- Posts for 52 Ancestors tag
52 Ancestors, Week 3: Favorite Photo

This is another post for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks where you’ll recognize what I’m talking about if you’ve been here in the past. My favorite photo is the one that really started my genealogy journey, the July 4th picnic in Middleborough, Massachusetts between the Blake and Vaughan families.

Blake Family Picnic | Our Prairie Nest

The people in this photograph are my great-grandmother, Nina Blake, crouching on the ground, and Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan, lounging next to her with a fan. Sitting on the left is “Pa Vaughan” and “Ma Vaughan” is standing to his right. The woman next to her is my great-great grandmother, Ada Estella Gay, and the man sitting on the right is my great-great grandfather, Edward Henry Blake.

I don’t know what year it was, but it would have to be 1896, because “Pa Vaughan” passed away 17 June 1897. That would make my great-grandmother 4-years-old, about to turn 5 in a few days, which is younger than I first guessed her age in this picture.

I think my great-grandmother looks so pretty here, and I love everything about this photograph. I’ve had it on display in my house for many years. When I first saw it, I was about 12-years-old and my grandmother showed me a crumbling old leather wallet full of Blake family documents. She let me keep the wallet when I was an adult, and the documents in it helped me begin my genealogical journey in earnest, starting with the Blake family.

“Pa Vaughan” and “Ma Vaughan” are Sylvanus H. Vaughan and Eleanor Rodman Walker. The man on the ground is their son, Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan, who would be 19 going on 20-years-old in this photo, since he was born 23 August 1876 in Middleborough. The elder Sylvanus died in 1897, as I mentioned, and was born about 1827. Eleanor was born 11 July 1853 in Boston and passed away 16 June 1909 in Middleborough. The younger Sylvanus eventually became Nina’s brother-in-law when he married Bessie Bartlett Shaw on 19 June 1899.

My great-great grandmother, Ada Estella (Gay) Blake was born 21 April 1861 in Thompson, Connecticut. Edward Henry Blake was born 2 August 1856 in Wrentham, Massachusetts, though for some reason I have never been able to locate a birth record for him. It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered, if his birth was simply never reported, or if there was something else happening there, such as an NPE. However, our Blake lineage is confirmed with DNA.

Ada and Edward were married 20 October 1890 in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and had two children – Nina on 10 July 1891 and Edwin on 20 October 1900. Nina married Harrison Clifford Shaw on 28 January 1912, thus making her Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan’s sister-in-law.

The entire aesthetic of this photo is just lovely. The adults are a little too “posed” and formal in it, but I like how Nina and Sylvanus are on the ground, she looking demure and he looking relaxed. I’m sure 4-year-old Nina would rather be running around on a summer day like this one, but this picture reminds me of my own adorable daughter and some of the attitudes I’ve managed to photograph her in when we least expected it. The July 4th picnic will always have a special place in my heart.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Find | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 2: Favorite Find

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you already know my favorite find. It was a receipt for the purchase of a burial site, and it broke my 26-year brick wall wide open!

Ever since I was 18, I’d been trying to find the place and date of birth of my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Murphy, wife of Erastus Bartlett Shaw. All the records we had, from her 1888 marriage to my great-great grandfather to her 1945 death certificate and obituary, offered conflicting ages and places, from Nova Scotia to Maine to Massachusetts. I couldn’t find her in the 1870 or 1880 U.S. Censuses, or the 1881 Canadian Census. A fellow geneablogger provided me with the 1871 Canadian Census for Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia listing an Emma Murphy. She was the right age to fit, but how could I possibly be sure she was the correct person?

After several years of flailing in every direction, I finally got a hit on a person who appeared to share the same parents – a Margaret Murphy who had died in Boston in 1890. Some more digging also gave me a Margaret Murphy the right age in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia to be the one who died in Boston. But I was stuck again, not sure where to look.

It was time for another set of eyes to review my research and give me some direction. I booked a consultation with a genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and was scheduled for a call with Melanie McComb. Prior to the call, she reviewed my timeline and analyzed the records I’d already located. During the call, she went over her recommendations and followed-up by sending me a detailed list of the work she’d done, and where she suggested I go to follow up.

I returned to Margaret Murphy and Melanie’s suggestions for her: follow up on her burial and any probate that might have been filed for her. The death register in Boston didn’t list a place of burial, but the Undertaker’s Return did – Calvary Cemetery in Boston. I emailed a request to the Catholic Cemetery Association and, two days before my birthday in December of 2019, received the best birthday gift a 45-year-old genealogist could want: proof that Emma Anna Murphy had a connection with Margaret Murphy.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Find | Our Prairie Nest
Receipt for the purchase of a plot in Calvary Cemetery, Boston, by Emma A. Shaw for Margaret Murphy.

When I received the receipt, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I even woke my poor husband up from a sound sleep by squealing with excitement and shaking him. How could I not?

That one little handwritten slip of paper then led me to pursue Margaret Murphy’s probate file, which turned out to be the genealogical smoking gun that proved Emma Anna Murphy was, indeed, the Emma Murphy found in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Twenty-six years after I’d begun my genealogical journey, my most troublesome brick wall came tumbling down because of this find.

52 Ancestors: Foundations | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 1: Foundations

This month’s theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “Foundations” and so is this week’s prompt. I’d like to talk about shaken foundations, when you find out the answer to a question isn’t at all what you expected.

Thanks to the wonders of DNA and genetic genealogy, my sense of self – of what I thought I knew about my family – was turned somewhat upside down. Certainly not to the extent that it is for someone who finds an unexpected parent, child, or sibling, but I have some idea of how that must feel.

This happened at the great-grandparent level for me, when my mother and I learned that her father’s father was neither of the men we expected. It was so strange to come to terms with the fact that we had to essentially replace an entire branch of our genetic tree. Why?

Haley Ancestry

For over twenty years, I’d been fascinated by my mom’s paternal lineage. Her father was, as far as we knew, a Haley. These Haleys in Plympton and Middleborough, Massachusetts descended from Edward Marshall Haley, who came from Ireland and settled in Plympton, Massachusetts by 1830. Now that I know better and have been following up on my genetic tree, his name looks strange to me. But for most of my adulthood, he was a man whose life I was trying to follow back to Ireland.

Along came DNA testing, which I embraced whole heartedly starting in 2006 (and still recommend!). And, with it, came a strange new network of genetic relatives I didn’t recognize. The pieces didn’t fall into place until I took DNA tests at every company (23andMe, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, Living DNA, and MyHeritage) and analyzed my results, as well as my mother’s and maternal uncle’s results.

As it turned out, my maternal grandfather was not a Haley. Not even close. Not one drop of Irish ethnicity and no Haley or related matches to be found. We looked at the other logical option – that he might actually be the son of his mother’s first husband, Joseph William St. Onge, a man whose parents were French Canadian.

Also, no. Not a chance. No matches connected to this prolific family.

Instead, the father was a man we’d never heard of, a man from a tiny town in southern Italy. A man who born in Campora, Salerno, Campania, Italy, who had emigrated from to Boston with his parents and siblings.

Feola Family

My mom and I discussed this finding with a mixture of awe and shock and excitement. DNA answered a question she had asked herself for years: “Was my father’s father really Herbert Benjamin Haley, Sr. or was it Joseph William St. Onge?”

My grandfather’s birth certificate lists his name as “Herbert Haley St. Onge” and his father as Joseph, because that’s who his mother was married to at the time. However, the story we were always told was that Joseph had run off by that time – actually, before Herbert’s most recent half-sibling had been more in 1925 – and that Herbert’s father, Herbert Sr., had come in and helped his mother put her life back together. Naturally, my mother had questioned her father’s paternity for a long time.

But when DNA disproved any possible relationship to the Haley or St. Onge families, we were stunned. Instead, we had to turn our attention to a man named Pasquale Feola, who had been in the right place at the right time to be Herbert’s father.

We didn’t know if he ever had an ongoing relationship with Herbert’s mother. We will probably never know. But, even with the network of Feola and related DNA matches, some of whom were as close as half first cousins, we still held onto the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was a Haley in there somewhere*. Until, that is, one of my grandfather’s nieces through his youngest sister – also supposed to be a daughter of Herbert Haley, Sr. – tested.

The niece was a half match, and we knew that the man we were told had helped my great-grandmother get her life back together – the man whose parents and siblings helped raise my grandfather – may have been his dad, may have given Herbert a name and a real family, but he wasn’t his biological father.

*And I know our Feola first cousins also were surprised to learn that their grandfather hadn’t been perfectly faithful to his wife, and that he – and some of his children, as more DNA testing later revealed – had unexpected children out there.

Family Tree vs. Genetic Tree

I think that distinction explains it best. We have our family tree and then we have our genetic tree. For my mom and I, discovering our genetic tree was a source of excitement. However, it also forced us to rethink what we knew about our family. In the end, we know that the Haleys were truly family to her father. But the truth about the genetics is now out and we are okay with that, too.

This discovery has allowed us to build a new foundation, one that integrates more footings and anchor bolts to keep the concrete slab firmly in place, so we can build something even more intricate on it.