Sunday, April 23, 2017

Favoring the Irish

It's time to tally my progress for the last two weeks of family research. This is always a difficult time for me, because from week to week, I have such a variance in my schedule that research may sometimes rocket ahead...and other times languish. Keeping count helps me at least try for consistency.

However, having spent the past several weeks researching someone else's Irish family tree, it put me in the mood to do some Irish research of my own. So what did I do? Head over to my father-in-law's tree to see what new hints could be found.

There was quite a bit to polish up. As new collections get added to the Ancestry holdings, some trickle down to my own trees, so there is a constant need to revisit and spruce up documentation.

Though I did quite a bit of work linking already-existent people in the tree with newfound documents, I actually didn't add many new names. Five, to be exact. But at least that now brings up my count for that tree to 1,086. Every little bit of progress counts.

Surprisingly, my own father's tree gained a small amount, as well: inching forward to a total of 403, with the addition of fourteen new names. While this is my smallest tree, it is also my most challenging, so I'm pleased with any progress I can make at all.

The two mainstays of my research progress, as always, are the maternal lines: mine, and my husband's. Even so, I haven't seen the type of progress I'd experienced, back at the end of last year. In the past two weeks, on my mother's tree, I added fifty four new names to total 9,836 in that database. On my mother-in-law's tree, I hit some easy-to-find family lines and managed to add 162 new individuals, bringing that tree's total to 10,777.

Our DNA results, while up from the last two week period, are still much slower than during sale seasons. Thankfully, we'll likely see an uptick in matches, once the DNA Day sales get processed. It's always nice to see new matches, so I'm all for the sales—even if I'm not the one in the market to buy.

At Family Tree DNA, my husband's matches advanced forty five to total 1,272. At AncestryDNA, he gained fourteen new matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer, with the total now at 252. Interestingly, at 23andMe, his match count went down, supposedly as other clients retract their results from the DNA sharing portion of that company's website. He now has 1,285 matches there.

For me, FTDNA matches came in at 1,988, up sixty four. AncestryDNA was 528, up twenty eight. And I'm still awaiting my results at 23andMe, which for some unexplained reason took longer to make it from northern California to Los Angeles than from L.A. to the final destination on the east coast. Go, USPS.

One bright side in all these numbers is that I took a look at my stagnant count for my mtDNA test. I have only four exact matches there for my matrilineal details, at least two of whom are adoptees. One of the others, I just noticed, added a pedigree chart, so I jumped over to that file to take a look. It didn't take long to discover our nexus: at the level of my seventh great grandmother. No wonder we never saw any match activity on our respective autosomal test results!

Bit by bit, I keep plugging away at all these trees. Slow and steady may be very boring to consider, but in the aggregate, it can sometimes turn up some encouraging results.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fear of DNA

If you pay any attention to the genealogy world, you've no doubt heard of the sales in celebration of what is dubbed National DNA Day. The designated day, April 25, refers to the 1953 publication date of the James Watson and Francis Crick article in the scientific journal, Nature, announcing their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. (April was also a good month for DNA benchmarks in 2003, with the ahead-of-schedule completion of the human genome project on April 14. But, just as we Americans do for Presidents' Day, we've demonstrated we can celebrate two events on one single day—and that day has been designated to be April 25.)

So let the sales begin! Family Tree DNA started the volley of announcements when it launched its celebratory sale on April 20 with, among other things, an autosomal test price of $59. You know had to get into the action, as well, with their twenty percent price markdown for U.S. customers (and various other offers for customers in the U.K. and Canada). And newcomer to the DNA scene, Living DNA, offers $40 off their current price.

DNA sales come and go. Remember the winter holiday season? That was the first time—at least as far as I recall—when the autosomal test at Family Tree DNA dipped as low as their current $59 sale price. If you sprang for that price, you were in good company. Holiday sales significantly pumped the number of participants in the database of each of the then-three major testing companies.

But not everyone who purchased a test sent back the completed specimen. How do I know this? I have a relative who wanted a test for Christmas, received it, then...chickened out. Perhaps he was afraid of what he'd find.

He's not the exception. I asked a distant cousin if she—or one of her siblings—would be interested in participating in testing. As it turned out, one of the siblings decided not to participate. While that is a person's own prerogative, I often wonder whether there are some who fear what they would discover. There is definitely an unclear edge to that unknown. For some, it might mean discovering an ethnic heritage which turns out to be a surprise. For others, it might mean meeting up with an unexpected close relative.

We do have to tread tenderly as we progress into the unknown of this brave new DNA testing world. When I read, on Randy Seaver's blog Genea-Musings, the Living DNA announcement of their new partnership with one of Germany's largest genealogical societies to "map the genetic history of Germany," I wondered how that announcement would resonate with those familiar with Germany's more recent history. If you've read Christine Kenneally's excellent book, The Invisible History of the Human Race, you'll recall her recounting of the German requirement, leading up to World War II, for citizens to keep a notebook of their own family's pedigree.

For those who remember that dark side of human genetic interests, perhaps breathless announcements like Living DNA's latest collaboration may not seem as welcomed as would be hoped by the company's investors. The idea behind the premise seems sound, even exciting; according to the Living DNA announcement,
the project's aim is up the most detailed and accurate regional map of Germany's genetic history—prior to the loss of territory and mass departures from the eastern parts of Germany that occurred as a result of WW2.

Just as Living DNA did for its British Isles genetic genealogy project, in this German collaboration, they are seeking individuals willing to participate who can demonstrate that all four of their grandparents were born within fifty miles of each other. With the development of a healthy-sized database drawn from such fine-grained details, it will be interesting to see how accurately the resulting reference population can pinpoint predictions of German ancestral origins within specific regions.

That's on the bright side of genetic genealogy: the positive take on what we can learn about our own family histories. On the grim side, though—and evidently there are some for which these details evoke dark memories or cautions—there is a track record from the past which gives some pause to consider the need for embedded protections.

What is it about DNA that prompts some to jump eagerly into the pursuit of such discoveries—and others to shrink back cautiously? DNA is like a light that shines on our deepest secrets, uncovering clues about everything from our past relationships to our future health problems. Whether about personal or national issues, we need to respect genetic genealogy applications such as DNA for the powerful tools they really are.    

Friday, April 21, 2017

We're Stuck in Lodi, Too

Back before Saint Patrick's Day, when the unsolved mystery of that photo album I found pushed me to go hunting, one last time, for a living descendant in Ireland, I posed my quandary to a Facebook group of genealogical society members in County Cork.

When I mentioned I found the album five thousand miles from where it originated, one of the group members piped up, "So what's five thousand miles away?" When I informed this seasoned society member the answer to his question was a town called Lodi, California, he retorted with the inevitable: "Stuck in Lodi."

Yes, it's true: if anyone from that time frame remembers anything about the place, they remember the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival release by that same name.

Lodi, however, has a life of its own, separate and apart from that doubtful claim to fame. A city of about sixty five thousand, among other features, it sports a revitalized downtown which is finding its way amidst the exurbs of the more tony Bay area communities.

Right on the main street running through that downtown area sits the antique shop where I found the photograph album that turned out to belong to Harry and Alice Hawkes Reid of County Cork, Ireland. That's the shop where I returned, the other morning, to see if I could find an answer to my question of how the thing managed to get here from there.

The name of the place is Secondhand Rose. According to the shop's website, it has been in existence for twenty years, and has been established in the same location since 2000.

The difficulty—well, for me, at least—is that this is not just one shop. It is actually a collection of "shops," each the domain of a separate dealer. Right now, the store boasts forty five such dealers in their cooperative. And one of them—an unnamed one of them—is the person responsible for finding the album which eventually got sold to me. But I won't know anything more about the details unless this dealer decides to give me a call.

And so, I'm stuck, too—stuck in Lodi.

You know me: impatient. I want to know the answer now. But it's been two days since making my request, and I haven't heard a thing. I've even answered what turned out to be spam calls, all for the sake of not missing this caller from the antique dealers' secret society. Do you know how hard that is for me?! This is true dedication.

Meanwhile, it seems I may have an answer coming from a different direction. The person Heather had thought might know something about the album's journey to California has responded to my tentative plea via Facebook messenger. We are going to talk. Soon.

Photo courtesy Wren.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Back to Where We Started

Some things are never easy—but they are still worth the try.

It occurred to me, while puzzling over how a 1936 photograph album from Cork, Ireland, could make it all the way to California when there was no one in the family living here at the time, that perhaps I could find a different way to answer my question.

After all, though it took almost three months to figure out where the album came from—and who the family was, sending it—some things may not lend themselves best to genealogical solutions. Perhaps there was another way to discover how the album landed in the antique shop where I found it.

I had noticed there were two unobtrusive white stickers affixed to the back of the album. The purpose of one of them, of course, was to notify the potential buyer of the asking price. The other, also bearing numbers, was likely a code of some type—though handwritten, hopefully some sort of tracking or inventory code.

I don't know much about how to run an antique store. Presumably, the owner goes to special locations where such treasures may be bought, obtains items most likely to move quickly off the store's shelves, and adds them to the store's inventory—hopefully for the duration of a brief shelf life.

Since it was my daughter who introduced me to the antique shop in the first place, I ran my idea by her to see if it was reasonable: go back to the store and see if the code could lead me to where the item had been obtained by the shopkeeper.

We made a mid-morning coffee date and started out on our expedition, back to the antique store. Arriving in town at what seemed to be a quiet hour of business, we breezed in the door and found ourselves talking with the woman behind the counter in a matter of minutes. While she was willing to help, right away she brought up the down side: the store was actually a consignment shop, and the code on the back of my album actually told her which contact person was responsible for that object.

Only problem: for whatever confidentiality reasons there are among antique dealers, she could not reveal her source for this sale item. But she did offer to forward to that person any message I might want to send.

So there I was, yesterday morning—before my cup of coffee—pulling out a business card and scribbling a note on the back.

How do you explain a story like the one we've just been through in the past three months? It doesn't really fit on the back of a business card—nor on the paper the shopkeeper so kindly offered for the continuation of the tale. I thought about including a link to A Family Tapestry so this antique dealer could read it for herself—but then, I found out she was likely not online, herself.

All I could do was write my plea for assistance, and walk out, hoping for the best. And really, considering I probably bought the album at least two years ago, how could I expect anything at all?

Well, at least I could expect my cup of coffee. With a shorter visit than expected at that lovely little antique store, now we'd have even more time to enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Headed to California

If a single item from one's family estate ended up in California, wouldn't it be reasonable to presume the rest of the estate might have been kept in California, as well?

Of course, my premise that the mystery photo album I found in a California antique shop came from a local estate sale may be flawed. Who knows? Perhaps antique dealers search far and wide for the trinkets they sell for under twenty dollars. But I doubt it.

Then again, perhaps the album, while ending up in California, might have originally been mailed to a recipient who lived elsewhere in the United States—or anywhere else on the continent, for that matter.

I think these things out, over and over, as I try to discern that invisible pathway taken by that mystery photo album, from the County Cork home of Harry and Alice Reid to its unknown destination, back in 1936. Since no surnames were used in the notes accompanying the photos on each page of the album, I presume that means it was a gift meant for family, who would know, despite their lack, just who was meant by each nickname.

But which family member might have been the recipient? After all, though Alice Hawkes Reid had only one brother—an unmarried one at that, back in 1936—she also had twelve aunts and uncles, just on her father's side of the family. I haven't even begun to trace the generations descending from her mother's side of the family. And if the recipient was someone on her husband's side of the family, Harry had at least seven siblings that I've been able to find, and several more half-siblings much older than he.

Of those possibilities which I have been able to document, I had found one brother on the Hawkes side of the family who might eventually have settled in Los Angeles. While that city might be the epitome of California in many people's minds, it also is a distance of at least three hundred fifty miles from the shop where I retrieved the photo album. Besides, the 1948 California death record for Richard Hawkes, while providing the right mother's maiden name and birth outside the country, also contained the wrong middle name. Could it be just a coincidence that his parents' surnames were Hawkes and Gibbons?

True, Alice Hawkes Reid had two uncles who had immigrated to another part of the United States—both originally heading to the New York metro area, then moving beyond. But we've already examined the life of Thomas Gibbons Hawkes—who, incidentally, had died long before the 1936 album was composed—and that of his descendants for possible California connections without much success. And his brother—and their father's namesake, Quayle Welsted Hawkes—though moving to Westchester County in New York, had also died long before our mystery album was sent.

On the other side of Alice's family, though, there may have been some in-laws who could qualify as California recipients. Not that they were there in California in 1936—but at least they arrived there some time after that point, bringing their belongings with them. At least, we can presume.

The one most likely candidate family would be that of Harry Reid's older brother, Richard. Born in 1887 at Grange Cottage in County Cork, Richard eventually enrolled as part of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force during the first World War. Eventually, he ended up in Canada, where he married Amy Lucking. Together, they became parents of a son and three daughters.

By the time the third child was born, the family was no longer living in the Toronto area, but in Buffalo, New York. While I realize Buffalo is a far cry from California—even northern California—the family does eventually get around to making a California connection. At least two of the four children spent some of their adult years living in California. A third may also have lived there for a while. Best discovery yet: some of those California residences could be considered to be reasonably close to the location of the shop where I found that photo album.

Could any of those nieces or nephews of Harry and Alice Reid have inherited a photo album sent originally to their parents in Buffalo, New York? Could they have kept it all those years, while moving cross-country to a new home in sunny California?

Those are the types of questions I have for one of those family members, once we connect and can talk about it.

In the meantime, another idea occurred to me: what if the owner of the antique store kept a log of where each inventory item originated? Could it be possible that there is a record of where the photo album was obtained by the shop?

That's a project for another day. Soon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

That Secret Family Tree

It started out as a place to accumulate—and then sort through—all the miscellaneous facts I had been gathering as I pondered the family whose discarded photo album ended up in my possession. The jumble of notes over hunches, guesses, conjectures and outright mistakes needed some sort of mechanism with which to make sense of it all. So I started a new family tree.

Not in the usual manner, of course. All the trees I've posted at Ancestry—and elsewhere over the years, for that matter—have been publicly accessible. I wouldn't have it any other way. How else would I tempt distant cousins to get in touch? If I made my trees a secret, no one would have the incentive to connect.

This tree was different, though. For one thing, it wasn't my family tree; it was someone else's—and a stranger's, on top of that. What if someone became incensed over my gall in posting details on a family that didn't even belong to me? Worse, what if I got something wrong? No sense putting errors out there, in the ether, for passers-by to snatch away and add to their own mismatched tree.

So when I put up my jumble of notes on the Hawkes—and then, eventually, the Reid—families, I made the whole thing not only a private tree on Ancestry, but an unsearchable tree. A secret only I could know.

Now that I've met Harry and Alice Reid's granddaughter, Heather, I've learned more about the family related to those creators of that photo album sent as a Christmas greeting, back in 1936. In particular, when Heather reminded me to take a look at the Reid side of the family, I discovered a family, much likes the Hawkes family, with many siblings, all striking out in life, headed in far distant directions.

As it turns out, there were several candidates from Harry Reid's generation who could have been the recipients of the couple's photography gift, some of whom actually may have lived in California, the Irish album's final destination. While I've already reached out to contact a descendant of one of those family members, it would be helpful to review all the possibilities here, one by one, over the remainder of this week. Each candidate has his or her pros and cons, thus the choice may not be an easy one. Mulling over the possibilities by writing out these thoughts may help zero in on the likely candidate.

In the meantime, that secret tree may not remain such a secret. I'm finding that, with each family member I contact, I may as well invite that person to view the tree and advise me on its accuracy. After all, I've now heard from two family members who mentioned wanting to share an old, barely legible handwritten family tree passed down through the years. In exchange, I may as well offer to share the details I've gleaned from this fascinating journey learning about the history of two families from County Cork, Ireland.

Above: Undated photograph of Alice Hawkes Reid at Bride Park with her parents, John Pim Penrose Hawkes and Sarah Suzanna Ruby Hawkes, and one of the Bride Park Westies. Photograph from the private collection of a member of the Hawkes and Reid families; used by permission.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Hurdle

It's been quite a trip to go from finding a discarded photograph album in a local antique shop to actually determining whose family was featured on its pages. At this point, the goals of discovering the 1936 family's identity and getting in touch with a direct descendant can both be checked off our list. At some point soon, the little photo album will be making its way across the ocean, back home to Ireland.

There is, however, one more goal I'd like to see accomplished: to figure out just how the album made its way from County Cork to San Joaquin County in California.

While I've been writing about the various facts uncovered by researching the Hawkes and Reid families—the families of Alice and Harry, originators of the album—I've been testing possibilities for a family tree. Once I had discovered the likely identity of our easiest-to-determine member of the family—Penrose Hawkes, Alice's brother who immigrated to upstate New York to join a family member's business concern there—I had started sketching out a rudimentary family tree.

There were, of course, twists and turns. Guesses aren't always as insightful as we might hope they are. In time, I just gave up with the pen and paper route, and opened up a new tree on my account. Making the tree not only private but unsearchable—lest someone think I was actually a relative or, worse, think I was the very one who held the key to bust through their unfathomable brick wall—I felt free to test my craziest hypotheses and juxtapose conjectures alongside confirmed relationships.

Since discovering Penrose's surname—well, maybe since confirming I had the right Penrose (as if there could be any others)—I had been working on my secret family tree. Since early January, the slow process of testing and discarding possibilities has yielded me a tree of 127 names. A modest count, that number is sufficient to help me find my way around the family constellation, although certainly not enough to confirm relationships I've since become aware of. After all, Penrose's father had twelve siblings, some of whom remained in the area around their County Cork home and some of whom had also made the trip across the Atlantic to either the United States or Canada.

In trying to put together a path of descendants—and thus the likely trail taken by that mystery photo album to its final destination in California—I've tested several possibilities which subsequently had to be discarded. I couldn't quite figure out who might have been the recipient of Harry and Alice's Christmas greeting album.

Of course, their granddaughter Heather has since reminded me to look to the other side of the family tree for answers. And, in that same phone conversation a couple weeks ago, she made a suggestion of her own. Perhaps if I contacted one specific family, I'd be able to talk to someone who might have some ideas on the subject.

Once again, I find myself reaching out and then holding my breath, hoping for an answer, but all the while thinking this is, indeed, a crazy pursuit.

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