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Great-Grandparents - Feola & Burrell | Our Prairie Nest

Now we’re going to look at what is, perhaps, the most “controversial” side of my family. For my maternal grandfather’s entire life, we believed his father was Herbert Benjamin Haley, Sr. of Brockton, Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, we also knew it was possible that his father was actually his mother’s first husband, Joseph William St. Onge of Marlborough, Middlesex, Massachusetts, since he was named on the birth certificate. Never did we imagine there was a third option until DNA discoveries led us to answers.

Pasquale Feola and Mildred Marian Burrell

Mildred Marian Burrell, my great-grandmother, had 7 children with at least 4 different fathers. Because she was not married to 2 of those men, documentation on their connection is scarce. I have more details about this family in my WikiTree entry about Mildred, and descendants have diverging perspectives on the circumstances around Mildred’s life with her children, some positive and some negative. I won’t speculate on any of that, and will focus on the facts of the genetic family tree.

It was only within the past couple of years that we learned that Pasquale Feola had to be my maternal grandfather’s father. Pasquale was not one of Mildred’s husbands. It took DNA testing and analysis to point us in the right direction. Specifically, I noticed first that my mother and maternal uncle both had “too much” Italian calculated in their ethnicity results. We also had an extensive genetic network of DNA matches with the same surnames in their family trees from the same comune (essentially a town) in Italy, but that didn’t match our Italian ancestors’ names or places of birth. They were from southern Italy, and our known ancestors, such as my Nana’s parents, were from northern Italy.

Finally, we looked at my uncle’s chromosome browser on 23andMe and found that Italian was detected not on a single chromosome per pair, but on multiple pairs, indicating that he his Italian was inherited from both parents. Close matches with those unknown surnames on 23andMe sealed the deal, especially when I tested there, as well. As a side note, I love the regions found under the Ancestry Composition on 23andMe. The visual showed me that we did, indeed, have other Italian ancestors we had never suspected.

23andMe Italian Regions | Our Prairie Nest

We always wondered who my maternal grandfather’s father was, but our list of two candidates turned out to be wrong on both counts. Thanks to DNA testing, we now know the answer.

The Feola & Tomeo Families of Campora, Italy

We are still getting to know the ancestry of Pasquale Feola. His parents were Antonio Michele Feola, born 8 December 1865, and Alessandrina Beatrice Tomeo, born 10 May 1864. Both were born in Campora, Salerno, Campania, Italy. Pasquale was born there on 4 December 1887. He emigrated with his parents to Boston, Massachusetts by 1890. The Feola and Tomeo families are among others in Campora who stayed in the same comune for centuries. As I’ve worked my way through my Feola ancestors, I’ve found branches with the same surnames time and again – Feola, Tomeo, Laurito, and Trotta, among others. They haven’t looped back on the other branches yet, as far as I can tell, but my research on these ancestors is still very much in the early stages. If there is endogamy – which I suspect there is – it will be in the 1700s and earlier. 

The Burrell Family of Randolph, Massachusetts

The Burrell family settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts in the 1600s, and spread out extensively from there. Mildred’s father was George P. Burrell, born 12 December 1861 in Randolph, Norfolk, Massachusetts, and died 15 December 1952 in Randolph. We don’t know anything about Mildred’s upbringing or her family life before marriage. She had several siblings, many of whom had descendants and some of whom have DNA tested. 

There is some overlap between George’s ancestors in the early 1700s and 1600s, probably too far back for it to matter with DNA inheritance. 

The Jones Family of Braintree, Massachusetts

With Jones being such a common surname in the English-speaking world, it is fortunate that Massachusetts started documenting vital statistics early. Mildred’s mother was Susan Ellen Jones, born 28 March 1867 in Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts. There is extensive overlap between her ancestors and her husband’s, particularly the Jones, Hayden, Thayer, and Chessman families in the area. Because of this, I’ve found some DNA matches who appear to be more closely related than they actually are, as we share more than a single set of ancestors. It has definitely made identifying relationships with those matches interesting!

Overall, the history of – and, for my grandfather and most of his siblings, with – my great-grandmother, Mildred, isn’t a pleasant one. But I can’t say why, because I just don’t know. Was it her upbringing? Was it mental illness? Was something else going on that had such a negative effect on her life? I don’t think we will ever know. Nor will we really know Pasquale’s story. One of his descendants, of course a very close relative to us, expressed surprise at the finding. I doubt Pasquale even knew about Herbert, so I really cannot fault him. Rather, I hope that his family had a wonderful husband and father in him.

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