Putting it all together – Part 2: The brick wall starts to crumble

Putting it all together – Part 2: The brick wall starts to crumble

One of the all-time best family history interviews we’ve ever conducted was with Felice’s Great Aunt “Ann”. Ann and Felice’s Grandmother Delia were well known for being pretty crazy in their younger days. They were clearly free spirits who came of age about 20 years too early, and too deep in the bible belt. They would have fit well into the Summer of Love in 1967, or the singles bar scene of any major city in the 1970s. Neither was single, but that was never an issue for them.

By the time Super Bowl XV kicked off that night we knew we likely had identified Felice’s mystery Grandfather. We also knew that we were going to be changing a lot of family history.

Ann, who is now 82, has always been a kind, happy woman. Never out to hurt anyone, but never too concerned about what others thought about her ways. She told us stories about how she married her first husband, Luther White when she was pregnant at 13 years old. They only briefly lived together and she “made him stay in the streets because he was a whore”. Ann said he would come over from time-to-time and she’d “let him do what he had to do”, which resulted in them having a child every year or two. Luther’s parents supported her and the children, and they went on to have 9 children together.

Ann eventually moved out of the White household, and soon found a man to move in with. She explained that she needed a “babysitter” so she and Delia could go out and enjoy themselves, and this man fit the bill. Ann says that Delia might have been a little crazier than her, but they were clearly partners in crime.

 

Putting it all together - Transcript 2
Transcript of Ann’s family history interview

One of the more telling stories Ann told us was from when Delia was living next door to Ann’s close friend Lilymae. Lilymae’s husband Jack and Delia were having an affair, but Ann wasn’t going to get involved. She didn’t judge her sister. Despite being friends with Lilymae, when she got in a physical fight with Delia over the affair, Ann sided with her sister. Ann told her best friend she’d “beat her ass” if she touched Delia again.

That interview was playing through our head that Super Sunday as the theory that Luther was Mary’s father dawned on us. There’s no reason to doubt that Delia might sleep with her sister’s husband. And, if she had gotten pregnant by Luther it could explain why Delia wouldn’t put the father on Susan’s birth certificate. She said she didn’t know who the father was, but it’s likely Delia knew exactly who it was. Susan’s Grandfather didn’t want her to not have a listed father. He filled out the Birth Certificate, entered the name of the man who fathered Delia’s other two children, and life moved on.

Since Delia passed away in 1999, and Luther in 1994, there would be no first-hand confirmation of this theory. We had only DNA to go on.

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Purported photo of Roman and Mary (Stewart) Jones

From our interview with Ann, we knew only that Luther’s parents were Ira and Eula White, so we started there. The work we did in “Casting a Wide Net” pointed to Roman and Mary Jones as our target Most Recent Common Ancestor. We identified 17 DNA matches who shared the Jones’ as their MCRA. If the link between Roman and Mary and Susan was through Luther’s family, either Ira or Eula had to be a descendant.

We first mapped out that Ira White was the son of Pleasant and Cora (Gordon) White. The White family was in the Northeast Mississippi area around the same time as Roman and Mary Jones, but not in close proximity. Pleasant and Cora were both born enslaved, but we were able to establish both of their sets of parents. None of them lined up with what we knew about Roman and Mary.

We then shifted to Eula’s line and discovered her parents, Joseph and Sarah Moore, were living in the same County as the Roman and Mary at the same time. From our earlier research, we knew the Jones’ listed a daughter Sarah in the 1880 US Census, who was born about 1873. As we researched Sarah Moore we found her in the 1900 Census, with her birth date listed as November 1872.

Putting it All Together Part 2 - Tree
If we can prove Sarah Moore was born Sarah Jones, we can establish the match to the 17 DNA lines we’ve linked, and prove that Susan’s Father was Luther White.

We had a solid lead that only got more firm as we looked further. When we mapped out the 17 DNA matches using DNA Painter using the theory that Luther’s Grandmother Sarah Moore was born Sarah Jones, it all lined up as expected.

By the time Super Bowl XV kicked off that night we knew we likely had identified Felice’s mystery Grandfather. We also knew that we were going to be changing a lot of family history. Ann is still alive, and if we were right her children would learn their Father had an affair with their Aunt, and their cousin also their half-Sister. For Susan discovering her long lost Father was not going to bring the happy reunion, we’d hoped for.

But, our disruption of the family history would stretch further than we knew at the time.

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.

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!

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).

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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.

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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!!