Monday, September 24, 2012

Mystery Monday - Mabel Frances Downey - Part 1

Whenever I'm researching an individual, I try to lay his or her entry foundation with census records.  Doing so, I not only get some idea of birth/death dates and locations, but I can also connect the person to other family members who may not otherwise pop up in my research.

About a year and a half ago, I was "tracking" John W. Mullett in the U.S. Census records and stumbled across an unknown individual with a familiar surname living with him.  John was the second husband of my third great-grandmother, Mary Ann Keegan (spelling debatable).  Mary Ann had one living child with her first husband, Mary E. Showler (sometimes Scholes or Scholer).  Mary E. Showler, my second great-grandmother, was born on March 4, 1858, in Manchester, England according to most records.  On September 21, 1874, she married John Francis Downey, who was born about 1854 in Saint John, New Brunswick.  As far as I was concerned, they had five children together in Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, before John F. Downey died in 1885.  Mary E. Showler eventually remarried George Tootill, who was born about 1856 in Suffield, Connecticut.  They had two surviving children together before Mary died on March 15, 1914 in Springfield.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census record (below), John Mullett was living on Franklin Street in Springfield with his and Mary Ann's daughter, Ellen Mullett.  I already knew about Ellen.  With them, however, the census also lists a "Mable F. Downey."  Since John Mullett's step-daughter, Mary E. Showler, married a man with the surname Downey, this immediately caught my attention.
Mable [sic] F. Downey is listed as being John Mullett's niece in the census.  I knew this was unlikely by today's definition of niece because she appeared to be related to his late wife's first husband, and the census states she was born in January 1879.  While still possible, the age gap bordered on large for an uncle and niece.  So I assumed the term "niece" was used broadly while keeping the possibility open that John Mullett could be related to some Downeys.

Furthermore, this record lists Mabel's father's place of birth as English Canada (of which New Brunswick is a part), and her mother's birthplace as England.  There is only one couple matching these birthplace descriptions in my family tree who could be Mabel Downey's parents, John Francis Downey and Mary E. Showler.  However, this is not nearly proof enough that Mabel was their daughter, especially since I had been able to find so many other records of Mary's children.  Why would all traces of just one child be missing?

A quick search on both and came up with nothing for this mysterious Mabel.  I then went to the Springfield City Directory for 1900 for clues.  I found John Mullett, the career shoemaker, living at 116 Franklin with his daughter, Ellen A. Mullett.  There was no one named Mabel Downey in the directory, and none of the Springfield Downeys by any given name lived on Franklin Street.  There was one Mabel F. Downing listed as boarding at 32 York, so I made a note of that in my research log, scanned the other Downings for anyone living near the Mulletts or this Mabel F. Downing, and, after finding none, called it a day.

My father has separately been researching our family history for over a decade now, so he has more knowledge about individuals and families than I do.  He personally knew his grandmother, a daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, as well as other older relatives I never had the chance to meet. Yet when I asked him about mystery Mabel, he only knew as much as I did from that one census record.  He had never heard of her, thus begging the question, who is Mabel F. Downey?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a new lead that enabled me to answer that question and add an entire branch to my family tree.  For the sake of not writing a book instead of a post, I'll conclude next Monday with my findings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Rosario L'Heureux

In August, I went to visit some family in Québec city.  I looked up the locations of certain ancestors' hometowns, hoping I could take a side trip to a town cemetery and find them.  A number of my ancestors and their overwhelmingly-large extended family came from a small town called Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, just outside of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and only about a half hour drive from Québec.

Information on the town's one, small cemetery was scarce online, and it took quite a bit of time googling the town and looking at one of its main roads on Google satellite to determine the precise location.

Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges is still a relatively small town, but with a significant number of new condo complexes being built up to accommodate the growing ski industry from Mont Sainte-Anne.  When I arrived at the cemetery, I was surprised to see that despite how "new" many of the stones were, it was still, in terms of cemeteries, pretty small and manageable.  I was also pleasantly surprised to open the car door and see that I had parked right alongside a stone engraved with a familiar name, Rosario L'Heureux.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Rosario L'Heureux is one of my great-grandmother's many first cousins.  He was born in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges on May 7, 1903 to Alfred L'Heureux (1867-1936) and Odile Lessard (1876-1954).  Although I don't have a death or burial record for Rosario, I learned from this stone that he died, presumably in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, on March 22, 1971.  

What struck me about this stone in particular is all of the blank space!  Entire families spanning multiple generations are frequently buried together in Québec plots, with each plot having only one stone naming all those buried in that spot.  Was Rosario's wife buried elsewhere?  Are she and any possible children still alive?  What about his siblings or in-laws?  These are all questions that will have to remain unanswered for now.

(Rosario's wife was born in 1914, which would make her about 98 years old if she's still living, which is quite possible.  I omit her name because I have a general policy of not publicly publishing information in my genealogy research about anyone born within the past 100 years to help protect those individuals' privacy.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DNA Testing - Part 2

My AncestryDNA results just came in, less than two weeks after Ancestry informed me that they had received my DNA sample.  I'm certainly pleased that it was so quick compared to the promised six to eight weeks.  I'm not yet sure what to make of my results, but I hope that as Ancestry opens up its test to non-paid subscribers and does more genetic research, I'll get a better grasp on my heritage.

The results

A neat pie graph tells me that my DNA test revealed my ethnicity to be 71% British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), 25% Scandinavian (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), and 4% uncertain.

I expected to see British Isles and Scandinavian in my results.  My research indicates that my father's side of the family is very close to if not entirely English and Irish.  The Scandinavian was expected due to the well-known history of raids on the British Isles by the Vikings, coupled with my paternal side of the family's light complexion, hair, and eyes.

The huge surprise to me, however, was the lack of French ethnicity.  My mother's side of the family is almost exclusively French Canadian.  I've traced most of my ancestors on that side back at least one hundred years because of the availability of Québec's vital records.  Two lines I even traced back to early 17th century Normandy (and one of those has an English-sounding surname).  Aside from those two lines, I have yet to find anyone on my maternal side of the tree who was born anywhere other than Québec, and most of my ancestors have French-sounding names.

The full results page additionally provides some important historical information about the areas of your ethnicities.  For example, Ancestry states that the British Isles faced many raids, not only from the Vikings, but also from the Jutes of Denmark, and even the Normans in northern France.  This may help explain the results' lack of French ethnicity.  Not only is Normandy in such close proximity to the British Isles that the DNA may have many common markers, but Normans were raiding the British Isles.  Perhaps there was enough mingling of the DNA in my family that these results aren't leaving out a separate ethnicity at all.


Because AncestryDNA is still in its Beta phase and has a relatively small sample pool, I did not expect much in the way of matches just yet.  So, I wasn't too disappointed when no matches came up that were closer than a 95-96% probability of being my 4th cousin.  I did get my hopes up that I'd be able to make connections to the supposed matches, and I was let down.

When you review each match, you can view their family tree if it's open to the public.  On the left side of the screen, there's also a list of surnames that you can use to pinpoint individuals on matches' trees without using the tree view.  I saw some familiar surnames, but not one person whose tree I could view had a common ancestor with me.  Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe Ancestry's predictions were wrong.

Moving forward

While somewhat surprising, my results aren't entirely off-base or inconceivable.  I've confirmed a good amount of my ethnicity and have plenty of possible distant cousins to play around with as my research continues.  Ancestry has also promised users of its DNA test that as more people take the test and new genetic markers are discovered, our results will continuously update.  This is what I'm counting on.  I purchased and took the test primarily as an investment in future results, knowing the test-taker sample size is still small.

If anyone else has taken this test and received results, I would love to exchange opinions and stories.  As (or rather, if and when) my own results change, I will update with a new post to indicate any changes that may be significant.

September 11th - 11 years later

Eleven years ago today, my home, the United States, suffered an unimaginable tragedy.  Let us remember all of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks - those inside and around the buildings and the first responders who died that day, as well as those who died years later from illnesses contracted while digging through the rubble to save others - and their families.  Let us also remember what these innocent victims died for, our country's freedoms and ideals.  Let us never forget that the few who are responsible for this tragedy are just that, a few, and let us always be united, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

"If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen."
-Ronald Reagan 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Funeral Card Friday - Léda Chabot

My second great-grandmother, Léda Chabot, was born on June 6, 1861 to Joseph Chabot and Louise Labrie.  I haven't been able to find her baptism record yet, so my best guess as to Léda's birthplace is Saint-Lazare, Bellechasse, Québec, which is where she was living with her family in 1881.  She married my second great-grandfather, Célestin Bouffard, on July 13, 1881 in Saint-Lazare.  Together they had about 10 children between 1882 and 1901, who were born in Saint-Lazare at first and then later in Sainte-Hénédine, Dorchester, Québec.  At least one child, Catherine Alexandrine Bouffard, died at the age of only 15 months in 1888.  Léda's husband passed away in 1931, at the age of 84.  Léda passed away on October 14, 1956 in Québec.
Photograph Copyright 2012.

Remember in your prayers
wife of the late Célestin Bouffard,
died in Québec,
14 OCTOBER 1956,
buried at Sainte-Hénédine,
at the age of 95 years, 4 months.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

DNA Testing - Part 1

To take the test or not?
I've been reading various genealogy blog postings about DNA testing with great interest but never decided to try it out myself.  As a female, I could only take the old mtDNA test, which, quite frankly, sounded like a total waste of time and money.  It seemed overly broad and overly priced, and I couldn't see how it would ever benefit my research or satisfy my curiosity.  I also remain very skeptical about sending a DNA sample out to an ancestral DNA project that I've never heard of before reading about it in someone's blog post.  Because of this, the new AncestryDNA test, still in its beta phase, piqued my curiosity.  This test examines over 700,000 points in your DNA, which makes it much more specific than the old tests.  Also, by having an Ancestry account, you can use your results to make family connections to other users.  I'm not optimistic about making connections just yet because it's so early, but I can see this being a significant tool a few years down the road since so many people, including myself, already use

Paid subscribers first served
So I decided to sign up for an "invitation" to try the new DNA test.  I figured I could always back out if I didn't want to take the test after all.  When I initially signed up, I was not a paid Ancestry subscriber.  Months went by without me hearing anything about trying out the test.  Just over a month ago I paid for a new subscription, and in under two weeks, an invitation to purchase the test was in my inbox.  Was I annoyed by how quickly the invitation came once I became a paid subscriber?  Yes, very.  It seems unfair because I realized paid subscribers are at the top of the waiting list for an opportunity to purchase the test, and this is a cost some people just can't afford to pay in addition to the $99 for the test and about $10 in shipping charges.  This isn't a truly first come, first served waiting list.  However, since so much of the advertising seems to focus on the connections to family trees and other members, I can see from a business perspective why Ancestry would prefer paid subscribers at least during the launch and beta phase--they're the only people who could use the full features of the DNA test.  From Ancestry's standpoint, it would make little sense to have all of the initial testers be people unable to use the product fully.  On the other hand, a wait of months as opposed to a week or two seems way too out of line, and I think Ancestry needs to scatter non-subscribers into its initial pool of "invitees" (or do a much better job of it if they're already doing it to some extent).

The AncestryDNA test
About two weeks after ordering the DNA test (you only get one week to decide to order or not- no pressure or anything), I received my testing kit in the mail.  The instructions in side were incredibly easy to understand and follow.  In fact, I kept re-reading them, thinking I was missing something.  The test itself calls for a certain amount of saliva to be deposited in the tube provided.  Closing the cover to the tube releases some sort of stabilizing chemical.  I then replaced the cover with another one provided, seal it up in a provided baggie, put it in the pre-paid envelope, and mail it out.  Afterwards, I went online and activated my kit on the Ancestry website and chose my settings (whether or not to allow my matches to see all of my ethnicities or only shared ones, for instance).  About two weeks later, I received a confirmation email that my DNA sample was received and that my results should be available in six to eight weeks.  I'm very excited to receive my results and see how this works out.

For now, I wait.