Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Thompson Stickle -- Almost a Breakthrough?

Last week (after a two month wait!) I received my Y-DNA test results from FamilyTree DNA.  Although a newcomer to this particular tool for integrating genetic research into my family history work, I've been working working with autosomal DNA for the past couple of years.  Through that experience I've developed a basic understanding of the underlying science, and have had some success integrating results of genetic matches into my research (even though poor response rates on emails sent to potential "cousins" are a source of unending frustration).
After doing what I hoped was appropriate due diligence I decided to take the 37-marker variety of the Y test.  That choice seemed to provide the most bang for the buck, and appeared well-suited to accomplishing my goal of tying together some of the many STICKLE lines that I've identified through my one name study research.  I had no real expectation that the test results would provide any insights or clues related to my work on my own direct paternal line.
To my great surprise my report from FTDNA highlighted 36 matches, with at least 7 showing a genetic distance of 2 or less.  The list included a wide range of surnames, with a couple Dentons, a couple Barker/Bakers, an Edwards, and a Stevenson, to name just a few.  I was intrigued to count at least 7 entries with the surname Howell (or some variation), 5 of which indicated a genetic distance of 1 or 2 -- i.e. reflecting a very high probability of a paternal line match within 6 generations.  The proliferation of Howells struck me as odd: it is not a surname that has been on my genealogy radar screen in any of my research.  
At the very top of my list of likely matches was a PERDUE/PERDEW entry that showed a genetic distance of 0 and a strong likelihood of a match within 4 or 5 generations.  Fascinating.Strangely, though, there was a surname absent from the FTDNA list: not a single entry bore a name that was even remotely close to STICKLE.  A bit surprising? Or not? Read on....
I have a well-documented 'paper tree' -- the product of 30 years' work.  But on my direct paternal line the trail still ends where it has ended since I first got hooked: with Thompson Stickle, my 3rd great grandfather on my direct paternal line,  My most persistent 'brick wall' ancestor, Thompson was born somewhere in east central Ohio (likely Muskingum county) in 1818 to parents who I believe came from Frederick county, Virginia. (Autosomal tests completed by myself and several 4th cousins all help to confirm our shared connection to Thompson.)
A family tradition, strong circumstantial evidence, and at least one published source from the 19th century suggest that Thompson was orphaned or abandoned at a very young age, and raised by another family in the community.  In fact, Thompson named his oldest son Adin Slaughter Stickle, my 2nd great grandfather, in honor of the man who had raised him.
Over the years I've developed many theories and hunches about Thompson's origins, but found no real proof (even though dozens of Ancestry junk trees purport to connect him with a variety of fathers, often preposterously).
In my research I've scoured the records of all of the counties in east central Ohio, looking for Stickle families and attempting to connect Thompson with at least one of them.  While I've located several Stickle families, I've uncovered no convincing evidence directly connecting Thompson to any of them (even though there are numerous unsourced Ancestry trees that link Thompson to various parents, often in preposterous combinations).
Conditions in east central Ohio during the first two decades of the 19th century compound the challenges of the search.  The area had only recently been officially opened to white settlement.  The institutional framework of society was immature, and social conditions were very much in flux. Many families were squatters, and many were simply passing through -- settling for only a few years before pulling up stakes and heading further west.  Records are spotty, and many families had a strong interest in avoiding the notice of official record keepers.
As I reviewed my results from FTM I began to realize that the tradition of Thompson having been orphaned might have been a euphemism for some other turn of events that separated him from his biological family at a young age.
As mentioned above, one of the matches furnished by FTDNA suggests a genetic distance of 0, and posits a 93% probability that the match has occurred within the last 4 to 6 generations.  This match carried the surname PERDUE/PERDEW.  Again, not a name that has shown up in any of my Stickle-related work.  But a match that's tantalizingly close -- both chronologically and geographically.   Needless to say, I promptly dashed off an email to the lady who was identified as owning the PERDUE/PERDEW match. To my relief she responded the next day.  It was clear that she was a serious researcher, and we actually spoke last weekend. It turns out that the kit I match to was actually her father's and that their own  brick wall also exists with a 3rd great grandfather, Abner Perdew, who was born in southern Muskingum county . . .  in 1815. Just three years before Thompson Stickle.
I'm now leaning toward the hypothesis that Thompson might  have been the illegitimate son of one of the daughters in one of the STICKLE households in the area. That is certainly nowhere near a conclusion at this point, but I do know that illegitimacy rates were fairly high on the western frontier in the first 2 decades of the 19th century.  And the surname had to come from somewhere.                   For what I will call sentimental reasons I'm actually hoping that Thompson's mother was in fact a Stickle.  I've had this name all my life and I'd like to think that my connection to it goes back a little further than a mere 200 years!  On top of that, I have invested a great deal of thought and time into my one name study!!                                                                                                                         Meanwhile, the research goes on.  My new Purdue cousin (and her brother and a paternal aunt) have all volunteered to do autosomal tests,  The generational distance we are looking at is on the outer borders of the usefulness of the autosomal test.  But with several Perdues to match against my existing collection of known descendents of Thompson we might be able to find something.This week I'll review tax duplicates and census records and also look more closely at any printed histories or other sources that describe the early history of the area.  My past work with these sources has been narrowly focused on locating families with the Stickle surname -- now I want to look for Perdews and Howells as well! Finally, it appears that I'll need to invest another $108 to upgrade to FTM's Y-67 test, as some solid genetic genealogists make a good case that the Y-37 test has a propensity for generating false positives.  But after all these years we have what I believe is a good lead on Thompson.  That's exciting.                                                                                                                                               More to come.  I hope!  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Adin Slaughter Stickle, my 2nd great grandfather in my direct paternal line, was born February 12, 1845, probably in Coshocton county in east central Ohio.  He was the oldest of ten children in the family of Thompson Stickle and Martha Jane Chapin Stickle.  Adin was named for the man (Adin Slaughter) who had raised his father after Thompson's own parents died when Thompson was quite young.

Thompson and Martha moved their rapidly growing family about 18 miles west to Eden Township in Licking county in about 1852 when Adin was about 7 years old.  Northern Licking county would be "home" to Adin for the rest of his life.  It's also where I grew up, and it is my home today.

Like most young men of his generation in the United States, Adin's life was impacted by the Civil War.  He enlisted for two brief terms of service -- 100 days each -- in May of 1864 and February of 1865.  Both times he served with an Ohio militia unit, and it appears that he saw little or no heavy combat, although at some point he was slightly wounded.  His enlistment record states that he was 5 foot, 6 inches tall, and lists his occupation as "farmer."

During the few months that he served in the military Adin kept a combination diary and daybook.   No one in my line of the family seems to have known anything about this amazing record, but I learned of it a few years ago from a descendant of Adin's daughter Addie Belle Stickle Farmer.  Apparently the book had spent most of the 20th century packed away in a trunk.  Most of the diary's penciled entries were single brief lines.  Many of them simply noted the weather or the fact that Adin found his service very boring.  Much of his time appears to have been spent building fences or chopping wood, and many days Adin complained of having nothing at all to do.  Reflecting the state's critical status as a border region and a potential pathway for a Confederate invasion of Ohio, Adin's unit served in Kentucky.  In two tantalizing entries Adin describes his capture by a band of "guerillas" [I find it surprising that the word was part of his vocabulary.] and his release the subsequent day. True to form, though, Adin provides no elaboration on the experience or his reaction to it.

The diary also contains a daybook, essentially a ledger in which Adin kept minutely detailed accounts of his spending, mostly for items of clothing that were necessary for his service.  (No frills!)  Above all, Adin was focused on the $100 signing bonus that awaited him on his muster out date -- no doubt he regarded it as his ticket to independence and to the new life he was about to begin.

On March 25, 1866, about 10 months following his return home from his second stint with the militia, Adin married Sarah Elizabeth Hickey.  Sarah was quite literally "the girl next door." The Hickey farm was on the eastern border of Washington township, and the Stickle family's farm in Eden township hugged the western edge of Eden township.  The land of the two families came together along the township borders.

Adin's bride had been born in Licking county in June of 1848, the oldest child of Joseph Hickey and Sarah Elizabeth Pound Hickey.  The Hickeys were among the earliest settlers of Licking county, and Sarah's grandfather had amassed rather significant land holdings.  Adin definitely "married up." While Sarah's parents probably did not qualify as wealthy, they were much more prosperous than the Stickles.  From this distance we have no way of knowing how Sarah's parents regarded the match, but we do know that Adin and Sarah remained close to both their Stickle and Hickey kinfolk throughout their lives.

Following their marriage Adin and Sarah took up farming, first in Newton township a few miles to the south of the family homestead, and then (sometime after 1870) in Washington township.  It's important to stress that BOTH Adin and Sarah took up farming; in the North during the 19th century farming was very much a family enterprise, and the wife was an active (even if not always equal) partner in ensuring its economic success.  Much of what a family consumed was produced on its farm, and participation in the external economy was far below the levels that would be reached in the 20th century.  In addition to managing the household and "putting up" canned goods for the winter, the wife was typically responsible for production and sale of commodities such as butter and eggs.  In 1880 Adin and Sarah reported producing 50 dozen eggs and 500 lbs. of butter -- much of this would have been consumed by the family, but it is likely that a portion of the butter would have been sold. Based on information contained on the Agricultural Census returns and on family traditions, it is clear that while may not have been the poorest family in the neighborhood they were definitely in the bottom tier.  On the 1880 Agricultural Census return their farm and its improvements were valued at $600.  For Sarah's father and brother, both of whom lived nearby, the comparable figures were $7575 and $2800.

Despite the family's apparent lack of prosperity, we have a hint that Adin was involved to at least some degree in real estate speculation.  The December 13, 1883 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer carried a classified advertisement in its Real Estate section that read as follows:  "Farm - Fine, in Eastern Kentucky to exchange for a stock of dry goods and groceries, with fixtures any where in Ohio or Indiana.  Address A. S. Stickle, St. Louisville, Ohio." Based on both available public records and family tradition I do not believe that Adin and the family ever lived outside Licking county.  How had he come to own this piece of land? What were his intentions?  Had he become aware of the land during his militia service in Kentucky during the war? Had Adin become friends and remained in contact with his "guerilla" captors? Why was he proposing an "exchange" of the land for goods and groceries instead of an outright sale?  These are only a few of the questions that come to mind.  All of them serve as a reminder that no matter how well we think we know and understand our ancestors, there are always new questions to explore, more mysteries to solve.

Adin and Sarah had six children.  Their oldest child, William, (known as Willie or Billy) was born in 1868.  He was followed by a son and daughter who both died in infancy -- Elva and Allie.  A daughter, Addie Belle, was born in 1872, and son Wylie Murphy was born in 1874.  My great grandfather, Edward Eugene  was the youngest child, born in 1881.

Adin died of complications related to heart disease on May 10, 1912, three months after his 67th birthday.  Sarah lived until September 1925.  They are buried together at Barnes Cemetery in Licking county, less than 5 miles from where they both grew up.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

OBITUARIES: Saving the best till last

The Irish writer Brendan Behan famously declared that "there's no bad publicity except an obituary."  While the sentiment behind Behan's observation is certainly easy to understand, I think most genealogists would take exception to his negative view of obituaries.  Unless your family tree is populated by heroes, saints, royalty, scoundrels, or politicians (those last two categories are not mutually exclusive!), an obituary notice is probably the single richest source of information you'll be able to obtain for the vast majority of relatives who've lived in the past century or so.  Indeed, an obituary is often the only source for details about a person's life that would otherwise vanish entirely from memory.  Quite frequently the obituary is the sole surviving source of information about a family member not created as part of a state-run record keeping function. 

For example, without an obituary I would never have known the details surrounding my third great grandmother's death in 1896 at the age of 77.  Martha Jane Chapin Stickle died from blood poisoning contracted through the an infection that resulted from a housecleaning accident involving a table fork.
Obituaries are an especially good source for connecting people to the wider communities in which they lived, prayed, and worked. My great grandfather Wesley Riley (1881-1959) was the youngest son in a family that included 14 children, all of whom lived to adulthood.  By reading the obituaries of all of his siblings, who died between 1907 and 1969, I came to appreciate the important role that the Grange played in their lives, and in the lives of farm families throughout the rural North in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sometimes the information in obituaries is served up almost on a silver platter; other times it comes in the form of tantalizing clues, telling the careful reader as much through what is left out as through what is actually said:  Was the son whose name was omitted from the list of survivors a 'black sheep' who had been disowned by his parents? Or was the name omitted merely because the daughter-in-law who reported the information was upset and forgetful in the rush of events surrounding grandma's death?  And what about the daughter who is listed in her father's obituary under her maiden name several years after her marriage?  Was she divorced? Or was obituary a not-so-subtle statement that her parents never approved of their scoundrel son-in-law? And what about that step-son who seemingly materializes out of nowhere?  These are the kind of questions that arise from a careful and critical reading of obituaries.

Obituaries are by no means a "perfect source" (what is?).  They are inevitably subject to biases (both positive and otherwise); they are also shaped by the imperfect memories of survivors as well by as the mistakes and sloppiness of undertakers and harried newspaper printers.  But by carefully weighing the stories they tell, by weighing evidence and developing informed opinions about contradictory claims, we learn a great deal about our ancestors' lives and about the world they lived in.  Evaluating and interpreting imperfect sources of information is a huge part of what we DO as genealogists, and as historians.  That's what makes our work so fun.

So, I'm an obituary fanatic.  These days I am reveling in the torrent of newspaper content that's become available online. Since most of my paternal lines have deep roots in Ohio, I'm also fortunate to have ready access to the extensive collection of Ohio newspapers at the Ohio Historical Society. And nothing whets my appetite for a road trip more than the discovery that a local library in some town relevant to my work has a newspaper collection that hasn't yet been digitized.

I'll wrap up here for this time.  I've been told to keep my blog posts brief, and that's a challenge for me.  But I have more -- lots more -- to say and to share about obituaries and the contributions they can make to recreating the lost worlds of our ancestors.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

OGS 2016

Last week I spent three days at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference, held this year at the Great Wolf Lodge at King’s Island.  While I’ve been ‘doing’ family history for most of my life this was my first experience at a formal conference.  And it was great!

One of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to meet other researchers.   There’s nothing I enjoy more than talking about genealogy and history with others who share my enthusiasm. Many email addresses were exchanged, and some promising research partnerships established.  In fact, I owe my decision to resurrect my long-dormant experiment in blogging to the inspiration of my new friend Marsha Moses who sat next to me at one of the sessions.  Marsha’s enthusiasm for blogging as a valuable part of her genealogy work is contagious; her repeated assurances about how easy it is to master the technical details of blogging have given me confidence to stick my toe in the water of the blogosphere.  (Check out Marsha’s blog here: )

Anyone who’s ever been involved in organizing and staging a large conference knows what a huge (and often thankless) task it is.  The folks at OGS did an excellent job, and deserve a big round of applause for their putting together a fantastic event.  In fact, the well-produced conference syllabus, weighing in at over 300 pages, is a considerable accomplishment in its own right.  Crammed full of detailed outlines of all of the presentations, including bibliographies and relevant web links, the syllabus will become a permanent part of my reference library.

From my standpoint the conference would have benefited from a more conscious effort to promote networking among the attendees.  I suppose it’s a personal quirk, but I think EVERY gathering of genealogists and family historians should have a surname board (and a participant directory) of some kind. With today’s technology it could even be done online.  More broadly, I think OGS could use social media even more effectively to promote the conference and stimulate interest while the event is actually in progress (think Twitter live feeds and Instagram, for example). Those kinds of efforts involve minimal financial investment and could actually generate real benefits for OGS in terms of “brand awareness” and increased future revenue.

Speaking of networking . . . nothing promotes conversation and exchange more than coffee!  Hallway coffee stations between the sessions would have been a real godsend.  Yes, they would also have represented a modest added expense (although a donation jar could be used to defray the cost). But the days are long and some speakers aren’t as animated as others.  I’m sure I’m not the only attendee who would have welcomed a caffeine jolt!  
The quality of the presentations – at least those I attended – was very good. Here are a few of my notes:

  1. Dr. Michael Lacopo was my conference superstar.  I’ve been an avid reader of Michael’s blog and have heard him online speaking about German research.  But this was my first opportunity to see him in person.  His talent as an energetic and effective presenter is exceeded only by his mastery of his subject matter.  His first session, a case study describing research on one of his own lines in 18th century Virginia, was well-developed and a reminder to all of us that great research is grounded in a thorough understanding of the societies and cultures in which our ancestors lived. In 18th century North America each of the colonies was a distinct society, with unique laws, customs, and economies.  As researchers we need to craft individual strategies for working in each of the colonies we encounter in our work.  While I have a strong interest in the place and period covered in Michael’s case study, his broader message about the need for a disciplined research plan is universally applicable.  And his reminder that that data collection is the starting point and not the goal of our research can't be stressed enough.  Gathering the data is only the first step!  
  2. Dr. Lacopo’s second session provided an overview of the rapidly expanding array of online resources available to those of us whose research includes families who lived in any of the states that came to comprise present-day Germany.  I’m only beginning my research in this area, and I was impressed by the variety of digitized material that is available.  An understanding of the kaleidoscopic political map of the region is a vital prerequisite to German research, and key to determining which records were created and where (or if) they can be found today.  Access to a good historical gazetteer is essential, and if you’re like me and just beginning your German research Michael recommends that the FamilySearch Wiki should be your first stop.
  3. I attended two DNA-related sessions, one presented by Debra Renard and the other by Dr. Sheila Morehead.  The presentations were mainly concerned with interpreting results from the autosomal test, but participants also received important grounding in the underlying science and a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the DNA product offerings of the three major commercial testing companies. Both presenters stressed the rapidly diminishing predictive power of atDNA beyond 3 or 4 generations, stressing that the value of the tool approaches zero for relationships extending further than about six generations.  Without directly saying it, both presenters seemed to share my belief that the ethnicity estimates proved by the testing companies are useful primarily as fodder for cocktail party conversations or as marketing bait for the companies peddling the tests.  Although the two sessions covered roughly the same ground, the science is pretty technical and reinforcement and review really help.  Based on the large number of questions generated by the sessions, DNA is clearly an area of great interest.
  4. Carla Cegielski provided an exceptionally helpful overview of the Internet Archive (  Noting that the massive size of the Archive can overwhelm a would-be researcher, Carla described how collections are organized and how they can be effectively searched,  For a long time I’ve been convinced that the Archive could be a great tool, but my efforts to tap into it have been stymied by my inability to find my way around.  Carla’s presentation gave me new hope!  Bonus Tip: Researchers seeking a permanent home for their own work should consider depositing it in the Archive. It’s free and (according to Carla) relatively easy.  Once your work becomes part of the Archive future researchers around the globe will be able to learn from and build on what you've done.
  5. Librarian James Mainger provided an overview of the extensive genealogical collection at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  The library has one of the largest genealogy collections in the country, and much (but by no means all!) of the content has been digitized and is freely available.  The collection is heavily focused on Cincinnati and the surrounding area, with strong coverage of the area’s large and dynamic German-American heritage.  But given the Queen City’s historic role as a transportation center and early gateway to the West, there is bound to be something of interest for almost everybody.  
  6. Many folks commented positively on what they had learned in sessions dealing with the perennial challenge of getting (or staying) organized.  I purposely avoided these sessions, knowing that my own case is hopeless: my organizational crisis is long past the point of no return.  
  7. There were also sessions dealing with Jewish, Quaker, Native American, and African American research as well as presentations dealing with issues around military, land, pension, and prison records.  
I could go on (and on and on). I guess I already have. In summary: it was a great conference; I learned a lot, and met some good people. It doesn't get any better than that (except for maybe the coffee part!?).

Next year's Conference will be held in Sandusky, April 26-29. See you there!