29 October 2012

Tech Tuesday - A First Foray Into DNA

Perhaps it was serendipity; on the same day that the email from Ancestry.com offering me (and no doubt millions of others) the opportunity to participate in the Beta stage of their new DNA test program, I also had a little windfall that left me with a little unbudgeted cash. Or maybe it was that I have been more than a little fascinated with the DNA revelations on Henry Louis Gates recent Finding Your Roots series on PBS. Either way, when I thought "Why not?" and a few mouse clicks later my windfall was down by $99.00 and my first foray into the world of personal DNA testing was underway.

A week or so after sigining up, my DNA Test kit arrived in the mail - a fancy looking box containing a test-tube type receptacle, and a preadressed mailing envelope. Following the accompanying directions, I deposited the requisite amount of saliva in the tube and mailed it to the lab in the provided envelope.

About two more weeks went by before I got an email from Ancestry.com telling me that my DNA results were available. A link on the email took me to my new DNA account at Ancestry.com. As shown in this image, this was not the "Y" chromosome test that links a male to his male ancestors, but was more of a test of the geographic origins of one's ancestors.
Described more realistically, it would be a "most people with this DNA lived in this region" test. As can be seen on the above image, 49% of my DNA was most commonly found among natives of the British Isles - including Ireland. The next larget chunk of my DNA was from Central Europe (which for this test includes the modern countries of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and  Liechtenstein. A much smaller percentage of my DNA, 7%, is found in modern-day Finland and western Russia. And another 7% cannot currently be defined - the report says that it may suggest a specific population, but the probability is insufficient to make that determination.

The British Isles and "Central" Europe bits were no suprise - my own research had shown solid ancestry in both regions. The Finn/Russian on the other hand, was a suprise and I wonder if I will ever find its origins. As for the Uncertain bit of my DNA, until it is proven otherwise, I intend to start a family rumor that it is our Neanderthal DNA.

In addition to the geographic origins, I also received links to several hundred other DNA test participants who match some significant part of my DNA.  Unless the matched participant has entered a family tree, all I see from the potential relative is his/her DNA percentages in a comparison to my own. If the matched participant has entered a family tree, I will see the surnames, if any, that their tree has in common with my own. If we have common ancestors in our trees, that is displayed, along with our estimated relationship (3rd cousin, 4th cousin 1x removed, etc.). So far I have found 5 new 3rd cousins.

On the whole, I have found this foray very interesting and worth the money. It has, in fact, convinced me to undertake additional DNA testing.

22 October 2012

Travel Tuesday - Hippolyte was a Traveling Man

Researching the Hiegel family was not going well. There were the usual surname spelling variations (Heigle, Hagle, Hagel, Hegle, etc.), of course. And the family came from Alsace-Lorraine, where jurisdiction seem to go back and forth between France and Germany on a regular basis. As a result although several siblings were all born in the same village, some would give Germany as their place of birth while others would say France.

And then I got lucky and found a record that named one of my guy's brothers as Hippolyte Hiegel. With a name like Hipolyte, even searches with no surname included often have a chance.

To keep it short, within a few minutes of online searching, I had found Hippolyte and, in the finding, discovered that Hippolyte was a traveling man - I located three records associated with his travel. And that turned out to be very a very good thing. I also found him in the census records, but it is the travel records I want to highlight here.

The first record was the passenger list of the ship on which he came to America:
It told me that Hypolyte Hiegel immigrated from Europe, sailing from Le Havre, France, on the ship, La France, arriving on 9 November 1881. It reported that he had no occupation and that the was 17 years old.

Twenty three years later, in 1904, Hippolyte Hiegel decided to go back and visit the old home country. Preparatory to his trip, he applied to the U.S. Department of State for a U.S. passport that would allow him to travel to Alsace Lorraine. Passport applications can be compact little treasure chests of information. Because the information required on the application changed over the years, some applications will be more informative than others, many will even contain photographs of the applicant. The truth, though, is that even the worst application I ever found was pretty good.

Look at the mass of information this single application contains:
  •  Hippolyte's county of residence, which allows me to confirm that the man applying for the passport is the same man I found on the census.
  • His date and place of birth - not just the region, but also the village.
  • The port he sailed from when he immigrated to America, and the ship on which he sailed - allowing me to confirm that the man on the above immigration record is the same man applying for the passport.
  • The date he sailed to America - note that this date is a little different from the one on the ship's manifes about. Hippolyte gave the date that he saidled from France, and the ship's manifest gives the date they arrived in New York.
  • The fact that Hippolyte became a naturalized citizen, as well as the date and the court where he was naturalized - allowing me to locate the natualization record. Note that the county where he was naturalized (Shelby County, Ohio) is different from the county he resided in (Arcanum, Darke County, Ohio) when he applied for the passport - a new possible source of records.
  • We also learn that during his 23 years in America, Hippolyte has become a merchant.
  • There is no photo, but there is a physical description - age 40, 5'6" tall, blue eyes, light hair, acquiline nose, big mouth, light complexion, with a full beard and mustache.
  • He states that he intends to return to the U.S. within two years.
  • His signature is on the form.
All of that from one relatively small document.

From the next document - not a true travel document, but one that was issued as a result of his travels - we learn that Hippolyte did return to his home village, but he never returned to the United States. He died during his stay in the old home place. Below is a report issued by the State Department of an American's death abroad. It tells us that Hippolyte died in his old village, at Lutzelbourg, Lorraine, on 1 May 1905, just over 7 months after applying for his passport. The report also tells Hippolyte's legal representative that more information can be obtained from the Department of State.
Three documents, all created by two trips, that provide a snapshot view of Hippolyte Hiegel's life.

12 October 2012

Surname Saturday - My Pippen/Pippin Line

The Pippen surname turned out to be a bundle of firsts when I first set out to find my family history:
  • It was the first totally new ancestral surname that I encountered - I had never heard of the name before I found it on an 1865 marriage record.

  • It was the first time that I met a cousin - 3rd cousin as it turned out - that I did not grow up knowing.

  • It led me to the first family reunion where I knew only one person - my newly found Pippen third cousin.
I arrived early on the morning of the Pippen reunion and was immediately glad that I did. The reunion was being held outdoors at the big picnic pavilion in the Pine Log State Forest, which lies astride of the northwestern border of Bay County and the southwestern border of Washington County in Northwest Florida. When I stepped out of my car, it was already one of those North Florida fall mornings where the sky is so blue, clear, and tall as to make you think that clouds were a figment of the imagination. And there was just the right pinch of coolness in the air - enough to make the world feel fresh, but light enough to foretell the gloriously fine day that was to come.

The picnic area was in a setting that could only be labeled as picturesque -surrounded by 100 foot pines and overlooking a beautiful lily pad pond that had grassy banks on one end and a large stand of venerable old cypress trees on the other. The pavilion itself was a roofed structure with a sunken area full of picnic tables and a fireplace at one end that was large enough for me to easily stand up in it. The roof itself extended to cover a wide concrete apron surrounding the pavilion that could be used for additional seating should the crowd overflow the sunken area. Today, though, one side of the apron would be taken up with my home-made easels and the extensive family history data that they would display. I was the after-lunch entertainment.

Call it dumb luck or an overabundance of enthusiasm combined with a bit of beginner's ignorance, but I had used a wide-ranging research style - my wife called it octopus research in which I just sent arms out in every direction and dragged in virtually every mention of Pippen in the records from areas where my known Pippen/Pippins had lived. I had then built huge spreadsheets with each event recorded with names, dates and locations, etc. When carefully sorted, this mass of records pointed up patterns in family growth and movement, in family growth, and interactions and connections between various Pippen families. Looking back, it was clearly an inefficient way to approach the research - but I was green in my genealogy in those days and didn't know any better. And while it undoubtedly wasted time, it also proved to be immensely successful. And  when I shared my success with several new found Pippen relatives, they took it upon themselves to invite me to the Pippen Family Reunion and to  ask me to give a little talk about some of what I had found about our shared ancestors

So, I set up my boards as my new cousins began to arrive, and then helped them unload their additions to the feast that every family reunion eventually becomes. Around a hundred folks showed up, and we had a lovely morning socializing and getting to know one another  - followed by an excellent southern lunch.

After lunch, I moved up to the apron surrounding the picnic pavilion and began my talk. I spoke of our common ancestor, Solomon Pippen, who came to Florida early in its Territorial days, and of how we had tracked him back to South Carolina and to birth place in Edgecombe County, North Carolina before that. I had begun to talk about his father Solomon and his grandfather Solomon when a tiny and very senior lady in my audience raised her hand.

"Yes, ma'am?" I asked.

"I am sorry to interrupt, but we have always been told that we descend from kings and queens, and from Charlemagne. Can you tell us anything about that?"

If I had studied the expectant faces of the crowd that I was looking down on, I might have thought of a different approach to my answer. Instead,  before I could even stop to think about it, I heard myself saying:

"Well, no ma'am, my evidence has only led me back to the early 1700s, and that is about a thousand years after Charlemagne lived. But I can tell you for a fact that we all descend from a 17 year old English convict who, in 1719, was sentenced to 7 years of hard labor in the American Colonies."

The silence that followed was profound, and it stretched out so long that I could hear the hammering of large woodpecker in the nearby forest as he hunted for his breakfast. I looked out over my audience. The little old lady looked shocked and others sitting around her were frowning - maybe grimacing.

Okay old boy, I thought, your mouth got you into this, and it needs to get you out. So I began talking about that 17 yea old involuntary immigrant; about how he had been ripped away from his home, his family, and everything else that he had ever known and forcibly shipped to America. I asked them to imagine what it must have been like to land on foreign shores in this new Maryland, knowing not only that he would never seen his loved ones again, but that he was facing seven years of indentured servitude.

I suggested that they consider how over the years this boy had worked his way from virtual slavery into being a successful and mildly prosperous farmer and family man.  Of how his sons and grandsons had moved south into the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida and west into Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Consider, I suggested, the strength of spirit required to rise from such harsh beginnings to found a family that had literally expanded across the breadth of a nation.

Hurt feelings assuaged, most of us piled into cars and went off to visit two family cemeteries in the area. During this time, one of the older men came up to me, clapped me on the shoulder and said quietyly into my ear "Boy, you should have been a preacher!"

Later, we sat around listening to the older folks tell stories about earlier generations they had known, and about the old days when the mills the family owned were still operating. I threw in a couple of stories of my own of the family into which my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pippen, married.

But of the story about the 1830s murder that sent our particular branch of the Pippen clan fleeing to Florida from their North Carolina home, I never whispered a single word. Some stories are for another day.