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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Current Research

Slowly piecing together Uncle Roy's life and family.  

Yes, it is unlikely that we have an additional cousin although he was a stepfather of 2; Helen Thomas Inman Beismer's 2 sons by her previous marriage.  

There is also the photo of Uncle Roy and the woman I believe is Helen who was clearly pregnant, so maybe they lost a pregnancy together.  

I'm impatiently awaiting a marriage certificate search the results of which I hope will arrive this week.

Helen Thomas Inman Beismer

Sunday, May 22, 2016

DNA testing

Roughly 11 years ago, I had my father's and my DNA tested.  

My test was the mitochondrial test which traces the DNA passed from mother to daughter down the maternal line.  My father's test was the Y-chomosomal test which traces the DNA passed from father to father down the paternal line.  In each of these tests, DNA from the parent of the opposite gender isn't traced.

I had these tests done to determine if the stories of Native ancestry in each of my father's and mother's families was true.  Both tests revealed NO NATIVE ANCESTRY.

However, that doesn't mean there wasn't any, it just means that it isn't in any of the DNA traced.

DNA is much more complicated than at first glance.

A few years ago, I paid for a second review of my DNA for a service of the testing agency that matches you to others with a common ancestor and I've been receiving notices of matches since and have made contact with a few of those matches without any concrete connections.  The reason for that it that the common ancestor is usually back generations before any of the ancestors either of us have identified.

Recently I saw a Facebook post linking to an article on Genetic Genealogy, for beginners.  It cleared up a lot of confusion for me.  Then, I called the agency where I purchased our DNA tests and, with the new information, got even more answers.  So, here is my currently, albeit still very elementary and not entirely confident understanding of these DNA tests.

There is more than one type of DNA.  In the case of genealogical DNA test these consist of:  mitochondrial DNA (maternal), Y-chromosomal DNA (paternal) and autosomal DNA (inherited from both parents).

My second test for family matches looked at my autosomal DNA and, unbeknownst to me, showed additional ethnic origins - Middle East, no less. Still no Native ancestry; my maternal DNA is entirely European.

Each person has 23 pairs, or 46 genes, half inherited from each parent. One pair, is the determinant of gender, the Y inherited from the father, the X from the  mother (with some variations), or 2 Xs in the case of females.  The rest are pairs where one feature dominates over another (dark eyes, dark skin over blue eyes, fair skin) or the two hybridize into a blend of features (green, gray eyes, etc.); that's simplifying it to the probably point of being incorrect on my part.

Within those genes are strings of DNA codes showing the various features inherited and which ones are activated.

If you have a blue eyed mother and a brown eyed father, the brown will be activated and you will have brown eyes, unless your father's brown eyes masks a code for blue eyes which make match with that of your mother and you have blue eyes.  If you have brown eyes and both your parents have blue eyes, there is most likely something fishy going on in your parentage.

Each generation passes on codes from previous generations on slivers of features on those strings of genetic codes.  Each generation has less and less, and smaller and smaller of those slivers of ancestral code from previous generations.

I was told by the agency that handles my tests that reliable ethnic testing doesn't go back much further than your great or great great grandparents.

Thus, the further back your unique ethnic origins go, the less likely it will be to identify them.

Also, thus, the blood quantum requirement for acceptance by the federal government and some tribal nations as having Native ancestry.

At this point in time, after decades of research, I'm accepting that, if I have any Native ancestors, they are much further back than I might ever find and I'll continue to focus my research just on finding out as much as possible about ALL my ancestors, whoever they were and wherever they came from.

I will be ordering the additional DNA test for my father to see what additional information there might be about his ancestry.  His DNA is already interesting because, although most of it is from the British Isles, he does have a little European ancestry and, surprisingly, ancestry from the Russian Federation, including Kazakhstan.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Grandma's Hair

I thought I had written this story here before but, after a little time on Facebook this morning, I looked and I don't see it in any past blog but, just in case, my apologies if I'm repeating myself, as, apparently I have about family history courtesy which is a topic that keeps annoying.

At any rate, I'm calling this Grandma's Hair because it's a little memory about my maternal grandmother's hair and what happened when it was finally cut.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret (Maggie) Eleanor Wormuth Beismer, had very long hair that she, most often, wore braided and wrapped around her head but she sometimes wore in in a chignon at the back like this:

 She and several of her sisters had very dark hair.

Grandma's hair was very long, she could sit on it when it was down which I rarely saw although she took it down to brush it and re-braid it, at night.

As she got older, it turned salt and pepper and was very pretty but became a chore for her to wash and deal with so she asked her daughters to cut it.

I was there the day they decided to cut it.  I think she was in her early '60s but I can't be sure.  Now this is where I have to tell you that this is my memory, after many years, colored by the passage of time and a lot of emotion about the event so, take this as it is, a faulty but fond memory.

They unbraided her hair and brushed it down.  It was gorgeous; salt and pepper, and wavy from the braiding and more than long enough for her to sit on it.  My Mom was there and Aunt Mary and me and one of the other aunts but I can't remember which one.  They got a comb  and scissors and she sat in a chair and they were about to cut her hair when I thought, "Nobody will ever see her hair like this again; brushed down and long and beautiful."  So, I asked if we could take a picture of her before we cut it.

Well, Grandma didn't have a camera so we had quite a discussion and time spent and somebody ran to Aunt Mary's house to get her camera (she lived down the street and around the corner).  Grandma's hair was brushed again, her "Indian print" blanket was brought from the bedroom and wrapped around her shoulders and several pictures were taken.  She was beautiful.  Her hair was beautiful.  You could see the "Indian" ancestry.

Then they cut her hair.  I've already been sobbing as I'm writing this.  They cut her hair short, in the man-ish style that is favored in our family, except for some of us.  It seems to be favored by people who don't want to be bothered with much more than washing and combing their hair.  But, back to the story; it isn't over.

So, her hair was cut; everybody went home.

Some time later, I can't remember when or how long, the subject of the pictures came up.  The film was old and the pictures didn't come out.  No pictures of Grandma with her beautiful hair down.

It breaks my heart that the rest of the family will never see her as we saw her that day.  She had thick, dark, salt-n-pepper, wavy, very very, long hair that cascaded around her shoulders, down her back and she was sitting on it with an Indian print blanket wrapped around her shoulders.  She looked magnificent and more beautiful than I had ever seen her.



Her hair after was fine, still very pretty, naturally wavy.

But, that memory of her hair, just before it was cut will always be with me.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The elusive Native ancestors again

Last night, I commented on a post in Facebook about DNA testing to prove Native ancestry.  It got me thinking about several of my grandparents - great great and great great great grandparents - who were, reportedly, Native American - Lenape and Iroquois - not very specific.  So here they are:

Joe Odell and Minerva Oliver Odell both born in Sullivan County, NY in the early 1860s but lived most of their lives in Delaware County, NY.  They are known in the family for having taking in a great many of their grandchildren at one time or another.  After my grandfather's father remarried, Grandpa often ran away from home and went to live with them here:

Nearby lived Darius Oliver (Minerva's father) and Hannah Odell Oliver (Joe's aunt, his father's sister).  

Darius's sister, Emily Oliver married Joe's father, Ruben Odell - and the family intermarriage continued from there.  Darius, Ruben, Hannah and Emily were born in Greene County but most of both families moved to Sullivan County in the mid-1800s.  Later, some of both families moved to Delaware County. 

Joe and Minerva were double first cousins; cousins through each of their parents:  Darius Oliver and Hannah Odell married and their siblings, Ruben Odell and Emily Oliver married and their children:  Joseph Odell and Minerva Oliver married.

They were all quite poor, scratching out an existence as well as they could. They planted, they hunted, they fished, they cut wood, they gathered wild foods.  Grandpa Joe hunted with bow and arrow and my father did as well, a little.  I learned a lot, as a kid, about wild foods, from my Dad, who learned from his, who, clearly, learned from Joe and Darius.

My father and I have each had our DNA tested, for ethnic tags.  Each of our tests were gender specific:  my father's testing Y-chromosomal tags which are passed only along the direct male line; my mitochondrial test only checking tags which are passed along the direct female line.  Neither test showed any Native American ancestry.  That doesn't mean there was none, it just means that if there was the ethnicity is not found along those lines.  More testing is necessary, more expensive testing.

What I commented on last night is that at one point in my family history research, when I was politically active in Native American issues, I realized that even if I find Native ancestors, I wasn't raised in a Native tradition and I never experienced any of the hardships that Native people have faced and I have no remnants of a culture that was passed down through generations so, even if they existed, they left it behind so how Native are we?

Still, as with ALL my ancestors, I want to know about them.  And, yes, I still believe they existed and I'll keep searching as long as I can.  Right now I'm stuck on the parents of Joe, Minerva, Darius and Hannah, whose parents were also poor rural people.  I can't get back, so far, to the next furthest generation.  Who were they, where were they?  One of my cousins and I have discussed the various possibilities of who and where they were.  One of those possibilities is that they didn't have those surnames:  Odell and Oliver.  I haven't given up.

And, then there's Mom's Native ancestors....

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bertha Beismer Hoyt and Family

I scanned this postcard photo again this morning to get a better scan of the material of her dress which looks like it may be 2 pieces. My brain is failing me this morning and all I can come up with is damask but that's not it. Please help me; it's a woven patterned, shiny fabric. I wonder what color it was.  

This is Aunt Bertha BEISMER HOYT, sister of our grandfather, Simeon BEISMER wife of Ben HOYT.  

The verso of the post card reads (as written in pencil): "Dear Mother hear is My face I thought you would Like to see it Being I cant get away Baby are all well other(s) is Like a dolly well I will close good by from your Daughter" Her name is signed Bertha elsewhere on the card. It's addressed to Mrs Eliza BIESEMER - Grooville Sull Co NY - dated Sept 25, 1915, Roscoe  

So, here is Bertha, the verso of the postcard and a photo of her husband, Ben HOYT.

. I have, so far, that they had 3 children: Leona, Walter and Mary Katherine. Leona married Leslie TELLER. They had 7 children. Walter married Ethel PALMER. They had 2 children. Mary married a SCOTT. So far I have no children for them. I don't remember any of them. Do any of you?  

There are relatives out there I don't know.  

I love doing family history. I will do further research and, hopefully, update this later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Native Ancestry

I’m researching ALL my family lines.  Many people only research their maiden name, their paternal line.  But, genetically, you are related to all your ancestors, paternal and maternal, and their histories are your history.

I got started doing family history research in my mid-20s.  Up until that point, I had been interested but hadn’t felt the need to do any research.  I had believed what I was told, as a child about my mother’s family history.  As a young adult, in college, when it came up in conversation, I repeated what I’d been told.  At that point, I began to encounter challenges to what I’d been told and felt the need to defend those “facts”.

As a child, my maternal grandmother used to say to me, something to the effect, “You must have inherited all the Indian blood in the family”, whenever I did something differently than the majority of the family.  As I’m writing this, I’m realizing 2 things:  I don’t know if she said the same thing to other children in the family; and, she probably meant it in a derogatory way.  I, however, took it as something to be proud of and it became part of my identity and even now, while more insecure, still part of my identity.  I’ve always believed I had Native ancestry.

But, when I began being challenged about that ancestry, I realized that I certainly don’t look particularly Native (but that is, actually, irrelevant) and I knew nothing about that ancestry.  So, I began my research to find my Native ancestors.

When my grandmother repeated that statement about me, I had asked her about it.  She told me, as I remember, that my great great great grandfather had gone to the mountains (I remember it as the Rocky mountains but cousins  say just the mountains) and brought back a “squaw” as his wife.  I’m not going to go into the misuse of the word squaw here; it’s not a topic really relevant to the family history (but might be).  That’s really all she ever told me.

At the time, it didn’t think much about which great great great grandfather but she never told me any more specifics.  We each have 32 great great great grandparents.  If you’re looking at only your maternal family line, you can halve that to 16 ggg grandparents on your mother’s side.  If you’re looking only for grandmothers, you an halve that again to arrive at 8 potential ggg grandmothers that, in my case, might have been Native.  Back then, my grandmother being a Wormuth, I assumed it was my Wormuth great great great grandfather who was Peter Wormuth.

At some point in my years of research, I finally turned my attention to my father’s family. 

My paternal grandfather was the only child of his father and mother but his mother died young and my great grandfather remarried and there were half-sisters.  We learned that one of them was still living and visited her; Aunt Beatrice (my great aunt).  It was during that visit that we learned that there is Native ancestry on my father’s side and it’s more specific than on my mother’s side.  Aunt Beatrice gave us information that I later calculated through the family tree that one line of the family was Lenape and another Iroquois; still not very specific.  We also had a specific individual identified as Iroquois, the grandfather of Reuben Odell.  And, the Lenape line came from Reuben’s wife, Emily Ester Oliver, but nothing more specific than that.  A month after our visit and before we could plan another, Aunt Beatrice Dempsey died.  Her sisters had died some time before.

So my identity as having Native ancestry was reinforced.

Then came genealogical DNA. 

Genetic testing is still in its infancy, from what I can gather.  It’s certainly different than when I took genetics in college and information seems to change and become updated from time to time.

Someone once asked me why I didn’t have my DNA tested?  Well, it’s not cheap, but, eventually I did and had my father’s DNA tested as well.

Here’s the thing.  It’s not that simple and straight forward.

I had my mitochondrial DNA tested.  As I understand it, that test only picks up on the genes passed from mother to daughter along the maternal genetic line backwards; so only genes passed from female to female forward.  So, if I understand it correctly, in the case of my maternal Native ancestor, who was the wife of my great great great maternal grandfather, her Native ethnic tags would be passed to daughters who would pass them to daughters, who would pass them to daughters, etc. down the line.  But, my grandmother was a Wormuth, her mother was a Hulse, whose mother was a Hendrickson, whose mother…you can see, she was not in a direct genetic line to that Native ethnic tag.  In any case, my mitochondrial DNA indicates only European ethnic tags along the maternal line. 

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have Native ancestors, as I understand it; it just means that I’m not in a direct mitochondrial line from that supposed Native great great great grandmother.

The same kind of result was found in my father’s Y-chromosomal DNA test which only identifies ethnic tags passed from male to male.  In the case of my father, we assumed since it was a grandfather of a male ancestor that was identified as Iroquois (not a Native word and much too vague) that it would have come down to my father.  His test shows no Native DNA which, again, proves nothing since we haven’t identified a specific person as the ancestor.

But, it is possible that I have no Native ancestors.  It’s also still possible that I have.  There’s quite a bit of circumstantial evidence and several relatives both paternal and maternal who have the same stories.

It also hasn’t escaped my attention that, in any case, I wasn’t raised in a traditionally Native culture.  There are no artifacts that were passed down.  Most Native people that I know are quite proud of their culture and protective of it and it seems odd to me that, in both family lines, nobody brought any Native culture forward.

So, I’ve put that aspect of my research on a back burner, so to speak and focused on simply identifying my ancestors – all of them – as far back as I can.  It’s an enjoyable exploration.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Little" People

To all historical societies, everywhere: most of the people who contact you do not have famous ancestors, despite their desire to have them, most of the people in your historic area are ordinary people who lived ordinary lives but their descendants value their histories just the same. The tendency to focus on those who made a name for themselves is, in my opinion, misguided because those who made a name for themselves are easily identified. Their names appeared in local newspaper a multitude of times. They have parks and streets named after them. It is the ordinary farmer, school teacher, mechanic, laborer, the person buried on their own land who is lost in history but who has descendants who need to find them. Please shift your attention away from the well-known and, instead, spend more time and effort in creating access to all the "little" people whose lives are also of value and interest.

Some of my ancestors were buried on their own land.  I'm told stones were often placed at the head and foot.  Those were often the only markers.  After these lands changed hands, those resting places were lost in history.

Some family members have died alone and we didn't know about it until well after the fact.  How their documents, photos, etc. are disposed of is unknown.  All these family memorabilia are lost.

Perhaps local historical societies could forge a relationship with local officials to rescue those memorabilia so that they are preserved.  Particularly when there is no family found but even when there is family, if they are not particularly interested in those things.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if, one day, a great great niece or grandchild found family photos and documents preserved at the historical society where their relative lived.

I would love to think that could happen.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Courtesy in family history research

Just a couple of quick notes:

  • Acknowledge receipt of anything, information, photos, anything anybody sends you.  They took the time to get it to you; let them know you got it.
  • Send a simple thank you when you acknowledge receipt.
  • Ask if there is anything, information, photos, anything, you might have they can use.
  • Don't ask for anything ever again unless and until you've done the above.