Tuesday, February 6, 2018

R U Heir to a Fortune...

...or is it Fake News? Newspaper research can reveal some of the most fascinating stories about our ancestors and their descendants. And so it is with one of my wife's ancestors, Mathias Brandenburg.

The legend of Mathias Brandenburg has become larger than life thanks to a lot of publicity that appears to have begun in 1888 and continued into the 20th century.

Some of that legend has been interwoven with facts to give authenticity to a bit of "Fake News."

The following story has been published on Ancestry.com and it shows how facts and fiction have been woven together to create legend which is propagated by well meaning genealogists. Here is the first paragraph of the story:

by Gwendolyn Brandenburg Proffer
at Clark County KYGenWeb
Matthias Brandenburgh was born in the Palace in Berlin, Brandenburg, Prussia about 1738. His brother Solomon witnessed his birth. Matthias (Tice) and his brothers were members of the Hohenzollerns, the ruling family of Prussia and Germany, his grandfather Alfred being a half first cousin to Friedrich the Great of Prussia (1712-1786). Matthias’ great grandfather was "The Great Elector", Friedrich William of Brandenburg (1620-1688). 
The source for this article was referenced as  http://kykinfolk.com/clark/family/fr029-brandenburg.htm but that website appears to have been part of the Rootsweb site that Ancestry.com has taken down indefinitely.  This story of royal origins was probably based on a number of newspaper articles which were published in 1888 which claimed that the Brandenburgs were heirs to a fabulous estate. The first article that we have found is dated August 11, 1888 and was published on the front page of the Indianapolis Journal:


This article says that Matthias Brandenburg:

"told his family of the estate in Germany, and the first confirmation of his words was the appearance of an advertisement in American and German papers in 1862, inquiring the whereabouts of the heirs of Solomon Brandenburg, King William having several years previous passed a bill through the Reichstag restoring the estate." 

Mr. C.D. Bell claims to have traced the relationship and immediately set about looking up the heirs. 

"The castle on the estate is said to be one of the handsomest in Europe and is at present tenanted by Herbert Von Bismarck."
Curiously, none of the 1862 newspaper advertisements have been found nor has the bill that supposedly passed the Reichstag been found. But that did not stop dozens of newspapers across the United States from publishing these spurious accounts of an estate with one of the finest castles in Germany.  C.D. Bell appears to have been a master of publicity.



Finally one of these newspaper editors starts to be suspicious that perhaps a fraud is being perpetrated. But that did not stop many other editors from publishing more delusions.



The article above may even have some genealogical value as it lists a number of heirs that are laying claim to the "enormous estate"



Finally another skeptic but more articles appear in 1889.


The story seems to have been resurrected in 1902 as Mrs. A.A. Hurst of Florence, Colorado claims to be an heiress in the following story:

31 August 1902, Paper: Denver Post Page: 3


The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) · Sat, Dec 6, 1902 · Page 9

The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Sat, Mar 28, 1903 · Page 1

The above article made me smile when Mr. J.W. Brandenburg acknowledges that "he is not anticipating smoking very many 25 cent cigars purchased by his part of the proceeds."

The story that was published on Ancestry.com about Mathias Brandenburg does go on in great detail but you have to question all of their source material given how easily they were seduced by the scam. Here is the rest of the story:
In 1752, Matthias sailed with his brothers Wilhelm Heinrich and probably Solomon for America aboard the vessel "Two Brothers", settling at first in Middlesex, New Jersey and then moving near Hagerstown, Frederick County, Maryland. Matthias Brandenburgh’s brothers, Solomon and Wilhelm Henrich, settled in the Middletown Valley, Frederick County, Maryland (Ref: W.J. Moore of Richmond, Kentucky - Mr. Moore died April 1980). Fourteen years later their brother Jacob and probably Johannes (John Martin) sailed aboard the vessel "Sally" in 1766, landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jacob settled on a farm in the New Market district called "Chance" in the wilderness of Frederick county, Maryland. Johannes John Martin settled on Oaklands Plantation in Orangeburg Co, SC. All the brothers were well educated (Witness: They all signed the Oath of Allegiance and various Deeds.)
Matthias Brandenburgh probably first met his future bride, Hester Walgamot (whose family lived near Hagerstown, Maryland Colony, Frederick County [might have been Prince George’s County at that time]) about 1756 when the people who lived in her area were evacuated to the newly erected fort at Frederick, during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Matthias Brandenburgh and Hester Walgamot were married about 1764 and settled in Frederick County, Maryland. Here their first five children, Henry, Joseph, Elizabeth, David and Nancy, were born. In 1767, two to three years after they married, Matthias leased a ½ acre lot in Middletown, Frederick County, Maryland, located between Hagerstown and Frederick; the lease was sold 5-1/2 years later. 
A trickle of German and Scotch-Irish settlers had been defying government regulations and braving Indian attacks for nearly fifty years to settle the fertile Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region in the back country of Virginia Colony. The region had been a joint hunting ground for several groups of Indians, none of whom actually lived there, (the same was said of the region now known as Kentucky). When these Indians signed treaties in 1768 "giving up" their rights to the land, settlers rushed in to take possession. Two years (1774) after selling the lease on the Middletown lot Matthias leased 210-1/2 acres of previously leased land in Patterson’s Creek Manor in Virginia Colony, Hampshire County (now West Virginia, Mineral County) about 50 miles southwest and across the Potomac River from Hagerstown. Matthias and Hester’s son Samuel was born after their move to the land in Patterson’s Creek Manor (1774). The remainder of their children, Jonathan, Solomon, John, Sarah, Catherine, Absolom, Hester and Ruth, were all born in Hampshire County, Virginia. 
The land had probably already been cleared of native trees such as pine, white oak, walnut and elm. Matthias’ lease required that he build a house at least 20’X16’ with a stone or brick fireplace and plant and raise 100 apple trees, at least 30’ apart.
At the same time Matthias, Hester and their six children were starting the orchard in Hampshire County there were Brandenburghs in the first permanent settlements of the part of Virginia that was to become the state of Kentucky. (Note: Christopher Stoffel Brandenburgh lived at Quicks Run, Lewis Co, Kentucky and died there in 1802. His daughter Catherine married Charles Shepherd and Susanna married William Carr, both marrying in 1802 in Mason County, Kentucky. A deed was made to Catherine Brandenburgh in 1832. (Note: B. A. Deatrick stated in his research "There is a painting in the Washington University Gallery of Art in St. Louis, Missouri, painted in 1851-1852 (76 years after the fact) by Caleb Bingham. It shows Daniel Boone and his wife, the first white woman to settle in Kentucky, his daughter and several other people on the Warrior's Path (which became the Wilderness Road) as they were passing through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. To Boone's left (or right when the picture is printed in reverse) is David Brandenburgh- - I failed to document where I got that last information ! Daniel Boone doesn't look much like contemporary drawings of him and David Brandenburgh may or may not have been painted from first hand descriptions." . . .It has been said that this was Matthias' son and that Absalom, another son of Matthias, was also one of Boone's scouts. Matthias' son David was about four years old in 1775 and Absalom hadn't been born.
"Matthias never served any military service during the Revolutionary War, but he did make leather saddles for the Continental Army forces, which could be considered a service to his country", per 1970 correspondences from a Ms. Agnes Beasley of Versailles, KY. to Mr. Earl Bowman (descendants of David>Solomon>Hannah Elizabeth who married Strother Bowman) {Mr. Bowman's daughter wanted to make a DAR application}. During the Revolutionary War, Matthias contributed to the cause of Liberty. No doubt there were many more contributions than the simple one found in the records of Hampshire, Virginia:
"At the Court held for Hampshire County, Virginia the 12th day of August, 1783, Matthias Brandenburgh for 1 Blanket - 4.1 pound payment." 
This Service was marked for Contructal [Continental] soldiers. It looks as though Matthias contributed his blanket (nicer than the others) to the militia rather than to the United States Continental Army. This blanket was one of many contributions made to the militia in September, 1778. (B. A. Deatrick wrote in his research notes: "That blanket has been sufficient for several Brandenburg women to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and at least one man to join the Sons of the American Revolution.) On this record Matthias Brandenburgh was made a DAR Patriot. ....Brandenburgh data from research by F. Nelson. The reference for this is given as "Deed 4, pg. 141 Hampshire Co. Va." and "Virginia State Library claims for services."
"Matthias, on October 16, 1787, was the lessor of 48-1/2 acres on Patterson Creek in Hampshire Co, VA. It is also noted that on November 24 1789, Matthias Brandenburgh (wife Hester) of Hampshire County authorized Issac Good with the Power of Attorney of collect in lawful manner anything due the said Brandenburgh. It appears that Matthias stayed there through the 1780's. Matthias’ oldest son Henry was taxed for years 1784 thru 1787, but did not appear on the 1788 Tax List and it is believed that Henry Brandenburgh was exploring the land to the west, Kentucky and the Boonesborough area in particular. Henry may have sent word for his family to join him or he may have returned to guide them and help in the move. Matthias’ home in Hampshire Co, Virginia was about six miles from Cumberland, Maryland; and Matthias’ family and Henry no doubt followed the trail that later became the Cumberland Road, America’s first National Turnpike. (The Cumberland Gap was between Virginia and Tennessee.) "The route through western Pennsylvania was long and tedious requiring up to three months." The Maryland State Road ran from Baltimore, through Frederick and Hagerstown to Cumberland, from there a trail ran south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and on to the Ohio River where people with their wagons, belongings and animals could be rafted or carried on flatboats to Kentucky. (Steamboats were introduced to the Ohio river about 1810 and flatboats continued to be used. "In 1846 more than 2,000 flatboats sailed down the river to New Orleans. But by the 1860 they had all but disappeared.") The Cumberland Road followed the trail in the early 1800s and was macadamized all the way to the Ohio River by 1811. From there it continued across Indiana into Illinois where it was finished about 1850. It is now U.S. Highway 40."
"It has been said that the Brandenburghs first went to Mason County, Kentucky and that probably was where they landed to begin the journey inland, but the records indicate that they went directly to Fayette/Clark County. Although Matthias had been in Fayette County, Kentucky since 1790-91, it wasn’t until the autumn of 1798 that Matthias bought 150 acres on DeWitt’s/Jouett’s Creek. The creek empties into the Kentucky River and is located southeast of Winchester, Kentucky. (Mr. Bell, in his bid for the Brandenburgh estate, said Matthias lived in Winchester, Virginia. This caused some researchers to look at present-day Winchester, Virginia instead of present-day Winchester, Kentucky. Per B. A. Deatrick)."
"The land was purchased from John Holder, who had a boat yard not far away on the Amsta Grove Road ("Land of Our Fathers"). Holder had been captain of a company of soldiers that had defended the fort at Boonesborough from Indian attacks. He attested to the 1796 marriage of Matthias’ son Joseph to Delilah Vesser; she and her mother had once taken refuge in the fort." 
"Matthias was about 59 years old when he bought the land, which started "above the Saw Mill dam". Hester was from a sawmill family and several of Hester and Matthias’ children later owned or ran mills. Matthias’ land was never taxed for more than $530.00, which doesn’t suggest much in the way of improvements, but the mill may have been on their land." (B.A. Deatrick) 
Matthias and Hester moved and settled at the mouth of Duets Creek below Ford Station on the Kentucky River in Clark County, Kentucky about 1790. There were 150 acres in his home place, and the records indicate that this family were later to become large land owners. Some members of the family settled at Heidelberg, now in Lee County. Others migrated farther west, locating in Meade County, where the County Seat of Brandenburg received its name from the original settlers, mainly Solomon Brandenburgh, Matthias' son, who owned and operated the ferry. 
Matthias is missing from the Clark County records for two or three years, beginning in 1798 or 1799 and it is likely that he and Hester were in Hardin County with his children; his son Jonathan and his daughter, Sarah Brandenburgh Vertrees, was there as well. In 1804 Matthias transferred by deed the farm in Clark County to his son Samuel; then in 1805 he moved to Crab Orchard, in Lincoln Co, Kentucky. 
Matthias Brandenburgh and all his children spelled their names using the "burgh" ending. This continued until after the 1850s.
Some time before his death, Matthias revealed to his family that he was a member of the Royal Family of Brandenburg, Prussia (The House of Hohenzollern). He told them that he and his brothers had left a vast estate in Prussia, the reason being, "a Catholic procession was passing through the streets of the city of Berlin, this procession headed by a distinguished Loyalist who stood in high favor with the reigning Prince of Brandenburg, who was himself a Catholic. (During the reign of Frederick I (1701-1740) and his son, Frederick II The Great (1740-1763)). It was expected and commanded that every man whom this procession passed should take off his hat in token of honor to the great personage, who in glittering regalia rode at the head of the procession. Two of his brothers (one being Solomon) stood watching the procession. Even though the brothers were near relatives of the reigning Prince Catholic Elector of Brandenburg (Frederick the Great) they were Protestants and they not only refused to take off their hats to a Catholic dignitary, but they even spoke contemptuously of him. this was reported to their relatives. The King and Elector of Brandenburg (Prussia) was angered by their action and sent forth an edict confiscating their estate. This act was followed by persecution and fear of loosing their heads, and the brothers fled to Holland and then sailed to America, never regaining their possessions or estate in the Province of Brandenburg. 
In November of 1807 Matthias was visiting his son David who lived on Stoner Creek in Hardin Co, KY. and he was murdered by William Hardin. In Haycraft's History of Elizabethtown, the statement is made that one William Hardin was sentenced to the penitentiary for killing Matthias Brandenburgh. (Some say it was over a card game, but family stories say it was over the theft of wolf pelts.) [Ref: Samuel Haycraft's History of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, page 162.] Although diligent research of court records has failed to find a record of the trial, I am inclined to believe this. (B. A. Deatrick) Family tradition states that on November 20, 1807 he was thrown from a horse and killed in Crab Orchard, Lincoln Co. KY. Matthias is buried in Crab Orchard, Lincoln Co. KY. (per research of E. C. Brandenburg, Calvin Earl Brandenburg, (1940-1950-1960) & Benjamin Franklin Brandenburg III (1950s & 1960s). [Thelma, Inez {White} Mumaw's daughter, told me that one of our original Brandenburg ancestors was murdered by his partner over a dispute about wolf pelts. There was probably a bounty on wolves at the time and the pelts were worth money. (by Unknown Researcher)]
Matthias' will was probated 21 March 1807, book 2, pg. 240, Brandenburg, Meade County, Kentucky. David Brandenburg, Matthias’ son, was named Administrator of the Estate. In 1822 "Power of Attorney" was given to David by the Brandenburghs living in Hardin County for him to sell Matthias’ land to Thomas C. Green, husband of Matthias’ daughter, Catherine. 
Descendants of Matthias Brandenburgh can be found throughout Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, with a particularly dense concentration in the Kentucky counties of Clark, Estell, Lee, Owsley, Clay, Madison and Meade. A large number of his descendants migrated to Ohio, where many settled in the counties of Warren and Butler. 
In reviewing this incomplete history of the Brandenburgh Family, it is revealed that they must have had a genuine admiration for Nature. They were all primarily farmers, with the possible exception of the latest generations. Court records show that they were land owners, and the number of transactions which they made in land indicate they were not adverse to investing in natural resources. They exhibited the restless spirit of the pioneer, migrating across the Alleghency Mountains and coming west by way of the Ohio River, and then settling along the tributaries of the Miami and Kentucky Rivers. Descendants of these early pioneers have since located throughout the entire country, with a dense concentration in the Middle West. It is also indicated that these early pioneers must have been students of the Bible, with a deep respect for their ancestors and solemn reverence for the Divinity. It is noted that most of them had Biblical given names, and that these names were perpetuated in the family by frequently giving children the same names as their parents and grandparents. (E.C. Brandenburg).
References:
-- Samuel Haycraft's History of Kentucky p. 162.
-- Mathias' will in the Clark Co. KY records.
-- The Corydon, Indiana "Democrat" and "The Republican" 1959 series called "Our Ancestors" compiled by B. A. Deatrick, 15 Park Row New York, NY
-- Clark County, KY. Deed Records
--Brandenburg Family Folder, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY.
--Who Was Who in Hardin County, KY. by the Hardin County Historical Society, Nov. 1944.
--Evelyn Parsons and Mary Quillen of Heidelberg, KY. descendants of Matthias Brandenburgh, supplied much valuable material without which much of the information pertaining to Matthias could not have been included. (Benjamin Franklin Brandenburg).
Their children were:
Henry married Sarah Preston
Joseph married Delilah Vesser
Elizabeth married Elijah Fitzgerald
David married Agnes Morton
Nancy married John Warren
Samuel married Sarah Henson
Jonathan married Amy Jenkins
Solomon married Elizabeth Swan Kennedy
John married Miss Patterson
Sarah married William Vertrees
Catherine married Thomas Green
Absalom married Hester Frakes
Hester married David LaForce
Rutha never married
John Frederick Brandenburg's book says Matthias is listed in the D.A.R. First shows up in America in Hampshire County, West Virginia in 1782; but prior records to that are in Frederick County, Maryland where Matthias first met Hester Walgamot and then married Hester in Frederick Co, MD. 
An unknown descendant stated "Sam Sargent, brother of the famous midwestern artist Paul Turner Sargent, gathered much of our ancestry on the Brandenburg side when I was only 15 years old. My uncle, Dwight Childress, and I were wiring country houses for electricity shortly after World War II. Sam and his English bride's house was one of those houses we wired. Sam did this as a hobby and he very generously did this for me. Take this for whatever it's worth. He writes, " The Brandenburg family in the United States originally came from Germany, being a branch of the famous and prominent House of Brandenburg of the Province of Brandenburg of Germany. 
Matthias Brandenburg was named "ELECTOR OF ESTATES" on June 12, 1758.
LDS microfilm, Batch F6010556, Disk # 09317, Sheets 74 thru 80, File
Name: COLEMA01.GED. Submitted by Barry Ellis Coleman, 2515 E. Olive 4C, Arlington Hts, IL. 60004 (708) 870-8088.
Ref: "The Brandenburg Family" by E. Craig Brandenburg (C) 1980
Ref: "The Brandenburg Family" by John Frederick Brandenburg, 1989

The truth about Mathias Brandenburg is that his descendants have been duped into thinking that they are heirs to a royal fortune. Do not let the fact that someone cites their sources fool you into believing everything that is said.  There may be several facts interspersed with the lies. As genealogists, we need to do a better job of sorting fact from fiction.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

DNA Adventures- What a Week!

Is it "Time to Spit or Get Off the Pot" for you too?  This is one of the chapter headings in the book Swabbed and Found by Frank Billingsley, Chief Meterologist for KPRC Channel 2 in Houston.  We had a huge turnout for Frank's presentation to the Bay Area Genealogical Society last Saturday.  We got to meet Frank in person and hear his tale of "An Adopted Man's DNA Journey to Discover His Family Tree.


Frank explained how he wanted to use the double helix and the family tree as a metaphorical image of his process of discovery.  He showed his original hand drawn concept image in his slide show.  The cover art shows that the double helix is a ladder that enables you to climb your family tree.

I have been climbing the DNA ladder to my family tree too.  My Italian DNA matches have been especially intriguing.  Italian-Americans are becoming increasingly involved with DNA testing because of the high degree of difficulty in conducting genealogical research in Italian records. And it is not just Italian-Americans that are fueling the DNA rage. Frank Billingsley cited the fact that 1.5 million DNA kits were sold by Ancestry.com in advance of Christmas this year.  

Here is one of my favorite quotes from a December Wired magazine article about this DNA buying frenzy:

Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, leading personal genomics company AncestryDNA sold about 1.5 million testing kits designed to provide insights into your ethnicity and familial connections. That’s like 2,000 gallons of saliva—enough to fill a modest above-ground swimming pool with the genetic history of every person in the city of Philadelphia.

I was part of that DNA gift giving as I purchased several kits to distribute to key members on our family tree.  I had to contact Ancestry.com this week because one of my relatives was having trouble producing saliva to fill the tube.  They offered the following tips on how to facilitate the process of obtaining the saliva sample:


  1. Find a food that is appealing or tempting and have the person look at it or smell it while attempting to salivate; 
  2. The appearance or smell of a lemon often works for others who have had this problem
  3. Place a small amount of white sugar on the tongue. 


DNA testing is only valuable when it is combined with conventional genealogical research.  You cannot fully evaluate the meaning of a DNA match without a family tree to compare to your own. I have been busy contacting my Italian DNA matches. I have been copying their information into my tree so I can figure out our connection.  I am especially interested in other family trees which appear to have precise birth dates for their Italian ancestors.  This is indicative of someone that has a useful source of information.  For example, I found a family tree which contained useful information on the Roccaforte family that was posted by a woman from Florida.  Here was her response when I contacted her:

Subject: Roccaforte Family
From: Louise 
Jan 20, 2018
Hello Nick,
I was surprised to receive your message. Yours is the first I've received through Ancestry.
My grandfather (my mother's father) was Francesco DiGiorgio and his mother, my great, great grandmother, was Salvatora Roccaforte who married Angelo DiGiorgio. Together they had 9 children.
It looks like Salvatora Roccaforte's father was Rosario Roccaforte and his wife is Alfia Grasso. So that would be my 3rd Great Grandparents and we may be related if this is your family. How are you related to Rosario & Alfia?
In my notes I show that Rosario & Alfia had 4 children. Salvatora female, Cirino male, Vincenza female and Giuseppa female.
I have more information with some birth dates and marriages. Its been a long time since I worked on my Ancestry, so I'm a bit rusty. One of my first cousins paid someone to work on the DiGiorgio lineage so I have a booklet that includes the information I wrote above. If you feel that this would be helpful, I could either make hard copies or scan and send to you.
You are welcome to respond to me directly at my personal email. Take care.
Louise

She emailed me copies of the research that was done and I was able to find birth, marriage and death records which substantiated what she told me.  I was also able to reveal the names of the parents of her ancestor and get one generation closer to discovering our common ancestors. But the thing that really struck me about her response was that I was the first person to contact her on Ancestry.

My correspondence with Louise has been very rewarding.  She shared her experience of growing up in Omaha and gave me details of her trip to Lentini and Carlentini a few years back.  I was able to use her information to create a virtual Roccaforte family reunion.  So the bottom line is make those contacts through Ancestry.com.  There is always more to the story and it will only be revealed if you make the contact.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ancestor #1 of 52- W.T. Newman

Have you heard about the 52 Ancestors Challenge?  Read this article by Amy Johnson Crow:

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

The basic idea is to write about one ancestor per week for 52 weeks.  If you use social media then use the hashtag: #52Ancestors

Did you know that you have 30 ancestors on a five generation pedigree chart?  Here are the stats: 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents and 16 second great-grandparents. That surely will give you a good start in identifying which ancestor to write about. 

While pondering my 5 generation pedigree chart, I was reminded that my fab find of the week was an obituary for my second great-grandfather, William Thomas Newman.

The maiden name of his wife was actually Louisa Joyce Fowler, daughter of John Fowler
and Catherine Nelson. Frank Mayher was the stepfather of Louisa J. Fowler.
I lost touch with Ella Mae Newman of Boulder City, Nevada and only have these two
photocopy images of William Thomas Newman and his wife, Louisa Joyce Fowler.
Here is the clipping from the newspaper that I found online:


Here is the transcript:

William Newman, aged 75, died at the home of his son-in-law, Joseph McCrory, in Jordan township, Wednesday morning May 6th. He went suddenly, having suffered a stroke of apoplexy. He was an old resident of Monona county and had a wide acquaintanceship. He was a brother of John Newman, and an uncle of C.O. Newman, a Ticonic merchant. The funeral was held at Ticonic today and the body laid to rest in the family cemetery lot at Smithland.  SOURCE: Onawa Weekly Democrat, May 14, 1914, Page 7, online paper at Onawa Public Library website.  http://www.onawa.lib.ia.us/

Have you found obituaries and pictures for everyone on your five generation pedigree chart?  I have most of mine but I am still searching for a few.  Check the websites of the public libraries in the vicinity of where your ancestor died.  Read the website and contact them to see what their policy is for providing obituaries. I have found most public libraries to be very helpful in providing obituaries and most do it for free! Perhaps you will get lucky and find that they have put their newspapers online like they did in Onawa, Iowa!

Now I have to make a pilgrimage to the Smithland Cemetery and pay my respects to my second great-grandfather, William Thomas Newman.

William Thomas Newman Gravemarker (1838-1914); Smithland, Woodbury County, Iowa; Ancestry.com user Mary Kay Bothwell, [username: tbothwell1] originally shared this on 20 Jun 2011

Happy Hunting for  #52Ancestors

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book: "Swabbed and Found" Fuels my Damn Nasty Addiction (DNA)



If you need inspiration or encouragement on your DNA journey, you should read Swabbed and Found by Houston TV Weatherman, Frank Billingsley. I read the book in anticipation of his upcoming visit to the Bay Area Genealogical Society.  The book and the presentation will provide us with many insights on the true meaning of family.

We set up a special meeting on Saturday, January 27 to accommodate Frank's broadcast schedule. He is busy at our normal Friday night meeting time performing his duties as Houston’s KPRC 2 Chief Meteorologist.  He will make a presentation, have books available and will autograph them at our special meeting on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 2 pm at University Baptist Church, 16106 Middlebrook Drive, Houston, TX 77059 (Clear Lake City).  Check out the BAGS website or you can contact me for more details.

Frank always wondered if he got his personality, his bright blue eyes, or his love of people from his mother or his father. But he was adopted, so he never knew. Swabbed and Found is a fascinating story of how he combined cutting-edge DNA tests and genealogical programs in combination with his investigative skills to put the pieces of his Ancestor Puzzle together. You do not have to be adopted to appreciate this story of a lost and found identity.

As a teaser to get you to attend the presentation on January 27 and to encourage you to buy a copy of the book, here are some the passages that I found enlightening or amusing:

Page 24- A deck of playing cards is used to give a DNA lesson.

Page 55- "...you have to be a Hensley." This was intriguing as my wife has a Hensley ancestor.

Page 82- "Dogs are all adopted, and they don't wonder about their biological parents. Maybe I should take the hint."

Page 91  NPE is defined as a Non-paternal event. Later on in the book NPE is defined as "Hoosier Daddy."

Page 107 Frank wrote to the State of Arkansas to obtain a Non-Identifying Information Letter about his adoption.  I was amazed at both the useful facts and the confusing fictions contained in the letter.

Page 151 Frank asks himself this existential question: "How many parents can one man handle?"

Page 180 The acronym DNA actually stands for a "Damn Nasty Addiction."  🌝

I hope to see you on January 27 and please read the book either way.

Frank Billingley, KPRC 2 Chief Meteorologist


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sicilian DNA Match- Nicholas Roccaforte

My DNA Match with Nicholas Roccaforte encourages me to "Invite Nicholas Roccaforte to Add a Family Tree."

My evening recreation lately has been browsing my AncestryDNA matches on my iPad while we watch TV.  I came across the name Nicholas Roccaforte as a DNA match and was immediately intrigued. There was no family tree attached to his profile so  I sent him an Ancestry in-house email as follows:
Hello Nicholas Roccaforte,
We are DNA cousins. I have several Roccaforte ancestors. I would like to help you build a family tree so we can figure out how we are related. 
I am a professional genealogist but I am offering my services to you for free because we are related. 
If you want to check out my credentials read one of my recent blog posts about another DNA cousin with an Omaha connection:
http://www.ancestorpuzzles.com/search?q=Cunningham+
I hope you will allow me to build your family tree so we can both figure out how we are connected. 
I quickly got a reply by email:
Nick-Where did your family come from? My father was born in Lentini, Sicily in 1889 and came to this country by himself' (we never knew why) at the age of 22. Nick Roccaforte
Then I replied back:
My great grandfather, Anthony Cimino came from Carlentini and his wife, Maria Ossino came from Lentini. They went to Omaha where their family was living.
What was the name of your father and mother?  I can look them up in the 1940 census and passenger lists. 
Mr. Roccaforte replied:
Nick-My father's name was Concetto Roccaforte and my mother was Eleanor DeFinis. Thanks, Nick
I was able to find a 1953 passenger list which appeared to show Concetto Roccaforte traveling back to Sicily. In 1953, he resided at 37 Bayview Ave, Norwalk Connecticut.  The 1953 passenger list appeared to show that he was either traveling to Lentini or he was born in Lentini.  He was on the Andrea Doria in Tourist Class in December 1953.

1953 Passenger List for Concetto Roccaforte on Line 13 for the S.S. Andrea Doria.
Response from Nick Roccaforte: That is my father and we lived at that address when I was in Jr. high school. He went to Italy to sell the family orange orchard left to him and his brother when their father died. All this info is part of my life. I turned 80 this past Sept. so I too go back a ways. My mother and father are both on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. Thanks, Nick Roccaforte
Further research led to the original passenger list which shows when he first arrived to the immigration station at Ellis Island. In 1912, Concetto Roccaforte traveled from Sicily to New York on the S.S. Principe di Piemonte.  The ship sailed from Palermo on the 6 July 1912 and arrived in New York on 20 July 1912. The ship had originally sailed from Genoa on 4 July 1912 and had hundreds of passengers already on board when it arrived in Palermo. In addition to Italians, there were lots of Greeks and Turks on the ship.

It took considerable effort to locate this particular passenger list as it is not indexed on Ancestry.com. The name of the ship and the date of arrival was identified on the Petition for Naturalization.  I had to browse the year 1912 for the passenger lists, then the month of July and then arrivals on the 20th and finally found the passenger lists for the S.S. Principe di Piemonte.  There were 171 images from this passenger list and Concetto Roccaforte was found on image 130.

The blue arrow shows where you can browse passenger lists on Ancestry.com
The passenger list shows Concetto Roccaforte on line 25 of the Ancestry.com image number 130 of 171 for the S.S. Principe di Piemonte. There also appears to be a grease pencil number 204 in the upper left of this image. Concetto Roccaforte is listed as age 22, single, male, last residence: Lentini. The name and complete address of nearest relative in Sicily is: a brother in Lentini but the name is hard to read.  It looks like it begins with an L.  The middle name of Nicholas Roccaforte is Lorenzo and that looks like one possibility for the name of the brother. Concetto Roccaforte was bound for New York, NY.

1912 Passenger List showing immigration of Concetto Roccaforte on Line 25.

Concetto paid his own passage to New York.  He was planning to join a cousin named Alfio Valenti at 326 E. 26th Street in New York. His personal description for height was 5' 2" fair complexion brown hair and brown eyes. His birthplace was Lentini.

This view of my family tree starts with my paternal grandfather and
it shows where the Roccaforte surname appears with a blue arrow.
More work needs to be done but it seems likely that my Rosa Roccaforte on the family tree above was possibly a sibling of the father of Concetto Roccaforte.  A visit to a Family History Center will give me access to all of the civil registration records for Lentini.  Stay tuned for an update on this case.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Watch Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings

If you like Finding Your Roots on PBS, you will absolutely love Finding Your Roots: the Seedlings.  I have been following the PBS genealogy series very closely this year.  Finding Your Roots airs on Tuesday nights at 8 PM Eastern Time and 7 PM Central Time.  The series schedule for the next three weeks features "Encore" episodes from previous seasons.  If you would rather not watch reruns for the next three weeks or if you are just curious about what Henry Louis Gates means by "Seedlings," you can watch three short videos online about Finding Your Roots: the Seedlings by clicking on the numerous hyperlinks to the Seedlings website in this paragraph.

It takes about 30 minutes to watch all three videos.  If you share my enthusiasm for the Seedlings program, please let me know by commenting on this blog or by sharing this post via social media.  I plan to share this information about the Seedlings with anyone who will listen.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Genealogists Beware of "Fake News"

Fake news is making headlines recently but journalistic inaccuracies are nothing new.  Genealogists searching for newspaper stories about elusive ancestors in the 19th and 20th century will need to be careful and search for additional evidence before jumping to an erroneous conclusion.

Here is one small case study involving the Glynn Family of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. James Glynn was born in January 1834 in Ireland. He immigrated to the U.S. about 1848. He married Bridget Dunn probably in New York in 1856. They had 15 children in 21 years in New York and Pennsylvania. James Glynn and his family are found in census records in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1880 and 1900. He died before 1910 given the fact that his wife was a widow in the 1910 census of Old Forge.

Death certificates became required in Pennsylvania in 1906.  Nothing was found in the Death Certificate database for James Glynn.  He is also not found in any of the early death records of Lackawanna County.  The next step was to look for an obituary in one of the nearby Scranton newspapers.  Chronicling America has digitized images of the Scranton Tribune from 1891-1910 but no obituary was found for James Glynn.

Newspapers.com has several other Scranton newspapers in their collection including the Scranton Tribune (1894-1902), the Scranton Republican (1889-1936), the Scranton Truth (1904-1915) and a German language newspaper called the Scranton Wochenblatt (1869-1918).

Two articles were found describing funerals for John Glynn and James Glynn of Old Forge, Pennsylvania in April 1904:



When you look carefully at these two articles, you will see that all of the details are the same except for the names John and James.  I believe that the first article was a misprint and that it should have stated James Glynn instead of John Glynn.  Fortunately, there were two articles that allowed for comparison and analysis of the facts.

In addition two articles were found regarding a guardianship for James Glynn.  It appears that he may have become incapacitated and his wife, Bridget requested that her son, Joseph Glynn, be appointed guardian for his father.






Unfortunately, Family Search only shows the following available regarding Lackawanna County probate matters:

  • Lackawanna County (Pennsylvania) probate files, 1878-1885

These additional facts concerning the guardianship of James Glynn help to accumulate a preponderance of genealogical evidence indicating that the death of James Glynn of Old Forge, Pennsylvania occurred on 18 April 1904.