DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors? – 52 Ancestors #350

One of the requests by several people for 2022 article topics revolved in some way around solving challenges and showing my work.

In this case, I’m going to show both my work and the work of a newly-discovered cousin, Greg Simkins.

Let’s start by reminding you of something I said last week in Darcus Johnson (c1750-c1835) Chain Carrier – Say What??.

Darcus is reported in many trees to be the daughter of Peter Johnson (Johnston, Johnstone) and his wife Mary Polly Phillips. Peter reportedly lived in Pennsylvania and died in Allegheny County, PA. However, I am FAR from convinced that this couple was Darcus’s parents.

The distance from Shenandoah County, VA to Allegheny Co., PA is prohibitive for courting.

The Shenandoah County records need to be thoroughly researched with various Johnson families reconstructed. I’m hoping that perhaps someone has already done that and a Johnson family was living not terribly far from Jacob Dobkins father, John Dobkins. That would be the place to start.

Greg, Peter Johnson’s descendant through son James reached out to me.

Hi Roberta, I read your essay today on Dorcas Johnson. I wanted to write to you because I am a descendant of Dorcas’s brother James and have DNA matches to support our connection.

Clearly, I was very interested, but I learned long ago not to get too excited.

Then, Greg kindly shared his tree and DNA results with me. He was also generous enough to allow me to incorporate his information into this article. So yes, this article is possible entirely thanks to Greg.

I was guardedly excited about Greg’s communication, but I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE shock about to follow!


Greg has done his homework and stayed after school.

First, he tracked the descendants of Peter through all of his children, to present, where possible, and added them into his trees at the genealogy vendors. The vendors can do much better work for you with as much ammunition as you can provide.

Second, he has doggedly tracked matches at MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, Ancestry and GEDmatch that descend through Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips’s children. By doggedly, I mean he has spent hundreds to thousands of hours by his estimation – and based on what I see, I would certainly agree. In doing so, he pushed his own line back from his great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Johnson, three generations to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips – and proved its accuracy using DNA.

Altogether, Greg has identified almost 250 matches that descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips, and mapped those segments across his chromosomes.

Greg made notes for each match by entering the number of matching cMs into their profile names as a suffix in his tree. For example, “David Johnson 10cM” instead of “David Johnson Jr.” or Sr.  That way, it’s easy to quickly see who is a match and by how much. Brilliant! I’m adopting that strategy. It won’t affect what other people see, because no living people are shown in trees.

Of course, DNA is on top of traditional genealogical research that we are all familiar with that connects people via deeds, wills, and other records.

Additionally, Greg records research information for individuals as a word document or pdf file and attaches them as documents to the person’s profile in his tree. His tree is searchable and shareable, so this means those resources are available to other people too. We want other researchers to find us and our records for EXACTLY this reason.

One thing to note is that if you are using Ancestry and use the Notes function on profiles, the notes don’t show to people with whom you share your tree, but links, sources and attached documents do.

Greg has included both “Other Sources” and “Web Links” below.

Click images to enlarge

For example, if I click on Greg’s link to Historic Pittsburg, I see the land grant location for Peter Johnson. Wow, this was unexpected.

Ok, I love maps and I’m hooked. Notice the names of the neighbors too. You’ll see Applegate again. Also, note that Thomas Applegate sold his patent to Richard Johnson. Remember the FAN club – friends and neighbors.

Ok, back to DNA for now.

The Children

Ancestors with large families are the best for finding present-day DNA matches. Of course, that’s because there are more candidates. More descendants and that means more people who might test someplace. This is also why you want to be sure to have your DNA in all 4 major DNA vendors, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe, plus GEDmatch.

This is a portion of Greg’s tree that includes the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips. Note that two Johnson females married Dobkins men. I’ve always suspected that Margaret Johnson and Dorcas Johnson were sisters, but unless we could use mitochondrial DNA, or figure out who the parents of either Peter or Mary are, there’s no good way to prove it.

We’re gathering some very valuable evidence.

At Ancestry, Greg has 85 matches on his ThruLines for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips, respectively.

  • Of course, Greg has the most matches for his own line through Peter’s son James Johnson (1752-1826) who married Elizabeth Lindsay and died in Lawrence County, IL: 35 matches.
  • Next is Margaret Johnson (1780-1833) who married Evan Dobkins in Dunmore County, VA, brother of my ancestor, Jacob Dobkins. She probably died in Cocke County, TN: 25 matches. Dorcas named one of her children Margaret and Margaret may have named one of her children Dorcas.
  • Solomon Johnson (1765-1843) married Frances Warne and stayed in Allegheny County, PA: 8 matches. Notice one of Peter’s neighbors was a Warner family. Dorcas named one of her children Solomon, a fairly unusual name.
  • Mary Johnson (1770-1833) married Garrett Wall Applegate and died in Harrison County, IN: 7 matches. The Applegates were Peter Johnson’s neighbors and Garrett served in the Revolutionary War in the 8th VA Regiment. Clearly, some of these settlers came from or spent time in Virginia.
  • Dorcas Johnson (c1750-c1835) married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, VA and died in Claiborne County, TN: 5 matches.
  • Peter Johnson (1753-1840) married Eleanor “Nellie” Peter and died in Jefferson County, KY: 4 matches.
  • Richard D. Johnson (1752-1818) married Hannah Dungan and Elizabeth Nash: 2 matches.

Unfortunately, since most of those matches are between 7 and 20 cM, and Ancestry does not display shared matches under 20 cM, we can’t use Ancestry’s comparison tool to see if these people also match each other. That’s VERY unfortunate and extremely frustrating.

Greg matches more people from this line at MyHeritage, GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, and thankfully, those vendors all three provide segment information AND shared match information.

Cousins Are Critical

While Greg, unfortunately, does not match me, he does match several of my cousins whose tests I manage.

Two of those cousins both descend from Darcus Johnson through her daughter Jenny Dobkins, through her daughter Elizabeth Campbell, through her daughter Rutha Dodson, through her sons John Y. Estes and Lazarus Estes, respectively.

Another descends through Jenny Dobkins son, William Newton Campbell for another 5 generations. These individuals all match on a 17 cM segment of Chromosome 20.

Other known cousins match Greg on different chromosomes.

Looking at their shared matches at FamilyTreeDNA, we find more Dobkins, Dodson and Campbell cousins, some that were previously unknown to me. One of those cousins also descends through William Newton Campbell’s daughter for another 4 generations and matches on the same segment of chromosome 20.


Emails have been flying back and forth between me and Greg, each one with some piece of information that one of us has found that we want to be sure the other has too. Having research buddies is wonderful!

Then, Greg sent a screenshot of a portion of his chromosome 20 from DNAPainter that includes the DNA of the cousins mentioned above. I didn’t realize Greg was using DNAPainter. It’s an understatement to say I’m thrilled because DNAPainter does the cross-vendor triangulation work automatically for you.

Just look at all of those matches that carry this Johnson/Phillips segment of chromosome 20. Holy chimloda.

Greg also sent his DNAPainter sharing link, and it turns out that this is only a partial list, with one of my cousins highlighted, dead center in the list of Peter Johnson’s and Mary Polly Phillip’s descendants. Greg has even more not shown.

Trying Not to Jump to Conclusions

I’m trying so hard NOT to jump to conclusions, but this is just SOOOO EXCITING!

Little doubt remains that indeed, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips are the parents of Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins and also of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I’ve eliminated the possibility of other common ancestors, as much as possible, and verified that the descent is through multiple children. This particular segment on chromosome 20 reaches across multiple children’s lines.

I say little doubt remains, because some doubt does remain. It’s possible that perhaps Dorcas and her sister weren’t actually daughters of Peter Johnson, but maybe children of his brother? Peter was reported to have a brother James, a sheriff in Cumberland County, PA. but again, we lack proof. If Dorcas is Peter Johnson’s niece, her descendants would still be expected to match some of the descendants of Peter and his wife.

Also complicating matters is the fact that Greg also has a Campbell brick wall with a James Campbell born about 1790 who lived in Fayette County, PA, in the far northwest corner of the state. Therefore, DNA matches through Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’s daughters Jenny and Elizabeth who married Campbell brothers need to be verified through her children’s lines that do NOT descend through her daughters who married Campbell men.

Nagging Questions

I know, I’m being a spoilsport, but I still have questions that need answers.

For example, I still need to account for how the Johnson girls managed to get to Shenandoah County, VA (Dunmore County at that time) to meet the Dobkins boys, spend enough time there to court, and then marry Evan and Jacob nine months apart in 1775. Surely they were living there. Young women simply did not travel, especially not great distances, and marriages occurred in the bride’s home county. Yet, they married in Shenandoah County, VA, not in PA.

What About the Records?

We are by no means done. In fact, I’ve just begun. I have some catching up to do. Greg has focused on Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips in Pennsylvania. I need to focus on Virginia.

Of course, the next challenge is actual records.

What exists and what doesn’t? FamilySearch provides a list for Dunmore County, here, and Shenandoah, here.

Was Peter Johnson ever in Dunmore County that became Shenandoah County, VA, and if so when and where? If not, how the heck did his two daughters marry the Dobkins boys in 1775? Was there another Johnson man in Dunmore during that time? Was it James?

Where was Peter Johnson in 1775 when Dorcas and Margaret were marrying? Can we positively account for him in Pennsylvania or elsewhere?

Some information has been published about Peter Johnson, but those critical years are unaccounted for.

It appears that the Virginia Archives has a copy of the 1774-1776 rent rolls for Dunmore County, but they aren’t online. That’s the best place to start. Fingers crossed for one Peter Johnson living right beside John Dobkins, Jacob’s father. Now THAT would convince me.

Stay tuned!

Note – If you’d like to view Greg’s tree at Ancestry, its name is “MyHeritage Tree Simkins” and you can find it by searching for Maude Gertrude Wilson born in 1876 in Logan County, Illinois, died January 27, 1950 in Ramsey County, Minnesota, and married Harry A. Simkins. Elizabeth Ann Johnson (1830-1874) is Maude’s grandmother.


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Ancestry Rearranged the Furniture

I’ve been reading about recent visual design changes occurring at the Ancestry website and that the changes were being rolled out gradually to groups of users. Yesterday, I experienced it firsthand.

Why is Ancestry making changes? Ancestry said they wanted a new look and feel and to improve standardization across the site and across all ancestry sites around the world.

Colors, fonts, icons, avatars, buttons, and their landing page have changed, but the underlying functionality, for the most part, has not. You can read more about Ancestry’s new look and feel, here.

What’s New?

A week or two ago, I received changes to my tree. I thought all of the changes were rolled out at once, but yesterday, I discovered that wasn’t the case.

When I signed in yesterday morning, I discovered an entirely new look and feel.

Here’s what greeted me.

This looks nothing like the previous night. I had to sit there for a minute to reorient myself. Wow.

Next, a tour popped up. I was glad to see that, but don’t click away because you can’t get the guided tour back again. It looks like there are only three little dots, so maybe I didn’t miss much.

I generally don’t mind the pain of change if there is something good or new to go along with it. For the most part, Ancestry’s changes are cosmetic, meaning they rearranged the furniture, although there are some cool new features, but nothing DNA-related. Let’s see what they did, section by section, and how it affects users.

Make Discoveries

Ancestry shows you what you were doing when you were last signed in and gives you the option to resume where you left off. That’s pretty cool, because if you’re like me, you probably don’t remember, and you might not be done. Are genealogists ever finished?

Ancestry has also customized your hints, discoveries, and photos based on what you were doing.

I quickly discovered that if something is showing that you want to see, click on it, because if you get distracted and do something else, that “hint” won’t be waiting when you return because Ancestry customizes what is offered to you based on what you did last. They display the last three people you worked on at the top, but sometimes the hints aren’t for those people.

If you have multiple trees, selecting a different tree under the “Make discoveries” dropdown box changes what is shown in the “Family photos” section to the selected tree.

The name on the front of the “Family Photos” item displays the name of the person it’s connected to in someone else’s tree.

Normal caveats here:

  • This may not be your ancestor.
  • It may be someone else by the same or a similar name.
  • The item may be incorrectly saved to someone who is supposed to be your ancestor.

If you click on an image, you’re taken to the familiar “Save” screen, with a few modifications.

I like this new feature generally, although I think it makes it more difficult to verify that the item is actually for your ancestor – which means it’s more likely that people will save the wrong thing to the wrong person. This means more errors in trees, especially for new genealogists or people new to the Ancestry interface.

What I’d like to see added is more information displayed from my tree for people Ancestry is suggesting I save an item to. As you can see, Ancestry does not display the birth and death dates of the person in my tree that they are suggesting I save this image to. I may have multiple people in my tree by that name, and often do.

You can see the birth and death dates in the tree of the person the item is currently saved to by mousing over the green bar at right, and you can see their profile by clicking on that green bar.

Clicking on “View all Photos” takes you to an “All Hints” page where you can filter the results any number of ways. I like this feature too.

Keep in mind that these documents aren’t just for your direct ancestors, but for anyone in your tree. I wish “direct ancestors” was a filter option, but it isn’t.


The next section shows my newest DNA matches, my Ethnicity estimate, and Traits.

Clicking on your matches or ethnicity takes you to the normal locations, respectively.

Don’t expect to have Traits unless you’ve purchased that upgrade, and no, I haven’t.

The good news is that having DNA displayed on the main dashboard page encourages people to check their results and work with their DNA matches. You can still access your results from the DNA tab at the top – like always.

The bad news is that there are no new DNA features☹.

Don’t neglect to check your DNA matches, ThruLines and Communities periodically to see if anything has changed or hints might have developed that could be useful to you.


The Search box location now resides on the right side of the page or you can click on the search tab at the top of the dashboard.

I was unhappy to discover that the box for the US census years is now gone. I used it a lot.

The “Advanced search” link is still there, but that function has changed a bit too. Mostly, it’s just a matter of getting used to the rearranged furniture and experimenting a bit.

There is a US census link on the advanced page which in another click or two allows you to select specific census years.

Unfortunately, “Quick Links” are going away. You can’t save new ones. Ancestry says the existing ones are remaining, but I don’t know for how long.

Ancestry has been improving searches gradually over the past few weeks, which I do find helpful. Specifically, that already-saved items returned in searches for a specific ancestor are now grouped together as a result of having “Smart filtering” turned on.

What I would really like is for Ancestry to compare photos with items already in my gallery for each person and NOT show me the same photo if I’ve either saved or dismissed it for that individual.

I would love to be able to see if a particular document or image has already been saved to my ancestor’s profile when I’m seeing search results. Not only do I not want to save or dismiss it again, I don’t want to see it again, even if it has been saved to another user’s tree by a different name. If Apple Macs can do image recognition, so can Ancestry.

Why is this important? You can see my ancestor’s photo being offered again, above – 6 times to be exact if you scroll down. Here’s another example.

Yea, I don’t want all of those DNA match icons people save to their trees offered over and over again. Also, those immigrant ships, especially for ancestors who weren’t immigrants. Nor do I want 20 copies of the exact same picture of their tombstone. A picture by any other name is still a thorn!

One of the beneficial updates, especially for new researchers, is that Ancestry Academy is a link under tools and resources. You can check out Ancestry Academy videos here.


I’ve saved the new trees for last.

I must admit, I’m not fond of the changes, but mostly because they are irritating, although less so now that Ancestry removed their new green text. The actual functionality hasn’t changed.

However, I’ve devised a strategy to deal with the single most irritating change.

Ancestry introduced new avatars. Unfortunately, they look overbalanced to me, or more specifically, like young people that all have dowager’s hump. They look like they are weighted down, struggling to move forward. Now that I’ve seen these, I can’t unsee them and I can’t NOT think of that when I do see them. (You’re welcome.)

What I can do is to save any photo or image to each ancestor’s profile. That’s where those Discovery Photos will come in handy, right?

Ancestry also gave several ancestors angel wings. Hmmm….

Then I realized those weren’t angels at all, but the new ThruLines emblem that indicates that this ancestor has ThruLines. Silly me, I thought maybe something like Find-A-Grave😊.

Ancestry also redesigned the leaf hint to be more stylized, but the hint works just the same as always. That leaf has evolved a lot over time.

I might tongue-in-cheek suggest that Ancestry’s cosmetic development efforts might have been better spent investing in something like, say, a chromosome browser. But hey, that’s just me.

One “improvement” Ancestry rolled out and has already removed, thankfully, is light green text pretty much every place. Trust me, it was worse than light grey, given what we need is black or a dark color on a white background for the highest contrast. I’m glad that green is mostly gone. I realize that green is Ancestry’s corporate color, but it made working with the website difficult. Ancestry does listen to feedback sometimes, in this case, great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Ancestry initially provided a feedback button in the lower right corner, but they’ve since removed that easy communications method. If you want to provide feedback, positive or negative, you can call Ancestry support or provide feedback by scrolling to the bottom of any Ancestry page and click on “Support Center.”


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Darcus Johnson (c1750–c1835), Chain Carrier – Say What??- 52 Ancestors #349

The People’s History of Claiborne County, Tennessee tells us that, “Darcus Johnson was the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary “Polly” Phillips, was born in 1750 in the area of Augusta County, Virginia that became Dunmore County, then Shenandoah. Her father might have come from Pennsylvania. She died in 1831 in Claiborne County, TN.”

This may or may not be entirely accurate.

Bill Nevils, long-time family history researcher provided a great deal of information about his Claiborne County ancestors, some of which, fortunately, are mine too. Unfortunately, he’s gone now and I can’t ask him about his sources. I don’t know what data might be available now that was not available to him at that time.

First Things First

There is some question about the spelling of Dorcas, Dorcus or Darcus’s first name. It’s listed as Darcus in the Shenandoah County (transcribed) Marriage records. In the 1852 Greene County, TN will of Andrew Dobkins (wife Joanna), Darcus’s probable son, he listed a daughter named Darcas in his will.

I’ve also seen her name spelled Dorcas, several times, but never in an original document. That’s one of the problems, there is only one known contemporaneous document that is positively her and lists her name – her marriage. And even that misspells Jacob’s surname. So who knows.

I’m spelling her name in all three ways because I don’t know which one to choose. That way, no matter who is googling in the future, they’ll find this article😊.

Darcus married Jacob Dobkins, who I wrote about here, here and here.

The Shenandoah Co., VA marriage records don’t give a date for the marriage of Jacob Dobkins (spelled Dobbins) and Darcus Johnson, but they appear to have been transcribed in entry order. The marriage above theirs took place on September 6, 1775, and the following date, 7 couples later is October 2, 1775. I can’t help but wonder if “no date” means “ditto”, but regardless, they were married sometime between those two dates.

Jacob and Darcus were actually married in Dunmore County that became and was renamed on February 1, 1778, as Shenando, now Shenandoah. The Dunmore records have been incorporated into the Shenandoah County records since Dunmore wasn’t split, just renamed.


Darcus is reported in many trees to be the daughter of Peter Johnson (Johnston, Johnstone) and his wife Mary Polly Phillips. Peter reportedly lived in Pennsylvania and died in Allegheny County, PA. However, I am FAR from convinced that this couple was Darcus’s parents.

The distance from Shenandoah County, VA to Allegheny Co., PA is prohibitive for courting.

The Shenandoah County records need to be thoroughly researched with various Johnson families reconstructed. I’m hoping that perhaps someone has already done that and a Johnson family was living not terribly far from Jacob Dobkins father, John Dobkins. That would be the place to start.

What DO We Know?

We know that Jacob Dobkins was born about 1751 based on his Revolutionary War Pension application in 1832 where he said he was 81 years old. If Dorcas was 20 when she was married, then she would have been born about 1755, but later records place her birth about 1750 or perhaps even somewhat earlier.

In 1773, Jacob appears on the Fincastle Co., VA tax list as “not found.” Fincastle County was the parent of Dunmore which was the parent of Shenandoah. Not found means he had likely moved on. It’s somewhat unusual for a single man to be living alone, but we have no reason to think he was married before Darcus.

By 1774, Jacob was likely serving in the all-volunteer militia as Lord Dunmore’s War had commenced and one Jacob Dobler was listed as defending the frontier in a Fincastle Militia unit. Interestingly, so was one Patrick Johnston.

In January 1775, Jacob’s brother, Evan, married Margaret Johnson. Were Margaret and Darcas related? Sisters perhaps? We’ll likely never know, well, unless someone who descends from Margaret through all females to the current generation takes a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test. Darcus’s descendants have tested and their mitochondrial DNA would match, or nearly so, if Margaret and Darcus are sisters. If this applies to you and you descend through all females from Margaret (but a tester can be male in the current generation), please let me know because I have a DNA testing scholarship for you! We could solve a mystery together.

In May of 1775, Evin, also spelled Evan, Jacob, and another brother, Reuben, appear on a militia list of Dunmore County.


Of course, children began arriving soon after their marriage. Unfortunately, we only have a reconstructed list of children based on proximity, inferences and some legal and other documents. Unfortunately, the 1835 deed where the “Heirs of Jacob Dobkins” deeded his property is recorded in the missing Claiborne County Deed Book L, and the index entry only says “The Heirs of Jacob Dobkins.” I swear, every deed I “really need” is in that AWOL book.

  • Assuming Andrew Dobkins was the child of Jacob and Darcus, and I know assume is a dangerous word in genealogy, he was born about 1775 according to the 1850 Greene Co., TN census. He did name a daughter Darcus, and Jacob Dobkins did live in this area about the time Andrew would have been marrying. Alternatively, Andrew could have been the child of a different Dobkins man, probably one of Jacob’s brothers.
  • Darcus’s first proven child, Elizabeth was born about 1776 and died sometime after 1850. Elizabeth would marry George Campbell, a near neighbor in Hawkins County, Tennessee. They named their daughter born about 1799 Dorcus/Dorcas.
  • John Dobkins was born about 1777, lived his adult life in Claiborne County, TN, and reportedly married Elizabeth Shaw. His children are unknown and I cannot confirm his birth year estimate. He first appeared in the court notes in 1808.
  • Another possible daughter named Dorcas Dobkins fits here. The Murphy family Bible record shows her birth as May 29, 1780. She married Malachi Murphy in 1796, according to the Bible, although neither a birth or marriage location is recorded. She could also have been the daughter of one of the other Dobkins men, brothers of Jacob, or someone else. I’m not convinced that Dorcas is the child of Jacob and Dorcas Dobkins, in part because of her birth date. Let’s set this aside for the moment.

There was a gap between John and the next child. Jacob was serving in the military far from Shenandoah County. Darcas nearly lost her young husband. Bullets ripped through his clothes during the Battle of Pickaway. If Jacob hadn’t survived, the course of history, at least my history and Darcas’s, would have been forever altered.

  • Jacob Dobkins Jr. was reportedly born about 1782. There has been a lot of confusion surrounding this man, and he is listed as having married Johanna Woolsey. However, Andrew Dobkins married Johanna Woolsey and was listed as early as 1819 in Greene County, TN where he died in 1852 with a will. Jacob Dobkins Jr., spent most of his adult life in Claiborne County, TN, first appeared in the records in 1803 and was on the tax list of 1833 as Jacob Jr. when Jacob Dobkins Sr. was still alive. He was still noted in records in 1839 and 1842, and probably died between then and 1850 where he is still listed on the agricultural census but NOT in the regular census.
  • Reuben Dobkins was born in 1783 in Shenandoah County, married Mary Polly, last name unknown, and died in Claiborne County in 1823. Some people show this Reuben as Jacob Dobkins’ brother, not his son. Reuben first appears in the Claiborne County court notes in 1815.
  • Margaret, known as Peggy Dobkins was born about 1785, married Elijah Jones, and died in March of 1852. They were divorced before 1844 when he remarried, according to his widow’s pension application. Peggy named her daughter born in 1811 Dorcas.
  • Solomon Dobkins was born in 1787 in what would become Tennessee, married Elizabeth, surname unknown, and died in 1852 in Kaufman County, TX.
  • The youngest daughter, Jane, known as Jenny Dobkins was born between 1778 and 1780, probably in Virginia, and died between 1850 and 1860 in Claiborne County, TN. She married John Campbell, believed to be the brother of George Campbell who married her sister.
  • George Dobkins was born between 1782 and 1788 in Virginia, married Nancy Parks, and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, TN.

This may be only a partial list of children.

Inferred History

Most of what we know about Darcus Johnson Dobkins is extrapolated from the life of her husband and children. We’re taking it on faith that the woman who bore his children was the same woman Jacob married back in Virginia, and that she had not died along the way and he remarried. That’s probably a pretty safe bet at least through Margaret born about 1785 because she named a child Dorcas.

Darcus’s early married life was anything but settled.

In 1775, Jacob enlisted in the local militia in Shenandoah County and participated in Lord Dunmore’s War, a conflict between Virginia, which extended through present-day Kentucky and west without boundary, and the Shawnee and Mingo nations. In 1780, his unit was mustered out, but by then, Jacob was already in Kentucky, serving under the command of George Rogers Clark. Jacob marched from near Louisville to near Cincinnati, pursuing Shawnee Indians. For that matter, we don’t know if Jacob ever had a horse during these years. We do know the men were on foot most if not all of the time.

Jacob Dobkins had enlisted in the militia to fight specifically in the Revolutionary War in May of 1779 where he was already living – Harrod’s Fort that eventually became Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and served for at least two years. If you are counting on your 9 fingers, this means that if Jacob left before he enlisted and was already in Kentucky, he could not have fathered Dorcas Dobkins if she was born in May of 1780. Of course, sometimes birth years were recorded incorrectly, but this suggests that Dorcas Dobkins who married Malachi Murphy was not the child of Jacob and Dorcas Dobkins. Maybe she was named in honor of our Dorcas.

Why was Jacob Donkins already at Fort Harrod in 1779? Was he on a reconnaissance mission, thinking about moving west, when he needed to enlist because the war on the frontier had heated up? One John Dobbin filed for land on North Elkhorn Creek in 1778. John could have been his father or brother. Jacob would not have taken his wife on that type of expedition. By this time, she had small children at home and was probably pregnant again. The land claim was sold by 1780.

Jacob spent 1780 in Harrods Fort and Shawnee Springs, now in the state of Kentucky but then the western frontier of Virginia. Later that fall, he fought in the Battle of Pickaway in Ohio where the bullets flew fast and furious, shreddinging his clothes into tatters. It’s amazing that he escaped with his life. Many didn’t.

Home Again

In August of 1781, Jacob finally headed back to his bride in Shenandoah County who was waiting with at least two and possibly as many as four children. I’m using the word “waiting” loosely here, because she was certainly not sitting around waiting. Dorcas was doing the work of two people. Hers as the wife and mother, plus the tasks Jacob would have been doing too. Her tasks would have included childcare, cooking, cleaning, and doing everything by hand. Covering his responsibilities meant taking care of any animals, plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and obtaining food, generally by hunting – all with babies. I don’t know how she did it, but I hope fervently she had family nearby to help. I mean, think about it. How could you even plow, assuming you HAD a plow and an ox, with two babies in tow? And when you got done with all that – you still had all the inside traditional women’s work to do.

If she was pregnant when Jacob left, she gave birth without him nearby, and if the child died, she also buried her baby without her husband’s support.

Fortunately, Jacob did make it home and in 1782, 1783, and 1784 is recorded on the Shenandoah County, VA tax lists.

Their next child was born in 1783 as well.

The 1783 tax lists provided additional information and the family is shown with 8 whites, which would mean that they had 6 children or other people lived with them.

We don’t know exactly where they lived but we do know they were closely associated with the Holeman family. One of Jacob’s brothers married a Holeman woman and the men served in the militia together. The Holeman and Dobkins families both received land grants and settled along Holeman’s Creek near present-day Forestville, VA.

Holeman’s Creek runs between the two red arrows before dumping into the North Shenandoah River.

However, Jacob had caught an itch while he was away. And that itch was to move west.

Westward Ho

Jacob would have passed through Martin’s Station, located in Lee County, VA, just east of the Cumberland Gap on his way to and from Kentucky. That’s not far from where Jacob and Darcus would eventually settle permanently, but first, they tried a few other locations. Tennessee wasn’t yet a state, nor was that area open for settlement.

In 1785, the couple was not listed on the Virginia tax lists. The family had likely packed up and already started down the Great Wagon Road that eventually morphed into I81.

Jacob may have come and gone between two locations because in 1785, a Washington County, North Carolina document subpoenaed Jacob Dobkins of Shenandoah County to testify.

By Iamvered – I, Esemono, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3874104

It appears that Jacob and Dorcas moved to the State of Franklin and likely became embroiled in early politics. The State of Franklin was not a state, but it wanted to be, seceding from North Carolina in 1784. Eventually, the area involved in the State of Franklin became the easternmost counties of Tennessee, but then, it was the wild west – the fringe of the frontier.

By 1786, the residents were negotiating with the state of North Carolina for readmission. “Oops, we’re sorry and had a moment.”

The State of Franklin had become a no man’s land meaning they weren’t a part of any government and had no rights or protections. Residents couldn’t file for land, for example, or vote, or hold court. The two sides were literally at war with one another. They had a mess on their hands and eventually, most people just wanted order to be restored.

By Iamvered – I, Iamvered, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3868073

In 1787 and 1788, Jacob and his brothers were living in Washington County, NC, the part that had been the state of Franklin and would become the counties of Washington, Sullivan, Greene, and Hawkins in eastern Tennessee after Tennessee was admitted to the union in 1796. Jacob bought land in Washington County in 1788, so apparently intended to stay.

In 1789, Jacob’s name appeared on a petition along with a group of men who were considered to be living on Indian land not purchased by the US government. They petitioned the NC government, begging for help.

Jacob may have given up and moved back to Shenandoah County, VA because his name appears there on the 1790 reconstructed census with 8 whites. However, the reconstructed census used tax lists, and we already know he was listed in 1783 with 8 people, so his whereabouts in 1790 are unclear.

You might have noticed that children continued to arrive during this time. Was Darcus exasperated beyond her limits? Someplace between 6 and 8 children and constant threats to their safety? Did she perhaps give Jacob a wifely ultimatum? I have to wonder, because even the staunchest of pioneer wives could certainly have reached their limit under those circumstances. Sometimes situations change, and something that at one time seemed like a really good idea, in reality, wasn’t. This turmoil wasn’t short-lived either. Darcus was now approaching 15 years of upheaval. Her entire married life.

Many families did move back to a safer and less stressful environment. Holeman’s Creek probably looked quite welcoming!

That arrangement, if they did move back, did not last long.

Retry – Back Again

In 1792, the family is living in newly formed Jefferson County where Jacob sued John Sevier – yes – the governor. Sevier had been involved with the State of Franklin too, and Jacob had been called to testify in a lawsuit against Sevier in 1785. Perhaps whatever was going on in 1785 was still unresolved in 1792.

I can just hear the gossip and drama, even across 230 years. Everyone but everyone would have been talking about that and assuredly had an opinion – probably a strong one. Tongues would have been wagging, that’s for sure!

The church was not only the religious center, but also the social center of the community, especially for women. I don’t know what church they attended in Virginia, but in later years in Tennessee, they were assuredly Baptists.

By 1792, Dorcas would have been about 40 years old. We don’t know of any children born this late, but there certainly could have been some that we aren’t aware of or that did not survive. Or, Dorcas could have been slightly older than we know. George was reportedly born between 1782 and 1788. If Dorcas was 43-45 when he was born, and he was born in 1788, that puts her birth possibly as early as 1743.

Jacob bought land again, this time in the area known as “The Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio” on Bent Creek in Hawkins County, near the main road between the ford of the Holston River and Bull’s Gap over the mountain.

Clearly, this part of the country, destined to become Tennessee, was having either birthing pains or an identity crisis, but that didn’t stop the settlers from arriving, clearing land, and staying.

By this time, Dorcas’s eldest children were of age to begin marrying. Elizabeth Dobkins married George Campbell and Jenny Dobkins married his (presumed) brother John Campbell, sons of Charles Campbell who lived near the Holston River.

In 1793 Jacob bought land in Jefferson County, and in 1796, Jacob sold at least some of that land. Around this time, the family likely migrated, probably with the Reverend Tidence Lane to what would become Claiborne County. We know that Jacob and Darcas were established in Claiborne County by October 1801 because Jacob is mentioned in the first court notes establishing the county. An entire group, including Jacob’s two Campbell sons-in-law, appear to have moved and settled together.

This was the last move for Jacob and Darcas. They packed up one last time, pulled out in a heavily loaded wagon, settled in Claiborne County, and stayed.

Now roughly 50 years old, I’d guess Darcas was VERY tired of packing everything into a wagon and moving. Their entire married life had been punctuated by instability. First, a war, then moving to “the west,” the State of Franklin, then not a state, then Washington County, NC, then the Territory South of the River Ohio, then Washington Co., TN, then Hawkins County, then Jefferson County, then finally Claiborne county which means they likely lived in Grainger County before Claiborne was formed. Oh yes, fighting Indians, clearing land and suing the governor sprinkled in there for good measure. I’m exhausted just thinking about this.

Darcus must have heaved a huge sigh of relief. By this time, they had older children and adult sons to help clear land and fell trees. They bought a tract large enough to entice all of their children to move with them. That was a brilliant strategy because that seems to be exactly what happened. Maybe that was what enticed Dorcas to move just one more time, into the peaceful little valley on the north side of Wallen Mountain.

Jacob and Dorcas built a log cabin, and their children built cabins nearby.

Amazingly, their cabin still stood into the late 1900s. I wrote about discovering the cabin, here.

The War of 1812

However, Darcus would be forced to deal with war once again, this time the War of 1812. Many local men joined or were drafted to fight, including her adult son, Solomon Dobkins, who was a Captain and fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Her son-in-law, Elijah Jones, fought alongside her son in Alabama.

Many Claiborne County men died, both of wounds and illness. Most men didn’t even have horses and walked to war, supplying their own armaments too.

Darcus certainly knew how close she came to losing Jacob all those years ago. I’m sure she wondered if she would lose Solomon and Elijah. She would have stepped up to help her daughter and daughter-in-law while the men were gone.

Court Martial

All was not well with the Dobkins family in Claiborne County. Some records are difficult to find and don’t show up for another generation or two. Solomon Dobkins died in 1852 in Fannin County, Texas. His son, Jake (Jacob) Dobkins was living in Gainesville, Cooke Co., Texas on July 5, 1856 when he made application for “anything the government may have to offer him as the heir of his father, Solomon Dobkins.” He states that his father served in the Creek Indian War in 1812 and 1813 under General Jackson. He further states that his father died in 1852 in Fannin County Texas.

Any benefits from the government to this heir were denied because Solomon Dobkins was Court Martialed and Cashiered.

Cashiering is a demotion as a result of a court martial. I always wondered why there was no pension application for Solomon. This answers that question.

Everyone would have known, and apparently, no one spoke of it. I can’t help but wonder what happened, when, and where. A court martial is very severe.

This situation must have caused Dorcas both pain and embarrassment.

I continue to find Solomon in the Claiborne County court records in positions of responsibility, so whatever happened seems to have been largely forgotten, although he was prosecuted by the state at one time.

A Fireside Chat Heralds Changes

Jacob and Darcus probably sat beside the fireplace one night, or maybe on the porch in rocking chairs, and had a talk. I’m guessing that they had many serious talks over the years. Whether to leave, or not. Whether to return, or not. Whether to move back, or not. Whether to move on, or not.

This talk was a bit different. They were aging, approaching 65 which was beyond “retirement age” back then. Well, I guess you never really got to “retire,” but you did get to stop paying taxes at some point when you were either infirm or old. That’s what retirement looked like in that era. You worked until you couldn’t anymore, then you died or lived with your children.

Jacob and Dorcas decided to begin distributing their land. In 1814, about the time Solomon and Elijah returned from the war, Jacob sold land to two sons-in-law, Elijah Jones and George Campbell. Nothing like a wake-up call to realize tomorrow simply isn’t guaranteed.

In about 1817, Jacob suffered a disabling shoulder and collarbone break in some type of accident. He stated in court in 1832 when he applied for his pension that he had not been able to attend court since that time and suffered greatly from “phrumatic pains.” This also means that Dorcas was probably caring for Jacob and once again had to pick up more chores, even though she assuredly had aches and pains herself by this time. Thankfully, she had children and grandchildren nearby to help.

In 1823, their (presumed) son, Reuben died. I wish we had more information. Was he ill or was there an accident? Without antibiotics, any farm injury could quickly become septic, and something like a ruptured appendix meant sure and certain death. Was Reuben actually their son, or was that Reuben Jacob’s brother?

The 1830s

The 1830 Claiborne County census shows columns for ages, with Jacob Dobkins listed as 70-80 and the female living in the household as 80-90. Of course, it’s easy to mismark a column or misunderstand an age, but if Dorcas was in fact 80-90 in 1830, that means she was actually born between 1740-1750. If she was born in 1750, she would have been slightly older than Jacob. That might also explain why we find no children born after roughly 1788 and possibly no later than 1782.

The 1830s are fuzzy for Dorcas. We know that Jacob died in 1835, but we don’t know if she died before or after Jacob. Some show her death in 1831, but I don’t know why.

There is, however, one very intriguing record.

Say What?

This March 27, 1833 survey is quite interesting.

Dorcas Dobkins is listed as a chain carrier. Say what?

Yes, a chain carrier, shown just beneath the drawing as, “Sworn Chainers.”

I’m not sure who else this could have been, unless it was a granddaughter. The problem is, other than the Dorcas Dobkins born in 1808 and who lived in Greene County, I don’t know who else this could have been, other than Dorcas, the wife of Jacob. It’s also fair to say that I only have two known children for Darcus’s son John, and no documented children for Reuben who died in 1823, assuming he was their son, nor for son Jacob who died or disappeared from the records between 1840-1850. Of course, there are questions about the identity of some of those men, and some of them may not have been old enough to have daughters serving as chain carriers in 1833.

Neither sons Solomon nor George have known children named Dorcas.

This survey is for Lorenzo Dow Dobkins, the son of John Dobkins. His brother was also named John, the name of the other chain carrier, so it’s possible that he had a sister by the name of Dorcas. Or, his grandmother wanted to help out.

Personally, I’m voting for an irreverent grandmother who was itching to get out of the house on a beautiful spring day.

Let’s eavesdrop…

“We don’t have another person as the chain carrier. We can’t do the survey today.”

Dorcas: “Oh yes you do!”


Dorcas, pointing to herself: “Me.”

With a slight smile, “Maam, with all respect, you can’t do that.”

Dorcas, more determined than ever: “Hrummph, watch me!” as she wipes her hands, takes off her apron and pins up a stray hair or two.

Men, looking at each other, shrugging, “OK.”

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a female chain carrier in a record. A chain carrier needed to be of age and able to testify as to the fairness and accuracy of the survey process if called upon. Not only that, chains were heavy and the terrain was sometimes rough.

I can’t help but wonder if Dorcas was a chain carrier because she wanted to keep her eye on what was occurring. After all, this survey did abut her son John’s land. If that was the case, she was clearly not dead at this time. And being a chain carrier, in spite of what someone might have thought, wasn’t likely to kill her😊.

We know from Jacob’s 1832 pension application and testimony that he was disabled and therefore he would not have been able to be a chain carrier. Dorcas would have been at least in her late 70s if not her 80s.

Jacob’s Pension Payments

Jacob’s pension payment records don’t say anything about Dorcas. One record, from 1835, shows the list of pensioners and does not indicate a death date for Jacob, although there are death dates in 1833 for others. That means that either he hadn’t died when this list was compiled in 1835, or the death date wasn’t entered. Since the legislation was to compile a list of pensioners being paid, it’s very unlikely that he died before 1835, but not impossible. He was also on the Claiborne County tax list in 1833.

A second record indicates the last pension payment was made in September of 1835. I was unclear whether that payment could have been to Dorcas as his surviving spouse, or, it would only have been paid to Jacob directly.

As it turns out, widows were not eligible to receive payments until an act of July 4, 1836. This confirms that Jacob was last paid, himself, in September of 1835. He died sometime between September of 1835 and the next payment date in March of 1836.

All we can surmise from this is that Dorcas did not apply for his pension beginning in 1836, so my presumption would be that she had died before July of 1836.

In 1835, Jacob’s heirs quitclaimed his land to Betsy Campbell, their daughter who had married George Campbell. Of course, that’s the deed in the book that’s missing, so I’ll never know if Dorcas signed, or who all of their heirs were.

I don’t find a woman of Dorcas’s age living with one of her children in the 1840 census, so I’d feel safe in saying she had died by then, and most likely by the end of 1835 when the land was conveyed.


For all that I don’t know, what I do know is where Jacob and Dorcas are buried. Of course, they established a graveyard on their land, behind the house and up the hill towards the Powell River. According to cousin Bill Nevils, when we visited some years ago, the family lore states that Jacob is buried beneath the huge tree in the center. That would make sense.

Jacob would have spared that tree when he cleared the land. Maybe he said to Dorcas one day, “That’s where we’ll be buried, with our kin, looking over our land.”

Maybe Dorcas figured if he established a burying ground, they were finally someplace to stay.

Jacob and Dorcas certainly weren’t the first to be buried there three decades after they purchased the land. Nor were they the last.

No stone marks their resting place, save for the beautiful tree of course.

  • I don’t know where all of Dorcas’s children are buried, but I’d wager that Elizabeth, called Betsy, is buried right there. Her son Barney wound up owning the land and last I knew, his descendants still do.
  • Son John is probably buried in the cemetery too, assuming he didn’t move away. He died sometime after 1834.
  • Darcus probably buried Reuben, throwing clods of dirt on top of his casket as her final act of motherhood. That had to be an incredibly sad day, but he was always nearby, up on the hill.
  • Peggy joined her mother in March of 1852. In the 1850 census, she was living with an unknown family. As a divorced elderly woman, she may have been supported by the court and placed with a family who would care for her. We don’t know when she divorced, but it was before 1844 when Elijah Jones remarried, according to his widow’s pension application after his death. I wonder if Peggy was able to retain any of her parent’s land that Jacob and Darcus sold to her husband, Elijah, in 1814. Divorce was virtually unheard of at that time and required the approval of the state assembly. It’s unknown when the divorce occurred, but it certainly could have been prior to Dorcas’s death.
  • Jane known as Jenny died between 1850 and 1860 and is either buried with her mother or on the Campbell land across the ridge.
  • George died in 1837, just a couple of years after Jacob, and would rest near his mother as well.
  • Jacob Jr. died sometime between 1840 and 1850 and likely rests in the family cemetery.
  • Solomon made his way to Texas, and of course, Andrew died in Greene County.

Of the 9 children believed to be hers, 7 are either buried with her or nearby. That idea of purchasing a large tract of land to share seemed to have worked. Solomon, while he did die in Texas, didn’t leave until after his mother had passed on. At least she didn’t have to wave goodbye to that wagon carrying her son and 11 of her grandchildren.

This beautiful, peaceful cemetery is populated with Dorcas’s descendants. The first person buried there would probably have been either Dorcas’s child or grandchild in one of the many unmarked graves.

Some of her 35 known grandchildren are buried here as well, as are a dozen generations of her descendants scattered across the sundrenched field.


I have more than 100 autosomal DNA matches with Dorcas’s descendants through 5 of her children. There is no question that she’s my ancestor.

However, what I really need is to discover more about her parents. Ancestry’s ThruLines only reach back 7 generations before you hit a hard stop, meaning Ancestry does not calculate ThruLines beyond 7 generations. Ancestry also does not provide segment information, so you have little to work with.

To find her parents, I need to be able to track specific segments that I’ve been able to confirm to Jacob Dobkins and Darcus Johnson back to people who have Johnson ancestors in their tree, hopefully in a timeframe that could be Dorcas’s parents.

Using segments from vendors who provide segment information, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GedMatch, I’ve identified several segments that I know descend from Jacob and Dorcas and painted them at DNAPainter.

I can’t associate segments with (my unknown) ancestors any further back than either Jacob or Dorcas without matching segments from people who descend from their parents, respectively.

What I DESPERATELY need is the ability to use these segments to focus on all of my matches and their trees that triangulate on these specific paternal segments assigned to Jacob and Dorcas. I need the ability to work with the trees of people who carry those segments but aren’t descended from Jacob and Dorcas in order to unravel the identity of their ancestors.

That feature isn’t offered anyplace, at least not yet. I’m hopeful though.

However, that’s not the end of the DNA resources. We can utilize mitochondrial DNA that is passed from women to their children – but only women pass it on. That means both men and women can test today. Mitochondrial DNA testing represents a special DNA unique to their direct matrilineal line.

Dorcas’s Mitochondrial DNA

I’m fortunate enough to have Dorcas’s mitochondrial DNA results through two different daughters of Jane “Jenny” Dobkins. They match exactly, which is a good thing because I want to be able to depend on an exact match to be able to help identify other people’s trees that may hold the key to Dorcas’s parents.

Our testers have 9 full sequence exact matches at FamilyTreeDNA, the only vendor that does full mitochondrial DNA testing.

Of those matches, some have listed an EKA, Earliest Known Ancestor, from this line, some have provided trees, some both, and some neither.

Tracking the information back through their trees I’ve discovered:

  • One EKA is Matilda Holt 1830-1889 from Monroe Co., TN. Matilda Holt married James Willis in Claiborne County. Her mother was Rutha Campbell whose mother was Jane Dobkins, daughter of Dorcas.

Now we have three of Dorcas’s descendants.

  • Another match shows their EKA as Margaret Ida Hamilton born in 1877 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, died in 1947, and married John Lincoln Brown 1864-1942. She was the daughter of Margaret Adaline Jones (1849-1910) whose mother was Susan Caroline Terrell born about 1820 in Obion County, TN and married Paul Guy Jones (1823-1970). I lost the trail there.
  • A third match descends from the wife of Elias Harrison (1769-1836) who died in 1836 in Claiborne County, TN. With that same location, this match is VERY interesting. Elias Harrison’s wife is purported to be Martha Hedgepith or Hedgepath (1772-1820), although documentation points elsewhere. One record suggests Martha was the daughter of Richard Beasley whose will was probated on October 5, 1800, in Stokes County, NC leaving his estate to his wife Martha but named a daughter, Patty Harrison. Martha and Patsy are common names for each other. The first two daughters of Elias and Martha were reported to have been born in NC. On March 3, 1792, one Jonathan Harrison sold 100 acres on Marshal’s Creek, a branch of Big River in Stokes County to Richard Beasley. You can read more about this couple here and here.

The fascinating thing about this record is that given the dates and locations, the wife of Elias Harrison is clearly not a daughter of Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson because one of Elias and Martha’s children was born in 1791 and another in 1792. Therefore, Martha’s connection to Dorcas reaches back into earlier generations.

The next logical step would be to research Richard Beasley’s wife who would have contributed Martha’s mitochondrial DNA through her mother’s line. A quick search shows that Richard Beasley was born in Essex County about 1730, reportedly married in Caroline County, and was in Stokes by 1790 where he died in 1800.

I do wonder if there is a reason that these families wound up in the same area of Claiborne County – did they previously know each other?


Darcas’s mitochondrial haplogroup is H2a1.

Her Matches Map shows some matches in the UK, but many clustered in Sweden and Finland. You might also note that only one exact (red) match is shown on the map meaning that 8 people didn’t enter their geographic information. Just think how much more useful this tool could be with tree and location information included.

On the FamilyTreeDNA dashboard, at the bottom under “Other Tools,” you will find both “Advanced Matches” and “Public Haplotrees.”

Advanced matches provide you with the ability to see if any of your mitochondrial DNA matches also match you autosomally, assuming both people have taken both tests.

The public haplotree link allows you to view the countries where your haplogroup is found.

I selected “mtDNA Haplotree”, then “View by Country,” then haplogroup H, then entered the branch name. The requested haplogroup is displayed with the grey bar along with how many times a specific country has been selected by testers. You can mouse over each flag or click on the three dots at right to view the country report.

Just as a note, the “23” means that H2a1 has 23 subgroups, and Darcus’s DNA is not in any of them, just H2a1.

The takeaway with this report is that the deep ancestry of Darcus Johnson is found in Scandinavia, in Sweden, and Finland. How far back is deep? We don’t know exactly. Her more immediate ancestors’ most likely source of origin would be from the British Isles, or Scandinavia.

Haplogroup information alone may or may not be helpful genealogically – only time will tell. It can rule out a great number of possibilities – like Native American and other world regions in this case.

However, the Beasley line information is the most promising. Perhaps a proven daughter of Richard Beasley has a descendant through all females who will DNA test to either confirm or lay to rest that possibility.

Additionally, I’ll be contacting the matches who have not provided either earliest ancestor or pedigree information. Who knows what gems might still be hiding there.


Our trail has taken us far afield from Dorcas herself. She would be amazed or maybe amused to know that we are searching for the information that was familiar to her from birth. She would also be amazed to think we could connect her with her ancestors using something called DNA that her descendants carry inside of them, from her. That would have seemed a lot like magic, but then so would computers, phones, and automobiles.

Ironic, with all of our technology, we still have to search for what our ancestors knew.

Like, for example, the names of their children, grandchildren, and where they went. Who were her parents and where did they live? Where did they attend church and what were their religious beliefs? What was their life like?

When did Darcus die? What did she like to do? Did she sit on the porch of the old Dobkins home, when it was brand spanking new, and make quilts for her family? I like to think of her that way.

Darcus learned to be self-sufficient and independent early in her marriage when Jacob was gone not for days, weeks, or months, but for years during the Revolutionary War. She probably had no idea if he was alive or dead. She simply did what needed to be done, and prayed that one day he would ride or walk up the path to their house – wherever that was.

Given her resiliency, it’s no surprise then that the last record Darcus may have left us was a surprising one documenting a very non-traditional role for a southern pioneer woman – that of a chain carrier.

What a legacy she left, even though much of her life is revealed peeking through the shadows of her husband, children, and history that was unfolding around her.


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What Article Topics Would You Like in 2022?

I have lots of ideas about what I’d like to write about, but I work with genetic genealogy every day and what I’d like to write about might not be the same as what you want to read. As always, I’ll include articles about new features, tools, vendor announcements, and opportunities such as sales.

As for the rest, I’d like your opinion. What would you like to see me cover? Before I ask these 10 questions, and you answer, please note that you can search the blog by keyword or topic to see if I’ve already covered a topic.

  1. Are you interested in DNA basics? If so, which topics?
  2. Would you enjoy more vendor-specific articles? If so, which vendors and topics?
  3. Would you like tool-specific instruction? If so, which tools?
  4. Would you like more articles in the Concepts series? If so, are there specific genetic concepts you’d like to see covered?
  5. Would you like examples of how to integrate the genetics aspect with traditional genealogy? Can you give me an example?
  6. Would you like intermediate or advanced topics? If so, which ones?
  7. Would you like me to write and publish a new book? If so, what topic(s)? Traditional printed bound book, e-book, or both?
  8. Would you be interested in other publication types such as Podcasts, YouTube videos, or something else? If so, in addition to my blog articles, or instead of blog articles? How would I resolve privacy issues showing live screens of my results?
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  10. What are your favorite articles and types of articles? What do you find exciting? Why?

I welcome your input in the comments. You can just write free-format or answer by question number. If you have ideas that I’ve missed, please add those too.

I can’t wait to see your suggestions. 2022 is going to be a great year!


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Thank you so much.

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Almost Dying Changes You – 52 Ancestors #348

Before you read any further – I’m fine. Now. But I wasn’t.

I’ve been really debating about whether or not I should write this article. After it was written, I debated about whether I should publish it. It’s one of those all-or-nothing propositions.

Obviously, because you’re reading this, I decided to share this chapter in my life’s journey.

Thankfully, it was not the closing chapter but was far too close for comfort.

You might want a nice cup of tea, coffee, or maybe something stronger for this one😊.

Shift Happens

You might have noticed over the past few months that my 52 Ancestor stories have changed a bit. They’re a lot more like this one with fewer historical articles. Don’t worry – they will shift back soon.

They changed because I’ve been making some significant changes in my life and I just didn’t have the time for the required research to do each ancestor justice. I’m almost through that knothole now.


Sometimes we decide, of our own free will to make changes in our lives. We decide to go to college, or get married, or maybe not.

We make decisions about our jobs and careers. We decide where to live. Our ancestors decided to migrate or remain in their home village. So do we.

Many of the significant changes in my life have been the result of a rather rude push. Off of something that looked a lot like a cliff at the time.

For example, I received a “shove” to leave Indiana that came in the form of life-threatening domestic abuse. At the time, I was utterly terrified, alone with my young children, two pets that survived, (he killed one), and heartbroken. That chapter shaped who I’ve become a great deal.

In hindsight, it was one of the best “shoves” I ever received and absolutely for the best. Not the abuse of course, but the fact that I had to leave to escape. I learned courage, resilience, tenacity, and to advocate for myself when there was no one else. In other words – survival skills – baptism by fire.

Back then, there weren’t domestic violence shelters and women were often blamed when their husbands were abusive.

In leaving and beginning anew, doors I never could have imagined opened. I established a new, abuse-free life and found the perfect career.

A few years later, another unexpected push off that cliff came when I had to find a new job. The company I worked for, and loved, was acquired. I was very unhappy at the time, but now, looking back, I realize that I took extremely important life-lessons about problem-solving and thinking outside the box with me, along with a bright shiny college degree. I didn’t want to, but it really was time to move on. The next door was opening. I just didn’t see it that way – at least not yet!

Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I don’t know who said that first, but it’s oh so true. All of life’s events are strung together like a chain, every single one essential to getting us to where we are today. Changing one thing changes everything.

I’m sure every single one of you can relate similar experiences.

Near Death

I’m one of those extremely fortunate people who is alive because of medical advances, specifically antibiotics. Had I been born just a generation earlier, I assuredly wouldn’t have survived.

Aside from my difficult birth, my first much-too-close encounter with death was when I was 10 years old and critically ill with meningismus, a close relative of meningitis. By all rights, I should have died, and I very nearly did. I recall an event vividly, although I was in an oxygen tent and my mother assured me that I was NOT conscious when I told her about this “memory” later. She did, however, confirm that what I saw happened exactly as I described, which simply confused both of us.

The doctor asked my mother to step out of my hospital room with him and I decided to “go with them.” They walked quite a way to the end of the hall. I was “floating along,” slightly above and behind them, but it didn’t seem at all odd. I realize it sounds odd now.

They sat at the end of the hall, alone, in a small waiting area. The doctor asked my mother if there was anyone she needed to call. She didn’t understand what he meant. He explained that it was unlikely that I would recover, and he wondered if there were grandparents, siblings, my father, etc. that would like to come to the hospital to see me while they still could. He offered to help her make the necessary calls.

My mother was clearly shocked, stood up, looked at him, and declared emphatically, “My daughter is NOT going to die!” With that, she left him sitting there and walked resolutely back to my room. In my floating state, I returned with her, and I saw myself lying in bed beneath the plastic oxygen tent zipped around most of me, apparently “sleeping.” I remember thinking that I looked small.

I remember nothing else.

I’ve had a few other brushes with death – close calls – but perhaps not THAT close.


In the 1970s, I was involved in an automobile accident where my car flipped end-over-end in a field several times after broadsiding a vehicle that ran a stop sign in front of me. I couldn’t see the vehicle approaching because the corn was above car height.

By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden – Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16085390

Thankfully, my vehicle, a much-disparaged Ford Pinto, ironically for safety issues, literally collapsed around me like a protective cocoon, leaving me with injuries that warranted hospitalization, but that didn’t leave me in critical condition.

Yes, events do “slow down” in the seconds when a crisis like that is occurring. The seconds between seeing that car pull in front of me, slamming on the brakes while throwing the transmission into reverse to slow my speed, crashing into the car, feeling the jolting impact, then spinning over and over with my vehicle finally coming to rest on its roof seemed like a slow-motion eternity.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say I was trapped in the car and bleeding badly. The important thing is that my child was not in the car with me, and I survived, as did the other driver.

One of the supreme ironies is that after a fatal accident a couple of years earlier, my step-father had been part of organizing a local fundraiser to purchase jaws-of-life for the volunteer fire department, and a new ambulance to cover that part of the county. Little did he know they would both be used to save his daughter’s life.

Pain Medication

In the early 2000s, I either became or always had been allergic to morphine and never knew it.

In the wee hours of the morning, I awoke in the hospital, following surgery earlier in the day, and observed an entire circle of doctors and nurses, along with a crash cart, surrounding my bed. Apparently, I had a reaction to morphine that involved my blood pressure and respirations dropping to a critically low level.

A few years later, my dentist prescribed Tylenol with codeine after a procedure. It never occurred to me that my years-earlier morphine issue might also extend to codeine. I took one pill before bed. Thankfully, only one, which was half the prescribed dose. Otherwise, I would probably have died on the floor where I spent the night flat on my back.

That experience was quite interesting.

I felt ill in bed, got up and attempted to reach the kitchen for something to settle my stomach. On the way, I felt faint, leaned over the couch, realized I was losing consciousness and wondered if I was dying just before everything went black.

I recall rousing slightly during the night on the floor. I couldn’t move, but I realized I was cold before slipping away again. Sometime a little later, I struggled to consciousness again amid the realization that I literally could not die because I wasn’t “finished.”

To this day, I don’t know if I “thought” that or “someone” was speaking to me from the other side.

Near morning, around dawn, I finally roused enough to crawl back into the bedroom and awaken my husband. I realized that I had gone to bed more than 6 hours earlier.

No more morphine, codeine or opioid-based pain meds for me – ever.

Unfinished Business

Regardless of where that message “came from,” it arrived nonetheless, and I heard it loud and clear. I knew exactly what business was unfinished, and that’s where I’ve been focused on a daily basis since that epiphany. You might have surmised by this point that my unfinished business was and is genetic genealogy, and specifically one aspect of my research work.

I have always felt that I was guided, or pushed, to where I needed to be and this is no exception.

2020 & 2021

These last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone in a myriad of ways. Literally, let me count those ways. I’ll need my fingers and toes and maybe yours too😊

I’ve been fortunate because my income and my husband’s have both been mostly spared and we have escaped the worst aspects of Covid. That’s to say, neither of us or our immediate family, meaning spouse, child, or parent has died from it.

However, I’ve lost many friends and close relatives and the deaths continue to mount. My husband’s best friend died. One of my close friends has lost either 5 or 6 close family members to Covid, one just today. Two others have lost both parents, just days apart. Sadly, there are so many that I’ve lost count.

Even more friends and family members have Covid right now, residual long-Covid, or are suffering from Covid repercussions. Families are irrecoverably fractured by differences in both politics and Covid beliefs.

And by fractured, I do NOT mean a disagreement. I mean a forever rift that cannot be repaired. Polarizing politics, Covid, fear, abandonment, betrayal, and sometimes death all thrown together in the most toxic of stews.

Some people have managed to survive all that but have suffered from and are still experiencing the effects of being physically isolated from family members and friends. And of course, for many, the employment landscape has changed dramatically.

After two years, there is no longer a “normal” to go back to.

I thought 2020 was the worst.

I made countless masks and quilts for people in need or suffering.

We mask-makers viewed ourselves as “can do” Rosie the Riveter, 2020 version, all pulling together with what we had on hand to help others out, especially those in medical, public safety, and public-facing jobs who had to work to care for others.

We were all terrified, especially as people began to sicken and die and Covid progressed from the abstract happening someplace else to the grim-reaper stealthily moving among us and our family members.

I made myself a quilt from just a few of the mask scraps that I named Black and Blue, because that’s how I felt in the spring of 2020. Beaten, bruised and isolated as we attended Zoom funerals.

We made the best of things, hoping for an end soon.

I was so hopeful for 2021, especially with the vaccine becoming available. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out exactly as I expected, and here we are, still struggling and embattled in January of 2022, enduring the worse surge yet.


By spring and summer of 2021, after a year of being locked down, people became very restless. Covid fatigue. Zoom just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We had spent months trying to find things to do separately but together.

Me, right along with them. I began focusing on outside activities as the weather warmed.

I was never so glad to see spring arrive in my life. Green leaves, flowers, and release from the houses that held us hostage yet at the same time protected and sheltered us during 2020 and the following cold, grey Covid winter.

May 2021

Gardening was in full swing by May. Colorful blooming flowers everyplace soothed my battered soul, even though I still couldn’t see friends and family members in our normal settings. We were finally beginning to see family members outsdoors, still masked. I was so grateful and that felt SOOOooo very good. I had missed them incredibly.

The garden had come to life, insects were buzzing and I was spending lots of time outside.

One morning, I felt something brush my face, by my eye. I didn’t know what it was, but I reflexively fanned it away with my hand. A second or so later, I felt a sting, then another one.

Both stings on my face near my nose.

Within seconds, I felt intense burning rise to my eye, through my nose, and the palate of my mouth begin to swell. The swelling was moving swiftly towards the back of the roof of my mouth.

I suddenly realized what was happening. I was having a severe, intense reaction, and if my throat swelled like my face and the roof of my mouth were doing – I was going to be in extreme trouble in about a minute.

My husband was nearby and I somehow managed to find my way to him. I distantly heard him say to someone on the phone, after glancing at me, “Uh, I have to go. I have a really big problem here.”

We made it to the hospital where all I could do was attempt to choke out the word, “bee” and motion to my throat as I gasped, but I don’t know that they could hear or understand me.

Except, it wasn’t a bee. The culprit was a hornet, the most toxic and life-threatening of stinging insects.

Emergency Room

The lobby of the Emergency Room was full of coughing patients.

The staff pointed to the seating area, wanted me to “take a seat and wait,” but I was frantically trying to gesture that I couldn’t breathe. They summoned a nurse who was quite alarmed.

We were immediately hustled into a triage room where a flurry of people were scrambling around me, cutting my shirt off, asking questions and starting IVs.

I remember little, except a sense of relief that someone understood just how much trouble I was in.

A few hours later, hooked up to what seemed like every electronic monitoring device possible, I was drifting in and out of sleep with Jim sitting in the chair at the foot of the gurney. I heard the nurse step behind the curtain of the person in the area beside me and tell that patient that he was Covid positive and that they were going to transport him “someplace” as soon as they could stabilize him and find a bed.

Still quite groggy, I asked Jim if I heard what I thought I heard. He slowly shook his head in the affirmative. We stared at each other in wide-eyed shock and disbelief, combined with fear. We had both tried so hard to avoid Covid, yet, here it was, right beside us with no precautions taken to separate people with Covid symptoms from the rest of us.

We had all been there for hours, just feet apart – and my neighbor was positive. I was trapped.

I asked the nurse and while she could not confirm that the man next to me had Covid, she said that they did in fact “have Covid in here.”

We had all shared a lobby, the triage room (he was already there when I arrived,) restrooms, and hallways – for hours. Wonderful. Just wonderful. We spent several more hours side by side too until he was transported.

There was no hospital room available, so we remained in the ER until they were sure I could breathe, my vitals stabilized, and the swelling had abated somewhat.

I was sent home on high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs. And to wait…

You Know What’s Coming…

I was home, but I was not “OK.” Anaphylaxis is an immense shock to the system and your body is literally flooded with chemicals. You become very ill. And you don’t just get over it as soon as the meds take effect.

I had never experienced an anaphylactic reaction before, but went to bed and expected to feel better soon. However, I continued to feel very crummy. Extremely tired, weak and dizzy. For many days.

I finally called my doctor who instructed me to go and get both a Covid PCR test and a Covid serologic antibody test. She wanted to know if I was positive for Covid at that point, hence the PCR test, and if my system was having a reaction to the Covid exposure, meaning I had had Covid. You can read about the various types of tests, here.

I was not positive for Covid at that time, but my antibody numbers were literally off the chart.

You can see on my results above that 8 is the top end of the chart, and my results were 8.11.

Yes, my body was fighting both that double hornet sting AND Covid, at the same time. No wonder recovery took a long time and I felt miserable.

I knew I had come perilously close to dying.

Something Changed

I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but something changed. A paradigm shift.

Maybe something had been changing all along and this life-threatening event just cinched it. Pushed me over another cliff of sorts following a whole lot of cumulative smaller shoves.

Covid has made us all think about and reconsider things. Lots of things.

  • What is important?
  • Who is important?
  • Some people have come to view their career and employer in a different light.
  • Jobs have changed too with many people now enjoying a work-at-home or hybrid position that shifted from an in-the-office job.
  • Other people left the workforce and have not rejoined.
  • We were somehow more restricted but less tied.
  • Numbers vary by age group and location, but more than 20% of Americans have moved during this time.
  • Relationships have morphed and changed too – sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Many ended. Some began.
  • We have been conflicted – both grateful to be working at home, which is both more convenient and productive, but also lonely for in-person human contact.
  • We have more social media and electronic connections than ever, although many of those platforms have become hateful and toxic. Yet, it has been the only way for us to keep track of friends, family, and acquaintances, so we’ve tried to sidestep the increasing toxicity.

Somehow, whether we intended or wanted to or not, we’ve all taken stock of what is important as a result of living with the constant threat of a miserable death.

Not one person that I know has been untouched by this threat. All of us have family members who have died. Some of us nearly died.

Trauma changes you, especially sustained trauma. Some people have developed PTSD, but we aren’t exactly into the “post” part of post-traumatic just yet, because this trauma continues.

Life has changed in big ways and small.

June 2021

I knew that I was done. I knew that somehow a chapter had ended and another had already begun. That cliff might have been invisible, but I was already over the edge and there was no return.

I had been delaying several changes – some through procrastination pure and simple.

I had been reluctant to make other changes due to restrictions and factors that had shifted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the previous 18 months, and longer.

The hornet stings, Covid exposure, resulting reactions, plus Covid-induced lifestyle and relationship changes all morphed together to create an avalanche thundering downhill.

  • It was time to clean out.
  • It was time to downsize our surroundings and upsize our life.
  • It was time to stop procrastinating, even if the reasons had been “good” and were justified.

“Someday” is not a day of the week and doesn’t just happen without focused effort.

We thought we had “forever” left – but forever nearly turned out to be minutes and not years or decades.

It is time to fully live for us and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I’m not retiring.

I absolutely LOVE what I do. That epiphany on the floor all those years ago still holds true. I’m not done. I just needed to reprioritize, shift to a different environment, simplify things and eliminate some dead weight.

With the summer solstice arrived the season of change. Soul-searching walks in the labyrinth confirmed what I needed to do.

I won’t tell you I wasn’t fearful and apprehensive, because I was. But I also knew. The path existed and I was on it, even though I couldn’t yet see through the mists where it led. This journey hadn’t yet been unveiled, but there was no turning back.

I was headed into the darkness of uncertainly as a result of escaping the darkness of death.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I wrote about Swedish Death Cleaning a few weeks ago. Suffice it to say I really had no concept of HOW MUCH STUFF I had accumulated.

Sifting through all that was both cathartic and incredibly painful.

I found things I had entirely forgotten about – until I saw them again. I was reminded how blessed I had been to have been forced over those cliffs of uncertainty all those times in the past.

Yes, that’s a much younger me at Twentieth Century-Fox – a landmark opportunity in my career.

My life passed before my eyes one piece of paper, one found photo and one item at a time. I found the bear I made my mother for Mother’s Day as a child. It resided on her bed all the days of her life.

Some treasures made me smile, some cry, and some, both.

Many family photos are minus many or even most of the other people.

Yet, they are also some of life’s most joyful moments.

I relived the great joys, and the great sorrows of my life, one after another, all in the space of a few weeks.

Some were unspeakably bittersweet.

Mom’s last birthday card to me as her health was failing

I never knew what the next box or envelope I opened would hold.

In many ways, I had to say goodbye all over again to family members, both human and animal.

We spread the ashes of our long-departed fur-family members as we prepared to move on.

I found this gravestone rubbing made by my daughter when we visited Aurora, Indiana with Mom back in the 1980s.

They are gone, not forgotten, and will live in our hearts forever. We don’t need the stuff to take the memories.

The future was once again a blank slate in front of us, waiting to be filled with our new life.


During this time, I made an unexpected discovery. I received a great deal of satisfaction by gifting things that I had always cherished to others. Things near and dear to my heart. 

I gifted my grandmother’s china to my 1C1R (first cousin once removed), who is also my grandmother’s descendant.

My cousin’s mother was my Mom’s niece who she absolutely adored.

My cousin is relaying the china to a different 1C1R. My family already has what they want and I’m thrilled to find a way to keep Grandmother’s china in the family.

My grandmother, her sisters, aunts and mother painted the gold edging in the early 1900s. One is initialed by my grandmother’s aunt and dated 1905.

Here’s the sad part. My mother never used that china. Neither had I. Everyone was terrified of breaking it, so it sat forever in the cabinet, revered but unused. I hope my cousin uses that china that belonged to both my grandmother and her mother, my great-grandmother, as well. My cousin is at least the fifth generation, if not the 6th.

Regardless of whether she uses it, or simply loves it, the china is still in the family and I’m not carting it around only to have it wind up in a rummage sale someday, or worse. At least now it has the opportunity of remaining in the family for more generations.


When my cousin came to pick up the china, she looked so much like her mother and my grandparents. That was startling and made me weepy. Even weepier than I already was. She didn’t know it, but she was visiting on what would have been my Mom’s 99th birthday.

My cousin brought me a lovely gift as well – my grandfather’s masonic apron, shown below on a table cover that I hand-quilted, for his daughter, my mother, years ago.

I am thrilled beyond words – and I enjoyed visiting with my cousin immensely. I have several things from my grandmother, but nothing from my grandfather – until now.

Additionally, my mother had crocheted shawls for all the females in the family, plus a few extras. Her shawls were extraordinarily delicate and beautiful, winning many ribbons at fairs and exhibitions over the years.

There was one shawl left. I offered it to my cousin who, of course, had known my mother. She was thrilled, saying THAT was the highlight of her visit.

She adopted Mom’s last afghan too.

I’ve enjoyed sharing the love so very much – and I know Mom would approve as well. I felt her with us.

In fact, I’ve felt her with me many times during this process.

Use the Crystal

As I sifted through what to sell and gift, and what to keep, I had to weigh the importance of each item to me, combined with the possibilities of where it would go in a new chapter of its life. How I felt about where it would go, and with whom, made a big difference in my decision.

Mom had some crystal that was also my grandmother’s. She used the crystal bowls from time to time, unlike the china. I remember various crystal pieces on the table.

I decided to keep those, and as I was wondering exactly what to DO with them, I heard this voice in my mind. Mom said, “Use the crystal.”

Use the crystal. Now that I think about it, I think the fact that I could remember those dishes being used created a bond I didn’t have with the much-loved but unused china. The crystal was actually a part of our life.

It doesn’t matter if I use the crystal for its original intended purpose or something else. I can feel close to Mom by simply using it in my life.

Right now, I’m using one bowl for tangerines and another for chocolate.

Chocolate was Mom’s perennial favorite, so no matter what I did with anything else, her unwavering gaze would be affixed on that chocolate in her dish😊

Yep, Mom surely approves.

I think I’ll use her water pitcher as a vase when I’m not using it to pour iced tea. My hubby already used one of her crystal glasses for a sip of wine last night.

Regardless, the crystal pieces are no longer going to reside, unused, on the shelf in the cabinet.

We are already using her crystal.

Reshaping Life

I’ve utilized this reshaping opportunity to decide what is, and is not, important.

I’ve donated and donated and donated.

If something doesn’t bring me peace, joy, or happiness, it’s off to bring that to someone else. Money already spent is a sunk cost and not a good reason to keep something that no longer meets that criteria.

And really, who needs a dozen pairs of shoes. Now genealogy books, well, that’s another matter altogether😊!


I’ve realigned my life with what’s important at this stage. I’ve focused on what I want and less on “should” based on what I think is expected of me.

I realized that I wasn’t important to everyone who I thought was important to me. Investing in relationships and people who don’t care and aren’t appreciative is a vicious cycle of pain and disappointment. I stopped. As Dad used to say, “let go or get dragged.”

I’m less tolerant of BS. Life is just too short.

Yes, it truly does take a village. I don’t mean just to raise children, but for all of us. You truly know who the people who love you are when you need help, or nearly die, and they show up, or don’t.

Whoever it was that said, “We are just walking each other home,” had that exactly right.

Family of heart is our family of choice, and I would be truly lost without them. Choose wisely, Grasshopper, because those people are your “village” residents. Those who will share their food with you in a drought or masks and TP in plague times, or who will shrug and let you perish as collateral damage.

I care less about other’s people’s opinions of me.

I’ve removed negative and toxic people from my periphery.

I’m not allowing the key to my happiness to live in someone else’s pocket.

I’m focused on spending time and resources on people who are positive and kind.

Love and loyalty are not simply words and concepts, they hinge on actions. Without corresponding actions, they are nothing but deceptive, manipulative, hollow words, or worse. Like my mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Believe the behavior.


I’ve thought a lot about the first few words of my obituary.

In other words – what do I want my legacy to be? We are the only people who can make that happen. Our legacy isn’t so much what happens TO us, but what we do about it. We write our legacy every day, every minute, of our lives.

  • She was…
  • She will be remembered for…
  • She loved…
  • We miss her because…
  • She left…
  • The best thing about her life was or is…

Every single one of these things has to do with people, and how we make them feel. Not a single one of those things has to do with “stuff,” unless it’s making sure that others have their needs met.

It’s not at all what we have or accumulate that matters, but the legacy we leave behind.

I can’t help but think of Betty White who died just days shy of her 100th birthday and we STILL thought that was too soon. Be like Betty.

I’ve tied up as many loose ends as possible so that my daughter doesn’t have to make (as many) difficult decisions.

I’ve reaffirmed and acknowledged, again, how important genetic research is to both me and others. Not just individual others, but the genealogy community and world at large, now and in the future.

I’m thinking about the Million Mito Project which will benefit mankind (and womankind) as well as individual genealogists. Tracing our way back in time and lighting those dark crevices with knowledge one step at a time. Eventually, those tiny steps evolve into a journey.

I’ve recommitted to my 52 Ancestors series. I’m not writing for me, but for them, and for the future. For people probably not yet born. There are stories and tidbits that will be gone, forever, when I am. I’m trying my best to make sure they aren’t!

I’m doing what I love and will continue as long as I manage to avoid those pesky hornets.

I’ve hired someone to help with the outside home maintenance. Not only do I not care for that task, I’m making it as difficult as possible for those hornets to kill me😊.

And speaking of those evil flying assassins, in case you’re wondering, I now carry an EpiPen in the bottom of my purse and in a drawer by the back door at all times. I’ve already needed it once too – not for me – for someone else.

Had that hornet NOT stung me, I would not have had the pen on hand for a young man who was stung and also had no idea he was severely allergic. Speaking of a worthy legacy, a huge thank you to Sheldon Kaplan who invented the EpiPen and thereby saved and continues to save countless lives. HE made a huge difference. Be like Sheldon too!

Oh, and the back door is now located elsewhere, meaning I relocated, and the new patio is screened.


I’ve made the same journey my ancestors did. Migration. I’ve thought so much about them, their choices and sacrifices these past few weeks and months – and their legacies.

Their lives have passed before my eyes as I embarked and walked along that same pathway. In some cases, I’ve revisited those locations, such as Aurora, Indiana, on the Ohio River where a Christmas wreath adorns a boat.

I’m glad to see the home belonging to my ancestors, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel is getting a much-needed facelift. It was here that the Haviland China was painted more than a century ago, probably in the parlor. My great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore was born and raised here. My grandmother, Edith Lore spent a great deal of time with her grandparents and that Haviland china was probably painted by three if not four generations of women chatting and painting happily together. I’ve always wondered if it was my grandmother’s wedding china. I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors know I’m here, visiting, passing through on my own migration journey exactly a century after Barbara Drechsel Kirsch sold the Kirsch House to live with her widowed daughter.

I’ve gained a new and much greater appreciation for their lives and the challenges they faced. Although modern travel is much easier for me, well, except for the 3 Mad Cat thing😊.

I don’t dare complain one whimper, because compared to those months-long transatlantic ship voyages that were dependent on the wind and weather, my headaches were nothing. Jacob Lentz and his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, lost a child and possibly her parents, were shipwrecked, set adrift in the Atlantic, nearly starved, then stranded for a year in another country before having to indenture themselves and their family to pay for passage a second time where they encountered a hurricane. Nope, my trip was NOTHING in comparison.

Once again, I’m following in the collective footsteps of my ancestors. They paved the way and have sheltered me on this journey. I feel their presence. Every journey is different, and mine, especially recent decisions, has been challenging in many ways that I never anticipated.

So yes, I am using the crystal, Mom’s silverware, and the heirloom quilts! I hope you will too. If not now, when? Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

No Regrets

My goal at the end of my life is to have no regrets.

I can tell you as I’ve gotten older, I do wish I had done some things differently, but my major regrets are things that I DID NOT do, not things I did.

Most often, what prevented me from doing something was fear, disguised as lots of other emotions. Responsibility, especially for my children, guilt, and focusing on what I “should” do instead. What might happen if…

What I wanted to do was all but suffocated for a long time under that weight – for so long that I didn’t even know how to figure out what it was that I wanted – until I almost didn’t have that opportunity anymore.


Like I said, nearly dying changes you.

I’ve decided to live more boldly now. I’m lighter, both in terms of stuff and emotional baggage.

I have donated more than I kept – and I do mean that literally – to Lacasa, our local woman’s shelter that helps women escape domestic abuse by providing safety, protection, and whatever else they need. Many women leave with absolutely nothing except what they are wearing, their children, and if they are lucky, their pets.

There was a time in my life that I needed that type of assistance, but it wasn’t available. I left with the clothes on my back, a clunker car that he burned, my children, and 2 cats. He killed one pet and tried to kill us, including the children, and promised he would succeed if I left him. He nearly succeeded.

I was utterly terrified, young and alone, but left anyway, knowing instinctively that escape was my only prayer of survival.

I discovered that restraining orders are completely and utterly useless.


I still carry multiple scars, but I’ve come to realize that scars are the marks of warriors that won their battles. Reminders of valor and courage. Beauty marks – perhaps my best attire, as someone once said, made of hellfire itself.

These are not the permanent marks of suffering, but of bravery and survival. They are my secret source of strength, my superpower because they remind me that if I can survive that, I can survive just about anything. I wear them with pride and dignity. It’s not the scars themselves I want you to see, but how they transformed me, and through me, others.

Most women don’t talk about abuse and their abusers. It’s degrading, embarrassing, humiliating, and often involves rape and other unspeakable, horrific violations.

Worse yet, many people still blame the victims one way or another. A lot of second-guessing, “well, why didn’t you…” or “you should have…” goes on. There’s implied judgment and blame FOR THE VICTIM in every one of those words.

Every woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship situation knows she made a poor choice initially, but the question becomes one of survival. Women can’t go back in time and request a redo and other people back away. Men don’t advertise themselves as abusers – that behavior generally emerges after the woman is already dependent.

I was shocked when I learned my mother, at one point, had been a victim too. Many family members were embarrassed by her divorce and would have preferred that she “find a way” to remain married to her brutalizer.

It was hard enough for me, but even more difficult a generation earlier, because it was even more challenging for women to work and their wages were universally low. Not to mention the social and societal aspects of being viewed as “damaged goods,” a failure, “difficult,” a “loose woman,” and somehow a threat all rolled into one.

Unfortunately, women’s shelters didn’t exist for either me or my mother. Thank heavens they do now.

Shelter and Hope

Today, Lacasa has both a brick and mortar and online retail store stocked with donated items. Lacasa clients shop at no charge of course. All money raised goes to fund things like their 24-hour hotline and safehouse. All services for victims, survivors and their families are provided at no charge.

Not only did I donate a boatload of furniture, like this bookcase that used to hold quilt items, I also donated all kinds of household items, in addition to books. Reading is so important, and truthfully, I think this is the only way I could have parted with many of my books.

In addition to several friends who helped, I found a lovely couple to pack my remaining things, including moving the heavy furniture, so I didn’t need to do it or agonize and second guess my decisions about individual items.

Seeing my things in the Lacasa shop, like these bookcases being reassembled for use, made me cry. The service these items will provide in their new life is far, far beyond any use I would ever have gotten out of them. They held books for me. Now they hold out hope for others!

A path to safety and a new life. A transformational opportunity to break the cycle of abuse.

Donating to Lacasa made the shedding of excess baggage that I needed to accomplish for my metamorphosis so much easier.

We rented a storage unit for Lacasa to house the items that won’t fit in their store right now. Women will be able to “shop” here too, and Lacasa will stock the store as needed.

I own a whole lot less but am much richer than when I started this journey months ago.

Live Boldly

Everything has changed, and so have I.

It’s kind of like my magnetic poles have shifted.

I’ve sold and given away the majority of my possessions including heirlooms, quilts and books I cherished. There is something infinitely satisfying and rewarding about sharing the love – sewing those seeds to spread across the winds of time into future generations.

I’m using Mom’s crystal.

I cut a quilt into smaller pieces to repurpose and use differently as table runners.

I would/could have never done that before.

I’ve realized in many ways it was time to move on, and I have.

I trekked abroad to think and ponder the future before the Delta variant made travel too dangerous again. To the land of the midnight sun – to walk the continental divide between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, to experience a volcano erupting, and to explore the world of ancient DNA.

Ahhh, DNA and genealogy, my lifelong passion. DNA has both created and transformed my life.

I will not leave this world with any stone within my power unturned. I will educate about genetics, DNA test myself and others, write and research in the most productive ways possible, including this blog. In addition to my book published in 2021, there is likely going to be another in 2022.

I will travel and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.

I will stop to smell the flowers and allow them to inspire quilts that burst with summertime joy in the midst of winter.

I will celebrate the sun on my face and the love of my ancestors in my heart as I trace their pathways.

Furthermore, I promise, I will never, ever, be a well-behaved woman.

I would regret that immensely, and life is just too short to live within the restrictions imposed by the expectations of unknown and unnamed others.

Besides that, history is just waiting to be both made and revealed. It’s not like it’s going to simply reveal itself!

I am incredibly grateful to be so fortunate. I’m able to laugh and smile – a lot – and find joy in something every day. I haven’t just survived, but thrived with the help of my village – my family and family of heart. I feel a karmic obligation to repay my good fortune whenever possible by sewing both quilts and seeds.

I firmly believe that when you have an abundance of love, (or other things), that you need to give it. Literally, share the love.

Love is an unlimited, regenerative commodity. Love is not pie. There is always enough to go around. In fact, love is self-sustaining, increasing with the amount given.

OK – It’s Your Turn

I hope you too will live boldly – whatever that means to you. The future, and our legacy which is the rear-view mirror reflection of that future, is what we make it.

You don’t have to almost die to make changes. I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

What’s your legacy going to be?

What do you want to write in your own history book?

On your tombstone?

What are you going to do?

What’s stopping you?

What is your superpower?


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Identify Your Ancestors – Follow Nested Ancestral Segments

I don’t think that we actively think about our DNA segments as nested ancestors, like Russian Matryoshka dolls, but they are.

That’s exactly why segment information is critical for genealogists. Every segment, and every portion of a segment, has an incredibly important history. In fact, you could say that the further back in time we can track a segment, the more important it becomes.

Let’s see how to unveil nested segments. I’ll use my chromosome 20 as an example because it’s a smaller chromosome. But first, let’s start with my pedigree chart.


Click images to enlarge.

Before we talk about nested segments that originated with specific ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the closest portion of my maternal pedigree chart. My DNA segments came from and through these people. I’ll be working with the first 5 generations, beginning with my mother as generation #1.

Generation 1 – Parents

In the first generation, we receive a copy of each chromosome from each parent. I have a copy of chromosome 20 from my mother and a copy from my father.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can see that I match my mother on the entire tested region of each chromosome.

Therefore, the entire length of each of my chromosomes is assigned to both mother and father because I received a copy from each parent. I’m fortunate that my mother’s DNA was able to be tested before she passed away.

We see that each copy of chromosome 20 is a total of 110.20 cM long with 17,695 SNPs.

Of course, my mother inherited the DNA on her chromosome 20 from multiple ancestors whose DNA combined in her parents, a portion of which was inherited by my mother. Mom received one chromosome from each of her parents.

I inherited only one copy of each chromosome (In this case, chromosome 20) from Mom, so the DNA of her two parents was divided and recombined so that I inherited a portion of my maternal chromosome 20 from both of my maternal grandparents.

Identifying Maternal and Paternal Matches

Associating matches with your maternal or paternal side is easy at FamilyTreeDNA because their Family Finder matching does it automatically for you if you upload (or create) a tree and link matches that you can identify to their proper place in your tree.

FamilyTreeDNA then uses that matching segment information from known, identified relatives in your tree to place people who match you both on at least one significant-sized segment in the correct maternal, paternal, (or both) buckets. That’s triangulation, and it happens automatically. All you have to do is click on the Maternal tab to view your triangulated maternal matches. As you can see, I have 1432 matches identified as maternal. 

Some other DNA testing companies and third-party tools provide segment information and various types of triangulation information, but they aren’t automated for your entire match list like Family Finder matching at FamilyTreeDNA.

You can read about triangulation in action at MyHeritage, here, 23andMe, here, GEDmatch, here, and DNAPainter, which we’ll use, here. Genetic Affairs AutoKinship tool incorporates triangulation, as does their AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I’ve compiled a reference resource for triangulation, here.

Every DNA testing vendor has people in their database that haven’t tested anyplace else. Your best strategy for finding nested segments and identifying matches to specific ancestors is to test at or transfer your DNA file to every vendor plus GEDmatch where people who test at Ancestry sometimes upload for matching. Ancestry does not provide segment information or a chromosome browser so you’ll sometimes find Ancestry testers have uploaded to GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA  or MyHeritage where segment information is readily available. I’ve created step-by-step download/upload instructions for all vendors, here.

Generation 2 – Grandparents

In the second generation, meaning that of my grandparents, I inherited portions of my maternal and paternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s chromosomes.

My maternal and paternal chromosomes can be divided into two pieces or groups each, one for each grandparent.

Using DNAPainter, we can see my father’s chromosome 20 on top and my mother’s on the bottom. I have previously identified segments assigned to specific ancestors which are represented by different colors on these chromosomes. You can read more about how to use DNAPainter, here.

We can divide the DNA inherited from each parent into the DNA inherited from each grandparent based on the trees of people we match. If we test cousins from each side, assigning segments maternally or paternally becomes much, much easier. That’s exactly why I’ve tested several.

For the rest of this article, I’m focusing only on my mother’s side because the concepts and methods are the same regardless of whether you’re working on your maternal side or your paternal side.

Using DNAPainter, I expanded my mother’s chromosome 20 in order to see all of the people I’ve painted on my mother’s side.

DNAPainter allows us to paint matching segments from multiple testing vendors and assign them to specific ancestors as we identify common ancestors with our matches.

Based on these matches, I’ve divided these maternal matches into two categories:

  • Maternal grandmother, meaning my mother’s mother, bracketed in red boxes
  • Maternal grandfather, meaning my mother’s father, bracketed in black boxes.

The text and arrows in these graphics refer to the colors of the brackets/boxes, and NOT the colors of the segments beside people’s names. For example, if you look at the large black box at far right, you’ll see several people, with their matching segments identified by multiple colored bars. The different colored segments (bars) mean I’ve associated the match with different ancestors in multiple or various levels of generations.

Generation 3 – Great-grandparents

Within those maternal and paternal grandparent segments, more nested information is available.

The black Ferverda grandfather segments are further divided into black, from Hiram Ferverda, and gold from his wife Eva Miller. The same concept applies to the red grandmother segments which are now divided into red representing Nora Kirsch and purple representing Curtis Lore, her husband.

While I have only been able to assign the first four segments (at the top) to one person/ancestor, there’s an entire group of matches who share the grouping of segments at right, in gold, descended through Eva Miller. The Miller line is Brethren and Mennonite with lots of testers, so this is a common pattern in my DNA matches.

Eva Miller, the gold ancestor, has two parents, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller, so her segments would come from those two sides.

Generation 4 and 5 – Fuschia Segment

I was able to track the segment shown in fuschia indicated by the blue arrow to Jacob Lentz and his wife Fredericka Ruhle, German immigrant ancestors. Other people in this same match (triangulation) group descend from Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller – but that fuschia match is the one that shows us where that segment originated. This allows us to assign that entire gold/blue bracketed set of segments to a specific ancestor or ancestral couple because they triangulate, meaning they all match me and each other.

Therefore, all of the segments that match with the fuschia segment also track back to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle, or to their ancestors. We would need people who descend from Jacob’s parents and/or Fredericka’s parents to determine the origins of that segment.

In other words, we know all of these people share a common source of that segment, even if we don’t yet know exactly who that common ancestor was or when they lived. That’s what the process of tracking back discovers.

To be very clear, I received that segment through Jacob and Fredericka, but some of those matches who I have not been able to associate with either Jacob or Fredericka may descend from either Jacob or Fredericka’s ancestors, not Jacob and Fredericka themselves. Connecting the dots between Jacob/Fredericka and their ancestors may be enlightening as to the even older source of that segment.

Let’s take a look at nested segments on my pedigree chart.

Nested Pedigree

Click to enlarge.

You can see the progression of nesting on my pedigree chart, using the same colors for the brackets/boxes. The black Ferverda box at the grandparent level encompasses the entire paternal side of my mother’s ancestry, and the red includes her mother’s entire side. This is identical to the DNAPainter graphic, just expressed on my pedigree chart instead of my chromosome 20.

Then the black gets broken into smaller nested segments of black, gold and fuschia, while the red gets broken into red and purple.

If I had more matches that could be assigned to ancestors, I would have even more nested levels. Of course, if I was using all of my chromosomes, not just 20, I would be able to go back further as well.

You can see that as we move further back in time, the bracketed areas assigned to each color become smaller and smaller, as do the actual segments as viewed on my DNAPainter chromosomes.

Segments Get Progressively Smaller

You can see in the pedigree chart and segment painting above that the segments we inherit from specific ancestors divide over time. As we move further and further back in our tree, the segments inherited from any specific ancestor get smaller and smaller too.

Dr. Paul Maier in the MyOrigins 3.0 White Paper provides this informative graphic that shows the reduction in segments and the number of ancestors whose DNA we carry reaching back in time.

I refer to this as a porcupine chart.

Eventually, we inherit no segments from red ancestors, and the pieces of DNA that we inherit from the distant blue ancestors become so small and fragmented that they cannot be positively identified as coming from a specific ancestor when compared to and matched with other people. That’s why vendors don’t show small segment matches, although different vendors utilize different segment thresholds.

The debate about how small is too small continues, but the answer is not simply segment size alone. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As segments become smaller, the probability, or chances that we match another person by chance (IBC) increases. Proof that someone shares a specific ancestor, especially when dealing with increasingly smaller segments is a function of multiple factors, such as tree completeness for both people, shared matches, parental match confirmation, and more. I wrote about What Constitutes Proof, here.

In the Family Finder Matching White Paper, Dr. Maier provides this chart reflecting IBD (Identical By Descent) and IBC (Identical By Chance) segments and the associated false positivity rate. That means how likely you are to match someone on a segment of that size by chance and NOT because you both share the DNA from a common ancestor.

I wrote Concepts: Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance to help you better understand how this works.

In the chart below, I’ve combined the generations, relationships, # of ancestors, assuming no duplicates, birth year range based on an approximate 30-year generation, percent of DNA assuming exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA descends in each generation (which we know isn’t exactly accurate), and the average amount of total inherited cMs using that same assumption.

Note that beginning with the 7th generation, on average, we can expect to inherit less than 1% of the DNA of an ancestor, or approximately 55 total cM which may be inherited in multiple segments.

The amount of actual cMs inherited in each generation can vary widely and explains why, beginning with third cousins, some people won’t share DNA from a common ancestor above the various vendor matching thresholds. Yet, other cousins several generations removed will match. Inheritance is random.

Parallel Inheritance

In order to match someone else descended from that 11th generation ancestor, BOTH you AND your match will need to have inherited the exact SAME DNA segment, across 11 generations EACH in order to match. This means that 11 transmission events for each person will need to have taken place in parallel with that identical segment being passed from parent to child in each line. For 22 rolls of the genetic dice in a row, the same segment gets selected to be passed on.

You can see why we all need to work to prove that distant matches are valid.

The further back in time we work, the more factors we must take into consideration, and the more confirming proof is needed that a match with another individual is a result of a shared ancestor.

Having said that, shared distant matches ARE the key to breaking through brick-wall ancestors. We just need to be sure we are chasing the real deal and not a red herring.

Exciting Possibilities

The most exciting possibility is that some segments are actually passed intact for several generations, meaning those segments don’t divide into segments too small for matching.

For example, the 22 cM fuschia segment that tracks through generations 4 and 5 to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle has been passed either intact or nearly intact to all of those people who stack up and match each other and me on that segment. 22 cM is definitely NOT a small segment and we know that it descended from either Jacob or Fredericka, or perhaps combined segments from each. In any case, if someone from the Lentz line in Germany tested and matched me on that segment (and by inference, the rest of these people too), we would know that segment descended to me from Jacob Lentz – or at least the part we match on if we don’t match on the entire segment.

This is exactly what nested segments are…breadcrumbs to ancestors.

Part of that 22cM segment could be descended from Jacob and part from Fredericka. Then of Jacob’s portion, for example, pieces could descend from both his mother and father.

This is why we track individual segments back in time to discern their origin.

The Promise of the Future

The promise of the future is when a group of other people triangulate on a reasonably sized segment AND know where it came from. When we match that triangulation group, their identified segment may well help break down our brick walls because we match all of them on that same segment.

It is exactly this technique that has helped me identify a Womack segment on my paternal line. I still haven’t identified our common ancestor, but I have confirmed that the Womacks and my Moore/Rice family interacted as neighbors 8 generations ago and likely settled together in Amelia county, migrating from eastern Virginia. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to identify the common Womack ancestor and the link into either my Moore or Rice lines.

I’m hoping for a similar breakthrough on my mother’s side for Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena, 7 generations back in my tree. We know Magdalena was Brethren and where they lived when they took up housekeeping. We don’t know who her parents were. However, there are thousands of Miller descendants, so it’s possible that eventually, we will be able to break down that brick wall by using nested segments – ours and people who descend from Magdalena’s siblings, aunts, and uncles.

Whoever those people were, at least some of their descendants will likely match me and/or my cousins on at least one nested Miller segment that will be the same segment identified to their ancestors.

Genealogy is a team sport and solving puzzles using nested segments requires that someone out there is working on identifying triangulated segments that track to their common ancestors – which will be my ancestors too. I have my fingers crossed that someone is working on that triangulation group and I find them or they find me. Of course, I’m working to triangulate and identify my segments to specific ancestors – hoping for a meeting in the middle – that much-desired bridge to the past.

By the time you’ve run out of other records, nested segments are your last chance to identify those elusive ancestors. 

Do you have genealogical brick walls that nested segments could solve?


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

Thank you so much.

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The 3 Mad Cats – 52 Ancestors #347

You’ve heard of the 3 wise men? Well, I have the 3 mad cats. Let me explain.

Sometimes life throws curve balls. For most of December, my husband and I have been living in a hotel with our three wonderful cat children.

Now maybe you’re getting the gist about why the title of this article.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, one of those cats is extremely intelligent. Our MENSA cat, aka, Chai, the ringleader who just happens to be very shy. Hiding under the covers is one of her favorite things to do.

Our second cat, Kitters was severely abused as a kitten and we refer to her as our scaredy cat. She doesn’t do well in new situations, or with new noises. And she pretty much only trusts family members.

Then, there’s happy-go-lucky Mandy. Miss “Hey, Pet Me.” She’s not terribly bright, but you can’t help but love her.

The two weeks or so in the hotel, which wasn’t TOO bad was followed by three days on the road.

Let’s just say this has been epic, and I’m sharing the adventure with you.

You’d Think I Would Have Learned

Let’s start out by saying that you’d think I would have learned.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, we used to travel about 6 hours by car to my parents in another state. At the holidays, we took everyone, meaning the two hand-raised orphan kittens who had grown up to be cats, of course, that belonged to my children. Additionally, our rescue dogs, both kids, suitcases, favorite pillows and quilts, and Christmas gifts all sandwiched into our “sleigh.”

Old McDonald going to town had nothing on us.

We all piled in the vehicle after an hour or so of packing and filling every vacant inch. The cats were allowed to be released from their carriers and snuggled in with the kids and dogs. On a good trip, everyone eventually fell asleep.

One year on Christmas Eve, someplace near Fort Wayne, Indiana on Interstate 69, the entire drive shaft on the truck in front of us suddenly dropped from beneath the vehicle, including the large universal joint connecting the shaft to the rear axle.

The truck lost control, and suddenly, we were trying to avoid hitting either the truck, the drive shaft, the bridge to our left, or the vehicles in the other lane.

Having only a few seconds to pick the lesser of the evils, we hit the drive shaft which launched our vehicle, dragging the drive shaft along with us beneath. We landed on the drive shaft itself, spinning and sliding out of control.

My husband was driving. I was awake, but our precious cargo was sleeping. Or had been before being jolted awake. One cat, Muffin, was beneath the front seat. He didn’t appear, and I immediately feared for his life. We hit HARD when we landed and I heard the vehicle crack. I addition to being afraid for Muffin, I didn’t want to pull a dead or dying cat out in front of my grade-school age daughter. He was her baby. In fact, if I recall, he was all dressed up in doll clothes for that trip.

Thoughts raced helter-skelter through my mind.

Our vehicle and others were now involved in a multiple car accident and the vehicles were still on the road in a very congested area. People were still hitting debris scattered across the road and other cars. It was a mess and getting worse by the minute.

I helped the kids out of the car to safety, taking them into the median behind the end of the bridge which was fortunately quite wide. Traffic had finally come to a stop.

The dogs had been obedience trained and were well-behaved, albeit frightened. I put Mitten, the cat snuggled in on the seat into her carrier. After my daughter exited the car with her father, I pulled Muffin out from under the seat, dreading and expecting the worst.

Muffin was quite groggy, but had apparently been positioned exactly right to be sheltered by the seat when our vehicle landed again, not crushed by it. He was entirely uninjured, but quite confused.

I put him in his carrier and everyone huddled together in the cold median at dusk waiting for the police to arrive. That was before the days of cell phones and we could only hope that someone had stopped to call it in.

Eventually, the police did arrive, as did tow trucks. The tow truck driver packed all of us into his cab, including the animals, even though he wasn’t supposed to. Was he just going to leave us in the median in the dark? Thank goodness the answer was no.

We called my parents who had to bring two vehicles to retrieve all of us, arriving a couple hours later.

It was a Christmas Eve like no other. When we finally arrived at the farm, the rest of the family was gathered for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and had been for hours. The food was cold and we arrived as people were leaving. They had Christmas Eve in our house without us, or maybe better stated, ate without us and postponed the rest.

We were oh-so-very-lucky. The cats could have escaped in the accident given that they were not in carriers. Someone could have been injured or worse.

After that, we never again traveled with cats outside carriers for their own safety, in case of an accident. Of course, this made for unhappy cats, and carriers take more space than just cats. Our cats’ traveling days were pretty much over…that is…until now.

Take Two

Fast forward three decades.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. We did it again.

Of course, the children grew up. Muffin and Mitten crossed the rainbow bridge long ago, as did our dogs.

However, there are always animals that need to be rescued and I can’t imagine living my life without fur family. When we adopt a furry family member, it’s for the duration of our lives or theirs. There is no “rehoming” anyone.

Our current “cat children” aren’t youngsters. They’ve had years to train us properly, but they still struggle when we break training which we very clearly did in December. And WOW, was this one a whopper.

In fact, they immediately began to inform us of the magnitude of our transgression.

These cats have never traveled before. They have gone to the dreaded V-E-T, which we spell because they are smart cats and begin hiding immediately if we don’t.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find, and catch, three determined hiding cats?

We scheme and plan when we need to capture them, in essence breaching their trust by petting them and then capturing them when their guard is down and quickly inserting them into their carrier. We try NOT to have to take more than one captive at a time to the vet because cats 2 and 3 disappear immediately when the captured cat sounds the alarm.

However, that plan didn’t work in December, because we were setting out on a cross country adventure and had to capture all 3 cats at once.

On the designated day, Jim and I managed to shut all three cats in the bedroom at the same time. Providence smiled on us.

We weren’t using carriers, but larger airline crates because the cats were going to have to be confined for many hours at a time, so needed litter boxes, a place to lay, food and water.

Fortunately, the first ride to the hotel where we were spending the first couple of weeks wasn’t far. We were serenaded the entire distance by all three cats who insisted that a car ride was a form of torture. Plus, it was COLD and they are inside cats. Brrrr….

Upon arrival, they got to take a ride on something we call a luggage cart but which they refer to as a cat torture device where we parade them in their captive state in front of the entire world in order to humiliate them. They continue wailing on the off-chance that some good Samaritan will hear their pleas and rescue them.

Of course, there are three large crates which means that we had to make at least 4 trips to unload. Three with cats and one with our luggage and theirs too. Yes, cats have luggage when you travel. Food, bowls, litter, scoopers, bathmats, quilts and pillows. Yes, pillows. You’ll see why in a minute. It’s not what you’re thinking.

In order to prevent said cats from escaping out the hotel room door, the crates must be unloaded and the other luggage safely in the room before anyone can be released from their private hell.

Of course, a few minutes after we released them, there was always one that had to jump back in their crate to inspect where the crime against catumanity had been committed. Generally, Mandy.

Each crate had to be emptied and cleaned out, because invariably the wailing, flipping and gnashing of teeth during that miserable car ride resulted in the water being spilled which in turn results in wet bedding (bathmats) and mad cats. You’ve heard the phrase “mad as a wet hen.?” I have no idea who came up with that, but they had clearly never met a wet cat.

Pet Friendly, Sort Of

Some hotels are pet-friendly, but that doesn’t really mean they are well-prepared, especially not for cats. It means that they allow you to stay there with pets and they charge you an exorbitant cleaning fee for the privilege. However, you are grateful and pay it.

One challenge is that most of the floor space is occupied by the crates.

We wound up using the crates as a table because we couldn’t get to much of the furniture.

Don’t turn your back for a second or you have company for breakfast.

Chai was just checking to see where her order of catnip-eggs was.

Of course, the great sniff-fest begins post-haste upon release. Every square inch of the room MUST BE INSPECTED IMMEDIATELY before anyone, including us, gets any rest.

Here, the cats are trying to get under the bed. That’s their first destination.

The hotels place the box springs on a wooden box so there is no “under the bed.” At least, not for dogs. Cats are much smarter than that.

At the head of the bed, there was a small space between the wall-mounted headboard and the mattress. Just big enough for a cat to squirm themselves into.

Have I mentioned that cats can’t turn around very well, and certainly NOT when wedged into a narrow one-way tunnel that is narrower on the exit end than the entrance end?


We noticed that Chai had gone missing and it’s nearly impossible for a cat to hide in even a “large” hotel room. Yet, Chai had managed. Yes, she was truly AWOL and no one had exited or entered the room, so the door had not been open.

After a thorough search, there was only ONE place she could be. Somehow, she had breached the bed/frame/wall/headboard barrier.

I laid down and started feeling with my hands. There was a small space above the frame, but too small for even Chai. However, I discovered the space at the top of the mattress against the wall beneath the headboard.

The side nightstand “table” was built in, so I couldn’t move it to obtain a better view or the right angle to reach behind the mattress.

Jim and I laid down (because we couldn’t get to the couch to sit down) to discuss the situation and how to proceed, when apparently Chai decided she had enough of hiding and wanted OUT NOW. In true cat fashion, she probably only wanted out because she realized she couldn’t get out.

We heard pawing and tiny plaintiff muffled meowy whimpers. I do think she was embarrassed.

Jim and I managed to shift the mattress and box springs enough to unblock the exit end and one very rumpled, offended Chai emerged, glaring at us for some unknown reason.

Cats are like that.

I hoped that the other two cats had not seen her. In fact, we quickly took stock of them when I grabbed the spare pillows and wedged them into the space at the headboard.


Fixed that!

For a little while anyway.

The other two cats were upset because Chai was upset. We laid down with them, and within a few minutes, all three cats had climbed into the bed and were bathing or discussing their dilemma among themselves and plotting how to escape.

Chai had been comforting Kitters, but was thoroughly exhausted between the miserable ride plus the indignity of being trapped behind the bed, so she had to take a nap.

Besides that, I just MIGHT have remembered to bring her heating pad.

Jim and I saw this as an opportunity to try to find food, which is a whole other story in and of itself, so we left the room for an hour or so. Mind you, we finally found someplace where we could order carryout. The staffing issue is very real.

Upon our return, we discovered that Chai was once again missing.

How is that even possible?

I blocked her access on both sides of the bed, right?

Upon inspection, it became evident that she had dug out a portion of the pillow and wedged herself across the top, into that same space, AGAIN.

I decided to try to outsmart the cat, so we laid down. When she realized we weren’t pursuing her, she decided she wanted to come out again. But once again, she couldn’t because the exit was still wedged with a pillow. We heard her attempt to dig. I let her out and took my sweatshirts (both of them) out of my suitcase and wedged them into the spot where Chai has been able to free up the pillow and crawl through.

At this point, the cats have utilized 3 bathmats which are wet and drying, two pillows and both of my sweatshirts.

I was not exactly prepared for this.

Home is Where the Cats Are

As the days passed, the cat kids became increasingly comfortable in our new “home.” They wouldn’t admit it of course, but they actually LIKED how close we were to them and the minute we sat down or laid in the bed, they were right there like glue.

Mandy even got so comfortable that she took a willful nap in her carrier.

As soon as Chai noticed, she immediately woke Mandy up and demanded to know EXACTLY WHAT she thought she was doing.


Kitters just wanted to snuggle and purr.

Mandy’s Great Adventure

Jim and I were both working in the hotel room as best we could. On the far side of the room, there was a desk and a dresser both built into the wall as well. The dresser consisted of three drawers. I opened the middle drawer to remove a piece of clothing and failed to close it immediately. I put the clothing on, and my head emerged from the shirt just in time to see Mandy’s tail disappear over the back edge of the drawer into the space behind the drawers.

Good Heavens.

We couldn’t reach her.

We couldn’t push the drawer in because she was in the space.

If we pulled the drawer towards us, she couldn’t get back into the drawer because of the board on top – plus she couldn’t jump up.

If we tried the same thing with the bottom drawer, the same issue except she wouldn’t have had to jump up.

Eventually, Jim and I, between us, managed to get ahold of her and wrestled her into the drawer amongst much caterwalling. Mostly her caterwalling, not us. We were swearing instead. I was fearful that we were hurting Mandy, but there was no evident drawer release and we had to get her out.

We shut the drawer and I had learned my lesson. I would never leave a hotel drawer open again.

Unfortunately, Mandy learned her lesson too.

A few minutes later, Mandy was attempting to open all of the hotel room drawers.

“Wow, Mom, this is fun!!! Who knew?!”

Hence this scene with their quilt stuffed in the drawer handle. That also protects them from catching their leg in the handle if they jump off so they don’t break their leg.

And this one on the other side. Our room was beginning to look like a disaster zone.

The Drawer Wars

In order to be an effective deterrent, we had to wedge items in the handles of multiple drawers together, because Mandy was pawing them open from the sides. I’m sure Chai was coaching her.

What we really needed was child guards, but I digress.

Eventually, we had towels threaded and tied through all of the handles and reinforced our bed headboard barrier daily.

Thankfully, it was nearly time to begin the next leg of our journey. We did a load of mostly cat’s laundry and began packing.

We were anxious to leave before the weather got worse. However, the cats had come to love their rooftop view and spent time in the deep windowsill. They had gotten used to our coming and going. We declined room service and for the most part, one of us was in the room so that the staff did not accidentally come in and allow someone to escape. Escape was our worst fear in all of this.

Jim went and retrieved a luggage cart.

What is THAT?

This can’t be good!

The humans are up to something again.

On the Road Again

When I tell you we were sandwiched in the vehicles, I mean literally every inch, side to side and top to bottom.

One carrier is wedged behind the driver’s seat with the back seats down, which allowed just enough room for the other two carriers to be placed side by side at the rear of the vehicle. The liftgate barely closed. The only spare space was behind the passenger seat, in the passenger seat and a few inches on top of the carriers.

You might note from the picture that this arrangement facilitated a cat serenading me from directly behind my head. I selected the quietest cat for that position in the vehicle. You might have guessed that it was Kitters.

Chai, on the other hand constantly reminded me of her rights per the Geneva Convention, and Mandy just agreed with whatever Chai said. I think Kitters was just praying the entire time.

By the end of the first driving day, thankfully, there was no snow, but it was still quite cold.

We found our hotel and had to unload the entire Jeep again in order to get everyone inside.

This place was slightly smaller, and the drawers had no handles, so we had to build a luggage/carrier fort in front of the drawers to keep Mandy from pulling them open.

Before we let the cats out of their carriers, I once again stuffed pillows and sweatshirts into the headboard/mattress gap.

They were thoroughly, thoroughly, disgusted.

Third Time is Charm?

By the next night, as tiring and time-consuming as load/drive/unload was, we had the routine down pat. It only took an hour or so instead of two.

When we checked in at the next hotel, we thought we had everything blocked and secured. I hadn’t paid much attention to the bathroom drawers because they were difficult to open with significant resistance.

Apparently, not difficult enough.

Yes, that’s Mandy being very proud of herself sitting BEHIND the drawer. “Hi Mom!”

This drawer was small. I could not get enough space to pull her back into that drawer. She couldn’t get back in either.

Fortunately, we had a Leatherman in one of the Jeeps and a YouTube video showed us how to release that particular kind of drawer catch.

Yes, we disassembled the drawer unit to retrieve Mandy. Then reassembled it, of course.

The large towel was too thick to go through the handles, and the small towels weren’t long enough, so I had to block the bottom drawer with a suitcase, then the top drawers with the towel. Of course, this was in addition to blocking the drawers in the bedroom portion and the bed/headboard pillow/sweatshirt barrier. In this room, there was a sleeper sofa too and we had to roll towels and our clothes and block that as well because the cats crawled under there and got stuck.

The fun just never ends!

Mandy tried her best to get back in that drawer. It was her favorite naughty thing to do.

The Home Stretch

As we traveled, each day closer to Christmas, the issues locating food and other accommodations increased. Many dining rooms and some restaurants were closed altogether. In other cases, part of the dining room was open, but no carryout. Other locations did exactly the opposite – only limited carryout service with no seating.

Given that we are traveling in the middle of a pandemic, we certainly didn’t want to be crammed either into a dining room, or in a line waiting for a table.

We were very, very glad to be on our way that final morning.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful.

We had driven far enough south that the unseasonably warm weather was allowing flowers to bloom.

We crammed ourselves, our mad cats and everything else into the vehicles one last time. Each day, the duration of yowling decreased at least a little. I could sense Chai and Mandy giving up and just deciding to take a nap. The cat version of “whatever.”

That morning, we got lost, thanks to our two GPSs giving opposite directions, but that detour likely saved us from the 6 or 8 car accident that happened just a couple minutes before we arrived on the scene. The cars in the middle were crushed, and it made my heart skip beats to think of the cat kids in an accident, just like all those years before.

Several hours later, we arrived at our destination thinking the cats would be mad at us for some time. However, they seem to be just as relieved as we were that their two weeks living as traveling nomad cats was over.

Chai no longer has to burrow and Mandy has given up spelunking in drawers, at least for now. Kitters is still purring. Everyone is taking a bath trying to wash all of that yucky travel off of themselves!

I, for one, hope to have permanently retired from traveling with cats. I would certainly do it again if I had to, because they are unquestionably worth it, but it’s not fun for anyone – humans or cats.

I hope it was at least amusing for you😊

Happy New Year!


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