Ancestry.com takes another step away from its genealogical roots…

Ancestry.com takes another step away from its genealogical roots…

We could see it coming…back in March of 2017, one of our first blog posts was about Ancestry.com’s new tool “We’re Related” (We’re Related app is a lot less frivolous than it first appears). It was a bit of a “hot take” about how it was less silly than it seemed and how it could be very powerful if it’s expanded to a tool that is predictive of your matches.

We’re Related is making suppositions based (apparently) on an algorithm that can draw the line between what you know, and what it guesses is true, to build a potential line for you. If this technology is ever leveraged against some of my brick walls instead a gimmick like linking me to Blake Shelton, Ancestry might really be on to something.

Before we take any victory laps…we have to admit, we were incredibly naive. We never guessed that Ancestry would take this powerful technology and use it to take it’s worst, most frustrating feature, and make it much more dangerous.

The new feature is the “Potential Father/Mother” suggestion, and I’m going to let Carolynn ni Lochlainn detail all the challenges of this new tool, and the risks, in her SPOT ON “From Paper to People” Podcast #27 (From Paper to People: What I Hate About New). Please listen, but her upshot is that this feature is an easy way for those new to genealogy to quickly build out their trees, and the tool forces you to create the ancestor without any sources attached.

One of the biggest drawbacks of Ancestry is the Public Trees that are so often inaccurate, and are often built solely on other people’s unsourced trees. Now, it’s a certainty that these trees are going to start to mushroom, and by design have NO citations attached to the new ancestor.

Ever wonder why Ancestry has delivered even more accurate admixture and even prettier graphs, but none of the tools needed to do serious genealogical research? It’s because there’s no additional revenue from genealogical tools.

The good news is that we as serious users can avoid the downfalls, and use the predictive part of this feature to do the research for us, but then to immediately attach the citations to the newly added ancestor. We, as a community, can also make sure we NEVER use a Member Tree to support a fact. You can link the Member Tree ancestor to yours, but make sure all facts are unselected before you link them. They will see your additional work, and you them, but you will not perpetuate their unsourced facts.

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But, Ancestry.com isn’t packed full of serious hobbyists/professionals and “Potential Parent” is going to take the problem of Member Trees and make it explode it beyond what we could have imagined. At some point, the tree feature in Ancestry is going to be unusable. Ancestry.com will continue to be a great source of primary research, but it will be nothing more than a data repository for those of us who are serious about this work.

And, back to our naivety…the most frustrating thing is that we should have known better. Again, going back to our vaults, we saw right away that AncestryDNA is here to support genealogy ONLY because it’s a good way to gather DNA tests (Dancing with the Devil: The Tradeoffs of Modern Genealogical Research). Once Ancestry realized that pushing pretty graphs and “ethnicity” was the best way to sell more tests, they pivoted and met their true goal with these tests: the largest DNA database that will generate a tremendous amount of revenue from drug companies, etc. who can leverage your tests to understand how their drugs might work. Ancestry now (or soon will) make more money from monetizing your DNA than it does from supporting our genealogical work.

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How did the public records “Reclaim the Records” paid to get show up here, for paid members only?

Ever wonder why Ancestry has delivered even more accurate admixture and even prettier graphs, but none of the tools needed to do serious genealogical research? It’s because there’s no additional revenue from genealogical tools, but putting more effort into the graphs will drive more people to test, which will grow the database, and grow the revenue stream.

As a community we have to get ready to accept that Ancestry is not a partner in our work, and is not in business to support us or our needs. They exist to generate revenue, and as long as that interest and ours intersect, we’re good, but as they make more money from other streams they are going to sacrifice our needs to focus on revenue. You’re already seeing that with things like “Potential Parents”, more admixture, and their new collections consisting of public records gathered at great expense by groups like Reclaim The Records and putting them behind the paywall.

The genealogy features of Ancestry are still there, for now, but the bad Member Trees we suffer through today are likely going to be remembered as the golden age of online genealogy research.

 

Taking a step back from building our Family Tree

Taking a step back from building our Family Tree

There’s a horrible truth in life that there are only so many hours in the day. We only have so many hours to do what we need to before we start it over again…and as AWESOME it would be to get a 30 hour day, we’ve settled on one with only 24 hours.

With that, the two non-negotiable items in life are a reasonable amount of sleep (6-7 hours) and work. We need food/housing/cars/$ to supporting our family, and our genealogy habit, so we’ll continue to work. That leaves a few hours each night, and a couple of weekend days to manage a household with 5-7 people (depending on which kids are home from college), manage a wonderful marriage, spend time together as a family, and take part in any hobbies we love.

Something has to give, and we decided it will be building out any new branches, or conducting new research, on our family tree

Of course, Family History is one of those hobbies…and we’ve reached the limit of what we can do in the time that we have. We’re going to have to start paring back. We saw this coming over a year ago, when we went from doing our genealogy to adding DNA results to the mix. It became clear that we could literally do nothing but DNA matches for the next 30 years…so we limited our work there. Then came the first great archive that we received. 1000’s of pages of personal documents and photos that are priceless, and which document both our family and a moment of minor historical value in the late 1910’s: The founding of the Progressive Movement in the Republican Party, leading up to the Republican revolt against House Speaker Joe Cannon and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” run for the Presidency in 1912. We knew right away this had the potential to become the dominant focus of our genealogy, and it worried us (Coming up with a plan to manage our new, huge family history collection)

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Rescuing 2000+ dry glass negatives from 1916-1964 is a labor of love…but it’s labor none-the-less

On top of that we’ve become VERY committed to proper citation/labeling of all of documents, and ensuring our public trees are all well cited. And we started this blog. And then we were given another amazing family archive, with more likely to follow. And finally, we rescued nearly 2000 glass plate negatives from a defunct photo studio that operated in the early-to-mid 1900’s in our hometown of Racine, WI that we need to archive, scan, upload to the public, and get ready for donation to the local historical society.

Part of the issue is our success, in that we’ve found SO much amazing materials over the 5 years of doing this that we literally have a lifetime of documents, photos, letters, newspaper clippings, etc. to catalog. We have a strong tree and LOTS of great DNA matches, etc. Part of the issue is we keep adding new stuff to our plate. It’s like Thanksgiving…we need a bit of everything on the biggest plate we can find, with seconds to boot.

We’ve tried to make compromises to keep doing it all. This blog only posts once a week, when we intended on two. And we’ve tried to keep posts to a 500 word maximum, while shelving the vlog we’d always intended. We’ve been VERY judicious on building out DNA links, and when we do we try and make it also double as a chance to make blog posts (like the “Casting a Wide Net” series). Tuesday night is couples night, Saturday night is date night, Sunday is genealogy day, and we try and balance late nights of family history work with pure family nights the next.

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For now, Michael’s 5x GGM will have to be as far as we go on this line…

But, it’s not working. In the last few weeks we had two “come to Jesus” moments. First, as we were trying to write the follow-up on Emily Ott, we found that we had her complete line documented and supported from before her family arrived in the US to her death. But, we weren’t able to really speak to main question we had (and which came out during our Podcast appearance about her): was she “rescued” by the Morse family from retched conditions and treated like a family member, or was she really a hired hand who was beloved, but also always an employee. We realized that we have literally 100 letters between the elder Morse’s and their daughter from that time, as well as the ledger books showing household expenses that include Emily’s salary. The answer is probably right there waiting for us to find it, and knowing that we can’t really publish the definitive “Emily Ott biography” until we review that information.

Then, second, as you read in the conclusion to our “Casting a Wide Net” series, we chased wild geese until we finally went back to the research we already had on-hand and realized that we had a key ancestor completely wrong. Our work to establish a DNA match on that line failed because we had the wrong GGP’s attached, and if we’d used the sources we had to support the facts we using, we would have caught this mistake 4 years ago. But the audio recordings went un-transcribed, and couldn’t be used to support/refute any of our facts.

So, something has to give, and we decided it will be building out any new branches, or conducting new research, on our family tree. For the next year or two we’re going to limit our scope to the following:

  • Process and catalog all family archival material so that it’s: secured, scanned, shared, and documented to where it can be a source for our trees, and others.
  • Determine how to properly clean dry glass plate negatives, and clean, scan, research, document, share, and archive the 2000 negatives we have in advance of donating the collection to an interested Museum.
  • Install a solution to ensure our archive room is kept at 65°/45% humidity year-round.
  • Ensure each Sources in our main, public, family tree is properly cited, with images where possible, and that each Fact is supported by at least one proper source.
  • Properly transcribe and index all family history interviews, so they can be used as proper Sources.
  • PUBLISH!
  • Write our autobiographies, as well as begin to write out what we know about our family…in preparation of publishing the entire history of our families.
  • Ensure that we’re printing out all electronic sources, so that our paper files are complete copies of our electronic files.
  • Spend a little more time with the family!

We’re sure this is a struggle for all of our fellow family historians/genealogists. And I see a lot of amazing blogs with people doing amazing work, with small children like us, and know they are doing the same juggle. If we didn’t have to work this would be a full-time pursuit we’d get more done, but then we’d be significantly less well off and we’d have to juggle the time we spend on clients with the time we need for our personal research. But, this is how we chose to draw the line…and when we get back to building out our tree, we should be much better positioned to make some breakthroughs, and keep everything tidy as we move forward.

There’s no other way to put it – MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage

There’s no other way to put it – MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage

One quick point, as always, we receive no financial benefit or consideration for any product or service we review/recommend/discuss here. Everything we discuss is our opinion alone, and we talk about it because we use it.

It’s been a year since MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker dominated this blog, as they struggled to deliver their first version since they took over from Ancestry, and this is what we’ve learned: MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage.

It’s strong language, but their product continues to be literally dangerous to your data. FamilySync has been a COMPLETE disaster since the moment it was promised (then delivered 4 months late), with MacKiev choosing a synchronization strategy that creates data corruption. Companies like RootMagic have delivered sync without issue, and without risk. But nearly a year since MacKiev finally delivered their FamilySync, it’s still buggy and unreliable. It’s dangerous to your work. It’s garbage.

We’re starting to think that it would have been better to let Ancestry kill the product off. It would have been a hard year, but at least we wouldn’t have wasted that year hoping that MacKiev could actually create/support software.

First off, let me say that I have a LOT of experience working with software delivery…with both commercial products and deploying/supporting in-house developed software. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. And if this was product was deployed in the large corporate environment I currently manage for a Fortune 50 company, we’d pull it out. At all costs. We’d never support this horrible effort, with so little partnership from the vendor.

And, for you loyal readers, you might be asking why we’re using FTM anyways. Didn’t we give away free copies of RootMagic to readers who’d paid for the FTM upgrade last August when MacKiev couldn’t get their act together? We did. And we still use/love RootsMagic…but…

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“Thank you for stopping your work and spending an hour backing up your data, but our TreeSync is so fragile it’s best you put off more research for another 2 hours or so because we don’t know how to design state-aware data synchronization”

The way RM manages citations just isn’t workable for how we support facts in our trees. For example, we created a custom citation in RootsMagic for the 1900 US Census for Roman and Mary Jones and copied the source to each of the 3 Roman’s facts supported by the citation (Name, Birth, and Residence). When we run a TreeSync with Ancestry, everything went off as expected, but it created 3 separate copies of the same citations…one for each fact. Additionally, there’s no central place to manage/edit/view all sources for a tree, which makes it VERY hard to update citations, etc.

So, we still use RootsMagic for our 60+ speculative trees, but we went back to using FTM for our main, public tree.

Since going back to Family Tree Maker, it’s been one disaster after another. First, there was the months of “Orange” sync status late in 2017 (which we missed, luckily, because we’d kicked them to the curb). About 6 months ago we had to start over and re-download the tree from Ancestry, which destroyed all of our source citations. After two months of work, the database corrupted, and we started a cycle of restoring databases, and getting about a month’s use of Family Tree Maker, and then hitting corruption. We have to restore, and repeat the process.

It really seems that this corruption is happening during FamilySync, and if that’s completely inexcusable. Their sync process HAS to be robust enough to not commit records until the system has no risk of corruption. I’ve worked with data replication since 1997 and every tool has a non-destructive method of committing data, and backing out changes if there’s failure/corruption. Plus, RootsMagic has figured this all out…we sync constantly, and there’s never red/orange/green OR corruption. Just repeated success.

The issue is just with MacKiev.

We’ve figured out how to mitigate the risk of FTM corrupting our data by doing constant syncs (change a record, sync, change another record, sync, etc.) and by reviewing the sync reports each time. For example, the last time we had sync stop working, we noticed that the marriage record for Felice’s side of the family was causing changes in the birth record attached to Rick’s grandmother. By deleting both facts we were able to sync successfully and then re-add the facts, and not have to resort to a restore…but I’m only comfortable doing this because I have 20+ years working with/troubleshooting database issues.

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Five easy steps to have your data corrupted anyways!!

But the real nail in the coffin is how MacKiev has chosen to deal with their corruption issues. Instead of architecting a proper deployment, or fixing their code, or building in better error trapping, they turn it back on the users of their product to protect themselves from Family Tree Maker’s failures. They are insisting that you add the following steps to every FamilySync:

  • Backup your database (32 minutes for our 3700 person tree)
  • Compress your database (6 min.)
  • Wait for Green conditions (0-240 min.)

Recently, we did a day’s worth of tree building and citing/sourcing (6 hours) and then we had to stop our work and take nearly an hour to sync. Then, we waited for 2 hours for MacKiev’s FamilySync  to go back to Green. Then, the database corrupted anyways, and we lost all 6 hours of work and had to repeat it.

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When you see this, you’re screwed…they corrupted your database and you lost everything you did since your last backup!!

If we back up every hour, we risk less data, but we cut our productivity in half (work an hour, back up for an hour)…assuming we don’t have to wait for Green.

In the mean time, I switch over the RootsMagic and work on some speculative side project, with regular FamilySync’s, while FTM is dead in the water waiting to “Go Green”.

As much as I have invested in Family Tree Maker, and as much as it is the tool that really meets my reporting needs the best, We’re starting to think that it would have been better to let Ancestry kill the product off. It would have been a hard year, but at least we wouldn’t have wasted that year hoping that MacKiev could actually create/support software.

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 6 – Our crazy attempt to leverage 288 DNA matches to expand our tree comes to it’s conclusion

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 6 – Our crazy attempt to leverage 288 DNA matches to expand our tree comes to it’s conclusion

In the five previous parts of this series: We identified a plan to tackle what looked like a large group of DNA matches (Part 1), we went through and tagged all 288 of our Ancestry DNA results that were related to a group of matches that had Woodley/Woodson surnames in their attached trees (Part 2), we then built out a common tree for as many of the matches as we could, to nail down common ancestors, and to gain clues on where these matches link up with our tree (Part 3), we used GEDmatch and DNApainter to target the most likely line of “Mary’s” that leads from her to the group of 12 DNA matches (Part 4), and last week we broke through a brick wall with some old fashioned genealogy (Part 5). In this installment, we wrap up the story of this journey and the lessons we’ve learned. 

This journey also highlights the paradox of genealogical DNA: Your matches will come easiest on lines where you have a complete and accurate tree, but you’ll struggle to match those that are on the lines where you really need the help of DNA…because you don’t have a complete and accurate tree.

As we ended our last installment, we’d identified Sam Caswell’s wife as Annie (Moore) Caswell, daughter of Robert Moore and Henrietta (Bradford) Moore. We were able to quickly identify Henrietta’s mother, Sallie Bradford and five of Henrietta’s siblings. It was amazing, the links came easy, and the tree fell in-place just how you’d hope. The only problem was…we weren’t getting any closer to linking Roman and Mary Jones to “Mary”.  

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 3.18.43 PMGoing back to our work with the “What Are the Odds?” tool (Part 3), it’s 48 times more likely that “Mary” and Roman/Mary’s Most Recent Common Ancestor was our “Mary’s” 3x Great Grandparents, than it was her 2xGGP, and 77 times more likely that it was 3xGGP v. 4xGGP. That means Annie (Moore) Caswell’s parent all but needed to be the MRCA. One thing became increasingly clear as we shrubbed out our tree with the new information: Sam and Annie weren’t a link to Roman and Mary Jones 

Roman Jones was born around 1840, and his wife Mary was born around 1838. Annie (Moore) Caswell parents were both born around 1880, and for them to share parents would be…incredible. We looked back a generation (hoping to defy the 48 times odds!), and the lines still didn’t match.  We had good info on “Mary’s” 4xGGM Henrietta Bradford and her siblings…and while we couldn’t rule it completely out, it was very likely she wasn’t a link to the Jones either.

We went back to review everything we had on Annie Caswell, and in the 1910 U.S. Census it jumped out at us: Sam and Annie listed themselves as having no children, despite the fact that Mattie would have been 7 years old. She also indicated that she never had children. 

SamAnnie1910Census

When we looked at our notes, and research we realized we fell in the most basic trap in genealogy research: we had accepted family lore as fact, and built around that “fact”. We had an uncle that had done some basic Ancestry-based research, and when we first built out a skeleton tree, we’d used his info as the bones of the Caswell line. We had all the right facts on Mattie Caswell, we had all the right facts on Sam Caswell and Annie (Moore) Caswell…but we’d never proven their link. We went back and reviewed the transcripts of other family interviews we’d done with Mattie’s granddaughter (and others) about 4 years ago and there it was. They described that Mattie’s mother had died soon after Mattie’s birth, and her father died soon after. Mattie had been raised by others, her parents weren’t Sam and Annie, and the brick wall we’d broken through wasn’t ours…in-fact it wasn’t anyone’s, since they never had children who would be researching their ancestors.  

So what did we learn in all of this?

  • The crazy strategy of casting a wide net across 288 DNA matches worked..even though it was a LOT of work.
  • We identified a key ancestor, and we know where we can expect the MCRA to fall in our line once we know more about our line.
  • In the end, no matter how high-tech genealogy research becomes with DNA, it still comes back to the basics of a solid tree, with strong evidence, supported by old fashioned family history research. Without a solid tree, we can’t take full advantage of DNA links. 

This journey also highlights the paradox of genealogical DNA: Your matches will come easiest on lines where you have a complete and accurate tree, but you’ll struggle to match those that are on the lines where you really need the help of DNA…because you don’t have a complete and accurate tree.

For us, it’s back to the drawing board. We’re spinning off the branch of the Caswell tree for Sam and Annie that we’ve documented so well, and making it Public so others can benefit from our work. We’re attempting to identify more information from family on where/when George Barnes and Mattie (Caswell) Barnes died, so we can get their Death Certificates and begin working backwards again!

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 5 – Rolling up our sleeves and doing some genealogy

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 5 – Rolling up our sleeves and doing some genealogy

In the first four parts of this series: We identified a plan to tackle what looked like a large group of DNA matches (Part 1), we went through and tagged all 288 of our Ancestry DNA results that were related to a group of matches that had Woodley/Woodson surnames in their attached trees (Part 2), we then built out a common tree for as many of the matches as we could, to nail down common ancestors, and to gain clues on where these matches link up with our tree (Part 3), and we finally used GEDmatch and DNApainter to target the most likely line of “Mary’s” that leads from her to the group of 12 DNA matches (Part 4). In this installment, we use take the high-tech leads we have and do some old-school genealogy to try and prove out our theory on who connects us to Roman and Mary Jones.

Given what we knew, it’s most likely that Mary matched the other 12 through a 3x Great Grandmother on her mom’s side. Of course that’s two women…neither of which we know much about: Fannie (Johnson) Barnes and Annie (–?–) Caswell. We had some decent confidence in who Fannie’s parents were, and the family originated in Tennessee. Since Roman and Mary Jones were from NW Mississippi, we decided to focus in on Annie Caswell from Quitman County, MS.

Mattie's Tree
Sam and Annie Caswell, when we started this process

We had almost no information on Annie Caswell. We didn’t know her maiden name, her actual birth year (only Census year), her death year, or her parents’ names. We did have her husband’s death month, year and location, and so we decided to order Sam Caswell’s Death Certificate and hope that would be enough…and that maybe there was more information on Annie listed.

Mississippi is horrible when it comes to Vital Records. They didn’t start requiring any Birth or Death Records to be recorded until 1912, and wide adoption by counties wasn’t complete until the early 1920’s. Additionally, they spent decades trying to dehumanize people of African descent to the degree that the less they were recorded as people, the better. On top of that, what they did record is mostly neither online or microfilmed…or even indexed.

There is no question DNA testing/results are valuable, but in the end it’s still just genealogy and the same techniques that have been used by family researchers for a 100+ years that are going to break through your brick walls.

This is one of the reasons there are so many holes in this branch of our family. We haven’t made the genealogy pilgrimage to Mississippi, we’re not sure what we’ll find when we get there, and there’s next to nothing available remotely. Facing this, we decide to attempt our first MS Vital Record purchase online…which requires “VitalCheck”.

About 2 weeks later, after having to remember just about every address we’ve had in the past 20 years to get past VitalCheck and deciding that selecting “Grandchild” for our relationship when we really meant “maybe 2nd Great Grandchild” was the same thing, we received Sam’s Death Certificate in the mail.

We were hoping that Annie was still alive at the time of his death, and that the certificate was filed out with her maiden name listed (maybe?). The bad news is, none of that was true…but the good news is that it gave us a next step.

We know that Sam and Annie were married in the 1940 U.S. Census but by the time of Sam’s death on 4 Jul 1974, he was married to Emma (Fox) Caswell. Of course, we’re not even 100% sure this Sam is the same Sam from Sam and Annie in 1940, and now we have a different spouse listed on the birth certificate. But, it’s possible that Annie died after 1940 and Sam remarried. The problem was how do we find Annie and tie her to Sam, let alone find her maiden name.

The hint we needed came from Sam’s Death Certificate, and his burial location. He was buried in an African American cemetery in Quitman County, which like most Southern Black cemeteries, is poorly documented. Looking in Find-A-Grave, we saw that only 1% of the headstones here were photographed, and there was no record of Sam’sOakGroveCemetery headstone/burial. However, looking at the other Caswell’s in Oak Grove Union Cemetery, we found a major lead: Annie Caswell, b. 15 Sep 1882, d. 11 Jul 1969. We’re well into speculative territory here, but this Annie first the proper birth range and she died before Sam.

Needless to say, the next step was to order our 2nd Mississippi Vital Record from the Mississippi Department of Health. But it highlights something we’ve known for quite some time about Genetic Genealogy, but it’s easy to forget: There is no question DNA testing/results are valuable, but in the end it’s still just genealogy and the same techniques that have been used by family researchers for 100+ years that are going to break through your brick walls.

We’ve shown how we can use things like DNA testing and GEDmatch to give us leads researchers would have NEVER had 20 years ago…but in the end, only the basic work of gathering and confirming Birth/Marriage/Death records will turn the leads into family members.

We received Annie Caswell’s death certificate, and it was the goldmine we were hoping for! She was married to Sam Caswell at the time of her death, and her mother’s maiden name was listed. We had gotten back a generation, both parent’s names, birth date and location…everything you could hope for! Unfortunately, her mother’s maiden name wasn’t Jones…it was Henrietta Bradford. That means Mary’s 3x Great Grandmother wasn’t a Jones, by name. It would have been much easier…but it’s possible that the 4x Great Grandparent we expect will be the link to the Jones family was Henrietta’s mother.

AnniesParentsNameWe’ll conclude this series next time, as we shrub out Henrietta’s tree…and reach the end of this journey!

#ThrowbackThursday – From the Archives: Buying a boat for 4th of July

#ThrowbackThursday – From the Archives: Buying a boat for 4th of July

One of our favorite parts of the various Archives we inherited is the little miscellaneous bits that are included. They aren’t as sexy as the big treasures, but they fill in the little stories of lives we’re chronicling, and help paint a picture of who they were and what life was like.

Today’s #TBT is a perfect example of the bits that tell a story. Catherine (Morse) Leonard bought a new boat, after trading an old one, just in-time for 4th of July, 1967. This 12′ aluminum boat would be the primary fishing boat at her Pelican Lake, WI cottage for the next couple of decades.

Check out our entire online Archives here: Archive Collections

Emily’s Casserole…Food and Family History

Emily’s Casserole…Food and Family History

I’m so excited to announce that I was a guest on Carolynn from Ancestor’s Alive’s (AncestorsAlive!) “From Paper to People” podcast, which was released today! (Episode 26: Emily’s Casserole) If you’re not listening, you should be (subscribe in all the usual places), as she’s one of the few genealogy podcasts that’s really caught out attention.

She recently did an episode on a family recipe that helped tell a story from her family’s history (Episode 23: Johnny Mazetti, or is it Marzetti?), and she put a call for others who had similar stories. While ours doesn’t trace actual family history, and in-fact doesn’t come from direct family, per se, it really does tell a story, so we reached out and Carolynn invited Rick on.

The episode discusses a casserole that was made by family “friend” Emily Ott. Emily was a part of Michael’s Great Grandmother Catherine (Morse) Leonard’s household, and she was a key factor in raising Catherine’s 5 children. Rick grew up with Emily as a constant in his Grandmother’s home, and knew she was more than a housekeeper, but not quite a Great Aunt. His dad had a deep fondness for her, and Rick visited her in assisted living in his college years.

Emily’s Casserole
3 lbs. thin sliced potatoes
1 bad of carrots, sliced
1 medium-large sliced onion
1 ½ lbs. ground beef, browned*
1 can Cream of Celery soup
1 can of milk
Directions:
Butter dutch oven, and layer in potatoes, carrots, onions and ground beef. Mix soup with milk, and pour over top. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for an hour and a half.

Emily’s casserole was a staple when Rick was growing up, it was a favorite of his dad’s and mom got the recipe from Emily knowing it was always enjoyed…and it was easy to make. It became a part of Rick’s comfort food repertoire, just like it had been for his father, and it’s now a part of his children’s. (Editor’s Note: In the interest of transparency, the subject of this blog (Michael) is not a big fan of this casserole and it’s not as regular in our family dinner rotation as it once was…but it will be!)

That a dish named for Emily was one of the comfort food for Rick’s dad and uncles were children tells us a lot about our family history. Emily was like a sister to Grandma Leonard, but never too much like a sister. The family legend (largely true I believe) was that she was rescued by our historic, revered Congressman ancestor E.A. Morse of Antigo, WI. But she was also an employee from an early age. First for the Morse family, and then for their only daughter (and very close in-age) Catherine. It was an interesting dynamic that wasn’t fully apparent to the grandchildren of Catherine, but it runs deeply through the fabric of today. She had a deep, emotional impact on us, but she wasn’t family…but she was, even if she was an employee.

We’ll feature Emily in more detail in a future post, but today take a listen to Carolynn’s amazing podcast, where she helps pull the details of this story out…and shows how a casserole sometimes isn’t just a casserole!