About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.

Ancestry’s SideView™ – Dividing Your Ethnicity in Two

Recently, Ancestry introduced a new view of your ethnicity called SideView™. In a nutshell, AncestryDNA uses your DNA matches to attempt to divide your ethnicity into regions inherited from Parent 1 and Parent 2.

Based on your matches and the common DNA they share with you, Ancestry strives to divide your ethnicity into parental “sides,” although Ancestry can’t tell you which side is maternal and which side is paternal.

Even though Ancestry can’t tell you which side is which parent, there are tricks that might help you do just that.


Before we look at SideView, let’s have a quick review of ethnicity estimates and how they do and don’t work.

Every vendor creates their own proprietary mathematical algorithm to determine their customers’ ethnicity or population percentages based on their own customer database and other resources.

“Country” boundaries change and people migrate. The article, Making Sense of Ethnicity Updates may be helpful.

If you haven’t done so, create a spreadsheet or chart identifying the amount of DNA you would inherit from each ancestor if exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA was passed down in each generation. Your spreadsheet may/will help you identify which “side” belongs to which parent. I provided instructions for calculating your expected ethnicity percentages based on your genealogy in the article, Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages.

My Genealogy

I’ve updated my genealogy totals slightly since that 2017 article because I’ve been able to push some of those lines back in time, either genealogically, via Big-Y or full sequence mitochondrial DNA testing and matching, or a combination of both.

Here’s an updated chart. I’ve included the last two ethnicity percentage results from each vendor except MyHeritage because their ethnicity results have remained the same for several years although they released Genetic Groups to complement ethnicity in 2020.

I’ve clustered geographies in regions because the vendors measure locations differently. Locations sometimes change within the same vendor with different releases.

The earlier “Unknown” genealogy category is gone now because I’ve been able to assign those ancestors to a geographic region if not an exact “country.”

The Genealogy Percent column, with a header and totals in yellow, details the geographic source for each of my 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents who each contributed approximately 1.5625% of my DNA. Of course, we know that DNA isn’t divided exactly in half in each generation, and I possibly inherited none of the DNA of some of those people and more than 1.5625% from others. Regardless, this is the best measuring stick of what I should expect and a way to determine if my ethnicity results are in the right ballpark.

The yellow cells in the vendor column totals reflect the “best fit” for my known genealogy percentages when compared against the expected percentages. In the Native grouping, vendors receive a yellow cell for identifying that heritage.

OK, now let’s take a look at Ancestry’s new SideView.

Finding SideView

At Ancestry, your ethnicity estimate, as well as your new SideView results, are found in the DNA Story section of your DNA Results Summary tab.

Ancestry does update your ethnicity estimate from time to time, so yours may have changed since you last viewed your results.

Ideally, if exactly half of the DNA of each ancestor was passed down in each generation, then I would have the amount of DNA shown in my personal chart, assuming my genealogy is accurate with no adoptions or unexpected parent events.

Also ideally, I would show exactly half of each of my parent’s ethnicity.

But that’s not how it works. While we do inherit half of our DNA from each parent, they can randomly give us all of a segment of DNA from one ancestor and not any of a segment of DNA from a different ancestor.

I wrote about how DNA is passed to children in the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You?. This explains how and why you might not inherit the exact amount of a specific ethnicity you would expect. Of course, that combined with each vendor’s different algorithms may produce results that surprise you, although the discrepancy should be relatively small.

Keep in mind how ethnicity inheritance works as you view your ethnicity results, including SideView.

SideView Results

Here are my Sideview results.

Remember, we don’t know which parent is “1” and which is “2.” Click on “How we identify this” to learn about how SideView works.

Here’s a more detailed description along with some nice graphics.

Analyzing My Results

SideView appears right beside your ethnicity map, so be sure to consult that map. Note that regions reflect populations, not necessarily countries as boundaries are drawn today.

The first thing I noticed is that my significant Dutch heritage, along with my French is missing in my ethnicity results as well as on the map.

How is this possible?

The arrows point to the Netherlands and France. These are important pieces of my ancestry on my Mother’s side. Mom was 25% Dutch so I should be about 12.5%. My maternal side genealogical breakdown is shown in the chart below.

Mom % I Should Inherit From Mom
German 50 25
Dutch 25 12.5
French/Acadian 12.5 6.25
England 12.5 6.25
Native ~2 in the Acadian line ~1

Of course, my Native American is also missing at Ancestry, even though the other three major vendors identify those segments. The two vendors who paint ethnicity by segment, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report Native on the same segment on my chromosome 1, so it’s unlikely that both of those vendors are in error in exactly the same way.

While Native is critically important to my genealogy, it is a small percentage. Missing a small percentage, while frustrating, is more understandable than missing a larger percentage.

My Dutch ancestors at 12.5% and French at 6.25% are not trivial and together comprise more than one-third of my mother’s heritage and more than one-sixth of mine. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do match many other people who descend from these same ancestors so it’s not a mistaken or misidentified ancestor issue.

My father was kind of a colonial mutt. Scottish, Irish, and English with a small smattering of African and Native along with 1.5% Scandinavian/Nordic. The African in the later versions tends to show as Middle Eastern or North African, or doesn’t show at all, but that segment with a small Native one cluster together on the same chromosome. I also match other people who are Native/African on those segments as well.

However, given that neither of those ethnicities appear at Ancestry, we don’t have those to work with, nor do we have specific segment information.

Let’s work with what we do have.

View Breakdown

I wish Ancestry did not say “Now, you can see which ethnicities you inherited from each parent,” because while that’s the goal, it isn’t always the case. Lots of people will simply accept that statement at face value.

Click on View breakdown.

You’ll see your results broken into two sides with the reported regions noted at the bottom. All regions are showing in the circle by default.

To see how this works, click on any single or combination of regions.

Determining Sides

What can we do to determine which side is which parent?

Let’s start with ethnicities or regions which should be unique to one parent and not the other.

I clicked on both Norway and Sweden/Denmark since I know that one couple on my father’s side is Scandinavian/Nordic, but I discovered that Ancestry assigned pieces of those regions to both Parent 1 and Parent 2.

I’m positive that my mother did not have any ancestors in the past 6 generations and significantly further back that were Scandinavian or Nordic, BUT, Germany and the Netherlands both border those regions. People traveled, wars happened and populations as a whole mixed, so while I’m confident of my genealogy, this actual ethnicity may be accurate even though it does not reflect genealogical locations. It may well reflect populations and admixture.

What I am sure of is that I can’t use these particular regions to identify which side is maternal or paternal.

Detailed Comparison

Let’s look at the detailed comparison you’ll see by scrolling down.

Can I identify any of these regions as solely connected with only one parent?

Yes, I can. Ancestry has assigned Germanic Europe to only one parent, and Mom is 50% German, so Parent 1 has to be Mother. I should expect to be assigned roughly half of what my mother has – so about 25% Germanic.

Mother has no Irish, so Ireland has to be Dad, which also correlates to known genealogy.

However, the rest of the ethnicity results are questionable, including Mom’s missing Dutch and her missing England and Northwest Europe which should total in the neighborhood of 37.5%. I would be expected to inherit about 18.75% of that from her. Where is it?

No Segments

I very much wish Ancestry provided segment information.

Using segment matching information from the other three vendors, including ethnicity segment information from both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA, I’ve painted my segments at DNAPainter, so I know which ancestors or ancestral lines contributed which DNA segments.

If Ancestry, provided users with segment information, I could determine which ethnicities they have attributed to which ancestors and maybe unravel why.

Another Possible Clue

There is one additional way I might be able to figure out where Ancestry attributed Mom’s Dutch and French heritage.

Given that I know which of my closest matches are maternal and paternal, I can utilize shared matching plus shared ethnicity to look for similarities. Just click on the match with someone, then on the Ethnicity tab.

The closest match on my mother’s side is my first cousin who also descends from my maternal grandparents. My cousin’s relevant parent should have roughly the same amount of the same ethnicities as my Mom since they were siblings, taking into account that not all of our ancestors’ DNA is passed in exactly half and siblings, unless they are identical twins, don’t inherit all of the same DNA from their parents. Of course, that means my first cousin should share roughly the same amount of DNA/ethnicity from our common grandparents as I do.

My cousin’s other parent is European with what appears to be a significant number of German ancestors, so we need to take that into account when viewing my cousin’s shared ethnicity comparison with me, above.

I can see that my cousin has 4% French and 1% Native, but that percentage might have been contributed by their other parent, especially since there is a French surname in that line.

If my cousin’s other parent had been African or Asian or an ethnicity that is different from the ethnicity of our shared line, it would be easier to compare our results meaningfully.

In this case, the shared match ethnicity comparison did not help, but your mileage may vary based on your unique circumstances.

Assign the Parent

If you are fortunate enough to be able to determine which parent is which, you can assign Parent 1 and 2 as maternal or paternal at Ancestry by clicking on the “Edit parents” icon at top right on the Detailed Comparison page.

I selected side 1 as Maternal based on the 35% Germanic Europe which is very clearly my mother’s side.

What I wish we could do, but we can’t, is to explain why we disagree with some portion of an assigned ethnicity. Ancestry does have my tree and I do have Thrulines from these ancestors, so the information is available for comparison should Ancestry choose to utilize that resource.

You can undo your selections by selecting “Back” or click on “Sounds good.”

I initially clicked on “Sounds good,” even though that bothers me. I hope that I’m not confirming something that’s incorrect, given my Mother’s missing Dutch and French, and that I’m not going to make *something* worse in the future by baking in bad ingredients. I’m not comfortable confirming something that’s significantly wrong. On the other hand, Parent 1 is clearly my mother, so I’m conflicted and I really don’t know exactly what I’m confirming to Ancestry.

In other words, we don’t know what Ancestry is doing under the hood with this information, if anything, other than labeling your sides.

Ultimately, I clicked “Back”, at least for now, to leave my sides unassigned until there is some benefit to me to identify the parental sides and I know I’m not confirming something that shouldn’t be confirmed. In other words, I know which parent is which, but I do NOT want to confirm that these ethnicities are fundamentally accurately assigned, because they are not.

Does Testing Your Parents Make a Difference?

If you’re wondering if testing your parents makes a difference with SideView predictions, it does not.

Ancestry is NOT utilizing your parents’ DNA for SideView ethnicity division, even if your parent or parents have tested, which Ancestry confirms in their documentation.

If you’re wondering why Ancestry doesn’t use your parent’s DNA to improve your SideView results, remember that someone who matches you at the parent/child level can be either your parent or your child. Often trees are either absent or incorrect, so Ancestry cannot simply assume anything.

Benefits of SideView?

What do you think?

Is there a benefit to SideView or is it simply interesting window dressing?

Are your SideView results accurate?

Do you feel that Sideview is accurate enough to be genealogically useful?

Are you able to utilize Sideview for your genealogy? If so, how?


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Sarah Rash’s and Perhaps Mary Warren’s Mitochondrial DNA – 52 Ancestors #359

Using the FamilySearch “Relatives at RootsTech” app that was available in the month or so surrounding RootsTech (but not now), I connected with a cousin who is a direct matrilineal descendant of Sarah Rash, our common ancestor.

My cousin, who descends through Sarah’s daughter Rhoda Shepherd, very kindly agreed to take a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test so we now have information about Sarah Rash’s matrilineal origins.

I wrote about Sarah Rash and what we know of her life in Sarah Rash (1748-1829), Church Founder and Grandmother of Nearly 100.

Mitochondrial DNA Inheritance

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA is never divided, watered down or mixed with the DNA of the father. Mitochondrial DNA provides an invaluable periscope view directly back in time for our matrilineal ancestors – our direct mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line on up our tree.

Sarah Rash was born to Joseph Rash and wife, Mary, purportedly Mary Warren.  Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA also belongs to her mother Mary. That would be Mary Warren if indeed Mary Warren is Sarah’s mother. Mary Warren’s parents are unknown. However, there is a Warren family in Spotsylvania County, VA, where the Rash family lived in that timeframe.


My goals for seeking a mitochondrial DNA test for Sarah Rash’s descendant are:

  • To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant, preferably through another daughter or sister of Sarah.
  • To learn what we can from Sarah’s haplogroup. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • To gather evidence to confirm or perhaps disprove that Sarah’s mother is Mary Warren.
  • To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time.

The Process

Several people have asked me to step through the analysis process that I use for mitochondrial DNA results, so let’s do that.

What can we tell about Sarah’s ancestors through her mitochondrial DNA?.

Sarah’s Matrilineal Line is Not Native

Sometimes when the mother of an early pioneer settler can’t be identified, the “go-to” assumption is that she might be Native American.

Sarah’s haplogroup is U5a2a1d which is definitely NOT Native.

We can dispel this thought permanently.

Since Sarah’s matrilineal ancestors aren’t Native, where are they from?

Where Are Sarah’s Ancestors From?

Using the public mitochondrial tree, here, we see the following countries displayed for haplogroup U5a2a1d.

Sarah’s haplogroup is found most often in the US, which means brick-walled here, followed by England, Ireland, and less-frequent other locations. Note that two people claim Native, the feather, but that can mean either they are mistaken, or they have entered information for their mother’s “side” of the family or their literal “oldest ancestor,” not their specific matrilineal line.

Regardless, haplogroup U is unquestionably not Native.

Matches Map

Sometimes the matches map, which shows the geographic locations of your matches’ most distant matrilineal linear ancestor is very informative, but not so in this case.

Of 74 full sequence matches, only 4, plus the tester whose pin is white, have entered the locations of their matrilineal ancestors.

One of these contains a male name, so we know that’s incorrect.

This is really sad – a wasted opportunity. Imagine how useful this could be with 74 pins instead of 4, and one of those being recorded incorrectly.


The mutations tab shows you the mutations you have that are either extra or missing from your haplogroup assignment. This means that these may be combined in the next version of the haplotree to form a new haplogroup.

My cousin has 5 extra mutations, but at least three of those are in unstable areas that I’m sure will not be utilized as haplogroup-forming. The other two mutations are insertions at one single location and I doubt those will be used either.

I wrote about haplogroup formation in the article, Mitochondrial DNA: Part 3 – Haplogroups Unraveled, including a list of unstable and common mutations. Suffice it to say that very common locations like 16519 and 315 insertions aren’t useful to form haplogroups. Some very common mutations, such as insertions at locations 309 and 315 and deletions at 522 and 523 aren’t even counted in matching/differences.

What these unstable mutations actually tell me, relative to Sarah Rash’s DNA is that I need to pay attention to the GD1 (genetic distance of 1) matches, meaning people who have only one mutation difference from my cousin. Given that my cousin’s extra mutations, differences from her defined haplogroup, are in unstable regions, close matches such as GD1 or even GD2 could be quite relevant. It all depends on the difference.

Of course, we can’t see the mutations of the people my cousin matches, so those with a GD1 or GD2 may have mutations on a stable marker that my cousin doesn’t have.


My cousin has a total of 74 full sequence matches, of which 31 are exact matches, 18 have trees and 12 have listed an earliest known ancestor (EKA). If you haven’t done so, here’s how to enter your EKA.

Of course, the EKA of my cousin’s matches may or may not agree with the earliest matrilineal person in their tree. And the tree may or may not have more than one or two people. Regardless, every hint is worth follow-up.

Think of these as diamonds in the rough.


I viewed the trees of each of the matches that have uploaded trees. I also made a list of the earliest known ancestors for matches that didn’t have trees so I could be cognizant of watching for those names.

Many trees only had a few generations, but I used Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and WikiTree to see if I could reasonably complete the tree back a little further. Of these, I particularly like WikiTree because I think it tends to be more accurate AND it allows for people to enter that they carry the mitochondrial DNA of specific ancestors. As it turns out, no one has done that for Sarah Rash, or her purported mother, Mary Warren, but if they had, it would provide a confirmation opportunity.

I did find something quite interesting.

Who is Jane Davis?

The EKA of Elizabeth, one of my cousin’s matches, is Jane Davis who was born in 1690.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not upload a GEDCOM file or create a tree, so I turned to other trees elsewhere to see what I could unearth about Jane Davis.

I need to state emphatically that what I’m about to tell you needs to be taken with the entire salt lick, not just a grain.

Remember, we’re looking for hints and evidence here, not foregone conclusions – although admittedly, those would be nice.

According to (cringe) some trees, Jane Davis was the wife of one William Warren who was born 1678 in Surry County, VA and died on September 29, 1764 in Edgecombe County, NC. I have not confirmed any of this. Gathering evidence is the first step in the process.

IF this is accurate, William Warren and Jane Davis may be the parents of Mary Warren, the purported mother of Sarah Rash.

Notice all of those weasel words – if, may, purported. That’s where we have to start. In weaselworld.

Obviously, this needs a LOT of traditional genealogy work, but here’s the great news…I now have something to work with and someone else, Elizabeth, who appears one way or another to be descended from this line.

The Good News

Whether or not Jane Davis is accurate or not, I’d wager that we are looking at the same line because Elizabeth matches my cousin’s mitochondrial DNA. I need to email Elizabeth to see if she descends through Sarah Rash. If so, that’s confirmation of this line.

If not, and she descends through a daughter of someone else in this same line, like one of Mary Warren’s sisters, that’s evidence and a HUGE HINT that I can use to confirm Mary Warren as the mother of Sarah Rash. Confirming her mother would also confirm that Mary’s father is William Warren – so would provide evidence for both of Sarah’s parents.

Additional Tools – Advanced Matches

Next, I used Advanced Matches to query for anyone who matches at both the full sequence level and in Family Finder. There were no matches, which doesn’t surprise me since it’s quite a way back in time.

Notice that the link to upload a family tree is in this section, along with the public haplotree I used earlier.

Family Finder

Checking my cousin’s Family Finder matches and searching for surnames, I immediately checked for myself and my known cousins from that line. No cigar, but our common ancestor is many generations in the past.

Checking the Rash surname for my cousin shows a match to someone who descends from Joseph Rash’s brother, William Rash whose children also migrated to Claiborne County, TN along with Sarah Rash’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd who married William McNiel.

My cousin has numerous autosomal matches to the McNiel line as well. The Vannoy, McNiel, Shepherd, and Rash lines were all found in Wilkes County, NC together before migrating to Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee. Before Wilkes County, the Rash, Warren, and McNiel families were in Spotsylvania and nearby counties in Virginia.

Goal Fulfillment

How did we do fulfilling our original goals?

Goal Comment
To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant. Perhaps – We have that lead to follow up on with Elizabeth and her EKA of Jane Davis. We also have several relevant autosomal matches.
To learn what we can learn from her haplogroup. Yes – Not Native and probably from England or Ireland. That is useful and makes sense.
To confirm her mother as Mary Warren. We now have hints and tools. We need to hear what Elizabeth has to say. I may be able to extract more information by viewing trees individually with people my cousin matches on Family Finder.
To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time. We now have a great hint and information to work with, both mitochondrial and autosomal. Jane Davis may be the wife of William Warren, which might well confirm Mary Warren as the daughter of William Warren. It’s too soon to tell but my fingers are crossed for a descendant of Jane Davis from a different daughter through all females.

Sometimes answers come in a gulley-washer, and other times, we have to dig and sift over time for the gems. Let’s create a plan.

What’s Next?

There’s a lot we can do, but maybe one of the best places to start would be to attempt to assemble information about the Warren families of Spotsylvania County, VA. This Thomas Warren might be a good place to begin or maybe work my way up from Mary Warren, here.

I need to focus on both traditional genealogy and genetic autosomal matches at all of the vendors. My cousin’s DNA is only at FamilyTreeDNA, but my results and those of several other cousins are found at several vendors.

I can use Genetic Affairs’ tools to see if I cluster with other people descended from the Warren family. My cousin can set up an account and do the same thing if she wishes. AutoTree and AutoKinship may help with that.

Using traditional genealogy, if I can identify other sisters of Mary Warren (daughters of Jane Davis,) I can ask people descended from them through all females to take a mitochondrial DNA test. If they match my cousin, that’s an exceptionally compelling piece of evidence.

Of course, I can do more work on the mitochondrial DNA matches we already have by emailing and asking for genealogy information. The piece of evidence we need might be right under our noses.

The Warren Family

If you descend from a Warren family in the Spotsylvania County area in the 1600s through 1700s, would you please check your matches to see if you have me, Vannoy, McNiel, McNeil, Rash or Shepherd matches? I’d love to narrow this down.

If you descend through all females from William Warren or another Warren family who would have been having children in the Spotsylvania County from about 1710 to maybe 1740, would you please reach out to me? If we can pinpoint a likely family for Mary Warren who was reportedly born in 1726, I’d love to do a confirming mitochondrial DNA test.


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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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STOP, THINK & RUN – Stop Innocently Giving Your Information to Cybercrooks on Social Media

Yes – you. All of us. This article is written for and applies to everyone.

We are all targets for social engineering which is the act of manipulating, influencing or deceiving people into performing actions or divulging confidential information – generally by engaging you or manipulating your emotions.

The most skilled cybercriminals accomplish their goal without you even being aware of what’s going on. You’re relaxed and just enjoying yourself, checking your social media news feed. No Nigerian princes needed anymore. They’ve moved on, taken on new personas, but are still targeting you.

Literally, everyone is a target.

The Bad Guys Kicked It Up a Notch

The bad guys have improved their skills. Attackers find loopholes and opportunities where you least expect them. They gain your trust or take advantage of your defenses being down – and they are very skilled at what they do.

I see people who I would think should know better engaging in risky behavior every single day, probably because they aren’t aware that the nature of the threats has evolved and changed. The bad guys stay one step ahead of us.

Please read this article even if you know what you’re doing. Someone you care about may not and you can help them.

Social Media

We all want to use social media and public platforms for genealogy and communicating with family and friends. We need to realize that because of the open nature of those platforms, they are full of bad actors trying to take advantage of us in seemingly innocent ways.

Not to mention that the platform is free for users, so access to you IS the commodity. Not just through ads, which you can clearly recognize as such, but by manipulating your behavior.

How, by luring you with “free,” “fun” or “missing out.”

Seriously, you do NOT need a new “free” improved profile picture.

Furthermore, some unnamed person or site you don’t know doesn’t really care about the TV show you watched when you got home from school as a kid.

Well, actually they DO care, but it’s not innocent. Scammers and bad actors gather, aggregate, and distill data about us hoping to breach our electronic security – and/or that of our social media friends.

Even if the person or account asking isn’t malicious, if the post is public, cybercriminals can and do gather and compile information about YOU that they find on public postings and pages.


In an attempt to defraud you, AND your friends who will also fall for these schemes. If your friends see you do something, they are more likely to engage in the behavior themselves. Just the act of answering these seemingly innocent questions conveys information about you.

  • First, you’re vulnerable and don’t understand that “public posts” and resulting answers make you a target. In other words, you’re advertising that you’re a good target.
  • Second, if you don’t have your Facebook (or other social media) account locked down so that only friends of friends can send you friend requests, it’s not unusual to receive a whole raft of friend requests after doing something public.
  • Third, even if your account is locked down tight, your comment or answer to that seemingly innocent public posting may net you a reply something like this:

Note the bad grammar and lack of punctuation. Probably that Nigerian prince again, with a bogus profile picture.

If people can see your “About” information, the message or reply may be more specifically tailored – targeting you with some common interest. Single middle-aged female? You’ll receive a message from a “widowed” male about that same age, maybe wearing a uniform or otherwise looking like a model, holding a puppy. Yea, right.

Now, holding the 1890 census – that might be an effective scheme to target genealogists😊

Let’s talk about how to stay safe and still be able to benefit from and enjoy social media.

We will begin with a big red flag.


The current rage is an artificial intelligence oil painting profile picture that’s “free.”

Right off the bat, you need to always be suspicious of anything “free” because it often means “they,” whoever they are, want your information and are willing to give you something to get it – under the guise of free. Speaking of them, just who are “they” anyway? That’s the first question you need to ask and answer before engaging.

Free almost always never benefits you.

Why would anyone want to give you a cool new profile picture for free? It may only take a few computer cycles, but it’s not free for them to produce, just the same, especially not when multiplied by the tens of thousands. What are they getting out of all those free photos they are producing?

I’ll tell you what. To gain access to your data – including the data on your phone.

Hmmm, I want you to think about something for a minute.

Do you have your phone set or apps set to scan your face and automatically open? Is that your security? For your bank account maybe too?

And you just sent a photo of your FACE to some unknown person or group in some unknown place?


You can change a lot of things, but you cannot change your face and facial recognition software is powerful.

Snopes says the NewProfilePic app really isn’t any worse than many other apps – which isn’t saying much.

Aside from the fact that NewProfilePic was initially registered in Moscow, which should be a HUGE red flag by itself, especially right now, what can the app do on your phone?

Here’s the list.

In essence, you just gave someone the keys to the candy store.

In perpetuity.

Is your blood running cold? It should be.

Still think this fun new app is “free?” You’re paying for it dearly, and may yet pay for it even more dearly.

Here’s a warning from a state Attorney General and here’s an article from MLive that interviewed a cybersecurity expert who notes that this app scrapes your Facebook data.

However, so do other people and apps.

Public is Public

When you see anything on Facebook with the little globe, that means that anyone anyplace can see this posting AND all replies, including your answers. Everything is fully public.

In this case, more than 80,000 people answered this question from an entirely unknown person or website.

Just a couple of days later, this same posting had 54K likes, more than half a million comments, and more than 6,100 shares. That’s how effective this type of seemingly innocent question can be.

Several of my friends answered.

What does this question tell anyone looking? Your approximate age, for beginners.

Maybe an answer to a security question. Just google “top security questions for gaining access to forgotten passwords.”

Engaging with a web page also means the Facebook algorithm will send you more postings from that website in your feed. So maybe if this post doesn’t yield anything useful about you, the next one might.

Cumulatively, many answers to many postings will reveal a lot.

Never answer these.

But There’s More

Because this posting is public, I can click on the name of ANY person who has answered that public question and see every other public thing they’ve shared on their timeline.

As an example, I randomly selected Charlotte, someone that I don’t know and am not friends with who replied to that question. (You can do this same experiment.)

I clicked on her name and scanned down Charlotte’s postings. I can immediately see that she’s a good target and has fallen for several other things like this.

Here’s one from her page.

That scammer, James, latched onto her immediately. Again. Note the grammar.

Here’s another seemingly innocent game that Charlotte played to get a new Facebook profile picture and “secret” info about herself. That “4 Truths” app told Charlotte that she was very mysterious and promised to “show what’s hidden in you.” Of course, she had to provide her photo, give permission for this app to post on her timeline, publicly, and access her Facebook account. Charlotte probably didn’t even realize that was happening, or what it meant was happening behind the scenes to her data.

But now Charlotte has the new NewProfilePic oil portrait, so this one isn’t in use anymore. Maybe Charlotte’s friends wanted some nice things said about them too so they might have clicked on this same link. Just for fun, right? That’s how these scams work.

These unfortunate choices on Charlotte’s timeline were accompanied by many more that were similar in nature. Those were interspersed with notices on her Facebook page that she has been hacked and not to accept any new friend requests or messages from her. The effects are evident.

It’s worth noting that some people do have their profiles cloned and haven’t engaged in any risky behavior like this, However, you dramatically increase your odds of being compromised when you engage in risky online behaviors. Every time someone clones your profile and sends messages to all of your friends with malware links, it increases the cyberthief’s harvest of you and your friends. Cha-ching!

Eventually, the bad actors will find people who they can scam, either by:

  • Talking your friend, their target, into doing something bad for them, maybe thinking they are helping you or responding to you
  • By sending malware links that people click on thinking the message with the link is actually from you.
  • Gathering enough information to breach you or your friends’ security questions and clean out bank accounts.

No, I’m not fearmongering or being overly dramatic.

I utilize KnowBe4, a security and vulnerability consulting and training company to keep abreast of threats. You can follow their blog articles, here.

How Do Cybercrooks Access Your Friends?

Looking at Charlotte’s Facebook page, all of her friends are exposed too because they are publicly visible. Everyone can view the entire list of Charlotte’s friends.

Now, all of those scammers have access to Charlotte’s friends. Hence, the scammers can clone Charlotte’s account by stealing her photo, setting up a new account, and sending messages to Charlotte’s friends who think the message is from Charlotte. Something like “Try this new photo app, I did,” or, “Can you pick up an Apple gift card and send it to my friend for me?” You get the drift.

If Charlotte’s friends have their security set to only accept friend requests from someone that also shares a friend, and Charlotte accepts a bogus friend request – then the scammer can send her friends a friend request too and they think it’s Charlotte’s friend.

In other words, seeing a common friend causes Charlotte’s friends to let their guard down. I look at it this way – only one of my friends has to accept a bogus friend request to make me vulnerable too.

Charlotte also told people in a public posting that she was visiting someone on a specific day in another city. How do I know it’s another city? Because Charlotte has posted where she is from, where she lives, works, and the high school she attended in her “About” information.

Hmmm, those are security questions too.

That same website where I found Charlotte answering that question has also posted questions about your pet names.

What is one of the security questions if you lose your password?

Yep, pet names.

Nope, those seemingly cute sites aren’t. They are data-mining and gathering information.

Predatory Sites

First, I need to say that there are three security threats involved with these postings and websites:

  1. Any link you click which may take you to who-knows-where.
  2. That the site itself is data mining. However, this is not always the case. Some very legitimate companies ask questions to get you to engage in their subject topic. However, if the post is public, that’s an open door to the next threat.
  3. “People” or bots who harvest information about people who answer those public posts and then data-mine their accounts.

Let’s look at a few examples.

No person you don’t know cares at all about what you drank last. However, that might be valuable data for other reasons.

Facebook makes these things even more attractive to you by showing you answers from people on your friends list. I’m not going to embarrass my friends and family by showing their identity, even though it is completely public, but please, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, stop doing this.

Just look at that – 14 million comments and 193 thousand shares. For a data miner, this has been extremely successful.

To make matters worse, if you engage with a site on Facebook, they show you more from that site in your feed in the future. Since I clicked on these to write this article, my feed is going to be flooded with smarmy questions from these sites for days or weeks.

Let’s take a look at a few more examples.

Look at this one. 200,000 people and almost 3000 shares in two months. That means that this question appears on 3000 people’s timelines. It’s like a huge data-gathering pyramid scheme.

You’re likely to be wearing your favorite color and eat your favorite food.

How could this be used against you?

Yep, security, password, or account recovery questions again.

When I went to the page that made this posting, the next posting was a question – “In 1980, you were…” and the first person to answer said, “2 years old.” That person just told the world they were born in 1978.

Did you really want to do that?

Private Groups

You are safer in a private group, meaning only group members can see your posts.

You can tell if a Facebook group is private based on the lock and the words, “Private Group.” You can also see a list of your friends who are members of that group as well. Remember that the criterion for joining a private group differs widely and there are still lots of people you don’t know. Some private groups that I’m a member of have more than a quarter-million subscribers.

Most private groups are focused on a specific topic. Some private groups require answering application questions to join, and others don’t.

You’re safest in a group that does require questions to be answered which allows administrators who are familiar with the topic to craft questions that (hopefully) weed out most of the trolls, bots, and shady characters. That’s the choice I’ve made for the groups I co-administer, but it does require more attention from the administrators, which is why large groups often don’t implement membership questions.

Determining Privacy Settings

When you’re looking at the privacy settings on groups, posts on your friends’ timelines, or your own, you can mouse over the privacy icon. Facebook will tell you exactly who can see this post.

You’re never entirely safe. In addition to behaving safely as noted above, there are steps you can take to educate yourself and configure your social media accounts securely.

How to Stay Safe

Every social media platform is different, but I’m using Facebook as an example. Every platform will have a similar privacy function. Learn how it works.

Go to the Facebook help center, here and do a security checkup, here.

However, neither of those really address privacy, which I feel is actually the biggest security threat – the trapdoor or slippery slope.

Here’s how to access and review your privacy settings.

Click on the down arrow beside your name.

Click on Settings and Privacy, then both the Privacy Checkup and the Privacy Center.

Next, you’ll see several short articles. Be sure to step through each one

Take a few minutes to lock your account down.

The ONLY thing that is automatically public is your profile photo and any photo you use for your cover photo. Anything else can and should be restricted.

Facebook owns Instagram so you can set your Instagram security here too.

You’re not quite finished yet!

Monitoring and Controlling Apps

Next, we’re going to see what apps are installed and interacting with Facebook. Have you authorized apps you weren’t aware of?

In the dropdown arrow to the right of your name in the upper right-hand corner, click on the down arrow again.

You’ll see the Settings gear under “Settings and Privacy.” Click there to see all of the setting categories in the panel on the left side of your screen.

Review everything, of course, but pay special attention to “Apps and Websites” and “Games.”

Predatory operators will fool you into doing something fun, like a profile photo app, or a little game that provides you with your Fantasy Name or something else cute and enticing. That “free” game or app installs software. If you find software during your review, especially from something like we’ve been discussing, I recommend deleting it immediately.

Be sure you only have things you’ve intentionally installed or authorized.

THINK – Stop, Think and Run

When you see “someone” asking a question on Facebook, STOP!

You’ve heard of stop, drop and roll if your clothes are on fire?

Someone trying to breach your privacy is a digital fire, so this is stop, think and run.

Think about who is actually asking and why. “Who” is asking is NOT that cousin who shared the question from that public site. The “who” that is asking is that original site.  They are simply taking advantage of and using your cousin. I hate to put it this way, but always assume the worst and remember that even if the site itself is innocent, all of the people who can harvest your data and try to compromise your security assuredly are not.

Those “fun” sites asking those questions are either actively recruiting you or best case, leaving the door wide open for cyberthieves.

Don’t answer. No matter how much you’re tempted to share some nostalgic information or the name of your deceased pet you’re still grieving. No matter if you notice that your cousin or friend has replied already. Just don’t.

Stop, think, run. It’s that simple.

And speaking of your cousins or friends – if they have shared something that could compromise their security and privacy, not to mention their friends (including you), feel free to share this article or others, such as KrebsonSecurity. Take a look at Krebs’ examples of baiting you with childhood and puppy photos with corresponding questions. Do they evoke an emotional response from you? They are meant to. I mean, how bad can it actually be to enter the name of your beloved childhood pet?

By now, you should be screaming the answer to “how bad”!

Here’s an article from Tulane University. Yes, they are advertising their degree in cybersecurity management, but they do so by summarizing the things that social media users need to be concerned about.

I also follow a company called Facecrooks which monitors and writes about Facebook privacy, fraudsters, other scams, and such. They have a Facebook page here and a Scam Watch page here.

The Baker’s Dozen Messages

The messages I want to leave you with, aside from stop, think and run, are this:

  1. Nothing is free
  2. Think before you engage or answer
  3. Remind yourself that a stranger really doesn’t care about your first-grade teacher’s name, but a crook does
  4. Just because someone you know answered or engaged doesn’t mean it’s safe
  5. Consider potential consequences
  6. Can something you are about to share be used to compromise either you, your family, friends’, or employer’s privacy or safety?
  7. Don’t overshare – only say what’s necessary
  8. Notice what is public and what is not – look for that globe and behave accordingly
  9. Don’t download or play free games, or send anything to a “free” website
  10. Don’t click on links to unknown places
  11. Don’t accept friend requests from people you really don’t know.
  12. Learn the warning signs of a fake profile and report them by clicking on the three dots to the right of the profile
  13. Don’t click on links in private messages and beware of suddenly receiving an “odd” message from someone you haven’t heard from in a while

I’ve written other articles about online privacy, security, and safety too.


Stop. Think. Run.


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Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Proprietor of a Tavern, Restaurant, Railroad Depot Office & Cigar Store – 52 Ancestors #358

Barbara Drechsel, wife of Jacob Kirsch never wanted to own a tavern. It’s nothing she ever aspired to. In fact, she may not have wanted to own it, even when she did. And she assuredly did NOT want to own it quite the way it unfolded.

It pays to keep in touch with friends at the historical society. Jenny messaged me this week with the original deed by which Barbara came into possession of the Kirsch House which included the actual house where the family lived, hotel, restaurant, bar, cigar store, and railroad ticket office.

The Deed

The outside of the document stated that this was a warranty deed conveying property from Jacob Kirsch to Barbara Kirsch and was recorded on March 28, 1887 at 9 in the morning. Jacob acknowledged that he executed the deed.

Seems simple enough, right?

The flip side is the actual original deed itself, complete with Jacob’s signature! Hurray!!! Original deeds are not kept by the county clerk, but copied by hand into the deed book.

I have absolutely no idea how the original deed came to be held at the local museum, but I’m exceedingly grateful that it did. Barbara Kirsch sold the Kirsch house some 34 years later, in 1921, and eventually went to Wabash to live with her daughter. Somehow, the deed found its way to the historical society a century after Barbara sold the Kirsch House.

The Deed is “Unusual”

This document itself was very…um…unusual.

To begin with, Jacob and Barbara were husband and wife. They were married in 1866, bought the Kirsch House property in 1875, had several children, and no, they did not get divorced. That was my first thought too.

I originally found the recording of the deed back in 1989 or 1990, but I had never seen the actual deed itself, nor the additional information it contained.

To begin with, Jacob states that he conveyed the property to Barbara for the sum of $10,000. Wow! I assumed it has been for the standard $1 and love, but it’s not. I wonder why not?

No place does it say that Barbara is Jacob’s wife. For a few years, I wondered if there was some mistake. But no, there’s no mistake.

Did money actually change hands? Doubtful. Where would Barbara Drechsel Kirsch have obtained $10,000 that was hers alone? Both of her parents were still living, so there was no inheritance.

What was going on?

What Does the Deed Say?

Being the ? part of in lots two hundred and eighty (280) and two hundred and eighty five (285) in the City of Aurora and bounded as follows towit: <metes and bounds>

My eyes kind of glaze over the metes and bounds when city lots are described, because I already know quite well where this property is located. Not to mention this handwriting is atrocious.

The interesting part followed the land description.

Also the following described personal property towit: All the household, dining room and kitchen furniture now contained in the house situate in the above described real estate; also all the barroom and office furniture, fixtures, liquors, cigars and all pertaining to the bar and office on said premises.

In other words, not just the Kirsch House itself, but the tavern, hotel, restaurant, cigar store, and railroad office business within the Kirsch House. Jacob also sold fine cigars and liquor, and now Barbara did too.

The 1880s ushered in the golden age of Cigars. Smoking cigars was considered very cultured, gentlemanly, and desirable. Trimming and lighting a cigar appropriately was an art in and of itself. Was Barbara a cigar aficionado? And a bartender when necessary? I bet she was.

This wasn’t just a formality. Barbara took her ownership very seriously as illustrated by her stationery.

In the newspapers over the next few years, I found a few mentions of Jacob as proprietor – muscle memory or an assumption on the part of the reporters perhaps, but eventually, I found stationery with Barbara’s name listed as proprietor.

Jacob died in 1917 and after that, everyone would have known Barbara owned the property and not thought anything of it under those circumstances. I’d wager most everyone knew about the 1887 transaction as well, because, everyone but EVERYONE knew about “the incident.”

The townspeople all might have known then, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I discovered the back story because, by the time Mom came along, no one discussed what had happened in 1886.

It had become an intentionally forgotten dark little secret.

The 1886 Drama

Jacob Kirsch was involved in a lynching in 1886, specifically on August 19th. This lynching probably isn’t exactly what you think when you think of a lynching.

A white man described in the newspaper as a “tramp bricklayer” by the name of William F. Watkins became drunk on the job (again) and was dismissed from a construction site in Aurora. He returned, even drunker, and stabbed Louis Hilbert, the man who had fired him, four times. The victim died on the spot – and the stabbing itself was witnessed by several men. That attack was calculated, intentional, cold-blooded murder.

Louis Hilbert was a well-liked and respected local contractor and a group of men attending the summer farmer’s fair caught and restrained Watkins, waiting for the constable. The crowd quickly grew, saw Hilbert’s lifeless bodying laying in a pool of his own blood, and became further enraged.

Watkins was taken to the local coal yard of the distillery a couple of blocks away and hanged from a derrick by a crowd of hundreds. Watkins was dead 20 minutes or so after he had killed Hilbert.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone.

February 26, 1887

Jacob signed the deed conveying the property to Barbara on February 26th of the following year. Apparently, even though neither criminal charges nor a civil lawsuit hadn’t been filed, Jacob knew something was in the offing.

Jacob was only 46 years old and a sharpshooter, but his signature looks shaky. Was he trembling when he signed?

March 3, 1887

On March 3, 1887, the Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper reported that a suit was initiated in Federal Court in Indianapolis by Watkins’s heirs against a group of men accused of murdering Watkins. The amount of the damages claimed was $10,000. The actual complaint was filed on March 2, 1887.

March 17, 1887

On March 17, 1887, the administrator of William Watkins’ estate filed a document in the suit against several men in the death of Watkins detailing their allegations and demands.

March 28, 1887

The deed between Jacob and Barbara was recorded.

It’s interesting that the amount of the transaction is $10,000, the same amount as the lawsuit’s demand. However, the lawsuit named several defendants in addition to Jacob. Perhaps the thought was that $10,000 was the MOST that could be found against Jacob (or anyone) – although at the time of the conveyance the suit had not been filed. Ironically, that deed would have confirmed to Watkins’s attorney that Jacob did have $10,000. Clearly, this conveyance was designed to protect the Kirsch House from the lawsuit and limit the damage to no more than $10,000 which was equivalent to over $300,000 in today’s dollars.

Of course, it’s possible that the deed was backdated to before the lawsuit was filed, given that it wasn’t recorded until March 28th. However, a notary witnessed Jacob’s signature on February 26th. Was that normal at that time? There’s no way to know without looking at other original deeds and original deeds are not generally available.

May 23, 1889

Two years later, Jacob offered to settle for $5, which Watkin’s attorney refused. The parties agreed to a trial without a jury, and the judge found in favor of the defendants. The Kirsch House would have been safe, but Barbara owned the Kirsch House, and everything in it, for the remainder of her life.

Barbara was no hands-off owner. She ran the establishment both before and after Jacob’s death – through a litany of tragedies described in this article about her life.

In fact, Barbara ran the Kirsch House just as any man of the time would have done, with one exception. A man would not have also done all the cooking and cleaning for both the family and the guests.

I can’t help but wonder why the property was never deeded back to Jacob after the legal jeopardy had passed.

A Female Proprietor

A female proprietor was unheard of – but Barbara did what she needed to do, although the couple appeared to have run the establishment together as long as Jacob was able. I know for sure he tended bar, at least from time to time.

Jacob and Barbara are pictured above in a colorized photo (thank you MyHeritage) sometime between 1905 and 1909.

Jacob had an unfortunate hunting accident in October of 1892 where he was shot in the side of his head. He was expected to die, but miraculously lived. The wound badly damaged his ear and face, and cost him his eye. He was fitted with a glass eye which he would pop out at will and scare the neighborhood children who came to visit with him as he sat outside under the awning in front of the Kirsch House.

Jacob was never the same, and if Barbara wasn’t already shouldering the majority of the responsibility for the Kirsch House, she assuredly was after the gunshot wound.

Surprisingly, Jacob continued competitive trap shooting after his accident with amazing success, winning a tri-state championship in the 1890s. Jacob progressively slowed down and his health declined until his death of stomach cancer in 1917. Barbara’s responsibilities increased.

The Kirsch House advertisements during this time read, “The house is pleasantly situated near the railroad depot and will be found the most desirable place in the city of Aurora at which to stop. Good wines, liquors, and cigars.”

I can’t help but wonder if the Kirsch House sported the obligatory stereotypical Cigar Store Indian, perched perhaps outside on the sidewalk or near the ticket window. The Cigar Store Indian became a very effective form of visual advertisement.

How did Jacob actually feel about Barbara owning the Kirsch House and all the contents? Was it perhaps a private joke between them, or conversely, no laughing matter.

The Kirsch House Back Then

When Mom, my daughter, and I visited the Kirsch House in the late 1980s, almost exactly a hundred years after Jacob signed the deed to Barbara, the building was 130-140 years old, built in the 1850s, and not in good repair.

The original bar was still present and functioning, and on the top of the bar was decoupaged a postcard from yesteryear.

You could see the public entry doors, at left, leading into the bar and public dining room, the barroom window advertising “Fine Cigars” and the family entrance into the parlor, at right. Guest rooms were located on the second floor.

Another view shows the depot and the black window, by the horse’s head, where train tickets were sold and freight shipped. That would have been the office referenced by Jacob in the deed.

The Kirsch house functioned as both a ticket seller for people and for shipping freight too. The door showing near the pole, at right, was the easy quick entrance into the restaurant/bar for thirsty travelers while they waited for their train.

The Brick

During our visit, Mom found a brick that had fallen out of the wall of the Kirsch House, then known by a different name, when a window had been replaced. Mom asked if she could have the brick that was laying in the alleyway.

I took a photo of the postcards on the bar, and Mom asked her friend to paint the Kirsch House, with its celebrated awning over the sidewalk and neighboring depot on the brick.

Mom loved the result.

This painted brick lived with Mom for many years and now resides with me.

As of December 2021, the Kirsch House building is once again being repaired and restored, granted another chapter in its long life. Barbara, the 34-year proprietor, would be quite pleased that her Kirsch House lives on.


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Ancestry Only Shows Shared Matches of 20 cM and Greater – What That Means & Why It Matters

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in confused people who’ve taken Ancestry’s DNA test.

They are using shared matches, which is a great tool and exactly what they should be doing, but they become confused when no shared matches appear with some specific people.

This is especially perplexing when they know through information sharing or because they manage multiple DNA kits that those two people who both match them actually do share DNA and match each other, meaning they “should” appear on a shared match list. Or worse, yet, conflicting match information is displayed, with one person showing the shared match, but the other person reciprocally does not.

What gives?

That’s exactly what this article addresses. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds, but it’s certainly easier once you understand.

What Are Matches and Shared Matches?

Matches occur when two people match each other. From your perspective as a DNA tester, matches are people who have taken DNA tests and appear on your match list because you share some level of DNA equal to or greater than the match threshold of the vendor in question.

At Ancestry, that minimum matching threshold is 8 cM (centimorgans) of matching DNA.

Individual matches are always one-to-one. Your match list is a list of people who all match you.

So, you match person 1, and you match person 2, individually.

Your matches may or may not also match each other. If they do match each other in addition to matching you, that’s a shared match which is a hint as to a potential common ancestor between all three people.

Shared matches are a list of people who match you PLUS any one other match on your list. In other words, shared matches are three-way matches.

In the diagram above, you can see that you match Match 1 and you also match Match 2. In this case, Match 1 and Match 2 also match each other, so all three of you match each other, but not necessarily on the same segment. Therefore, you’re all three shared matches, as shown in the center of the three circles.

Viewing Shared Matches

To view a list of people who match you and Match 1, you would request shared matches with Match 1 by clicking on “View Match” or “Learn More” on your match list, then on “Shared Matches” on the next screen.

The resulting shared match list consist of people who match you AND Match 1, both. It’s easy to make assumptions about why you have shared matches, but don’t.

Shared Matches are Hints

A shared match CAN mean:

  • That all three people share a common ancestral line.
  • You share a common ancestor with Match 1 and Match 2, but Match 1 and 2 match each other because they share an entirely different ancestor.
  • You match Match 1 because you share DNA from Ancestor A and you match Match 2 because you share DNA from Ancestor B. Match 1 and 2 match each other either because they share one or both of those common ancestors.
  • Match 1 and Match 2 might match because Match 1 and Match 2 share an ancestor that isn’t related to you.
  • That one (or more) of the matches is identical by chance, meaning the DNA combined from two parents in a random way that just happens to match with someone else.

Shared matches are great hints to be sifted for relevance. The operative word here is hint.

What If We Don’t Have Shared Matches?

Conversely, NOT having a shared match doesn’t mean you don’t share a common ancestor.

Sorry about the triple negative. Let me say that another way, because this is important.

Even though you and someone else aren’t on a shared match list, you might still share DNA and you may share a common ancestor, whether you share their DNA or not.

Ancestry’s shared matches work differently than shared matches at other vendors. Before we discuss that, let’s talk about why shared matches are important.

Why Do Shared Matches Matter Anyway?

Matches and shared matches are how genealogists perform two critically important functions:

  • Verifying “known” ancestors. Sometimes paper trails aren’t accurate and certainly, neither are trees.
  • Identifying unknown ancestors. Looking for common families among shared DNA matches is a HUGE hint when tracking down those pesky unknown ancestors.

I wrote about shared matches, here, when Ancestry purged segments under 8 cM, but I think the message about the limitations of shared matches and how the process actually works deserves its own article, especially for new users. Shared matches and segment cM numbers can be quite confusing, but they don’t need to be.

I wrote an article titled DNA Beginnings: Matching at Ancestry and What It Means that includes lots of useful information.

Ok, now let’s look specifically at using shared matches and why sometimes shared matches just don’t seem to make sense.


By far, the majority of your matches at any vendor will be more distant matches. That’s because you have thousands of distant relatives, most of whom you don’t know (yet).

You’ll only have a few closer relatives.

At Ancestry, I have 102,000+ total matches, of which more than 97,000 are distant matches. Based on these numbers, keep in mind that about 95.74% of my matches are distant, meaning 20 cM or below, and yours probably are too. You’ll need that number later.

Note that 20 cM is Ancestry’s threshold between close matches and distant matches.

That’s about exactly where you’d expect, on average, to see a 20 cM match – generally at or further back than 4th cousins. 20 cM is roughly the 4th to 6th cousin level.

Of course, you won’t match most of your 5th cousins at all, yet you’ll match some with more than 20 cM. That’s just the roll of the genetic dice.

Closer ancestors (meaning closer matches) is also the area of genealogy where much of the lower-hanging fruit has been plucked.

In my case, the closest unknown ancestor in my tree occurs at the 6th generation level and I have 5 or 6 missing sixth-generation ancestors – all females with no surnames. Two have no names at all.

Click to enlarge any image

How Much DNA Do Cousins Share?

One of my priorities as a genealogist is to identify those unknown people, which is why matches, and shared matching at that level are critical for me.

Ancestry tells me that this 20 cM match is likely my 4th-6th cousin.

At DNAPainter, in the Shared cM Tool, you can enter the total cM number of a match, which is the total amount of DNA that you share after Ancestry’s Timber algorithm has been applied. The range of relationship probabilities for 20 cM is shown below.

For a total match of 20 cM with another individual, several relationships ranging between half 3C2R/3C3R and 8th cousins are the most probable relationships at 58%.

For the record, this is total cM, which does not necessarily mean one segment. Ancestry reports the number of segments, but Ancestry does not show you the segment locations, nor do they have a chromosome browser. Without a chromosome browser, you have no way of determining whether or not you match with shared matches on the same segment(s). In other words, there is no triangulation at Ancestry, meaning confirmation of a specific shared DNA segment descended from a common ancestor. You can find triangulation resources, here.

Close Matches

The best way to figure out how you are related to closer matches (assuming you don’t already know them and Ancestry has not found a common ancestor) is using shared matches. Hopefully, you will share matches with people you do know or with whom you’ve already identified your common ancestor.

One of my relatively close DNA matches at Ancestry is Lonnie. I don’t know Lonnie, but it looks like I should because he’s probably a 1st or 2nd cousin. We share 357 cM of DNA over 20 segments.

I thought I knew all of my 1st and 2nd cousins. Let’s see if I can figure out how I’m related to Lonnie.

By clicking on Lonnie’s name on my match list, then on Shared Matches, I can determine that Lonnie and I connect through my Estes and Vannoy lines based on who we both match, which means that our common ancestor is either my paternal grandfather or my great-grandparents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.

You can see the notes I’ve made about these matches I share with Lonnie.

Viewing Lonnie’s unlinked tree verifies the ancestral line that shared matches suggest. An unlinked tree means that Lonnie has not linked his DNA test to himself in his tree. Since Ancestry doesn’t know who he is in the tree, they can’t find a common ancestor for me and Lonnie. However, I can by viewing his tree.

Our common ancestor is Lazarus Estes and his wife, Elizabeth Vannoy. Therefore, Lonnie is my 2nd cousin.

That wasn’t difficult, in part because I had already worked on the genealogy of our common matches and Lonnie had a small unlinked tree where I could confirm our common ancestor.

Now let’s move to more distant, not-so-easy matches.

Distant Matches

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years identifying common ancestors with my matches.

When I make that connection, whether or not Ancestry has been able to identify our common ancestor, I make notes about common ancestors and anything else that seems relevant. Notes very conveniently show on my match list so I don’t need to open each match to see how we are related.

Ancestry does identify potential common ancestors using ThruLines. Note the word potential. Ancestry compares the trees of you and your matches searching for common ancestors and suggests connections. It’s up to you to verify. ThruLines are hints, not gospel. Additionally, you may have multiple ancestral links to your matches. Ancestry can only work with the fact that you have a DNA match with someone AND the user-provided trees of your matches.

Ancestry’s ThruLines only reach back a maximum of 7 generations to suggest common ancestors. At 7 generations distance, you’d be a 5th cousin to a descendant who is also 7 generations downstream from that ancestor.

The information from DNAPainter, who utilizes the Shared CM Project compiled data shows that the most likely amount of shared DNA for 5th cousins, is, you’ve guessed it – 20 cM.

Jacob Dobkins is my 7th generation ancestor. I have ThruLines for him and his wife, but not for their parents who are one generation too distant for ThruLines. I’d LOVE to see Ancestry extend ThruLines another 2 or 3 generations.

ThruLines matches me with people who descend from Jacob through his other children. Other children are important because the only ancestors you share with those people are (presumably) that ancestral couple.

Matches with Jacob’s descendants range from 8 cM (the smallest amount Ancestry reports) to 32 cM.

Here’s an example.

Ancestry displays some shared matches with all of your matches, regardless of the size of your match to that person. However, Ancestry ONLY shows shared matches to a third person if you share more than 20 cM of DNA with that third person.

For example, I match KO with 8 cM of DNA. Ancestry shows my shared matches with KO, below.

I only have 3 shared matches with KO. I only match KO at 8 cM, but I match our shared matches at 39, 31 and 21 cM, respectively.

Ancestry does NOT show shared matches below 20 cM, so it’s unknown how many additional shared matches KO and I actually have if shared matches less than 20 cM were displayed.

Perspective is Critical

Whether you see a shared match or not is sometimes a matter of perspective, meaning which of two people you request shared matches with.

In this case, I requested shared matches with KO. I only share 8 cM of DNA with KO, but that doesn’t matter. The amount of DNA you share with the person you’re requesting shared matches with is irrelevant.

Ancestry’s Shared Matches with KO include Ker

I will see shared matches with KO to anyone we mutually share as matches above 20 cM, including Ker.

If I request shared matches with Ker, with whom I share 39 cM of DNA, I will see all of our mutual matches at 20 cM (or greater) of DNA. However, that does NOT include KO because I only share 8 cM of DNA with KO.

This restriction applies regardless of how much DNA KO and Ker share, which is an unknown to me of course.

Ancestry’s Shared Matches with Ker does NOT include KO

Nothing has changed between these matches, yet KO does not appear on my shared matches list with Ker when I request shared matches with Ker.

I still share 8 cM with KO and 39 cM with Ker. KO and Ker still both match each other. The only difference is that Ker shows up on my shared match list with KO because I share more than 20 cM with Ker. However, when I request a match list with Ker, KO does NOT appear because I only share 8 cM with KO.

This is the source of the confusion and often, why people disagree about shared matches. It’s kind of a “now you see it, now you don’t” situation.

If a person shows as a shared match depends on:

  1. Whether the third person actually does share DNA with the tester and the person they’ve asked for shared matches with
  2. Whether the third person shares 20 cM DNA or more with the tester, the person requesting the shared match list with one of their matches

Whether someone appears on a shared match list can literally be a matter of perspective unless the match and the shared matches all match the tester at 20 cM or larger.

Another Example

Let’s look at a larger match to a descendant of the same ancestor.

I share exactly 20 cM with Joyce, my 5C1R.

Viewing my shared matches with Joyce, I match 50 other people that she matches as well.

I only share 25 cM of DNA with the smallest match with Joyce. Apparently, there are no matches with Joyce with whom I share between 20 and 25 cM of DNA.

Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line.

Ancestry NEVER shows any shared matches below 20 cM from the perspective of the tester, meaning people who match you and someone else, both.

If you recall our earlier math, that means that approximately 95.74% of my shared matches aren’t shown.

This puts shared matches in a different perspective because now I realize just how many matches I’m not seeing.

Why is This Confusing?

If you aren’t aware of this shared match limitation, and that a majority of your shared matches are actually below 20 cM, you may interpret shared match results to mean you actually DON’T share specific matches with that other person. That isn’t necessarily true, as we saw above with KO and Ker.

Furthermore, let’s say you manage your DNA kit plus 3 more, A, B and C. Because you manage all 4 kits, that means you can see the results for all 4 people.

  • A – 10 cM
  • B – 20 cM
  • C – 40 cM

From the perspective of YOUR kit, you will see some shared matches FOR all of those matches.

What you won’t see is shared matches if you don’t match the shared match (third person) at 20 cM or greater.

Always remember, shared match information at Ancestry is ALWAYS from the perspective of your DNA kit combined with the person with whom you request the match.

I’ve put this information in a grid because that’s how I make sense of things like this.

Here are your matches. When you click on shared matches with person A who you match at 10 cM, you’ll see both person B and person C as shared matches since you match both of those people at 20 cM or larger. You WILL see 20 cM shared matches, but you will not see 19 cM shared matches.

When you request shared matches for A, you will see both B and C.

When you request shared matches with kits B and C, you will not see A because you only match them at 10 cM.

However, from the perspective of DNA kits A, B and C, shared matches look different.

Let’s look at shared matches from the perspective of Kits A, B and C.

Kit A matches you, Kit B and C, but can only see Kit B as a shared match because matches with you and Kit C are under 20 cM.

Kit B doesn’t match C at all, so they clearly won’t have shared matches. However, they do match you and Kit A, both at 20 cM and over, so Kit B will see you as a shared match with Kit A, and Kit A as a shared match with you.

Kit C doesn’t match Kit B, so no shared matches with that person at all. Kit C does match you and Kit A. However, when Kit C clicks on shared matches for you, Kit A doesn’t show up because they only match Kit A on 9 cM. When Kit C clicks on Kit A for shared matches, you ARE listed as a shared match because you share 40 cM of DNA with Kit C.

There’s no way to discern whether two of your matches match each other unless they show as a match in the shared match tool. You can’t tell if their absence on the shared match list means they actually don’t match, or their shared match absence is because they match you at less than 20 cM.

Whew, that was a mouthful.

You may need to refer back to this from time to time if you’re confused by your shared matches at Ancestry.

If you need to remember rules, remember this.

  1. You can obtain shared matches with yourself plus any match, regardless of how much or how little DNA you share with that one match. Prove this to yourself by finding a match under 20 cM, like my 8 cM match, and viewing your shared matches.
  2. No one will show on a shared match list with another person unless they match you at 20 cM or greater. Prove this to yourself by viewing the smallest shared match with anyone.


The takeaway of this is if you have a larger (20 cM or over) and smaller match (under 20 cM), always request shared matches from the perspective of the smaller match because the smaller match won’t show up as a shared match on any shared match list.

The only way you can see shared matches that includes people under 20 cM is to request to view shared matches with individual people who match you below 20 cM. 

In my case, I will never see KO on any shared match list because I only match KO at 8 cM. However, I can request my shared matches with KO in which case I’ll see all 20 cM or greater shared matches with KO.


Every vendor provides a shared match feature, and each functions differently.

In the chart below, I’ve provided basic shared match information for each vendor.

If you’re interested in uploading your DNA file from Ancestry or another vendor, I’ve provided upload/download step-by-step instructions for each vendor, here.


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Dorcas Johnson’s Mitochondrial DNA Secret Revealed – 52 Ancestors #357

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus) Johnson was born about 1750 and died about 1835. We know she died in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but the location of her birth has always been assumed to be Virginia.

You know there’s already trouble brewing when you read that assume word, right?

Dorcas, in the early genealogies, was reported to be the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, but always a skeptic, I had my doubts. I’m working through the various options to prove or disprove that connection. I wrote about my initial findings, here.

What we do know, positively, about Dorcas is that she married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, Virginia, in 1775. There’s no date listed, but it is shown between the September and October marriages.

Dunmore County was renamed as Shenandoah a few years later, so all of the early Dunmore County records aren’t “missing,” they are Shenandoah County records.

Dorcas and Jacob migrated to eastern Tennesee, probably before Tennessee was even a state n the 1790s, settling in Jefferson County on the White Horn Branch of Bent Creek, Near Bull’s Gap. By 1800, they had moved once again to the fledgling Claiborne County when it was first formed. Dorcas Johnson and Jacob Dobkins spent the rest of their lives in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Johnson Books

Peter Johnson’s descendants wrote several early books in the 1900s about that family, specifically focused on the child they descended from. More recently, Eric E. Johnson wrote a book where he distilled the earlier books and added a great deal of original research compiled over decades. Eric has very graciously shared and I am ever so grateful for his generosity.

Dorcas’s Siblings

Not all early books report the same children for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, so I’ve prepared a composite list of children, as follows:

  • Richard (Derrick, Derrie) Johnson (1746-1818) married Dorcas Dungan in Pennsylvania and later, Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County, PA. Richard was born in Cumberland County, PA and died in Jefferson County, Ohio.
  • Dorcas Johnson (c1748/1750 – c1831/1835) married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 in Dunmore/Shenandoah County. Dorcas is reported in one of the early Johnson books and was reported to have married Reuben Dobkins. She married Reuben’s brother, Jacob. Jacob’s other brother, Evan Dobkins, married one Margaret Johnson, earlier in 1775 in the same location where Dorcas married. However, Margaret Johnson is not listed in any of the Johnson books.
  • James Johnson (1752-1826), was born in Pennsylvania and died in Lawrence County, Illinois after having lived in Indiana for some time. He married Elizabeth Lindsay in 1783.
  • Solomon Johnson (1765-1843), apparently the youngest child was born near Greencastle, Cumberland (now Franklin) County, Pennsylvania and died in Forward Township, Allegheny County, PA. He inherited his father’s land and married the neighbor, Frances (Fanny) Warne in 1790. It was Solomon’s Bible records that provided Peter Johnson’s wife’s name as Mary Philips. It’s worth noting that Solomon named a daughter, Dorcas, and the Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins named a son Solomon.

Two other sources report Peter’s wife’s first name as Polly which is a well-known nickname for Mary. The only source for Mary Polly Phillips’ surname is the Solomon Johnson Bible.

Four additional daughters are reported with much less specific information available.

  • Mary Johnson – Nothing known.
  • Polly Johnson – Nothing known, although it has been speculated that Mary and Polly were one person, and possibly Richard’s only child by his first wife that Peter Johnson and Mary/Polly Philips took to raise when Richard’s wife died. If this is the case, then Mary would have been born about 1768 and can therefore NOT be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins in 1775.
  • Rebecca Johnson, possibly born about 1762. One book states that Rebecca married John Stephens or Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia but nothing more is known. This same source states that Stephens served with Richard Johnson in the Revolutionary War, although that could be militia duty. This line needs to be fleshed out and could prove critical. What happened to Rebecca Johnson?
  • Rachel Johnson is reported to have married a John Dobkins and possibly moved to Knox County, Indiana, but nothing more is known. Jacob Dobkins’ brother, John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman. It’s possible that there’s an unknown brother, or Rachel is the Johnson daughter who married Reuben Dobkins. Dorcas was reported to have married Reuben, but she married Jacob.

In the various Johnson books, two Johnson daughters are reported to have married Dobkins men, and indeed, that’s exactly what happened, but the first names don’t match exactly

If indeed Dorcas Johnson is the full sibling of Mary, Polly, Rebecca or Rachel Johnson, they would carry the same mitochondrial DNA passed to them from their mother – which they in turn would have passed on.

This means that if we can locate someone descended from those daughters through all females to the current generation (which can be male), their mitochondrial DNA should match at the full sequence level.

In summary, we know very little about Mary Polly Philips herself. We don’t know who her parents were, nor if she had siblings. We also don’t really know how many children, specifically daughters, she had.

Where Did Mary Polly Philips Come From?

One of the books reports that Mary Polly Philip’s son, Richard, born in 1746, also known as Derrie, was born in Amsterdam. We know this cannot be true because Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were already living in Antrim Township of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania by 1742 when he obtained a land grant.

However, since Derrie is a Dutch nickname for Richard, the story that Dorcas was Dutch, or spoke Dutch, may have originated from this nickname. This does beg the question of how Richard obtained that nickname.

The Pennsylvania Dutch settled heavily in Cumberland County where the couple is first found, so it’s possible that Mary Polly may have spoken German. Regardless, one of the family histories states that she didn’t speak English when she married Peter Johnson which raises the question of how they communicated.

Of course, this is confounding given that many early genealogies suggest or state that they were either Scottish, Scots-Irish or Welsh. One history suggests that Peter settled at Wilmington, Delaware, then lived at Head of Elk, Maryland which are both Swedish settlements.

Peter Johnson was supposed to have a brother James and they were both supposed to be from Scotland, with noble peerage, nonetheless.

And another report had Peter sailing from Amsterdam where he had been born.

Clearly these can’t all be true.

Bottom line is this – we don’t know anything about where either Peter or his wife’s families originated. The first actual data we have is Peter’s 1742 land grant in Cumberland County, PA, an area settled by both the Germans and Scots-Irish.

We have a real mystery on our hands.

Not to mention that we still don’t know positively that the Dorcas reported in Peter Johnson’s line who married a Reuben Dobkins is the same person as “my” Dorcas who married Jacob Dobkins. However, given the autosomal matches, I’m quite comfortable at this point, between both documentary and genetic evidence, in confidently adding Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips as Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ parents.

Well, that is, unless someone or something proves me wrong.

One thing is abundantly clear, if Dorcas isn’t their daughter, she’s related to them in some fashion because many of Peter Johnson’s descendants and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants match and triangulate when comparing autosomal DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA

Dorcas Johnson inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, whoever that was, who inherited it from her mother, on up the line.

Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the DNA of the father, so it’s never divided or diluted. In other words, except for an occasional mutation, it’s passed intact from mothers to all of their children. However, only females pass it on.

In the current generation, males can take a mitochondrial DNA test so long as they descend through all females from the ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA is being sought. In other words, their mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree through all mothers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find two direct descendants of Dorcas Johnson Dobkins through all female lines (different daughters) who were kind enough to take a mitochondrial DNA test.

Not only did they match each other, they also matched other people at the full sequence level.

What did we discover?


Dorcas’s descendants were determined to be haplogroup H2a1, a European haplogroup found dispersed widely across Europe.

This can put to rest any speculation about Native American heritage which often arises when a woman’s parents are unknown.

What Information Can Be Gleaned from the Haplogroup Alone?

Using the public mitochondrial DNA tree, we can see that H2a1 is found in 57 countries as identified by testers’ earliest known ancestor (EKA) entries.

This is one reason why it’s important to enter earliest ancestor information (under the gear when you mouse over your name in the upper right-hand corner, under Genealogy in Account Settings.)

But that’s not the only reason to enter as much information as possible. Everyone helps everyone else in genetic genealogy by providing complete information, or as complete as possible.


Dorcas’s descendants who took the mitochondrial DNA test have a total of 299 HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region matches. Today, testers can only order the mtFull product which tests the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria. Years back, people could order a partial test that only tested part of the mitochondria, called the HVR1 (HVR=Hypervariable Region) or the combined HVR1 & HVR2 regions.

You can select to view matches at the full sequence level, or people you match at the HVR1 or HVR2 level which will include people who did not take the higher mtFull test.

While some people are inclined to ignore their HVR1 and HVR2 results, I don’t because I’m always on the hunt for someone with a common ancestor or other useful information who did NOT test at the full sequence level.

You just never know where you’re going to find that critical match so don’t neglect any potential place to find leads.

To begin, I’m focusing on the full sequence matches that have a genetic distance of 0. GD0 simply means those testers match exactly with no mutations difference.

My cousin has 9 exact matches.

Matilda Holt is Dorcas’s granddaughter.

I viewed the trees for the closest matches and added some additional info.

I viewed the trees, worked several back in time, and found a few other testers who also descend from Dorcas.

One match remains a tantalizing mystery.

Bobby’s line hits a dead-end in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but I cannot connect the dots in Dorcas’s line.

Evan Dobkins, Jacob’s brother who married Margaret Johnson lived in Washington County, VA until the 1790s, but reportedly died in Claiborne County about 1835. Bobby’s EKA could be a grandchild of Dorcas that is previously unknown. She could also be the granddaughter of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I traced his line back to a woman born in 1824 and noted as Catherine Brooks in her marriage to Thomas Brooks in 1847. The Brooks family were close neighbors and did intermarry with the Dobkins family.

I emailed my cousin’s other matches; Karen, Catherine, Leotta, and Betty, and heard back from only one with no information.

With no earliest known ancestor, no tree, and no reply, I’m stuck on these matches, at least for now.

Let’s take a look at the GD1 matches, meaning those with one mutation difference and see what we can find there.

GD1 Matches

My cousin has 36 GD1 matches, meaning one mutation difference. Might they be useful?

Hmmm, well, here’s something interesting. With one exception, these earliest known ancestors certainly are not English, Welsh or Scots-Irish. They also aren’t German or Dutch.

I attempted to build a tree for Sarah Anna Wilson who was born in 1823 and died in 1858, but without additional information, I quickly ran into too much ambiguity.

Maybe there’s better information in the rest of the GD1 matches’ earliest known ancestors.

These people all look to be…Scandinavian?

Let’s take a look at the Matches Map.

Matches Map

On the matches map, only a few of the 36 GD1 matches filled in the location of their earliest known ancestor. This can be done on either the matches map, or when you complete the earliest known ancestor information.

Exact matches are red, and GD1, 1 step matches, are orange.

All 10 of the GD1 matches that have completed their locations are found in Scandinavia, one in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, with the rest concentrated in Finland.

In fact, the largest cluster anyplace is found in Finland, with a second pronounced cluster along the eastern side of Sweden.

Generally speaking, the green 3-step matches would be “older” or more distant than the yellow 2-step matches that would be older than the orange one-step matches which would be older than the red exact matches.

What Does This Mean?

I’d surely like more data. Scandinavian testers are wonderful about entering their EKA information, as compared to many US testers, but I’d still like to see more. Some show ancestors but no location, and some show nothing evident.

I’m going to dig.

Where Can I Find More Info?

For each person, I’m going to utilize several resources, as follows:

  • Trees on FamilyTreeDNA (please, let there be trees)
  • Earliest known ancestor (EKA)
  • Ancestry/MyHeritage/FamilySearch to extend trees or location locations for listed ancestors
  • Email address on tester’s profile card
  • Google their name, ancestor or email
  • Social media
  • Surnames/locations on their FamilyTreeDNA profile card
  • WikiTree/Geni and other publicly available resources

Even just the email address of a tester can provide me with a country. In this case, Finland. If the tester lives in Finland today, there’s a good chance that their ancestor was from Finland too.

Sometimes the Ancestral Surnames provide locations as well.

Search everyplace.

Create A New Map

Using Google My Maps, a free tool, I created a new map with only the GD1 matches and the location information that I unearthed.

I found at least general (country level) locations for a total of 30 of 36 GD1 matches. Ten are the locations provided by the testers on the Matches Map, but I found an additional 26. All of the locations, with one exception, were found in either Finland or Sweden. One was found in Denmark.

Some locations were the same for multiple testers, but they did not have the same ancestors.

While I’m still missing 6 GD1 match locations, with one exception noted previously, the names of the matches look Scandinavian as well.

This message is loud and clear.

Dorcas’s ancestors were Scandinavian before they came to the US. There’s no question. And likely from Finland.


So, maybe Dorcas really didn’t speak English.

But if she didn’t speak English, how did she communicate with her Scottish or Scots-Irish or maybe Dutch husband? The language of love only suffices under specific circumstances😊

And how did they get to Pennsylvania?

But wait?

Didn’t one of the family histories suggest that Peter Johnson was from Wilmington, Delaware and then from Head of Elk, now Elkton, Maryland?

Weren’t those both Swedish settlements?

Head of Elk, Maryland

Sure enough, Head of Elk, Maryland was settled by Swedish mariners and fishermen from Fort Casimir, Delaware, now New Castle, in 1694 – just 15 miles or so upriver.

Here, moving right to left, we see Fort Casmir, Delaware, then Elkton, Maryland, followed by the location on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania where Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips settled in 1742.

One of those early Johnson books says that Peter Johnson spent some time in Frederick County, Virginia which would be near Winchester, Virginia, halfway between 1742 and 1775 on the map. However, many modern researchers discount that and presume that Virginia was mistaken for Maryland. The 1742 land bordered on and extended into Frederick County, Maryland.

However, since Dorcas Johnson married Jacob Dobkins whose father lived on Holman Creek in Dunmore County in 1775, and Rachel Johnson was supposed to have married a John Dobkins, and, Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, Peter Johnson HAD to have spent at least some time in that location in 1775 if these were his daughters. Those girls were certainly not traveling alone during the Revolutionary War.

By 1780, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were in Allegheny County, by Pittsburg where they spent the rest of their lives.

Their daughters had moved on to East Tennessee with their Dobkins husbands, assuming that indeed, Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips.

Conclusions Anyone?

I’m always hesitant to draw conclusions.

However, I would suggest the following:

  • I would expect Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a Swedish settlement that also happened to include people from Finland and Denmark.
  • It would be unlikely for Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a heavily Scots-Irish and German area such as Cumberland County, PA and Frederick County, MD.
  • We have several triangulated matches between my cousin, Greg, who descends from one of Peter Johnson’s sons and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants through multiple children.
  • I match several people autosomally who descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips through their other children.
  • Mary Polly Phillips doesn’t sound very Scandinavian. Was her name anglicized?

How Can We Firm This Up?

The best way to verify that Dorcas Johnson descends from Mary Polly Phillips is to test another person who descends through all females to the current generation through a different daughter. If they are sisters, both descending from Mary Polly Phillips, their descendants’ mitochondrial DNA will match very closely if not exactly.

The only other potential daughters are:

  • Rachel who is reported to have married a Dobkins male, possibly John, and maybe moved to Knox County, Indiana.
  • Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, but she isn’t reported as a daughter of Mary Polly Phillips.
  • Rebecca who may have married John Stephens and might have moved to West Virginia.

That’s a whole lot of maybe.

Finding Rebecca and a mitochondrial DNA descendant would be a huge step in the right direction. The only record I can find that might be Rebecca is in December of 1821 when John Stephens’ will is probated in Boone County, KY with wife, Rachel, daughters Salley, Catharine, Rebecca, Mary, and Rachel who is encouraged to never go back to live with John Smith. Wonderful, a Smith – every genealogists nightmare.

If you descend from this couple, PLEASE get in touch with me!

It doesn’t look like this avenue is very promising, so let’s think outside the box and get creative.

Peter Johnson’s Y DNA

Given that Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were married, they assuredly had to be able to talk, so either she spoke English, or he spoke her Native tongue.

One of the stories about Peter’s family is that he was either Swedish or Dutch, and that his family was from the New Sweden settlement in America.

If this is accurate, then Peter Johnson would have Scandinavian Y and mitochondrial DNA. Since men don’t pass their mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, that route is not available to us, but what about his Y DNA?

Is there a Y DNA test through a Johnson male descendant of Peter Johnson, and if so, what information does it convey?

Can we use the Y DNA test of a descendant of Peter Johnson to help confirm that Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Mary Polly Philips? How would that work?

Stay tuned!


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The Circus Came to Town – 52 Ancestors #356

I’m not sure how to begin this article, or where. The beginning is a bit fuzzy, but the end is clear, crystal clear.

This chapter began when I was looking for my mother and father in the 1950 census, just a few short weeks ago. They weren’t married, at least not to each other at that time. I don’t even know if they had met. I wasn’t a gleam in anyone’s eye for several years in the future. And, truth be told, I came just a hair’s breadth from never existing.

I found my father living in Chicago in the census, but have been unable to locate Mom. At this point, I probably won’t, at least not before the census is indexed.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time reconstructing Mom’s timeline in the late 1940s and 1950, hoping for a hint of where to look.

Early 1950 was a transition in mother’s life. Literally, a door slammed in her face.

Before we visit the 1940s and 1950s, let’s fast forward a few years.

Peru, Indiana

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Silver Lake, Indiana, and mother and I lived in Kokomo, an hour or so away.

That drive was exciting, especially the crooked part between Wabash and US 31. The old road, today, Business 24, follows the Wabash River – the old Indian path, then the pioneer and settlers’ road right through the center of Peru.

The road threaded and shimmied along between the Wabash River and the railroad tracks. At one place, we could stop and use the old hand pump beside the river to get a drink of water.

I vividly remember an old weathered red round barn along that stretch of the road, now long gone.

Peru was known as the Circus City, which made perfect sense to me.

Why was Peru, in the middle of Indiana called the Circus City?

That answer seemed evident to me as a child too.

Just south of Peru, if we were lucky – very, very lucky – we could catch a glimpse of the circus animals in the yard by barns.

Circus animals, in a yard in Peru, Indiana? How did that happen?

Winter Quarters

The circus wintered over just south of Peru, or it least it did at one time. This property had a long circus history beginning in the 1870s, not long after the Civil War. The circus property eventually developed into a small village, then declined.

In 1929, Ringling Brothers bought the winter circus headquarters south of Peru on today’s US 31 which included 30 buildings, horse stables, training facilities, shops to repair and build festive circus wagons, tractors, a hospital, commissary, general store, bunkhouses, a restaurant and more. You can take a look, here, at the buildings being restored.

Today they are known as the Terrell Jacobs Circus Barns.

I remember the land at this intersection, even though the intersection itself looks different today.

These two barns are massive and were built to house the entire cadre of circus animals.

Sometimes, when you drove by, you could see the elephants outside, or maybe large cats or camels. It all seemed magical. From time to time, Mom would pull over and we could watch along the fence line for a while.

One of the barns, at right, is hidden behind trees from the road. It’s actually larger than the smaller barn you can see well, as shown in the aerial above.

In years past, there were more buildings.

The Circus waned during the Great Depression. In 1941 Ringling burned 126 of their decorated wagons, taking the remainder to Sarasota, Florida, and selling the Peru property by 1944.

In the mid/late 1940s into the early 1950s, the Peru property was used by other circuses and for training by Terrell Jacobs who had a wild animal act and performed independently with several circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

By the 1960s, this location outside Peru was used for the Kelly Circus Winter Quarters and a roadside attraction called Pipe Creek Wild Animal Farm which featured small amusement rides and animal acts.

As a young child, when Mom and I drove by these barns, by then pretty decrepit, sometimes she would tell me stories about the circus and the elephants.

It never occurred to me that my mother might have a connection to the circus.

I had never seen an elephant before, so a real, live elephant or two or three was something I would never forget.

Of course, I had an entire raft of questions for my mother.

Why are elephants in Peru, and how did they get there?

The circus used to winter there, she said.

But it’s summer, Mom.

Yes, but for a long time, before the circus moved to Florida, it used to winter in that location, beside the huge barns.

Bigger barns than I had ever seen. Gigantic barns!

Why did the circus move to Florida?

It was warmer in Florida for the performers and the animals.

What performers, Mom?

There were lots of performers that did all kinds of things.

What kinds of things?

Acrobats and clowns and animal trainers.

Then Mom explained that sometimes training those beautiful elephants was mean to them.

I cried, because one day the elephant had oh so very gently reached through the fence and touched my tiny hand with her velvety trunk. She seemed almost human to me. It seemed wrong that she had to live behind the fence. Some of those retired circus elephants could still be alive today.

I could tell that Mom was really uncomfortable talking about the circus and the animals. I stopped asking questions, but I continued to crane my neck to hopefully catch a glimpse of those elephants, wishing them well every time we drove by.

Inevitably, the circus would “come to town,” just like the circus had been coming to towns for decades across America. I desperately wanted to attend. All the other children were going with their parents, making plans. The excitement was palpable.

Mom relented, reluctantly. We purchased tickets and made our way through the crowd to our bleacher seats in the stands high inside the big top.

As I sat there, mesmerized, the lights and glittery costumes were fantastic, awe-inspiring. The performers in the spotlights seemed larger than life. Children aspired to be that amazing – but mother cautioned me that circus life was not all it was cracked up to be.

She mentioned sadness and loneliness.

But the performers all looked so happy – singing and smiling and flying through the air above the floor on trapezes and ropes. These people were so brave.

According to Mom, it was all an act.

Neither the animals nor the humans were happy, but they all performed for the people who thronged to see the circus. What else would they do, if they didn’t perform in the circus, she asked.

It never occurred to me to wonder how or why mother would know that. Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed her. After all, they looked so doggone happy.

How could they be unhappy? And why would they stay if they were?

The Circus

Circus life was intended to look glamourous and to be entertaining. You can view the circus in this 1949 short “moving picture.”

The lives of both the performers and animals were chaotic.

Most circuses moved to a new location by train every day, AND performed twice a day. That’s 7 towns and 14 performances a week during the spring, summer, and fall. Circus life was exhausting.

The larger circuses sometimes stayed a day or two in each location because setting up the massive big top, often a block in length was no small feat. The elephants helped with that too.

Often the train traveled at night, waking up in a new location.

Circuses wintered someplace stationary to repair and train, originally in Peru, Indiana, then in Sarasota, Florida beginning in the 1920s and continuing until 1960. The Peru circus moved to Sarasota in the 1940s.

Today, the Sarasota winter circus site has been developed into a subdivision, but you can still see the outline of the original fairgrounds.

No trace remains today, except the historical marker at the red pin and street names like Circus Boulevard.

Circuses were intended to be exciting and entertaining – accompanied by midways and carnivals with sideshows. Food, games, and performances – pretty much anything to dazzle you and part you with your $$.

This Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Congress of Freaks” (their description, not mine) gives you some idea of what people would pay to see. While staring at people who are different bothers me intensely today, these people in that time and place may have had no other alternatives to earn wages and support themselves. Some of their stories speak to incredible fortitude and success.

After all, the circus was about shock value and entertainment. They wanted you to go home and tell your neighbor about the tallest and smallest or conjoined twins, perhaps, so they would want to come and see too.

Families and relationships between performers were formed around circus life.

For those who have never seen the movie, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, it’s definitely worth a watch, particularly his musical performance, here and Keala Settle’ here. Keala, who plays the bearded woman says it all and her performance in the actual movie is amazing.

I can’t help but think of Mother when I hear Keala sing.

The circus matinees were sometimes free in order to attract people. Who, in town, wanted to be left out of the excitement? There were all kinds of things to buy.

In 1930, the circus train of the Greatest Show on Earth was a whopping 90 cars long which included bright and colorful circus wagons, animal cars, baggage wagons, dining and sleeper cars, and any number of unique sights. Some trains became too long and were divided into groups of 25 cars each, with the advance cars holding the items needed first for setup.

The performers lived in the cars, permanently, in cramped settings allowing few personal items, several roommates to a car.

Everything needed to function was encapsulated on the circus train. Food, laundry, and on the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey train in the 1940s, even a dry-cleaning facility was available for the performer’s costumes as they traveled.

At the next location, unloading the train and then walking to the circus grounds, which were ideally near or beside the train tracks, was a sight to behold. Sometimes the elephants were paraded through town, largest to smallest, holding each other by the tail, to attract attention, generate excitement, and announce that indeed, the circus had arrived. Never any other time in your life would you see an elephant in your town, maybe even in front of your house.

Often, the entire town turned out to watch the process, beginning to end.

The circus tent was nearly a block long and people marveled at the entire circus construction process – and that was before the actual performance itself.

Life for circus performances was different than that of anyone else. Establishing permanent relationships with anyone not with the circus was nearly impossible. How was one to raise children in the circus environment? What if a performer became pregnant? Or even sick, for that matter?

The circus was also a haven for runaways. Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “run away and join the circus.”? No one would ever find you. No one would likely look.

Some people might just have had something to hide, or maybe were hiding from someone.

Perception of the Circus

Women performers were intentionally scantily clad and wore leotards and body-shaped clothes. While some people were enthralled, enchanted, and entertained, others were horrified and equated the circus with sin, depravity, and damnation.

Not everyone was happy when the circus came to town. In northern Indiana, and assuredly other places too, some groups of people including members of very conservative religions were staunchly opposed to the circus and what it represented.

To begin with, and just for starters, the women were immodest. Tempting men. Showing their ankles and even their knees and legs. FOR SHAME!!!!

The Brethren, Amish, and Mennonites, known collectively as Anabaptists, attempt to distance themselves from perceived immorality and anything that would distract them and their families from a simple, unadorned Godly life. Their clothes were dark or black and to this day, many Amish don’t drive cars or have electricity in their homes. Women wear prayer caps, don’t cut their hair and pin it up under their prayer cap. Men don’t shave.

The circus was anything but conservative. In fact, it was intentionally the polar opposite. Flashy and flamboyant.

The circus was perceived as somewhat seedy, at best, attracting winos and people of ill repute. That perception was not entirely wrong. But it wasn’t entirely right either. Not everyone deserved to be tarred with the same brush.

The Ferverda and Miller Families

My grandfather, John Ferverda, mother’s father, was raised in a Brethren home, smack dab in the center of a very conservative Pietist community that stretched across several counties in northern Indiana. His parents were long-time members of the Salem Brethren Church.

His mother was Eva Miller, a descendant of several generations of Brethren families who had been opposed to specific activities within their communities since before they immigrated to the US in the early 1700s. They allowed their land to be confiscated instead of providing service in the Revolutionary War. They moved to a new frontier in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and then another in Indiana. They didn’t take sides in the War of 1812 or the Civil War either. By the time WWI came along, three of Eva’s sons served and the boys were indeed drummed out of the church.

John married a Lutheran woman and he too was the equivalent of excommunicated, called shunning in those religions. Treated as unclean and dirtied by the world, they weren’t even allowed to eat with other Brethren family members, at least not Brethren in good standing.

A few years ago, a cousin told me that her grandmother, the daughter of one of the Miller men, had gone to either the circus or the carnival with a boy. She came home to find her clothes on the porch. She was not welcome back. Not then. Not later that night. Not ever.

Mother (GASP) Danced

The Anabaptist religions don’t include musical instruments in church, or at least they didn’t then. They do sing hymns, but without musical accompaniment.

Dancing was strictly forbidden and condemned as immoral.

As I recall from my youth, if something seemed like fun, by all means, don’t do it.

When dancing, bodies were moved in a sensual way or could be interpreted as such.

Dancers wore makeup. Dance outfits were tight and colorful and showed “things.” Heaven forbid – no, just no.

My grandparents moved about 20 miles down the road from where my grandfather was raised. They lived across the road from my grandfather’s equally as backslidden brother, Roscoe, who also married a woman outside the church. In fact, he divorced and married twice.

Women were expected to be subservient to their husbands, NO MATTER WHAT, and divorce was viewed as adultery.

If Roscoe hadn’t already been shunned, that would clearly have done it. Not only those two things, but he and two of his brothers chose to serve their country in the military.

Mother began dancing at about the same time as mother’s Miller cousin was thrown out of her home and excised from her family for going to the circus or carnival. It doesn’t matter whether it was the circus or carnival, because the circus included a carnival or midway, and they were viewed as equally bad. Very, very family-splitting-worthy bad.

I won’t even comment about what they expected would happen to a young teenage female who had to find a place to live and sleep for the night. Throwing her out seems counter-productive – but I digress.

About the same time, mother became very ill and was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. At ten years of age, her heart was damaged. The doctors told her parents that they recommended ballet dance to strengthen her heart. It was literally a matter of life and death, but there was a problem, aside from the community’s anti-dancing bias.

In the tiny town of Silver Lake, there were no dance instructors. Not only that, there wasn’t even anyone living there who danced and could give mother lessons.

My grandparents decided to drive mother to Fort Wayne, 40 miles each way in their Model-T Ford, twice a week, for dance lessons. The neighbors be damned. Mother’s health was more important.

My grandmother began playing the piano for mother who practiced ballet in the music room. Then, mother began performing in dance recitals with her dance class in Fort Wayne.

Tongues wagged. That area wasn’t entirely conservative, but primarily so. Dancing was against the rules and perceived as immoral by many, many religions – not just the Anabaptists.

Yes, mother wore costumes and YOU COULD SEE HER ARMS AND LEGS!!!

She was only a child but made to feel that dancing was dirty and immoral – and therefore so was she.

Even one of the local ministers thought girls who danced were inviting the affections of “any male.” And yes, he was “any male.”

Nothing hypocritical about condemning her from one side of his mouth while trying to take advantage of the situation. Nope, nothing to see there. Move along folks. After all, it was HER fault, right, because SHE invited men by dancing. Of course, a 10-year-old inviting grown men. (I hope you can hear my dripping sarcasm.)

Yes, indeed, dancing was immoral and so were dancers, even young girls who danced to strengthen their hearts after being deathly ill for a year.

It’s difficult to not be affected by all of that targeted negativity.

Mother continued to dance, then taught dancing.

She married her high school sweetheart just before he shipped off for overseas during WWII.

Mom became pregnant during their abbreviated honeymoon and lived with her parents, waiting for her new husband to return from the war so they could set up housekeeping and begin their married life.

He came home from the war alright, just not to her. Suffice it to say that Mom was heartbroken. Clearly, there was no future for them, and divorce resulted at a time when divorce was quite uncommon.

If tongues were wagging before, they were out of control and slapping tonsils by that time. Of COURSE the marriage failed. Mom DANCED! Never mind that she had been living at home with her parents and baby and doing nothing else for that entire time and HE was the one who stepped out. Or more accurately stated, he came home to someone else.

Once divorced, Mom had to somehow figure out how to support herself and her son.

Her dream, the American dream of getting married, settling down, and having a baby was dead. That dream could only exist with a husband.

Now Mom was not only a dancer, she was a divorced dancer. Might as well have that scarlet letter D tattooed dead center on her forehead. The depths of her perceived immorality now seemed bottomless.

There was absolutely no future for her in Silver Lake or in any conservative location. But she had to somehow support and care for her child.

The arrangement arrived upon by all parties concerned, including both grandmothers, was that my grandparents would retain physical custody of my half-brother, my mother would work and Dan, her former husband, would pay $4 a week child support to my grandparents.

A very unusual arrangement for 1943 or 1944.

My mother only had one skill set. You guessed it. Dancing. She had no choice. There were no jobs in Silver Lake, she had no other skills and no “decent man” back then and there would EVER consider marrying a sullied divorcee who DANCED!

Within a few months, Mom borrowed clothes, traveled to Chicago and auditioned for the Dorothy Hild Dancers who performed exclusively at the upscale lakeside Edgewater Beach Hotel, opening for famous acts like Bing Crosby.

Being welcomed into the dance troupe meant that Mom “turned pro,” beginning her professional dancing career.

Mom’s dream was to become a bookkeeper, but she had a child to support.


In Chicago, Mom met Frank Sadowski, a medical student and the brother of one of the other Dorothy Hild Dancers. Mom and Frank fell in love and became engaged before he shipped out overseas. Once again, she could look forward to the future out from under the grey cloud of criticism that loomed, ever-waiting, back home in Indiana.

On April 19, 1945, Frank was killed in action attempting to save another man.

Not only was mother’s world destroyed, she was devasted. Hope for the future was gone. Back in Indiana, those wagging tongues blamed an immoral lifestyle – suggesting that mother deserved whatever happened to her – no matter how bad that something might be.

By this time, mother had lost any hope for a “normal” married life; lost her first husband to an unwelcome divorce, lost her son due to the circumstances, and lost the love of her life to death.

Frank was handsome, kind, and brave. Everything she could ever want. He loved her for who she was, loved her son, and he was gone.

Mom really struggled with Frank’s death – not just then – but throughout her remaining life. I wrote Frank’s story as I uncovered the details, to honor both of them, here.

Frank’s body wasn’t returned home, at least not right away. Mom said there was no closure with no body and no funeral.

On May 8th, just three weeks after Frank’s death, Mom appeared in a jubilant public Chicago celebration when a truce was reached in Europe. Frank had died needlessly. Mom was glad for others, but tears slid down her face as she sang in the performance.

Mom became incredibly thin during this time, almost emaciated.

Mom was still dancing with Dorothy Hild in May and June, but by September of 1945, she had struck out on her own as a solo act character dancer – an entertainer in high-end show clubs where she was compared to Miss America.

Mother kept scrapbooks that detailed her performances when something was printed in newspapers. She cut and pasted ads detailing her appearances across the eastern half of the US. Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and along the Mississippi River near St. Louis, specifically in Cairo, Illinois.

But then….

Radio Silence

Mom stopped clipping items for her scrapbook, or maybe a scrapbook is missing. Regardless, we know nothing after late 1945, although there are many undated clippings from across the country.

At MyHeritage, I found a newspaper article in the Warsaw Daily Times in Indiana dated October 8, 1947, that reported that my grandparents traveled to Cairo, Illinois to bring Mom home because she had broken two bones in her foot. Mom was to remain home with her parents until the broken bones healed.

Mom later told me that a dancer’s feet never really heal when bones are broken.

I can just hear the neighbors, can’t you? ‘You know, if she hadn’t been dancing…”

I don’t know how long Mom remained in Silver Lake, but I’m sure she was miserable there. My brother would have been 4. If there was nothing in Silver Lake for mother 3 or 4 years earlier, there was even less for her there in 1947.

She still had no skills other than dancing.

By sometime in 1948, mother was performing again.

We find Mom starring as “Miss Zenith Radio,” performing in Omaha, Nebraska.

For the first time, I noticed that the emcee is a person who appears to suffer from dwarfism. This may or may not be relevant, but keep it in mind.


To say that Frank’s death rocked Mom’s world would be an understatement.

Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace

Some people already considered professional dancing of any type as burlesque, which originally meant a type of variety show but eventually became synonymous with striptease. Recently a historian documenting the life of dancers in Chicago referred to ballroom and upscale hotel dance troupes like the Dorothy Hild Dancers as family burlesque.

Unless you were morally opposed to dancing, these dancers did nothing that would be objectional for any family member to see.

By Christianmsufan88 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85214616

In fact, families frequented the posh Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room where the show would commence after dinner.

Mother continued to dance, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. Frank’s body had still not been returned from Okinawa. I think there was a tiny piece of her that hoped against hope that Frank was somehow still alive. That there had been a case of mistaken identity and one day she would discover Frank was actually in the hospital someplace, not in a temporary or unmarked grave.

Military records show that Frank’s father ordered his headstone in February 1949, and Frank was finally laid to rest on March 23, 1949, in Chicago.

Frank’s own father, a physician, apparently had doubts as well and performed an autopsy of sorts to assure that the body in the coffin was really Frank. It was. I can’t fathom what that father went through, opening his son’s casket and body bag.

Somehow that seems to have been a fork-in-the-road turning point in Mom’s life.

The next chronological record I found in her “Suitcase of Life” with the scrapbooks that she left me was her performer’s union card.

On June 1, 1949, Mom withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists in Chicago which was a labor union that supported performing artists, including entertainers and circus performers.

Whatever Mom had been doing, wherever, she seemed to retire at this point, but why?

What was she doing?

And where?

Did the return of Frank’s body and his burial have anything to do with that?

What I didn’t know, at least not at that point, is that something was missing.

Mother Meets William Foy Large

There were gaps in mother’s life after Frank’s death, specifically part of 1947, most of 1948, and the first few months of 1949.

At some point during this time, she met William Foy Large, known as Foy.

Sit down.

Brace yourself for this…

Foy was a one-legged acrobat who performed with the circus.

Additionally, he ran a dry-cleaning operation on the circus train.

And appeared in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” Sideshows.

She didn’t just meet him, she married him.

Far away, in Florida.

On April 26, 1949, mother and Foy applied for a marriage license in Tampa, Florida. According to their application, he was 22 years older than her. Mom was only 26, even though she had lived through a lifetime of Hellish grief already. He was 48.

If you’re picking your jaw up off the floor, well, so did I.

I knew that she had been married briefly and that his surname was Large, but there was a whole lot I didn’t know. Probably a whole lot I still don’t know and never will.

Here’s what I do know, positively. My mother was suffering and had been, at least since Frank’s death. Earlier, she had become socially ostracized in the small town where she grew up – beginning when she was 10 years old. There was no place left to turn.

Women who are “marked” within their community never have the opportunity to recover.

Their only option is to leave and “live it down” elsewhere, even if the “it” in this case was simply dancing to strengthen her heart as a 10-year-old child. Everyplace and everything Mom tried unraveled, adding another layer of sorrow and another negative stripe to her supposed “desirability” to a male in good social standing. Certainly, that applied to males where she grew up who by that time had married their high school sweethearts and were already farming and raising families.

Maybe Mom had all she could take. Reached her breaking point.

Maybe Mom ran away to join the circus too, ran away to marry one of the performers.

Maybe she just wanted to escape and start over someplace else.

Maybe she found common ground with Foy, and he understood – having lived much of that himself.

Four days later, the marriage license was issued, and they were married by a judge on April 30, 1949.

Mom had the one and only photo of them together tucked into this certificate of marriage, so I would presume that was their wedding day, outside, after the nuptials. She is holding her hand with a ring on “the ring finger” so that’s it’s visible on her purse.

April 30th

If that date looks familiar to you, it’s because it was exactly today’s date, 73 years ago.

Additionally, Mom passed away, exactly 16 years ago today.

The anniversary of mother’s death has always been quite difficult for me. It’s not just a day, but the two weeks leading up to her death – so more of a season. She suffered during those two weeks, which meant I suffered – both of us needlessly.

Now I’ve discovered there was more to this date than I knew.

What Happened?

How the heck did Mom meet up with Foy and get to Florida?

According to their marriage license application, she was living in Silver Lake and he gave his address as Windsor, California. Both listed their occupations as entertainers.

The circus wintered in Sarasota, Florida, just south of Tampa where Mom married Foy just 35 days after Frank was buried.

A month later, on June 1st, Mom withdrew her membership from the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Did she return to Chicago to do that? Did she mail something? Did she actually submit her resignation before she left? Was this her commitment to a new life with Foy? Goodbye to the past?

My first thought was that perhaps she was performing with the circus, but that same union represented circus performers.

The rest of the story, the part Mom did eventually tell me plus what I’ve found out since make that scenario unlikely.

What Do We Know About William Foy Large?

William Foy Large’s life was no bowl of cherries either.

He was born in Lancaster, Texas on August 28, 1894. How is it even possible that my mother was married to a man born in the 19th century and old enough to be her father?

In 1900, the Large family was still living near Dallas, Texas, but by the 1910 census, they had moved to a farm in Ohio.

In 1917, Foy registered for the draft giving his address as Aberdeen Avenue, Linden Heights, Ohio, part of the Dayton metropolitan area. He was a “telegrath operator” (sic) for the B&O Railroad in Blacklick, Ohio, just east of Columbus. He was single, Caucasian and claimed a military exemption because of the loss of “mi leg” (sic). He was tall and slender, with dark blue eyes and light-colored hair.

In 1920 on the census, Foy is 25 years old and is living with his parents in a different location in Ohio, but still listed as a telegraph operator at the railroad office.

As luck would have it, his application for employment dated July 8, 1920, with the Pacific Railway still exists. He claims he doesn’t use alcohol, but the answer to question 13 just chilled me to the bone.

“Have you ever suffered any physical injury?

William: Yes

“If so, state when, where and nature of injury.”

William: July 15, 1902. Portsmouth Ohio – left leg amputated

I’m sure that’s a date he never forgot until the day he died.

However, when asked if any ailment or defect might render him unfit for railroad service, he answered “no.”

That says a lot about his perspective.

On December 7, 1923, Foy married Martha Vannerson in Maricopa, Arizona. The newspaper article announcing their marriage said he was from Columbus, Ohio and she was from Chicago.

What were they doing in Maricopa, Arizona?

This next item provides a clue.

On November 9, 1925, a photo of Foy and another performer are shown as acrobats with the Bob Morton Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida.

An article a couple of days later explains the men’s unusual stories more fully.

And yes, for the record, I’m horrified about the Klan. I had no idea they hired circuses and other acts for entertainment and probably to raise money for their dastardly deeds.

Thanks to this article, we now know how Foy joined the circus, although mother’s version is slightly less glamourous. Mom said he joined as a ticket seller, but let’s face it, that doesn’t make NEARLY as good of a story as the one-legged acrobat who secretly excelled, conquering his disability and then burst upon the circus scene so grandly that the show was stopped because he was just that dazzling.

Personally, I’d like to believe the newspaper version.

A few days later, on November 18th, the St. Petersburg paper reports that Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Large of Columbus, Ohio are guests at the Floronton Hotel during their sojourn in the city. Clearly, Martha was along.

Apparently, the dynamic acrobatic duo didn’t last long, because by 1930, Foy was living in New York City.

In the 1930 census, he’s living at 109 West 46th Street in Manhattan, a lodger, along with a whole raft of other lodgers. Additionally, he’s married, shown with Martha, age 19, also married and one Albert Large, age 70, widowed. All three are shown as actors in the theater as are many of the other lodgers, although some have no occupation listed at all.

Albert appears to be Foy’s 70-year-old widowed father. This is confusing because his father is also enumerated in California and was never an actor.

The head of household is a printer, so I wonder if all of these lodgers are renting rooms above a print shop.

That address looks to be right about here today, in the heart of the Theater District, just a block off Times Square and two blocks from Rockefeller Center. It looks like Foy gave acting a hero’s try.

Martha, a beautiful lady, would become a performer in the Barnes-Floto Circus and other circuses, later.

On April 2, 1932, the Spokane, Washington, newspaper stated that at the Fox Theater, two one-legged men, Foy Large and Frank Morgner were exceptionally clever in an athletic feature.

In December of 1932, William and Martha are listed on an incoming British passenger list, New York to Southampton. They were headed for the Joster Agency, Leicester Square, in London, noted as performers. Others on the same ship were headed to the Palladium Theater in London, the most famous variety theater in the world. Leicester Square is the entertainment hub of London, including the Royal Opera House.

A few months later, on April 28, 1933, William Foy Large, without Martha, is listed aboard the SS Gerolstein which sailed from Le Havre, France to New York. He listed his birth date and location, but his address in the US is shown as Windsor, California, Route 1, Box 158.

Apparently, he was done with New York City.

Foy is listed on the voter registration list between 1938-1940 at the same Windsor, Sonoma County, California address as his father who is listed as a farmer. Foy is noted as a rancher. Apparently, his father’s home is Foy’s “home base.” I’m guessing Foy wasn’t actually home often.

It’s through Foy’s divorce from Martha, published in the Logansport, Indiana newspaper on January 3, 1936, that we find Foy’s connection to Peru, Indiana.

Where was Foy on March 1, 1935? I have no idea. Apparently, neither did Martha.

Given the divorce, it’s safe to say that Foy spent some nontrivial amount of time in Peru, the home of the Hagonbeck-Wallace Circus that wintered there. That circus split from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in 1935.

The history of circuses in the US is similar to the mergers of banks- a knotted tangle. Purchases and mergers and many of the same families behind various organizations.

Their divorce was granted on March 16, 1936.

Foy was free to go his own way, although it appears that he already had. Although in that time and place, there was no such thing as “no-fault” divorce, so maybe the couple just decided Foy would be “at fault” so they could get divorced.

This time, Foy’s adventures took him all the way to another continent – Australia!

The story of Frank’s leg was told in a Melbourne, Australia newspaper in December of 1938.

I thought I recalled Mom saying he lost his leg in a train accident – caught between boxcars as a child and then run over. I still cringe just thinking about that.

The next day, this photo appeared in the Perth Sunday Times stating that they were with the Ripley “Believe it or Not” Strip. I’m guessing Foy is the man at left.

Another article says they had the courage to offset the tragic disability of the loss of a leg each by capitalizing their misfortune into a really first-class athletic show – one that would make for more fortunate brethren look to their laurels.

It appears that in addition to being performers, they were also in the sideshows as “freaks.”

On March 5, 1939, according to the ship’s manifest, Foy returned from Sydney, Australia, landing in San Francisco, his home listed once again at the Windsor, California address. He spent (at least) three months in Australia.

I don’t find Foy was in the 1940 census. He wasn’t living with his 80-year-old father on Laughlin Road between Mark West Station Road and Slusser Road in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California. I doubt that many circus performers were accounted for in the census.

I don’t know what crops they raised back then, but today, Laughlin Road is wine country.

Never one to let moss grow under his feet, or foot, when he registered for the draft in 1942 (probably April 27th), he registered in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, but he gave his address as Windsor, Sonoma County, California at the same address he had been using for years.

Then 48 years old, Foy gave W.A. Large, his father, at the same address as the person who will always know where he lives. Six feet tall and 145 pounds, Foy had blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. This left leg was “off above the knee.”

In 1944, he and Martha were living in an apartment in Newport News, Virginia according to the city directory.

Wait? What? Is that even possible? They were divorced in 1936 – 8 years earlier.

Maybe there’s another William F. Large with a wife named Martha V.? I suppose it’s possible, but it’s very unlikely.

After that sighting in1944, we don’t find Foy again for several years. However, by inference, I can tell you where he was at least part of that time.

Peru and Florida Again

Somehow, Foy and Mother met. How I wish I had asked more questions while I could. I didn’t, because I could tell Mom was uncomfortable with this topic. She was embarrassed about this entire episode, probably, in part because he had abandoned her. Yep, he dumped Mom, and that story sounds very familiar. Maybe Martha and Mom should have compared notes before she married Foy.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

Was their courtship one of immediate infatuation? Love at first sight? Was Foy an excellent actor, knowing how to mold himself to be, at least for a short amount of time, what women wanted? Mom did mention that he was very handsome and we already know he was athletic.

The circus wintered in Tampa, Florida, where Mom married William Foy Large just a month and a few days after Frank’s burial.

They were married by a judge, here in the Tampa Courthouse. Marched up those steps twice – once to apply and once to pick up the license and find the judge.

Did Mom call her parents afterward to tell them? She must have felt quite alone. No wedding gown or celebration with family.

Did Mom meet Foy in or near Peru, near her parent’s home? Had she gone back home to deal with Frank’s death and such?

Did they travel to Florida together to marry, which would suggest strongly that my grandparents did not approve?

Or, did she meet Foy and correspond with him over time – later joining him for matrimony?

Why did she marry Foy? Foy was 28 years older than she was, born in 1894. Did she know that before she married him? She wouldn’t have been the first bride to discover those types of discrepancies by looking at dates on her soon-to-be husband’s marriage application while waiting for the judge.

How did Mom get to Florida anyway? I’m suspecting she traveled by train. She would not have owned a car and there were lots of train tracks into Sarasota thanks to the circus.

The interstates didn’t exist then, either. Just two-lane highways.

“Old Florida,” Homosassa, an hour north of Tampa looked like this in 1950. Did Mom see the countryside dressed in gently blowing Spanish Moss passing by as she swayed back and forth in the train car lumbering across the country? Was she hopeful, or did she have a premonition that something wasn’t quite right?

What was mother signing up for?

What was circus life like?

Circus Life in Florida in 1949/1950

I was able to find several photos of the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Library of Congress and Florida’s archives.

The Ringling family was quite wealthy, with a mansion and upscale hotel in Sarasota, Florida. However, the performers were anything but and the circus’s winter quarters were at the Sarasota County fairgrounds.

The circus winter quarters was not a vacation. It could better be viewed as an extended practice session.

Circus wagons got a fresh coat of paint. New acts were developed. Maintenance was performed and new costumes created.

The Big Top was erected in a field. Local residents came to see the free shows on Sundays.

Abandoned Ringling Brothers Circus bleachers and buildings in Sarasota after they left in 1960.

Mother probably sat in these very bleachers just a decade earlier.

The circus train cars were repaired and maintained as well. The circus train was more than a mile long and functioned not only as transportation and a home on wheels but as a traveling advertisement too.

This aerial photo of the Sarasota Ringling Brothers winter quarters was taken in 1951.

Notice the many railyards at bottom. The winter quarters included housing for the performers, staff, and animals. A few people rented short-term accommodations outside of the complex, near or in Gibsonton that became known as a sideshow wintering “carney” town that catered to circus members. Gibsonton even had a post office with a dwarf-height counter and became known as the place where everyone who lived there had run away with the circus. Many circus and carnival members retired in Gibsonton among people “like themselves.”

Another 1951 aerial view of the circus winter quarters.

The Big Top is erected, at right. The dormitory is the large white building that housed up to 1600 members of the cast and crew.

A rare color photo from 1949 shows the audience watching performances.

Free shows every Sunday were available for the locals.

The elephants performing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Is Mom one of the people sitting in the bleachers? If not that day, then certainly another.

The dorm building is shown in the background.

The circus winter quarters were self-sufficient – just like the circus trains were.

In the late 1940s, Loomis Dean, a photographer rode along with the circus for a year and took some amazing documentary photos. You can read more, here.

In an interview in the 1990s, Loomis summed circus life up pretty well:

The privacy was minimal, and the ambiance created by this conglomeration of athletes and beauties and adventurers and freaks and con merchants often resembled a pressure cooker on a slow flame. There were some bizarre happenings, to be sure, most of which occurred in the wee hours in the vast darkness of the railroad yards. Invariably, the yards were surrounded by an assortment of seedy bars and hotels. These were grim and grimy places under the best of circumstances, although they took on a kind of spooky Dante’s Inferno glitter when the circus mob descended into town, pouring into its streets and saloons.

The last Sarasota winter show of the 1947 season. The circus normally left its winter quarters sometime in March.

In 1948, crowds gather to watch the circus train leave winter quarters in Sarasota.

The arrival and departure of the circus was an event itself. Locals all came out to watch- waving goodbye or welcoming the circus home again.

The circus wasn’t just a career or a job – it was a way of life. Sometimes for generations.

If you were going to marry a circus performer, or worker, you were going to work in the circus too. Nobody rode for free. Work was the price of admission.

Everyone worked. Married circus couples who had children often taught their children age-appropriate acts, such as trampoline as early as age 5. Kids sold tickets and other non-dangerous work.

A marriage where both partners didn’t travel with the circus wasn’t likely to survive. As difficult as circus life was, people did marry and lived their entire adult life traveling with various circuses.

According to the embedded photographer:

Love always seemed on the mind of circus folk, although given the cramped quarters, liaisons often took place in lumberyards, warehouses, or even, in extremis, ditches. For all the licentiousness of these scenes, however, I was surprised to discover that the circus had a rigid sexual caste system that made certain relationships taboo.

At the lowest level were the casual laborers, most of whom were winos who joined the show for a few days or weeks and then disappeared into the void. One level up were the workingmen—the roustabouts and the canvasbacks. Then there were the wranglers and grooms who took care of the 1,000 animals on the train. Above them were the sideshow freaks, above them were the propmen and riggers, and above them were the ushers and band members.

The young showgirls were next up the ladder, and one rung higher still were the monied aristocracy, aka the ticket sellers. The Brahmins were the featured acts, the executives, and of course, the stars.

Based on this, Foy, both a performer and a “freak” was far from the bottom social rung. Based on his marriages, he clearly mixed it up with the young showgirls. If he actually was a ticket seller at some point, he was higher still, which might explain his attraction to the decades-younger female performers.

The circus train, steaming into the circus grounds, returned to winter quarters sometime in October or November, although the timeframe varied. Sometimes, if problems occurred such as the horrific 1944 Hartford fire, a circus would retire to winter quarters early.

Everyone must have looked forward to this break and opportunity to recharge and regroup. This was the only chance to stay in one place for more than a night or two, at most.

Often, practice was held outside.

The acrobats are flying above and dogs are being trained below. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus included a thousand animals.

Circus performers exiting the train in Sarasota in 1951 during the filming of the award-winning, highly-acclaimed movie, The Greatest Show on Earth which was filmed on-site – in Sarasota and along 60,000 miles of train tracks. If I didn’t know better, and the year is off by one year, 1950 vs 1951, I would swear that the dark-haired woman at right on the steps is Mother. You can watch a clip, here.

Did Mother Understand What Circus Life Meant?

Is Circus life what mother signed up for? Did she understand what that meant?

She was a beautiful woman and a talented performer, but circus life was different than dancing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers. For beginners, there was an entire culture attached to the circus that was very different from the comparatively sheltered professional dance troupes.

Did mother and Foy marry in Florida just before the circus left their winter quarters for performances across the country? Did she accompany him? Did she perform with the circus or work one of the jobs?

Based once again on scanty information, I believe that shortly after their wedding, such as it was, Foy left with the circus train, and mother stayed in Florida.

Obituaries are notoriously wrong in terms of locations of descendants, but Foy’s mother’s obituary, published on July 8, 1949, in California says Foy is a resident of New York City.

I’m guessing here, but I’d wager that Foy spent the 1949 summer on the road, or more specifically, on the train, criss-crossing the country without mother.

Whatever brought Mother and Foy together didn’t last.

If she didn’t accompany Foy on the train, what did she do while he was gone? Did she stay in Florida and get a job there? Did she return to Indiana, intending to go back to Florida when the circus returned to winter quarters?

Was there a plan? She had already resigned from the union, so she was unlikely to be performing someplace.

Whatever she thought was going to happen, I’m sure this wasn’t in mother’s plan.

Mom and Foy were married in Tampa. The circus wintered in Sarasota, but he filed for divorce in Charlotte County, Florida only 9 months after they were married.

Was that where mother was living in January of 1950?

Mother said that she was divorced from William Foy Large in Bradenton Florida. That’s not the same location, but it is right beside Sarasota. Perhaps that’s where she was living, at least part of the time. The divorce was final on March 21, 1950.

It appears that the winter quarter hiatus was just long enough to get either married or divorced.

I need to order those divorce records. For one thing, they may help me know where to look for mother in the 1950 census, taken just a month later. No wonder I can’t find her.

Mom may have been living someplace in Florida. I know one place she isn’t living – with her parents in Indiana.

Mom didn’t talk much about this marriage, but when, as an adult, I found a photo of Mom and Foy along with the Certificate of Marriage, she did explain, at least somewhat.

Mom said they were never really able to live together after they were married, as they were both traveling. She said she received divorce papers shortly after they were married as he “was never one to be alone.”  She indicated that she wasn’t surprised, but I could tell that it still pained her. She would only have been 26 in 1949 when they married and just turned 27 when she received divorce papers. Rejected again!

My heart aches for my young mother. In the 9 years since she graduated from high school, she had married her high school sweetheart, only to have her husband come home to someone new without even telling her he was home.

Then, divorced, she went to Chicago to dance to support her son.

She met Frank who was killed.

She may have gone back home to regroup.

She met Foy and everything must have seemed rosy.

She journeyed to Florida to begin a new chapter of her life, only to find herself alone. I’m presuming here that her parents did not approve.

Was she even able to go home for Christmas in 1949 to see her parents and son?

Then, just after New Year’s, she was served with divorce papers, again.

She had already withdrawn from the performers’ union.

What was she to do?

What would she do?

Where would she go?

What Happened to Foy?

He got married again, and quickly.

On November 21, 1950, the Sarasota newspaper reports that William Foy Large, age 50 had taken a marriage license with Angela Antalek Reynolds, age 31, also of Sarasota.

According to her 1947 petition for naturalization in Sarasota, Florida, she was a circus performer who was born in Hungary, immigrated in 1937, and married a US citizen in 1943.

Maybe now Mom’s comment about Foy never being alone makes more sense – especially taken in combination with the commentary about life on the circus trains from the embedded photojournalist.

Maybe that’s what Foy was doing on the circus train while they were married.

Apparently, Foy remained in Florida, at least for a few years.

In 1953, he flipped his car.

March 2, 1955 – Ringling Brothers may attempt again to air-condition the Big Top. Also Foy Large is back from a European Thrift Tour.

In 1955, he is living in the waterfront Franklin Manor apartments in Sarasota on the Tamiami Trail where he files the intention to register the business name of Swift Deluxe Cleaners and Laundry Services. This suggests he may no longer be traveling with the circus.

In 1958, Foy is living in the La Tosca Trailer Park (owned by the Canestrelli Circus family on Fruitville Road) in Sarasota, Florida, and petitions the city council for an agreement to have a concession stand on the Ringling Causeway opened to competitive bidding. He says he would offer better service than is presently being offered. That petition was eventually denied.

By 1958, Foy was 64 years old. His days as an acrobat were probably long behind him, which is why he was likely petitioning to open a concession and a cleaners.

He was planning for his Act 2, except for Foy, it was act several-hundred and something.

At some point, he divorced again given that his third wife married someone else.

I lost track of Foy other than discovering that he died in San Francisco, California on April 8, 1979. To the best of my knowledge, Mother had no contact with him after their divorce. She wasn’t angry with him. He was simply inconsequential and didn’t exist. I know she was embarrassed about that whole episode.

She might have run away to marry the acrobat and join the circus, or not, but she came back.

What About Mother?

I’m still hoping to locate Mom in the 1950 census, although this search for her has probably provided more information and insight than the census itself ever could. I wish I could just ask her. I wish I had asked her.

Mom eventually went back to Indiana, but I don’t know when, or where.

In 1951 and 1952, mother was living in Fort Wayne. In 1951, according to the city directory, she was working as a salesperson at Lerner’s Department store and by 1952, she was assistant manager.

In 1951, she lived at 534 Meyer in this cute little yellow house.

In 1952, she lived at 514 Madison, a building that no longer exists.

At some point, Mother returned to Chicago and lived with a widow woman named Mommie McKenzie who rented to female boarders.

They would go to the pet cemetery so Mommie McKenzie and her current fur-family members could visit the graves of those already passed over.

Mother met my father on a train, but I’m unclear whether she met him when she moved back to Chicago, or if she met him earlier and perhaps he had something to do with her moving back.

When Mom was pregnant for me, she worked in a department store in downtown Chicago in the dress department. Mom used to tell me about dressing the mannequins in the window. Those were days when department stores were full-service, and sales clerks assisted customers in the dressing room, bringing them items to try on.

The Final Ironic Twist

My brother John told me that at some point, Mom worked in Lafayette, Indiana as a bookkeeper, which, ironically, is what she originally wanted to do instead of dance.

Perhaps those heartbreaking relationships which I refuse to call “failed marriages,” because neither had even a remote chance of succeeding, were just stepping-stones on her journey to where she needed to be.

They were assuredly stepping-stones to me through my father.

My parents moving to Kokomo after I was born would be the gateway to eventually meeting my wonderful step-father after my father died and would launch me on my journey to where I sit today.

I can’t help but think about the possible path my life could have taken. Had her marriage to Foy worked out, I wouldn’t have been me. “Me,” as I know it, would never have existed.

I Hope You Dance

The beginning of this chapter in mother’s life was a bit murky, but the end was not. That door closed with a resounding slam.

Mother must have cried her way back to Indiana to lick her wounds and suffer the indignity of even more condemnation in Silver Lake. Truthfully, I hope those gossips never knew what happened, because you know they would have somehow blamed her.

It’s no wonder mother never wanted to discuss things she suspected would or might result in judgment. She had already suffered enough under that cruel mantle.

What I don’t think Mom ever knew is that there were also people who admired her and respected her for her bravery and fortitude. Few stood up to and survived that kind of systemic chastisement.

Mother’s cousin would be born in Silver Lake about the time Frank died, but before Mom’s Florida year. The cousin would grow up silently watching Mom, absorbing the fact that yes, one COULD leave and it was possible for a female to select a different path.

By the time her cousin was old enough to have internalized those epiphanies, Mom had passed through the gates of grief and was doing much better. All that was left for her young cousin to see was a brave woman who had beaten the odds. My cousin had no idea how painful and difficult that journey had been.

And yes, if you haven’t guessed, Mom also raised another one of those women.

Mother, on this, the anniversary of your passing from this earth, You Raise Me Up.

Go Rest High on That Mountain, now. Your work is done and you deserve it.

And Mom, I Really, Really Hope You’re Still Dancing.

I will forever miss you.

Thank you for persevering, even when it was horrifically painful and seemed impossible.

You won.


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Mitochondrial DNA Webinar is Free for 5 Days PLUS Mitochondrial DNA Test Now on Sale

Wow, the Wringing Every Drop Out of Mitochondrial DNA webinar yesterday was SO MUCH FUN. The lovely comments from attendees below the video say it all. Thank you to the 1800 or so people who signed up, joined us for the webinar and provided those kind reviews.

I’m so glad that folks are excited and already making breakthroughs using their mitochondrial DNA results.

In the webinar, I not only explained HOW mitochondrial DNA works and what your mutations and results mean, but shared some of my secrets of how to make mitochondrial DNA work harder for your genealogy.

Thanks to Legacy Family Tree Webinars, the webinar is still free for everyone through May 4th and can be viewed here.

Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll see.

The accompanying 34-page syllabus for the webinar is a feature of a paid membership.

Webinar Memberships Half Price

Legacy Family Tree Webinar memberships are currently half price, at this link, using coupon code 1750 for new members. Memberships are normally just $49.95 but right now, with the coupon code, a membership costs just $24 plus change for a full year. Your membership gives you access to all 1765 webinars in the library, and the library grows every week. The sale pricing ends Saturday, April 30th.

Here are a few of my other webinars available in the library.

The most popular webinar, though, is my Genealogy Case Study session with more than 27,000 views. That’s amazing to me. 27,000 is the size of some stadiums and EVERYONE is interested in DNA.

Mother’s Day DNA Mitochondrial DNA Sale

Sweetening the mitochondrial deal, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is on sale right now at FamilyTreeDNA for Mother’s Day for $139 (through May 9th) which represents a $20 savings.

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Build Your Genealogical DNA Pedigree Chart

Don’t forget, to build your DNA pedigree chart, you’ll need to find people to test for the mitochondrial DNA of the ancestors in your tree whose mitochondrial DNA you don’t carry personally.

Men and women both have their mother’s mitochondrial DNA, who has her mother’s, on up the tree in a straight matrilineal line, of course (pink arrow) – but testing your father will provide you with your paternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA.

In this chart, the colored hearts track back to the ancestors that color represents – in other words – that person’s matrilineal ancestors.

Who do you know among your current relatives that would be candidates to test to represent specific ancestors? First cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, your Dad? You only need one tester per ancestral line unless there is some uncertainty about the maternal genealogy of that line.

In the webinar, I discuss some of the methods I use to find testing candidates descended from a female ancestor through all women to the current generation, which can be men. Men can test because they have the mitochondrial DNA of their mothers, but men just don’t pass it on to their children. Only mothers pass it on.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Like I said in the webinar, you don’t know what you don’t know. I found an unexpected surprise in my own mother’s line and found a Native ancestor in another line when a cousin tested. I try to locate someone from every ancestral line and provide that person with a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship.

Even if the match you desperately need to break through that brick wall isn’t there today, your mitochondrial DNA is waiting and fishing 24×7. That match may appear tomorrow or the next day. If you don’t test, that critical match might be waiting for you, but you’ll never know.

There’s no better time to order tests than when they are on sale. The mitochondrial DNA mtFull test normally costs $159 but is on sale, here for $139 now through May 9th.


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Wringing Every Drop Out of Mitochondrial DNA – FREE Webinar

Please join me on Wednesday, April 27th at 2 PM EDT for Wringing Every Drop out of Mitochondrial DNA at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.


  • In this webinar, we will learn step-by-step how to utilize mitochondrial DNA testing at FamilyTreeDNA to get the most out of your results.
  • We begin with mitochondrial education, then we’ll look at little-known methods to obtain information, even if your match doesn’t have a tree.
  • We’ll talk about using resources such as Geni, WikiTree Ancestry’s ThruLines, MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, and others to break down mitochondrial brick walls.
  • We’ll discuss FamilyTreeDNA projects and show an example of using mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with autosomal for a slam-dunk.
  • Last, we’ll have an update about The Million Mito Project and why it’s important to you.

You can register at this link and enjoy the webinar for free.

Webinar is Free for 7 Days

Legacy Family Tree Webinars provide free access to webinars for 7 days. However, if you subscribe for $49.95, you also have access to the syllabus AND all 1762 other webinars in the library.

You can click here to subscribe and enter the code 1750 at checkout to receive a 50% discount (for new subscribers only) through the end of April.


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Where Was Peter Johnston (c1720-c1794) in 1775? – 52 Ancestors #355

Working with my cousin, Greg Simkins, we’ve proven that we share common ancestors in the article DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors?.

In the weeks since I wrote that article, I’ve been digging, and digging, and digging. By now, I’m about halfway to China, I’m sure.

Let’s start in the middle, at the most important part, because if I can ELIMINATE Peter Johnson as my ancestor, Dorcas Johnson’s parent, then I don’t really need to reconstruct all of Peter Johnson’s life. Right?

Conversely, I’d love to confirm him as my ancestor.

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus and other ways) has been attributed as one of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips’ children, but the source of that information has always been murky. Maybe murky isn’t the right word. Absent would be more accurate.

What we do know is that Dorcas or Darcus Johnson married Jacob Dobkins in Shenandoah County, Virginia in 1775.

We also know that Margaret Johnson, also attributed as a daughter of Peter Johnston and his wife married Jacob’s brother, Evan Dobkins on January 30, 1775 in the same location.

Dunmore County was formed in 1772, then renamed Shenandoah in 1778. Dunmore County records are now Shenandoah County records.

Of course, the Revolutionary War occurred during this timeframe – and that’s evident looking at the marriage records. 1775 looks to be nearly complete, at least through early October. Records end at that point, with nothing in 1776. Five marriages are recorded in 1777, then one in 1782. People didn’t stop getting married. The records are missing.

I was hoping to find another Johnson or Johnston who married during this timeframe, but no cigar on this one.

It’s worth noting that the Shenandoah County index on Ancestry is incomplete and does NOT list the Johnston/Dobkins marriages while the transcribed records in the same book, if you read page by page, do.

Tax Records

I located an obscure tax list for the rent rolls for Dunmore County, VA from 1774-1776.

Part of that tax list had been published, so I joined an organization simply to access those lists in their past journals. Unfortunately, the excepts were only for the families of interest to a specific researcher, not the entire tax list.

I contacted the Library of Virginia who referred me elsewhere.

I discovered that the Huntington Library in San Marino, California owns those original tax lists as part of the Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, Fairfax Family Northern Neck Proprietary papers, 1675-1843, Series V. Personal papers collection, Accession 41008, Reel 4624.

I contacted the Huntington library and was told the tax lists have not been transcribed, but are microfilmed. I was welcome to come in and read them in person.

That’s not an option. I cannot visit in person, and my local library does not participate in interlibrary loan. I reached out to nearby colleges and universities where I was also told that “no one has microfilm readers anymore.”

The helpful Huntington librarian informed me that they have a digitization option if the records can be safely handled. I requested a quote, paid the bill, and a few weeks later, received the digitized records.

I was SO VERY EXCITED. Would I find Peter Johnston living beside or near the Dobkins family? Or maybe a different Johnston family?

Hmmm, no Johnston, Johnson or anything similar.

Worse yet, NO DOBKINS or anything similar either.

This is NOT a full tax list. It’s probably just a list for one district. And not the right district either.

Clearly, it does NOT include the area where John Dobkins, Jacob and Evan’s father, lived.

What other records exist that might show us if Peter Johnston, or some other Johnston, lived in Dunmore/Shenandoah County, or even a neighboring county?

Where did Jacob and Evan Dobkins parents live? Did they live near a county border? Should I also be looking in an adjacent county for Johnston/Johnson males?

I’m getting desperate.

What’s Next?

I found a book, Life Along Holman’s Creek by Rev. J. Floyd Wine written in 1982, and of course, out of print.

John Dobkins had a land grant on or near Holman’s Creek, so I thought this book might include something about both John Dobkins and, if I’m lucky, Peter Johnston.

Sure enough, I found John Dobkins right on Holman’s Creek.

Now we’re cooking with gas. I started reading every grant individually. Of course, this map of land grants probably doesn’t include more than the first sale, if that. Any subsequent sale after the land was originally applied for through a warrant or granted via patent would have been recorded. Sometimes the sale occurred between those two steps.

I discovered something alright, but not at ALL what I expected.


Those neighbors names look really familiar. Zirkle. Where did I see that before?

Wait!!!! What????


These are my MOTHER’S SIDE Miller line relatives from Pennsylvania and Maryland. Living right next to my father’s ancestor, John Dobkins.


I knew that there had been oral history of the Garbers and Wine’s along with my ancestor’s son, Lodowick Miller moving to Shenandoah County after their land was confiscated in Maryland for being unwilling to fight in the Revolution. Their Brethren pietist religion forbade taking up arms.

Here they are, neighboring John Dobkins in Shenandoah County.

Good Heavens. What a mess I have.

Ummm, The Alternate Glass is Full View

Now, however, for the good news. The mitochondrial DNA of my ancestor Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena tracks back through matches to the Zircle/Circle family and perhaps to the Myer(s) family. The Circle family is listed right with several Millers. Notice Henry Myer with more Zirkle/Circles.

I may have just accidentally hit the motherlode and now “all I have to do” is track these families back to either Frederick County, MD or York Co., PA around 1750 AND see if I can find a Magdalena among the proper families. This is a LOT more difficult than it seems because many Brethren families didn’t file wills or deeds with county clerks.

I need to spend time unraveling this knot, but today, I’m searching for Johnston. Johnston – not Miller/Garber/Myer/Zirkle/Wine. We find one Jacob Stutzman too, and the Stutzman family is closely allied with the Millers. In fact, the original Johann Michael Miller immigrant was half brothers with Jacob Stutzman.

Ironically, this means I’m related to the author whose ancestors are probably buried in the Wine Cemetery right on Holman’s Greek. Lodowich Mueller/Miller settled in Shenandoah County about the time of the Revolution. His daughter, Susannah married Michael Wine whose family had also migrated from the Frederick County, Maryland area.

Fortunately, the book has a lovely index, and there is NOT ONE SINGLE JOHNSTON or similar surname.

Struck out AGAIN!

Chancery Suits

Would I be lucky enough for Peter Johnston or any Johnston from Shenandoah County to be listed in a chancery suit? The Virginia State Library provides a chancery index, but I found no evidence of any Johnston other than a 1799 suit in which one George Oakley states that he bought a track of land in “Gooney Run” from George Johnston “some considerable time ago,” but he does not say when. John Turner is the defendant who also apparently encroached onto Oakley’s land. The G in Gooney may not be a G.

This does not seem relevant.

Land Grants

I was not able to find any Northern Neck land grants for Peter Johnston. Nearby grants would be reflected on the Wine map, and they are not.

Deeds and Court Notes

I still have my fingers crossed for either deeds or court notes.

I used Family Search’s wiki and catalog, here.

I found that Family Search has digitized Shenandoah County Deed Books A, B, C and D from 1772-1784. There are no Johnson or Johnston deeds.

I reviewed the next four years, just in case.

In 1787, William Johnson Jr and Bryan Johnson served as witnesses.

The court records don’t seem to exist for this timeframe.

I’m really striking out.

What’s left?

What Else is Available?

Four separate books have been written about the Johnson family.

The book, Johnson Records – With Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons by Helen Clark Biedel was copyrighted in 1955.

This book quotes from earlier books and focuses on the records of the author’s line.

I took copious notes, but found myself terribly frustrated.

I was hoping to discover why Dorcas Johnson and her sister, Margaret were attributed to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips.

That information was omitted.

Much of what was reported just didn’t make sense. Sources provided conflicting information, but Helen copiously reported it all for the reader to digest. She couldn’t figure it out either.

Excavating the Box

I’ve been unpacking boxes in my office and putting things away.

In a file folder labeled Johnson, I discovered another book. Actually, it’s a copy of a portion of a book that I found at the Allen County Public Library. They have an awesome family history book collection.

The Johnson Gathering , The Family History of Peter Johnson (c1720-c1796), Allegheny Co., PA by Eric E. Johnson was published in 2001.

Eric wrote a wonderful book, carefully analyzing earlier works and adding his own research as well. Better yet, it’s fully footnoted and sourced.

Eric divided the work into three parts. I’ll quote relevant information from each, while adding my own work.

Peter Johnston’s Early Years

We don’t know where Peter was born, but on April 26, 1742, he received a 100-acre land warrant in Hopewell Township, Lancaster County, PA, the part that became Cumberland County in 1750 and then Antrim Township in Franklin County in 1784.

Peter’s land was located in Robert Crunchton’s settlement, between Crunchton’s property and the temporary dividing line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. When Petre’s land was surveyed, it was actually 152 acres with the southern border on the temporary line. He and wife Mary sold this land warrant in August 1769 to James Cross.

Both signed with their marks. I’m incredibly grateful to Eric for not only finding his signature on several original documents, but comparing it to assure that this was the same man in various locations. He consistently signed with his mark, which the county clerks faithfully drew in each book when the documents were recorded.

I converted the temporary state line information obtained from the Royal Court in England from 39 degrees, 43 minutes and 18 second into latitude to locate the temporary state line. Of course, we don’t know the exact longitude location on that line for Peter’s land, but if it’s exactly dead center south of Greencastle, it’s located at the red pin, below.

Antrim township runs along the state line from the red arrow at right to the red arrow at left, a total of approximately 5 miles.

Remember that I mentioned that the Dobkins family is found beside the Miller family, including Lodowick in Shenandoah County, Virginia? The Miller land in Frederick County, MD is located in and near the red square.

If Peter were at least 22 years old when he applied for his original land in 1742, that places his birth in 1720 or earlier. I’d say it is more likely that he was closer to 30, which would place his birth about 1712, more or less. We can safely say that Peter was born sometimes between 1710 and 1720, but no later than 1721.

Two of the other Johnson books state that he was born about 1735 and arrived from Scotland. He clearly did not apply for land at the age of 7. One of the other books states his birth location was either Holland or Sweden.

More on this later.

In 1745, Peter also applied for 500 acres of land in Washington County, MD, the portion that would become Frederick County, Maryland. For reference purposes, there are 640 acres in a square mile so Peter owned just over that much – a total of 652 acres between both parcels.

This land was obtained from Thomas Cresap, and was literally ON the temporary state line, which means it was involved in that long-standing boundary dispute aptly named Cresap’s War.

Peter’s land, named “Johnson’s Desire” in Frederick County was surveyed and stated to be “about 5 miles from where the line crosses Conegocheeg.”

Fortunately, we know exactly where the line crosses Conococheague Creek because that’s the left line of Antrim Township at the red arrow, above.

Using Google Map’s scale, approximately 5 miles is almost exactly on this small branch of Marsh Run, above.

This appears to be the old state line, named State Line Road.

This area is lush farmland today. The red dot is where the tip of the spring is located. All farms needed fresh water.

Peter’s land probably encompassed a total of about 650 acres, more than a square mile, approximately the area shown above. It could have been shifted slightly north including the State Line Road, but one thing is certain. There was at least one, if not two working farms which are likely still working farms today, perhaps even with some of the same buildings. If not, the houses and barns are likely located in the same location as the originals. The heart of a farm doesn’t change.

A view of one farm looking south driving along State Line Road, with the mountains in the background.

This very old barn at the bend in the road might well have been Peter’s, or one of his neighbors. Note the vintage home in the background.

Below, from Reidtown Road in Maryland, looking north across what was assuredly Peter’s land.

I don’t know where, exactly, but Peter’s land bordered the old state line, the larger portion found in Maryland.

On the map above, State Line road is marked with red arrows at top.

There are several large farms that could have been Peter’s original land, and eventually, his son Richard’s.

These farms were and still are owned by German Brethren families. Even today, the nearby Hollowell Church is Brethren.

In 1756-1757, Peter was living in Pennsylvania, according to the tax debt book of Washington County. His land was west of the South Mountains, which fits this location perfectly.

After 1757, he moved across the border to Maryland and in 1766, sold a small part of this land to Abraham Gantsinger without his wife’s signature. In 1770, he, with wife Mary, sold land to Henry Stalb and recorded the deed to James Cross.

Eric suggests that Mary Polly Philips may have died and Peter remarried during this time to another Mary. That’s certainly possible, but I’ve also seen lots of wives accidentally omitted from deed records.

Another reason may have been that Mary had taken refuge elsewhere during the French and Indian War. Yes, Peter Johnson was living in the middle of a war.

The French and Indian War

These photos look peaceful and idyllic today, but this area wasn’t always this way.

There is a good possibility that Peter was a member of the local militia during the French and Indian War between 1753 and 1763.

In Franklin County, PA, there was a blockade called “Cross’s Fort” that was attacked by Indians in July and August of 1757. In the book about this war by Louis Waddel, it states that the fort was ‘located on the Conococheague (River), probably in Franklin County There may been a connection between Peter and this fort. Peter sold his land to James Cross in 1769. This James Cross may be related to the Cross’s who built the fort. If so, his mother was a Miller. You can read more about Cross’s Fort and the war with the Indians, here.

Beginning in 1755, Frederick County was literally abandoned. Everyone found someplace to go. I wrote about these events in the article about Magdalena Miller, here – start with the section titled “New Life in Frederick County, Maryland”.

Often, the fleeing families went “back” to wherever than had come from, seeking refuge with relatives. Sometimes the local ministers shepherded the women and children while the men remained to guard the farms – until they simply could no longer do so.

Where did the Johnston family go during this time? If they were married about the time Peter received his first land grant in 1742, their eldest child would have been coming of age during this time and they would have had a household full of children to keep safe. Furthermore, Mary was till giving birth in 1765, so would have been pregnant and having babies someplace in exile.

Philip Jacob Miller and his family lived near Maugansville, just a few miles from Peter Johnson. Note that Peter Johnson’s migration path paralleled the Millers to Bedford County, then to Shenandoah as well.

Many who remained in the Cumberland and Frederick County area were scalped in 1756. Frederick County was entirely abandoned in 1757 and 1758. Many residents returned slowly, not at all certain that the area was safe again. Most had to rebuild everything from scratch.

By 1763, Pontiac’s War began and once again, Frederick County and the surrounding area was abandoned, at least into 1764.

Pontiac’s War ended in 1768 and the western frontier opened. Some people returned, settled on their existing lands, and rebuilt, but many either returned slowly, or not at all. If one had to rebuild, did they want to rebuild there or someplace on the new frontier? The years between 1753 and 1769 had been hell on the frontier. Why not try someplace new.

Antrim Township

Taxes are a wonderful thing. Because the land in Pennsylvania actually belonged to William Penn, settlers received warrants which meant they could live on the land and improve it, eventually would receive a patent, but had to pay yearly rent/tax to the proprietor. Often those tax lists still exist.

Eric tells us that Peter Johnson is found on the Antrim Township tax list between 1751 and 1770, nearly 20 years, with a few missing.

  • 1751
  • 1753
  • 1762-66
  • 1768-69
  • 1770

His name is spelled variously as Jonston and Johnston.

The years where Peter is absent could be due to the fact that the family had evacuated, or, the lists may not exist at all. Those absentee years line up exactly with the French and Indian War evacuations.

If Peter was born about 1710, he would have been nearing 60 by 1770. If born in 1720, he would have been 50. Not a young man anymore. Most men of that age simply want to farm their existing land, not clear new land on the frontier. Clearing land is backbreaking, dangerous work.

The tax lists of 1762-1769, except for 1763, show Peter with 100 acres of land. 1763 shows him with 150. The 1769 list indicates that he cleared half of his land, so 50 acres, tree by tree. He sold his land in 1769 and in 1770, has only a horse and a cow.

Beginning in 1768, his son Richard begins paying taxes separately, suggesting that Richard is perhaps 25 years old, more or less, and likely the eldest son and married. This suggests he was probably married by 1767.

If Richard was born in 1743, that correlates nicely with Peter’s land grant in 1742.

In 1769, Richard’s name is spelled as Derrick and in 1770, he has a warrant of his own for 70 acres.

Solomon’s Bible Records

The Bible of Peter’s son, Solomon either still exists or did exist when one of the earlier books was being written.

That Bible record gives Solomon’s birth location as “near Greencastle, PA” which is indeed in Antrim Township of present-day Franklin County.

Eric tells us that it’s Solomon’s Bible records that provide a list of the names of the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, including Mary’s name. I’ve added summary information for each child.

  • James Johnson – Born in 1752, married Elizabeth Lindsey in 1783, moved to Harrison, then Knox County, Indiana, and died in Lawrence County, Illinois in 1826. He was a private in the Revolutionary War, serving with his brother Richard in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, PA.
  • Polly Johnson – nothing known
  • Dorcas Johnson – My ancestor, born about 1748, married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 and moved to Tennessee.
  • Rebecca Johnson born about 1755. One book reports that she married John Stephens/Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia. One John Stephens served with her brother Richard in the Revolutionary War.
  • Rachel Johnson – May have married a John Dobbins (Dobkins) and moved to Knox County, Indiana by 1807.
  • Derie (Derrick, Deverick, Darrick, Richard) Johnson – Born in 1746, moved to Jefferson County, Ohio in 1801 on land purchased from a John Johnson of Washington Co., PA. The deeds states that Richard is from the same location. (Note that earlier researchers have speculated that Derie is short for Derrick, the Dutch name for Richard.) His will was probated in April of 1818. He married first to Dorcas Dungan around 1764 but before 1768, probably either in Pennsylvania or wherever the family sheltered during Pontiac’s War. She died after having one known child, Polly. Richard married in 1774 to Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County.
  • Solomon Johnson – Born in January of 1765 near Greencastle, PA, was married to Fanny Warne in 1790 in Allegheny County by the Presbyterian minister and remained on Peter’s land in Allegheny Co, PA until his death in 1843. Solomon did exactly what his father did – deeded his land to two sons before his death. Solomon and his wife are both buried at Round Hill Cemetery. Solomon visited his brother in Ohio at least twice. Solomon named one of his children after his sister, Dorcas who was living near Bull’s Gap, Tennessee, and she named a son Solomon.

I hope they had letters, because it’s doubtful Dorocas and Solomon ever saw each other again.

It was a very long, treacherous, mountainous way from Bull’s Gap to Allegheny County. They obviously loved one another. Dorcas was the oldest female and Solomon, her baby brother some 17 years younger. She likely took care of him as a child, especially if their mother did die.

The Mystery Solved!

Eric found Peter and Mary’s children’s names in two separate books, although the second only shows children Richard, Solomon and Mary. Mary is not found in the first book. However, Polly, a common nickname for Mary, is.

So, we’ve FINALLY solved the mystery of where the information about Dorcas arose. Now we know the source of why Dorcas was attributed to Peter – and it’s a Bible record. I do wish we had a copy of the actual Bible record itself, but this will suffice.

Eric goes on to report from the earlier sources that Dorcas married Reuben Dobbins and Rachel married another Dobbins whose name may have been John. He doesn’t know where they went or what happened to these daughters, but I do.

This information is partially accurate.

Dorcas married Jacob Dobkins in 1775.

Margaret married Evan Dobkins in 1775.

But what about Rachel? What other Dobkins boys were available?

Reuben Dobkins married Elizabeth or Polly Holman whose father was Capt. Jacob Holman of Holman’s Creek fame.

John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman, Polly’s sister.

Of course, that doesn’t mean either of those men couldn’t have married twice, or that the info I have about their wives is accurate.

Eric stated that nothing more is known of Dorcas, Rachel or Mary.

Mary may be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. Eric suggested that perhaps Mary was Richard’s daughter, Polly, the child of his first wife. Richard didn’t remarry (that we know of) for several years, and it’s certainly possible that Peter and Mary raised this grandchild.

It’s also possible that yet another daughter, Rachel, married another Dobkins brother.

The Revolutionary War Years

This is where Peter’s life gets quite interesting. It’s obviously critical to discover where Peter was in 1775 when his daughters were marrying in Dunmore County. Those girls certainly weren’t traveling alone. They wouldn’t have been before the war, but they assuredly were not during a conflict.

We know their two brothers served in Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County, PA, but where was Peter and where was his family?

Peter sold the last of his land in Maryland in 1770 and disappears, resurfacing in Bedford County, PA in 1772 as a single freeman, which I find rather odd. I should probably mention that several Brethren families from Frederick County also went to Bedford County, including…you guessed it…the Millers.

As an interesting tidbit, one of the older family histories reported that Peter’s wife, Mary only spoke Dutch. “Dutch” could have been German, meaning “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Of course, that would also mean that Peter had to have a command of the language she spoke. Or this could be nothing more than a myth, but Peter’s settlement among and movements with the German families needs to be taken into consideration. Of course, that could be nothing more than local influence. People talked and shared concerns and information.

In 1773, Peter is listed in Rostraver Township which was at that time, all of southwest Pennsylvania. He is listed as an “inmate” which doesn’t mean what we think of today. In that time and place, according to Eric, an inmate was “a boarder or renter of land whose personal property is taxable.” In other words, he was probably renting a farm and trying the area out before purchasing. He would likely have stayed at least one growing season. He obviously left, because his daughters married in 1775 in Shenandoah (then Dunmore) County, VA.

Part of Rostraver Township became Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County in 1788 where Peter eventually settled.

Peter is absent in the official records for an entire decade, then we find him again in 1783 and 1786 in Rotsraver Township, then located in Westmoreland County.

The “Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families” states that Peter spent the Revolutionary War years in Virginia, but provides no additional information. Eric says there was circumstantial evidence that he was in Virginia, but doesn’t say what that evidence is.

One of the Johnson books that Eric utilized stated that Peter came from Winchester, which is found in Frederick County, VA, which Eric suggests is accurate, in part because it’s the head of Braddock’s Road that led to Fort Pitt that would one day become Pittsburg. Peter’s Allegheny County property was in this vicinity, just a few miles south of the end of Braddock’s Road. Braddock’s Road may have passed as close as two miles away, near Round Hill, following an Indian trail.

Frederick County, VA, is about 50 miles from Holman’s Creek where John Dobkins lived, and this part of Shenandoah County was at one time Frederick County. Note that Frederick Co., MD is not the same as or connected to Frederick County, VA.

One item reported by Eric that may or may not be relevant is a Frederick County, VA deed from one Richard and Percilla Johnson in 1773 which mentions their son, Peter. We have no idea if this is the same Peter. I don’t have a copy of this deed and I can’t find anything online about this couple. Our Peter would have been between 53 and 63 in 1773.

Of course, we have Dorcas and Margaret marrying the two Dobkins boys in Shenandoah County in 1775, then some Peter appears again in Cumberland County, PA in 1778, taking an oath of allegiance.

Is this the same Peter?

Was Peter going back and forth between Virginia and Pennsylvania?

In 1777, all Cumberland County males between the ages of 18 and 53 were drafted to serve in the local militia units to protect the residents from Indian attack. If Peter were born in 1710, he would have been 67 by that time. If he were born in 1720, he would have been 57.

Later, a Peter Johnson is reported in the militia in Cumberland County. It’s difficult to believe this is our Peter, because we know that by 1773, Peter was in Bedford County and by 1775, in Shenandoah County, VA with his family. I have to wonder if there is another Peter Johnson we don’t know about. Our Peter does not have a reported son by the name of Peter.

Eric suggests that Peter’s first wife, Mary died between Solomon’s birth in January of 1765 and the deed without her name in April of 1766.

The 1783 tax record for Westmoreland County shows Peter and one other person. Most of Peter’s children would have been grown by this time, except perhaps for Solomon who was born in 1765 and would have been 18. This tax list was supposed to determine the number of people in a household, so it should have been complete.

Did the Johnston and Dobkins Families Know Each Other?

I’m still looking for some connection between the Johnston and Dobkins families.

These families clearly came into contact with each other. Is there any indication that they knew each other before, or even after, 1775?


In the Augusta County, VA will book, one William Hill wrote his will January 27, 1748 and died a few months later. His wife’s name was Mary and she was the executor along with Thomas Moore. The witnesses were John Dobikin and Isaac Johnson who both proved the will on May 17, 1749.

John Dobikin is another spelling for John Dobkins, the father of the Dobkins boys.

But who was Isaac Johnson?

Did these men know each other. Were they related, either to each other or the Hill family?

This may or may not be significant. Remember that name, Isaac Johnson, because you’ll see it again later.

Later Years

Peter secured a land warrant for his Rostraver Township land in 1786 when it was still a part of Westmoreland County. It was surveyed in 1787 by which time it was in Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County.

Peter’s neighbor, Joseph Warne, whose daughter married Solomon Johnson, settled on his land in 1769 and obtained a Virginia title. Joseph had to have it resurveyed and the title reissued by Pennsylvania after the border dispute was settled in 1780. Yes, Peter Johnston moved to yet another location with a border dispute. In fact, it was the very same border dispute, just the westward end. The entire border dispute was eventually settled when the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed. 

In 1788, Joseph Warner’s patent states that the land to his west, which would have been Peter’s land, was vacant.

However, the survey map clearly shows Johnston’s land, Johnston spelled with the t.

Where was Peter Johnston living or was the Warner survey in error?

Peter’s land warrant states that he had to pay interest from 1780, which definitively places him on this specific piece of land by that time. 1780 was also the date at which a land dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia involving this land was resolved and Pennsylvania became the taxing authority.

The 1790 census shows one Andrew Johnston (page 1), who isn’t known to be related and a William Johnson as well. We find Solomon Johnson with 1 male under 16, 1 male over 15, and one female. His name is written beside the Applegate family which tells us Solomon is living in the homeplace. Peter’s granddaughter, Polly Johnson through son Richard Johnson married Garrett Wall Applegate.

We know that Peter’s son, Richard Johnston was still living there, or at least owned land in 1790, even though he does not appear in the census.

Recorder’s office, Allegheny Co., Pa., Vol. 2, p. 222: 4-18-1790 Peter Johnston, Allegheny Co., Elizabeth Twp., Yeoman, to Solomon Johnston 133 A. “drain of Monongahela River in Elizabeth Twp., Allegheny Co., adjoining lands of Joseph Beckett, Richard Johnston, William Applegate, and heirs of Joseph Warne. Deed to said Peter 5-28-1787 City of Philadelphia. To Solomon, his ” junior son” with ” the fatherly love and affection which he hath and doth bear ” for Solomon and 5 shillings. Peter reserves use for life. Witnessed Joseph Beckett, Lucy Beckett, James Clendenin. Recorded 9-18-1790.

On 4-24-1790 Peter Johnston appeared to acknowledge writing and receipt of money.

In 1791, Richard purchased the 224 acres of land of Thomas Applegate immediately adjacent his father. Maybe that’s where he had been living all along.

On November 25, 1798, Peter’s land patent for 152.75 acres on a branch of the Monongahela River called Waggoner’s run was issued to his youngest son, Solomon. Peter had deeded this land, called “Peace” to Solomon on April 18, 1790 which was recorded exactly 5 months later. The deed states that Peter has possession for the balance of his life, although he would be unlikely to be able to work the land. Solomon couldn’t sell the land until after Peter’s death. By this time, Peter would have been at least 70 years old if he was born in 1720 and approaching 80 if born in 1710.

Perhaps after living in two areas contested by two states, and moving back and forth several times, Peter had finally found his peaceful place and named it thus.

In 1798, Solomon is taxed as the owner of a two-story house, 22X26 with 7 windows and 84 lights. Lights would be candles, but that’s a lot of candles.

This is a very large house for this timeframe. This was likely 8 11×13 rooms, or maybe just 6 with one large room downstairs. That would explain the 7 windows. One room would clearly be the kitchen. The upstairs rooms would have been bedrooms, or at least the bedrooms for the children.

This home was very likely built by Peter and likely where he died as well. A visit to the courthouse would probably allow us to bring those deeds forward in time and trace the exact land, but I can do a fairly good job using the old plat map plus Google Maps today.

Let’s take a drive.

Peter Johnson’s “Peace”

Forward Township is located just south of Pittsburg, bordered by the Monongahela River on the north, west, and south sides.

This is a rough estimate, of course, based on the original survey and the land today. The contours of the river help immensely, as do the streams.

The road south of Peter’s land parallels the river, and the land on the north side of that road rises away from the river. In other words, Peter’s land would not flood.

The small roads that border Peter’s land on the east and west are upon treed ridges.

Rostosky Ridge Road probably travels over a small piece of Peter’s land or at least abuts it on the west and the same for Sunnyside Hollow Road on the east.

I “drove” up both hoping to get a view of the cleared land that Peter, then Solomon would have farmed.

Of course, in Peter’s day, no road existed, and the entire area he had to clear was original growth forest.

I’m fairly certain this was adjacent Peter’s land

The right turn onto unpaved Country Lane which leads to two houses continues to rise. Those two houses were assuredly on Peter’s land.

The next turn, on the right side, rises too, but it’s at least paved.

However, the paved road appears to facilitate trucks, perhaps, while the unpaved road just leads to homes.

In this view, the first dirt “Country Lane” leads to the barns and house. The second paved road, at left, leads to what looks like a surface mining operation of some sort.

At least part of Sunnyside Hollow Road appears to have actually been on Peter’s land when comparing the terrain map with the land grant map, looking at streams and watercourses.

The little creek on the east is today called Sunfish Run. Peter’s warrant mentions Waggoner’s Run, which is not reflected on any current map, but appears to be present-day Sunfish Run. Most smaller springs would have been unnamed or just known as “Peter’s spring.” Fresh water and a good spring was critical in selecting a homesite. The house was not located far from the head of the spring so that the water was always fresh and clean.

Peter’s land was sheltered by the rapid rise beside the Monongahela River and by the forest. His land had freshwater streams, was relatively flat, clearable, and farmable. Indeed, we can see the assets that would have attracted the family to settle here.

This little bridge on Sunnyside Hollow Road correlates with the small stream on Peter’s land. Below this bridge, guardrails protect the left side of the road from a steep drop, but above, the land again rises to the left.

I can’t help but wonder where Peter’s house was located on this land.

Was it roughly where the houses are today?

They look to be somewhat centered on his land.

This zoomed in view shows the present-day property lines. Peter’s original survey lines are still clearly visible.

Click to enlarge images.

Here’s the north portion of Peter’s survey lands

And here’s the south part.

This indicates that a portion of the large branch stream that runs west to east and connects with Sunfish Run was indeed owned by Peter, which means his land extended further north than I thought. Maybe that was Waggoner’s Run.

Now that we know exactly where Peter’s lands laid on Sunnyside Hollow Road, let’s start on his boundary and drive up the road.

You can see the stream running along the road, at right.

This curve is the point where Peter’s land stopped and the stream crossed what is now the road, and runs along the left side of the road to the Monongahela. Peter owned a strip of land on the east side as well.

Was Peter’s land carved in the unusual shape it was in order to provide Peter with this intersection of streams?

I don’t know what crops Peter grew, but today, sunflowers are widely grown in the region, with sunflower fields located just a mile or so north of Peter’s land.

In other places, driving the roads near Peter’s land, the farms look like any other farms – plowed fields and bales of hay.

This panoramic view from a high point a mile or so further north overlooks Peter’s land and those hills in the distance.

Did Peter ever stand on his land overlooking the Monongahela and think about those years living near Holman’s Creek back in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 200 miles and a lifetime distant? Did he wonder about his two daughters who had married there, then moved on to Tennessee with their new husbands. Did he regret that he had moved to Virginia, even for that short time because his daughters were forever gone?

They weren’t the only ones of course. Eventually, all of his children, except Solomon would set out for the west-ward-moving frontier. By selling his land to Solomon, Peter delayed the inevitable by one generation. Eventually, all of Solomon’s children would leave Pennsylvania behind.

Peter’s Death

Peter’s patent was transferred to Solomon on November 25, 1796, which is the date associated with Peter’s death. However, I’m not convinced he didn’t die before the census in 1790 since he retained right to the land in the deed.

He signed the deed on April 24, 1790 but as of the census day, August 2, 1790, he is not recorded as living with Solomon.

One of the earlier family histories states that both Peter and Mary were buried in the now-sprawling Round Hill Cemetery in nearby Elizabeth Township.

If this is accurate, then clearly Mary did not die in Cumberland County, PA between 1765 and 1766.

I don’t know if this burial location is speculation based on the assumption that Peter was from Scotland or Scots-Irish, or if it was based on something more. Round Hill is a Presbyterian Cemetery established in 1786. Several members of the Warne (Warner) family are buried there and it’s likely that Solomon Johnson is as well. Joseph Warne was one of the church founders, as well as Peter Johnson’s neighbor. Round Hill may have been the only available church to attend conveniently, and as one of my cousins once said, many attended the “church of convenience” as opposed to their preferred denomination which may have been absent where they lived.

The Round Hill Cemetery is about 5 miles from where Peter lived in Elizabeth Township. The Warne family lived between Peter and the church.

The reverend was the pastor from Cecil County, Maryland.

Peter’s Older Brother?

Peter Johnson reportedly had an older brother, James Johnson, Sheriff of Cumberland County.

The Johnson Records states that Peter came to this country with an older brother named James who was the Sheriff of Cumberland County. The Cumberland County tax lists up to 1765 show a James Johnston living in Antrim Township which is where Peter lived, but not near Peter – 4 or 5 miles as the crow flies.

They are the only two Johnston’s listed in this township. James died in 1765 and after this date the sons of James and Peter begin to appear in the tax returns.

Another source book, Your Ancestors, states that James was born in Rising Sun, Maryland and married first to Elizabeth Finley in 1732, then Elizabeth Brown in 1740. They lived near Shady Grove, about 3 miles east of Greencastle, while Peter lived on the border with Maryland.

A third source states that Elizabeth Finley, born Brown, married Major James Johnston of Annandale, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

James made a will in1764 and died in 1765, noting his wife and children:

  • James
  • Thomas
  • John
  • Robert
  • Mary
  • Elizabeth
  • Martha

Several works indicate that James came to America in 1735 from County Antrim, Ireland.

This could have something to do with the 1735 date attributed orally to Peter Johnston’s arrival.

James Johnston was reported to be born before 1710 in Scotland. He received a warrant in 1737 for 400 acres in Hopewell Twp., Lancaster Co., PA in an area that would become Antrim Township in Franklin County.

Three of his sons served in the Revolutionary War and are buried in the family cemetery at Shady Grove.

There is also speculation that James was actually the father of Peter, not his brother. We don’t know when James was born, but he died 30 years before Peter.

If he was Peter’s father, then clearly, Elizabeth whom he married in 1740/41 is not Peter’s mother.

A Y-DNA test of male Johnston/Johnson descendants of both of these lines would confirm or refute that these two men shared a common lineage.

Peter’s Origins

Peter settled in two areas that were populated by both the Scots, specifically Scots-Irish, and Germans. Both of these groups of people were utilized as a barrier on the frontier between the English planters and the Indians. Both the Germans and the Scots-Irish came later than the English and were hungry for both religious freedom and land.

In his will, Peter refers to his son, Solomon, as his “junior son” which is a Scottish term for any son not the first-born. At the time he wrote his will, two of his sons were living with or near him, and Solomon was the junior son of the two.

Of course, there are also reports that Peter is buried in the Round Hill Presbyterian Cemetery, also providing a Scots-Irish or Scottish hint.

The reports of Peter’s origins vary widely. One source reported that he was born in 1735 in Scotland, which cannot be accurate given that his first land grant was in 1742 and his eldest son, Richard, is found in tax records in Cumberland County beginning in 1768.

Another source reports that Peter Janson immigrated in 1753. It’s true that one Peter Janson did immigrate in 1753, but again, this man cannot be our Peter Johnston because our Peter had land dealings in 1742, 11 years before Peter Janson arrived in Philadelphia.

The same source that correctly reported that Peter had spent the Rev War years in Virginia also tells us he was born in Scotland.

Eric pointed out that Peter sold his land in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1769, the same year that the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was opened for settlement.

Eric provided the origin stories attributed to each of his sources in detail, in his book.

His sources are:

  1. The Biographical and Genealogical History of the Chapman-Johnson-Walace-Palmer family
  2. The Johnson Records with Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons
  3. The Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families
  4. A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America
  5. Solomon Johnson’s Bible Records
Source 1 2 3 4 5
Birth year 1735
Birth location Scotland Scotland Swedish or Dutch
Additional Info Pure Scottish but with Dutch noble lineage, has tartan Born in Amsterdam, Holland Peter is grandfather of Pres. Andrew Johnson
Settlement Settled in Swedish area of Wilmington, Delaware
Locations Lived in Head of Elk, MD and Winchester, VA Solomon born near Greencastle, PA
Surname Johnstone Janson, Jansem, Jonson Iensing or Iensen*
Wife Polly Polly Could not speak English when they married
Children Solomon, Derie, Polly, James, Rachel, Rebecca, Dorcas Richard, Solomon, Mary Solomon was their son Solomon son of Peter Johnson and Mary Philips
Family Older brother James
Military Served in Rev War
Immigration 1753 on the ship Richard from Rotterdam

*Early capital letters I and J were interchangeable.

Eric suggests that the author of the Chapman-Johnson book conflated the Lindsay and Johnson family oral histories regarding nobility.

It appears that the women who provided information to the author of the Johnson Records book conflated multiple Peter Johnsons, given that our Peter Johnson did not serve in the Revolutionary War. That book focused on son, Solomon.

The 1735 birth year and 1753 immigration date appear to be a conflation of multiple different Peter Johnsons, one of whom was from New York.

The report that Peter served in the Revolutionary War is much easier to understand, because another Peter did serve from Middlesex Township of Cumberland County.

Of course, I have to ask, who was that Peter?

Eric found nothing to connect James Johns(t)on in Cumberland County with Peter Johns(t)on. If they were brothers, I did find it unusual that Peter did not witness James’ 1764 will, nor did they seem to be connected or live close together.

However, Peter did name a child James, but James did not name a son Peter.

Eric states that James who died in 1765 was a descendant of the Johnson family of Annandale, Scotland who did have links to nobility.

Eric reports from the Book, Mother Cumberland, that the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania was nearly 100% Scotch or Scots-Irish in the 1740s and 1750s, so assuming that Peter was a part of that community was natural. However, that generalization isn’t true about Antrim Township, nor across the border in Frederick County, Maryland where many German families lived.

Eric concludes that Peter probably came from Cecil County, Maryland which was originally a part of New Sweden and later, New Netherlands before being taken over by the English. Dutch, Swedes, Finns and English settled there during the 1600s and early 1700s. Head of Elk is now Elkton, Maryland. This would also have been a safe place to seek refuge during the French and Indian War along with Pontiac’s War.

Eric points out that people surrounding Peter came from Cecil County. Peter’s son, Richard married Elizabeth Nash in 1774 who was from Cecil County. His first wife was Dorcas Dungan who he married between 1764 and 1767, during a time when the family would have been seeking refuge from Pontiac’s War someplace. There are Dungan’s found in Cecil County. One of Richard’s daughters also married into a Cecil County family. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is that the Rev. James Finley, the minister of the Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Allegheny County was from Cecil County.

Other families associated with Peter were from Cecil County, including: Allison, Caldwell, Crawford, Hicks, Phillips, Scott, Smith, and Thompson.

In Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County, many families originated in New Jersey which explains the nickname of “Jersey Settlement.” Many Dutch settled in New Jersey.

Dutch, Swedes and Finns

Eric’s research revealed that Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish families adopted the Johnson surname after the English took over New Amsterdam and New Sweden from the Dutch. All three of those countries used patronymics where Johnson would literally mean the son of John. In each generation, the surname would change to reflect the father’s given name. Peter Johnson’s son, Richard, would be named Richard Peterson in a patronymic system.

So while Johnson does sound English or Scottish, it was also a very common patronymic.

Eric reports that 6 Swedish or Finish families from New Sweden in Delaware adopted the Johnson name and two settled in Cecil County, Maryland. Three German families also utilized the Johnson surname. Dutch families from western Connecticut, New York and New Jersey did the same.

Richard Johnson, known as Dirk or Derrick died in Lancaster County in 1767, but no children are mentioned in his will. The family traditions of that family match the family traditions of Peter’s son, Richard.

The Dutch Cornelius Johnson settled in Frederick County, Maryland about 1750 after leaving New York and New Jersey.

Matthias Jonsson Hutt died in Salem County, New Jersey. Two of his sons, Oliver and Henry settled at Head of Elk, Cecil County, Maryland. Oliver had a son, Peter, born on May 31, 1720.

Of course, we can’t forget about Richard and Priscilla Johnson who were found in Frederick County, VA and mentioned a son named Peter in 1773.

A Peter Johnson and wife, Mary Ashcraft of Washington County, Maryland also had a son, Peter, but nothing more is known.

Who are Peter’s parents, and where did he come from before Lancaster County in 1742?

The DNA Story

As it turns out, DNA does indeed answer these questions – or at least points us in the right direction.

Peter’s descendants were scattered to the winds, their history forgotten. They would only be reunited again some 200+ years later by autosomal DNA.

However, it is Y DNA that provides the missing information about Peter’s ancestors. Autosomal DNA was critical in reuniting us, but can only do so much and stops short of what we need to unveil Peter’s ancestors and where they came from.

We need that elusive lynchpin puzzle piece.

What was Peter Johnston’s heritage? Where did his family come from? What do you think?

I’m not quite finished with this research, but I’ll answer this burning question in an article soon. Stay tuned!


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