Thursday, December 26, 2013

Counting My (Genealogical) Blessings This Christmas

The presents have been cleared away, the holiday meal and movie enjoyed, and now in the last hours of Christmas day I am coming to terms with the fact that the one thing I had been secretly hoping for—a genealogical breakthrough to tie the paper trail on my paternal line to DNA cousins—isn’t going to materialize in time for this year’s celebration.  Instead of becoming discouraged, as I have so many times in my family history quest, I decided to reflect on all the things I have to be grateful for on this journey.  It has been a remarkable year of discoveries, and when I stop to count my blessings, I feel renewed energy for the next steps in my quest.  Here’s a list of some the genealogical gifts of the past year that I am most grateful for:
       1.  The story of Julia Linnehan, my maternal great grandmother’s sister, came to me via a newly discovered 3rd cousin 1x removed, Teresa Vega.  Teresa’s blog, Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches includes a two parter on Julia. Teresa has been my inspiration this year. Her desire to reach out and know the family connected to a painful estrangement made me realize that my insecurity about tracking all of my family lines was silly. Worse, it was blocking the opportunity for re-connection and healing.

      2.  I was able to share with Teresa the discovery of the marriage records for William Linnehan and Ellen Shaunnessy of Buttevant, Cork, Ireland, which helped us learn their father’s names.  William and Ellen are my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandparents.  I also learned the names of his paternal grandparents, Zorach Hirshson and Bertha Harris, who married in Riga, Latvia.
      3.  Knowledge of my connection to several descendants of Melugeon families, another gift that came via Teresa.  In learning more about the Melugeons, and another tri-racial group, the Lumbees, I gained important insight into aspects of my paternal ancestry.  There is a large and growing Facebook group, Primos Geneticos, trying to trace our connections with the help of DNA testing.  We’re all becoming wizards—and this has really opened up my understanding of genetic genealogy, as have the wonderful posts of Roberta Estes on the DNAeXplained-GeneticGenealogy blog.

      4.  My paternal grandfather’s name.  I wrote a post about some of the difficulties in tracking Joseph Cannady in records, but until a wild card search last May (just last names, for all the marriages in Blount County between 1910 and 1920) I had spent untold hours over many years searching in all the wrong places for the wrong name. Now, with the name, and some DNA clues, the search for the needle in the proverbial haystack can at least be narrowed down quite a bit. 

      5.   A new attitude and approach concerning my research.  I had too easily accepted the idea of “brick walls,” until I read the excellent post by Robyn of Reclaiming Kin suggesting that most such walls are artificial.  Her post made me realize that there were many more steps I needed to be taking in my research to address difficult challenges.  They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and so it was shortly after reading Robyn’s post that I found myself in the newly formed Facebook group, African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestry Research, with the very stern but loving Principal, Luckie Daniels.  One of AAGSAR's mottoes is " no brick walls permitted" In the few short months of its existence, AAGSAR has been a huge boon to its members, challenging even long-time and savvy family historians to bump up their research and technology skills and to take their knowledge of African American genealogy mainstream.  For relative newbies like myself, it has meant getting out of my comfort zone to take my research to a new level.  I am just one of dozens who have begun to document my research online in blogs.  We’ll have a major roll out of new blogs for our January 5th, 2014 Blogfest (see Diane Haddad’s write-up on Family Tree magazine’ s genealogyinsider here).

      So all in all, I’d say it’s been a good year for gifts.  And now I have the tools, and the communities, to help go after that other gift I was looking for.  That’s my spring 2014 challenge: to connect the dots between DNA and the paper trail.  What’s yours?


  1. I'm going to challenge myself to find new words to express how proud I am of you and happy to have you among us -- recruiting, teaching, sharing and encouraging EVERYBODY!:)

    Love seeing you take on a Spring Ancestor Challenge and blessed to by in your company! What would AAGSAR be without you Dawn -- and your many cousins!:)

  2. Good bless you and our ancestors, Dawn. Likewise, you have been a blessing to me. I know Julia and Annie are happy that we have reconnected our family. Ties do bind us to each other despite the decades. I am truly looking forward to what the New Year has in store for us.