- Posts for middleborough 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.

The Year I Find Emma | Our Prairie Nest
2019: The Year I Find Emma

I am confident that 2019 will be my year – the year I find the origin of my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Murphy. Emma, who married first a Mr. Reagan and then my great-great grandfather, Erastus Bartlett Shaw of Middleborough, Massachusetts in 1888.

The first time I tested my DNA was in 2006, before FTDNA offered Family Finder or Ancestry DNA became a thing. The only option available to me was mtDNA, which wasn’t applicable to Emma, but I still wanted to get “in” on this technology. I hoped that this new tool would help me break down the looming Emma brick wall. Since then, I’ve followed up with several autosomal tests, had my father test, and also seen other relatives on that side of the family test.

Now, after 25+ years of attempting to either dismantle or climb it, I think the end is in sight (despite a professional genealogy firm telling me the prognosis of a search for Emma was “poor”)! The technique that I believe will yield answers is that of creating genetic networks or DNA match clusters.

I found that creating a spreadsheet that sorted all DNA matches known to connect to my father’s mother – and therefore, potentially, Emma – was the way to go. Here’s a look at what I did:

You could probably create a network like this in mere moments using DNA Gedcom or Genetic Affairs, but I did this by hand in Excel, person by person, because I wanted to look at each person individually. The process allows us to see patterns in our matches in a different way.

How did I do it? First, this was made based upon my father’s DNA matches. Since Emma is his great-grandmother, it makes sense to work off Dad’s DNA instead of my own. He’s a generation closer to her and thus ought to have more of her DNA than me or my sister do.

I then took the 4 close matches he has who are confirmed as maternal matches. They are my father’s half-niece, his great-niece, a second cousin, and a first cousin, once removed. While the half-niece is my generation and the great-niece is even more generations removed from Emma, they are still useful for pinpointing maternal-only matches for my father. Why? Because my grandmother was married twice and her eldest son (father of the half-niece) and daughter (grandmother of the great-niece) were from her first marriage, while her two younger sons (my other uncle and my father) were from her second marriage, to my grandfather. Thus, these two nieces allow me to absolutely rule out my father’s paternal matches.

Next, I looked at the first cousin, once removed. She is actually a first cousin we didn’t know my grandmother had and I’m sure there’s a story there that the DNA match herself doesn’t even know (one I’ve been trying to approach as sensitively as possible with her). But that isn’t the focus of this post. The nice thing is, I can actually rule out the first cousin, once removed, because she connects to my grandmother’s maternal side, and my focus is my grandmother’s paternal grandmother.

With that large grouping of people in gray set aside, that allows me to move on to the peach, pink, and green matches. A review of the green matches shared with my father’s great-niece didn’t give me much hope that I would find my answer there.

So my focus is on the peach and pink clusters. I’m already biased toward one of them, because two of the matches in it who only match me, my cousins, and one another appear to be likely candidates. However, ruling out all others also helps in this instance, to ensure I’m not chasing the “wrong” cousins. I’ll definitely post updates as I work through this project and let you know if I’m successful!