What Am I?

Or… Where do I come from?

One of the reasons people take DNA tests is to figure out their genetic history. They want to prove their connection to a certain place, race, or ethnicity.

Lately, I’ve seen commercials where people were surprised they had Native American ancestry… or they thought they were from one region and their DNA says they’re from another… In my family, we’ve always been told that we had some Cherokee blood… but none is indicated in my DNA (maybe it’s too diluted by generations to be seen).

Now I’m just wondering how accurate all of this “science” is…

I just got an email from MyHeritage that provided me their interpretation of my ethnicity:

Ethnicity Data from MyHeritage


What’s interesting, however, is that my earlier report from Ancestry is a quite different:

Ethnicity Data from Ancestry


So now I’m confused!  Am I European? Or English? Looking at this table, there is a huge difference in my percentages…

  Ancestry MyHeritage
West Europe 44 20
Ireland 32 16
Great Britain 9 49
Iberian 7 15
Other 2

When you get right down to it, however, there are no real surprises to me except the “Iberian” connection.  Through my genealogical research, I knew most of my ancestry came from the United Kingdom (Ireland & England) and much came from Germany/France.  The only odd thing that I can’t really find is the “Iberian” connection.

But, as both companies will tell you, these numbers are only estimates based on statistics.  So there is enough slop in the forumlae so that you can’t determine accurately what your genetics tell you – at least not yet.

Maybe in the future, there will be a breakthrough.  For now, these systems are more like guesstimates!  From all of this information, I’m putting down my “Iberian” connection down to the built in slop (fudge factors) in the science.

On the Oregon Trail

Part of the “fun” that I have with genealogy is learning more about our family’s and our country’s history.  The more I delve into our family, the more I want to learn about what they endured and/or thrived through.  Recently, I found a note that one set of my 4th great grandparents (on my mother’s side) headed west on the Oregon Trail! So, I thought I’d share what I found.

First the family…  Much of what I found was first reported by Gordon S. on the Find A Grave website for this family. I then went on to find additional and/or source information from the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

John Christian Emrich was born and baptised in the Spring of 1797 in Carroll County, Maryland to John and Elisabeth (Lorisch) Emrick (also spelled Emerick) who, it is believed, were of German descent. He later was known simply as Christian Emrick. Within a few years of the turn of the century, about 1804, the family moved to Columbiana County, Ohio. After John’s death in 1821, Elisabeth moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania where she died about 1845.

Christian married his wife whose name was either Catherine Weems or, as her daughter claimed, Mariah Catherine Venning in September 1818 in Ohio. Little is known of her ancestry at this time. They later moved to Illinois and a few years after that to Missouri.  I can’t help but wonder if they just wanted to get away from civilization!  The further west the country expanded, the farther west they moved.  You can view their travels on this map.


For whatever reason, they decided to travel the not quite 2200 miles from Missouri to the Oregon area. Remember, it did not even become an official territory of the United States until August 1848 and wouldn’t become a state until 1859.  This trip was expected to take between 4 and 6 months!

It seems that a major worry of the emigrants was attacks by the indians; but this was actually a rare occurance and, it is believed,  that the attacks that did occur were usually just white bandits. The American Indians were actually helpful to those that were in need.

The other major worry was cholera.  It is estimated that, of the 300,000-500,000 people that went to Oregon, 6-10% died due to disease. That is what happened to my 4th great grandmother.

However, she didn’t die of cholera; it is suspected that she died of Mountain Fever which is a catch all term for a variety of potential diseases. The NPS source states, “The diseases that fit these symptoms are: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, typhus, typhoid fever and scarlet fever.” She died a little over half way along the trail near Bear River in Wyoming (somewhere near the southwest corner of present day Wyoming) in 1848. She would have been about 47 years old.


Christian kept on after this tragedy. Ultimately he made it to Washington County, Oregon. Later, he obtained land near his son, Solomon, near Oregon City, Oregon. He died in 1851 just three years after making the trip to Oregon.  US, Indexed Early Land Ownership and Township Plats, 1785-1898 - Christian EMRICK

His daughter, my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah did not go to Oregon. By the time her parents and brother headed up the Oregon Trail she was on her second of three marriages. And, as it turned out, the 2nd marriage is the one that ultimately led to me!

Skeletons in the Closet

I have known for a long time that most of my family (on both sides) came from the south. Most of them fought for the Confederate Army.  And I sort of took a perverse pleasure in that I came from a stock of rebels. And, I’ve always been proud, in some sort of way, that those relatives never actually owned slaves – at least so far as I’ve found.

Back in the Summer of 2015 Ben Affleck caused a bit of a crisis in the TV show “Finding Your Roots” when they found an ancestor of his was a slave owner. He tried to get the show (or at least the information about the slave owning ancestors) suppressed. At the time I thought that this was a bit silly. I mean, why worry about what your ancestor did?  What they did doesn’t describe who you are, does it?

Mr. Affleck isn’t the only one with this problem. I watched another documentary that discussed some of the issues of the relatives of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler not too long ago and felt bad for those relatives! Their entire lives seemingly defined by what their infamous relations did.

1850 Federal Census - Slave Schedule

Recently, while working on my direct ancestors, I found some slave owners in my history in the 1850 Federal Census – Slave Schedules. On my dad’s side of the family, my 4th great grandfather (my father’s mother’s father’s mother’s mother’s father) Samuel S. Porter owned nine slaves. My 5th great grandfather on my mom’s side (my mother’s father’s mother’s father’s father’s mother’s father) William Black Jr. owned six slaves. I also found William Black’s son-in-law and my 4th great grandfather Isaac Shannon also owned eight slaves in 1860.

When I found this information, I didn’t know how to feel. Elated that I found new information as a genealogist and let down that I couldn’t be “proud” I had no slave owner ancestors.  And then these conflicting emotions hit me while I was talking about genealogy with someone at work. This someone, oh by the way, is of mixed race (half white & half African-American).  It wasn’t until after the discussion (where, yes, I did mention these slave owners) I started wondering if I put my foot into my mouth somehow.  To me, this was a historical and research discussion. But that was not likely how these things are thought about by others!

I wonder what happened to these slaves.  I know that William Black died before the Civil War. So, I can hope that his will freed them. I’ll need to travel to the county where he died and find the probate records. I couldn’t find Samuel Porter in the Slave Schedules for Porter in 1860, so I can hope he set them free.  And Isaac Shannon moved from his home in Arkansas to Texas during the middle of the Civil War (to get away from it); not sure how convenient it would have been to travel with slaves at the time – so I can hope that he set them free first. But that’s unlikely.

So… the fact that these three families were slave owners is important; but it isn’t all there is to these peoples’ lives.

William Black, for example, was a Captain of 1st Company in Major H. Rennick’s Mounted Battalion of  Kentucky Volunteers under Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1812 as can be seen by these sources:

Samuel Porter seemed to be a contrarian politically speaking and ended up owning about 600 acres of land. He was a devoted Baptist and an “old-line Whig” in politics.

Isaac Shannon is currently lost to me. I can’t find where or when he died. I do know that his wife and family moved back to Arkansas after the war.

Anyway… our family has the spectre of being descended from Confederates and slave owners. Does that have a bearing on who we are? Or how we act? I don’t think so; but then I don’t come from ancestors who were the slaves!

And you think YOU have it bad…?

William Cannon Johnson was born in 1849 in Carroll or Winston County, Mississippi. Lydia Jeanette Carver (also known as Lydia Junnette Carver) was born in 1852 in Winona which is part of Montgomery County, Mississippi. They were married in 1871 or 1872 in Grenada County, Mississippi. These are my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother (they are my mother’s mother’s mother’s parents).

Oh, for people that knew Aunt Ethel (Ethel McCoy Johnson Utton), this is her dad.

They had twelve children born between them starting in 1872 and going until 1895! Unfortunately, seven had passed away by 1915 (and five of those in a 22 day span)!

Yes, you read that correctly. Five of their children died between September 10th and October 2nd of 1891. All of these died due to complications from Typhoid fever due to moving to a new homestead with a contaminated well.

Their two oldest children, both girls, died at ages 18 and 17 in September. Then within two days of each other the three other children died at ages 9, 7, and 5.

These are the stories I think about when I start to throw a pity party for myself.  I will never have it as bad as they lived it!

You can check out the basic stats I have of their family here.

And you can check out a copy of the 1915 obituary for William Johnson here.  

Fischers and Horneys Come to America

A lot of times the sources used while researching the family history are confusing and/or have a lot of errors. Or it could be that I’m just ignorant of what was going on at the time and the source information is accurate, but it just doesn’t make sense without some crucial bit of knowledge. Sometimes you have to delve into the history of the times just to figure out what is going on with your ancestors.

One good example of this is the birthplaces of my Fischer and Horney ancestors (on my dad’s dad’s side of the family).  One great great great grandfather, Eustache Fischer, came to America around 1889 while my other 3rd great grandfather, Nicolas Horney, came in 1860. Both of their families ended up in Goliad County, Texas. The families MAY have known each other before they came to America because Nicolas was married to a Fischer in 1849; but this is conjecture at this point.

The interesting thing to note about many of these men’s children is that the place where they report their birth country changes over the various census dates. And this is confusing if you’re trying to keep accurate information.

Every 10 years the US government holds a census where it keeps track of the country’s population with a few questions asked of every person in the country at the time.  Two questions consistently asked is when and where you are born.

Selestine Horney (Eustache’s son) eventually married Isabelle Fischer (Nicolas’ daughter) about 1890 in Goliad County, Texas.  But let’s figure out where they were born (the information here was taken from the various censuses):

Census Selestine Isabelle
1870 France Moved to USA in late 1880s.
1880 France
1900 Germany Germany
1910 Germany France
1920 France France
1930 Died in 1929. France
1940 France

The records for the 1890 were destroyed in a fire; so there is no information for that census.

Now you’d think people would know where they were born; so why is this so confusing?  It also gets a little weird when you look at other aspects of the questions asked and answered in some of the censuses.

The 1920 census asks where each person was born and what their mother (original) language was spoken at home. The response for Isabelle and Selestine (his name is misspelled in the census): Born in France, Speak German!! Now what the heck are we supposed to make out of that?

Eventually I came across a form for Isabelle called the “Alsace-Lorraine, France Citizenship Declarations (Optants), 1872”.  I had to do some reading on Ancestry.com to figure out what this was about; but, before we get into that, we need a little bit of history.

This Alsace-Lorraine region had been under frequent contention between Germany and France.  As an article at Wikipedia.com states, France wanted the Alsace-Lorraine area because it was geographically a part of France. Germany, on the other hand, said it should be part of that country since most of the inhabitants spoke German!   Ahhh – so that’s where the French birth location with German as the mother tongue came from for Isabelle and Selestine.

It turns out that, following the Franco-Prussian War (Jul 1870 – May 1871), the Alsace-Lorraine region of land was transferred from France to Germany.  And it was part of Germany until the end of the First World War when it was ceded back to France in 1918. So, from 1870 and before and 1920 and later this was France while during the 1880-1910 census this area was German.

This whole thing must have been confusing to the census takers who likely weren’t well versed in the history of the area; and, to make matters worse, they were getting answers from German speakers that said they were from France.

Now, back to the Citizenship Declarations (Optants) form.  If people were in the area after “ownership” of the Alsace-Lorraine region was transferred from France to Germany, they had to change their citizenship from French to German. They could declare that they would maintain their French citizenship which would then be published in bulletins. If they chose to remain French, they had to immigrate to France (many of them immigrated to American instead).

So, two siblings could have been born in the same house – yet be from two different countries. In 1870 they would have been born in France; in 1872 they would have been born in Germany.

After all of that you might be thinking – wow – good thing that doesn’t happen in the good ole US of A.  Wrong!  It does.  In the early days, state borders and county borders changed!  This is not as drastic; but if you’re doing research and know that your ancestor was born in one county – but you go look him up at the county courthouse – you might not find him.