Ms. Copeland does a wonderful job of summarizing the science of DNA testing in brief and easily understandable ways, while also raising questions about where this new technology is taking us. Family secrets are bursting out of the closets and saying “hello” through Facebook messages.
Consumer DNA testing, such as AncestryDNA and 23andMe, has given rise to the new field called “genetic genealogy.” Yes, this is what allowed me to uncover the roots of my grandfather who came to Missouri from New York City on an orphan train.
The Lost Family struck such a chord in me that I reached out to Ms. Copeland–yes, in a Facebook message. She responded promptly, and we struck up a conversation.
I mentioned that I was a psychologist, and that my dissertation was on how people develop a sense of identity–what makes them who they are, or at least who they believe themselves to be. More specifically, my research was on how family influences an adolescent’s identity development.
Ms. Copeland then asked me a question about how difficult it can be for someone to incorporate new family information after they are well into adulthood. She asked if my profession and education gave me any particular insight into that.
I initially stumbled trying to come up with an answer. I realized I was more comfortable talking about my own experience in researching family history than I was with talking as the “professional, the psychologist.”
I referred her to a couple things I had written, one of them being the talk I gave at the 150th anniversary of the New York Foundling Home, the “orphanage” that sent my grandfather to his new life in Missouri. Ms. Copeland replied that she thought I put it well in that talk when I said: “There is a basic human need to know who you are, and how you connect to this world.”
This got me thinking some more…I developed a talk recently that was to be given at the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City, MO, the town where I grew up, the town where my grandfather had lived his adult life, just a few miles where he had disembarked from that orphan train at age five.
In that talk, I repeat the idea of “our story.” Knowing it, owning it, and being able to tell it. All of this makes us, and our story, real.
I am a psychologist. Back when I was in graduate school, my favorite therapy book was titled Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel. It suggested that a good therapist may think of a client as a character in a great book–what do you need to know about the person to make them more interesting? Keep asking questions until you fill out their personality, their story.
I find myself using that same concept in my genealogy work. I don’t just want to discover my ancestor’s name and date of birth. I want to learn their story as best I can uncover it–what did they do, think, feel? What was it like to be them. How does all that contribute to who I am? Every story I uncover becomes part of my story, part of who I am.
Every person in my family tree has a story to tell. Some seem better-suited to a best-selling book than others. But then I remember the main premise of Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel…and that is…Everybody is fascinating–it’s just that some people hide it better than others…
So, as a psychologist, amateur historian, and someone always wanting to learn more about myself, there are always more stories to discover. And for me, that is part of how I know who I am, and how I connect to this world.
Recently, I heard someone refer to their family as “just simple farmers.” I would argue that there is no such thing–every family has an amazing story if you just dig deep enough. Average, down-to-earth people may seem “simple” because they are focusing on surviving day-to-day, working to support their families. But they are part of the unfolding of history, history that is only understood later when we can view it from a distance.
My maternal grandmother was Lily Myrtle Kneisly. The Kneislys were well-known around central Missouri, having farmed and worked around Enon, High Point, California, Eldon, Russelville, and Clarksburg. Their family history can be traced back to Switzerland, escaping religious persecution by going to Alsace, and eventually to Colonial America. Those stories will be told in future posts to this blog. But first, let’s go to my grandmother…
I remember my grandmother having an old “Big Chief” tablet that had a history of the family, handwritten by her “Aunt Nan Agee.” Here it is, with some minor editing to make it easier to read:
History of Some of the Kneislys–by Nancy Belle Kneisly Agee
Part 1) Many years back, my grandfather came over from Germany and settled in Pennsylvania and from there four of his sons came to Ohio, and settled near Dayton Ohio. At the time of my birth, which will be 88 years ago the 30th of Nov. 1938. My grandfather was the wealthiest man in those parts. He owned cotton factories, saw mills, and distilleries, along the little Miami river. He also kept merchandise to supply his employers.
My grandmother’s maiden name was Seigel,of German descent also. Their family consisted of several boys, and one girl Serah. There was to my knowledge four boys, named: John, George, Adam, and Will. Serah married Dr. Ely. He died and left her a widow. I recollect her visiting my mother when I was quite young.
My Grandfather’s name was George and my father’s name was George Jr. My father was drowned near the paper mills six weeks before I was borned. My mother had dismissed the boarders and was alone with us children. He was in the habit of going away for several days at a time on his sprees and had gambled until he had nothing left, so grandfather made him Pay Master at the paper mills.
One evening, he came home early to supper and said he was going fishing, that he had promised to meet some parties at the fishing rock. So when morning came and he did not show up, and the dog, an old Newfoundland kept going to the river and coming back, howling so pitifull, she went to the mill to inquire about him. So they went to the fishing rock and dragged the river and found his body all wrapped up in his trot line. They called the coroner. My Mother never saw him after he was dead.
In a few days she went to Grandfather Kneisly to see if he would loan her some money, until she could go to work again. And what do you suppose he said to her? “Pops, you are still young and good looking, bind your children out and you can marry again.” (Binding refers to selling the children to another family where they would be indentured servants.) She replied, “No father, I will not bind them. I will work my finger nails off first.”
Then she went home and wrote to her Father. He came and moved her home, and in six weeks I was borned then. She remembered a Mr. Nixon, a big mill man she had often heard my father speak of. She wrote to Mr. Nixon for a job in his paper mill and a house. He answered back that his houses were all full, but he had a small cottage that was empty, and she could have a job in his mill. So in six weeks, grandfather Stewart moved her to the Nixon Mill, one half mile of Clifton Ohio.
There she lived in the little cottage working and sending the older Elizabeth, Dave, and Jane, to school and Sunday School, and church for three years. But the tide was bound to turn. One quarter of a mile from town you came to a bridge across a small stream of water that flowed through the meadow of a large farm. You left the main road and followed the river down to Mr. Nixon’s Mills. About another quarter mile, you came to the little cottage where my Mother lived. Next was five other large houses with two families in each house. On a little farther, you came to the paper mills across a narrow plat farm. You walked in to the upper part called the rag room where the woman worked.
Part 2) One Sunday, Mother was fixing the children off to Sunday School when there was a knock on the door. She thought it was some neighbor. She called, “Come in,” and in walked an old gentleman. Well, she was so confused that she forgot to set him a chair. She said, “I was just getting the children off to Sunday school.” He replied, “Go ahead and don’t let me bother you. I just called on a little business.”
So Mother sent the children on and the old gentleman broached the subject of his visit–he was alone with a large farm and he would love to marry her, and move her and her children to his home. Mother replied, “I haven’t given a thought about marriage, but would study about it” and let him know. So he continued his visits. Mother, being wise, decided she would be doing well to go with him, so they were married. I was three years old, my sister Elisabeth was about eleven, and Jane about nine, Dave about seven, and Jim about five.
So Father Braley and Mother worked together sending the children to school, Sunday school and church for several years. One day, Father was building a fence when he let a rail fall. It skinned his shin bone, making quite a wound. He neglected to doctor until it became poisoned, causing him to have a chronic sore. That was before civil war. Mother and the boys still kept the work going on the farm. In the year of Sixty, the war broke out, and he died, leaving Mother a widow again. Elisabeth had married a Dave Berg of the Methodist church. Jane had gone to Aleto, Illinois, to my Aunt McDoy’s.
Dave went and joined the Army. That was about the year of 1863. That left Mother, Jim, and I at home. Jim ran away, went to the Army. Mother followed him, taking him out twice. The third time, Mother followed him to Cincinnati. There they talked her out of taking him back as a man by the name of Shadric had sworn him in as his guardian and left with the Eight-hundred bounty, so she came home without him. That left Mother and I at home to care for the home and livestock.
Dave would write to Mother not to sell the livestock, that he would be home soon as he could. She wrote for Jane to come home and be with her and I. She came and when the War was over. Dave came home as soon as he could.
One day Mother looked out and up the lane, she saw Jim coming. She started running to embrace him. He called out, “Mother, don’t touch me–I’m lousy, (covered in lice). Take me some clothes to the garden.” So she did. He changed his clothes and buried his war clothes before coming in the house. So there we were, all that was left of us, at home again.
Mother had received a letter from Illinois that Elisabeth had died from the cows eating a poison weed. Dave Berg and his three children got well. I suppose some of them are still living. Their names were Sam, Henry, and Emma Jane.
Part 3) I was going to school to graduate as a teacher for two six months terms. Dave was going with a girl at Yellow Springs. Her name was Anna Blue. They were married. He brought her home. Jim was working for George Brayley, grinding bark for the tannery house.
Dave traded his government bonds for land in Missouri. Joining Wess Hackys, he wanted to go to Missouri to his land. Mother thought she could not part away from him, so she sold her dowry in the farm. Father Brayley left her to his son George, and sold her belongings, and sent Dave on before to buy her a place. He bought the old Hicks place, paid Seventy Dollars for it.
We then came to Jefferson City. Mother, Jane, Jim and I and Dave’s wife. We were there over Sunday and Monday Morning. We started home, were on the road all day, reaching home late in the evening. In the morning, the man that moved us took Mother and I as far as Mt Pleasant to get the deed fixed. He went on home and Mother and I walked back 2-1/2 miles the post office in Mr Franklin’s Store.
That was the day I first met Mr Franklin, Alice Simpson’s father. He claimed it was love on first sight on his part. He was a frequent visitor to our home until Mother gave her consent for us to be married. He would come every Sunday with a horse and buggy and take me out to Salem to church. Well that fall, in October, we were married. He was 30 yrs. old that day and Nov. the 30th I was Eighteen. We were at his Brother Will’s for a few weeks and we went to housekeeping. He was a partner in the store with his Brother Will,
We bought a house and a cow and moved. We were very happy. He worked in the store and I worked fixing up my home. Mother would come up to see us for several months. He had to go to town to California for his goods. While he was there, came a hard rain and raised the Moreau, a stream he had to ford. It was so swift he came very near being washed down the stream. That night he was taken sick. Mother was there. We called the doctor.
The doctor worked and stayed with him until daylight. He got so he could walk to the store. One day he got to shaking. They carried him home. The doctor called it St. Anthony dance. He had those spells quite a while, nothing but the shooking machine would stop them. One evening, several men came in. I was sitting, visiting with them when I saw one of them straighten his feet. I looked at him and saw the death pallor on his face. I didn’t remember anything more.
When I became conscious, he was laid out. The doctor told the woman, “Don’t let her get up.” They tried, but I did get up and knelt down by the casket. They carried me back to bed. Doctor gave me some dope. They took him away for several weeks. I couldn’t realize he was gone. Mother moved me home so she could take care of me. I would go out and set for hours. I imagined I could hear his horses feet. he rode horseback and I could always tell when he was coming.
One day I realized he was gone. I was out sitting by a strawstack crying. Mother came out and said, “Nan, you must be reconciled–you will bring more trouble on your self. I am doing all I can to save you and your baby.”
So I went in the house with her and it wasn’t long until Allie was borned. The doctor came every day until I was out of danger. Mother would set by the fire place and watch her play with her hands. When Brother, Jim heard the baby was borned that it was a girl, he walked home from Wess Hackney’s, where he was working, and the first thing he said, “Mother, what are you going to name her?” She said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Call her Alice.” So we called her Alice, after Alice Williams, the girl Jim loved first, so that’s that.
For the past two years, I’ve been searching for clues regarding my paternal grandfather’s origins, and I can now say, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that I have found his father.
My grandfather, Joseph Auer came to central Missouri on an Orphan Train from the New York Foundling Home and was adopted by the Fred Markway and Catherine Schnieders Markway family. Joseph longed to find his birth family, but that was not possible in that era. The Foundling Home asked no questions when a child was left in its care, and the culture of the time required secrecy.
For a while, I have known that my grandfather’s origins could be traced back to the Van Sten family of New York City two brothers possibly being my great-grandfather.
Fortunately for me in my search, multiple descendants of the Van Sten family took DNA tests with Ancestry, and this allowed me to compare my DNA (as well as my brother Jack’s) with that of my fellow Van Sten descendants. Through multiple DNA tests, I have verified that I am descended from a male member of the Van Sten family–so Catherine could be eliminated as a potential great-grandparent. There were three males of that generation, one of whom died in childhood, leaving James and George as possibilities.
DNA testing results showed that Jack and I shared slightly more DNA with descendants of Catherine than with descendants of James (the differences are small statistically, but strongly suggest that James is not our direct ancestor). That left George. He never married, and has no other direct descendants that I’ve been able to identify.
So, what do I know about George and the rest of the Van Sten family?
The first definitive documentation I can find on this family is a James Vansten, born in Ireland in 1809, marrying Sarah Murphy, also born in Ireland (in 1810). They were married at St. Nicholas Catholic church in Liverpool. James’ occupation is listed as a “cordwainer,” or shoemaker.
James and Sarah had a son, Richard born in Liverpool, England in 1834. The family left England for the United States when Richard was two-years-old. James and Sarah had a total of five children. Sometime before 1855, it appears, Sarah may have died (she is not listed in the New York Census record for that year).
Richard Van Sten had a brother that was not listed in the census record above. That brother was named George, but this George died near the end of the Civil War after serving in the Union Army. I do not know if he died as a result of the war, or from other causes.
Richard’s wife, Mary Ann Ryan, was born in New York. She was seven years younger than Richard, and they married when she was about 18. They had four children. Catherine came first in 1860. Then there was James in 1861, followed by Richard Jr. in 1864–but the family endured a tough time when Richard Jr. died four years later. Then, in 1868, George arrived, apparently named after his late uncle. George lost his mother when he was just five. George’s father found a housekeeper, Annie McCaffrey, to help with the children. George’s father died in 1888 when George was 20.
Throughout his life, George was involved in social activities. In 1891, at the age of 23, he was elected Chair of the Dramatic Committee of the Booth Dramatic Society in Brooklyn. In 1901, he was playing Euchre at the Flatbush (Brooklyn) Knights of Columbus and he won a prize. In 1918, he attended a Knights of Columbus dance in Brooklyn.
In 1915, George was involved in a lurid lawsuit after his fiance married another man. (I wrote about that in more detail here.)
George died in Philadelphia, of chronic bronchitis) in 1934. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Brooklyn.
In talking with people who are very distantly related to me, many generations back, I have found various potential branches of the family. The Vanstones came from Devon, England. That is likely the origin of the Van Stens, with the spelling changing for unknown reasons–perhaps it was just a transcription error.
So where does this leave me in my journey? Well, I still have no clear leads on my great-grandmother. There my be clues in my DNA connections, but I have not yet identified them. But…I’m still looking.
Soon, I will write about my maternal side. I have found some wild and fascinating stories about Mennonites getting taken hostage by their church in Switzerland and forced to leave the country, about families being invited by William Penn to come to Pennsylvania, and about descendants of these families coming to Missouri when they are given land. They end up in Cole, Miller, and Moniteau counties.
In my previous posts, I told the story of my paternal grandfather, who spent his early years at the New York Foundling Home, and came to Central Missouri on an “Orphan Train” and was adopted by the Fred Markway family.
My grandfather was known as Joseph Aner while at the Foundling Home. Recently, I was searching online and found a Joseph Auer who was born on April 30, 1896, my grandfather’s birthday. I sent away for his original birth certificate, and unbelievably, only five days later, I received this from the City of New York:
My grandfather was born Joseph Auer and his mother’s name was Adelaide Auer. He was born at 531 E. 86th Street in New York City. I searched online to see if that building was still standing–no such address showed up. I continued to search and found that Misericordia Hospital used to be on that site, a hospital that was affiliated with the Foundling Home. This hospital primarily served poor women, many of whom were unwed mothers. This fit my family’s long-held hypothesis that Grandpa came from very difficult circumstances–after all, he was left at an orphanage.
Misericordia Hospital has merged with other hospital systems and changed locations over the years, and currently is in The Bronx, another borough of New York City.
Grandpa’s birth certificate contained other information. First of all, no middle name was listed. My sister, Susan, remembers that Grandpa was bothered by this. At some point, though, he took on (or was given?) the middle name of “John.” The birth certificate also states that he was the first child born to his mother–there is no way to know if this is accurate, but DNA testing and research has revealed no other people that appear related to the mother (at least yet).
In my life, I was born in St. Louis, and my family returned to Jefferson City when I was three years old. I lived there until going to college at St. Louis University. I stayed in St. Louis to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. In 1995, I returned to Jefferson City with my wife and son. A couple years ago, I returned to St. Louis.
Upon moving to Jefferson City, my wife commented on how many people inquired if we were related to the other Markway families. I told her the answer was always “Yes.” Below is a picture of my grandfather with his adoptive family–it is pretty clear he came from a different gene pool. Given that this Markway family was so large, and that many of them had numerous children, the family grew rapidly.
You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed my grandfather’s birth father in this post. The birth certificate lists a name, but the name likely is fiction. Through DNA testing and many hours of genealogical work, I have identified the likely father. More on him later…
My grandfather was left at the New York Foundling Home as an infant in 1896. As a toddler, he was placed on an “orphan train,” and was taken in by a family in Nebraska. The mother of that family died, and my grandfather was sent back to New York. A few years later, in 1901, he again boarded the orphan train and came to Missouri where he was adopted by the Markway family.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about my efforts to track down his history. How could I discover his birth parents without having names? Supposedly he had tracked down his birth mother when he was a young adult, but how would he have done so? The Foundling Home said it had no records, which made sense, because it was a place where anyone could leave a child, no questions asked. Grandpa once told my brother, Jack (who is named after him–Joseph John Markway), that his mother was named Abby Doyle. Was he right? Or is this just something he was told?
I began my search by taking the Ancestry DNA test. Several weeks after spitting into a small tube, my results came back. I didn’t recognize most of the names on my list, and I quickly realized how little I knew about my extended family. My brother, Jack, showed up as a match, as did my first cousin, Gary Ferguson. Some other fairly close matches showed up that I recognized as being from my mom’s side. I started studying the family trees that some of my matches had posted, and those trees gave me some clues as to how to separate people into groupings related to my four grandparents.
(In a future post, I will go into more detail about the technical aspects of this for those who are interested.)
It seemed every time I had a theory about my grandfather and who is family might be, my theory would get shot down the next day.
But there was one person, estimated as a 3rd or 4th cousin, that I couldn’t connect to any other family names. Ancestry.com has a feature that allows you to see who else shares DNA with that person, and only a very few people matched that person. And, as it turned out, those people only matched others within that small group. They didn’t match anyone on my mom’s side. They didn’t match my dad’s maternal side. And some of them showed up as matches to Gary Ferguson, telling me they were on my paternal side.
Hmmm…how did these people fit?
I looked deeply into the one family tree that one woman from that family posted. There was a branch of that family that lived in New York City. I continued looking for other information, but there was not much there. Finally, I reached out through the Ancestry website to Pam, the woman estimated to be a 3rd-4th cousin match. Pam was very gracious and shared what information she had about her family, but not surprisingly, she had no knowledge of an infant placed at the Foundling Home.
I kept searching DNA connections, family trees, and historical documents online. Another DNA connection popped up, who also shared DNA with Pam. I contacted Robert, and we pieced together that he was Pam’s second cousin. They did not know of each other (but will soon meet each other for the first time–all because I’m searching for my grandfather’s parents).
Then, I found a third DNA connection that shared ancestors with Pam and Robert. Connie had a very extensive family tree online. Clearly, she took her genealogy seriously.
By this time, it was becoming clear that I was looking at someone in the Van Sten family as a possible great-grandparent. But I didn’t know if that would be Grandpa’s mother or his father.
I uploaded my DNA file to a website called GEDmatch. (You may have heard of it in the news recently when a serial killer was found through use of that site.) GEDmatch accepts DNA data from all the major testing companies and allows you to find connections from various other companies. I also uploaded by DNA to My Heritage and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA).
I felt hopeless when I found out Robert was distantly related to someone on my mom’s side. But then I realized that relationship was so distant that it didn’t explain why Pam was so closely related to me.
I talked to my brother, Jack, about signing up for an Ancestry membership so that I could see how closely he was related to our shared matches. (Ancestry and other companies can actually tell you how much DNA you share with another person, measure in centiMorgan. That is how you can estimate your potential relationship to that individual.)
I had a lot of circumstantial evidence that the Van Sten family was important in my search but no real proof. Every day, I look at the new connections that show up on Ancestry but I get no real new information.
Yesterday, when searching through documents online. I found a woman who checked into a poorhouse, described as “pregnant and destitute.” Her mother was a Van Sten. This woman, Nellie, gave birth close to my grandfather’s supposed birth date, in New York. And, I found a birth certificate…she had a son! I could find no other information online about his. Had I found my grandfather?
This morning I found that the answer was no. Sadly, I found a death certificate for the baby. He only lived a month.
I was ready to take a break from searching, at least until the results came in from another DNA test I took several weeks ago. Through FTDNA, I had taken a Y-DNA test. Y-DNA is something that is passed on from father to son only. So, in theory at least, it is possible that the DNA from my male ancestors could show up connected to a family surname many generations back.
The test came back today and it showed me as matching some individuals with the name “Vanstone.” So, I believe a Van Sten was my great-grandfather. There are two Van Sten brothers who were in the likely age group and lived in NYC at the right time.
Now I have to continue my detective work to see if I can determine which brother. Then I can turn my attention to my great-grandmother.
Today, though, I can’t believe I have traveled this far.
My grandfather, Joseph John Markway, came to mid-Missouri at the age of 4 or 5 on an “Orphan Train.” He was born in New York and within a few days of his birth, he was left at the New York Foundling Home.
At that time, New York city was teeming with immigrants, orphans, and “street urchins,” people poor and desperate. The Foundling Home had a basket on its front steps so people could drop off babies that they couldn’t care for.
My grandfather was one of those babies. Many of those ended up on an Orphan Train, sent westward, hopefully to be accepted into loving Catholic families. (Other institutions had Orphan Trains that delivered children to Protestant families.) The train would roll into a town, and families would examine the children as if they were livestock, and then choose one or more. Families often were looking for potential farmhands or household help. Sometimes, families had prearranged to adopt children, and they waited for their child to be delivered. Local parishes, to various degrees, would check out and recommend local families as potential new homes for the “orphans.”
When my grandfather arrived in Taos, Missouri, he wore a name tag that said “Joseph Aner.” That likely was not the surname of his father. The Foundling Home may not have ever known either of his parents. Or, if it did, the Home was known for changing names—perhaps to hide the child’s origins, protect the parents anonymity, or even to give the child a name to hide undesirable ethnic origins
The Orphan Train adoptions did not always turn out well. The orphanages or Orphan Train organization would check up on the children annually, and the children were encouraged to write letters back telling the agency how they were doing. Occasionally, children returned to the sending agency for various reasons. I remember hearing that my grandfather was one of those, but I don’t really know.
The 1900 United States Census shows him as being an “inmate” of the Foundling Home–inmate was the term used at the time to describe anyone that lived in an institution.
The next year, in 1901, he made the trek from New York city to Central Missouri where he was claimed by the Fred Markway family, a family that already had 12 children and another adoptive son.
(My mother, Joseph’s daughter-in-law, once told me that he had gone back to New York as a young man and tracked down his mother. But after finding her, he returned to Missouri and said, “I’m a Markway.” I only heard this story in the last couple years of my mother’s life.)
This story piqued my interest. How in the world did my grandfather find his mother? How was that even possible? Did that mean the Foundling Home had records? What did he find out about her that made him “disown” her?
For some reason, my grandfather’s story has always gnawed at me. When my family moved to Jefferson City when I was there years old, he helped adapt our modest 2 bedroom home to fit my parents and their five kids. My grandfather moved in and shared the converted attic with me and my two brothers. I can’t remember how long he lived with us—I don’t think it was long before he moved in with my dad’s sister’s family.
Grandpa Markway was a fun grandparent. I remember him as being mischievous—I don’t really know what I mean by that exactly. But every time he would leave after a visit, he would say, “See you in the funny papers!”
One of my clearest memories is that he would pitch me a wiffle ball, and no matter how far I would hit it, even if it was over the barbed wire fence into the neighboring pasture (yes there was a pasture next to our house within the limits of Jefferson City), he would go get the ball. My older brothers would always make me crawl under the fence, but not Grandpa.
During my first year of playing little league baseball, he came to every single game. I wasn’t necessarily special—he went to all his grandkids’ events—but it meant a lot to me.
I remember the day he died. I overheard my parents talking. He died unexpectedly in the morning after getting out of bed. He was setting the time on his watch. My parents chose not to tell me before I went to school. That day, I did poorly on an Arithmetic test and the teacher asked me why. I know the Irish nun felt horrible after I blurted out, “Probably because my Grandpa died today!”
So, why am I writing this now? Over the years, I have wondered where he came from—probably because that is part of where I came from. I would do a little research online, but what was I really looking for? I signed up with Ancestry.com and I searched for people named Aner before realizing that may not have really been his name. How could I find out anything without having a tangible starting point?
When my son, Jesse, was in middle school, he had to do a family tree for one of his classes. It was easy to trace my mother’s family—they have been in America forever and reproduced prolifically. One ancestor left his entire estate to descendants to the nth degree, meaning that a professional genealogist had to be hired be the probate court to track everybody down. Many people ended up with $10 or so, but there was a tremendous record of family history as a result.
But Grandpa Markway’s family was a mystery.
In the past year, possibilities came up. I had seen the ads on television of the guy learning his family wasn’t really Italian and the woman wearing the traditional Nigerian clothing. I decided to take a DNA test through Ancestry.com.
The DNA testing shows how closely you are connected with other people who have also taken the test. As of today, 583 fourth cousins or closer have been identified. Nearly all can be traced to my mother’s side or my paternal grandmother’s side, but…there are a few that don’t seem to connect to any identified ancestral lines…
In talking with my older brother, “Jack”, whose nickname hides the fact that he was named after our grandfather, I learned that Grandpa Markway would occasionally share tidbits of information. Jack seems to remember that Grandpa once said that his mother was named Abby Doyle…and that she was a “saloon singer.” (It sounds like she lived a different life than the Puritans and Quakers I have found on my mother’s side.)
In checking my known DNA connections on Ancestry (and other sites that allow uploading of my DNA information from Ancestry, I have found a few people named Doyle who are very distant relatives (4 or more generations back to a common ancestor). I found one woman whose grandmother was “Lizzie Doyle” and another woman who had a Lizzie Doyle in her history, with Lizzie being the daughter of Anastasia Doyle. In trying to research this, I learned that “Anastasia” in 1800s Ireland was equivalent to “Jennifer” in 1980s America…
Trying to research Irish genealogy made the desperation of the potato famine hit home for me. The historical record for families literally disappears as individuals leave for America…Australia…and anyplace else that would take them in. A single family might disperse all across the globe just to survive.
So, it makes sense that I have connected with people across the world in the search for my grandfather who grew up around Jefferson City, Missouri.
Where do things stand now? I connected with a woman from Boston (who currently lives in France). I’m genetically connected to her mother…who married INTO a Doyle family and we’re trying to figure out the relationship. We apparently are connected through a McInnis/McKay family in Nova Scotia, but the records in Nova Scotia from that time are poor. I’ve joined an Irish genealogy group online and found that I match genetically with several of its members…and surprisingly, I’ve found that my mother had more Irish ancestry than I ever imagined. I’m in the process of connecting with several other relatives who appear to have possible connections to my grandfather.
I have found an Abby Doyle in New York Census records and she could have been my great grandmother. She died in a state psychiatric hospital. Could this be the woman my grandfather was “ashamed of?”
When I was training to be a psychologist, my father could not understand my career choice. He had little respect for the mental health field. But, one day, he told me that my grandfather had purchased and read books by Sigmund Freud. Was there a genetic reason I had an interest in psychology? Or did I somehow have an interest passed down to me because my grandfather was trying to understand his mother? This is all speculation at this point…
Now back to the question of why am I so curious about my grandfather. As I mentioned earlier, I felt a special connection to him. Today, though, I realized I am part of the last generation that knew him. And, as genetics get diluted with each generation, I may be part of the last generation that will have an identifiable genetic connection to his birth family.
Beyond that, I can’t express the longing to know more of his story. I know the truth, at best, will be complicated. But, for some reason, I just want to know.