Y those surnames?

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.

sansbury y-dna match

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!

#52ancestors #genealogy #sansbury


Caroline Golembefski Lanz

A long line of firsts

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 Golembefski Lanz

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.

#52Ancestors #genealogy


Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3 … 4!


I haven’t even started writing about my DNA addiction.  It began about four and a half years ago after my last living grandparent passed away. I realized if I wanted to understand the DNA craze, preserve this important family record, and use genetics to enhance my genealogy research, I shouldn’t waste any more time. I bought my mom a kit for Mother’s Day in 2014 and it snowballed from there!

I started with AncestryDNA, an autosomal DNA test—not that I quite understood what that meant at the time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. This type of test analyzes all of your chromosome pairs for your ethnic admixture and cousin matching. I very quickly found myself spending more money than I should buying DNA kits for other people! This has been so incredibly interesting and is a gift that keeps on giving!

Second, I took a mitochondrial (mtDNA) test at FamilyTreeDNA. I wanted to see how the results differed from the autosomal test and learn about my direct maternal haplogroup. I’m still waiting for a match that’s even remotely close!

Third, I took advantage of an Amazon Prime Day special to order the health+ancestry test offered by 23andMe. I’d been wanting to check out the health reports, but couldn’t justify the expense until they offered a 50 percent discount. Score!

I haven’t taken the other popular autosomal tests (FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder and MyHeritage) mainly because I had to rein in my DNA spending. Fortunately for those of us who love to explore our matches, both of those companies allow you to transfer in your raw DNA results from Ancestry or 23andMe.

With that, I thought my personal DNA test-taking days had come to an end.

Here are the contents of my Living DNA kit.

I’m hoping this Living DNA test will help me find cousins across the pond!

Then genealogists started talking and writing about Living DNA. At first I didn’t think it had much to offer me. It sounded exciting that it could pinpoint your British origins, but the British origins I assume I have predate the American Revolution. There’s no recent English ancestry on any of my lines. Then I heard Living DNA is working on a Germany project. Hmm. My German peeps are a little more recent. But I still didn’t bite. Then during a recent appearance at the Houston Genealogical Forum’s Fall Seminar, DNA guru Blaine Bettinger told the audience Living DNA will soon launch cousin matching. Count me in! Could I find a Sansbury cousin across the pond? Some distant relatives to meet during some future trip to Europe? A match who’ll help me break through a brick wall?

I bought my kit during a post-Thanksgiving sale and it arrived a few days ago. This blog entry has been written during the 60-minute period I had to wait after eating and drinking so I could swab my cheek. Even though this is my fourth DNA test, I’ll ship this one off tomorrow with just as much excitement as the first!

Election recollection

In the wake of last week’s mid-term election, Judy Russell (The Legal Genealogist) challenged her readers to document their own ancestors’ forays into politics. I thought it sounded like a great way to dust off my blog and start writing again.

I know of two ancestors who ran for office, but having recently moved (and not fully unpacked) I could only lay hands on an artifact for one of them. I dug out my box of mementos of my grandfather, George Ivan Sansbury, to find this card promoting his candidacy in 1956 for District 2 County Commissioner in Dale County, Alabama.1

1956 GIS election card  001 cutout feather med.png

My father remembered riding around with his dad when he passed out these cards. The only thing I knew was Grandpa had lost and I would have to add a search for details about this race to my genealogy to-do list.

Before I posted, I decided to try a newspaper search. The papers most likely to have covered this primary, The Southern Star (Newton, Alabama) and The Dothan Eagle (Dothan, Alabama), are only available online (at Newspapers.com) through 1937 and 1951, respectively. But I lucked out and found enough information in The Montgomery Advertiser to know who ultimately prevailed. (I have a Publisher Extra subscription to Newspapers.com, which provides access to much more recent editions of certain publications. For the Advertiser, available issues span 1858 to present day!)

First, I learned from an election preview article that Grandpa was one of two candidates hoping to unseat the incumbent commissioner.2

19560501 Mtgmy Adv-Dale Commissioners Race Develops Most Candidates - Dist 2 crop.png

I could not find any reporting on election results for this particular primary race when I searched for “Sansbury.” Searching for “Allen P. Curry” and “Allen Curry” turned up a variety of references to actions undertaken by Dale County officials, among other things, but, again, no election results. So then I searched for the other candidate, first using “Merlyn Borland” and then just “Borland,” figuring the surname is unique enough that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the results. Finally I hit pay dirt! A December article indicated Borland would take office in January, succeeding Curry.3

19561210 Mtgmy Adv-New commissioners will be sworn in (Borland won) crop.png

Note that this piece wouldn’t have turned up in the earlier searches because:

  • Curry was identified by his initials and I hadn’t thought to search that way;
  • Borland’s first name was hyphenated and split between two lines; and
  • Borland’s first name was spelled differently than in the first article and I wouldn’t have predicted that alternate spelling.

This was a good reminder that when it comes to newspaper searches, one often has to try multiple approaches to overcome problems in the original publications (like typos and line breaks) and limitations of OCR (optical character recognition) technology.

As for my genealogy to-do list, obviously there are other potential record sources to explore. Eventually, I’d like to learn more about what was going on in the community at the time that may have prompted my grandfather to run and, of course, I’d like to find the vote totals.

Even though he lost his one and only bid for public office, I’m proud he took it on. George  I. Sansbury served his community and country in many other ways, including as a military policeman in the U.S. Army, a surveyor for the county, and a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. To steal a phrase from his campaign card, his active support is much appreciated.

#genealogy #sansbury @legalgen


1. George I. Sansbury election campaign card, 1956; privately held by Jen Sansbury, [address for private use], Texas, 2018.

2. James H. Kelley, “Dale Commissioners Race Develops Most Candidates,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 1 May 1956, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com: accessed November 2018), page 6, col. 1, para. 4.

3. Stuart X. Stephenson, “The Passing Throng,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 10 December 1956, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com: accessed November 2018), page 20, col. 1, para. 13.

Searching for Sansburys

I haven’t quite recovered from my Salt Lake City trip yet and already found myself immersed in another full day of genealogy. My local genealogy society, the Houston Genealogical Forum, sponsored a British research seminar today with Paul Milner. This was another one of those experiences that reminds me that I still have so much to learn.

I dutifully took notes as he explained English parish and probate documents and map resources. I was itching to multi-task and search for my English ancestors as he showed us how to explore online sites with British records. After all, my maiden name is SANSBURY! If that doesn’t scream English, then I don’t know what does!

(Do you sense a “but” coming? You should!)

BUT I don’t know where my Sansbury ancestors came from!

I will admit I haven’t done exhaustive research on this yet. What I have done, and what I have seen of others’ research efforts, ends in Darlington District, South Carolina, with a Revolutionary War patriot named Daniel Sansbury. He died in 1816 and a transcription of his will is available on the South Carolina Department of Archives & History website. (More on him some other time.)

Having a relatively rare surname means you can do fun things like set up standing searches on eBay auctions and Google Alerts. (Don’t try this unless you have an uncommon name or your inbox will be flooded!)

Through eBay, I’ve learned Noritake has china pattern named Sansbury and that I’d pay a pretty penny for vintage cufflinks and buttons made by Sansbury & Nellis. I once bought a patch for the Sansbury/McTavish School in North Saanich, British Columbia, Canada, because, well, because it has my name on it!

Sansbury patch 5x5

Google Alerts have brought me interesting articles about Australian Aboriginal elder Tauto Sansbury’s activism and stories about other Sansbury newsmakers around the U.S. and U.K.
I’m not ready to launch a one-name study, but as I move forward in researching my Sansbury ancestors, here are some of my burning questions:

  • Are the South Carolina Sansburys related to the Sansbury lines that seem to come out of Maryland?
  • Did my Sansburys come from the Isle of Man? (I heard that a few times growing up, but without even enough of a story to qualify as family lore.)
  • Is Sansbury a variant of place name that will lead me back to a quaint little village somewhere in England? (If so, I must visit!)

Paul Milner rightfully cautioned me against jumping to any conclusions: I need to work on Daniel and his associates and neighbors a lot more to help give me more certainty about where to look when I finally cross the pond.

In the back of my mind I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I will discover that we are kin to the founders of Sainsbury’s, the huge UK supermarket chain. I may not be heir to a grocery store fortune, but maybe they’ll send a poor American cousin some cool Sainsbury’s swag.


Sainsbury’s store, Sainsbury’s (http://about.sainsburys.co.uk/news/media-tool-kit : accessed 3 February 2018), public image for journalists and bloggers.

Are you a Sansbury or do you have Sansbury ancestors? Drop me a line!

#genealogy #sansbury #sainsburys

Am I losing it?

I love genealogy institutes because they provide such a great environment for a deep dive into a topic. But let’s face it, by the fourth day, we’re a little loopy(er than usual) from the 24/7 immersion.

I spent a whole day rebuilding a DNA database even though I’ve concluded it was probably OK to begin with. I turned my purse inside out, went down to the concierge, and posted in the SLIG Facebook group about a lost USB drive that I later found on my bed under my institute name tag. I even asked a question of an instructor that I realized sounded like I hadn’t paid a lick of attention to his presentation, even though I had AND I knew I sounded ridiculous as soon as the words left my mouth.

These are all signs of SLIG-induced sleep-deprivation.

Or perhaps the after-effects of wearing balloon representations of endogamous chromosome segments on my head.

IMG_3298 Paul Woodbury

Legacy Tree Genealogists’ Paul Woodbury and me. Paul used his skills in balloon art while presenting on endogamy’s effects on DNA analysis.

#SLIGExperience #SLIG2018 #SLIGfun #genealogy

New ways of seeing

It’s the end of Day 2 of SLIG (but the third day of activities) and I find myself marveling at how transformative this experience may prove to be.

This year, SLIG added a Tech Day on the Saturday before the courses began. I learned about how to take my Evernote use to the next level and how to organize everything from an ancestor’s movements to a research trip using Google’s My Maps. I also attended a very intriguing session on Mind Maps for genealogy.

After the fact, I realized all of the topics I selected revolved around ways to use technology to visualize information. This was not a conscious decision, but I do struggle with organizing and conveying the ever-growing web of family history in my head. I could have attended classes on writing, managing family photos and heirlooms, or foreign language tools — all of which would have helped me. But clearly I gravitated toward certain sessions for a reason.

During the institute, I’m taking the class called “A Practical Approach: Establishing Genealogical Proof with DNA.” Among other things, we are learning how to use two applications — DNA Gedcom and Genome Mate Pro — to extract DNA information from testing company websites for better analysis. Consumer DNA testing has become ridiculously popular, but once the novelty of ethnicity reports wears off, it’s the matches who inevitably become the focus of one’s attention. (Or they SHOULD, anyway!) Although we have not quite reached the point where we are fully using the software, I can already tell this will change my daily life. (Yes, I look at DNA results every day!)

Up to now, looking through DNA match lists has felt like a card game of “memory” or “concentration” on steroids. I’ve been flipping the same cards over and over, trying to remember which test-taker had which surnames in his tree, and which one had which birth locations in hers. No matter how much I believe I’ll remember every card I’ve seen, it’s just not an efficient way to assess so much data.

IMG_3280 (1)

Now, where did those match cards go?

As a kid, I loved a good game of Concentration. Even now, I play it on my iPad occasionally. But I am ready to stop playing around and learn to use these technology tools to solve DNA and other genealogical puzzles much more effectively!


#SLIG2018 #SLIGExperience #genealogy

My genealogy tribe

For the second year in a row, I’ve traveled to Utah for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. It’s a weeklong adventure in skill-building, researching at the incredible Family History Library (home of FamilySearch.org), and networking with fellow genealogists.

Last year I was a stressed-out newbie, trying to absorb the experience while simultaneously starting the 15-week online Certificate Program in Genealogical Research from Boston University. I knew a few other SLIG attendees who belonged to my genealogy society back home, but otherwise didn’t really know anyone here. My roommate, a fellow Houstonian who I affectionately call a social butterfly, worked on pulling me out of my shell by introducing me to many new and interesting people.

I learned so much about researching my Norwegian (and my husband’s Danish) ancestors in SLIG’s Scandinavian course and enjoyed getting to know the genealogists who sat by me all week. I also met BU instructors, teaching assistants and a classmate, which helped me feel so much more calm about that intensive online program.

Over the past year, I survived the BU program (not everyone does!) and attended a national conference and two other institutes. I have met many wonderful and interesting people and no longer feel so much like an interloper in the genealogy world. Seeing friendly faces who recognize me and stop to chat thwarts my introvert tendencies.

Six classmates from my BU group came to SLIG this year, including my roommate, blogger Bonnie Wade Mucia of Keeper of the Past Genealogy. Even though half of us had never met in person, it feels more like old friends reuniting.

IMG_3243 BU23Grp3 by Bonnie

Six members of my spring 2017 online Boston University genealogy class (OL23 Group 3) are attending SLIG 2018. Photo by Bonnie Wade Mucia.

Those of us who geek out over genealogy often lament that it’s difficult to share our excitement and discoveries with others in our lives. Our family and friends may love to hear about our findings, but have little interest in the journey to discovery. An institute like this surrounds you with fellow travelers. Most have more experience than I do, but they embrace all newcomers who have a genuine interest in practicing responsible genealogy.

I’m extremely excited about the class I’m taking this year, which focuses on using DNA to prove genealogical relationships. But I’m also thrilled to spend a week among friends and colleagues from home and around the country who are passionate about family history research and eager to share the successes and mistakes that help us all learn to cast a wider net, dig deeper, analyze more thoroughly, and tell more accurate and engaging stories about our ancestors.

#SLIG2018 #SLIGExperience #BUgenealogy #mygenealogytribe

Just another Jennifer

When the births of the so-called Generation Xers began and ended remains a subject of debate, but the range generally starts in the mid-‘60s and runs through the early ‘80s. The period when the name “Jennifer” reigned supreme as America’s favorite girls’ name covers about the same time frame. According to the Social Security Administration’s Baby Names data, Jennifer slowly crept up from obscurity beginning in 1938. It entered the Top 20 in 1965, and hit the No. 1 spot by 1970. There it stayed for 14 years.1 (If you want to know how common your name has been in America, visit the SSA’s Baby Names page. Under “Popularity of a Name,” enter yours and then select a timeframe. I chose “1900 and later.”)

I came along relatively early in the Jen/GenX years. I don’t know why all those other parents chose the name for their daughters, but my mother says mine was a compromise. She claims her first choice, Carrie, was nixed on the grounds that, combined with my last name (Sansbury), it sounded too sing-songy. The movie “The Summer of ‘42,” starring CoverGirl spokesmodel Jennifer O’Neill, had hit theaters just a few short months before I was born and made an impression on my parents. My middle name came from The Left Banke’s 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee.” I guess that makes me the namesake of a celebrity and a song.

Growing up, I got a kick out of telling the story of my pop culture-inspired name — especially because so many of my classmates didn’t know what, if anything, inspired theirs.

Do you have an interesting story about how you got your name? Please leave a comment and tell me about it!



1. Social Security Administration, “Popular Baby Names,” database,
(https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/ : accessed 16 Jan 2018), Popularity of a Name search for Jennifer, 1900 and later.


The journey begins

I’m Jen and I’m a Generation Xer. (Not so much the hipster kind as the nerdy kind.) I’m a recovering journalist and now I apply my investigative skills to digging into family history. I love GENealogy and am trying to understand how to use GENetics to strengthen my research and solve family mysteries. Hence the moniker “JenGenX.”

I’ve been a diehard dabbler for many years. For much of that time, I didn’t advertise my interest much outside of my family. I felt self-conscious because of the perception that genealogy is not a cool hobby for the young.

Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I’m realizing how quickly time passes. Memories fade. Relatives pass on. Opportunities disappear before I recognize them for what they are. I can’t wait until my hair turns completely grey to embrace my interest in genealogy, so there’s no time like the present! (OK, let’s be real: I inherited an early grey gene. But I’m not embracing that!) 

I’m starting this blog because I have stories to tell and lessons to share as I try to tell them. But I also know that in this universe I am still a “baby genealogist,” so I still have a lot to learn. Don’t be afraid to weigh in — maybe we can help each other along the way.

Sansbury Lane

Jen Sansbury selfie at Sansbury Lane in Ozark, Alabama.