Fall presentation schedule

As part of my job at the state library, I give presentations around the state on genealogy and related topics. Upcoming programming schedule:

Tuesday, September 17, noon: Portland public library

Thursday, September 19, 3 p.m.: Treat Memorial Library, Livermore Falls

Tuesday, September 24, 12:30 to 4: Libby Library, Old Orchard Beach ~ longer program on tracing an ancestor through his/her whole life

Wednesday, October 2: Fogg library, Eliot ~ on DNA

Tuesday, October 8, 3:30 p.m.: Carver library, Searsport ~ on getting started and Maine State Library resources

Wednesday, October 16, 1 p.m.: South Portland library

Thursday, October 24, 6 p.m.: Baxter library, Gorham ~ on DNA

Wednesday, October 30, 6 p.m.: Windham library

Tuesday, November 5, evening: South Berwick

Thursday, November 7, 6 p.m.: Pittsfield ~ on preserving your own history

Contact me or the host library for more details.

At the library #52ancestors

I’m writing this at the library. In fact, I write frequently at the library, given that I work in one.

I turned my love of libraries and my obsession about genealogy into my career. In my mid-40s, I was at a crossroads. Both my parents had died, so I had inherited a bit of money, and I’d had a series of jobs that I liked but that weren’t anything wonderful.

I decided that my mid-life crisis was going to be going to library school and moving to Maine, both of which I’ve now done.

When I announced to my friends on Facebook that I was going to library school, the response was about equally divided between ‘perfect for you‘ and ‘aren’t you already a librarian?

So now I get to spend every {work} day in the library and I get to help lots of other people find their ancestors. It’s a pretty good life 😉

Unusual name #52ancestors

With my New England Yankee ancestry, I have many ancestors with what would seem to be unusual names to the modern American ear: Remember, Wrestling, Submit, and Thankful, as choices from among the virtue names Puritans used. Even a Preserved {as in G-d preserved my soul}, whose family name was Fish. Yup, Preserved Fish. And he had a Preserved Fish, Jr.

Lots of more obscure Biblical names, as well: Amaziah, Azariah, Abiah, Abiel, Abijah ~ and that’s just those that start with A 😉

However, this aren’t the names I’m going to chat about. My choice is one that is much less unusual, but the circumstances are a bit amusing.

My couple greats grandmother was named Helen Putnam. Born in Danvers MA, lots of her ancestors were Putnams… she’s the Helen circled in the photograph, and I’ve found a couple more Putnam line to her since I wrote that up (as well as four lines back, via various ancestors, to Priscilla Gould’s brother Zaccheus and his wife….small founder population in action).

But it’s not her name I’m amused by. It’s her husband’s….

See, he was named Addison Putnam Learoyd ~ but I’ve found no trace of him having any Putnam ancestry at all. I’ve got three of his four grandparents’ lines traced back to at least Addison’s great great grandparents; his paternal grandmother’s family has been harder to trace, but she was born in England, so Putnams aren’t likely there.

The Learoyds did live in an area of Danvers that was full of Putnams, so it’s likely there’s a reason for choosing Putnam as a middle name for one of their sons, but it still amuses me that Addison Putnam Learoyd had no Putnam ancestry, but his children had lots through his wife Helen Putnam.

Danvers MA family record for
John A. Learoyd and his wife Sarah [Silvester] Learoyd,
showing the birth record for Addison Putnam Learoyd.

Challenge #52ancestors

My great-great grandfather has been quite a challenge to research.

Francis McGee appears in Edinburgh, likely as an Irish famine immigrant, in time to marry Helen Cassidy in 1848. Their lives are fairly typical for a poor Catholic couple living in the slums of Edinburgh. Children come along quickly, and the new addresses seem to be almost as frequent.


St. Mary’s {Roman Catholic} church, Edinburgh,
the church where Francis and Helen were married.

Helen was only 16 when they got married; she was an orphan, so the early marriage makes sense for her. She died at 32, having lived in just a room or two with her growing family. Francis is variously described in records as a costermonger, fishmonger and peddler, so money wasn’t plentiful.

Francis and Helen’s oldest daughter Margaret, in a poor relief application in Glasgow in the 1870s, says she lived in poverty in Edinburgh her whole whole childhood. The records bear this out ~ Helen and her surviving siblings are listed in Edinburgh’s poor relief records for 1862, before Helen died. The children were all farmed out to families in suburban-ish areas around Edinburgh. My great grandfather Peter, born in 1861, was placed with the Jamieson family in Loanhead. The Jamiesons adopted Peter, who moved with the rest of the family to Leith, where James Jamieson and his wife Margaret Guthrie had lived early in their marriage.

Margaret, aged 12, Helen, aged 7, Edward, aged 4, and Peter, aged 8 months,
in printed Edinburgh poor relief index, 1862

In 1871, Peter is listed as a boarder with the family of James Jamieson and Margaret Guthrie.
Linden Cottage 3, Lasswade, Edinburgh, Midlothian
James Jamieson 50 boot/shoemaker Leith
Margaret Jamieson 51 Earlston
Robert G Jamieson 27 boot/shoemaker
Margaret Jamieson 18 paper mill wkr
Peter McGhee 9 boarder, scholar
Sarah S Richard 4 granddaughter
Thomas Moffat 1 nursing

Peter McGee listed as boarded out with adoptive family,
Edinburgh poor relief records, 1864

In 1881, he’s with the same family as an adopted son.
Guthrie’s Land, Old Sugarhouse Close, Leith
James Jamieson 60 Leith boot/shoemaker
Margaret Jamieson 61 Earlston BER
Peter M Jamieson 20 Edinburgh adopted son sailmaker
Georgina D Jamieson 3 Loanhead adopted daughter
Robert Shepherd 40 boarder Greenock plater ship building yard
Janet Shepherd 37 boarder Leith
Hellen Newel 27 visitor Leith
Hellen Newel 1 visitor Glasgow

Peter McGee Jamieson, with his son John Ralston Jamieson, about 1918

I’ve found a death record for Francis, but I’m not sure how accurate the information is, given that the informant was his daughter Margaret, who was 12 when she was placed in foster care. Margaret says Francis’s father was named Bernard; no mother’s name is included.

I’ve found a couple possibilities for Francis on the 1871 and 1881 Scotland census returns but no one who is definitely him. For example, in 1881, there’s a lodger listed at 65 Grassmarket as Frank with no last name, occ. fish hawker, 57 b. IRE, that I’m guessing is highly likely to be him, but there’s no way to be sure.

The various records I’ve found on Francis give either Donegal or Fermanagh as the county in Ireland he was from. Without something more specific, it’s going to be a huge challenge to find any more on him, although I’m more than willing to head to Scotland or Ireland to pursue the search 😉

Another remaining mystery: In January 1855, Francis and Helen have a daughter named Helen, and Francis toddles off from Hastie’s Close, where they are living, to comply with the new registration law.

What caught my eye: the next line, child born same day as Helen and registered the same day, with the same witness to their father’s marks. It’s a James Callaghan, son of Thomas Callaghan and Mary McGhie, also resident in Hastie’s Close. Aha, I think….. Any chance Mary is related to Francis? If not, it is quite the coincidence.

James’s entry says his parents were married in 1844 in Dundee. Thomas, age 30 in 1855, was born in Co. Cavan, Ireland, while Mary was 38 and born in Donegal. James is her 4th child, with the previous three all deceased.

When I was in Scotland a couple years ago, I found their marriage record at the Catholic church in Dundee: 9 July 1844, witnessed by James Trainor and Mary Farrell.

Ancestry’s 1851 census lists a Thomas 26 and Maria Kallican 25 at 89 Murraygate, Beattie Close, on the 1851 census, with a son Thomas aged 1 that might well be them. Hurrah for census searches that don’t require a last name!

But I can’t find them in the death records or later census returns. I’ve tried lots of combinations of spellings/Soundex/wildcards with no luck. Looked through the US census and immigration records, just in case, on the off chance that they immigrated and I’d manage to find them amongst all the possible spellings.

And in my wilder moments , I wonder if James and Helen were actually twins, with Francis and Helen not able to handle them and letting his sister and her husband adopt one. And in the really wild moments, I figure maybe someday I’ll track down a direct male descendant of James to compare his DNA to the test my dad had done as a present for me.

Yes, the twin thing is waaaaaay, waaaaaay out there. But I’m sure you can see why I occurred to me, despite the am/pm difference – one family with 3 babies who’ve died, the other with (possible) twins and little to no income.

I think it is likely that there is some connection, even if my wild twin theory is wrong, as there seems to be some movement between Dundee and Edinburgh for both these families – plus there’s a surname that turns up in baptismal and marriage witnesses for both that is a bit less common – McPhilips.

First ~ #52ancestors

The first prompt in this year’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks is first ~ and it’s also my first post here. Seems like that works out well.

So what ‘first’ ancestor am I going to write about? Well, let me tell you a story….

Fourteen years ago, when my mother was dying of cancer, the only commercially available DNA tests were for yDNA. Since I’m female, I needed to talk a male relative into taking a test for me.

Fortunately, my father was a scientist, so that ~ and the fact that he could pretty much skip any visit to a store for buying me a winter holiday present ~ meant getting him to swab his cheek was actually a very easy sell.

He took the test. And we waited… it took a couple months for the results. And I kept waiting, even after I had the results, for that yDNA result to yield any new connections in my research.

And I kept waiting…. even now, 14 years later, the closest match I’ve gotten on that yDNA was a genetic distance of 3 over 37 markers. The test confirmed that my McGee straight paternal line (my great grandfather has been adopted, so my maiden name isn’t actually McGee or a variant) is from northwest Ireland, likely the Donegal stated on one record, based on those not very close matches.

Side note: feel free to encourage any male McGees you know to get a yDNA test. The McGee DNA project ~ one of the oldest such efforts~ is still ongoing.

Fortunately, autosomal DNA testing is now not only available but popular {you might even say trendy…}. Just a couple weeks ago, I got my FIRST connection to ancestors and their immediate family from a DNA match without first having a decent paper trail. All the previous work I’d done had only confirmed the paper trail I’ve spent way too much time and money (and trips to Scotland and Ireland!) confirming.

Since my parents are both deceased, a wonderful aunt {my dad’s youngest sister} agreed to take an autosomal test, so I could separate out maternal and paternal lines. My mother is New England Yankee, while Dad was Scots/Scots-Irish/Irish, so there’s a really clear divide in my matches ~ no overlap yet in the two sets of relatives.

As I was scanning matches and their trees one day, I noticed one of my aunt’s matches had an Eva Maud Arthur from Northern Ireland in his tree. Well, my grandmother’s maiden name was Arthur, and I was stuck on that line. Her grandfather Edward Arthur was {according to the records he left in Scotland} born in Ireland, possibly Donegal, and his parents might have been named Edward Arthur and Mary Hood, if the informant on his marriage record was right. But I’d found no further evidence to back that up.

Side note: I really like fielded searches on genealogy sites, so that I can specify Arthur in the surname field. Otherwise, you don’t want to know how many 19th century boys were named Edward Arthur Something. Of course, even more frustrating is my other grandmother’s maiden: Poor. But that’s for future stories 😉

Turns out Eva Maude Arthur was the daughter of John Arthur, who married Letitia Glass ~ and John’s parents may well have been Edward Arthur and Mary Hood, likely from the Donegal/Tyrone border area.

So, fourteen years after my first venture into genetic genealogy, I made my first real connection to a new relative I didn’t first find through a paper trail.

Hoping it won’t be 14 years until the next such discovery. What would be nice to solve? For example ~ that same grandmother’s other grandfather? On her mother’s birth record, it says illegitimate where his name should be… I keep hoping 😉