While doing my best to stay home and avoid exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, I’ve found myself wondering about my ancestors during the Spanish Flu pandemic. The most recent 52 Ancestors prompt is “Newsworthy,” prompting me to seek answers in a local paper serving the county where my Sansbury family lived.
Based on news items in The Southern Star, it appears the Spanish Influenza reached Dale County, Alabama, by October 1918. Schools shut down and public gatherings were discouraged. On 9 October, The Southern Star reported a Liberty Day celebration scheduled for three days later had been canceled.1
The Southern Star, 9 Oct 1918
The following week, a short news item on the front page stated matter-of-factly “… it is th [sic] duty of every one to see that the instructions of the medical profession are carried out.”2
The Southern Star, 16 Oct 1918
Interestingly, this shut-down did not appear to last long. (I won’t speculate on how much compliance with medical advice there may have been.) Within a few weeks, schools re-opened. In the newspaper style of the day, the one-sentence announcement without its own headline was buried in a column of local news snippets on page 5.3
The Southern Star, 30 Oct 1918
Other activities quickly resumed in the community as well.4
The Southern Star, 6 Nov 1918
Although the editions printed around that time have scattered mentions of those who had taken ill and those who had recovered. I didn’t find any references to any known family members becoming victim to the Spanish Flu. However, I did rediscover a published letter from a cousin serving in the military. Sgt. Thomas B. Sansbury wrote the letter to his father, J.M.L. Sansbury.5 John Moses Leroy Sansbury was my great-grandfather’s older brother, neighbor, and business partner.
World War I had ended, but Thomas remained in France. He discussed some of his activities both before and after the armistice. He also revealed he had taken ill.
“I was in the hospital 14 days with the Spanish Flu last month. I sure don’t want it any more. I am getting along fine now …” – Sgt. Thomas B. Sansbury
So thanks to this letter, I do know at least one of my Sansbury relatives did get sick during the 1918 pandemic — and survived.
The Southern Star, 8 Jan 1919
Please take precautions for yourself and those around you. Stay safe, everyone!
Did you have any relatives who contracted the Spanish Flu? Did it make the news? Please share your story in the comments!
The best walks through cemeteries are the aimless ones, wandering the rows out of pure curiosity. Taking a random right here or an arbitrary left there can lead to intriguing discoveries that more than once have left me wondering whether I was being reeled in by a decedent hungry for a visitor.
During my most recent trip to Dale County, Alabama, I paid a visit to Union Cemetery, also known as the City Cemetery, in Ozark. I knew some of my Sansbury ancestors were buried there and I wanted to photograph their gravestones. I had last visited probably 20 years earlier, but had no real recollection of where to find them.
I had barely stepped foot in the cemetery when I found myself looking at the graves of James Carroll and his wife, Pennie, my 3X great grandparents on a different line! My old car (RIP) is clearly visible in my photo of this Carroll plot I wasn’t looking for.
I found the plot where my great-great-great grandparents James and Pennie Carroll were buried as soon I started walking through Union Cemetery.1
Next I found those Sansburys I WAS looking for, and then, near them, my Matthewses. But this story isn’t about them.
Clearly this had not been a well-planned visit to this cemetery or I might have known how many ancestors I would find there. I felt a little euphoric, which may sound highly relatable to fellow genealogists and a little creepy to some other readers.
I had a little more time on my hands, so the wandering began. I walked the perimeter of the cemetery until I reached an adjacent one called Morning View Cemetery. I was tempted to explore it as well, but the hot sun had risen high in the sky. I decided to make my way back. Rather than returning the way I’d come, I headed toward my car on a somewhat diagonal route.
About halfway back, I felt a little tug, as if someone had whispered “Hey! Over here!” which gently led me away from my path. Several yards to my left, I noticed the name “Byrd” on a grave marker along the fence line. As my readers may recall, this was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name and my Byrd family was a huge one. However, I knew my direct Byrd ancestors were not in this cemetery, so I wasn’t expecting to find anyone with a familiar name. Still, I drew closer.
This Byrd plot along the fence line reeled me in.2
I saw a flat stone engraved with “Walter Franklin Byrd” and couldn’t quite place the name. He was definitely not in my grandmother’s immediate Byrd family. Then I read his wife’s stone: “Sallie Mae Byrd.”
I started to laugh, which I realize may sound a little indecorous given the setting. But it was the laugh of someone appreciating a serendipitous moment.
I knew exactly who she was! I didn’t know her as a Byrd; to me, she was a Brown. And she wasn’t my grandmother’s relative at all, she was my grandfather’s aunt!
She died when I was about 4 years old, so I have no memories of her.4 I don’t know whether I ever met her, although there’s a decent chance I did. Although I don’t recall any particular stories, I remember often hearing both of my grandparents refer to “Aunt Sallie Mae.”
I stumbled on the resting place of Aunt Sallie Mae and her husband, Walter Franklin Byrd.5
Sallie Mae was the youngest child of Stephen Commodore Decatur Brown and his wife Selathia Mozetta Townsend “Townie” Matthews.6 My great-grandmother, Myrtle “Mertie” Brown, was nearly 15 years old when her baby sister Sallie Mae was born in 1902.7
Sisters Sallie Mae Brown Byrd, Mabel Brown Pierce, and Mertie Brown Sansbury.8
A few newspaper articles reveal some key moments in her life. Sallie Mae received her teaching certificate in 1923—along with her sister-in-law Verna Brown—and taught second grade in Daleville.9
The Southern Star, 29 August 1923
Just a few short months later, she married Walter Byrd.10
No children were mentioned in Walter’s obituary and to my knowledge, Sallie Mae had none. But she took an interest in those close to her. When my great-grandmother Mertie Brown Sansbury died in 1952, her three children had young children of their own. One of my cousins described Aunt Sallie Mae as “an absolute angel.”12
“Having missed out on knowing our maternal grandmother, she stepped into that role for us. When we found ourselves in need, she was there,” this cousin wrote. “She visited often, especially at Christmas. We loved her dearly.”13
Another relative, who descends from one of Sallie Mae and Mertie’s brothers, provided a copy of Aunt Sallie Mae’s will, which had been filed among his grandfather’s papers. Although I do not know whether this was the final such document, it showed she had made provisions for her “beloved” Sansbury niece and nephews at the time.14
Because she has no descendants, it’s very likely she gets few visitors. Sure, someone came in 2005 and photographed her headstone for her Find A Grave memorial page, but that’s not the same as a visit from family. I like to think she called me over that day in the cemetery so she could meet her great-great niece. I spent a few minutes chatting with her before I went on my way. Next time I’m there, I will make a point to drop by.
My cousin with fond memories of Aunt Sallie Mae sent several pictures of her at different ages. I love the photo of her in a white sailor dress, smiling as she leans against a fence under a tree on a sunny day. I can easily imagine her laughing and calling out to a wandering passerby, “Hey! Over here!”
Have you been reeled in by a relative at a cemetery? Please tell me your story in the comments!
The U.S. Census Bureau has mailed multiple reminders to respond to the 2020 census. (Photo illustration by JenGenX)
One of the cheesy jokes in the genealogy world goes something like this: “Eventually, all genealogists come to their census.” You can find it on memes, T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, you get the idea.
A long wait
Taken quite literally, however, I won’t come to my census for quite some time. After all, it’ll be 72 years from my first enumeration in a census before it becomes a publicly accessible record.1 I’ll be almost 81 years old when the release of the 1980 census rolls around in the year 2052. With any luck, I’ll still be around to see my own entry.
Anyone researching yours truly will be able to learn my address, gender, race and whether I am of Hispanic descent, the highest grade of school I had attended, and something of utmost importance to future genealogists: who I lived with at the time and our relationships to one another.2 If the household in which I lived was selected to complete a long form survey instead of the short form, there would be a slew of additional and more interesting facts about us.
This hypothetical researcher 32 years from now also will be able to glean from the 1980 census housing questions whether my family rented or owned, entered our abode via an exterior door or an interior entry way, and had indoor plumbing and a flushable toilet.3 I suppose this might be of some interest, in the same way I am intrigued by the column in the 1930 census that reveals whether a household had a radio set. (Some of my great-grandparents did, but some did not.)
Genealogists count censuses among their first go-to records when researching ancestors and recreating families. These snapshots every ten years enable us to scaffold their lives and provide clues to help us fill in the intervening time. Where did they live? Where did they live five years earlier? How long had they been married? What kind of work did they do? I’m sure I’m not alone in having solved a little family mystery thanks to the 1900 and 1910 census questions asking women how many children they’d had and how many were still living.
So I felt a great responsibility when I sat down on 1 April 2020 to make sure everyone living in my home was accurately counted and described because the census provides a rare opportunity to leave breadcrumbs for posterity, not to mention the chance to impact the distribution of political and social benefits for millions of Americans.
Having full participation in the census is vitally important because the results will be used to apportion and draw boundaries for political districts for Congress, the state legislature, and other local jurisdictions with elected representation. The data also drives government spending on everything from human services to infrastructure. Your favorite chain restaurant may use it to determine whether to open a new location near you.
As of Wednesday, the most recent date for which information is available, the national self-response rate was only 51.8 percent.4 If you haven’t responded yet, you still have plenty of time to do it on your own before a census worker comes knocking on your door. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline has been extended to Oct. 31.5 Since most of us are living in a state of semi-quarantine right now, why not take a little time to make sure your household is included? If you don’t have your mailings handy, you can respond online or by phone.6
I had followed the news enough to know that, after much controversy, the government wasn’t going to be inquiring about my immigration and/or citizenship status, or that of anyone in my household. But beyond that, I’ll confess, I didn’t know what to expect on this year’s questionnaire.
From a genealogical perspective, it felt like a big let-down.
In a nutshell, the census asked who lives in my home, whether we rent or own (and whether we have a mortgage), gender, race and ethnic origins. When it came to relationships among the members of the household, the online form offered inadequate choices for our living situation, offering four different ways of identifying my life partner but forcing me to categorize my nieces as “other relatives.” In a digital world, the inability to allow me to be more specific about a very common and close relationship is mind-boggling and disappointing.
There are no questions about our occupations or even the industries in which we work. Marital status is only addressed in relation to the person filling out the form. The census doesn’t even ask whether other adults in the home are single, married, divorced, or widowed. Future genealogists will still have plenty of digging to do.
The only customizable fill-in-the-blank is for race, where I could select White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and then elaborate on those origins. At last, an opportunity to drop some breadcrumbs! At least our DNA test results came in handy!
Don’t let my bellyaching dissuade you. What governmental entities use the data for over the next decade or so is far more important. So please, go do your census!
Ultimately, I realize, how genealogists will use the personal data from this year’s census in the year 2092 doesn’t affect me. But 70 years ago, our great-grandparents, grandparents, and/or parents (depending on your age and family) completed the 1950 census and that information will be released less than two years from now. Now that’s something I can look forward to!
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 11 months since my last post. I certainly never intended for my blog to go dormant, but as many genealogists know, life happens. I hope to spend more time blogging in 2020. In that spirit, I want to pick up the #52Ancestors challenge again. The theme for the first week of January was “Fresh Start” and for this week it’s “Favorite Photo.” So I’m hereby rolling them into one.
I don’t know that I could ever pick just ONE favorite photo, but today I’ve chosen one of my favorite pictures of my paternal grandfather, George Ivan Sansbury. He died 27 years ago today.
As I mentioned in a previous post (“Election recollection”), he served as a military policeman in the U.S. Army during WWII. He was stationed in Korea and assigned to drive a general around. In this picture, I think he looks quite dapper posing with his vehicle!
Grandpa has been on my mind a lot lately because my Sansbury search has gained traction in an interesting way. Here’s the very short version of the story: a Canadian researcher working on his Sainsbury line reached out to me. I encouraged him to consider Y-DNA testing and … BAM! My father got his first close Y-DNA match who did NOT descend from Revolutionary War patriot Daniel Sansbury!
Cousin Mike writes about his research on his blog, The Mystery of Richard Sainsbury. His ancestors hail from Somerset, England, so there’s a good chance my peeps came from the same region. Through a combination of autosomal DNA and Y-DNA and genealogical research, connections are being made between different clusters of Sainsbury/Sansbury descendants. So stay tuned!
Not surprisingly, this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks theme is “Love” and today is Valentine’s Day. So it seems a perfect time to write about my maternal grandparents and a Mother’s Day long ago.
Joyce Walker and Warren Tinseth cut their wedding cake, 1952.
It was Sunday morning, 11 May 1975. I imagine my maternal grandfather, Warren Tinseth, waking up at “oh dark thirty” to start a pot of coffee. My grandmother, Joyce, loved her coffee. While the rest of the house slept, Warren held open the front door at 628 Infantry Post Road on Fort Sam Houston for Bowser to run outside to do his business. He stood on the wooden front porch, letting the screen doors shut behind him as he perused the neighborhood and made sure the dog didn’t wander too far off.
Warren took a few steps down to the sidewalk to pick up that day’s edition of the San Antonio Express-News, whistled for the dog and went back inside.
He had plenty of quiet time to read the paper. The kids wouldn’t wake for hours. On any other Sunday, he might skim the headlines on the front of each section and then start reading the one with the most interesting news.
But not this morning. Before he settled into his reading routine, there was something he had to find.
The front page screamed “CIA spy network found in U.S. firms,” but he wasn’t interested in that just yet. The top of the B section had a picture of a custom car with a bunk bed for a roof. Page 1-C had an odd mix of photos of a Silkie terrier dressed in unusual duds, a story from England about motorcycle-riding vicars, and a report from Havana about the state of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution. He moved on.
Then he reached the D section. The nameplate at the top read “The Golden Twins” and underneath was the slogan “Largest classified and real estate section in South Texas for more than 100 years.” He wasn’t in the market for a house or a job. Army quarters served just fine for now and the career helicopter pilot wasn’t quite ready to retire.
He flipped past articles about new developments, floor plans for new apartment complexes, and advertisements for condos and houses touting tax credits and financing deals. Finally, on page 7, he found Category 110 of the classifieds, the Special Notices. The top left quarter of the page sported the headline “Mother’s Day Messages.” He started skimming.
Some of the little ads were as short as one line: “GAYLE I Love You Mommy! Holly.” Some were an inch tall. He quickly realized all the messages were alphabetized by the first word and his eyes skimmed for the J’s.
There it was in the middle column, sixth message down. Just as he had written it:
My grandfather’s Mother’s Day message to my grandmother.
“Joyce Carol Tinseth; Mother, Sweetheart, Lover, Wife. You have been my spice in life, Warren.”1
Satisfied, he took a sip of coffee and pondered his next step. Should he put the newspaper back together again and see if she’ll find it? Or should he leave this public declaration of love out for her to see?
I imagine he settled on the latter, folding the paper just so, ensuring the special section couldn’t be missed. Maybe he even took a pen and circled it, then set it in on the table in front of her usual seat.
Mother’s Day Messages in the classified section of the San Antonio Express-News, 11 May 1975.
As he went back to his routine and started reading the paper, she shuffled into the kitchen, making a beeline for the coffee pot. He played it cool, trying not to grin. She poured her cup—no cream, no sugar, always black—and made her way to the table.
“What’s this?” she asked, setting down her cup.
He stood up, wrapped his arms around her, and planted a big kiss. “Happy Mother’s Day, JC!”
“Oh, Warren!” she replied, and kissed him back.
Joyce and Warren Tinseth at Fort Sam Houston, mid-1970s.
Of course this is a completely fictionalized account of that morning, but imagining it makes me smile. Growing up, I never doubted my grandparents’ love for each other. They found each other as teenagers and stayed together their whole lives. The benefit of having young grandparents is I had them in mine for many years.
They didn’t leave a treasure trove of old love letters—at least not that I know of—but Grandpa said so much about their relationship in those three short lines.
I ran across this classified ad last year and wanted to write about it for their anniversary but didn’t have a chance. When doing newspaper searches, whether online, on microforms, or hard copies, we often look for obituaries, wedding announcements, birth notices, and, of course, news articles. But we shouldn’t forget that we also can find rich, personal genealogical gems in the classifieds!
Have you ever found an ancestor in a classified ad? What did you learn? I’d love to hear about it!
1. “Joyce Carol Tinseth,” Mother’s Day Messages, San Antonio Express-News (San Antonio, Texas), 11 May 1975, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com: accessed February 2019), page 7-D, col 3, item 6.
This week’s #52Ancestors prompt, “At the Library,” gives me a chance to write about something wild that happened in the summer of 2017.
I had spent a week in Athens, Georgia, at the fabulous Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) taking a beginning DNA class. Afterward, I stayed with friends in Atlanta for a few days. My next stop before driving home to Texas was LA, as in Lower Alabama—Enterprise, in particular, to visit with a cousin and do a little research on my paternal lines.
The drive would take several hours and I had queued up all the episodes of the short-lived genealogy podcast “Twice Removed.” Sometime after I’d exited I-85 and turned south on U.S. Highway 231, Episode 2 started. Host A.J. Jacobs was featuring Ted Allen, host of “Chopped” on the Food Network.
Jacobs began the journey through Allen’s ancestry with his great-great grandfather, a Confederate soldier named Thomas Andrew Byrd. Allen recalled that a photo of him had hung in his grandparents’ home.
I found it interesting because Byrd was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. The fifth of 10 children, Virginia Byrd Sansbury came from a close-knit Byrd family. I credit her and her oldest sister, Maud Byrd Windham, with kindling my interest in genealogy at a very young age. When I was about 7, Grandma proudly showed me a huge new book called “Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Calloway, Chancey and Goff.” The book traces the descendants of Redding Byrd and Bright Byrd, two brothers (sons of Richard Byrd) who migrated to southeast Alabama from North Carolina. The author, Tera Byrd Averett, descended from Bright. “Our Byrds” descended from his older brother, Redding. Although she wasn’t credited on the cover as an author, the research of the Redding line in the book was a labor of love for Aunt Maud.1
The Byrd book
The book features pages upon pages of newspaper clippings and photographs as well as birth, marriage and death information for what must be thousands of Byrd descendants.
I was in awe.
And then Grandma showed me page 103 and blew my mind.
An ACTUAL book! And a BIG book at that, with a hard, black cover. In my eyes, it looked like a very important book. Seven-year-old me naturally concluded this must have meant I belong to a very important family.
Eventually, Grandma gave me my very own copy, which remains my most treasured book. I pressed flowers in it after my Sweet Sixteen. I’ve used it to flatten curled old photographs. It’s full of sticky notes and scraps of paper. I started my genealogical journey with it.
The author’s 3X great-grandfather Curtis Byrd and his wife, Elizabeth Harper, are pictured at the top left of p. 658. A photo of their headstones appears on the bottom of the page.
But I digress.
So there I am driving down 231 to visit a Byrd cousin, listening to this podcast, when I hear A.J. Jacobs say:2
So Ted it turns out there’s this really amazing resource about your family. It’s an obscure book that chronicles the life of your ancestors. There’s only one copy in New York. So we went and found it.
The audio shifted to an on-location recording.
Here we are in the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library, surrounded by thousands of obscure books, and we’ve got one of the most obscure right here in front of us, Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Calloway, Chancey, and Gough, by Tara Byrd Averett, Enterprise, Alabama.
THAT’S MY BOOK!!! I screamed and I screamed and I slapped the dashboard and I finally had the good sense to pull over. My heart raced and I just sat there trying to get my head around the moment:
I was driving home from a genealogy institute and a genealogy podcast was citing the book that inspired me to become a genealogist.
Now the first thing I should say is that this book is massive.
AJ: That’s a good thud.
Ted: I thought you’d been shot. (laughs)
AJ: No, that was the actual thud.
Now Ted, this book is more than 900 pages. It’s basically a scrapbook on steroids, and there are newspaper clippings about your family going back centuries.
Ted: Well I’m flabbergasted. I had no idea about that. [laughs] I wonder if my mom knows.
AJ: Let me take a picture of that
So this book, this massive tome was compiled by a distant relative of yours named Tara Byrd Averett, and amidst the hundreds of Byrds, hundreds of pages, on page 542, we found lots of stuff about your great-great-grandfather,
When I arrived at my cousin’s house, I found the podcast online and played it for her. She got just as excited as I had and then pulled out the copy of the Byrd book that had belonged to her father, my great-uncle.
She looked up Thomas Andrew Byrd—and darned if he wasn’t HIGHLIGHTED! (But there was no obvious indication why her father had been interested in him.)
It turns out Thomas Andrew was the grandson of Redding Byrd through his son Benjamin Bertis.3 I am descended through Redding’s son Curtis. It appears Ted and I are fifth cousins. (Hi Cuz!)
Fortunately for any other Redding or Bright Byrd descendants who might want to see what the fabulous Byrd book might have to say about their specific line, WorldCat.org shows there are copies in about 100 libraries all over the U.S. It is, indeed, a “scrapbook on steroids” and well worth the time to track it down.
1. Tera Byrd Averett, “Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Callaway, Chancey and Goff,” Enterprise, Alabama: Wiregrass Printing Company, 1978, p. 93.
2. Twice Removed, “#2: Ted Allen,” https://www.gimletmedia.com/twiceremoved/2-ted-allen : accessed 3 February 2019.
3. Averett, p. 116.
Roughly six weeks ago, I sent in my LivingDNA test. Within a few weeks I received some ethnicity results, which I intend to compare to what other companies have provided. (I just haven’t sat down down to do it yet.)
But today I got a curious email from the company telling me “Your DNA adventure just got real.” Now THAT’s an attention-getter! So of course I had to log in to check it out.
LivingDNA calls its matching feature Family Networks. To my surprise, I have a match! I’m now being included in the cousin-matching beta feature!
Clicking “View Profile” shows me what features the company will offer in the future, such as a chromosome viewer, messaging and a map of my match’s ethnicity breakdown.
Fortunately, this predicted 5th cousin is someone I know and have worked with based on DNA results at other sites, so I don’t have to agonize over not being able to reach out to her yet. In fact, as soon as I saw it I sent her a Facebook message to tell her the match showed up!
But I certainly look forward to the day when I have a lengthy new match list full of promise and I can explore those connections with LivingDNA’s tools!
Remember, this site accepts transfers of raw DNA data. If you’ve already tested elsewhere, take a look and consider whether you might want to upload yours—particularly if you have ancestry from the United Kingdom. It would help build up this company’s DNA database and might make a difference for one of your genetic cousins!
This week’s #52Ancestors prompt, “I’d like to meet,” leaves me a bit paralyzed by choice. I’m looking at my pedigree chart and can’t manage to choose someone. I’d love to meet SO MANY of my ancestors! My grandparents on both sides played such a huge role in my upbringing. From them I learned invaluable life lessons about how to treat others, how to set goals and work to achieve them, and how to appreciate the things I have. Who taught THEM those things?
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit around the dinner table with, say, all of THEIR grandparents? Did my grandparents’ grandparents have the same type of influence on them?
So I looked at something I hadn’t thought about before: how the birth and death dates of my grandparents and their grandparents (my 2X-great grandparents) overlap. Here’s what I came up with (minus the dates):
White: Died before my grandparent was born. Green: Alive during my grandparent’s lifetime. Yellow: Died when my grandparent was younger than 5 years old.
What I discovered was only one of my grandparents began life with four living grandparents. Realistically speaking, each of my four grandparents probably only really knew two grandparents. So this means:
My paternal grandpa, who became the man of his house at age 17 after his father died, never had his own grandfather around to help teach him how to run his farm.
My paternal grandma lost both paternal grandparents in the same year, but probably never remembered them. I suspect this made her feel more connected with her maternal side.
My maternal grandpa only really would have known his two grandmothers. Since both of his grandfathers were Norwegian immigrants to America, just imagine the fascinating stories he missed out on!
My maternal grandma’s living grandparents had each lost a spouse. (I knew that, actually! There’s a lot more to that story…)
Nevertheless, I would like to meet each of those 2X great-grandparents. What expressions or mannerisms might I recognize that I associate with my grandparents? (For that matter, which of those expressions or mannerisms do I or my siblings carry on?) What interests might they have had in common with my grandparents? How did they want to be remembered by their grandchildren?
So here’s a parting challenge to my readers: How many grandparents could YOUR grandparents have known? What does that suggest to you about their influence on your grandparents’ lives?
See, I’m already running late for #52Ancestors. I mulled over the Week 2 prompt, “Challenge,” trying to decide how best to approach it. Genealogy is nothing if not a challenge. After all, our ancestors like to hide from us behind metaphorical brick walls, built of myriad research obstacles such as courthouse fires, missing censuses, and egregious misspellings.
Genealogists investigate mysteries based on careful analysis of documents, developing and exploring hypotheses, and what we called in my past life “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting.” But sometimes the tried and true methods need a little help — from DNA. DNA testing can help prove or disprove a line, reunite relatives, reveal secrets. Learning to work with it can be challenging, but worth the effort.
Once the DNA bug bit me, I started buying kits like crazy. One of my goals has been to leave some bait out there in hopes of catching a cousin who might be descended from an unknown child of a great-great grandfather who disappeared. (For any non-genealogists who stumble onto this blog, yes, “cousin bait” is a thing. In addition to DNA results, it includes public family trees, internet forums and blogs like this one!) Autosomal DNA, which is the type tested by Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder, is most likely to catch that cousin — if he or she even exists — because it can reveal relatives along all ancestral lines, up to a point. Test-takers can be male or female. But this post is not about that missing ancestor.
One of my other goals is to learn more about my Sansbury line, which I’ve mentioned before. I bought my father a Y-DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA in 2016. Only men can take Y-DNA tests, which reveal information about their father’s direct paternal line. This test can be helpful, for example, for male adoptees looking for a birth father because it can quickly narrow down the search to a certain surname. But, to my dismay, the surnames of the initial matches to my father’s test showed no Sansburys. None. Their names were Gibbs, Yeager, Galbraith, Easter, Easter, Ash, Daugherity, Dietrich, Dubois, Lowe, Haywood, Galbraith, Miller, Davis, Galbraith, Galbraith, Sintes, Galbraith, Elkington, Mayo, Lowe, Leheup, Stockdale, Falk.
I started wondering if maybe we weren’t Sansburys after all. Were we Galbraiths? But then where was the break in the line? We have a strong autosomal match whose common ancestor is my great-great grandfather John Nelson Sansbury, so it had to be prior to him. Also, my father had tested at the 67-marker level, but these matches were only at 25 markers, so I knew none of them were very close. Still, I joined the Galbraith DNA surname project at FTDNA, where I learned there were so many variations in my father’s DNA markers that any Galbraith connection would be far beyond a genealogically relevant timeframe.
I didn’t have the money to seek out other Sansbury men for Y-DNA testing, so I had to set the question aside for a while.
Just a little more than a year after those first results came back, I saw a notification of a match at the 37-marker level. I felt a little genealogy adrenalin rush as I logged in and saw a familiar surname: Sansbury! After some correspondence back and forth, it became clear the common patrilineal ancestor is Daniel Sansbury of pre-Revolutionary War South Carolina.
Whew! It appears I’m still a Sansbury! (Although I’d feel a lot better if I could see a few more Sansburys in my dad’s Y-DNA match list.) I still have a challenge before me because much work remains to be done to extend that line further back into the colonies or across the pond. But now I have much stronger evidence my paternal line has carried the Sansbury surname for several hundred years.
If you have a Sansbury line, I’d love to hear from you!
Happy 2019! This year I resolve to blog more frequently! To that end, I’m joining the #52Ancestors challenge. Let’s get real, though. I feel absolutely confident that I will NOT manage to keep up with 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. However, I do look forward to drawing on the prompts for inspiration as often as possible.
Caroline “Carrie” Golembefski Lanz
This week’s prompt, “first,” is beautifully vague. All day I’ve pondered which ancestor should come first. I decided to go back to the beginning … of my blog. If you’re just tuning in—or you need a refresher—here’s my first post. In it, I mentioned my name almost was Carrie, which would have been a nod to my maternal great-great-grandmother, Caroline Laura Golembefski Lanz Walker, aka “Grandma Carrie.”
Over the past few years, I have learned so much about her and her family and yet I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. If you’re looking for details, you’ll have to wait as I have plans to write more about her later. For today, what matters is she was the first-born daughter of her parents and their only child not born in America.
And I am her first daughter’s first daughter’s first daughter’s first daughter.