Sunday, January 31, 2016

Time to Face the Music

Time for an intermission from John Hogue's miserable saga. If I don't take this moment to take care of some bi-monthly statistics, I'll run out of month. It's today or never for January, 2016.

This certainly has been a whirlwind month for me, going from the wrap-up of winter holidays to that stellar opportunity to attend the week-long genealogical institute at Salt Lake City, to coordinating our local genealogical society's annual dinner meeting, to starting up another semester of teaching beginning genealogy classes.

Interwoven into that schedule has been a relentless pursuit of John Hogue's tattered trail of newspaper articles and other documentation, in the quest to put together a cogent story of just who this man was and what he made of his life. After having to lay his narrative aside during holiday interruptions in December, I was loathe to do so again this month, and put off all my accountability checks until the last moment.

Well, the last moment is here, and I'll have to face the music: I didn't get much done on the genetic genealogy side of the equation—ironic, as that was the very topic I went to SLIG to take. Considering I even put off the usual report for an additional week, the numbers seem sluggish on my side—although on the DNA testing side, the tsunami of test kits ordered during the Christmas rush is starting to hit the results side of the equation, as you'll notice from the uptick in DNA matches I've received.

Regarding work completed on our family trees, the two paternal sides—mine and my husband's—lacked in any further progress. I did manage to add three additional names to the Stevens side, bringing the count in that tree to 933. But my paternal side—with that elusive Polish tendency to hide one's true identity—is still flatlined at 180 names, as it has been for over half a year.

Thankfully, despite all the activity elsewhere this month, each of our maternal trees saw some improvement in the last three weeks. The Flowers line in Ohio increased by 190 to a total of 2,860. The Davis line fared almost as well, with an addition of 119 documented additions, bringing the total on that line to 7,171. That line, however, is the one benefiting from my matrilineal-line goal of determining the nexus with my mystery cousin, the adoptee with the exact match on our mtDNA tests. Some day, I keep promising myself, some day....

On the genetic genealogy side of the equation, it was interesting to see signs of burgeoning matches, thanks to the huge number of people deciding that DNA test kits would make the perfect Christmas gift. My husband's matches swelled by twenty one—a bit more than usual—to bring his total DNA matches to 591. Even more so than his, my count jumped by twenty eight to give me a total of 1,008 DNA matches to date—all of which, other than the twenty two that are specific to my paternal side, connecting me to one of the many colonial roots on my maternal side.

In addition to that number—all, by the way, from tests we had taken at Family Tree DNA a couple years ago—both of us had just tested at AncestryDNA as well. Results for these tests have begun arriving, creating another category for me to keep track of. Ancestry provides a count for a category labeled "fourth cousins or closer," which in comparison with our FTDNA matches, puts me in the challenging spot of having to (sort of) compare apples to oranges, since FTDNA provides match counts for those up to the level of sixth cousin or beyond ("remote").

Still, my husband has garnered eighty six of those AncestryDNA matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer. And mine has leaped to a mind boggling 223 matches.

Of course, it would help if I actually would take time to tend my growing garden of DNA matches. But with this whirlwind month, I haven't been as diligent on this account as I would like. Looks like I owe a number of people an introductory greeting, at the least!

With tomorrow's post, we'll continue with John Hogue's story. However, behind the scenes in the next two weeks, I need to put my primary focus on sorting out all these new matches on our two respective DNA accounts. Hopefully, those results will lead to some new discoveries—or at least bolster some suspected family links I wasn't quite certain about before.

Above: "Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter," 1875 oil on canvas by French Impressionist painter Claude Monet; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Still Stewart in Their Book

James Stewart, alias James Gordon, alias James Andrews, alias John Hogue, safe blower of a decade ago and convicted murderer...

So went the opener of yet another newspaper article on the still-unfolding saga of John Hogue—this one from the Escanaba Daily Press of April 1, 1926. Though Escanaba is about as far away from Battle Creek as you can get and still be in Michigan, its interest in the Hogue case—or the Stewart case, as they still presumed—revealed just how intent the people of Michigan were in seeing that the man, whoever he was, pay his debt to society for crimes committed in Battle Creek a full ten years beforehand.

If you thought Hogue was still sitting in a cell at the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, you and I both missed something. Embedded within the lead to another Michigan newspaper's coverage of the 1926 chapter of the unfolding Hogue story—this time, from the Marshall Evening Chronicle on April 22—was this surprise:
John Hogue, who stood in the shadow of the gallows, and who at the last moment secured a commutation of sentence to life and later to ten years....

Somehow, I missed that last detail. To ten years? How did that happen?
Knowing that I could find all the Essex area newspapers from that time period in Ontario online, I tried in vain to locate any mention of that latest change in sentence.

Lest you assume this Hogue fellow lived a charmed life, think again. Apparently, not even he knew about the surprise in store for him upon his release from prison that year. Back in Manitoba—a place full of people who also had a vested interest in watching Hogue's every move—the Brandon Daily Sun noted on April 8, complete with the usual litany of aliases,
John Hogue, alias James Steward, alias James Gordon, pardoned murderer from Kingston, Ont., penitentiary, professed complete astonishment when turned over to Battle Creek police by Ontario officers. The transfer was made on a Detroit-bound car ferry from Windsor. Hogue declared his rearrest an unexpected and unpleasant development.

Of course, if he had been reading the Escanaba Daily Press, it wouldn't have been such a surprise to him, since back on April 1, the headline there had announced the plans, "Paroler will be arrested."

The Marshall Evening Chronicle provided the explanation for this abrupt change in plans: Hogue was charged with burglarizing a Battle Creek pool hall ten years prior. Being the county seat of Calhoun County in which Battle Creek was located, Marshall, Michigan, would be the location of the newspaper of record for that county's proceedings, and was likely keen to get the scoop on any reports concerning the long-awaited suspect Stewart, er, Gordon, er, Hogue. Once again, John Hogue would be getting his day in court—whether he wanted it or not.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Puzzling Over an Editorial Device

Delving into newspaper archives can be a great way to gain insight into the story behind the stories in a given ancestor's life—as long as you pick up the knack of reading between the lines. Still, there may be pitfalls in that approach.

That certainly turned out to be the case in pursuit of the psyche comprising one John Hogue, the man we now know as one of Canada's convicted murderers during those tumultuous years during World War I. Possibly displaced as prime headline in a news vortex that sucked national attention away to far distant current events across the Atlantic, the story of John Hogue's narrowly missing a fate of swinging on the gallows in Ontario dropped off the radar at about the time news reached home about the devastating casualties just sustained at Vimy Ridge.

Still, before that point, there was much to glean from the newspapers, and I've trawled through every report I could find. One, in particular, I want to revisit now as an example of how that hope of analyzing one's family history subject may sometimes backfire on a researcher.

This particular report on John Hogue appeared in the Brandon Daily Sun, a newspaper back in Manitoba, where Hogue had begun his long deportation journey in early 1917, and from which he had just completed a three month jail sentence. The article was datelined "Windsor, Ont., Feb. 13," shortly after Hogue had shot a Dominion immigration official in Ontario, in the course of attempting an escape.

The setting for the news story was the Windsor jail, where Hogue was being held for trial, scheduled for early March. Undoubtedly, thoughts uppermost on his mind would have been the very real possibility of a death sentence, and how that likelihood would spin out in his various relationships.

That, at least, was how I presumed it might have been. Reviewing the article now and giving it a second thought, I'm not sure it provides the same glimpse into his psyche as one might have presumed—a little fact checking persuaded me to think differently about the man's current state of mind, at least at that point.

Let's take a look at the article, and then I'll explain what I mean. From the page five article, under the title, "Alleged Murderer Disposed of Property":
James Steward, alias Wm. Anderson, alleged murderer of Marshall Jackson, of Winnipeg, who will stand trial in March, has disposed of all his earthly possessions. He has willed his diamond scarf pin to a sister, Margaret Ashworth of Evansville, Ohio; a small savings bank account deposited in a Des Moines, Iowa, bank, to another sister, of Travers City, Mich.; a valuable traveling clock to Inspector of Police Mortimer Wigle, of Windsor; a rain coat to Fred Steward, his night guard at Sandwich jail.

In addition to questions about implications for professional ethics in regard to the last two bequests, it turned out there were other doubtful details about the revelation of this criminal's first installment on last wishes.

On its face, this appears to be a wonderful opportunity to confirm this man's family circle—but if you thought that at first glance, think again. Remember, this is the man whom people were led to believe was named something other than his true identity; what makes us think he would correctly name either of the two sisters he had mentioned?

But let's, for a moment, give him the benefit of the doubt. Since we already know his true identity as John Hogue of Charleston, West Virginia, we can take a look at his family tree. As it turns out, he did have two sisters. Well, amend that: because his mother had been married twice, he had an older half-sister as well as a younger sister. However—and I know this won't come as a surprise to you now—neither of those sisters was named Margaret, let alone Ashworth. Plus, each of his sisters spent their entire lives in their hometown, back in West Virginia, not in Evansville, Ohio, or Travers City, Michigan.

Come to think of it, there isn't even any such place as Evansville, Ohio—not according to Google Maps or any Internet search. (Well, there was one result that came up on MapQuest, north of the point on eastbound Interstate 80, just before the split with Interstate 680, approaching Youngstown. But I couldn't replicate that information anywhere else.) Evansville, Indiana, yes (on the Ohio River, even); but not in Ohio. Perhaps our traveling yeggman had gotten his directions wrong.

But let's assume, for a moment, that this Margaret Ashworth was a real person. Was there anyone by such a name anywhere in Ohio close to that time period? As it turns out, there were no results on for such a name in the 1920 census—but there was someone by that name in Youngstown in the 1930 census. Could that be some sort of clue?

Why did the article name one sister, but not the other? Why, indeed, did the paper include the name of a city that didn't even exist? Were these just editorial mistakes? Or can we even believe that the man had family scattered over all the midwestern United States—and bank accounts, too? Why would the newspaper's readership even care what an alleged murderer's possessions consisted of—or where they were bound after his demise?

Whether an editorial ploy or manipulative move on the part of Hogue, himself, this little display of histrionics tended to make me less sympathetic to his cause. It hatched all sorts of unanswerable questions, foremost among them considerations of the psychological aspects they might be revealing. Was this Hogue, attempting with pathos to sway the public (or at least the potential jurors), or was it simply reformist agitators seeking to disrupt the traditions of Canadian jurisprudence with a change in public sentiment?

Above all, hadn't anyone thought of the implication of such a statement before a verdict could even be reached in Hogue's court case? Why give away all one's "earthly possessions" before judgment has been pronounced? Wouldn't that have been considered an admission of guilt?

This type of agonizing over past newspaper reports may well be beyond the purview of what is meant by an "exhaustive search" for genealogical answers. To sort it all out, I'll likely resort to transcribing each of the many newspaper articles I've found, arrange them in date order, and set them aside to gel for a while before picking them back up for a final review. Sometimes, my brain needs a respite like that.

A story like this comes with baggage—a lot of context which simply can't be ignored. Although we'll need to revisit just one more stop along the way to John Hogue's commutation of execution to a life sentence, after that, it will be time to move along to the next episode in his story. You know this story couldn't just stop there.   

Thursday, January 28, 2016

News of Friends and Associates

When researching the history of a man prone to changing his alias as many times as he slips across state borders, it becomes necessary to have other devices to help keep track of his whereabouts. Tracking John Hogue through the years of 1916 and 1917 from his birthplace in West Virginia to his alleged residence in Cincinnati to his various escapades in the midwestern United States and Canada seemed convoluted enough, but when newspaper reports failed to point the way, I often searched under his aliases. Sometimes, though, even they lost me.

Though the search for John Hogue's whereabouts started out as a genealogical pursuit, it certainly turned out to be much more than I bargained for. Still, I've found it helpful to take my cue from internationally-respected genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and her research tip to consider the "FAN Club" of the target person being researched. While that "FAN" originally referred to "family, associates and neighbors," with John Hogue essentially leaving his family behind in Charleston, I've taken to substituting that "Family" with "Friends."

Well, perhaps "friends" is too liberal an application. It might be more apropos to Hogue's situation to consider these people I've been tracing as associates. No matter which way they are classified, they help me reconstitute his story through the technique of cluster research, a concept well described by attorney and genealogy blogger James Tanner. (While his example demonstrates an application to geographical instances, my pursuit is more of a sociological exploration.)

As the newspapers of the various locales concerned with the disposition of Hogue's case in 1917 kept churning out headlines and (sometimes erroneous) narratives, I've been on a seemingly never-ending quest to catch up with all the reportage. I ran across a blurb, dated shortly after the commutation of John Hogue's sentence that May, revealing a glimpse of just what he might still have been doing, had he not been detained for that fateful deportation after serving the three month term in Winnipeg.

Recall that John Hogue, in Winnipeg, had been arrested and tried as one William Anderson, along with his accomplice, said to be named "Sheeney" Holmes. Together, they had been in the process of blowing open a safe at the Robinson and Company departmental store in town. That was back in October, 1916.

By June, 1917, while Hogue—a.k.a. William Anderson in Winnipeg—was being transported to the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario to serve a life sentence, his buddy Holmes was apparently still hard at work, back in Manitoba. This time, the scene of the crime was Portage la Prairie—nowadays, a mere one hour's drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway from Winnipeg. The June 11, 1917, Winnipeg Free Press carried the story under the tag line, "Suspected Yeggmen Arrested."

Of course, we've already learned what "yeggmen" are. But it was interesting to note what local journalists had not yet learned about what to call one of Holmes' other associates.
Among the three men arrested as yeggmen at Portage la Prairie Wednesday is "Sheeney" Holmes, according to an announcement made on Saturday by the Pinkerton's agency of Winnipeg. Holmes was a pal of William Anderson, now serving a life term for the murder of Detective Marshall Jackson. Both men served a jail term in Winnipeg, and were deported.

Well, perhaps "Anderson" was deported. Evidently, Holmes had still been left at large to do more damage. Not surprisingly, John Hogue's associate had learned one of the basics of his trade: always travel with an alias. The newspaper article noted Holmes' reinvented self:
Holmes gave his name at Portage as J. C. Little.

One had to wonder: if John Hogue had not been deported, what would he have been up to, at that point? Likely, moving on down the road to the next likely target.

As to the other players in John Hogue's universe of friends, associates and family, it was often difficult to trace this with certainty. Even when a story seemed to provide a solid clue, often the name proved a false lead, as we'll see tomorrow with another part of this episode in the Hogue saga.    

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Life, Death, and the Big Picture

It's the beginning of May, 1917. What do you think is uppermost on the minds of most Canadians at that time? Certainly not the botched murder trial of John Hogue in Windsor, Ontario. There were many more earth-shattering headlines grabbing national attention.

Prime spot on national news coverage at the beginning of that month went to one item: the recent developments in the World War. Though the aggressions had begun back in 1914, and though Canada—as a British dominion—had conjointly become involved at that point when Britain had declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, it wasn't until April 9, 1917 when all four of Canada's military divisions in Europe were engaged as a unified corps in one battle. That event was the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

By nightfall on April 12, 1917, the Canadian corps was in control of the ridge, but at the cost of nearly thirty six hundred killed and seven thousand wounded.

News of the losses began trickling back home by the end of April. In the May 4 edition of The Essex Free Press—only one column to the right of the blurb on the petition-gathering drive on behalf of John Hogue—the shocking revelation of losses began to hit the public.
Almost all of those given as killed in action are dated April 9th, the first day of the big fight. To-day's list brings the total casualties announced since that date to 10,064.

Do you think, in the face of that, there would be much attention given to John Hogue's predicament?

In such a context as this, it makes the American conjecture of just what the West Virginia governor did to secure agreement in Hogue's case a more uncomfortable premise. From The Fairmont West Virginian on May 10, 1917, the very day of Hogue's scheduled execution:
Ex-Governor MacCorkle interested himself in the case, and it was through him that the congressional appeal which proved so effective was made.... Hogue undoubtedly owes the commutation of his life to the argument made by each of the West Virginia congressmen, which was that hanging him at this time might be used in West Virginia to stir up feeling against Great Britain and interfere with enlistment.

Unlike Canada, the United States hadn't embroiled itself in the war until the very month in which Canada had suffered such losses at Vimy Ridge. Indeed, the new governor of West Virginia did take on a significant role in encouraging enlistment, once America took its stand on the war.

Still, knowing the bigger picture, both in West Virginia and in Canada, it made the Fairmont reportage seem even more smug as it continued,
That argument proved a convincing one to the Governor General of Canada evidently, and proved it very promptly, for the commutation of the death sentence must have been ordered within a few hours after the receipt in Canada of the letters of appeal sent there by the West Virginia congressmen.

No matter what the reason behind the granting of clemency, one point remained: John Hogue was still a prisoner in a place not only far from home, but in an entirely different country. And he was bound to remain there for the rest of his life.

At least, that is how it seemed at the conclusion of the episode in May. There was, however, this nagging demand for justice still waiting to be resolved in Michigan...  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Life After Death Sentence

Though convicted murderer John Hogue's life was spared when numerous Canadian and American officials interceded on his behalf, he was by no means free. His was merely an exchange of execution on the gallows in the courtyard of the Sandwich jail near Windsor, Ontario, for a life sentence in prison.

Hogue's eleventh-hour reprieve arrived only days before his scheduled May 10, 1917, hanging. With the final plea having been made on May 2, the reply arrived—in the form of a brief telegram—on the evening of May 4,
word being received last Friday evening by Governor Wanless of the Sandwich jail that Hon. C. H. Doherty, minister of justice, had commuted the death penalty to life imprisonment in Kingston Penitentiary.

How did John Hogue receive the news? According to The Essex Free Press on May 11, 1917,
News that he had been saved from death on the gallows was taken to Hogue shortly after the condemned man had finished a hearty supper. He received it calmly, but after being returned to his cell talked feverishly to the guards, expressing gratitude to those who had saved him.

No explanation for the decision accompanied the message. That, however, was not to say that others weren't willing to jump in and fill in the void of that official silence. Back home in West Virginia, a newspaper in the city of Fairmont provided a glimpse at one claim—an explanation that took into account yet another overarching news trend eclipsing the minutiae of Hogue's personal trial.

Above: Aerial view of the Kingston Penitentiary, taken circa 1919 by the Bishop Barker Company. Photo courtesy of Canada Patent and Copyright, Library and Archives Canada, PA-030472, online MIKAN no. 3259972; copyright expired.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Who Pleads for Hogue?

It is understandable that the family of a condemned murderer might wish that his life be spared. If that family had the means, it would be just as plausible that they would obtain whatever goodwill they could recruit in effecting any clemency. And that they did, from the far-removed distance of West Virginia, reaching across the international boundary to the domain of the Canadian province of Ontario, in an attempt to spare the life of John Hogue before his scheduled execution on May 10, 1917.

Not as understandable was the effort put forth by the people in the very city in which the case was tried: the city of Windsor. Yet that is apparently what happened, beginning with a petition placed in circulation in late April, 1917. Addressed to the Honorable C. J. Doherty, minister of justice, the instrument was "seeking executive clemency" in the case of John Hogue, convicted earlier in March for the murder of the Canadian deportation officer escorting him to stand trial in Michigan on charges of safe blowing.

By this time, the appellate division of the Ontario Supreme Court at Toronto had already denied the appeal made on behalf of Hogue. According to the April 27 edition of The Essex Free Press, the "efforts to save John Hogue" were then taken up when
Adjutant Squarebriggs, officer commanding the Windsor corps of the Salvation Army, placed a petition in circulation last week.

From the opposite direction, action was being taken at home as well.
William E. Chilton, member of the United States senate for West Virginia, has addressed a letter to Hon. C. J. Doherty of Ottawa, minister of justice, in which he vouches for the high citizenship of Hogue's family, and expresses his belief that John Hogue did not shoot intentionally.

Theirs were not the only pleas. According to a later edition of The Essex Free Press, "numerous petitions had been sent to Ottawa by Canadian and United States citizens." In addition,
The governor of West Virginia, where Hogue was born, and other prominent men of the Southern States also interceded at Ottawa.

Despite such widespread support for John Hogue's plea for clemency, don't let yourself be persuaded that his reprieve was merely a token bestowed upon the privileged class. During the time in which Hogue was apprehended, charged, tried and sentenced, Canada was undergoing a concurrent reformist thrust which decried capital punishment in general. Associations like National Prison Reform Association—two years after Hogue's trial to become the Canadian Prisoners' Welfare Association—boasted the effective leadership of statesmen such as Robert Bickerdike, MP, who introduced bills to replace the death penalty with a life sentence, the very proposal made in Hogue's case during that same time period.

Whether the petitions in Hogue's case carried many signatures or few, whether the political clout of the American politicians was impressive or inadequate, it is likely that the predominant voice in the struggle was actually that of the Canadian reformists calling for a sea change in their overarching administration of justice.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life — According to the Locals

The uproar of chasing a fugitive—murderer, at that—who remained at large for upwards of forty eight hours certainly was news consumed voraciously by the populace back in Michigan and Wisconsin (scene of several crimes attributed to John Hogue) and Manitoba (site of his previous arrest and home of the deportation officer he had just killed). Each of those locales obviously had their own agenda in following the reports of Hogue's trial and sentencing.

But what about Essex County, Ontario—the very place where all this drama unfolded in late January, 1917? The two subscription sites from which I had gleaned these other news reports unfortunately did not include editions from any location in Essex County, thus leaving a rather significant gap in our survey of unfolding events.

Fortunately, I recalled a way around this dilemma. Those of you who have been journeying along with A Family Tapestry for a few years might have had your memory jogged by mention of that location, too. Though not having anything to do with this family line, we had spent some time on Essex County news when one of my husband's distant Flannery cousins from Paris, Ontario, had shown up in the news in that county in Ontario.

It was thanks to reader Intense Guy that I had become acquainted with a newspaper scanning project initiated in Essex County a while back. He had mentioned it in a comment when we were discussing the fate of one Patrick Flannery. Though that site has now transferred its original scans to a different URL, the good news is that, in the process, the site has uploaded numerous other news publications from the county as well.

Taking a look at the current files, I've been able to get an earful of local editorial commentary on the case as it unfolded.

From The Essex Free Press of May 4, 1917, in an editorial collection of shorts dubbed "Twinklers," an unnamed staffer noted,
A petition has been signed by a large number of people in Windsor on behalf of John Hogue, alias Stewart, who shot the immigration officer some time ago. At the first thought, we would be pleased to append our names, but when we remember that, if he had had half a chance, he would have shot the officers that arrested him, we are compelled to shrug our shoulders and remark, that after all the kindness shown him, to commit a deliberate murder, the scaffold is the only humane punishment for him.

A level-headed analysis was provided in a column simply labeled "County News" in the same edition of The Essex Free Press, explaining the order of events leading up to Hogue's eleventh-hour reprieve. The request had been made to consider either a new trial or at least a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment.

"In the event that an error is found in the charge" of the presiding judge in his instructions to the jury, which apparently "did not fully understand the law as it was explained to them," it was hoped the powers that be would reverse course. To bolster that argument, the newspaper included a review of pertinent facts:
Three affidavits from jurors to that effect have been obtained by the condemned man's counsel.

In addition,
The crown is also charged with failure to produce...two material witnesses, members of the colored construction battalion, which was in Windsor at the time of the slaying. Their evidence, counsel maintains, would have proven that Hogue did not intend to kill Immigration Officer Marshall Jackson.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of just what evidence those witnesses might have provided.

Though it is understandable that those Hogue had wronged back in Michigan and Wisconsin were vocal in their demands for justice, and those in Manitoba were aggrieved at the loss of a local officer and family man, it seemed counter-intuitive to read that a good number of local residents at ground zero for this latest in Hogue's escapades would plead for clemency on his behalf. However, as we'll see tomorrow, there was a vocal chorus raised not only among those back in his hometown in West Virginia, but there in his most recent stop in Canada, as well.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Yegg's Change of Fate

With the decision of the appellate court, Hogue's last chance to escape hanging on May 10 disappears.

A death watch had been set outside the door of the jail cell housing John Syme Hogue, the American accused of murdering the Canadian deportation officer charged with returning him from Winnipeg to stand trial in Michigan. The despondent criminal had given signs of suicidal tendencies—not surprising, considering he had just been sentenced to die on the gallows on May 10, 1917.

An appeal had been made by his attorney, Windsor barrister F. C. Kerby, immediately following the March 7 trial and sentencing. In the meantime, newspapers on both sides of the international border had been churning out sensational headlines—rhetoric more likely to distribute copies than confirmation of the actual events.

"Captured after a sensational struggle," trumpeted one report from one Michigan newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot, even though it turned out that Hogue couldn't even get his gun to fire when police kicked in the door to his hotel room in Windsor, Ontario.

"Gunman, safe blower, dope fiend and nationally known American crook," gloated the Kalamazoo Gazette just after the verdict had been returned on Hogue's case.

"Death Penalty for Yegg Who Slew Officer" headlined yet another newspaper—the Muskegon Chronicle—following the fate of the convicted killer.


I had to check this one out. Surely, I thought, that was some sort of Canadian slang of the era—until I realized this was a Michigan newspaper's editorial flourish.

Google to the rescue. Wherever the term originated, "yegg" quite handily described the man, according to an updated edition of a 1949 book, A Dictionary of the Underworld. According to author Eric Partridge, a "yegg" is a professional "safe-blower."

That, indeed, was the essence of Hogue's occupation—at least, that is, according to the newspaper reports littering his already-escaped path through mid-western United States and Canada. What makes the book seem a handy reference is the author's extensive listing of support for definitions provided—a bibliographical listing of resources upon which he developed his specialized lexicon.

Whether meant to be a slur or merely statement of fact, use of the term in the era's journalistic coverage of the event only seemed to add fire to the furor.

It seems incredible to think, in the midst of this local uproar, that the brother of the condemned could consider it plausible to step in and snatch the man from his destiny. And yet, despite the original denial of Barrister Kerby's appeal, that is what Andrew Hogue did—with the assistance of key personnel, of course. Andrew Hogue enlisted the help of the newly-elected governor of his home state, West Virginia's Governor John J. Cornwell.

Why this choice would seem to this concerned brother to be an effective tool in securing the release of a condemned criminal, I'm not sure. I thought of every link possible. Family member? Business associate? Political payback?

Though the Cornwell lineage includes a mother whose maiden name was Taylor—a name also figuring in my extended family tree—I could find no immediate familial connections between the Hogue family and that of the governor. Though formerly a newspaper publisher and editor, the new governor, having just assumed office that March, 1917, had yet to establish his political reputation. He was eventually to be known for his positive role in education, mining safety, public safety, and even in raising the highest percentage of volunteers per state to serve at the start of World War I. Still, the down side of his term of office—and likely an instigating factor in limiting his tenure to one term—became his botched handling of unfulfilled promises to labor interests in the state's coal mining industry.

That, however, all came after whatever kindness he showed to the pleading Andrew Hogue on behalf of his wayward brother. Though Andrew Hogue was, himself, a civil engineer and, coincidentally, owner of a coal mine, at the beginning of the governor's term it was too early to determine what political favors the governor might have been seeking in return for his help in extracting Andrew's brother from his fate.

Newspaper reports never revealed what, exactly, the new governor might have done on behalf of John Hogue. Of course, a serious research trip to trawl through the holdings at the West Virginia state archives might reveal correspondence concerning the matter. That will have to wait for another season.

One thing became quite clear, though. Only days before Hogue's sentence was to be carried out, in a small—and understated—entry datelined Detroit, May 5, an announcement reversing course was made. Buried discreetly on page fourteen of the Muskegon Chronicle, the article explained,
The sentence of death by hanging imposed at Windsor on John Hogue...was commuted late yesterday to life imprisonment. The commutation was granted by the Canadian minister of justice at Ottawa.

And that was it. No mention of how that change of fate came to be. No names dropped, of course—that would be impolitic at a time like this. But with whatever influence tipped the hand of the powers that be—though still sentenced to a life behind bars—in a last minute maneuver, John Hogue was spared his life.

If you think the story of John Hogue—alias James Stewart, Gordon, Andrews or Anderson—has reached its last chapter, though, think again. Those newspapers in Michigan weren't fomenting such a furor for nothing. There was yet another debt to repay to society, and those Michigan editors were keen to see it paid in full.      

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bolstering a Brother's Poor Alibi

Brothers have been known to be the best of friends—and sometimes the worst of enemies. The bond of brotherhood may run the gamut of human emotions, but no matter where it falls on the scale, it comes with the mark of a singular relationship.

Before the start of 1917, there were no clues to indicate the strength of the familial relationship between John Syme Hogue and his younger brother, Andrew. With John born in 1885 and his brother following almost exactly two years later in 1887, they were close enough in age to have shared many of the same experiences in their growing-up years. Whether those experiences brought the proverbial closeness of brotherhood, or the bitternesses of animosity or jealousy, it is hard to tell.

By the time John turned thirty two, however, his life choices presented an opportunity for his brother to demonstrate what might generally be called brotherly love. Having been arrested on charges of murder, John Hogue stood trial near the scene of the alleged crime in Essex County, Ontario. The verdict of that March 7, 1917, jury trial demanded that he be sentenced to die on the gallows.

The trial process seemed to have its problems from the start, based on the various reports provided in newspapers throughout Michigan—keenly vested in the outcome for the suspect who was on his way to be returned stateside to stand trial there for other charges—and also in the province of Manitoba, starting point for Hogue's doomed extradition. In today's world of instantaneous news and in his home country, Hogue's trial likely would have seen a change of venue, due to the uproar caused by the search for the fugitive, but not so in 1917 at the scene of his crime near Windsor in Essex County, Ontario.

Even before the actual start of the trial, a Michigan paper, The Muskegon Chronicle, pointed out one clue for the faltering court case in its March 6 edition. Apparently, "Detroit friends of Hogue" had retained a Windsor barrister to represent John, who subsequently had entered a "plea that he had not been able to acquaint himself with the details at the preliminary hearing." Upon this request, the judge had allowed him just one additional day for his preparations.

Once at trial, the case took only one day to be heard. Small details gathered from different newspaper accounts give a glimpse at the case being stitched together by the rushed barrister. Hogue, himself, had insisted that the gun used had been unexpectedly hair trigger—a detail considered a "poor alibi" early on by the Jackson Citizen Patriot, also reporting from Michigan—and that, in his anxiety to escape, he had touched the trigger harder than he had meant.

Other details seeped out in reports. The Bay City Times mentioned an exchange with a witness to the murder, who during the trial insisted that "the prisoner was deliberate in his movements" when he killed the immigration officer escorting him back to Michigan. During cross examination, the witness was asked whether he thought "a lurch of the train caused Hogue to pull the trigger," and whether, at the scene of the crime, he had heard Hogue say, "I'm sorry, I didn't intend to do that." As incredibly Victorian as that latter question may have painted the suspect, both questions do introduce doubt as to what, exactly, happened during that precise moment in which Hogue initiated his getaway.

If the suspect had been tried back in his own country, the usual procedure employed might be to instruct the jury in the concept "beyond a reasonable doubt." Indeed, the very reason the barrister appealed the verdict immediately after the trial was for a similar statement: that the presiding justice "erred in failing to instruct the jury in detail on the meaning of the term, 'culpable homicide.'"

Now, I'm no attorney—nor do I play one on TV—but once I ran across that term, I had to look up its definition. A quick sketch can be gleaned from Wikipedia entries, which explain that, in Canada, the term is used to define criminal intent of a killing, and the jury must be satisfied the accused was a substantial cause of the victim's death.

While it may have been "Detroit friends of Hogue" who had initiated the move to obtain suitable legal defense for John Hogue, perhaps this is where the saga of brothers comes to center stage to pick up the tale. A March 25 report was circulating that, rather than request a retrial, Andrew Hogue, John's brother, was seeking to have "a new trial granted." For this, he had enlisted the support of his home state's newly-elected governor, Democrat John J. Cornwell, in the same month in which he took office for his one term. Why Andrew had chosen this approach—or how he had obtained such connections as to personally obtain the assistance of the chief executive of his state's government—I have yet to uncover. But by the end of March, John's brother was seeking a way to redirect the inevitable.

Regardless of whatever alternate scenario the barrister had been attempting to paint for his audience that March day in court and through his subsequent appeal to Toronto, it did not effectively sway them. The bad news soon returned. Various newspapers in Michigan in April reported that the appellate court of Toronto refused the appeal. The sentence was to be carried out on May 10.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Questions Genealogists Ask Themselves

If you've been busily engaged, looking up all the details on your ancestors, you may find yourself asking only the most basic of questions—sort of like the who, what, where, and when of the proverbial newspaperman. Just the facts, ma'am.

When the stories get messy, however, the questions move from the realm of the academic to a more gut level response:
  • "They did what?!"
  • "What were they thinking?"

With civil engineer John Syme Hogue's story, questions took that latter left turn for me. Yes, indeed, he was a civil engineer, according to an early Michigan marriage record I found for him, dated November 27, 1915—although from accounts of his early activities, his was an engineering application of a less-civil sort.

Going back over John Hogue's family history, there was absolutely no indication that a man such as this would have taken the path he chose. There had to be a back story, I kept telling myself. But the more I looked, the less likely I was to find any dirt. Other than vague newspaper references to the possibility of his use of drugs—nothing specified—there were no clues as to what compelled him along his downward spiral.

I've mentioned that his was a family that was said to be both prominent and well-respected in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, and that his roots led straight back to luminaries in this country's formative years, including Chief Justice John Marshall. Lest you doubt that connection would yield any personal meaning for him, given the separation of generations, think again. In a May 10, 1942, announcement in the Society page of The Charleston Gazette, this handy detail emerged about the wedding attire of one of John Hogue's nieces:
The wedding gown is that worn by Mary Willis Ambler of Yorktown, Va., for her wedding in 1783 to Chief Justice John Marshall, and is one of the heirlooms in the Marshall House in Richmond.

You can be sure the bride, wearing her third great grandmother's wedding gown, had her photograph featured prominently alongside the three-column-long report of the occasion. Not to mention, such phrases as "old and prominent families" handily laced the article as well.

I've spent hours poring over newspaper accounts linked to family names, in hopes of finding something to reveal The Big Answer as to how and why the younger John Syme Hogue turned to a life of crime. So far, there's been nothing in print. That isn't to say I've exhausted this search trail. Perhaps, embedded in some archive or collection of papers, there will be the telltale reason. If there is one.

In the meantime, lacking any discovery via searches on John's own name, the next step is to check out his brother's name, for it was Andrew O'Beirne Hogue who played the role of savior in his condemned convict brother's turn of fortune at the critical juncture lying between the provincial Supreme Court sentence condemning him to die and the appeal for a retrial initiated by his Canadian defense attorney that March of 1917.

Above: Entry for the November 27, 1915, marriage license to wed John S. Hogue of West Virginia and Mary Crider of Ohio in Detroit, Michigan. Image courtesy Somehow, I doubt this Detroit wedding received the same fanfare as the later Society page coverage for that of his niece, back in his hometown.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Picking Up on a Hundred Year Old Story

Let's begin at the end: the moral of this story—at least on the process side of the analysis—is to never start telling a multi-post-long story right before a major holiday. Like I did. Every time the narrative got rolling, it would have to be set aside for posts of another sort. First it was Christmas. Then New Year. Then, too many roadblocks with the impending date of my flight to Salt Lake City—and then a week of training at SLIG.

But now? The coast is clear, I hope, to return to the story of the man who took to blowing up safes in a half dozen midwestern cities before finally being apprehended in Winnipeg.

If you thought the close of the fugitive's drama came at the moment of his sentencing, you would be missing the rest of the story. And I want to tell that story—well, at least as much of it as I've been able to find.

So, before we pick up that narrative, let's endure a brief recap for those who spent their holidays doing things other than reading genealogy blog posts. I'll include hyperlinks back to the original posts, so you can hopscotch your way through the littered trail betwixt the cheery holiday posts of last month.

We started in the middle of December with a discovery of an odd set of entries on a border crossing report for John Hogue of Charleston, West Virginia. Only, he wasn't coming from West Virginia at the time; he was arriving in Detroit from Windsor, Ontario, in February, 1926, escorted by a deputy sheriff of Calhoun County, Michigan. The reason for his re-entry into the country was to stand trial for crimes allegedly committed in that county.

As any genealogist would, I had this nagging doubt about the document, wondering if it really was referring to my John Syme Hogue, son of a civil engineer in Charleston, West Virginia. I had to take a closer look—which led me on this wild chase to figure out exactly who this convict John Hogue might have been.

First stop on my research plan was to search for that name in historic newspaper archives. I got more than I bargained for: apparently, the man was known by several aliases. More importantly, he was wanted in Battle Creek, Michigan, for blowing up a safe and getting away with its contents—over four hundred dollars in cash. That was in March, 1916.

By May, the fugitive—never having been caught by Battle Creek authorities—was plying his craft at another safe in Madison, Wisconsin. By this time, newspaper reports were glowering over the escaped suspect, whom they believed to be named James Stewart.

In October, a case with many of the same details occurred, but this time the suspect was apprehended, and spent nearly three months in jail. Toward the end of his sentence, local law enforcement officials were informed that their prisoner, whom they had assumed was named William Anderson, was wanted in Battle Creek for a similar crime committed there back in March. The process to extradite the prisoner was initiated, and by the end of January, 1917, he was sent east on a train bound for Windsor in the custody of an immigration official. The plan to hand over the convict to U.S. authorities at the international border at Windsor was never completed. Just three miles before his arrival in Windsor, the prisoner grabbed the officer's gun, shot him, and leaped from the still-moving train.

The midnight getaway in the rural outskirts of Windsor prompted a widespread manhunt. For two days, the fugitive eluded both law enforcement officers and citizen posses assembled from several surrounding towns. In an almost anti-climactic way, an unassuming stranger stopping by a local hotel for a meal and a night's stay turned out—despite yet another alias—to be the very man who was the focus of what was billed "the biggest manhunt of a year or more."

Immediately booked into the Windsor jail, starting up the process of scheduling his trial in Ontario's Supreme Court, the suspect made his own protests about the crime just committed. He insisted his captor's gun was "hair-trigger" and that he never meant to kill the man, just keep him at bay to effect his getaway. Newspaper reporters from the several American cities in which he—under a number of aliases—had committed crimes hounded the now-found fugitive for a scoop on this emergent story.

Regardless of intent, James Stewart—a.k.a. numerous other monikers but in reality one and the same as the John Hogue whose genealogy led me to this story—appeared before the Ontario Supreme Court on the morning of March 7, 1917, and saw the conclusion of arguments, jury deliberations and the announcement of their verdict, and the sentencing all unfold before the day was over. He was pronounced guilty as charged. He was sentenced to die on the gallows that May 17.

The defense began immediately to prepare an appeal. While newspapers back in Winnipeg and throughout those midwestern American locales where the suspect had likely also plied his craft churned through all the details of the murder and trial, it seemed they couldn't quite agree on the correct name for the suspect for nearly another month. In the end, it became clear that the man sought by so many cities was indeed John Hogue. And though he had seemed to forget his family, they had not forgotten him. John Hogue's brother began his own campaign to defend his brother, going so far as to enlist the support of his state's then-current governor, John J. Cornwall.

Granted, it might be a far-fetched scenario to think the governor of an American state would be likely to agree to plead on behalf of a criminal detained in an entirely different country. But in the case of this criminal, the chances were somewhat better. Both John Hogue's father and younger brother were prominent civil engineers in the city of Charleston—capital, incidentally, of West Virginia. To say the family was "prominent," however, does not reveal the full line of connections in that family's heritage. Surprisingly, this man condemned in a Canadian court for murder was actually a descendant of one of the United States' own most revered Chief Justices, John Marshall.

Tracing that genealogical connection was where I left off with this story. While it may have seemed as if the story just fell off the table, having been pre-empted by holiday and post-holiday activities, I assure you there is more to be told. And we can pick up the trail again—this time, safe from further interruptions—with tomorrow's post.

Above: The document that started me asking all those questions, Manifest of the United States Department of Labor Immigration Service card for John Hogue; courtesy of

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Tipping Point of Testing

When the phrase, "tipping point," is mentioned, perhaps your mind is triggered, as is mine, to think of the game known as Jenga—the challenge being to successfully remove one building block of a tower without causing the entire structure to tip over.

That, however, though a fun pastime, is the reverse of the concept I have in mind right now. What I am thinking of is the exact moment—and for the precise reason that its plus-one nature has brought about its momentum—at which an innovation crosses a barrier and builds upward from relatively-unknown to unstoppable diffusion through a culture.

This concept, once dubbed a "behavioral threshold," refers to "the number or proportion of others who must make one decision before a given actor does so." In other words, a tipping point in which "a group—or a large number of group members—rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice."

In Micro-Trends, a book by political strategist and pollster Mark Penn, the author asserts the possibility of instances in which small groups of people can trigger big changes. In the book, Penn demonstrates how "microtrends" were instigated by as little as one percent of the American population. That, at last count, would be one percent of just over three hundred twenty million people.

Of course, whenever anyone discusses the possibility of tipping points, the signature book by Canadian journalist and New York Times best-selling author, Malcolm GladwellThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference—comes to mind. For Gladwell, the tipping point is "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point."

The reason my mind is given to such ponderings right now is owing to a bit of data shared in the SLIG workshop I attended last week on genetic genealogy. While class members were pointed to a comparison table of current DNA testing companies posted on the ISOGG wiki—revealing the numbers of customers who have already tested—there was one key detail signalling a tipping-point-worthy pause to consider. Instructor Blaine Bettinger—I have no idea to which source he's attributing this—mentioned that on Black Friday 2015, sold sixty thousand DNA test kits.

That's in one day.

Is the genetic genealogy tipping point here? I'm not entirely sure, although we certainly are closer than we've ever been before. The ISOGG comparison table—not updated since mid-year 2015, incidentally—reveals both 23andMe and AncestryDNA had sold at least one million test kits each, with Family Tree DNA adding a distant hundred fifty thousand to the tally.

Even if we adjust the 2015 AncestryDNA sales tally upwards to about 1.5 million, adding that to the other companies' results, it still falls shy of the one percent microtrend-triggering figure fingered by Penn. But not by much.

Could one percent do it for genetic genealogy? Can those Christmas sales instigate a scenario that moves us from the realm of genealogy hackers to everyone's-doing-it mainstream? I'd certainly like to think so. After all, I have a vested interest in seeing other random test-takers aggregate in large numbers in the databases of companies at which I've tested. It would be nice to see a match that actually turns out to be a middling-close cousin—an added bonus if that cousin turns out to be a brick-wall-smashing discovery.

Those numbers can be deceiving, though. Think of it: what's the one mantra repeated incessantly for adoptees and others seeking their roots? "Fish in all three ponds"—in other words, test at all three of the main companies. How many of those million at 23andMe and AncestryDNA are duplicate customers?

Then, too, how many of those customers are relatives of repeat customers—you know, the family members who caved in the face of incessant nagging by a genetic genealogy True Believer? If I don't match a customer, it's highly unlikely I'll match her mother's test results, either. Nor her uncle's. Nor her multiple other relatives—ninety in one instance I ran across—either. How much does that scenario, in the aggregate, shrink those test numbers?

Of course, here we're just talking numbers based on United States statistics. What if that tipping point one percent were applied worldwide? After all, each of us eventually had roots originating in other places. And we're a far way off from one percent of the seven billion people who call this planet home. Will it take an international tipping point to turn the tide for genetic genealogy?

While I believe a solid international representation on testing numbers would be a coup for genetic genealogy companies—and a boon for many with recent roots from other countries—I don't think it will take that large a scope before people in North America, at least, will experience some positive acceleration of success in their test matching endeavors.

On the other hand, we have to consider the limitations in the pond in which we are fishing. DNA testing and genealogical pursuits are not for everyone. That one percent tipping point figure may set the stage for a microtrend, but it's my suspicion that that microtrend would be limited to the universe of people self-selecting interest in the realm of genetic genealogy, not the general population in toto. Even if we engage one percent of the population, it may impact only a small subset of all of America's relatives, not a generalized overview.

As keen as I am to see what impact a tipping point might have on our genetic genealogy pursuits—just think: fifty million games worldwide made Jenga a household name among families with school-aged children—I'm not yet sure we'll see that impact for years to come, despite wildly popular Black Friday sales. But when that day arrives, it certainly would help bust through a few brick walls.

Above: Image of falling Jenga tower courtesy of Wikipedia contributor Jorge Barrios, who released the image into the public domain.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Tedium of Testing

The weary genealogist may presume that, after years of false leads about just where to pin relatives onto the family tree, taking a DNA test will bring on the easy answers. Not so.

I know the genetic genealogy tools now available to us are astounding developments and reveal some precious clues for which we've all yearned for years. But that doesn't mean those answers will come easily. It seems that, after the test results arrive, that's when the real work begins.

Some sobering thoughts, before we ever begin the process:
  • Unless you go out, actively soliciting them, you only get matches if another relative happens to decide, coincidentally, to test.
  • Even if you are related to a distant cousin, you won't necessarily show up as a match in that person's results.
  • Not everyone who spends (significant) money to test is actually interested in comparing genealogical notes with you.

I have been painfully aware of that first point for as long as my DNA test results have been posted on the website of the first company at which I tested. Since I had my brother tested, I've hoped to settle that Theodore-Puchalski-alias-John-McCann mystery. I've been waiting for two and a half years. Still no answer. I guess no one in Poland—or their pertinent descendants—has stepped forward to test. Until any of those distant family members do, I won't see any matches that will lead me to sound conclusions.

As much as I've banged my head against the proverbial brick wall since discovering my mystery DNA cousin just over a year ago, I've failed—so far!—to identify how I'm related to that adoptee. Material I've picked up in class last week revealed a curious twist that may be the reason why my exact match mtDNA connection doesn't yield any autosomal results to put us together on the distant cousin map. While DNA testing companies like to predict relationships that stretch to the level of sixth cousin—even eighth cousin at AncestryDNA—it is actually a very small part of our ancestors' DNA that gets passed the whole span of that relational distance. For instance, third cousins, on average, share less than one percent of their DNA. Where does that leave the hundreds of DNA matches in my file at Family Tree DNA who land at the realm of fourth to sixth cousin? What about those eighth cousin predictions at AncestryDNA?

Then, too, with the recombination of DNA over several generations, it is highly likely that some of those fourth to sixth cousins—and beyond—whose names hang on our family tree do not share one iota of DNA with us at all. Oh, they're still related to us, of course. But we'll never find them on our FTDNA match list.

And so it goes. I receive hundreds of names of potential matches, sit back for a while to ponder the avalanche of names and family trees—and then wonder why no one is writing me to gleefully connect with a newfound cousin. I decide to switch from passive anticipation to proactive researcher, sending out scores of introductory emails, and wait for the answer. The silence, in return, is sometimes deafening.

I can understand—at least in the former scheme of things—why, say, a customer at 23&Me, eager to discover whether he is doomed to die of a heart attack, might not have had the patience to answer my trifling query on the level of "Are you my cousin?" But I still struggle with the revelation that, at companies that cater to the genealogically-inclined, there would be matches who have no intention of following through on their test results.

Perhaps they never realized, given the amazing accuracy of such tools as these we now can use for genetic genealogy, how much grunt work is still left to the process.

Above: "The Hunters in the Snow," oil on oak panel by Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Now Indexing:
Cook County, Illinois Death Certificates

You can return to indexing at, but that doesn't mean your selected collection will return to you. Apparently, there are now time limits to how long you can work on a collection. And my time ran out on Chicago's Northern District Petitions for Naturalization file. Traveling out of state last week didn't help, when it comes to getting one's work done. My time was up. The file was removed from my account. Poof.

However, I can redeem myself in this renewed indexing fervor by working on another file I just signed up for: Cook County, Illinois, Death Certificates, 1878-1922. If you sense a trend here, I'm selecting projects for the Chicago area because they dovetail nicely with my own family history research goals. It's easy to find something that fits those goals; just take a spin through the "Find an Indexing Project" page at

So far, I'm forty percent of the way through my batch of this death certificate collection. Roughly, that means if the batch served up to me was estimated to take about thirty minutes to complete, with less than fifteen minutes of work, I can dispatch this project to arbitration nirvana, where someone else can fret over my mistakes. Face it: though no one's perfect, I'm likely to give that double-checking second set of eyes a double-strength headache. But at least I try. And am learning.

Actually, in less time than it takes to write a blog post, I can easily index an entire batch of records—a small contribution toward making yet more digitized historical documents searchable for the researching public, for free. So why take any more time to blather on about the virtues of volunteering for a program such as this? I'll just get busy indexing...

...and hope you'll join me!

Above: 1911 oil on canvas by American artist Willard Leroy Metcalf, "Cornish Hills." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

'Bout Those Bots

A wonderful learning opportunity has, at last, come to a close, and I am now gladly back at home. This past week has been a valuable time to expand upon research skills, and I'm so primed to get back to work, putting these newly-acquired skills to good use.

While I was out, however, a different development was unfolding. It seems I have become all the rage among genealogy blog readers in Russia.

What, you say? Do I have Russian ancestry?

Hardly. That, in essence, is the instigation behind my arched eyebrows.

It seems, during this past week, that the numbers of people reading A Family Tapestry has skyrocketed—at least among those situated in Russia. I realize that any blogger will experience stray hits from other nations, but I suspect these are normally search engines crawling the web to keep their inventory of what's available up to date.

When it comes to seeing more people from Russia "reading" my blog than those who claim the same home country as I do, well, something is amiss.

It would be nice to know for sure how many people are taking a fancy to A Family Tapestry, but unfortunately, a popularity like this obliterates such a chance. Who knows how many people are actually reading, and how many are not even people, at all.

Let's just say this is not a challenge I'm going to be tackling anytime soon. Hopefully, Google will catch up with this latest (presumed) 'bot visitor and slam it into spammer jail.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Time to Dig In

Sometimes, it's time to stop learning all the ins and outs of the conceptual side of a new skill, and roll up one's sleeves and dig into the nitty gritty for ourselves. At the genetic genealogy class at Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I'm now ready to give it a go. There can't possibly be any more room in my overstuffed brain for more information to take up residence, and I'm more than ready to put to use all I've gained in this past week—before I forget it.

Thankfully, yesterday's classes came to a close with a few case studies. That satisfied my growing appetite for the practical side of the experience. My ears perked up when I realized one of the cases involved a family in Perry County, Ohio. Now, that's a place I'm familiar with! Thanks to my mother-in-law and research on her extended family—some of them resident in that county since the time in which it was formed in 1818—I think I even spotted a surname in that case study that I recognize.

It isn't lost on me, however, that in order to proceed with the work that happens after those DNA test results are tabulated, there are a few necessary preliminary details. First of all, it is essential to have your own tree in as good an order as possible, for efforts to confirm—or disprove—relationships with DNA matches can only be as good as one's paper trail is accurate (at least for starters). The corollary of that provides the second detail: you have to realize that the other party's family tree may need a tune-up, as well (to put it kindly in some cases).

The bottom line, however, is that you can't have matches unless those other, unknown, mystery relatives also take a notion to blow a hundred bucks or so on this extravagant chase known as DNA testing. In the case of curious people with recent immigrant backgrounds, that may mean having to depend on (possibly as-yet-unknown) relatives in other countries having the means to purchase such kits. That chance is sometimes regrettably slim.

Thankfully, by virtue of the details I've learned during this week's class, I feel better equipped to tackle the nearly one thousand matches that have accumulated in my own account at Family Tree DNA. In addition, as was recommended before the class began, I've now tested at a second DNA company—AncestryDNA—and also uploaded my results to GEDmatch, a website providing not only a place for customers of all three companies to compare their results, but a set of tools for further analysis.

It will take some hands-on work to get enough practice at these three websites to arrive at the station of feeling facile at these analysis skills. However, I'm more than ready to get started.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Overcoming Learning Fatigue

Years ago, I remember seeing a Far Side cartoon in which one dismayed student in a high school classroom raised his hand and asked, "May I be excused? My brain is full."

We may be just over the hump for this week's learning extravaganza at SLIG 2016, but my ability to absorb more new information is over. Unfortunately, this is no time to be left with more days than brain cells.

Realizing this dire predicament, I've tried a number of remedies. Coffee was first on the list. (Oddly, sleep came a far distant runner up to this position.) A serious—and equally desperate—carb load followed, making me seem like some 1980s athlete about to undergo endurance trials (hint: raising my coffee cup to my lips is about my most strenuous attempt at curls).

Attempting the good student nutrition route didn't work any better for me. I've had salad, salmon, even broccoli. Yet...nothing. I'm still about to veg out by mid afternoon. Too bad I neglected to bring my swim suit; my more athletically inclined peers—the virtuous health cherubs that they are—seem to have no trouble making it through a full day of learning.

A quick walk in the stiff winter breeze might do the trick, but I'm not very talented at navigating ice patches unscathed. While I'm sure Utah hospitals are among the nation's best, I'm not really considering an extended stay at their stellar medical facilities; I'll confine my walking desperation to the great indoors at the conference hotel.

Whatever shall I do, I wail in my best Southern belle voice. Is there no recourse for someone like me?

Fortunately, among yesterday's sessions were segments presented by CeCe Moore, better known among genealogists as the blogger behind Your Genetic Genealogist, and to the general public as the genetic genealogy researcher behind the magic unfolding regularly at Dr. Henry Louis Gates' PBS series, Finding Your Roots.

Sitting in one of yesterday's DNA classes, while listening to CeCe, two points dawned on me in a visceral way, making me wish I could just jump up and start shouting. (That would have awakened even me—along with a few other classmates.)

The first thing I realized—well, actually knew, but saw again in an even more pronounced way—was that living in this era has gifted us with amazing tools that pull the cover back on age-old mysteries and allow us to see clearly what was there all along, but previously invisible to the unassisted eye. It is like having a sci-fi-worthy magnifying glass which can penetrate deeply beyond the concealing layers of life into the secret cache of research treasure below.

The second point that struck me was that, in that cache of research gold, lies material that is not dead and gone, but still very much alive. In one way, those genes we carry within our own beings are the living tokens of the ancestors we desperately are seeking as the dead people recorded on faded and yellowing documents. Somehow, they still live on, within us. They are what make us what we are. They became us. And now, we can begin to untangle the strands to reveal which ancestors belong to which parts of our family tapestry.

You may be thinking, yeah, I knew that. Ditto. So did I. But it helps to wake up to that fact, once in a while, and claim it as your reality. When you really think about it, it is a reality that can shake you to your very core. It is a powerful realization.

It is, at the very least, a realization tangible enough to jolt this brain-weary student back to intentional consciousness. It's when you are in class to learn stuff that is very much worth learning that that learning fatigue can best be banished.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Value of Always Learning

Spending the week at an in-depth genealogical institute reminds me of the value of continued learning. There is always something new to learn—especially considering life never stays put in the same stodgy status quo.

When it comes to genetic genealogy, that is even more so. There are so many developments occurring that it pays to keep close watch on how those evolving applications benefit our research goals.

It's been a treat to learn from people who have attained a level of expertise not only in genealogical research but have combined that with their professional standing in their respective field of science. Think about it: you may have attended a session at a conference with the likes of Blaine Bettinger, Angie Bush or CeCe Moore, but what is one hour of their time in a conference session for a generic audience compared to a week's luxury of focusing on just these three in a combined total of nearly thirty hours hours of class time?

Yesterday, our lead lecturer was Blaine Bettinger, and the primary focus was on the Y-DNA test. Yes, once you get the idea of the basics behind examining the patrilineal line, it seems a straightforward exercise to utilize this test. During this session, however, I picked up some valuable pointers on how to manipulate the test results, and how recent research developments may impact my approach to certain brick wall research struggles. I'm enthused to get back to the data where I've been stuck and check out these details gleaned from class.

You may have noticed, if you've been reading along at A Family Tapestry for a while, that my main struggle is with my paternal line—a stubborn Polish immigrant, likely, who came to this country with an aim to never be identified by his true name. Whatever the reason, he left one son and one daughter, and that son had only one son, himself. That last male descendant, thankfully, was gracious enough to grant me my request, so I've already had him tested. But there are precious few test matches, and prior to this point, I had no idea what to do with them. I actually had thought, based on the genetic distance extrapolated from the Y-DNA test, that the results were virtually useless to me.

Not so. Well, maybe. I'm going to pick back up on that trail and hope I can tease out some other clues, now that I know what else to do with the results. That alone will be worth the price of the week's registration, in my mind. But we still have three more days of instruction to load on top of that little bonus. Who knows what else may come my way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

And We're Off!

...To an information-packed week of learning (or at least reviewing) the ins and outs of genetic genealogy. I—and well over three hundred others—am attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, held this week at (where else?) Salt Lake City, Utah. Of the many week-long classes offered this week (choices ranged from church records to focus on the U.S. South), I chose to take a closer look at how DNA testing can boost genealogical research results.

Not that I haven't had any training in using this resource. After all, I live barely a half hour's drive from one of the directors of ISOGG, and make it a practice to snarf up all educational opportunities offered by that director and associates. Besides, one fortunate outgrowth of living in sunny California is relative proximity to attend the DNA Day at the annual SoCal Jamboree. For that, I can drive six hours and think nothing of it.

As I've heard it mentioned before, though, there is one drawback to those fabulous conferences and seminars: being one-day events, they often turn into homecoming celebrations, reuniting e-friends who haven't seen each other since the last time they all got together. The briefer sessions at conferences also prevent a more in-depth examination of the topic. If anything, genetic genealogy is a topic that takes some time to wrap your head around.

I took my cue, a couple years ago, from a tip offered by a fellow blogger (I think it was Michelle Ganus Taggart): while conferences are great for being treated to a breadth of knowledge in an area, you can't beat those week-long genealogical institutes for gaining in-depth knowledge about one specific focus.

For those fortunate to live in a more centrally located region of the country, there are several targets of opportunity for seeking that in-depth goal. But for people like me, way off on the west coast, our best bet is to gain the double treat of training at SLIG while being situated within walking distance of the world's largest genealogical library. What more could an avid genealogical addict researcher ask?
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