Sunday, July 15, 2018

Is That You, Willie Mae? - How a DNA Hint Broke a 20 Year Old Brick Wall

Willie Mae Harris (r-back) with her son, Ernest Albert Walker,
daughter-in-law Minnie Lacy Hall and granddaughter Violet.
This has been an incredibly productive research week. My wife has been pulling all-nighters since Wednesday trying to tie together loose ends and small clues on a mystery that has baffled us for the last 20 years. Back on July 10, 2011, I wrote a blog about Willie Mae Harris Walker, trying to put out what information we knew about her in the hopes someone would find it and help us solve a long running mystery.

We had been stuck on Willie Mae Harris and her first husband James Albert Walker for a very long time. Neither one of them showed up in very many records and they only stayed together for a few years. That meant that we only had this family in a marriage record from 1881 and the 1885 Florida census, along with a few real estate transactions to go by for our research. Further census records find the children dispersed into several different families and Willie Mae married to a variety of different husbands. This is where the 1890 US census would have come in use, because their last child was born in 1889.

Willie Mae was born in 1864 and we had several family stories that we hoped would provide clues in our research. One of those family stories was that her grandfather was named Col. Frank E. Harris and that he had surveyed and named Lake Harris near Leesburg, Florida. We were also told that Frank Harris had come to Florida during the First Seminole War (1817-1818) but had returned to Georgia only to return later and settle in Yalaha, Florida. Another story we were told was that Willie Mae's father died the same year she was born (1864) due to injuries he received in the Civil War during fighting near Atlanta. We knew that Willie Mae and James Albert Walker were married in Sumter County, Florida in 1881 and had lived for a short time in Yalaha and that after they separated, Willie had married at least three more times, eventually ending up in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Andrew Jackson Phares. She died in 1909 when her nightgown caught fire and burned her severely. We did not know who Willie Mae's parents were, but we did know that she had a sister named Fannie and we believed that she also had a sister named Grace. So, we had scoured the 1870 census for Willie Mae, Fannie and Grace Harris all throughout Lake and Sumter Counties in Florida, in the areas of Leesburg and Yalaha where we knew Willie Mae had lived. We knew that Fannie had lived in Jacksonville and we had found many records of her life there as an adult and hotel proprietor but we had never found any records for Grace.

Several years ago we started submitting DNA tests to the various databases. We started by sending my wife's brother's DNA to Family Tree DNA and ended up matching with the Walker Group but there were no clues to James' identity there. Then we added samples from my wife and her mother to Ancestry's database, getting the results just two months before my wife's mother died. We also uploaded the Ancestry DNA information to GEDMatch and MyHeritage hoping to increase our potential for matches. Then we added samples to 23 & Me and LivingDNA earlier this year. The DNA provided some possible matches but few of them had online trees and we weren't able to find any useful matches for these family lines. My wife did discover a cousin which we never knew about who had been adopted at birth and also found matches to her known half siblings and possibly one unknown half sibling. All of those discoveries have been great but were still no help in breaking down this brick wall.

After many years of unfruitful research, I finally hired a professional researcher while I was at RootsTech earlier this year. We have been getting regular updates but the researcher has not been finding much new information that would lead us to discover who Willie Mae or James Albert Walker's parents were.

Then, late Wednesday evening, my wife came to me and said she found a possible DNA match! By triangulating all the data she had she knew that the link was on her father's side and that the only matching surname was Harris. My wife sent off an e-mail immediately to see if this person had any information. Through searches of mutual matches and online trees we were able to trace this line back to William E. Harris and Fredonia Aust, both from Georgia but living in Jacksonville, Florida. The 1860 census listed three children for this couple; Frances, Thomas and George. Frances was listed as 6 years old making her birth year around 1854. My wife's great aunt Fannie was born in 1854. Could this possibly be the family? The biggest problem with this family was that no one had ever talked about Willie Mae having brothers. They only mentioned her sister(s).

 So, onto the trail of the family of William E. Harris to see if we could discover anything else. Through our research, we discover a marriage record for William E. Harris and Margaret F. Aust in Glynn County, Georgia in 1852 and the previously mentioned 1860 US census from Jacksonville, Florida with the daughter Frances. There was nothing for William in the 1870 or 1880 census where we would have hoped to find him with a daughter Willie Mae or Wilhelmina. So, what happened to him? We were stuck again....until we found a mention that he had fought in the Civil War as a member of the 3rd Regiment, Company F, Florida Infantry (Cow Boys). So, off we went to look in the Fold3 records. There we found his muster roles from August 1861 to August 1864. These records provided us with some useful information. One piece was that on August 9, 1864, William was admitted to the Ocmulgee Hospital in Macon, Georgia for an injury he had received in battle. That injury was the result of a minnie ball hitting his metatarsal bones of his great toe on his left foot. As a result of that injury, he died a little over two weeks later on August 27, three months before Willie Mae was born. This fit in with the story we had been told of him being injured in battle near Atlanta and eventually dying of his injuries. After this, we knew we would not be able to find him in any subsequent records with his family.

Our next step was to try to find other members of the family. So, we started searching for Thomas Harris and found a few clues to lead us to a full name of Thomas Wilson Harris. We also found an obituary for Thomas from Chattanooga, Tennessee. If you have read my previous blog on Willie Mae Harris you might notice a link to Chattanooga where one of her husbands, a former employer of hers, Samuel Seigler was born and where her last child was also born. So, this link to Chattanooga was an intriguing one. In Thomas' obituary it mentions his sister Fannie Bliss, but no other family members. Finding this name I decided to go back to some records that I had found at the Family History Library in Salt Lake a couple years ago. One of the records was a marriage record for Fannie Bliss and Jacob Keller. We knew this was our Fannie, Willie Mae's sister, because we had pictures of Fannie and Mr. Keller but we had no idea who Mr. Bliss was. I also took a closer look at Fannie's death certificate and noticed that it listed her father as William Harris, born in Georgia. Now we have a link between Thomas, William, and Fannie that leads us to Willie Mae. This convinced us that we had the right family and we began building the tree, tying all of the links together.

Our next discovery was concerning Margaret F. Aust Harris. We found her middle name to be Fredonia and discovered that several records list her as Fredonia Margaret Aust or Harris. We also discovered that she married Charles Cumberland after her husband William died. We were able to find her Findagrave memorial as Fredonia Margaret Cumberland with a burial in 1876 in the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville. Then we found what we consider the holy grail, a copy of her will on Ancestry. The will mentions Fannie, Thomas and George, but further on in the document it lists her minor children Louisa and Willie M., ages 15 and 11. The children were given to Dr. Theodore Hartridge, the executor of the will, as guardian until they reached adulthood. This was our first solid link showing that Fredonia had a daughter Willie. But we still hadn't found the daughter Grace that the family "knew" existed.

Snippet of Fredonia M. Cumberland's will mentioning Willie M Harris as her daughter.

All through our original research we kept running across Frank E. Harris from Marion County, Florida. He seemed to be a pretty well known man in the area and was very influential due to his position as the editor of the Ocala Star newspaper. We had stories that Willie Mae's grandfather was Colonel Frank E. Harris but these two men could not have been the same people since they were living in different time periods. Over the years, we continued to search for another Frank E. Harris to no avail. Then, with our new discoveries this week, we found a newspaper article about Thomas Harris, Willie Mae's brother. Thomas was listed as Colonel Thomas W. Harris and he was a newspaper man, having worked for and owned several newspapers during his career. One of the papers he was associated with was the Ocala Star, where he worked with his "relative" Frank E. Harris. So, Frank was a relative of the family, somehow. We are still looking into this connection.

Also, I mentioned earlier about a sister, Grace Harris, of whom we had very little information other than she had died before Willie Mae. So, who was this Grace? We think we may have now figured it out. A newspaper article concerning the marriage of Grace Hardin and Charles Pelton which occurred in 1903 at the residence of Mr. E. R. Bliss on 22 Cedar Street in Jacksonville, Florida gave us a great clue. A couple of things are found in this article that tie things together. First of all, Fannie Harris' first husband was William Hardin. Secondly, the wedding took place at the home of E. R. Bliss. Remember, Fannie was listed as Fannie Bliss on her marriage record to Jacob Keller. Now we have a link to a Grace Hardin as the daughter of Fannie, not a sister. Also, the residence of E. R. Bliss is listed and with a little searching through the Jacksonville City Directories for this period we find an Emmor R. Bliss with a wife Fannie at that residence!

William Ewen Harris
Fredonia Margaret Aust
Through all of this research, my wife has found additional living cousins, one of whom has sent pictures of William and Fredonia Harris, Willie Mae's parents, and additional information about the Harris family. My wife has reciprocated by sending copies of pictures and records that we have on Fannie and Willie Mae Harris. We will continue this search to discover more of the Harris and Aust family roots. But just think, this whole journey of discovery began with a DNA match making a small crack in a more than 20 year old brick wall.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Who Am I? - Mr. & Mrs. Ed Swanson of Holdrege, Nebraska

Happy 4th of July! It's another hot and steamy day here in south Florida. I got up at 6:30 this morning to go for a walk and the heat index was already 90 degrees. On Independence Day we tend to think of family and country and getting ready for the bar-b-que and fireworks. For my family, we will be attending a pancake breakfast at church, grill out some Korean bar-b-que burgers and watch the fireworks in our neighborhood.

Over the last couple weeks I have had people contact me concerning my ancestral posts at my other blog - They have been appreciative of the stories I write and the pictures I have included in the biographies. So, since I have some time this morning, I decided to add another story here about one of my found pictures and how I determined who was in the picture in the hopes that some relative would find it and claim them.

Mr. & Mrs. Ed Swanson - Holdrege, Nebraska
Today, the picture is of Mr. & Mrs. Ed Swanson of Holdrege, Nebraska. I found this picture at an antique show earlier this year. So, now the search begins. What do I know from clues in the picture?
1) The writing on the picture says "Mr. & Mrs. Ed Swanson, Holdrege, Nebraska. That's a pretty good clue.
2) The studio was Love out of Holdrege, Nebraska.
3) The clothing indicates that it was probably a wedding picture near the turn of the century.

One thing I need to find out is where Holdrege is located. A quick Google search informs me that Holdrege is the county seat of Phelps County. The town was founded in the 1880s as a railroad stop. The current population of Holdrege is about 5,500.

So, I begin my search looking in the 1900 and 1910 censuses for an Ed Swanson in the area of Holdrege, Nebraska.

And, one quick search later, I find an Edward E Swanson listed in the 1900 census in Holdredge, Phelps, Nebraska. Can it really be that easy? This Edward is 22 years old, born in Illinois in September 1877. He is living with his family, consisting of his father Andrew J Swanson (born September 1828), mother Caroline C (born May 1833), and siblings Mary E (born May 1869) and Hulda R (born January 1873). Based on this census record, the parents immigrated from Sweden in 1854 and all the children were born in Illinois. Andrew is listed as a retired farmer, Hulda is listed as a teacher and Edward is a carpenter. Andrew and Caroline had been married 45 years and had 10 children, 7 of which were still living.

The 1910 census shows an Edward A Swanson living in Center Township, Nebraska. Center Township is just north of Holdrege. This census shows Edward with a wife, Jennie A (age 29), two daughters Abbie M (age 10) and Inez E (age 7), and a son Lemar A (age 5). Edward and Jennie had been married 9 years and had 4 children, 3 of which were still living. Jennie and all of the children were born in Nebraska. Edward was listed as a farmer.

I was able to find a Nebraska marriage record for Edward and Jennie Berglund. They were married in Phelps County, Nebraska on 20 June 1900, just a week after the 1900 census. Based on this information, I did a search for Jennie Berglund in the 1900 census and found her living with her family in Center Township. Her family consisted of her father Johan E Berglund (born May 1845), mother Anna S (born May 1851), and siblings James W (born July 1831), Hattie V (born May 1887), Dora O (born May 1890), Esther E (born January 1893), and Carl J (born October 1895). Her parents were born in Sweden, were married for 23 years and immigrated in 1876 and 1877. All of the siblings were born in Nebraska. Johan is listed as a farmer.

Edward registered for the WW I Draft on 12 September 1918 at the age of 41. He lists his occupation as farmer and his address as RFD #1, Holdrege, Phelps, Nebraska. Jennie is listed as his nearest relative. His physical description is listed as medium height, medium build, light hair and blue eyes.

The family is still in Center Township at the time of the 1920 census. All three children, Abbie (age 19), Inez (age 17) and Lamar (age 14), are at home and Abbie is listed as a public school teacher. Later in 1920, Abbie married Victor Stubblefield in Holdrege. By about 1924, Inez had married Walter Hoffman.

It is known that Abbie and Inez moved to California with their husbands in the early part of the 1920s because in the 1930 census, Inez had a daughter aged 4 years and 9 months old who was born in California and Abbie's son was born in Los Angeles County, California in 1923.

By the 1930 census, the Edward, Jennie and Lamar, along with Jennie's mother Anna have moved to Pasadena, California. We can wonder why the family moved out to California. The move was prior to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression so neither of these events seem to be the cause of the move. The family owned the property at 1154 Second Avenue South in Pasadena, California and it was valued at $6,000. According to the 1930 census, Edward ran a poultry farm and Lamar was an automobile upholsterer. Abbie and Inez are both found with their families, living in Monrovia, California.

In the 1940 census, Edward, Jennie and her mother Anna are living in Arcadia, California. Did they move? Nope. According to the census they were still living at 1154 South Second Avenue, which is the same address they were living at in Pasadena in 1930. It looks like the boundaries had moved and now they were in a different town but still in the same home. One thing I did notice from the 1940 census was that Edward was now 63 years old and employed as an asphalt paver with the Work Projects Administration (WPA). If you have ever done road work, you know how dirty and hot it can be to be an asphalt paver. The WPA was started in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program. This program employed millions of people during the Great Depression. One year later, on 15 November 1941, Edward's wife Jennie died at the age of 61. Edward lived another 30 years and died on 6 November 1971. He is buried in Live Oak Memorial Park in Monrovia, California.

If you are related to this family, or know someone who might be related, please have them contact me so I can send them the picture that started this journey of discovery.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Social Media as a Genealogical Research Tool

I'm back again, the occasional blogger has returned. It's been another busy week. Last night my wife and I attended the first Dapper Dine-Out. This is a 1940s themed event where we dress up in period garb and visit local restaurants. You should have seen all of us out at the beach. Several people came up and asked to take photos with us. On Tuesday evening, I spoke to the Amelia Island Genealogical Society about using social media as a genealogical research tool. Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach is as far north in Florida as you can get (about a 4 hour drive) and happens to be where my wife's LeBoeuf family settled prior to 1880. So, while I was there, I spent some time doing research at the county library and at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. I was able to find 6 pages in the church's records for the family including baptism and burial for a baby (Horace Clifford Coker), confirmation and first communion for a son (James Vickery LeBoeuf), and confirmation for the mother (Mary Ann Vickery LeBoeuf). I also found that the specific newspaper that my wife's 3rd great-grandfather's obituary should be in was probably the only edition that is missing from the 1883 records, just my luck. But at least we still have the monthly list of deceased with some details.

So, as a follow-up to my talk this week, I decided to provide a blog about using social media as a genealogical research tool. This is one of those topics that is constantly evolving as more and more people get on social media. The main part of my presentation covered Facebook but I also discussed Pinterest, Twitter and Google Plus (G+) as resources.

There are many benefits of using social media for your genealogy research. One of the major reasons to use it is the sheer number of people who are subscribed to the various social media platforms. There are millions to billions of people on each platform, making it possible to meet relatives, discuss various topics, and learn from their expertise. Another benefit is the rapid response to questions. On some groups you can get responses within only a couple minutes. Many of the members use social media to challenge their abilities and are willing to take on difficult research topics. The discussions that develop around certain topics can provide even more information to help one find new ways to research their ancestors. And the big reason to use social media is that it is free! I love free resources.

I won't go into complete detail for each social media platform but I will provide a couple ideas on how to use each and you can investigate them on your own to see how they work for you.

Pinterest is a social media platform that revolves around collections of photos organized on themed bulletin boards. These boards can be on any topic but for genealogy they include surnames, places, crafts, research techniques as well as many other topics. Pinterest currently has over 175 million subscribers contributing over 1 billion boards. Below, I have included a screen shot of one of my Pinterest boards. The subject of this board is my Garman family research. As you can see, I have included photographs, newspaper clipping, links to blogs and other resources.

Example of a surname board on Pinterest. This is of my Garman family from Ohio.

Google Plus (G+) is Google's social media platform. G+ has nearly 400 million subscribers but only about 10% of them are active on a monthly basis. G+ has hundreds of genealogy related communities for people to explore. Additionally, one of the best things about G+ are the Hangouts. Hangouts are video conferencing calls. There are regularly scheduled Hangouts from several of the big name genealogists which you can call in to and see what they have to say. Below is a screen shot from Dear Myrtle's G+ Community.

Screen shot of Dear Myrtle's G+ Community.

Twitter is another active social media platform. With over 330 million active users, it is a growing community. Twitter has increased its character limit to 280 characters so your posts can now be longer and more informative. Twitter allows you to follow influential people and find microblogs for various genealogy topics. Below is an example of the results you might see when searching for genealogy on Twitter.

Example results of a search for Genealogy on Twitter.

And now for the mother of all social media platforms.....Facebook. Facebook has over 2.2 billion active subscribers....that is more than 25% of the entire world's population active on this one social media platform! Imagine the number of new cousins you could discover there. But with so many people using this platform, how do you find things? One blogger has been keeping track of all the genealogy related Facebook pages to help you find resources. Katherine R. Willson has a blog where she keeps this list of Facebook groups. So, how many genealogy related pages are there on Facebook? According to Katherine, there are now over 12,000 groups and pages dedicated to genealogy topics. These topics include regional pages, research topics, surname groups, and groups which offer personal assistance. A few of my favorite groups are as follows:

  • Genealogy Translations - Members of this group provide translations of records.
  • Photo Restorations - Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has several helpful pages. Members of their photo restoration page provide free photo restoration of your damaged photos.
  • Genealogy Events Club - This group announces upcoming genealogy conferences, events and calls for papers.
  • GeneDocs Templates - This group provides templates to help you organize your genealogical research.
  • and of course there is my genealogy related page - Miles Genealogy - Here you can see my upcoming appearances, keep up on my latest blog posts, and see what my current speaking topics are.

With all of these resources available, you should be able to find something to help you in your research. Just don't forget to step away from the social media occasionally and enjoy your current family as much as you research your ancestors.