a demure obedient wife.

While it wasn’t guarded as a secret, let’s just say we didn’t discuss Mom’s dancing career at the Baptist church after she married my wonderful step-father and moved to a hog farm in conservative, rural Indiana. Her previous career was treated much as a mysterious “famous” past that mother was simply too humble to brag about.

However, that suitcase full of beautiful, glittering sequenced costumes holding their secrets of spotlights past bedeviled the plain “housewife” existence she tried to mold herself into for the rest of her life. Perhaps that was her greatest and most successful act of all, guild actor’s card or not.

After the dancing chapter of her life ended, she found a way to pursue the career she had dreamed of initially – that of becoming a bookkeeper. Her new career, although it paid poorly as all women’s jobs did at the time, ultimately led her to heartland Indiana where I was raised.

Ironically, the life of struggle that she endured stoically and bravely and tried so hard to put behind her is one of the very reasons I’m so proud of her today.

Proud that she broke ground for the rest of us.

Proud of her sacrifice.

Proud of who she was.

Proud that she never let her beauty alter her moral character.

Proud of her humility and lifelong service to others.

Proud that she endured in a period of unending challenges and struggle – and survived.

Proud that she ultimately found a way to follow the dream she had never been able to pursue. She became a bookkeeper for more than 20 years, followed by being an Avon lady for another quarter century. Mom didn’t retire until she was 82.

Here’s Mom, saying goodbye to her last Avon customer in May of 2005.

Proud of her three careers, spanning more than 65 years.

Proud of that stunningly beautiful dancer who would one day become my mother and infect me with her hard-won tenacity.

Proud that she has passed her legacy on to her lovely granddaughters.

I see her in their beautiful faces and hear her in their sweet voices. She would be so proud of them.

Mom loved Christmas, Christmas music, and Christmas performances. She would have been in the midst of her element at these performances, making sure everyone’s makeup was “just so.” Their lipstick on straight and enough rouge and powder. No washing out and no shining skin on stage. Yes, she would have been right in the middle of everything, a mother hen, helping everyone.

So girls, even though she can’t sit in the theater seats beside me in person to watch your stage productions, she is here, always here, always beside me, proudly watching. I guarantee it!

Big Y-500 STR Matching

Family Tree DNA recently introduced Big Y-500 STR matching for men who have taken  the Big Y-500 test. This is in addition to the SNP results and matching. If you’d like an introduction or definition of the terms STR and SNP, you can read about SNPs and STRs here.

Beginning in April 2018, Family Tree DNA included an additional 379+ STR markers for free for Big Y testers as a bonus, meaning for free, including all earlier testers.

While the Big Y-500 STR marker values have been included in customers’ results for several months, unless you contacted your matches directly, you didn’t know how many of those additional markers above 111 you matched on – until now.

If you haven’t taken the Big Y test, the article Why the Big Y Test? will explain why you might want to. In addition to the Big Y results, which refine your haplogroup and scan the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome looking for SNPs, you’ll also receive at least 389 Y STR markers above the 111 STR panel for total of at least 500, for free – which is why the name of the Big Y test was changed to the Big Y-500. If you haven’t tested at the 111 marker level, don’t worry about that because the cost of the upgrade is bundled in the price of the Big Y-500 test. Click here to sign in to your account and then click on the blue upgrade button to view pricing.

Big Y-500 STR Matching

To view your matches and values above the traditional 111 makers, sign on to your account and click on Y DNA matches.

You’ll see the following display.

Y500 matches

The column “Big Y-500 STR Differences” is new. If you have not taken the Big Y-500 test, you won’t see this column.

If you have taken the Big Y-500, you’ll see results for any other man that you match who has taken the Big Y-500 test. In this example, 5 of this person’s matches have also taken the Big Y-500 test.

What Are Big Y-500 STR Differences?

The “Big Y-500 STR Differences” column values are expressed in the format “4 of 441” or something similar.

The first number represents the number of non-matching locations you have above 111 markers – in this case, 4. In the csv download file, this value is displayed in the “Big Y-500 Differences” column.

The second number represents the total number of markers above 111 that have a value for both of you – in this case, 441. In other words, you and the other man are being compared on 441 marker locations. In the csv download file, this value is displayed in the “Big Y-500 Compared” column.

Because the markers above 111 are processed using NGS (next generation sequencing) scan technology, virtually every kit will have some marker locations that have no-calls, meaning the test doesn’t read reliably at that location in spite of being scanned several times.

It’s more difficult to read STRs accurately using NGS scan technology, as compared to SNPs. SNPs are only one position in length, so only one position needs to be read correctly. STRs are repeated of a sequence of nucleotides. A 20 repeat sequence could consist of 20 copies of a series of 4 nucleotides, so a total of 80 positions in a row would need to be successfully read several times.

Let’s take a look at how matching works.

How Does Big Y-500 STR Matching Work?

If you have a total of 441 markers that read reliably, but your match has a total of 439 that produced results, the maximum number of markers possible to share would be 439. If you both have no calls on different marker locations, you would match on fewer than 439 locations. Here’s an example just using 9 fictitious markers.

Y500 match example

Based on the example above, we can see that the red cells can’t match because they experienced no-calls, and the yellow cells do have results, but don’t match.

Y500 summary

New Filter

There’s also a new filter option so you can view only matches that have taken the Big Y-500 test.

Y500 filter

Let’s look at some of the questions people have been asking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1: Are the markers above 111 taken into account in the Genetic Distance column?

Answer: No, the values calculated in the genetic distance column are the number of mismatches for the marker level you are viewing using a combination of the step-wise and infinite alleles mutation models. (Stay with me here.)

In our example, we’re viewing the 111 marker level, so the genetic distance tells you the number of mismatches at 111 markers. If we were viewing the 67 marker level, then the genetic distance would be for 67 markers.

The number of mismatches above 111 markers shows separately in the “Big Y-500 STR Differences” column and is calculated using the infinite alleles model, meaning every mutation is counted as one difference. You can read more about genetic distance in the article, Concepts – Genetic Distance.

The good news is that you don’t need to calculate anything, but you may want to understand how the markers are scored and how the genetic distance is calculated. If so, go ahead and read question 2. If not, skip to question 3.

Question 2: What’s the difference between the step-wise model and the infinite alleles model?

Answer: The step-wise model assumes that a mutated value on a particular marker of multiple steps, meaning a difference between a 28 for one man and a 30 for another is a result of two separate mutation events that happened at different times, so counted as 2 mutations, 2 steps, so a genetic distance of 2.

However, this doesn’t work well with palindromic markers, explained here, where multi-copy markers, such as DYS464, often mutate more than one step at a time.

Counting multiple mathematical differences as only one mutation event is called the infinite alleles model. For example, a dual copy marker that has a value of 15-16 could mutate to 15-18 in one step and would be counted as one mutation event, and one difference and a genetic distance of one using the infinite alleles model. The same event would count as 2 mutation events (steps) and a genetic distance of 2 using the step-wise mutation model. In this article, I explain which markers are calculated using which methodology.

Another good infinite alleles example is when a location loses it’s DNA at a marker entirely. If the marker value for most men being compared is 10 and is being compared to a  person with no DNA at that location, resulting in a null value of 0 (which is not the same as a no-call which means the location couldn’t be read successfully), the mutation event happened in one step, and the difference should be counted as one event, one step and a genetic distance of one, not 10 events, 10 steps and a genetic distance of 10.

To recap, the values of markers 1-111 are calculated by a combination of the step-wise model and the infinite alleles model, depending on the marker number and situation. The differences in markers above 111 are calculated using the infinite alleles model where every mutation or difference equals a distance of one unless a zero (null) is encountered. In that case, the mutation event is considered a one. However, above 111 markers, using NGS technology, most instances where no DNA is encountered results in a no-read, not a null value.

Question 3: Has the TIP calculator been updated?

Answer: No, the TIP calculator does not take into account the new markers above 111. The TIP calculator relies upon the combined statistical mutation frequency for each marker and includes haplogroup differences. Therefore, it would be difficult to compensate for different numbers of markers, with various markers missing for each individual above 111 markers. The TIP calculator only utilizes markers 1-111.

Question 4: Do projects display more than 111 markers?

Answer: No, projects don’t display the additional markers, at least not yet. The 111 marker results require scrolling to the right significantly, and 500 markers would require 5 times as much scrolling to compare values. Anyone with an idea how to better accomplish a public project display/comparison should submit their idea to Family Tree DNA.

Question 5: Which markers above 111 are fast versus slow mutating?

Answer: Results for these markers are new and statistical compilations aren’t yet available. However, initial results for surname projects in which several men who share a surname and match have tested indicate that there’s not as much variation in these additional markers as we’ve seen in the previous 111 markers, meaning Family Tree DNA already selected the most informative genealogical markers initially. This suggests that the additional markers may provide additional mutations but probably not five times as many as the initial 111 markers.

Question 6: Why do I have more mutations in the first 111 markers than I do in the 389+ markers above the 111 panel?

Answer: That’s a really good question. You’ve probably noticed in our example that the men have dis-proportionally more mutations in the first 111 markers than in the markers above 111.

Y500 genetic distance

The trend is clearly for the first 111 markers to mutate more frequently than the 379+ markers above 111. This means that the first 111 markers are generally going to be more genealogically informative than the balance of the 379+ markers. However, and this is a big however, if the line marker mutation that you need to sort out your group of men occurs in the markers above 111, the number of mutations and the percentages don’t mean anything at all. The information that matters is how you can utilize these markers to differentiate men within the line you are working with, and what story those markers tell.

Of course, the markers above 111 are free as part of the Big Y-500 test which is designed to extract as much SNP information as possible. In essence, these STR markers are icing on the cake – a treat we never expected.

Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line about the Big-Y 500 STR markers. You don’t know what you don’t know and these 379+ STR markers come along with the Big Y test as a bonus. If you’re looking for line-marker STR mutations in groups of men, the Big Y-500 is a logical next step after 111 marker testing.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

Connect With Your Inner Viking

Let’s take a walking heritage tour of Oslo, Norway. We’ll see the city of Olso, the harbor and waterfront, excavated Viking ships, historic Norwegian villages, the Sami people and the Museum of Cultural History. Yes, Oslo has all that…and more.

But first, let’s talk about the Vikings, their history and why you might just care – as in personally.

The Vikings and You

Might you have a bit of Viking blood? If your ancestors came from, well, almost anyplace in coastal or riverine Europe, you might. The Vikings tended to follow the waterways, both sea and river.

Earth map by NASA; Data based on w:File:Viking Age.png (now: File:Vikingen tijd.png), which is in turn based on http://home.online.no/~anlun/tipi/vrout.jpg and other maps.

If your ancestors came from Scandinavia, Normandy, Ireland or England, you probably do have a Viking someplace in your past whether they show up in your DNA or not.

Max Naylor – Own work

However, you may find hints in your DNA.

I’m still complete fascinated by the fact that my mitochondrial DNA originated in Scandinavia even though my most distant known matrilineal ancestor is found in Germany. My Scandinavian matches are shown clustered below.

My mitochondrial match list at Family Tree DNA is full of surnames like Jonsdotter, Nilsdotter, Jansdotter, Larsdotter, Martensdotter, Persdotter, Olsdotter, Pedersdotter, Karldatter, Johnson, Palsdatter, Olausdotter and so forth. There’s no question about where this line originated. The only question is how, when and why Elizabeth Wenig’s matrilineal ancestors traveled to Germany where she was married to Hans Schlicht and gave birth to Elizabeth Schlicht in 1698. Elizabeth married in Wirbenz, Germany, far from Scandinavia.

That white pin shows where my most distant ancestor, Elizabeth Wenig lived. My best guess, and that’s what it is now, is that her arrival may have been connected with the Swedish involvement in the 30 Years War.

Regardless, Scandinavia is my mitochondrial heritage and I loved it in Oslo. I was quite surprised, because I never thought I’d fall in love with a “cold” country – but I did.

My paper trail genealogy suggests that I also descend from Rollo, the Viking warrior best known for having besieged Paris and ruled Normandy. Of course, given that Rollo was born about 860 and died about 930, there’s no genetic proof. It’s a fun story, but my own mitochondrial DNA holds proof of my Scandinavian heritage.

Is there a bit of Viking in you too? Join me in exploring the cultural heritage of Oslo and Norway. I’d love to share this beautiful city with you and your inner Viking. Come along!

Oslo

Welcome to Oslo, a beautiful city located on a fjord, full of history and Scandinavian charm. This was my first glimpse through the clouds. Even sleep deprivation of the red eye trip couldn’t mute my excitement.

One of the things I noticed is that dusk falls early, beginning about 2:30 in early November.

I didn’t realize until the second day that this really was dusk, not just a cloudy sky. The latitude is about the same as Anchorage, Alaska.

The Scandinavians have adapted art to dark.

This beautiful fountain in front of the University of Oslo along the main street, Karl Johann’s Gate, changes from pink to red to white to aqua to apple green to teal to magenta to red to dark purple to royal blue to kind of a frosty blue – and back again. This isn’t night, it’s late afternoon and the city center is full of people.

Bordering the public fountain area on one side we find the National Theater.

Ulven, which I think is a rock musical is playing, but we didn’t attend.

Standing between these stately columns of the Oslo University building, looking across the beautiful cobblestones, you see the National Theater. The fountain is between these two buildings, to the right slightly, just outside this photo.

I just love this design. Even art-inspired cobblestones.

We strolled through the Oslo University campus, enjoying every minute. Trash on the streets and ground is almost non-existent. The Natural History Museum is visible in the distance.

Statues grace the streets and parks. Some older and some contemporary.

Historic buildings are around every corner.

Experiences are made of people. Dr. Penny Walters (England), Martin McDowell (Northern Ireland) and me were the dynamic trio for two days, immersed in as much culture as we could cram in, including our own version of a haunted troll bridge.

This blue structure was designed to keep pedestrians safe in a construction area, but when you stepped on the end, something back in the middle, behind you, clunked disconcertingly. We joked and laughed, a bit uneasily perhaps, about having our own Norwegian troll, because it happened every single time😊

Trolls are part of the cultural heritage of Norway, a legend of Norse mythology.

Here’s the front of Oslo City Hall. The other side is the waterfront area.

This contemporary art is found along the waterfront with the masts of the tall ships showing at right, above the sign, in front of the Nobel Peace Center and Museum.

The entire waterfront area is cultural, with performers and ever-present activities.

I’m not exactly sure what this is, other than interesting. Coffee shops abound, and don’t bother asking for decaf, or Starbucks.

The waterfront is both lovely and historic.

The Nobel Peace Center and Museum faces the harbor.

The old fort still stands sentry in the distance above the harbor.

Viking Ship Museum

We caught tram number 30 on the waterfront and rode some distance to the Viking Ship Museum.

This incredible museum was literally built around and for salvaged Viking ships that had been pulled out of the sea and used for burials of high-status Vikings, probably chieftains or warriors, or perhaps individuals who were both.

In addition to the ships, this museum holds the remains of burial mounds, skeletons (I want their DNA), artifacts, a beautifully carved cart and more – much more.

This is the welcome that greets visitors. Utterly breathtaking.

I particularly love the shadows of the ships on the walls. Graceful elegance – perhaps this design needs to work itself into my future quilts.

These ships were incredibly crafted and are amazingly well preserved.

Is this the Viking version of a sea serpent? A creature from mythology? Dragon ships, called Drakkar from Norse mythology carried dragons and snakes on their prow. No actual dragon ship has ever been discovered, but these prow creatures might serve a similar function.

The grace and artistry on these longships is absolutely amazing. They were huge, more than 70 feet long and 16 feet wide.

When sailed, they could travel more than 11 MPH and they traversed the open sea – to Iceland, Greenland and eventually, as far as L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada, called Vinland.

These ships could also be rowed. Notice the oar holes on the sides and the brackets on the top of the sides to hold the oars.

The fact that these people were willing to sacrifice something so valuable and beautiful to become a virtual casket says something profound about the person being buried.

This museum was created to house these priceless relics. Each burial was accompanied by a burial hut, with a mound on top. The ship was buried first, followed by the hut on top with the mast sticking through. Then the entire ship and hut were covered with an earthen mount. The top of the mast was left protruding through the top of the mound.

The museum created an amazing 3D experience projected on the walls and ceiling around the ship in one of the four rooms housing the ships and artifacts, representing what the burial process must have been like – as historically accurate as possible, reconstructed from the archaeology. It’s almost like reaching back in time and standing right there as the burial occurred. I took this short 5 minute video and it’s incredible!

If you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking here, you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking!

Viking Grave Goods

This carved cart was excavated from one of the burials. The Vikings clearly sent their dead to the afterlife with the finest they had to offer.

Those wheels! Notice the human face above the wheel.

Every ship had a different carved creature on the prow. Was this a good luck charm of sorts, a protecting amulet or perhaps meant to frighten anyone who might come into contact with the ship or its inhabitants?

I so wonder what these were meant to portray. Good luck? Fear? A deity? Confer protection?

These designs remind me of later Celtic work. I have to wonder which came first – chicken or egg?

I wonder if these are mythical creatures, each with a long-lost story. Imagine sitting by the fires at night, or sailing in the ships themselves as they rocked on the waves, listening to stories about the Norse Gods that had been handed down in the same way for millennia.

Viking shoes laced up the center and then the laces were tied around the ankles. The people’s feet were small compared to ours today.

A carved sled, one of two on display.

These artifacts are pieces of art.

I wonder if these items were actually used or were ceremonial in nature, given their intricate carving.

Norwegian Museum of Cultural History

Next door to the Viking Ship Museum is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, called the Norsk Folkenmuseum. It’s an outdoor “folk museum.”

We are actually moving forward in time, from the Viking era to early Norwegian villages scattered along the coastlines and protected from the open sea inside fjords. Of course, many of these villages probably began as Viking encampments and evolved into farming and agricultural hamlets.

We walked along the sidewalk and the thickly vine-covered wall. .

This coffee-shop was just too inviting and as it so happened, the gateway to the folk museum – a series of “villages” designed to represent various historical regions of Norway.

The outdoor museum was constructed as groups of structures, clustered in villages from various parts of Norway. Instead of destroying these old structures, they were disassembled piece by piece and brought here to be conserved and preserved.

Let’s go inside for a walk – or as it turned out, a hike.

Notice the sod roofs.

The roof was layered with grass, sod, wood or rock edges and birch bark.

We couldn’t tell if the rocks simply lined the edge or were a base layer. This would seem awfully heavy.

Some roofs were shimmed.

The doors were small, probably to conserve heat.

Many buildings were elevated to keep rodents out.

Buildings clustered around a plowed field.

Look at this incredible decorative carving. Each structure had the owners initials and the year of construction incised above the door. (You can click to enlarge the images.)

Around a curve, we discovered a Sami family homestead.

A barn or animal enclosure.

Some of the Sami structures, called lavvu, look like teepees of the Native Americans in North America, but genetically, they don’t seem to be related. The Sami are, however, related genetically to the Russian people of the Uralic region.

The Sami people of the north are nomads, traditionally living a subsistence culture centered around the reindeer.

Their bone carvings and weaving are stunning.

Nothing goes to waste.

We should have known we were in trouble when we noticed mile markers. How many were there? A lot!

Notice the roofs in the background. The museum is quite hilly.

In some places, outright steep. Notice those stacked rocks beside the path.

Maybe a barn in an odd shape?

One of the museum highlights was the incredible stave church.

The church, from the 12th century, saved by the very visionary King of Norway in 1881 is undergoing repair but was open to visitors.

The King with the church.

Interior door. The carving on this doorway is very similar to the carving on the Viking prows – so you can see that the Norwegian culture evolved from the Vikings to contemporary residents. The Vikings didn’t “go” anyplace and live on today.

The church interior Last Supper painting after the Norwegians were converted to Christianity from Paganism.

The carved doors are amazing. Notice how worn the thresholds are from millions of footsteps.

What a beautiful, peaceful, view.

Ornate church roof structures.

So, how many genealogists does it take to decipher the roman numerals on the front of this church?

The answer: III

The construction of some of these buildings is amazing.

These were built to last!

Saying goodbye to the church, we found ourselves overlooking another village.

The sod roof is also being repaired (replaced?) on one of the structures.

Another milestone.

Do you see the face? Is this a troll?

Buildings from another region with rounded and taller arches over doorways.

I love this fence.

Walking down this hillside feels like we are arriving from the country into the village. This village has its own sauna drying laundry facility.

Complete with scented herbs.

This barn smells with the sweet scent of hay. Reminds me of home.

Regional differences in architecture are quite visible.

Each door and post is carved.

Love these ornate doors but mind your head.

I think we found the jail.

These structures had one room that functioned for everything for the entire family. No such thing as privacy.

Smoke exited, light entered. These were carved in the wall, not the roof.

For the most part, windows didn’t exist. We did not notice vent holes on the top or in the roofs of most structures.

Although some had chimneys with metal tops to keep the birds out, weighted down by rocks to keep the tops from blowing away.

This larger home was ornate and 2 story.

Built in bird houses.

Martin pondering Norwegian heritage.

I just love these different fence styles – many of which I’ve never seen before. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

Just humor me and my fence infatuation.

Two styles of fences along with two styles of rock walls – all in one picture.

Yet another fence type in another region.

In Hardanger, a few buildings had slate roofs.

This building’s cornerstones look like they might break under the weight.

Snuck another fence in on you😊

It was getting dark by the time we finished our tour of Norway’s little villages, so we caught the tram back into Oslo. The next morning, we visited the Museum of Cultural History.

Museum of Cultural History

The ticket for the Viking Ship Museum included a free pass for Museum of Cultural History, visible from my hotel room, a block or so from the hotel. The outside is getting a facelift and inside, new exhibits, so only portions were open – but they were well worth the visit.

While this museum held several fascinating exhibits, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones related to Scandinavian history.

I can see myself drinking out of this beautiful Viking drinking horn. Mead perhaps?

The Vikings were clean people, combing their hair regularly and the manes of their horses as well.

The Vikings and Scandinavians were incredible craftsmen.

That Stave Church again with life-size carved religious statues.

A runestone from Tune, 400 AD, that discussed three daughters and an inheritance.

Oldest Sami drum in existence, confiscated in 1691 by the Norwegian authorities. The Sami were very resistance to acculturation. It’s somehow ironic that the only reason this artifact still exists is that it was taken away from the Sami people.

Sami medicine man robe. For every vision or trance, he tied another piece of fabric onto his robe.

The back. I was curious what happened to these robes when the medicine man died. Obviously, this one came to live at the museum.

As we exited the Sami exhibit, we found ourselves on a different continent entirely.

How About Egypt Next?

Although these Egyptian mummies are clearly not Norwegian, I can’t resist including them because I’ve never seen mummies in this condition. These are amazing, ornate and beautiful.

Penny Walters who has spent a significant amount of time in Egypt was thrilled with this part of the exhibit. We learned a great deal from her as well.

I think the pyramids might officially be on my bucket list now.

I so want to sequence the mummy’s DNA.

The walls of the tomb where this mummy was found were painted with these stars. The sign below provides information about the mummy above.

Thankfully, some of the signage includes an English version for us language-challenged visitors.

These colors are incredibly vibrant, even today.

I love these hands.

Notice her breasts too. I had to wonder if this is the first known depiction of a bra.

We exited the Egyptian gallery to find ourselves celebrating the Day of the Dead. That’s a pretty dramatic cultural shift!

Day of the Dead

The Latino Day of the Dead roughly corresponds to Halloween in the US, but it’s a wonderful cultural celebration of ancestors – those who have gone on.

This lovely celebratory “Day of the Dead” weekend includes food, the honoring of ancestors by creating altars and inviting them back with their favorite foods, and festively decorating graves.

This exhibit was colorful, cultural and fun. After all, it is the Museum of Cultural History – and not just Scandinavian culture.

Day of the Dead altar and skeletons of course.

This beaded skull is stunning. Click on this picture for a close-up.

Good thing they didn’t have one of these in the gift shop. It would have been named and on its way home with me.

The Pub

How can I possibly develop “favorite places” in just a few days? I seem to do this wherever I go and often, they are pubs.

Many restaurants in Oslo aren’t open until evening which makes lunch challenging.

Fortunately, right across the street from the hotel was a wonderful pub. The best thing about pubs is often the laid-back and welcoming atmosphere.

By the last day, I was exhausted. A combination of the excitement before the trip, the overnight flight itself, followed by three jet-lagged conference days, then two days of cultural absorption. I was running on adrenaline alone, because I certainly wasn’t sleeping well.

On the final day, Penny left for the airport around noon. Martin and I went back to the pub for lunch after discovering two other choices were closed. We had originally decided to walk to the fort on the waterfront after lunch, but lunch led to coffee which led to more conversation and another coffee and let’s just say when it started getting dark, we decided to simply go back to the hotel and pack. I took my leftovers and had them for dinner.

Our pub afternoon was lovely, sipping coffee (Martin) and Ginger Joe (me.) We caught up on what had happened since our last adventure outside Belfast, Ireland last year.

The Summit

But before we began packing, we had one more stop to make – a visit to the summit bar of the Radisson Blu hotel which is the highest location in the city.

The Cultural Museum (with the Egyptian and Day of the Dead exhibits) is the white building in the left lower corner.

On the other side of the hotel, the palace is illuminated at center left.

There was too much glare for me to take good pictures, but you can see the hotel’s gallery here and some beautiful photos here.

I loved Oslo. I made fond forever memories with both old and new friends. But alas, it was time to leave.

You can read about my incredible 5 AM ride to the airport – and yes, it really was amazing: Norwegian Cultural Gems – Burial Practices, Cemeteries, Heritage Clothing and Family Traditions

One Final Treat – Greenland

On my way home, winging through the air at over 500 miles per hour as compared to those Viking ships clipping right along at 11, I was treated to an incredibly stunning view of Greenland.

Glaciers, fjords, the sea and sunset. How does it get better than this?

The Vikings wouldn’t have believed their eyes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to Norway and the wonderful culture this country has to offer. If you’d like to learn more, please check out my earlier articles:

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

Finding Mary Younger’s Mitochondrial DNA – 52 Ancestors #219

Ah, the blessings of cousins.

The Y and mitochondrial DNA of our ancestors can provide us with a smorgasbord of information. Unfortunately, we only carry the Y and mitochondrial DNA of one or two lines. If you’re a female, you carry the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of your matrilineal line only, and if you’re a male, you carry the paternal (patrilineal meaning surname) Y DNA line (blue squares) in addition to your mother’s matrilineal line (red circles.) You can read about the difference between maternal versus matrilineal and paternal versus patrilineal here.

Y and mito

Therefore, to collect the rest of the haplogroups and match information about our ancestral lines, meaning those with no color above, we must depend on cousins who descend from those ancestors in such a way that they carry the desired Y or mtDNA.

For men, their surname is generally reflective of the Y DNA inheritance path, presuming that neither the surname nor the Y DNA was changed, intentionally or otherwise – meaning adoption or name changes, for example.

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on to the next generation.

This inheritance path assures that neither the Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with the DNA of the other parent, meaning the DNA changes little if at all generation to generation and we can see back a very long distance into the past by following the stair-step mutations that have accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years.

Think of it as your genetic periscope!

Recently a press article reported that in very limited cases with a medically co-presenting mitochondrial disease, the father’s mitochondrial DNA is found in children. Blaine Bettinger explained further here. It’s actually not new news and you really don’t need to worry about this in regard to genealogy.

Mary Younger

When I originally wrote Mary Younger’s 52 Ancestors article, I didn’t know anything about her mitochondrial DNA because no one from that line had yet tested.

In that article, I detailed her descendants as best I could, and of those descendants, who would carry Mary’s mitochondrial DNA.

A cousin, Lynn, read the article and replied that indeed, she descends from Mary through all females – and was willing to DNA test. Thank you Lynn!!!

Mary’s mtDNA Dispells a Myth

Lynn’s results came back and told us that Mary Younger’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H1a3a.

Often in early genealogy research, when a colonial lineage brick wall was encountered, the comment that “maybe she was Indian,” was made. Sometimes those comments fanned the flames of myths that took hold like wildfire and are reflected today in many online trees. The “maybe” became quickly omitted and the comment was elevated from the realm of speculation to gospel.

Mary Younger was born about 1766, probably in either Essex or King and Queen County to Marcus Younger and his wife, Susannah whose surname we don’t know. Therefore, Susannah would have been born between 1720 and 1746.

There’s a persistent rumor that Susannah’s surname was Hart and there is some reason to suspect that it may have been, but the bottom line is that we don’t know.

If Susannah’s surname IS Hart, we don’t know which Hart individual was her father, although Anthony Hart (1755-1832) and Marcus Younger were both associated with one Robert Hart, believed to be Anthony’s father, but that too is unproven. The King and Queen County courthouse burned and that’s where the Hart land was located, so most records are gone. Bummer.

There is some amount of suspicion that Anthony Hart and Susannah that married Marcus Younger were siblings. To make matters even worse, Marcus and Susannah Younger’s son, John Younger married Lucy Hart – so autosomal DNA from that line will match the Hart line and not (necessarily) because of Susannah. Therefore, John Younger’s line can’t be used for comparisons to the Hart line for either mitochondrial or autosomal. However, cousin Lynn’s DNA as Mary Younger’s direct matrilineal descendant can be utilized for both mitochondrial and autosomal comparisons.

What we do know, from Mary Younger’s mitochondrial DNA alone is that Susannah through her matrilineal line was NOT Native American. Haplogroup H1a3a is European, unquestionably European.

We can dispel that Native American myth forever, at least about this particular line.

Lynn’s H1a3a Matches

What can we tell about haplogroup H1a3a and in particular, Lynn’s matches?

Mary Younger matches map

None of Lynn’s three exact matches have completed their geographical information for their most distant known ancestor. These match maps are such powerful tools if people would only complete the information.

Other than the three with no information, so aren’t shown on the map – the matches on the map in the US aren’t terribly relevant unless specific clusters suggest a particular migration path. In this case, nothing of note, although those 3 Canadian maritime matches are curious. I don’t know if there is any useful information there or not.

However, Europe is different, because those matches are fairly tightly clustered.

All of Lynn’s matches are either in the British Isles or in Scandinavia. This could suggest either that descendants of her ancestors, hundreds or thousands of years ago migrated to both locations, or it could mean that the English locations are perhaps showing a Viking influence.

Lynn’s matches themselves are unremarkable other than the fact that her only rare mutation occurs in the coding region, which means that we really do need the full sequence test to make use of this information. She has 107 full sequence matches, of which three are exact, providing the following most distant ancestor information.

  • Martha Patsy Terry was born in 1805 in North Carolina and died after 1865 in Alabama
  • Sarah Emma Doyle was born in 1824 in Fayette County, TN and died in 1890 in Cass Co., Texas.
  • The third match says “information needed.” Well, me too😊

The only person with one mutation difference shows their most distant ancestor with a name and birth of 1534. They apparently misunderstood what was being asked, because if you look at their tree, their most distant matrilineal ancestor is Margaret Moore born in NC, died in Texas, and who had daughter Dicie Moore in 1830 in Tennessee.

Unfortunately, these matches aren’t terribly helpful either, at least not today.

Two of the three exact matches have trees which I checked for the surname of Hart and Younger and looked for geographic proximity.

Checking advanced matches by selecting both Family Finder and the Full Sequence mitochondrial matches shows no individual who matches on both tests.

Haplogroup H1a3a

If Lynn’s mtDNA matches aren’t being productive, what can I tell about haplogroup H1a3a itself?

Doron Behar in his 2012 paper placed the age of H1a3a at 3859 years, give or take 1621 years, so therefore haplogroup H1a3a was born between 1238 and 6480 years ago. An exact match with no additional mutations could be from long ago. Fortunately, Lynn does have a few additional mutations, so her exact matches share mutations since the birth of haplogroup H1a3a.

Using the Family Tree DNA mitochondrial tree and searching for H1a3a, we discover the following information.

Mary Younger H1a3a

Haplogroup H1a3a is found in a total of 21 countries. The most common location is Germany, which isn’t reflected in Lynn’s matches.

Mary Younger mtDNA countries

This is especially interesting, because it suggests that the haplogroup itself may have spread from the Germanic region of Europe into both England and Sweden. Lynn’s matches are only found in those diaspora regions, not in Germany itself. To me, this also suggests that the people still in Germany have accrued several mutations as compared to Mary Younger’s DNA. They are no longer considered a match since their common ancestor is far enough back in time that they have accumulated several mutations difference from cousin Lynn today. Conversely, the people closer in time that share some of those mutations do qualify as matches.

And no, haplogroup H1a3a is not Native American, in spite of the one person who had indicated such (the feather icon.) Many people record “American” or “Native American” because they believe, before testing, that they have Native American on “that side,” as opposed in that specific line. Of course, the maternal side could mean any one of many ancestors – as opposed to the matrilineal line which is directly your mother’s mother’s mother’s line until you run out of direct line mothers in your tree.

What we know now is that sometime between 1200 and 6500 years ago, the haplogroup defining mutations between H1a3 and H1a3a occurred, probably someplace in Germanic Europe. From there, people migrated to both the British Isles and portions of Scandinavia.

Given that we find Susannah in the early 1700s in King and Queen County, Virginia, it would be a reasonable working hypothesis that she was English (or at least from the British Isles) and not Scandinavian. Alexander Younger, the grandfather of Marcus Younger was from Scotland and many of the early era colonial settlers in that region were English.

Hopefully, time and more DNA testers will eventually tell more of Susannah’s tale – either through mitochondrial or autosomal DNA matches, or both.

What About You?

If you haven’t yet tested your mitochondrial DNA, now would be a great time. In fact, you can click here to order the mtFull test. Who knows what you might learn. Are there specific questions you’d like to answer about dead end female lines? Mitochondrial DNA is one way to circumvent a surname/genealogical blockade – at least partially.

If you don’t carry the mitochondrial DNA line that you need, sponsor a test for a cousin. You’ll get to meet a really cool person to share information with, like Lynn, and learn about your common genealogical bond as well as your ancestor’s DNA.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs

The company Genetic Affairs launched a few weeks ago with an offer to regularly visit your vendor accounts at Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, and compile a spreadsheet of your matches, download it, and send it to you in an e-mail. They then update your match list at regular intervals of your choosing.

I didn’t take advantage of this, mostly because Ancestry doesn’t provide me with segment information and while 23andMe and Family Tree DNA both do, I maintain a master spreadsheet that the new matches wouldn’t integrate with. Granted, I could sort by match date and add only the new ones to my master spreadsheet, but it was never a priority. That was yesterday.

AutoClustering

That changed this week. Genetic Affairs introduced a new AutoClustering tool that provides users with clustered matches. I’m salivating and couldn’t get signed up quickly enough.

Please note that I’ve cropped the names for this article – the Genetic Affairs display shows you the entire name.

In short, each tiny square node represents a three-way match, between you and both of the people in the intersection of the grid. This does NOT mean they are triangulated, but it does mean there’s a really good chance they would triangulate. Think of this as the Family Tree DNA matrix on steroids and automated.

This tool allows me by using my mother’s test as well to actually triangulate my matches. If they are on my mother’s side of the tree, match me and mother both, and are in the match matrix, they must triangulate on my mother’s side of my tree if they both match me on the same segment.

With this information, I can check the chromosome browser, comparing my chromosomes to those other two individuals in the matrix to see if we share a common segment – or I can simply sort the spreadsheet provided with the AutoCluster results. Suddenly that delivery service is extremely convenient!

No, this service is not free, but it’s quite reasonable. I’m going to step through the process. Note that at times, the website seemed to be unresponsive especially when moving from one step to another. Refreshing the page remedied the problem.

Account Setup

Go to www.geneticaffairs.com. Click on Register to set up your account, which is very easy.

After registering, move to step 2, “Add website.”

Add websites where you have accounts. All of your own profiles plus the other people’s that you manage at both Ancestry and 23andMe are included when you register that site in your profile.

You’ll need your signon information and password for each site.

At Family Tree DNA, you’ll need to add a new website for each account since every account has its own kit number and password.

I added my own account and my mother’s account since mother’s DNA is every bit as relevant to my genealogy as my own, AND, I only received half of her DNA which means she will have many matches that I don’t.

When you’re finished adding accounts, click on “Websites and Profiles” at the top to open the website tab of your choosing and click on the blue circular arrows AutoCluster link. You are telling the system to go out and gather your matches from the vendor and then cluster your matches together, generating an AutoCluster graphic file.

There are several more advanced options, but I’m going to run initially with Approach A, the default level. This will exclude my closest matches. Your closest matches will fall into multiple cluster groups, and the software is not set up to accommodate that – so they will wind up as a grey nonclustered square. That’s not all bad, but you’ll want to experiment to see which parameters are best for you.

If you have half-siblings, you may want to work with alternate settings because that half-sibling is important in terms of phasing your matches to maternal or paternal sides.

Asking me if “I’m sure” always causes me to really sit back and think about what I’ve done. Like, do I want to delete my account. In this case, it’s “overworry” because the system is just asking if you want to spend 25 credits, which is less than a dollar and probably less than a quarter. Right now, you’re using your free initial credits anyway.

The first time you set up an account, Genetic Affairs signs in to your account to assure that your login information is accurate.

I selected my profile and my mother’s profile at Family Tree DNA, plus one profile each at 23andMe and Ancestry. I have two profiles at both 23andMe (V3 and V4) and Ancestry (V1 and V2).

When making my selections, I wasn’t clear about the meaning of “minimum DNA match” initially, but it means fourth cousin and closer, NOT fourth and more distant.

My recommendation until you get the hang of things is to use the first default option, at least initially, then experiment.

Welcome

While I was busy ordering AutoClusters, Genetic Affairs was sending me a welcome e-mail.

Hello Roberta Estes,

Thank you for joining Genetic Affairs! We hope you will enjoy our services.

We have a manual available as well as a frequently asked questions section that both provide background information how to use our website.

You currently have 200 credits which can be supplemented using single payments and/or monthly subscriptions. Check out our prices page for more information concerning our rates.

Please let us know if anything is unclear, we can be reached using the contact form.

The great news is that everyone begins with 200 free credits which may last you for quite some time.  Or not. Consider them introductory crack from your new pusher.

Options

Genetic affairs will sign on your account at either Ancestry, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA, or all 3, periodically and provide you with match information about your new matches at each website. You select the interval when you configure your account. After each update, you can order a new AutoCluster if you wish.

Each update, and each AutoCluster request has a cost in points, sold as credits, associated with the service.

To purchase credits after you use your initial 200, you will need to enter your credit card information in the Settings Page, which is found in the dropdown (down arrow) right beside your profile photo.

You can select from and enroll in several plans.

Prices which varies by how often you want updates to be performed and for how many accounts. To see the various service offerings and cost, click here.

Here’s an example calculation for weekly updates:

This is exactly what I need, so it looks like this service will cost me $2.16 per month, plus any Autoclustering which is 25 credits each time I AutoCluster. Therefore, I’ll add another 100 credits for a total of $3.16 per month.

It looks like the $5 per month package will do for me. But don’t worry about that right now, because you’re enjoying your free crack, um, er, credits.

Ok, the e-mail with my results has just arrived after the longest 10 minutes on earth, so let’s take a look!

The Results E-mail

In a few minutes (or longer) after you order, an e-mail with the autoclustering results will arrive. Check your spam filter. Some of my e-mails were there, and some reports simply had to be reordered. One report never arrived after being ordered 3 times.

The e-mail when it arrives states the following:

Hello Roberta Estes,

For profile Roberta Estes: An AutoCluster analysis has been performed (access it through the attached HTML file).

As requested, cM thresholds of 250 cM and 50 cM were used. A total number of 176 matches were identified that were used for a AutoCluster analysis. There should be two CSV files attached to this email and if enough matches can be clustered, an additional HTML file. The first CSV file contains all matches that were identified. The second CSV file contains a spreadsheet version of the AutoCluster analysis. The HTML file will contain a visual representation of the AutoCluster analysis if enough matches were present for the clustering analysis. Please note that some files might be displayed incorrectly when directly opened from this email. Instead, save them to your local drive and open the files from there.

Attached I found 3 files:

  • Matches list
  • Autocluster grid csv file
  • Autocluster html file that shows the cluster itself

The Match Spreadsheet

The first thing that will arrive in your e-mail is a spreadsheet of your matches for the account you configured and ordered an AutoCluster for.

In the e-mail, your top 20 matches are listed, which initially confused me, because I wondered if that means they are not in the spreadsheet. They are.

At 23andMe, I initially selected 5th cousins and closer, which was the most distant match option provided. I had a total of 1233 matches.

23andMe caps your account at 2000 (unless you have communicated with people who are further than 2000 away, in which case they remain on your list), but you can’t modify the Genetic Affairs profile to include any people more distant than 5th cousins

Note that the 23andMe download shows you information about your match, but NOT the actual matching segment information☹

At Ancestry, I selected 4th cousin and closer and I received a total of 2698 matches. I could select “distant cousin” which would result in additional matches being downloaded and a different autoclustering diagram. I may experiment with this with my V2 account and compare them side by side.

This Ancestry information provides an important clue for me, because the matches I work with are generally only my Shared Ancestor Hints matches. If the Viewed field equals false, this tells  me immediately that I didn’t have a shared ancestor hint – but now because of the clustering, I know where they might fit.

At Family Tree DNA, I selected 4th cousin, but I could have selected 5th cousins. I have a total of 1500 matches.

This report does include the segment information (Yay!) and my only wish here would be to merge the two downloads available at Family Tree DNA, meaning the segment information and the match information. I’d like to know which of these are assigned to maternal or paternal buckets, or both.

AutoClustering

The Autocluster csv file is interesting in that it shows who matches whom. It’s the raw data used to construct the colored grid.

My matches are numbered in their column. For example, person M.B. is person 1. Every person that matches person 1 is noted at left with a 1 in that column.  Look at the second person under the Name column, C. W., who matches person 1 (M.B.), 2 (C.W.), 3 (T.F.), 4 (purple) and 5 (A.D.).

All of these people are in the same cluster, number 3, which you’ll see below.

The AutoCluster Graph

Finally, we get to the meat of the matter, the cluster graph.

Caveat – I experienced a significant amount of difficulty with both my account and my graph. If your graph does not display correctly, save the file to your system and click to open the file from your hard drive. Try Edge or Internet explorer if Chrome doesn’t work correctly. If it still doesn’t display accurately, notify GeneticAffairs at info@geneticaffairs.com. Consider this software release late alpha or early beta. Personally, I’m just grateful for the tool.

When you first open the html file, you’ll be able to see your matches “fly” into place. That’s pretty cool. Actually, that’s a metaphor for what I want all of my genealogy to do.

This grid shows the people who match me and each other as well, so a trio – although this does NOT mean the three of us match on the same segment.

The first person is Debbie, a known cousin on my father’s side. She and all of the other 12 people match me and each other as well and are shown in the orange cluster at the top left.

I know that my common ancestor couple with Debbie is Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, so it’s very likely that all of these same people share the same ancestral line, although perhaps not the same ancestral couple. For example, they could descend from anyone upstream of Lazarus and Elizabeth. Some may have known ancestors on either the Estes or Vannoy side, which will help determine who the actual oldest common ancestors are.

You’ll notice people in grey squares that aren’t in the cluster, but match me and Debbie both. This means that they would fall into two different clusters and the software can’t accommodate that. You may find your closest relatives in this grey never-never-land. Don’t ignore the grey squares because they are important too.

The second green cluster is also on my father’s side and represents the Vannoy line. My common ancestor with several matches is Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley.

Working my way through each cluster, I can discern which common ancestor I match by recognizing my cousins or people who I’ve already shared genealogy with.

The third red cluster is on my mother’s side and I know that it’s my Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle line. I can verify this by looking at my mother’s AutoCluster file to see if the same people appear in her cluster.

You can also view this grid by name, # of shared matches and the # of shared cMs with the tester. Those displays are nice but not nearly as informative at the AutoClusters.

Scroll for More Match Information

Be sure to scroll down below the grid (yes, there is something below the grid!) and read the text where you’re provided a list of people who qualify to be included in the clusters, but don’t match anyone else at the criteria selection level you chose – so they aren’t included in the grid. This too is informative.  For example, my cousin Christine is there which tells me that our mutual line may not be represented by a cluster. This isn’t surprising, since our common ancestor immigrated in the 1850s – so not a lot of descendants today.

You’re also provided with AutoCluster match information, including whether or not your match has a tree. I do have notes on my matches at Family Tree DNA for several of these people, but unfortunately, the file download did not pick those notes up.

However, the fact that these matches are displayed “by cluster” is invaluable.

You can bet your socks that I’m clicking on the “tree” hotlink and signing on to FTDNA right now to see if any of these people have recognizable ancestors (or surnames) of either Elizabeth Vannoy or Lazarus Estes, or upstream. Some DO! Glory be!

Better yet, their DNA may descend from one of my dead-ends in this line, so I’ll be carefully recording any genealogical information that I can obtain to either confirm the known ancestors or break through those stubborn walls.

Dead ends would become evident by multiple people in the cluster sharing a different ancestor than one you’re already familiar with. Look carefully for patterns. Could this be the key to solving the mystery of who the mother of Nancy Ann Moore is? Or several other brick walls that I’d love to fall, just in time for Christmas. Who doesn’t have brick walls?

By signing on to Family Tree DNA and looking carefully at the trees and surnames of the people in each group, I was able to quickly identify the common line and assign an ancestor to most of the matching groups.

This also means I’ll now be able to make notes on these matches at Family Tree DNA paint these in DNAPainter! (I’ve written several articles about using DNAPainter which you can read by entering DNAPainter into the search box on this blog.)

Mom’s Acadian Cluster

Endogamy is always tough and this tool isn’t any different. Lots of grey squares which mean people would fit into multiple clusters. That’s the hallmark of endogamy.

My Mom’s largest clustered group is Acadian, which is endogamous, and her orange cluster has a very interesting subgroup structure.

If you look, the larger loosely connected orange group extends quite some way down the page, but within that group, there seems to be a large, almost solid orange group in the lower right. I’m betting that almost solid group to the right lower part of the orange region represents a particular ancestral line within the endogamous Acadian grouping.

Also of interest, my Mom’s green cluster is the same as my red Jacob Lentz/Frederica Ruhle cluster group, with many of the same individuals. This confirms that these people match me and that other person on Mom’s side, so whoever in this group matches me and any other person on the same segment is triangulated to my Mom’s side of my genealogy.

You can also use this information in conjunction with your parental bucketing at Family Tree DNA.

In Summary

I’m still learning about this tool, it’s limitations and possibilities. The software is new and not bug-free, but the developer is working to get things straightened out. I don’t think he expected such a deluge of desperate genealogists right away and we’ve probably swamped his servers and his inbox.

I haven’t yet experimented with changing the parameters to see who is included and who isn’t in various runs. I’ll be doing that over the next several days, and I’ll be applying the confirmed ancestral segments I discover in DNAPainter!

This is going to be a lot of fun. I may not surface again until 2019😊

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

William Sterling Estes’ Court Martial and Escape; 3 Wives and 4 Aliases – 52 Ancestors #217

Oh yea, this cliff-hanger installment in the mystery series better known as “Dad’s Better-Than-Any-Soap-Opera Life” is a doosey!

I’ve been trying for years to piece my father’s life together, and slowly, the puzzle pieces fall into the place. However, it doesn’t feel like one puzzle, but a schizophrenic mixture of several puzzles that all have the same shaped pieces but different pictures on the front.

I’m chronically confused by his life, events and choices. Nonetheless, I persevere, because I really want to unearth the truth which, I hope, can serve to unlock some understanding of this man who passed from this earth when I was but a child.

I knew that my father had served in the military. Initially I thought it was once, then twice – once during WWI and WWII. Then, I discovered that it was twice during WWI, then a third enlistment was added. Tidbits about my father’s life tended to creep up on me like that – a slow drip of truth confounded by lots of obfuscation and drama.

I was confused – very confused, and to complicate matters even further, his service records burned in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis Missouri. Then, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1991, his medical records from the veterans facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana were forwarded to the Dayton, Ohio Record Center for storage in 1960 and that all records prior to 1964 had been destroyed – and that they were sorry.

Not nearly as sorry as I was.

I guess high drama even followed him around AFTER his death in 1963. I remember hearing about the St. Louis fire, vaguely, but I had absolutely no inkling at the time how adversely it would affect my ability to unravel the life of my father years later.

When I did find out, I wrote letter after letter and tried to obtain what scraps I could. When I was mostly unsuccessful, I figured that was it. Finished. Done. That chapter forever closed. At least that’s what I had been told by all the government agencies and had accepted as truth.

I was wrong.

Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches

When Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Genealogy ran a special for record retrieval and reconstruction, I figured that it couldn’t hurt and might be fruitful. They knew where to look, and how, and I didn’t.

A few weeks later, I received at least a few of my father’s records and while I was saddened by the contents, I wasn’t surprised. What I’d hoped for was some additional detail. There wasn’t nearly as much detail as I wanted, but at least there was something. Genealogists NEVER find “enough” details😊

Some tidbits solved long-standing puzzles. Some begged new questions – but all of it was interesting, including the fact that they had archived the original letter I’d written back in 1991, adding it to his file, when they clearly HAD this information and DIDN’T send it to me then. How startling to see my own handwriting in his file.

First, I sent Twisted Twigs all of the information that I had compiled. No use replowing the same field.

I’ll spare you the details of the paperwork flow, but the information Twisted Twigs received was that court martial records should be in the archives in College Park, MD and that the case number was 138991. Court martial records had not been stored in St. Louis!

Hurray!!!!

Queasy

Then, I felt queasy. My father had a court martial number.

A court martial number.

me and dad crop

This man, the father who held me in my childhood and left me far too soon.

The man I adored, and grieved, had been court martialed.

That was tough. Sickeningly tough. Nauseatingly tough.

The Army

My father also had two service numbers: 0900796 and 21585201, but he enlisted three times.

  • Service from August 24, 1917 to May 19, 1919
  • Service from May 20, 1919 – Nov. 26, 1921
  • Service at Fort Sheridan, Illinois

His third enlistment at Fort Sheridan began on January 8, 1927. He deserted on May 23rd of that same year, but he wasn’t discharged until October 31, 1938 – 11 years later?

That’s bizarre.

Why? What was going on?

What new origami puzzle is waiting to unfold?

First Enlistment

The first document in the Twisted Twigs document packet was the May 1919 discharge from my father’s initial enlistment.

Two items are of note.

First, he was in some kind of trouble, because he forfeited 2/3rds of his pay for one month.

Keep reading however, because under remarks, we see why:

  • AWOL Nov 11, 1918 (Thursday) to Nov. 20, 1918 (Saturday)
  • AWOL from Feb. 10, 1919 (Monday) to Feb. 12, 1919 (Wednesday)
  • AWOL from April 4 (Friday) or 11 (Friday,) 1919 (I can’s make out which date is correct) to April 13, 1919 (Sunday)

Hmmm, apparently, my father had a bit of an AWOL (absent without leave) problem.

Also of note, we discover the location of his original enlistment at Lafayette, Indiana. I already knew that he initially trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis after enlistment, but I was never positive where he had actually enlisted.

I do have signatures of my father, but I have another one here.

The great irony is that he immediately re-enlisted at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan the day after he was discharged.

LPC-015-029-002A[1]

Camp Custer still stands, although it was deserted and hollow a few years ago when I visited.

Camp Custer Battle Creek - Copy (2)

Perhaps that $60 re-enlistment bonus, especially after forfeiting 2/3rds of his pay might have had something to do with it. His actual monthly pay was a whopping $49, according to this document, of which he sacrificed $30?

Where the heck was he when he was AWOL? I expected those AWOL dates to be weekends, but there is no consistent pattern. I thought perhaps a relative had died back in Claiborne County, but I don’t see any evidence of that either.

Maybe he had met Virgie and was going back and forth to Indiana? Nope, not until the summer of 1919.

Perhaps my father’s drinking problem was escalating. That’s more likely.

Second Enlistment

My father’s second enlistment ended a bit differently. He was Honorably Discharged from Fort Leavenworth on November 26, 1921 when his term of service expired.

Aren’t the words “honorably discharged” and “Fort Leavenworth” oxymorons? Polar opposites?

This time, he requested travel pay back to Tazewell, TN, where his parents were from originally and where his father was living at that time.

But, based on other records, it doesn’t appear that he actually went to Tazewell. Instead, he went back to Battle Creek, Michigan where Camp Custer, also known as Fort Custer, where he had been serving before going to Leavenworth was located.

Ilo Bailey

What was happening in my father’s life during this time that might have had something to do with his decision to become AWOL?

Ilo Bailey, that appears to have been what happened.

On February 24, 1920, Ilo had a son, Lee Joseph Estes. Using a pregnancy calculator, Lee’s conception most probably occurred between May 26 and June 2, 1919. These dates of course presume a pregnancy of normal duration.

These dates may also explain why my father re-enlisted on May 20th, and they might also have something to do with his AWOL status in April. He may have been quite smitten with Ilo and wanted to stay in the vicinity.

On November 4th, 1919, he was AWOL and a month later, on December 3, 1919, he married Ilo in Battle Creek under an assumed name, Don Caroles who he claimed was from New Mexico.

When I initially discovered this marriage, I wondered why the alias. It seemed so bizarre. Now we know. He was AWOL. However, his mother’s name is listed as Mary Claxton. Margaret Claxton was his grandmother on his mother’s side. Even more interesting, Ilo’s mother is listed as Ollie Bolton, which was my father’s mother by her maiden name. I’m taking this as evidence that Ilo’s family did not approve of this marriage and the couple probably married without her family’s knowledge and/or consent.

This also makes me wonder if Ollie was somehow involved and may have gone along, posing as Ilo’s mother. Ilo, at 19, was surely old enough to sign for herself to marry. The problem was that Ilo wasn’t actually 19, she was 17, underage and pregnant, so perhaps Ollie was along as her “mother” to vouch for the fact that she was 19 and old enough to marry.

My father, aka Don Caroles, is listed as “in the service,” even though he’s AWOL. This could be a clear indication that he never intended to actually desert and still considered himself a soldier. As you’ll see in a bit, this may seem irrelevant or trivial, but it has important ramifications.

Otherwise, why would he make that declaration about being in the service? And why would he stay in the same town if he actually wanted to desert? People from Camp Custer were sure to see and recognize him there.

Interestingly enough, he’s also listed in the 1920 census, taken on January 14, 1920 where he as Don and Ilo, age 17, are living with her mother, Maud at 221 East Avenue North.

Here’s the property today.

The Battle Creek property tax system indicates that this home was built in 1920 and is a 5 room, two bedroom house, but was it built before or after he lived there? If he lived there, it was relatively new and that’s not likely given the circumstances.

If he was living in this house with his very pregnant bride and her family, it was cozy quarters indeed. Furthermore, given that they were living with her mother, it doesn’t appear that her family was estranged, at least not at this point. Perhaps he was helping to take care of her mother and her three siblings too.

Research reveals that Ilo’s father died on March 28, 1917, so her mother would have been left as a widow to raise the children alone. This puts the statement recorded in legal documents that “her people couldn’t” provide for her in a different light than meaning they wouldn’t care for Ilo. There’s a big difference between can’t and won’t.

It still doesn’t explain Ilo’s letter in March of 1921 to Dad stating that she had sacrificed the love of her family for him.

However, that’s not the only thing going on in his life, as if this wasn’t enough.

Martha Dodder

Dad had met Martha Dodder too.

We know from my half-sister Edna, daughter of Dad and Martha, that they met while he was hospitalized in the Camp Custer Hospital, shown below, with the attached YMCA building where families and volunteers came to comfort the ill or wounded soldiers.

Among other things, the YMCA provided soldiers with paper, envelopes and postage so they could write to their loved ones. My father’s letters to Virgie were written on YMCA stationery. It’s probably in this very building that he met Martha.

Dad was admitted to the hospital on or before August 7 and remained through August 30, 1919. His illness may have started with the flu epidemic, but it quickly morphed into something much worse and life threatening.

Image result for camp custer guard house photo

From his letters to a third girlfriend, Virgie, in Indiana, whom he met in June 1919, he literally thought he was going to die. He had previously proposed to Virgie, but her letters had dwindled to once a month while he was hospitalized, and he clearly knew that something was amiss in that relationship. In those letters, he had told her that he had broken it off with the previous girlfriend in Michigan, who would have (presumably) been Ilo.

His health deteriorated. From August 7th until at least August 30th he was hospitalized with either meningitis or encephalitis following a tonsillectomy.

My half-sister, Edna Estes, shown with her mother, Martha Dodder, below, was born on May 22, 1920.

The conception calculator (that’s getting a workout thanks to Dad) tells us that Edna was probably conceived between August 12, 1919 and August 29, 1919 but possibly as late as September 3rd.

He had broken up with Ilo, been ghosted by Virgie, had surgery, spent a month in the hospital, thought he was dying and clearly took comfort with Martha.

Surname Manipulation

If you’re wondering how Edna’s last name was Estes if he was married to Ilo at the time Edna was born, that too appears to be a clever construction of my father’s somewhat devious cunning. If nothing else, he was ingenious.

Purely guessing now, but given that at the time of Edna’s birth he was in the midst of being court martialed and was married to another woman with an infant 3 months old, he probably speculated that the judge might not look kindly on his leniency request if the judge knew that my father had indeed gotten two different women “in trouble” 3 months apart. Yep, that judge might, just might, view this behavior as a character flaw and decide to throw the book at him. And since the consequences of violating article 58 under which he was being court martialed were “up to and including death,” the outcome was incredibly important. So, Dad apparently successfully convinced Martha to protect him. I would like to have been a fly on that wall!

Edna’s original birth certificate, at the time she was born, listed her father as Edward Polushink and her name was listed as Edna Marie Polushink. No one in the family knew about this original birth certificate, nor had anyone ever heard the name Edward Polushink when the birth certificate was accidentally discovered after Martha’s passing.

After my father married Martha Dodder in 1921, they petitioned to have the birth certificate amended, and today, Edna’s birth certificate lists William Sterling Estes as her father which DNA testing of her granddaughter subsequently confirmed.

The dead give-away is that Edna’s birth certificate is listed in the official clerk’s book, not in the date order of the other birth records as babies were born, but on the date that the record was changed, in 1922. The clerk had a great deal of difficulty finding Edna’s birth record due to the out of order recording, which is also how that original record was discovered. The original was listed in the correct date location but was stricken through.

Timeline

I just can’t keep events like these straight without a timeline, not to mention that timelines help me visualize more accurately and see “holes” in things, literally or figuratively.

  • October 1, 1901 or 1902 – William Sterling Estes is born based on census and family records. Could possibly be 1903 but less likely.
  • August 24, 1917 – First military enlistment – age 13 or 14, falsified age
  • October 1, 1917 – 14th or 15th birthday
  • October 1, 1918 – 15th or 16th birthday
  • First Enlistment AWOL Nov 11, 1918 (Thursday) to Nov. 20, 1918 (Saturday)
  • First Enlistment AWOL from Feb. 10, 1919 (Monday) to Feb. 12, 1919 (Wednesday)
  • First Enlistment AWOL from April 4 (Friday) or 11 (Friday,) 1919 to April 13, 1919 (Sunday).
  • May 19, 1919 – First enlistment complete, honorable discharge
  • May 20, 1919 – Enlisted for the second time at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan
  • May 26 – June 2, 1919 – Ilo Bailey’s son conceived
  • June 25, 1919 – First letter to Virgie whom he had recently met in Indiana, states he has broken up with the former girlfriend
  • June-August 1919 – Has proposed to Virgie. Is taking her an engagement ring when he gets out of hospital.
  • August 7 – 30, 1919 – Hospitalized, flu, pneumonia and eventually either meningitis or encephalitis, meets Martha Dodder who is a volunteer at the hospital
  • August 1919 – Virgie not writing back according to his letters which she kept
  • August 30, 1919 – Letter to Virgie with entirely different tone, understands that her lack of communication means the end, says goodbye, terribly saddened, but leaves the door open
  • August 12 – September 3, 1919 – Conception dates for Edna Estes, daughter with Martha Dodder
  • October 1, 1919 – 16th or 17th birthday
  • Second Enlistment AWOL – November 4, 1919
  • November 18, 1919 – Status changed from AWOL to desertion (this changed his legal status from Article 62 AWOL to Article 58 desertion)
  • December 3, 1919 – Marriage to Ilo Bailey in Battle Creek using assumed name of Don Caroles. Ilo is 6 months pregnant.
  • February 24, 1920 – Ilo’s son, Lee Joseph Estes born
  • April 7, 1920 – Arrested for desertion/AWOL in Battle Creek, confined to the guard house at Camp Custer
  • May 20, 1920 – Martha’s daughter, Edna Estes born as he is being court martialed. He is still married to Ilo.
  • May 20 through August, 1920 – Court Martial proceedings
  • August 1920 – Court Martial sentencing
  • August 1920 – November 1921 – Fort Leavenworth performing hard labor
  • October 1, 1920 – 17th or 18th birthday while in Leavenworth
  • March 22, 1921 – Ilo letter saying she is leaving the state with the baby and has sacrificed the love of her parents for him and their marriage was never legal. Perhaps this is why a line was at some time drawn through the marriage record in the clerk’s marriage book.
  • October 1, 1921 – 18th or 19th birthday while in Leavenworth
  • November 26, 1921 – Term of service ended, honorably discharged from Fort Leavenworth
  • December 12, 1921 – Marriage to Martha Dodder in Battle Creek, 2 weeks and 2 days after leaving Leavenworth
  • October 1, 1922 – 19th or 20th birthday, married to Martha and living in Battle Creek
  • September 5, 1923 – Martha files for divorce stating that he “loafs around doing nothing and she has to go out to work.” (Was he the original stay-at-home Dad?) Both are seeking a divorce and she alleges the legally required phrase of “extreme cruelty” in order to obtain a divorce in Michigan at that time.
  • October 1, 1923 – 20th or 21st birthday, in process of getting divorced from Martha
  • February 26, 1924 – Divorce from Martha final in Battle Creek
  • October 1, 1924 – 21st or 22nd birthday – who knows where the heck he is? His two children are living with their mothers and he isn’t living with or married to either mother anymore.

That’s a lot of ground to cover by your 21st or 22nd birthday. One heck of a lot!

But that’s not the half of it.

Court Martial

Reading your father’s court martial is brutal. I was torn between wanting to know and not wanting to look. This would be a lot easier if this history was a couple of generations removed, and much less personal.

For God’s sake, this is my FATHER. Half of me is from him, but hopefully not the AWOL half.

I need to read this and try to unravel what happened. Perhaps I can understand why.

The investigation, above, recommended that my father be court martialed, and that’s exactly what happened. He was to be charged with a violation of the 58th Article of War.

ART. 58. DESERTION.–Any person subject to military law who deserts or attempts to desert the service of the United States shall, if the offense be committed in time of war, suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, and, if the offense be committed at any other time, any punishment, excepting death, that a court-martial may direct.

Death?

DEATH?

My father was messing around with an offense that could result in a death sentence? Where they stand you up against the wall and your fellow soldiers line up and shoot you point blank.

What the bloody hell was he thinking?

This document was followed by 22 typed legal pages of testimony, much of it having to do with the morning reports in barracks, shown below, and the process that soldiers used to obtain passes.

Camp Custer Battle Creek - Copy (3)

Clearly, my father did not obtain or attempt to obtain a pass. The court martial also includes details such as that there was nothing missing, meaning no equipment or clothes had been taken when he was not present for the morning report. In other words, he hadn’t stolen anything from the government and it goes as evidence to suggest that he wasn’t planning to desert. He was just a few months late returning, that’s all.

Right!

He apparently was cooperative and said little. He said nothing about disliking the service or military at any time, according to the testimony from various people.

During the proceedings, my father answered questions respectfully, with “Yes Sir” and “No Sir.”

Reading the transcripts of the trial, several tidbits were revealed.

Question to his commanding officer: Was the accused ever in trouble in the company?

A: Well I believe he would go downtown and stay late and that is about all.

Q: What is your opinion of his character?

A: He seemed to be a very good soldier.

That’s so sad. It’s also worth noting that he was a Sergeant at one point, but ultimately was discharged as a Private.

The police officer, Edward Abbey, who arrested my father was tipped off by two ex-soldiers who spotted him along with his (presumed) wife, baby and another female at the Majestic Theater in Battle Creek.

The officer waited until the movie was over, then stopped him on the way out, put his hand on him, and asked if he was a deserter. My father replied no, that he wasn’t, but the officer took him to the station to question him.

Based on the testimony, there is apparently a difference in the classification of someone who is absent without leave (Article 61) and a deserter (Article 58.) The primary difference between the two offences is “the intent to remain away permanently” or if the purpose is to shirk important duty, such as combat. If a person intends to return to “military control,” then they are AWOL and not a deserter – even if they are away for years. For the first 30 days, the unit attempts to locate the soldier and convince them to return to the unit.

Oh yea, one other tiny difference. AWOL doesn’t carry the death penalty as a possibility – so it would have been important to have him convicted as AWOL and not as having deserted. Much safer for his neck that way.

So my father was just late – really, really late.

Today, at the 30 day mark, the soldier becomes “a wanted person” and their status changes to deserter. At that time, the line in the sand may not have been as clear. Anyone AWOL for more than 30 days is tried by court martial.

Given this distinction, the several pages of testimony by various individuals regarding the fact that my father was wearing at least a partial uniform when arrested and never left the area provides evidence that he may have not actually intended to permanently desert. When I first read this document, that repeated testimony seemed unnecessary overkill, but now I understand why so much focus was placed on that seemingly trivial information.

In essence, desertion requires intent while being AWOL does not. Although being gone for 5 months indicates that he made the same bad decision to be AWOL for roughly 150 consecutive days. However, every day was a new decision while a deserter makes one decision, once, and carries it out. A deserter likely leaves the area immediately to minimize chances of being caught, and he didn’t do that either.

So either he really didn’t intend to actually desert, or he was incredibly short-sighted – to put it nicely.

At the police station, my father apparently freely admitted that he had “left the army without permission” which is technically AWOL and not desertion. He denied being a deserter. He obviously knew the technical difference.

At the time my father was apprehended, he was wearing civilian clothes that mostly covered up his military issued uniform. According to the arresting officer, “I noticed his uniform pants because his civilian pants had a three cornered hole in them. He had on a dark colored civilian coat.” He was not wearing military leggings which you can see in the following picture of him kissing Virgie.

Based on letters he had written to Virgie during the time when they were briefly engaged in the summer of 1919, he was trying to figure out how they could live on his soldier’s pay. He commented that he didn’t need non-military clothes because the Army would provide his clothing. I’m wondering if the reason he was wearing his military garb under other clothes is because he only had one civilian outfit (with a tear in the leg) and he needed the layers for warmth. Wearing military issue simply increases the odds that someone will notice and recognize you, which is the last thing you want if you are a deserter. Or AWOL.

These pieces don’t all add up. Had he always intended to go back “tomorrow?” Yet each tomorrow looked increasingly bleak in terms of the consequences?

He had never left Battle Creek during the 5 months he was AWOL, so clearly wasn’t trying very hard to hide. He had been driving a team for someone, meaning a team of horses. And he was wearing a uniform, or at least pieces of his uniform in the town beside the military base where he was AWOL from. I have to wonder at his thought process.

The night he was apprehended, the officer said that there was a woman at the station without the baby, and a woman at city hall with a baby. Ilo could simply have had her friend take care of the baby while she waited for him. Or, maybe, the two women waiting separately were pregnant Martha and Ilo with baby Lee. If that was the case, then incarceration might have sounded like the best of two bad options and much safer than the explosion that might have resulted had Martha and Ilo met.

Or perhaps, they had met and his goose was already cooked in more than one pot.

During the court martial proceedings, my father stated that he did not wish to make a statement or testify on his own behalf. There really wasn’t much he could say.

Counsel for defense closing argument:

“The defense wishes the court to take into consideration that the accused has a wife and a 2 or 3 month old baby with no means of support and the accused asks that the court show leniency.”

The Judge Advocate read that there were no previous convictions and read my father’s statement of service that omitted his prior service enlistment, which he brought to the attention of the judge.

Fortunately, the Judge Advocate took pity on him and the sentence was modified, the dishonorable discharge order suspended and the hard labor being reduced from 18 months to just 6.

Ahhh, it looks like Dad got a break and the judge remarked that he was not determined to be guilty of desertion, simply AWOL. Six months for AWOL versus 18 for desertion. Maybe those old Army clothes he was wearing, for whatever the reason, saved his skin.

Hard labor at that time meant exactly what it implied – working rock quarrys, building roads or laboring on docks. Or, perhaps, building state or government buildings, like the prisons themselves.

The next document is an amended sentence.

The original sentence was for 18 months of hard labor, but this document says 6 months. He had been granted the leniency he requested.

It appears that the Adjutant General has a significant amount of discretion. There’s a difference between this type of case and one of desertion under fire that jeopardizes the lives of other soldiers. While there appears to be no justification for the choice he made, it’s still not comparable to defecting to the enemy or risking the lives of others.

Still, the fact that he would have done something that even MIGHT result in his own death sentence boggles my mind.

BUT, my father actually DID serve more than six months, and the reason why will astound you!

More Confusion

Then, the most confusing document of all was dated the day of his sentencing:

Let’s take this apart piece by piece.

  • Born in New Mexico, October 1, 1898? We already know that he “modified” his birth year significantly to enlist in the service. He was born in either 1901 or 1902. But he was NOT born in New Mexico. Why did he say that? What don’t we know?
  • Raised in urban environment by parents. That’s not true either. He was raised on farms and his parents divorced.
  • Quit school at age of 16. Assuming he attended school until he enlisted in 1917, that means he would have quit school at the age of enlistment of 14 or 15.
  • Claims that he was in second year of Carlyle Indian School at the time.

I’m dumbstruck at this claim which is clearly patently false. Why would he make this up?

The Carlisle Indian School was a “boarding school” for Native American students with the intention of removing them from the “Native influences” of their family and community and mainstreaming their assimilation into the Europeanized version of American life by depriving them of their culture and language.

My father was quite dark and our family had an oral history of Native heritage, so I’m not surprised that he could pull this off.

As fate would have it, a few years ago I transcribed the entire list of Carlisle Indian School residents, including the list from the school itself and from the National Archives, neither of which are individually complete. There is no Estes on this list. There is also no Don Caroles or anything similar. For those interested, I wrote about the records here.

Other information includes:

  • He worked as a fireman on the Grand Trunk Railroad. If he did this, I don’t know when it would have been. Firemen on the railroads tended the fire for the running of a boiler to power the steam engine.
By Elsie esq. – Copied from en:Image:Boiler man.jpg. Original image from flickr, URL: [1] flickr image ID: 7708375_03dd1f7439.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3829347

His job in the Army was at one point listed as fireman as was the 1920 census entry, so this is at least believable. It may be the only remotely true statement made by him in this sentencing memorandum.

  • He was about 5 months before being apprehended. True.
  • He denies use of alcohol, drugs and civil offences.

Alcohol probably played a factor in this situation, one way or another. Either that, or he got himself so head-over-heels in trouble that he drank to drown those problems. Of course, then alcohol would have made the problems even worse. He had a drinking problem which I believe started as a child when he was fed alcohol by his parents to ease hunger pangs when the family had no food.

  • He was convicted of AWOL and escape and given a sentence of 18 months.

But wasn’t his sentence reduced to 6 months, from 18?

Wait?

What?

ESCAPE???

What escape?

  • Prisoner’s statement is that he had got a young girl into trouble and married her and as her people were unable to support her he went AWOL to do so.

So, he finally tells us why, or at least a sanitized version of why. Is it a reason or an excuse?

As sad as this sounds, it’s likely at least partially true, given the nature and commentary of the Ilo letter that she wrote as a form of “Dear John” letter a few months later while he was serving his time at Fort Leavenworth. Not that she didn’t have cause (think Martha Dodder), but it’s sad nonetheless that he was incarcerated in Leavenworth as a result of taking care of her (and his child) but she left him by leaving town while he was serving the sentence.

Keep in mind that in 1919, my father was all of 17 years old, possibly 18, had gotten himself into one whale of a mess, had no family to turn to and no resources to help. A 17-year-old with a wife who was reportedly estranged from her family because of him, and a newborn baby.

By the time this statement was taken, he also had a second child with Martha who was born on the day his court martial began. It’s unclear whether the two women knew about each other or each other’s children. Furthermore, Virgie, whom he proposed to in the summer of 1919 was long gone although I don’t think he every stopped loving her – given that he married her 42 years later in 1961.

In other words, in 1919, he was a hot mess.

Lastly, he had survived a hospitalization in August that had very nearly taken his life and may have left him with some level of residual brain damage that exacerbated his poor decision making. Not to mention, the US was engaged in a war. Nope. No stress there.

  • Physical condition good.
  • Low-average intellect.

I wonder how they decided his intellect was low-average. He made very poor decisions, but he was not an intellectually impaired or stupid man by any means. Again, I wonder about brain damage from the August 1919 hospitalization.

  • Fair emotional stability.

I sure would like to know the criteria for this assessment. From the distance of 99 years, I’d say he was a train wreck!

  • Not recommended for the Battalion July 27, 1920, because of no desire for further military service.

But then, there’s that escape…

Escape? What Escape?

Just when I think my father is done surprising me, there’s more.

“While awaiting the results of trial, the prisoner escaped confinement on or about June 2nd.”

I’m.

Just.

Speechless.

He escaped custody?

After his trial?

Inside a military base?

What on earth was he thinking?

How far did he get?

How long was he gone?

I was so stunned by the “escape” that I nearly missed the rest of the information on this page that tells us that he never served overseas. I had never seen evidence that he did, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

What does it mean that he’s “not recommended for the Battalion?”

In the Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 4, No. 6 (Mar., 1914), pp. 918-920 (3 pages,) the difference between a Disciplinary Barracks and a prison is set forth. The barracks hopes to reform military offenders whose offences are only military in nature. To that end, for prisoners whose merit warrants, they are allowed the privilege of being assigned to a special unit (battalion) to receive military training for a portion of the time that would otherwise be devoted to hard labor. He did not qualify for that privilege. In part, that might have been because his term of service would expire while he was at Leavenworth, so he would have no time left to serve.

The last statement was:

  • Clemency is not recommended.

No kidding. He blew that opportunity with his escape attempt and his reduced sentence of 6 months was reinstated to the original 18. Someplace he had also lost his officer status. He had been granted clemency, and then he subsequently lost it by his bone-headed escape. He made his own bad situation, literally, three times worse. I don’t think this man was firing on all cylinders. I truly do wonder about the meningitis or encephalitis from 1919 having a detrimental effect on his logical decision making ability.

Was he suffering from a brain injury? He went from being “a good soldier” to this. The change is like Jekyll and Hyde. What happened?

Amazingly, they did not reduce his discharge to dishonorable.

Maybe there is more to this story that we don’t know – something like he went out drinking with his guard buddies. Maybe his escape wasn’t quite like it appears. But we’ll never know.

I can’t imagine any soldier that was both AWOL and having escaped being given an honorable discharge under any normal circumstances. There must have been some sort of extenuating circumstances.

But then again, this is my father and “normal” has never been a word associated with him or even one day of his life.

Fort Leavenworth

I’ve heard of Fort Leavenworth, but what is it really?

First, Fort Leavenworth is a military base, but it’s better known for the prison, or prisons, actually.

Two Fort Leavenworth prisons exist, the Federal Penitentiary and the military United States Disciplinary Barracks. That’s where my father was sent.

The original military prison building was built in 1877 with a second additional building, below, being completed about 1921. Inmates at this older facility were used in the construction of the second building and the Federal Prison by the same name which was located nearby and completed about the same time.

Perhaps now we know the “hard labor” to which my father was assigned. This mustard colored building with the barred windows may have been his home. Somehow very ironic to build your own prison. Did he live in the new one too?

The original Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) was Fort Leavenworth’s biggest and tallest building sitting on top of a hill at the corner of McPherson Avenue and Scott Avenue overlooking the Missouri River. The largest buildings of the original barracks (“The Castle”) were torn down in 2004.

You can see a photo of the original building and cells, here. Note the pile of rocks by the shed that would have been quarried by the inmates.

The old domed building was nicknamed “Little Top” in contrast to the domed federal prison 2 1⁄2 miles south which was nicknamed the “Big Top”. The walls and ten of the buildings in the original location remain and have been converted to other uses at the Fort.

The original prison was 12 acres and the walls were from 16 to 41 feet high. Given the timing of the construction of this facility, it’s certainly possible that he worked on this wall, or others similar.

In 2002, Gail Dillon of Airman magazine wrote:

A visitor would immediately notice the medieval ambiance of this institution – the well-worn native stone and brick walls constructed by long-forgotten inmates when ‘hard labor’ meant exactly that – have witnessed thousands of inmates’ prayers, curses, and pleas over the past 128 years” and that entering the facility was “like stepping back in time or suddenly being part of a kitschy movie set about a prison bust.”

Given that my father was sentenced in 1920, it’s quite likely that he helped build the complex above (mostly torn down in 2004), those prison walls, as well as the Federal Penitentiary below.

By Americasroof – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8727865

He was discharged from the Disciplinary Barracks on November 26th of 1921, two days after Thanksgiving, with travel money to return to Tazewell, TN. Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s where he went.

We already know that 16 days later, he married Martha Dodder in Battle Creek, Michigan. Maybe he hoped to start anew, with a clean slate, and raise his daughter.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Third Enlistment

And, because twice in the Army evidently wasn’t enough for him, he had to go for enlistment number 3, but not for another 5 years and two months.

Where was he for those 5 years?

We know that he married Martha Dodder in Battle Creek on December 12, 1921 and that in February 1924 their were divorce was final, so he was apparently living in Battle Creek during that time, “being lazy” according to Martha.

A subsequent report from a different source tells us that he stated that he joined the Army from Lafayette, Indiana in 1926. Given his disregard for the truth, it’s hard to know if there is any shred of validity given that I’ve have found no evidence of a 1926 enlistment.

The third enlistment document in the Twisted Twigs packet is from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and it too is very confusing.

My father re-enlisted on January 8, 1927 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, an induction and training center.

And yes, he did it AGAIN! He went AWOL again!

What was this man thinking? Was he even thinking?

The top clearly says “Supplemental pay roll of deserter William S. Estes, Private Company A, 2nd infantry.

Deserter

It just kills me to see that word associated with my father.

Again, let’s dissect this information.

  • Deserted at Fort Sheridan May 23, 1927
  • Due US at date of desertion
  • Due US $17.53 for T fr Ft. Leavenworth Kansas to Fort Sheridan, Ill issued by Maj C.A. Meals May 14, 1927 on T/R 191,119 May 14, 1927
  • Reimburse Appn FD 700 P 5024 A 9-7
  • Due US clo lost RS $34.03 (clo apparently means clothing)
  • Due US C&E 20.74
  • Due US for clo overdrawn at date of desertion 41.40
  • Money value of clo drawn since enlistment 103.96
  • Sol having deserted within the 1st 6 mos of enlistment
  • Last paid to April 30, 1927 by Capt. Thomas B. Kennedy FD
  • No AWOL during current enlistment

What? Fort Leavenworth again! And he hadn’t even deserted yet when he was at Fort Leavenworth this time? Wouldn’t simply being AT (or anyplace near) Fort Leavenworth have been enough of a reminder that he would have sworn never to desert, be late or even sneeze again? You’d think so.

What do we have here? Did he just miss the home boys?

My heart sunk when I saw the mention of Fort Leavenworth. Based on what I think I’m reading, he traveled from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sheridan on May the 14th. He then deserted on May 23rd. Or, conversely, he never made it to Fort Sheridan from Leavenworth.

Fort Leavenworth is the same location where he was sent for 18 months hard labor in 1919. You’d think that after one “visit” there, he would do absolutely everything in his power never to have to set foot anyplace near there again.

So he apparently enlisted on January 8th, got into some sort of trouble that was not AWOL, according to the last line, got sent back to Leavenworth for no more than 4 months where he had “resided” previously in 1921, returned to Fort Sheridan and then permanently deserted 9 days later on May 23rd.

He was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, one or the other. I’m betting he carried the “risk taker” mutation in the dopamine receptor DRD4.

This time, given his actions, there is no question that he intended desertion. Yet, somehow, in some way, his record was cleared and he received a military burial and a commendation certificate from President Kennedy, not to mention a military headstone.

How did that happen, given that NARA records indicate his discharge date from this third enlistment as October 31, 1938 was “other than honorable?”

This man is truly a conundrum and a contradiction of every expectation or assumption I’ve ever held.

Twisted Twigs, Again

I contacted the fine folks at Twisted Twigs again, and asked if there was any possibility of finding records of whatever happened at Fort Sheridan that resulted in him being sent to Fort Leavenworth again after his enlistment of January 8th. Obviously, he was in some kind of serious trouble right?

Well, as it turns out, maybe not.

Kathleen, at Twisted Twigs, tells me the following:

Fort Leavenworth was and still is also a working base, as well as a detention center. Soldiers passed through there without being headed for the prison, so he was probably just in transit from base to base.

She clearly didn’t understand my father!

Soldiers would receive their travel allowances in sequence rather than all at once. The payment mentioned there would be the money issued to him to travel from there to Fort Sheridan, and apparently he never made it to Fort Sheridan.

OK, so maybe he wasn’t sent to Fort Leavenworth from Fort Sheridan because he was in some kind of trouble. How ironic if he just happened to get assigned to Leavenworth for some task or duty, given the reason he spent almost 18 months there in 1920 and 1921. Still you would think if anything would have deterred him from deserting again, it would have been the vivid reminder of seeing those walls again. How much more “in your face” could a reminder be?

Was he just working on the outside, looking in, this time? Or is there still more to this story that we just don’t know? Again, Kathleen:

I’d say there are probably more records out there buried somewhere, but his peacetime service makes it a different type of search. A lot of peacetime paperwork was routinely destroyed, because it was perceived to be of little value once shipments were received or equipment was repaired. What survives most from those times are the higher level communications, rosters, and training records.

And of course, those records could have and probably did burn in 1973 in St. Louis.

I asked if we could find any records about his deserter status, and why he wasn’t discharged until 1938, which seemed really odd to me. Why wait until 1938 to give him the boot?

We did request the court martial from this time period as well, but it was not located. It doesn’t mean that it no longer exists, it means that at this moment in time its whereabouts are unknown, and it may in fact be destroyed.

He would not have been discharged without being present. Otherwise, the army had no authority to apprehend him as a deserter. Even if he was incarcerated by civilian authorities, the army maintained ‘control’ over him. It’s possible they simply took the paperwork to the prison and discharged him there since they had finally located him. This would have been part of his service record and was most likely lost in the fire.

The fire. Always that fire! Dang that fire!

The Conundrum

Why, then, if his final military enlistment ended with a less than honorable discharge did the family receive this document upon his death?

Envelope above which held the following document.

And the burial flag from his funeral service. As it turns out, given that he had two honorable discharges, even if he had one dishonorable discharge, he might still have qualified for the flag.

And why was a military tombstone sent when requested by the family in 2003 or 2004?

Would a deserter have received these things? It never in my wildest dreams occurred to me that his discharge was “less than honorable.” Why would I have ever suspected?

Not only that, the man was a proud veteran and very active in the Red Key, Indiana American Legion post, along with the Knightstown orphan’s home. To this day, I have his well-worn American Legion hat, threadbare in places, tie and pins.

Legion hat 2

My father is so confusing!

Kathleen again:

While he had a dishonorable discharge, he also had an honorable discharge on his record. In 2004, after the fire that destroyed so much information sometimes simple proof of service was enough to obtain a headstone, and by then nobody really looked terribly closely into fragmented seventy year old records when a vet’s family made a simple headstone request. If they presented the honorable discharge pay stub from 1921, it could conceivably have flown right through.

While I’m sure the family didn’t have a pay stub from 1921, there were other things. In the records sent by Virgie, I found his second honorable discharge. That would probably have sufficed. Obviously, something did.

William Estes honorable discharge 1921

Then, after my sister, Edna’s death, her granddaughter sent me a copy of his first Honorable Discharge that has been saved by Martha all those years.

William-Estes-honorable-discharge-1919.jpg

And, the VA confirmed my father’s honorable discharges, never mentioning the third enlistment.

William Estes VA confirm of discharge

Given this documentation, you can understand why I was so shocked to discover the court martial, not to mention the third enlistment complete with dishonorable discharge. There weren’t any hints about either. I was utterly astounded, gobsmacked, not to mention heartbroken.

In spite of everything else, up until this point, I could still be proud of his military service to his country, and at such a tender age, but now that too is compromised.

Kathleen continued:

I’m not too surprised at either of those things occurring – it’s also possible that someone petitioned the Army to have his record polished up, and the commendation served as confirmation of that. Involve the right people high enough up in the food chain, and anything is possible.

Then I recalled what Aunt Margaret, his sister, said:

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

However, that letter from President Kennedy arrived within a couple weeks of his death, before Aunt Margaret had time to investigate and remedy anything. It may have simply been a “form letter” sent to the families of all deceased veterans, but that fact that Virgie received it suggests that the government themselves hadn’t put 2 and 2 together and figured out that he had a final less than honorable discharge from his third enlistment.

I’m betting neither Margaret nor Virgie knew about that third enlistment. If they did, they never breathed a word of it, and Margaret talked about everything.

My mother, who was permanently and thoroughly disgusted with my father mentioned something disdainfully about some issue being “fixed” as well, but I was never clear about what was “fixed” or why, nor did I realize how relevant that tidbit would be to me after anyone who might have known the answers was gone.

Mother’s comment about “fixing” might have been about his military record, but it also might have been about his divorce to Ellen not being final when he married Virgie – yet one more thing the women in his life had to fix and clean up. He left one messy trail.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line to all of this is that while he may not have been sent to Leavenworth as an inmate in early 1927 during the first few months of his third enlistment (or he may have, we’re not sure,) he clearly didn’t manage to get himself from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sheridan between May 14th and 23rd. Or, he did make it back to Fort Sheridan and then deserted. Regardless, he was in a heap-o’-trouble. And he clearly, very, very clearly knew better and was already painfully aware of the consequences.

Either way, that was the last straw, so to speak, and when the military caught up with him again 11 years later in 1938, they simply dishonorably discharged him. I believe that soldiers were only sentenced to Leavenworth until the end of their enlistment, which is why he only served 17 of his 18 months in 1921.

Regardless of what happened, he was “less than honorably” discharged as the result of his third term of service. Do we have any idea, any idea at all what happened?

Next Stop – A New Alias and A New Disaster

By 1927, when he deserted from Fort Sheridan, my father had apparently learned the power of an alias and how to misbehave more successfully. This time, he didn’t stay in the same town, and he apparently didn’t wear any part of his uniform. In other words, he wasn’t just chronically AWOL, he flat out deserted with full intent.

This time, he became Paul Lamarr (LeMarr), an alias he would maintain for the next 15 years. Yes, 15 long years. How did he select that name anyway? It’s quite unique.

It’s amazing that I ever found him, but he did, inadvertently, leave a few bread crumbs and sleuths in this digital age found his trail. Amazingly, he kept his past buried for 91 years.

Just over two months after disappearing from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on August 6, 1927, now 24 or 25 years old, Paul LaMarr wrote a bad check in Berrien County, Michigan, across Lake Michigan from Fort Sheridan. The legal proceedings also mention that he had used the alias of Art Thomas, although we don’t see that name again.

He began living as Paul LaMarr.

On that same day, Paul LaMarr married Cora Edmonds, a minor, whose mother and grandmother, both widows, were members of the celibate religious order (some would say cult) known as the House of David.

If your jaw just hit the floor, mine too. No, I can’t even begin to explain that dichotomy, so don’t ask.

The next chapter in my father’s never-ending life-long-drama, now (mostly) as Paul LaMarr, but also at least for a short while as Dr. Donald McCormack, had begun.

And….Yet ANOTHER Shoe Drops

Not only that, but Cora’s family lived in the same multi-family commune home as Bessie Boruff…someone who would one-day have a daughter named Violet, surnamed Miller, last name compliments of her step-father. I never met Violet, but my mother and sister (Edna) did and I knew that she existed – but our families lost track of each other more than half a century ago.

Was Violet my father’s child, my half sister? He, Bessie, Violet and Edna all believed so.

Violet Miller crop2

This grainy photo from the newspaper is all that I have.

I do believe we look at least somewhat alike when we were younger, but who knows if we actually do, or if I’m simply looking for the resemblance and wanting to see one. I know how easy that is to do, because I did it with my brother who was not my biological brother, Dave Estes. I’m not about to find and fall in love with a sibling again just to discover that they aren’t.

Roberta and Violet

In the collage below, Violet is at left, me center, Dad at right and two photos of Edna, my DNA-proven half sister, beneath. What do you think? You can see photos Ilo’s son Lee, here, but Lee had no children so there is no way to prove that he is my father’s child.

Dad Edna me Violet

In spite of what I think is a resemblance, Violet’s conception date, based on her birth date if she was a full term child suggests that Violet might have been conceived when my father’s whereabouts were conclusively known, meaning in jail having to do with that bad check – and not anyplace close to Bessie. There is about a 5 week discrepancy.

DNA testing would solve that mystery once and for all, but Violet, who married Elmer Bruce Golladay (originally Golliday) and then Orville Blevins, died in 2004. Yes, Violet had at least three children while married to Mr. Golliday, and yes, I would love to DNA test one of Violet’s descendants.

Truthfully, I keep hoping that one of them will test on their own and just show up on my DNA match list someplace. I’d have my answer without having to explain any of….well….this. If they match me, they get to own my father’s soap-operaesque tale too. If not, then they have a different mystery to solve.

However…

When I think about trying to contact them, and yes, I have found at least two of Violet’s family members on Facebook, I struggle with how I would ever go about explaining this situation. Plus, an intrusion of this type may not be welcome news.

Merry Christmas, grandpa got run over by a court martial. Imagine if they are a veteran or lost a family member in service. Ummm…no.

They get to become aware of a very “colorful” character not far in their past, or conversely, one of their family members may not be who they think they are/were and either scenario may be unwelcome news they didn’t ask for. If they don’t seek answers by reaching out or DNA testing on their own, I’m very hesitant to intrude with what could well amount to distressful information.

Of course, if they have already tested and don’t match me, I’ll never know. So here’s hoping that maybe one day someone in Violet’s family will become interested in genealogy and google Violet’s name.

Hopefully, after they get over the same shock that I felt, they will contact me and we, together, can solve one more mystery in my father’s life.

If they are worried that the apple didn’t fall far from the parental tree – ironically – no. My father may have made boneheaded decisions about his own life, but the women who raised his children did an awesome job! He apparently had great taste in wives because their descendants are amazing people.

Sooo, maybe Santa will bring at least one of Violet’s children or grandchildren a DNA test for Christmas and they’ll just test!

Santa, can I arrange for a delivery?

———–

Epilogue: As you might imagine, this article was very difficult to process and write. I debated for weeks about whether it should be published or not, and I published it with no small amount of reservation.

After publication, my German friend and faithful blog reader offered the following slightly edited commentary, which I found very comforting as well as enlightening. Thank you so much Chris.

Though I do not know much about your father, only your articles, I am quite confident of this conclusion: No brain damage required to explain his running away, no bad decision making. I rather fear that running away may have been the only decision he was possibly able to take at all. He had no other choice!

He ran away to military to escape his personal life, he ran away from military service, he ran away from wives and the responsibility for his babies. He ran away to alcohol to forget about himself for a while. He tried to run away from himself by changing his identity. And, as I remember from your other article, it seems that his final choice was to run away from his life.

Importantly, this does not imply that he did not at the same time truly love these women and children, including you! It was not them whom he was running away from, it was himself whom he tried to flee from.

Please feel hugged! Thank you for your openness to share these stories with us all! And let us all try to give other souls on this earth a place to stay and find peace, not to leave.