Putting it all together Part 1 – Our biggest brick wall breakthrough so far started with a forgotten tweet, a LOT of work, and migraine on Super Bowl Sunday

Putting it all together Part 1 – Our biggest brick wall breakthrough so far started with a forgotten tweet, a LOT of work, and migraine on Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Sunday 2019 started like most of our Sundays. Felice got her breakfast in bed, the kids all got pancakes, and breakfast was complete. I sat down at the computer with a nice cup of coffee hoping to kick the mini-migraine that was resisting drugs and enjoy a few hours of genealogy.

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The Tweet that broke open our mystery

As I sat down that morning, for some reason a Twitter post we’d made 7 months earlier about Felice’s mother “Susan” popped in my mind. Susan matched her 1st Cousin “Charles” with 2122 cM…enough that he was almost a full sibling. It was a head-scratcher. We’d tweeted out our confusion, and a follower explained to us that it might mean he was a “3/4 siblings”. 3/4 siblings are where the same person parents children by two siblings, for example, when one man has children with two women who are sisters. But the tweet came during a busy time and it fell out of our minds…until this morning when it hit like a lightning bolt.

Susan’s paternity was THE big “brick wall” of our family history research. The man listed on her birth certificate, Roger Homes, was likely not her father. Family history held that Susan’s mom Dealia had at least 1 of her 2 other children with Roger, but Roger was on Susan’s birth certificate because Dealia’s father him on there. He didn’t want his Grand daughter’s Father left blank. Family interviews had given us a couple of leads on Susan’s father, but finding “Big Ed” from a neighboring town in Mississippi seemed like a significant long shot. DNA was always our best hope to solve this mystery.

Going into that Super Sunday we had recently finished our series about the tools we used to go from a handful of Ancestry DNA matches to connecting them in a tree. In the “Casting a Wide Net” series (Link) we took a group of over 5000 matches to Susan that were shared between themselves and built them into a mirror tree. Ultimately we mapped out 17 of those DNA kits to each other and identified the MRCA for them and Susa.

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Susan’s tree, as we had it originally

In of our research, we’d noted Susan’s maternal cousin Charles also matched the 17. This led us to focus on her mom’s side of the tree to find the link, but the evidence hadn’t lined up with that theory. We ended the series without being able to establish the direct link between the MCRA and Susan.

As the computer fired up that morning, the tweet, the MCRA, and the unknown father all slammed together at once: What if the maternal cousin wasn’t only a cousin? What if Charles’ father was also Susan’s, and what if the 17 matches were on their father’s line!

We’d never built out Charles’ father’s line because he was an Uncle who didn’t feed much information into our line. We’d added his parents, so knew their names and not much else. We’d interviewed Felice’s Aunt “Ann” and she explained about how she’d married Luther White at 13 years old and almost immediately kicked him out. Despite that, he would still go on to father each of her 10 children while Luther’s parents supported her and her children, including giving them a place to live.

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Susan’s tree as we imagined it as the Super Bowl kicked off

I was shaking a little as I opened up Ancestry and started to build out the Father’s line. This theory perfectly clicked together, but if we were right we were about to be swimming in deep waters. It was always our hope to breakdown the brick wall of Susan’s paternity and to help her fill out the picture of her life. We envisioned a happy moment where we put to bed a lifelong secret and expanded our family tree. Now, this was taking a very sudden turn and we were likely unearthing a painful family secret.

All of this before my first cup of coffee on a Sunday…and little did we know at the time how deep this would go.

A Profile in Political Courage: An Ancestor Stands Against a Tyrant, Fellow Republican

A Profile in Political Courage: An Ancestor Stands Against a Tyrant, Fellow Republican

The Impeachment Trial of the President of the United States this week felt so historic at times that it seemed unprecedented. It felt that the country was facing a challenge to its democratic traditions unlike anything we’ve ever faced. However, our family history reminded us that the country has faced this political tyranny before, when one man wielded control over the White House and both houses of Congress due to Republicans not having the will to stand up to an American despot. It also reminded us that we can celebrate an ancestor who defeated that threat with a courage and sacrifice that seemed completely absent from today’s Republican Party.

Elmer Morse, portrait, c. 1910 (P17-0054)
Elmer Addison Morse, c. 1910

Michael’s 2xGreat Grandfather Elmer Addison Morse was born and raised in the farming community of Franksville, WI but he was elected to Congress in 1906 as a Representative from Antigo, WI. E.A. (as he was known) was aligned with the Progressive wing of the Republican Party and was one of the founding members of the National Progressive Republican League along with Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette in 1911.

During Morse’s time in Congress, the main block to many Progressive reforms was the Republican Speaker of the House Joseph Gurney Cannon. “Uncle Joe” Cannon was a conservative Republican and led the “Old Guard/Stand Pat” wing of the Republican Party.
Gurney served as Speaker starting in 1903 and he amassed an unprecedented amount of power. He was not only Speaker, but he was also the chair of the House Rules Committee which determined how bills could be debated, amended, and voted upon. Bills couldn’t reach the floor unless Cannon approved of them, and he alone could determine what form they would take if they reached the floor for a vote. Additionally, he solely appointed all committee members, of both parties, which ensured that the blossoming group of Progressive Republicans were kept off of important committees and could leverage very little influence.

[E.A. Morse] was a part of a small group of Republicans that stood up for what was right and for what was best for the democratic institutions of this country. They did so at the risk of their political careers, and each House Progressive paid for their courage by losing their seats soon after their insurgency.

While Cannon was a key foe to Teddy Roosevelt, the election of William Howard Taft in 1908 led to Uncle Joe taking complete control of the Republican Party and thus dictating the actions of the Senate as well as the President.

In the 1908 Presidential election, the majority of Republicans (and all of the Progressives) ran on a platform of lowering tariffs. Protectionist tariffs had been passed years earlier, but since they were designed more to protect business interests than consumer interests, prices on key consumer items had skyrocketed. Cannon understood his power, and sensing that Taft was not as formidable as Roosevelt, he decided to break Taft of any Progressive leanings while crippling the Progressives. Against the wishes of almost the entire party, Cannon ensured that the 1909 Payne-Aldrich Tariff was signed into law.
The tariff bill was a thinly veiled punishment to those that challenged Cannon, and a threat to those that supported him, in a bid to ensure they continued that support.

Instead of the promised reduction of tariffs, Payne-Aldrich raised them on many of the 2000+ items listed. The few reductions were largely given out at political favors. The Republicans ultimately felt that failing to pass any tariff bill would be seen as a fiasco for the party, and they chose party above the relief they promised their constituents. Cannon recognized that and used it to bend the party to his will, and even many of the reformers (likely even our E.A.) fell in line and supported the bill.

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Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon on the cover of the first issue of Time Magazine

Taft spun the bill that had been forced upon him by Cannon as “the best tariff bill that the Republican Party ever passed.” Taft also admitted that he put the interests of the party over the interests of the country: “I believe…the interests of the party required me to sacrifice the accomplishment of certain things in the revision of the tariff which I had hoped for, in order to maintain party solidarity.” Cannon had become the single man in charge of the American political system, and he effectively controlled both the Executive and Congressional branches of government. From this time on he was widely referred to as “The Tyrant from Illinois”.

In 1910, the Progressives found the courage to stand up to Cannon and politically neuter him in spectacular fashion. On March 17, 1910, the House was in session but lightly attended. There was a quorum, but many Republicans were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and had either left for the week, or a long weekend, and were likely not in shape to return to the Capital. It was during an otherwise routine management of House business that a Progressive insurgent struck out at Cannon’s power.

George Norris, a Republican from Nebraska, had been laying it the weeds waiting for this moment. For two years he’d carried the text of a resolution in his pocket to amend the House rules to remove Cannon from the chair of the Rules committee and to strip him of his ability to appoint committee members and leaders. There had been a seemingly innocent debate the day before on if bills could be introduced directly to the House floor if they dealt directly with a Constitutional question. Cannon and Stand Patters ruled that it was permissible, even if the bill was not pre-printed and that the House as a whole would have to vote directly on those bills. Cannon couldn’t control those bills from being debated and voted upon.

St. Patrick’s Day morning, Norris, sensing his opening, copied the text of his resolution on the back of an envelope and rose to introduce a “resolution privileged by the Constitution.” Cannon, not knowing the danger of what was unfolding, allowed Norris to proceed. Very quickly it became apparent that Cannon had accidentally allowed a direct challenge to his power and he didn’t have the votes to stop it. One of Cannon’s allies made a Point of Order that Norris’ resolution wasn’t privileged, and that set off 26 hours of political gamesmanship. Ultimately Cannon couldn’t muster the votes and allowed the Point of Order to be voted on by the House. 42 Progressive Republicans joined 149 Democrats to ensure that Norris’ motion passed, breaking the greatest concentration of power in American political history. Cannon’s hubris and display of punitive power in the tariff bill hadn’t broken the Progressives, it laid the groundwork for them to rise up and seize control back from Cannon.

The Progressives voted for Country over party, but it cost them dearly. In the 1910 election Democrats took over the House, while many of the Progressives survived re-election. However, the 1912 election was a disaster for the Republicans and the death of the Progressives in the party.

The Progressives planned to seize control over the Republican Party during the 1912 Presidential election, but they didn’t anticipate Teddy Roosevelt’s return to American politics and his usurping of the Progressive Party, re-naming it The Bull Moose Party. Additionally, a dethroned Cannon had enough power to ensure that each of the Progressives that voted to remove him faced well-funded challengers in their House elections. He also pulled strings to make sure that promised Post Offices that were key to legislators in Progressive districts were delayed until after the election.

Article, EA Morse, Marshfield Times (D17-0020)
E.A. Morse campaign ad defending his stand against Speaker Joe Cannon and “Cannonism” and making no apologies.

In E.A. Morse’s case, in addition to facing a Democratic “wave” election in 1912, the Old Guard Republican governor of Wisconsin helped ensure that this district was merged with another and that he faced a challenge from a popular Republican Secretary of State. In the end, Morse was handily defeated and returned to private life, in no small part due to his challenge to Uncle Joe Cannon.

It’s easy to ascribe only the noblest of intentions to our ancestors, and obviously Elmer A. Morse is a heroic legend in our family. And while we’re well aware of many troubling aspects of his life, in this case he was a part of a small group of Republicans that stood up for what was right and for what was best for the democratic institutions of this country. They did so at the risk of their political careers, and each House Progressive paid for their courage by losing their seats soon after their insurgency.

This week, 110 years later, the Republican Party couldn’t muster 3 people courageous enough to put a tyrant in check. The risk of losing their seats was greater than their sense of duty to what was right and best for the country.

We’ve seen this before, where one man stood above the Constitution and the country, but that time he was brought to back in-check. Knowing that, however, just makes this week’s failure more disappointing.

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net

In early 2018 we made a series of posts on how to use the multiple “Shared Matches” in AncestryDNA to narrow down the DNA line that connects you to them. The challenge was that often they have no trees, or small trees that don’t come anywhere close to matching your (much more complete!) tree.

This strategy was a way to use mirror trees to match them to themselves, which should indicate a Most Recent Common Ancestor for them, and in all likelihood to be your MCRA as well. For this series we broke down a large set of matches (5000+) to Felice’s mother, to try and establish her first DNA link outside of the immediate family.

There were all of the challenges we all face with African American genealogy (fewer family histories to draw off of, smaller trees, difficulty with 3x/4xGGP’s due to the “1870 Wall”, etc.), and in this series we found the MCRA…but we failed to find the link between them and our family. However, about a year later we broke through that wall, and we’ll be following up on that shortly. In the meantime, here’s the complete series in one page:

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 1 – A crazy, desperate idea

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 2 – Identifying all “Matches of Matches” as a Group

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 3 – Building a single tree using all of our DNA matches Public Trees

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 4 – Proving the matches, and establishing a theory of connection

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 6 – Our crazy attempt to leverage 288 DNA matches to expand our tree comes to it’s conclusion

 

 

Taking a step back from working on our Family Tree – A follow up

Taking a step back from working on our Family Tree – A follow up

In September we wrote about what is a common problem in the genealogy community: not enough time to balance work, family, and our research. We took a radical step and decided to stop working on our family tree, so we could instead focus on wrapping up other projects and to get our research, citations, and document/photo collections in order.

It’s been 7 months since wrote that piece (Link)…here’s how the plan’s going:

Keep blog posts to 500 words (Grade: F) – Our last post was almost 2000 words, our average since September is about 1000, AND we have been lucky to post 2 times a month instead of publishing weekly like we intend. Lots of work to do here.

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Clean, scan, and store the 2000 glass plate negatives from the Home Studio Collection (Grade: B+) – We decided not to clean them, we have the storage taken care of with all of the proper archival products. However, we got to about 70 plates scanned in October and stopped. It was too much time per plate. In response, in the last 3 months we purchased a lot of equipment to scan these more quickly and we were able to process 225 plates in about 2 hours last time we tested. We are about to finish the first crate of plates (~440 images) in 10 days! We’ll publish more details when we’re done.

While we are scoring a GPA just over a C, it’s mostly because of we failed at our primary approach of stopping work on our Family Tree.

Install a temperature/humidity control solution in our archive room (Grade: A) – It’s done! Our archives have spent the last 5-6 months at 62-65 degrees, and 42-45% humidity! There will be more work to do this summer, to cool/dehumidify the space, but we already have the controls in place.

Ensure each Source in our main, Public tree is properly cited and every Fact is supported by at least one Source (Grade: Inc) – To be fair, we started on this effort, beginning with 4xGGP Royal and Eliza (Jones) Morse (whom we’ve owed this documentation to the Morse Society for 2 years now!) 4 times, but the Family Tree Maker data corruptions kept setting this effort back (MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage). Once we got past that, we’ve made some progress, but we lost a lot of effort on this one.

Properly transcribe and index all family history interviews (Grade: C) – We’re half way there! But the last set of transcripts will be the hardest.

PUBLISH! (Grade: F) – Out blog posts are lagging, and we haven’t actually published anything outside of blogging. We’ve been reading some great family histories though, to get an idea of how others publish  their stories, so we have good ideas once we’re ready!

Write our autobiographies, as well as begin to write out what we know about our family (Grade: F) – Yeah, so…we’ve written nothing. Looking back, this probably should have been left off the list…we were just setting ourselves up for failure.

Ensure that we’re printing out all electronic sources, so that our paper files are complete copies of our electronic files (Grade: A) – We’ve been pretty diligent on this one, and while we’ve had to redo a lot of electronic source citations, we did print them all out as we created them.

Spend a little more time with the family! (Grade: A) – We could have made a lot more progress on this list if sacrificed this one, but we’re spending more time together as family now than when we first wrote this.

While we are scoring a GPA just over a C, it’s mostly because of we failed at our primary approach of stopping work on our Family Tree. Instead, we shattered our largest brick wall (while adding nearly 40 new DNA matches) and made a huge dent in another brick wall. Much more on that will follow, but both efforts took a LOT of work, and those hours spent working on the trees directly slowed down the other work we hoped to accomplish.

That said, we’ve rededicated ourselves to getting these other tasks complete so we can finally turn our full attention to building our tree. Our properly cited and sourced family tree!

Ancestry’s “Inseparable” commercial is racist and a perfect example of the how white America continues to perpetuate racism

Ancestry’s “Inseparable” commercial is racist and a perfect example of the how white America continues to perpetuate racism

Soon after Ancestry.com pulled their racist “Inseparable” ad depicting an antebellum African American woman being proposed to by a white man who offers to take her a place where they can be together, someone in the genealogy community whom we respect quite a bit got into a Twitter argument over the ad. The person who was essentially trolling our friend was both not American, and trying to be confrontational, so it turned into one of those Internet lost causes. After further reflection however, it got us to thinking about how could this controversy be explained to someone who didn’t understand it, but actually cared enough to learn.

For full disclosure, and clarity, the voice/pronoun we use in this blog is “we” because no matter who’s at the keyboard, in a house full of children it’s a team effort when one of us gets 3 hours to put together a blog post. Plus, this is our journey as a family. But today, this is written by Michael’s father, a white American raised and living in the Midwest. This is written from this one person’s perspective, education, experience, and opinion.

Racism v. bigotry

Anyone who doesn’t understand the complete offensiveness of “Inseparable” is likely white. This is both understandable, and a huge barrier to any discussions about race in the United States. People identified as white in US have both a blind spot on race, and a defensiveness, which combines to make it almost impossible to discuss constructively. Their defensiveness is largely because they don’t have hate/prejudice in their heart, and thus they can’t imagine anyone else does. This seems like the culmination of the little black boys and little black girls being able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers, but instead the myopia of “I don’t see race, so there is no racism” is a corrosive force in American society.

Racism is much more about the systematic exclusion of African Americans from majority American culture, and the systems of maintaining that exclusion.

What is often missed in these discussion is that bigotry isn’t required in racism, and well meaning white Americans can fully participate in racist traditions/concepts/assumptions/systems, without being bigots, and in fact without carrying any ill will against anyone.

Bigotry is not the same as racism, in that bigotry is much more about the active hatred/subjugation of races by people who tend to define themselves as being separate/superior to others. Racism is much more about the systematic exclusion of African Americans from majority American culture, and the systems of maintaining that exclusion.

These systems are so deeply embedded in the United States, they are almost impossible to be seen/understood by white Americans. However, the African American members of our family understand these systems of control/oppression very well. They are obvious to them. But even as a person who understands many of these issues, it’s impossible for me, as a white American, to recognize just how deeply and completely these systems are ingrained in our country. It will never be obvious to white people.

Understanding that racism isn’t about individual acts of malice/prejudice, but about the blind acceptance by white people of the systems/beliefs in American culture that prevent African Americans from full freedom and rights in this country, helps explain why this ad is so blatantly racist.

So, what’s wrong with the ad?

This ad was horrible on so many levels, even accepting how invisible racial suppression can be to white America doesn’t help explain just how completely stupid it was that “Inseparable” was allowed to see the light of day. There are so many ways to understand how completely racist this ad was, it’s hard to see it as anything but intentional.

Our first reaction on seeing it was that there was a 99% chance she was owned, and that not only could there be NO romance there, it’s almost for certain she was either talking to her owner, or her owner’s son. She had no power in this, no agency, no decision making authority. She could only be told what to do, not choose. Entering into a “relationship” when you’re property, when you’re a prisoner, is always rape. Even if she was a freedman, her rights were so limited in southern culture there’s no way she could make a free choice with an equal of hers. This situation is so unbalanced, it’s almost guaranteed to be a story of a powerful man who is forcing a woman into a situation she can’t refuse. The can be no romance here, there can at best be someone doing what they needed to do to survive while being equal to a mule in the eyes of this country.

These are just the most obvious points, and we could list probably 10 more troubling messages in this ad, and all of these should have been so obvious that the commercial never aired. However, it’s not the most damaging, disgusting aspect of what Ancestry.com put out there.

Ancestry played into the narratives put forth by bigots, and legitimized their bigotry

On reflection, this is the point that really drives home just how disgusting Ancestry.com was in releasing this ad. Since 1877 (the end of Reconstruction), there has been an ongoing campaign of oppression against African Americans in this country by groups who are sometimes very overt (Klu Klux Klan, governments, etc.) and sometimes very covert (United Daughters of the Confederacy). “Inseparable” may as well have been written by them both.

Racism is about the systems that exclude African Americans from society in profound ways, and this country has found ways since the first Europeans arrived on this land to ensure that exclusion. Even after over 600,000 soldiers were lost fighting the Civil War to destroy the institution of slavery, the South spent the next 100 years effectively re-instituting slavery, and the North did next to nothing to stop it.

Jim Crow prospered in no small part by the work of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s concerted efforts to change the notions of what the Civil War was fought over. Soon after they were formed in 1894 they set out to soften and legitimize the treason of the South, and through their “Lost Cause” campaign sought to portray slavery as a benevolent institution that cared for people not as able as whites to care for themselves. They first made up the myth of the Civil War as a fight over “State’s Rights”, insisted that the war was not about slavery, popularized the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as the “Confederate Flag”, and built 100’s of monuments to the heroic leaders of the Confederate cause.

This subterfuge has largely worked to soften the view of the South’s renunciation of the United States and our Constitution. There are serious conversations about the ludicrous notion of States Rights being a cause the South fought for, we all know the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia, and we have 3 times as many of Confederate monuments as Union in this country. This whitewashing of history continues to this day to influence and justify the mistreatment of African Americans in this country.

So, when Ancestry.com produced this ad, it was another brick in this revisionist, racist narrative that the institution of slavery wasn’t so bad. It further papers over the truth of how brutal we treated African Americans over our history. White men who were intimate with African American women were rapists. African American women who were fighting to escape North weren’t going with white men, they were going with their black husbands. These escapes weren’t for love, they were for their lives and the risked their lives. There was NOTHING romantic about these moments, and their were born not out of choice but out of the deep human right to be allowed to make choices to control their own lives.

But Ancestry glossed over this brutal reality and concocted a totally false romantic narrative. Instead of this powerful voice in our culture helping foster a conversation on the lingering effects of slavery, they chose instead to further this racist notion that’s been so doggedly pushed by groups like the UDC and the KKK: that the antebellum South was something other than dehumanizing. Their ad not played into this bigoted rewriting of history they helped further mainstream it, normalize it, and allowed even more people to minimize the impact of the brutality that’s continuing against our fellow Americans. We continue to have issues with race today because enough people can raise doubt on just how deep our racism goes, and Ancestry chose to enhance that doubt.

Ancestry made this worse by not apologizing

Apologies are pretty simple if you regret making a mistake. It has 3 parts: honest regret, ownership of your mistake, and a commitment to learn from your mistake. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done what I did, and it won’t happen again. It’s easy, but incredibly powerful.

Ancestry had a powerful chance to make amends, but they instead issued a very complicated non-apology apology. Instead of just saying they regretted their ad, they instead said “we apologize”…which is a clever PR way to make us think they said they were sorry. One makes an apology, but saying they apologize perfectly avoids any statement of regret. Ancestry then followed that up with the classic “[we] apologize for any offense that the ad may have caused” which both avoids any regret or ownership of their actions. They shifted the blame to us if we felt offense, and they dodge even more by only admitting their ad “may” have caused offense.

We’ve written previously about Ancestry is straying from their partnership with the genealogical community, as they transition to a data mining firm sitting on the largest collection of DNA tests on the planet. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but that doesn’t mean we’re not disappointed.

Links:

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

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism

Our project to save a piece of Racine, Wisconsin history, Part 2 – Making a connection

Our project to save a piece of Racine, Wisconsin history, Part 2 – Making a connection

Before we get into the amazing connection we’ve made recently, here’s a quick update on the broader collection of 2500 glass plate negatives we were able to rescue that comprise the surviving images from the Home Portrait Studio. We talked about how saved these plates earlier, and about how we intend to scan and share all of these images publicly (Our project to save a piece of Racine, Wisconsin history, Part 1 – Getting Started), but in the months since our last update we found out it would be nearly impossible to use a flatbed scanner to capture those thousands of images without it taking years to complete. Fully processing 50 negatives was taking about 8 hours. We’ve since bought a bunch of equipment to instead photograph each negative digitally, and invested in software that allows us to now fully process those same 50 images in just under an hour. We expect that with this new process we’ll the entire first box up and shared next month (440 images), and we’ll provide much more detail as soon as they complete.

In the meantime, through an amazing set of coincidences we determined the name of the man in the WWI uniform we posted originally, met his grandson, and learned more about Frank Stritesky who owned the Home Portrait Studio.

The photo is William H Rastall (born in 17 Jun in Racine, Wisconsin) and who served in the US Army from December 1917 to January 1919. William was the brother of Frank’s wife Anne, and lived in the same neighborhood.

HPS Part 2 - William Photos
Other pictures of Willam H Rastall (from the collection of Michael Rastall)

Just days after we first shared these images on the “Racine History” Facebook group, and on this blog, William’s grandson Michael began searching the Internet to buy an original or reproduction of the patch on William’s uniform. The photo of William with the 119th patch was a family treasure that had been passed down.

Michael’s first search turned up our scan, posted to a military insignia message board that we’d used to try and narrow down the timeframe that image was taken. Michael has prints of this family heirloom, and figured that the negatives were in the home that housed the studio which was owned by Frank’s daughter Betty, so he was floored to see a full-frame version of the picture randomly by a stranger on the Internet!

He reached out the next day, and after exchanging texts and phone calls, it turned out we were close enough for lunch, and got to meet and exchange stories. Michael was able to share many of the family pictures that were taken by Frank over the years.

The image we first published of William was almost certainly taken in 1918, at a time when Frank was just getting Home Portrait Studio up and running, and during that time he’d often take photos of family to practice/build his portfolio. William married after returning home from his WWI service, and he and his wife Alice had one son, Patric who had a life-long interest in photography owning back to his Uncle Frank. Frank had let Patric work the cameras from time-to-time when he was younger, and Patric’s interest eventually rubbed off on his son Michael, who works as a professional photographer in the Chicago Suburbs (Michael Rastall Photography).

HPS Part 2 - Rastall family
The Rastall Family, ca. 1918. William is center (in uniform), and is flanked by his sisters Adeline (Rastall) Noble and Anne (Rastall) Stritesky. (from the collection of Michael Rastall)

Patric and his wife had visited Betty decades ago hoping to salvage the remaining negatives and maybe some of the studio gear, but Betty wasn’t interested in letting anything go. Given the condition they were being stored in there was little hope they survived after Betty’s passing, so it came as a complete shock to the family that they were seeing the light of day. With any luck, as we continue through the 6 boxes we saved they we’ll find more of those family treasures.

hps-part-2-patric.jpeg
William’s son Patric Rastall, ca. 1944. (from the collection of Michael Rastall)

We’re also hopeful we can eventually reunite many more families with these amazing images of their ancestors, but for now we’ve at least made that first link!

More to come!!

Ancestry’s new ThruLines feature is both a “killer app” and the start of the future of genealogy

Ancestry’s new ThruLines feature is both a “killer app” and the start of the future of genealogy

It’s rare that we can spot trends emerging, but we’re going to take a quick victory lap this week because we saw Ancestry.com’s ThruLines coming. We called it out…twice! And now that it’s arrived it feels like the “killer app” for genealogical DNA.

One of our first posts in 2017 was a discussion on how the Ancestry “We’re Related” mobile app was not just a silly diversion (We’re Related app is a lot less frivolous than it first appears) because of how it leveraged predictive relationships:

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.

Over a year later we bemoaned the fact that Ancestry’s first major use of these predictive algorithms was the “Potential Mother/Father” tool. It was poorly implemented and presented so much risk (Ancestry.com takes another step away from its genealogical roots…), but we saw the power in this tool, if used properly:

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 we must immediately attach the citations to any newly added ancestor.

Ancestry has finally harnessed predictive technology in a very effect feature with the release of ThruLines.

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At it’s essence ThruLines a new graphical way to show HOW you’re related to your DNA matches. This is long overdue, and while the old way of clicking on a direct match and seeing the path from your kit to the most recent common ancestor (MCRA) worked, it was limited (we had to dig into each match with 3 clicks to see the path) and it was totally devoid of any context. Was there a brother of this tester that also matches? Did they have a 1st cousin that also tested that in-turn matches our tests? You just had to click through each test to find out.

 

But, the real power in ThruLines isn’t the graphical change, it’s that it’s using predictive algorithms to scour both Public AND Private trees, to greatly narrow down where another DNA match is likely to fall in your tree. That’s right, those close relatives we see in our “DNA Matches” screens that are just dead ends because they have Private trees and don’t reply to Ancestry messages are now likely to be mapped in ThruLines.

Our first discovery

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“Lynne” is solid 3-4th cousin match (67cM) to Michael’s father, and through all of the techniques we’ve discussed previously, we’ve narrowed down that our MCRA is likely to be Wesley and Jane Tradewell. This is the same Tradewell line that is one of our large brickwalls, and so the more data we have for this branch the better. Lynne entered a small tree at some point, but she left all of her named ancestors living, so they appear “Private” and we have almost nothing to go on when trying to link her to our tree.

 

When we opened ThruLines for the first time, we understood right away that each of the photos we were seeing were MCRA’s, and clicking on Wesley Tradewell, we immediately understood the power of this tool. There was Lynne, mapped for us, with some information still private but it greatly narrowed down the line through which we matched. Knowing that she likely matches through William Humphry Tradewell removed 2 generations of likely matches, and narrowed down our search to children from William’s daughters. Even more powerful however is that we’re in regular contact with family who is likely Lynne’s 1st Cousin, Once Removed. We sent a quick email to that person, they confirmed Lynne’s lineage, and we’d filled in another DNA match. Actually, it was two, because we had the same issue with “Jonas667” (2 relative tree, both living/Private), and it was resolved in the same way.

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ThruLines leveraged Private trees and DNA tests to map out our connections to a MCRA, even though we can’t make a direct match. 

All of our efforts to shrub out William Humphry Tradewell’s children had failed up to this point (no census, no obituaries, no Public Trees, etc.), so we had only one daughter tentatively identified. It would have taken significant work to break down the matches to Lynne/Jonas667 by building out each of those trees, and since we’d already tried diligently and failed, it might never have been done. But ThruLines broke through on the first click.

 

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We now know where to search, to validate how “lynne” links to us

Now, this is cannot be stated more clearly: ThruLines are at best speculative “hints” that can guide your work in very effective new ways, but they do not create evidence nor can we be sure they even contain proof of anything. They are like user trees in that manner…and for good reason, they are built entirely on user trees.

 

We expect one day brickwalls will be broken down by these tools while we’re sound asleep.

But the way the tool narrowed down these matches makes it much easier to prove them out. We know exactly where to start now, where last week we were stumped.

African-American Research

ThruLines-7Half of our tree traces their roots to enslaved African ancestors, and the second discovery we made was that ThruLines would give us suggestions even if there were 2 generations separating supposed ancestors. In the example we saw as we clicked through Michael’s maternal grandmother’s MCRA’s showed us an African-American GGM that was born in 1879, and no evidence of who her parents were. This is very common…to get to/near the 1870 wall for those of African decent, but no good leads on the generation previous. In this case however, we have a new hint: two identified generations of European ancestors, and two unidentified generations after them, leading to a link to the known Fanny Johnson. This is a highly speculative connection, and it will take considerable work to prove/disprove it going forward, but it’s at least a lead and it’s based on at least a little bit of conjecture. It may not be anything, but it also could be one of those rare finds that links one of our African ancestors back a few generations closer to their enslavement, as well as identifying the slave owner that contributed to our genetic make up.

What’s next?

Going forward, this could literally revolutionize both genetic genealogy as well as standard genealogy. Artificial Intelligence and matching algorithms can not only see patterns much better than any human can, they can do it faster while analyzing more data than we can ever hope to review in our lifetimes. We can see that in the future, when a new AncestryDNA kit is processed and put online, the user will see a large tree of matches and MCRA’s as their first few of the results, instead of a list of 4000+ matches they have to map one at a time.

Also, imagine a day when they use these tools to validate evidence of each users’ Public tree for instance, looking for clearly incorrect data/relationships and flag it for users. At the very least they can rate that “source” tree as unreliable, and bring better sourced trees to the forefront. These tools could easily allow the power of individual trees, while also bring them all into line with known facts, and start matching them in ways we can’t imagine.

Going back to our Tradewell example, our brickwall is around Reuben Tradewell and the one piece of evidence that his father might be “Jakin” from Connecticut…but the trail goes cold. Tools like this, however, point to the power that’s coming where some other groups of genealogists and family historians have a mystery “Jakin/Jacob” from Connecticut that they have sourced generations back, but don’t know his disposition. We expect one day brickwalls will be broken down by these tools while we’re sound asleep.