- Posts for Family History Friday category
My Lifelong Research Project

In 2016 when I attended the Nebraska State Genealogical Society Conference, featured speaker Joshua Taylor made mention of those ancestors who become our lifelong research projects. Mine is my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Murphy.

I wrote about Emma constantly in the previous iteration of my genealogy blog, known simply as “New England Genealogy,” but she bears readdressing here, since I’m starting fresh.

Like many mysterious ancestors, Emma has kept me up at night. I’ve even dreamed about her, despite not knowing what she looks like. Then I’ve woken up, hoping there would be answers waiting. Of course, there haven’t been…

My dear great-great grandmother passed away in 1945 after what seemed like a fairly normal, occasionally eventful, life.  If you consult any vital or census records pertaining to her, they’ll let you know she was born in Maine. Or Massachusetts. Or, perhaps, Nova Scotia. So there’s that.

She seemed to be feisty, considering the family story that she’d walk a mile and a half to give her son a piece of her mind. And then there’s the newspaper article about how she ended up in court on charges of assault in 1910.

Sometime during the 1890s, she ran a little “dining room” and “variety store” out of the home she and her husband, my great-great grandfather Erastus Bartlett Shaw, had in Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Prior to that, she married Erastus in Middleborough in 1888.

And prior to that? Nothing. We have nothing but odd clues to go on – various places of birth reported – her age (born maybe about 1861), and her previous married name (Reagan or any variation thereof), but not her first husband’s name.

In future posts, I’ll share more about the steps I’ve taken to work through this particular genealogical problem, as well as how access to a wider range of records and DNA has changed my approach to Emma.

Blake Family Picnic | Our Prairie Nest
How DNA Changed My Family History

With the availability of DNA testing, I’ve seen quite a shift in what I always thought I knew about my family.

It started in 1989. I saw a photo my grandmother had of her family and wanted to learn more about it. I found out that the little girl in the picture was my great-grandmother, Nina Gertrude Blake. Prior to that, I’d already been hooked on genealogy, but had no idea how to go about researching or figuring out who was who. My grandmother then showed me something even more precious – a crumbling leather wallet full of more photos, typed family histories, Civil War documents, and more.

Since then, I’ve been proud to be the keeper of these documents and photographs, and researched my family history almost exhaustively.

But I don’t think I was counting on any of it to change, even when I took my first DNA test in 2006. Or subsequent DNA tests.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I realized DNA testing had changed everything I knew about my family history. The first discovery was of a first cousin I didn’t realize existed. The second was the realization that my grandfather’s father wasn’t who we thought it was.

Judy Russell often reminds us that if we aren’t ready to face such potential news, then we shouldn’t test. And, like Judy, I haven’t met a DNA test I don’t like. I’ve had my DNA tested with Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA, and 23andMe. I’ve posted my results to GEDMatch and MyHeritage, and someday I will test with Living DNA to break down my significant British heritage.

For me, DNA is a powerful tool and one of many we can and should utilize in the pursuit of understanding family history. It’s made me rethink how I look at certain people in my family. Not in a negative way, but rather in an attempt to understand them, to put their lives in context. They are no longer here, so I can’t ask why they made the decisions they did. But maybe by studying time and place and circumstances, I can get a little closer to some insight about why they were the way they were.