- Posts for DNA tag
52 Ancestors, Week 9: Females

I’ve spent so much time writing about my paternal side of the family for 52 Ancestors that this week offers the perfect topic to shift the focus to my maternal side. When DNA testing first emerged as commercially-available, I got an mtDNA test from Family Tree DNA. The autosomal testing was less of a thing, so I thought this was the best place for me to start my DNA foray. Over time, I upgraded to full sequence to refine the results, while also testing or uploading my autosomal DNA with every company available. Learning more about my mtDNA matches and trying to make a family connection has been an ongoing project and challenge.

My mtDNA haplogroup is H1aJ1, and of the full sequence matches I have, two are at a genetic distance of 0, seventeen are at a genetic distance of 2, and five are at a genetic distance of 3. Most of these matches have ancestors from western Europe and have Jewish surnames. Of my two closest matches, one is my maternal uncle and the other is an Italian man whose maternal ancestors are from Gratteri, Palermo, Sicily. I have been able to take his maternal tree back to approximately 1740 at this time. He is the person with whom I am trying to find a common ancestor, by researching both of our maternal lines. Will mine ever connect with his? Well…

My Mother & My Nanas

My mother is 66-years-old as I write this. While I didn’t grow up with her, we communicate fairly regularly now. She shares my interest in genealogy, among many other things. I tend to tell her about all the interesting things I find.

Her mother, my Nana, is also still living. She will turn 92-years-old next week. Most of Nana’s siblings have passed away, including all of her sisters, the last one only a few weeks ago. Nana is one of 8 siblings – four boys, four girls – and I was able to spend many wonderful days with her during my childhood, and even more when I became an adult.

Her mother, Nana Bartlett, passed away in 1991 at the age of 88, and I have some memories of her. Nana Bartlett was always short, white-haired, and very sweet. She was also one of 8 children, also four boys and four girls. The firstborns, twin boys, died as infants in Italy. Except for the third brother, who emigrated to the U.S. with their mother, the remaining five siblings were all born in the United States. Nana Bartlett used to admire my drawings, even though I wouldn’t have considered myself at all talented.

Ernesta Maddalena Pedemonte Bergamasco

My most confusing maternal ancestor was great-great grandma Ernesta. That’s because you can find her under 3 different surnames, depending on what records you’re looking at. Thank goodness I was able to sort them out, from birth to death!

Ernesta was born 14 May 1873 in Moneglia, Genoa, Liguria, Italy. Her birth record is under the name Maddalena Pedemonte, and her father is not named. She had 6 full siblings and 3 older half-siblings, all through her mother. When Ernesta married my great-great grandfather, Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfré, her birth was basically legitimized by her mother marrying the man who we believe to be the father of the 6 full siblings, Giuseppe Bergamasco. However, Ernesta’s name at the time of her marriage on 24 October 1896 in Sanremo, Imperia, Liguria, Italy is listed as Maddalena Pedemonte.

She emigrated to the United States sometime in or about 1899, though we don’t have an exact date, or port of departure or entry. All we know is the family story that she and her son, Dante Michele Giuseppe Galfre, arrived “on a cow boat.” In U.S. records, she starts showing up as Ernesta Bergamasco when named on her children’s marriages, and that is also given as her maiden name at the time of her death. Ernesta is pictured here in front of the family’s home in Middleborough, Plymouth, Massachusetts. She passed away on 8 March 1925, only 51 years old, and remembered by her daughters as “a saint on earth.”

Ernesta Maddalena Bergamasco

Catarina Santina Pedemonte

Catarina is my 3rd-great grandmother, and we don’t know much about her. She was born on 15 December 1842 in Cogoleto, Genova, Liguria, Italy. By about 1864, she was married to Giacomo Spiazzi, the son of Bartolomeo Spiazzi. He was from Verona and, after having three children with Catarina, went to South America. Why he left Italy, we don’t know. Maybe it was for business or maybe it was to emigrate.

We will probably never know, because he died of cholera in Buenos Aires, Argentina in February of 1869, leaving Catarina with three young children – Bartolomeo, born 13 June 1865 in Finale Pia, Savona, Liguria, Italy; Emilia Spiazzi, born about 1866; and Angela Spiazzi, born 23 June 1868 in Cogoleto. Giuseppe Bergamasco was the godfather of the eldest child and, it seems, the father of Catarina’s next six children.

Between 1870 and 1886, Catarina and Guiseppe had six children. However, only one of the parents is named in each birth record, sometimes the mother and sometimes the father. The children – Giovanni, Maddalena, Theresa, Enrico, Pietro, Alessandro, Battista, and Adele – all appear with different last names because of this. Giuseppe was only five years older than Catarina, so there wasn’t a significant age difference or anything like that.

I really wish I knew Catarina’s story, how she ended up married first to a butcher from Verona and then to a simple miner from Cairo Montenotte. I also wish I knew why it took so long for her and Giuseppe to finally get married on 25 October 1894 in Moneglia. Catarina died on 16 December 1909 in Moneglia, while Giuseppe lived on until at least 1941. By family accounts, he lived to be 104 years old, went to church one night, said goodbye to his friends, and then had passed away by morning. That story interests me, of course, but not as much as Catarina’s!

Angela Giusto & Maria Bruzzone

Here, we get even fuzzier on maternal knowledge, because I can’t find records earlier than Catarina’s baptism. However, I know her parents were Tomaso Pedemonte and Angela Giusto, both of which are common surnames in Cogoleto. Perhaps Angela was born about 1814, but that’s an estimate based on the births of her two known children – Catarina and Giovanni. Giovanni may have been born about 1830, based upon his age at the time of his marriage in 1867, the births of his children, and his death in 1887. I’m sure there must also be other siblings in that 12-year gap between Giovanni and Catarina.

Angela must have passed away between 1842, when Catarina was born, and 1865, because available Cogoleto vital records begin in 1866 and I can’t find a death for her there. Both she and Tomaso Pedemonte passed away before Catarina’s marriage in 1894, because her parents are listed as “fu” (deceased). I have Tomaso’s death record from 1893 but, again, nothing on Angela. Where Catarina appears to have lived quite a topsy-turvy life, I think Angela’s was probably tame by comparison. She married, had children, and passed away rather young.

Her father was Giovanni Giusto and her mother may have been Maria Bruzzone. Unfortunately, this is where the trail goes cold. I can estimate that both Giovanni and Maria were born about 1780 and died before 1866. They had certainly passed away before 1872, because another daughter, Lorenzina, died in 1872 and her death record specified that her parents were deceased. Naturally, I would like to be certain about Angela’s mother as I strive to bridge the gap between my maternal ancestors in Northern Italy and my closest mtDNA match’s ancestors in Sicily. 

These are two totally different worlds within one country, as you may know. So I wonder if my ancestors came north from Sicily, or if my DNA match’s went south from Liguria. It’s also likely that I have to work further back, to Portugal or somewhere else on the Iberian Peninsula, to find that shared ancestor. And, of course, we may not be able to identify any common ancestor in a genealogically relevant time frame, simply because of the slowly-mutating nature of mtDNA.

Regardless, I’m enjoying the hunt. I just wish my female ancestors in Italy had found a way to tell their stories, because I’m endlessly fascinated with them. 

Wallace Family of Nova Scotia | Our Prairie Nest
The Wallace family of Halifax, Nova Scotia

In confirming my great-great grandmother’s paternity, I found myself digging deeper into her father’s family. It’s time to meet the Wallace family of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Emma’s father was Francis Wallace. It seems more and more likely that he didn’t marry Emma’s mother, Eliza (Elizabeth) Murphy. Francis was the son of James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith. He is found in Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia directory for 1866-67 in Port Mulgrave as “Wallace, France – clerk.” He died 16 February 1892 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States. His probate was administered publicly, and the file doesn’t mention any property or relatives.

Francis came from a family that seemed otherwise respectable and well-to-do in Halifax. One story that Emma passed down to her grandchildren was that her family “owned ships.” That’s certainly possible, however the paper trail and DNA evidence that have led us to the Wallace family tell a slightly different story.

Francis’ brother, Vincent Wallace, was a customs agent in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He didn’t own ships, but he was tied to the shipping industry by his work. Vincent was born 19 Jul 1835 in Halifax and died rather young on 27 November 1878 in Port Mulgrave, Guysborough, Nova Scotia, Canada. He and his wife, Margaret Mahoney (m. 3 Feb 1864 in Guysborough) had 3 children: Clara E. (b 1865), Howard Sylvester (b. 6 Oct 1866), and Eugenie (b. Jan 1864, m. 2 Jun 1897 to John S. McDonald in Halifax, witnessed by Catherine Wallace).

Descendants from Vincent are among mine and my father’s DNA matches. Francis had other siblings as well, and I don’t know yet if they were tied to the shipping industry, or what his father did for a living. This is a family I’m still newly researching and I hope to learn more about them.

Finding NPEs among my family – first for my maternal grandfather’s father and then for Emma (my father’s great-grandmother) – has changed much of what I learned about my family tree when I was a teenager. As always, traditional, paper trail research is the best way to start. Genetic genealogy can provide confirmation or a different/unexpected path to research, and works well to enhance what you already know… or to lead you elsewhere!

Southern Italian Ancestors | Our Prairie Nest
Southern Italian Ancestors

Once upon a time, my father joked, “Why do you talk with your hands so much? What are you – Italian?” Being about 16 and not know any better, I shot back, “Maybe I am!”

Two years later, when I delved into genealogy in earnest, I learned the truth. Or half of it.

My mother’s mother’s family is Italian, from the Piedmont and Liguria regions of Italy. I’ve researched them for the past thirty years and learned a great deal about them recently thanks to Family Search and the Antenati website.

What no one knew thirty (and more) years ago was that my mother’s father was also Italian. Looking at him now, it’s pretty obvious that he looks nothing like the redheaded Irish man we were always told was his father. Grandpa’s mother had seven children, and we knew there were three different fathers among them. And then came DNA testing and the surprise that there was a fourth father!

At first, we thought DNA testing would confirm that either the man we’d always been told was grandpa’s father or the man who was my great-grandmother’s first husband was my grandpa’s father. The network of Italian matches connected to me, my mother, and my uncle, but not my nana, proved otherwise.

It was a close family member match that sealed the deal as far as determining my grandfather’s lineage. While close Y-DNA matches haven’t yet popped up yet, we had enough half first cousin matches to confirm my grandfather’s paternity.

The Feola Family

Where my nana’s mother was from northern Italy, my grandpa’s father was from southern Italy. His surname was Feola and his family came from Campora, Salerno, Campania, Italy. I have an enormous number of matches from this family. In fact, I think they are my largest genetic network. Campora suffered a genetic bottleneck in the 1700s, and the centuries of intermarriage are quite apparent as I work on a separate quick and dirty family tree to connect these matches, and then verify the lineages to add them to my tree.

Nearly all the surnames I find – Feola, Tomeo, Carone, Calabria, Perriello, Trotta, Vitale, Veltri, and others – recur frequently. On the one hand, it makes it easier to build and then verify the tree. On the other hand, the pedigree collapse means I can only guess at which ancestral couples passed on the DNA my matches and I share. I list that potential couple in my spreadsheet and notes, but also add “and possibly others.”

As far as my grandfather, it all starts with one of the sons of Antonio Michele Feola (born 8 December 1864 in Campora, and died after 1910, probably in Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts) and Alessandrina Beatrice Tomeo (per their marriage record, 18 April 1887 in Campora; she was born May of 1864 in Campora and died 21 May 1909 in Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts). I won’t say which son, because he has living grandchildren from his marriage to his wife, and it was certainly a surprise for them to find out they had half first cousins (my mother and her siblings). However, he is named in my family tree.

Antonio, or Anthony, was the son of Giovanni Feola and Teresa Sofia. Alessandrina was the daughter of Nicola Tomeo and Francesca Maria Trotta. I’ve been able to confirm a few generations with vital records, something I’m doing slowly and steadily, since I’m not focused on researching this part of my family at this time.

It’s still taking time to get used to the fact that these are my ancestors. However, there’s no doubt about it. The DNA has spoken! While I’m devoting far more interest and attention to my northern Italian ancestors, I think if I ever visit Italy, a trip to Campora would certainly be part of that.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Spring 2021

As much as many of us may look back at 2020 and say, “What a dumpster fire,” it seems 2021 isn’t much of an improvement. Though I’d like to think we’re going to eventually get to an overall better, more positive place by the end of the year. Besides, I think I’ve let go of the idea of “good years” and “bad years” and, really, it is what it is – a little bit of both – and that’s just life.

Personally, I’ve experienced two losses so far this year and that has certainly shaped my attitude about 2021. My only paternal aunt passed away and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still fills me with sadness to know she’s gone. The other was our parrot of 10 years, Avery, whose loss is heartbreaking. We didn’t anticipate it and, sadly, that’s often the way it goes with birds.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Me and my baby, Avery.

People, of course, are asking or saying – if I’m being honest – dumb and insensitive things. “I didn’t realize he was that old”/”How old was he?” He was 10, thank you very much. “Was he sick?” No and, again, thank you so much for asking. Oh, and sending me pictures or videos of why parrots are so great. Um… pardon me, why? I’m grieving a sudden loss and these things are really twisting the knife. When someone loses someone precious to them, why do people feel the need to ask the how, what, and why? Especially when there is an understandable degree of guilt, since that life was your responsibility? Pet owners often feel guilt, even if they shouldn’t, and these kinds of questions push that idea that somehow it was our fault that our pet died. If that’s what you’re trying to do when people lose a beloved pet, congratulations. You succeeded. If that isn’t your intention, would you please simply say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it?” and leave it at that?

So that’s my mini-rant about that.

Anyway, we never plan on having another bird. Getting one was originally my husband’s idea, because he’s a bird lover. However, he soon realized the amount of work that goes into being a “bird parent” is disproportionate to the amount of energy and attention he was actually willing to put in. I became Avery’s bird mom and loved every moment of it, after never in my life considering having a parrot. We’re all feeling the loss, though, and we know that we don’t want to go through it again. Even our cats have noticed something has changed (namely, Avery not plucking their fur, pecking their paws, and sitting on their backs), and they seem a little gloomy about it.

There are, of course, good things to share. It’s not all sadness. My son went to prom for the third and, likely, last time. He’s a senior and partied his Saturday night away with his class. It was an exciting but sad moment for me. I remember going to the prom with his dad 28 years ago.

Clearly, I’m losing it.

My son took my weeping in stride, thankfully. My husband got a kick out of it and obliged me by taking tons of pictures. Graduation is only 3 weeks from now. I’ll be sure to bring copious amounts of tissues.

My daughter said she doesn’t want 2nd grade to end. I don’t blame her, and I also reminded her that she was the one saying she didn’t want school to start last August. She laughed about that, and we talked about beginnings, endings, and how everything has it’s time and place and cycle.

As far as genealogy, I’m turning my attention to my husband’s family. He descends mostly from recent immigrants from so many different countries, that his ancestry presents a unique challenge to me. The majority of my ancestors have been in New England since the Mayflower and Great Migration. There is a branch from Virginia and North Carolina in the 1600s and 1700s that ultimately sort of folded into my New England ancestors, and then my few recent immigrant ancestors are from England, Ireland, and Italy. All very familiar territory for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors are also mostly Great Migration New Englanders, as well as settlers in New Brunswick and Quebec. I know my way around New England and Canada fairly well, genealogically-speaking.

My husband’s ancestors are from Ireland, Quebec, and there are two or three lines that were in the U.S. by at least the 1700s, that went west from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other than that, I’m looking at countries I’ve never had to work with: Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland. Working on each line is challenging, because none of them are well-documented, except the ones from Quebec. DNA is a helpful tool here. Many of my husband’s matches still reside in Norway, Finland, and other European countries.

I’m also looking at both of our mtDNA lines. My ex-husband’s mtDNA line was super easy to trace. He’s an A2 and we were able to document him back to the daughter of Chief Madokawando, who’d married Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Castin. Many of my ex-husband’s mtDNA matches with a genetic distance of zero (15 matches) also descend from this couple.

My mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1 and that’s the one I’m most interested in exploring right now. I have only 2 matches with a zero genetic distance, however. One is my maternal uncle, so clearly we know which ancestor we share – my nana/his mother. However, we have another match, born in Sicily. As this is the Italian side of my family, I’m hoping to pinpoint how the other match is related to us. Recently, I dedicated many nights to working on our match’s maternal family to see if it might give me clues about mine. The most recent maternal ancestor I can name is my 4th great-grandmother, Angela Giusto, probably born in Cogoleto, and definitely died between 1842 (when my 3rd great-grandmother was born) and 1865 (when Angela’s husband, my 4th great-grandfather, Tomaso Pedemonte, remarried in Cogoleto). Since records for Cogoleto during this time frame aren’t available online yet, I need to be patient.

Working on my match’s family was quite interesting, since he had documented 3 maternal generations, and I was able to add 5 more through vital records in the towns of Lascari and Gratteri, in Palermo, Sicily. The interesting thing is my maternal family is from northern Italy, while his entire family is from Sicily, two completely different regions. Will I find our shared maternal ancestor in Sicily? If so, when and why did my family go north? It’s a project I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. One neat thing of note is that when you click my 23andMe ethnicity results to look at the breakdown for Italy, it does show Sicily as one of the regions. Sooo, who knows?

Finally, I ordered my husband’s full sequence mitochondrial DNA test and that result came last week. He is haplogroup V11. He has fewer matches at a genetic distance of zero than my ex-husband does, but many more than I do, with 8 matches. I think there’s a good chance that at least a couple of them will make a good basis for comparison as far as finding out more about my husband’s maternal lineage. I’m specifically focusing on the Scandinavian matches or those with most distant ancestors with Scandinavian names, since that’s where I’m sure we’ll find a connection.

The most distant maternal ancestor I have for my husband is his 3rd great-grandmother, Maria Ursula Taescher, born about 1853, maybe in Switzerland. She married Emil Anton Ospelt on 6 November 1876 in Liechtenstein, and they emigrated to the United States. They were in Dubuque, Iowa for some time before moving to Washington County, Oregon, where she died on May 9, 1930. I don’t have the names of Emil’s or Maria’s parents, and don’t know if their death certificates will yield that information, so I’m starting there (I placed my request this weekend), and will work my way back.

I might try to work on a more in-depth post about working with mtDNA in the future. For now, though, the rest of spring will probably be a flurry of activity. We have an awards night at the high school for fine arts students, so I’ll be attending that, followed the next night by my son’s last concert in guitar and choir. And then there will be graduation. Meanwhile, my daughter is supposed to start softball this year. We signed up last year, but it was a wash due to Covid. However, my husband, son, and I are all vaccinated, and my daughter is eager to play. We’re all hoping for a kid-safe vaccine soon!

Well, that’s the news from here. I wish it was happier, but I’m grateful for the years I had with my aunt and my Avery.