Tag Archives: ancestry

Breaching that Brick Wall

by Laraine L. Thompson

For many years I, as my father before me, have worked to find the parents of my second great grandfather. He was born in 1813 in Kentucky, probably in one of the many forts erected along the Cumberland Gap trail and beyond. In 1820 he and his family migrated through SW Indiana to SE Illinois. They met or left off many relatives along the way. In Illinois, a will from 1837 lists his mother’s name. He, along with three other, supposed, brothers appear as signers of the will. Their X’s are clearly visible. A history of the county tells of my grandfather’s arrival, along with that of another family. Tracing the genealogy of the accompanying family has produced nothing to tell me more about my great grandfather’s parents.

We, my father and I, had stood at the bottom of that proverbial brick wall for far too long. My father died in 1984, long before DNA testing was available to the masses. Dreaming of finally being able to breach that wall, I was thrilled when DNA testing became a realization. I urged my brother, the only known living male relative on my father’s side to submit his DNA. Testing the Y chromosome is the most accurate way to trace one’s lineage. At first, we paid for the 12 marker test, then the 24 marker and ended, some years later, paying for the 67 marker test. The results arrived and I was excitedly anticipating seeing other men with the same last surname. My anticipation was not rewarded. I received, and so far, continue to receive periodic updates with the names of matched men who, it turns out, share with me a common ancestor—a long, long, long time ago. We know our haplogroup which identifies us with a very common group of ancestors who migrated from the upper mid east through Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, to America. We are like countless others with the same haplogroup identification. I knew that we were very ordinary people, but reality is still difficult to accept sometimes.

I have this dream that my great, great grandfather will one day stand over my shoulder and dictate to me the details of his life and that of his parents and hopefully, his grandparents. Until then, I will have to content myself with mining and re-mining the depths of the records that are already here. And one day, just one day, someone with the same sir name will appear on that DNA list and my research will begin to make more sense. I have and will continue to join sir name projects associated with the DNA testing sites. Notice the plural use of the word, sites. It pays, pun intended, to submit DNA to more than one site, to join the sir name groups of each site. I have also learned that it is of value to submit my own mitochondrial DNA to better insure a more detailed outcome.

There are a number of genetic testing websites:


Several cautions:

  • Testing is not particularly cheap
  • There are privacy issues (there are ways to insure privacy, but what would be the point?)
  • You may find skeletons in the closet (an illegitimate child from some unknown father has DNA totally different from what one would expect)
  • Take care not to overreach when interpreting results, particularly Mitochondrial DNA results

Would I do this again? Absolutely! While there have been no results yet to connect me with that elusive 3rd great grandfather, I know that our DNA is recorded. The technology is increasing in its effectiveness to trace our genealogies. As more people submit their DNA, the data banks increase, thus increasing our chances of a match with the same sir name. Twenty years ago a DNA test was only a dream. Twenty years from now, who knows what might be possible? Knowing that the last male member of my father’s family will be dead, I want his DNA, our family data to already be there. Just as I would prepare for any eventuality by storing water, food, fuel, I want my brother’s stored DNA to one day link us to loved ones who, for now, are only a dream.

Photo source: LDS Media Library

The Chosen

By Laraine L. Thompson

Suffering all of his life from the effects of asthma, my father, in his waning years had what was referred to as organic brain syndrome. Its cause was restricted oxygen to the brain as a result of those debilitating asthma attacks. It resulted in symptoms sometimes similar to those of Alzheimer’s Disease. He would often forget the events of the recent past. It seemed that we were constantly reminding him of the important details of his life, just lived. The one constant in his life however was genealogy work. He never seemed to lose his ability to do it. He indeed was the one who had been called to do that work and as such, he had become on of the chosen….

We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors, to put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy  is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing [another] life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us, “Tell our story.” So, we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, “You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.”  How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who I am, and why I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying, “I can’t let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought and some died to make and keep us a nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us. It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach–that we might be born who we are–that we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are. So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those who we had never known before.

Della M. Cummings Wright

Continuing his legacy, I too now seem to be one of the chosen. Reader Beware: It can become an obsessive pursuit. Remembering the novel and the movie after the same name, I call it a magnificent obsession. Unlike my father and others of his generation who had to type each record by hand, have it checked for proof and accuracy by two other persons before submitting the content to the church family history department, I use my computer. And with a mere toggle, I am anywhere on earth that might have a thread of information that will identify those of my family.  Message boards/public family trees have connected me to long lost, distant cousins. Many e-mails later, I now have photos to match many of the names in my records. A marvelous chosen one in North Carolina has just sent me a portion of Indiana marriage records to transcribe and return to her so that she can then publish them on a county’s genealogy website for all to see. I cannot overstate the effect that her work has had upon me and the work that I love to do. As a result of her work in Indiana, I was able to solve a 40 year old family mystery. There are countless more just like her. They are just a click away. They constitute people participating in the second most popular hobby behind gardening.

With the internet and ever evolving software programs, genealogy has never been easier to do. Its ease would take what was remaining of my father’s precious breath away! I thank the Lord daily for modern technology which has allowed us to make exponential leaps forward in our ability to access and store vast amounts of information. Even with all of this, New Family Search estimates that roughly only 5% of records have been retrieved and recorded through their efforts. The future possibilities are beyond staggering to the imagination.

Stake genealogy libraries dot the world. They are staffed by happy volunteers eager to help those who come, most of whom are not members of our church. The libraries are there for all to use. I was in New York City recently and found 3-5 people eagerly working cheek by jowl in a very small Manhattan Stake Family History Library. Every computer, every microfilm reading machine was in use. That scene is being repeated everywhere.

It seems incumbent upon us to add to our list of preparation/intelligent living the ability to do our genealogy. It is so easy and will undoubtedly only become easier with time. In doing so, we may find that we will truly join the ranks of the chosen.

To access the world’s largest online resource for family documents and family trees, click here…

Photo source: LDS Media Library