digging up ancesters

a genealogical journey


A  little over a month ago my parents took DNA tests from  I have a pretty good idea of what my mothers ethnicity will be, but I was really curious about my father’s.  There were a few things I really wanted to know.  One was if any Native American would show up.  The family story is that his great-grandmother, Bertha May, was part Cherokee.  (there is more information about her in my last post)  The other thing I wanted to know was what was the rest of his ethnicity was.

One of my genealogy goals is to trace all the family lines back to the immigrant ancestor. On my Dad’s side I have only found 2 of the original immigrants.  I can trace my fathers paternal line back to England and my grand-mothers paternal line back to Germany.

The other thing to know about my father is that he looks a little exotic.  He has dark skin and hair and hazel eyes (well his hair used to be dark).  He gets asked often if he is middle-eastern.  None of us children look like that.  One of my brothers has more olive skin and hazel eyes too, but he’s still lighter than my father.

I got his results back on Friday and I was shocked.  I would have never guessed what two ethnicities he had the greatest percentages of.

He turned out to be 36% Irish and 26% Scandinavian.  That’s a little over 50% of his ethnicity right there.  Shocked.  In fact when I shared the results with my parents and the rest of my family they asked if the tests had gotten mixed up and this was actually my mom’s.  It took a little while for me to convince them that this was not the case.  On Ancestry it will share with you, others that are close DNA matches (no personal details) and you can see their tree if they have one and have shared it and his closest cousin matches were known cousins.  He also had 19% from Great Brittain and 6% Western European.  Western Europe includes Germany.

My mother always claims that she is Icelandic. Her great-grandfather on her father’s side was from Iceland but he married a woman who was Danish and all the other great-grandparents had English and German origins.  I haven’t gotten her results back.  They should come in the next couple of days, but I think they will probably show up as mostly English and Western European.  Her brother has taken a DNA test and I haven’t seen the actual report but he was a little upset that no Icelandic showed up on his profile.  This doesn’t mean that none will show up on my mom’s but I think she will be a little disappointed if it doesn’t.

I told my family that my guess is that my father is probably more Scandinavian then my mother which is kind of funny.  My mom is light-skinned with light blonde hair and blue eyes.  Her hair got a little darker as she got older, but as a teenager she got teased about bleaching her hair, which she never did.  One of her relatives, I forget who, nicknamed her cotton top because her hair was almost white.

Oh I didn’t mention, no Native American showed up on my dad’s DNA.  It doesn’t mean that his great-grandmother wasn’t Cherokee, he just may not have inherited that DNA.  Though I think she definitely wasn’t 100% Native American.

I need to do a learn more about how to use these results to help my research, but it is certainly interesting.  Apparently I’m Irish, which I didn’t know.  I thought I was a little Scandinavian from my mom’s side, but I’m a lot more than I thought.  I look Scandanavian, and this might explain why those traits are more prominent in me. My father was pretty shocked too.  DNA certainly is interesting.


Bertha May

This is Bertha May.  She is my great grandmother and one of my genealogical mysteries.  Little is known of her life before she married.  The family tradition, rumor, story, whatever you want to call it, is that she was part Cherokee and lived in an orphanage which burned down.  She also seemed to use two maiden names interchangeably.  Well, not her directly.  Untill today I had not found any records for her in which she could have possibly given information herself.  Not even a census.  However on records her children created some said her maiden name was Spenser and some said Bailey.

All of this makes her a little difficult to track down.  I have a theory though.  I had always been told that she was born in Oklahoma, but her obituary says that she was born in Marceline, MO.  This is technically can’t be true because she was born in 1887 and the city was not created until the year after.  At the time of her birth very few people lived there, but it was decided that a railroad would be built through the area and what would become Marceline was to be a restocking point.¹ Her obituary also says that she lived in Missouri for most of her life, though I have never found a record of her there, nor was she there when she married my great-grandfather.

Now for the theory.  I know that my great grandfathers family lived in Pawnee County, Oklahoma in 1900.  His parents never left the area and my great-grandfather lived with them in 1900 and thus I assumed that this is probably where he met Bertha May.  Their first child was born in 1903 so their inferred marriage date was probably 1902 or early 1903. Not far from here there was a Cherokee orphanage called the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. The orphanage was ran by the Cherokee Nation, it was a school as well as a farm.²  In 1903 they had a fire, no one was hurt, but everything  inside the building was burned.  I think his may have been where she was.  It would seem all was lost due to the fire, but the Cherokee Nation kept very good records.  From what I have discovered regular reports from the school were sent to the governing body.  There are records of these reports, but they are not online.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake has them on microfilm though.  So next time I am there I’m  going to see what I can find.

I have a theory about the last two names as well but I need to do some more research to see if it’s even viable.  She was about 15 when she married so I doubt she had a previous marriage.  If she knew her parents last names perhaps one is her mothers and one is her fathers.   The Cherokee are a matriarchal society, perhaps they used mothers last names, but she started using her fathers last name when she was no longer living in the Cherokee society she started using her fathers last name.  Or perhaps she was born out of wedlock so had her mother’s last name, but also knew, and used her father’s.

I was able to confirm a few ideas and inferences I had about her today.  The only source I had for her birthdate was her obituary.  That is actually the only source that I have that directly relates to her.  All of the other records I have for her, are from her children’s marriage and social security applications.  It does not state her birthdate exactly but she died on 14 Dec 1918 and her age is given as 31 years 7 months and 8 days old. This makes her birthdate 6 May 1887.  There wasn’t a lot of proof for this date since all the information in the obituary is second hand and perhaps she didn’t know herself due to being orphaned.  But today, I found her marriage record.  They were married in Indian Territory, Oklahoma on 21 Jul 1902.  Her age is 15.  This supports the birthdate from the obituary.  It says that she is Miss not Mrs., supporting my supposition that she had not been married before.  She gives her name as Bertha M. Spencer. I don’t know that this supports anything, but it is the only record I have that she would have been the one actually supplying the information.  The record is held by Craig county, Oklahoma but this county did not exist in 1902.  This area was still Indian Territory at that time and that is what it says on the record.  This puts them closer to the orphanage, which was also in Indian Territory, Oklahoma.

This record feels like a major find to me.  It doesn’t give a lot of information but it makes me feel like I may be on the right track with my theories about her.  I know there are other family members searching for her but no one has found out anything yet.  She looks a little defiant in her picture. Perhaps she knew she would be a challenge to find. She only lived 31 years but she had 10 children, so she left quite a legacy along with the mystery.


² and

Line by Line

There is one way of searching census records that has proved invaluable in my search.  That is looking at the census line by line when trying to find someone that has been elusive.  It helped me make a breakthrough when I was reasearching my husbands family.

My husband’s grandfather, Hubert Daniel,  was orphaned at a young age.  Both of his parents died when he was only 7.  I have never found a record showing them together, though I still hope to.  He was born after the 1900 census and they died before the 1910 census.  They lived in Georgia.  Birth records were not yet kept in Georgia at this time.  I found him and his two siblings living with his paternal grandmother in the 1910 census and his maternal grandparents in the 1920 census.  The maternal side was easy to figure out.  Only one of their children had died between 1900 and 1910, so I knew who his mother was.  Lenora Freeman, or Nora as she preferred.  I found a marriage record for Nora Freeman and C. J. Daniel.  They were married early in 1900 and were found together in the 1900 census a few months after their marriage.  His name was listed there as Charles J. Daniel.  Now at least I had a lead, or so I thought.  I knew his mothers name, Adeline Daniel.  The census said that he was born in January of 1870 so I should be able to find him twice in the census with his parents 1870 and 1880.  No such luck.

I could not find one family that came close.  There weren’t a lot of Daniel’s in that area and there was not Adeline Daniel or Charles Daniel. I couldn’t even find Adeline in 1900.  It seemed like Charles appeared out of thin air to marry Nora.  I started searching probate records and tax records.  I knew about when his father died so if he had any property there should be a probate record.  Charles was over 21 (men didn’t have to start paying taxes until they were 21 at this time) so there should be tax records as well.

I should also mention that there were a few other family trees on that had this family on them.  Looking at them more closely I realized that there was one with original information and the others were just referring to it.  The problem was that there were no sources for this tree.  Which means that they had no records attached to the tree to prove the family relationships.  In the geneology world it is not a good idea to just copy information from another tree without sources for the information to go along with it.  This particular tree did have parents for Charles, Adeline and Josiah. They had no parents for either of them though.  I emailed the owner to see if she had any other information or proof that these were in fact his parents.  I should also mention that I was questioning whether or not Adeline was acutally his mother. She would have been very young when he was born, so I thought she might be a step-mother which whould further complicate the search.  The owner of the tree said that her husband was related to one of the children of Hubert’s sister Amo (at least the kids had unique names, it makes them easier to find) and that she had got the information from that relative.  This gave a little more credit to the information but not much.  This relative that gave her the information would have never known Charles or Nora so the information is at best second hand.  She also was having problems finding any more information on the family.

Back to the tax records and probate records.  I found in the tax records one instance where there was a Josiah and a Charles Daniel taxed in the same place. This could be our Charles, still living in his parent’s home, but old enough to be taxed.  This was in 1890 and there weren’t any more tax records available for this area after that date, but Josiah was taxed in the same area for about 10 years leading up to this date.  There was also one instance where a Rebecca Daniel was taxed in the same place. Who could she be? I had no idea, but with how rare that last name was in the area, she had to be related somehow.   In the probate records I found records for a Josiah F. Daniel but it wasn’t the Josiah in the tax records.  Josiah F. died in a different county and the other Josiah was still paying taxes after he died. But maybe it was his father?  Nope.  Josiah F. had no sons named Josiah but he did have son’s old enough to be Josiah’s parents.  He had a son named John who married a Rebecca.  I felt, at this point, like there was so much circumstantial evidence pointing to this family but not quite enough to make the argument that this was where Charles came from.  Josiah F. Daniel lived a few counties away and the rest of his sons and daughters pretty much stayed in that area.  But not John.  I found John in the county where I first found Hubert with is paternal grandmother Adeline.  I found him there in 1860 with a son named Josiah.  So close! But its still not enough.  I need something more to connect Charles to Josiah.

This is where searching the records line by line comes in.  I had searched Daniel and Daniels and other similar names but nothing came up.  I had been reading a book called Family Tree Problem Solver¹. I was reading it in the evening before I fell asleep when I read about the importance of looking at every sheet of census if you are having trouble finding someone that should be there. The next morning I filtered the results for the 1880 census so that I just had records for the county and cities where I found Josiah in the tax records.  There they were.  Josiah and Nancy with a son named Charles. Their last name had been transcribed as David.  This is a common mis-transcripiton for Daniel, I learned.  When it’s written a little sloppily or the e and l are too close together it looks like a d.  I would have never found them  searching for Daniel, I couldn’t have even have found them searching for last names beginning with Dan.

But wait who is Nancy, I’m looking for Adeline.  Well Josiah went back to the county where his grandfather lived to get married.  He married a Nancy A. Henson and she was about fourteen when they married.  In the south it is common to switch between first and middle names.  Using one when younger and the other as an adult.  She had the right initial and she got married particularly young.  She matched my Adeline.  The family is connected.

It’s so satisfying to solve a problem like this. Since then I have found other families using this search technique when they aren’t popping up in records where they should be.  Its a great tip.  It can be a little daunting when it’s a big city and there are lots of people to search through, but it’s worth it.

¹ Hoffman-Rising, Marsha, Family Tree Problem Solver (Cincinnati, 2005) chapter 3.



Learning to Research

I mentioned in a couple of posts that I am trying to educate myself on how to do high quality genealogical research.

So where did I start?  I googled it of course.  You can learn to do just about anything on the internet.

I started watching YouTube videos and pretty quickly came across’s video series.  These are great.  I think there is a new  one every week.  Christa Cowen is the presenter on most of the ones that I have watched and she is a great educator. There is a lot of great information in these videos.  Many of them are about how to use more effectively, but there are probably just as many on research technique.  All of the videos are about a half hour long, so they don’t get too in depth, but they give a good introduction to the subjects.

For instance she does a whole series on the Genealogical Proof Standard.  The Standard is basically the guideline one must follow in order for one’s research to be credible.

I also subscribed to Family Tree Webinar’s.  These are also great video resources.  They are all about an hour long and go into more detail.

I also bought two books that were recommended frequently.  Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones and Professional Genealogy edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  Both of these are basically text books for genealogy.

I am basically trying to design my own genealogy curriculum.

How many video’s I should try to digest a week?  How much book work I need to do? I think I really need to set a specific goal for myself or I’ll procrastinate.

The truth is I have been procrastination creating this sort of goal/schedule for myself for a while.  Maybe I should set a goal for myself to get that done this week.  Is setting a goal to make a goal a form of procrastination within itself?

Church Record Sunday

I thought I would use one of the blog inspiration ideas offered by today.  This isn’t really about a church record that I found but one I am looking for.  There is a genealogy¹ written for one of my ancestors.  It mentions his church attendance and a couple of the names of the churches he belonged to.  This excerpt is in the photo above.

I wonder what church he was referring to as “the church” in Niagara.  Does anyone have any insights into this?  I searched on ancestry under church records and refined the search to look for Bixby in the Knox county, OH area, but no results.  I am not really sure where else to look to see if there are records for these churches.  Perhaps libraries in the area.  Looks like and educational opportunity for myself.

The bio goes on to mention a lot of details that could provide some great leads genealogically speaking.  Like this one.


I need to find this land warrant.  I do know where to look for this, I just haven’t done it yet. And then there is this:


How amazing is this??? I don’t know if there is a way to find any information to support this, but just knowing that some of my ancestors were involved in such a great cause and did something that brave makes me so proud.  David Hull Bixby truly was an amazing man.  He is my 3rd great grandfather.  His daughter Adeline Smith (Bixby) is my 2nd great grandmother.

His wife, my 3rd great grandmother, interestingly enough is one of my brick walls.  Her name is Phila Green.  According to this same genealogy, her mothers name is Jerusha, but her maiden name was unknown and her father was unknown.  It does give a few leads though, and this is who I am currently focusing on.  It says that they were married in NY, the censuses that I have found say that New York is also her birthplace.  The 1880 census says that both her parents were born in Massachusetts.  The genealogy also says this about her:


The last line is about Phila.  I researched this Marcus Whitman and what “Oregon Mission Fame” meant.  Apparently he was one of the first people to take a large wagon train across the Oregon trail.² His daughter was also the first Anglo-American born in the Oregon area.² He set up a mission there and was working with the Cayuse tribe.  Unfortunately they also brought measles along with them and decimated this tribe.  The remainder of the tribe, realizing it was the settlers that brought this disease that killed many of them, decided to seek revenge for this and killed Whitman, his family and many others.  You can read more about him here.

I just started tracing this Whitman tie, his family was also from Massachusetts.  I  found a Jerusha Whitman.  Although she is too young to be Phila’s mother, I feel like I am on the right track.  I’m excited that I have a lead about her family.  Before reading this geneology I couldn’t find anyting.  Not even a Green family that she could have possibly come from in Niagara County, New York or there abouts. No Green’s went with them to Ohio. The other family trees that I looked at didn’t have any information about her parents either.  Glad the author of the Bixby Genealogy decided to put this little detail in his footnote.  One other thing that may give a clue as to my original question about which church Bixby refered to as “the church”.  The page about Marcus Whitman says that he was Methodist.


  1. Willard Goldthwaite Bixby, A Genealogy of the Descendants of Joseph Bixby, (New York, New York: Willard G. Bixby, 1914), pgs. 680-81; digital images, pdf in author’s possession.
  2. Marcus Whitman ( accessed 11 June 2016), “Marcus Whitman”.


How did I get here?

My last post was about my Grandmother and how little I knew of her before I started researching her life.  I thought I would explain a little more about how I got started researching and what brought me to the realization that if I was serious about researching my ancestors I needed a lot more education.

There has been a lot of interest in genealogy on my mom’s side of the family.  There are some online trees in her family that go back in time father then I have bothered to count.  Not so much on my fathers side.  As I have restarted my research I have ran into a few cousins that are also searching that line, but not many.  There are also a few things that complicate research on my fathers side.  One of them I alluded to in my last post is that I don’t know his family.  HIs father died before I was born.  As you know I didn’t know my Grandmother.  And I have never met his brother, who is his only full sibling.  Because of this I have never heard any of the family stories from them.  My father is my only source and there’s a little bit of a problem with that.  He was born very late in my grandfathers life, so much so that his half siblings are old enough to be his parents.  My grandfather was born in thee 1800’s!!

Anyway that’s where I am.  I also started researching my husband’s family and broke through a brick wall that seemed to be affecting every tree I found.  That was pretty cool.

In this blog I plan on sharing the things I find along with what I am doing to educate myself in genealogical research.  I feel like I am somewhat of a newbie even though I have been researching for many years.  I hadn’t done much with my research  in the last few years and research has changed so much and there are so many great resources out there.

I’ll elaborate on all the things I mentioned in this post in later posts.

Now for an explanation of this picture.  One of my favorite things in doing research is finding family pictures that others have shared.  This is one of those pictures.  Technically she is not related to me.  She’s a cousin’s brother in law’s wife. But she married into that family that I told you about in my last post.  The one that took my grandmother in.  So she’s family.  Also I love this wedding ensemble.  That veil is just awesome.  This photo is circa 1920’s.  She looks beautiful and happy.  So I thought I would share this little discovery.

First Blog Post Ever!!

So much pressure!  What should my first post be about?  Should I make a daily theme?  Is anyone even going to read this?  Haha

I decided not to do a big intro and that I would just jump right in and share what I have been doing genealogically today.

Today I have been transcribing records and evaluating them.  One of the things I have learned is that the good genealogists transcribe all their records.  What does that mean? It’s basically rewriting the record, what ever it may be, exactly as it is.  For example I have a letter written to my parents from my grandmother.  To transcribe this I just typed exactly what she wrote, spelling mistakes, punctuation and all.  You might ask, why do this when I can just read the original?  There are probably lots of answers out there, but I will tell you what I get out of doing this.  When I transcribe records I notice little details that I have never noticed before.  I feel like I see into that persons life a little more clearly.

Yesterday and today I was transcribing all the records that I have for my paternal grandmother. I never knew her.  Even though I was 23 when she died, we never met in person.  OK, that is a little bit of a lie because  I was told she visited when I was a baby, but I don’t remember this meeting.  I don’t know why  we never met.  We did live on opposite sides of the country from each other and the difficulties of dragging 4 kids across the country was probably part of it.

I feel like I have learned so much more about her in the past couple of days then I ever had before.  Some of the records I have had for a while, others I obtained more recently.  I had read through all of them before, but not until I transcribed them did I notice little details. Not until today did I notice that the address listed on her marriage certificate application was the same as the address  she was living at in the 1930 Census.  Why is this significant?

The address belonged to her oldest sisters in-laws.  Her mother died when she was 5 years old.  Her father remarried, divorced and remarried the same woman, then divorced again and married another woman.  He also had four more children, 3 with his second wife, and 1 with his third wife.  All within a little over 10 years.   The 8 children from his first marriage were scattered sometime during all of this.  I don’t know what date or why the family was split up.  They were all living together with their father and his second wife in the 1920 census. Their mother had been deceased for about 2 years at this time.  By the 1930 census, their father was with wife three.  The oldest daughter was married and she was caring for the youngest of the siblings who 8 at the time of the census as well as the oldest son who was 18.  The second oldest daughter was also married, the two next eldest daughters were living together on their own. My grandmother, as I said, was living with the oldest daughter’s in-laws.  I haven’t found second youngest, a son, in the 1930 census.

My grandmother was 16 at the time of the 1930 census.  Her young life was tumultuous to say the least.  These people were not related to her but took her in when she needed them.  Then later in her life they took her in again.  She was living elsewhere in 1940.  She didn’t marry my grandfather until 1947, when she was 33.  She worked for him before they married, apparently fell in love with him and got pregnant with their first child, my uncle, before they married.  My uncle was born a month before their marriage date.  This occurred in the 1940’s, unwed mothers were much more uncommon then and a lot more stigma was placed upon them.  I love these people for taking her in.  I am so much more curious about them now even though they are not related me.  I want to find everything I can about them and follow their ancestry as well.

I’m grateful that by researching my genealogy I can know a little more about this woman I never met.

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