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.

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

 

 

Why Kenyatta D. Berry’s “The Family Tree Toolkit” needs to be on your bookshelf!

Why Kenyatta D. Berry’s “The Family Tree Toolkit” needs to be on your bookshelf!
(Note: 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.)

When we initially started this blog, one of the first topics we covered was our standard genealogy toolkit (How to: Getting started researching your family tree) that included everything we though people would need to successfully start getting serious with this hobby, and ease folks into more advanced work. Our suggestions included Tony Burrough’s Black Roots as well Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained, and now Kenyatta D. Berry’s The Family Tree Toolkit is a strong addition to that list. In addition to being an essential resource, it’s a wonderful read.

The Family Tree Toolkit finds that balance of storytelling, emotional connection, and practical research examples in a way we can only envy.

From a practical standpoint, her detailed list of research resources (often state-by-state) is pretty consistently spot on for a deep dive into each subject. It’s so complete, and as hobbyists who have spent nearly 8 years doing this work, we found so many additional resources it took much longer than it should have to finish the book. We’d swear that when we read the next section, we WOULDN’T dive into one of the suggested sources for that section. We’d just make notes and come back. It never worked, and we’d spend the next 2-3 days checking out new sources! If we had this book 8 years ago, and we took the time to plan our research back then, we would be SO much further on this journey. We found a lot just doing searches and lucking into things, but if we targeted the correct sources from the beginning, it would have been so much more effective, and we’re now consulting The Family Tree Toolkit as we continue our research.

The risk with these printed texts that catalog research sources is that they will grow stale with time, and the book loses it’s value, but each of the resources here seem to have been picked to be resistant to aging. Sites like familysearch.org will be around as long as the LDS church is around (essentially, forever), and other sites tend to be big, well funded, and the collections listed are more likely to grow over time. It’s a better bet than not that the book will be an essential reference guide well into the time Ms. Berry issues her first revision.

But another reason to not focus on the nature of reference aging is that the personal journey stories and examples of Ms. Berry’s work would have made this an essential read on their own. The Family Tree Toolkit finds that balance of storytelling, emotional connection, and practical research examples in a way we can only envy. Not that our passion is ever waning, but there is a thread of deep truth that runs through her stores that not only reminds us why we’re doing this work, it re-inspired us to make the effort to make physical connections to the data we’re gathering.

For example, take this passage where she talks about her first trip to an ancestral home in Madison County, Virginia:

“As I explored the grounds, I looked out to the neighboring property and realized that I was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. More than 130 years ago, they had stood where I was standing, and as I closed my eyes, I could almost hear their voices in the distance.”

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Rick’s Great Grandfather E.A. Morse, holding his Grandmother Catherine (Morse) Leonard, ca. 1912

That was a moving section that stuck with me for days…the profound nature of smelling the air your ancestors smelled, felt the same earth together under our feet as they did, had our heart filled with the same joy theirs must have looking at the same view we’re seeing. About a week later as we drove through my paternal ancestral home of Antigo, Wisconsin and passed my Great Grandfather’s E. A. Morse’s office….driving up Superior Street and coming to the corner of First Avenue, where he would have walked 1000’s of times on his way home, passing the same houses that still stand, the old service station that is right where its always been, up to their house which I still remember fondly, there’s a deep feeling of connection and home I shared with someone I only know from photographs, documents, and family stories. And I immediately was thinking of passages from Ms. Berry’s book.

Beyond that, thinking of my wife who is also descended from enslaved Africans, I understood the impact the lack of that connection she must feel. How part of this work, for her, is to find that natural connection to history and family. Seeking that profound moment she described has literally refocused our efforts to prove those links, and then stand on the same ground my wife’s family stood on.

Kenyatta D. Berry’s combination of a great compilation of research sources and deep, moving personal storytelling, makes The Family Tree Toolkit an essential part of our work, and our library.