Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Last of His Generation

This past weekend my cousin (first cousin, twice removed), Robert Earl Russell, passed away at the age of 90. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit him just before Christmas. Besides the wonderful legacy he leaves in his children, one of the significances is that he was the last of his generation in the Russell family.

My great-great-grandfather, Walter J. Russell, lived from 1852 to 1895. He was the youngest son of Silas and Hester Russell. His first wife and my great-great-grandmother, Lois Ann [Cook], died in 1883, and his second wife and the grandmother of Robert Earl Russell, Cornelia [Sutphin] died in 1897. Walter had a total of 10 children through his two wives, the first, my great-grandfather Louis Russell, having been born in 1871 and the last in 1894. James Walter Russell, the father of Robert Earl Russell, was the second youngest, having been born in 1893. The last one to pass away from this generation was my great-great-uncle Earl who died in 1977.

Many of these 10 children passed away without any offspring, but between them they had 23 children. These 23 were all first cousins of one another. The oldest cousin was born in 1893, the youngest was born in 1926. My grandfather, Erskine Russell, was one of the oldest, having been born in 1894, Robert Earl Russell was born in 1926.

I am the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son of Walter J. Russell. In contrast, Robert Earl Russell was the youngest son of the youngest son of Walter. So while Robert is generationally in the same generation as my grandfather, he was 32 years younger than my grandfather and 6 years younger than my father.

My grandparents all passed away in the decade between 1969 and 1979. So it’s been nearly four decades since I have had a living grandparent. Until I started doing genealogical research just a few years ago, I thought that the last of my relatives from that generation was my great-aunt Edna who died in 1997 – nearly 20 years ago. So, at least for me, discovering my cousin (twice removed) Robert was like being an archeologist who finds a lost tribe in the Amazon jungle.

Now, at the age of 90, my cousin Robert is no longer with us and he can celebrate with his wife and all his other relatives who have gone on before him. Just on the Russell side, he will have quite a celebration – with two siblings, twenty first cousins, and (as best I have been able to document) another dozen or more second cousins!

He was truly the last of his generation in the extended Russell family. And I am so glad that I can say that I knew him! His daughter, Kim [Russell] Thompson, put it this way in her announcement.

“It is with mixed emotions that I let everyone know that heaven gained an angel today. Our dad, Bob Russell, left this world to join our mom and all his other friends and relatives who went before him. We miss [him] very much already, but know he is up there walking, driving, drinking wine, and having the time of his life. Just remember, life is fickle – eat dessert first!!!” [the last sentence is a quote from Bob.]

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

DNA Testing – Lots of Confirmation and One Surprise Connection

Several weeks ago I decided to take advantage of a discount and get my DNA tested through I paid my $79 (normally $99), received the testing kit, filled the tube with spit and sent the packet back. Last week the results arrived (electronically).

There are two parts to the response. One is an approximate breakdown of your DNA by comparison to a carefully chosen test group and assignment to the various people groups from which those DNA markers come. The second (and because this testing is run by is a list of individuals to whom you might be related. These might be individuals who have family trees and thus they can show you the common people in your trees (or common names in your two trees if both of you do not have a common individual), or they might be individuals who have gotten their DNA tested but whom do not have a current tree in You can then contact these individuals to confirm your relatedness.

DNA Breakdown

There were no major surprises in my ethnicity. Here are the percentages (each being the mean of 40 different tests that they do) together with a commentary.

·         African – 0% - no surprise, my research has not found any connections here
·         Native American – 0% - no surprise here either, but most people hope to find some
·         Asian -- <1% South Asian – no idea the cause for this, but it’s so small that it could have creeped in anywhere
·         Pacific Islander – 0% - wouldn’t have expected any
·         European – 96% - yep, with the following breakdown:
o   Ireland – 22% - one of my great-great-grandmothers was Anna Soan who was an Irish immigrant
o   European Jew – 20% - my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Vera Levy. Although she was always in a state of denial about her Jewish background, this is confirmation of it. And although the Levy family were immigrants from England, this also shows that their heritage was probably in Eastern Europe before, and that it was kept pretty “clean” by only marrying other Jews
o   Great Britain – 19% - although both my mother’s and my father’s family were in Great Britain for nearly 600 years before they came to America in 1640, the fact that they only contribute a combined 19% indicates that they were originally not native to this area, nor did they intermarry frequently with the native population, but they likely married others from their family background
o   Europe West – 14% - my mother’s family immigrated to Great Britain from Normandy France. Although I have not been able to trace them back much farther than the late 10th century (980 AD), this indicates that they were probably in this area for many centuries before.
o   Scandinavia – 14% - my research into my father’s family indicated that although the family name started in Normandy France about the same time as my mother’s family name, that the original Russell (Baron de Rozel) was a close descendant of the Viking “king” who conquered Normandy in the early 900s. There is a lot of probability for error in genealogical research this long ago, so I was very pleased to see this genetic confirmation that my research was correct.
o   Iberian Peninsula – 5% - not sure about this one. It’s not a large percentage, but more than just a trace. But one’s family tree gets so broad when you go back into the 1700’s and beyond that there are a lot of places to have to look for this. Some further investigation needed.
o   Finland - <1% - probably through the Scandinavian connection, but it’s so long ago that finding information beyond the paternal ancestor is pretty impossible.
o   Europe East - <1% - I suspect this trace amount is through the European Jewish line above, but too small to say definitively
·         Caucasus – 2% - my research through the Scandinavian line went back 1800 years to the original king of Sweden. He was not a native, but was from Turkey. This DNA percentage being more than just the small trace like some of the others is further confirmation that my research all the way those many centuries is correct.
·         Middle East – 1% - another trace amount that is difficult to determine, perhaps introduced through the Caucasus/Turkish connection

So, no real surprises, but a very gratifying indication that my research into the origin of both my mother’s and father’s family lines were accurate.

Cousin connections

In their database of DNA results, connected me to 120 individuals at various levels of “cousin-ness”. Among them there were 110 shared ancestors – some individuals being connected to me in multiple ways, and others not having a known connection, or not having a family tree.

Many of the connections are through shared ancestors from 7+ generations ago. I will eventually check out many of these, but here I’d like to just comment on the top 5 (actually 4, since two are a brother-sister combination).

The most obvious was my 3rd cousin, Bob Kraft, the historian of the Pierpont Family Association. I’ve known Bob for many years as our families were in the same town in Connecticut and even now he lives just an hour away in Pennsylvania.

The second is another 3rd cousin on my mother’s side. I’ve not spent a lot of time building a “cousin tree” on that side of the family, so I did not have her in my family tree. Thus is is nice to get to know one of these new cousins.

The brother/sister connections are DNA indicated to be cousins somewhere in the 4th to 6th cousin range. I’ve started a conversation with the sister to determine the exact connection. We have several from more distant common relatives, but are still looking for the one that is as close as the DNA indicates. Maybe it’s just that we have multiple connections at the 7th to 8th cousin level that “fools” the DNA testing into predicting a closer connection.

But it’s the final one of this group that generated a surprise. I’ll devote the below discussion to it.

A Surprise in the Family Tree

One of my highest DNA matches was to someone whose name I did not recognize at all. Since her tree in is private and she has not responded to my messages from the past few days, I started looking through her messages about research in to get any hints. She has some of the same distant Scandinavian heritage that I do, so it appeared initially that it was probably a connection through my father’s side of the family.

I found a few notes that were interesting, including one that said that she had information about Silas Russell who is my great*3 grandfather. So my suspicion about her being a cousin on that side of the family was confirmed. But I have built a very robust tree of all my Russell cousins, including all my 3rd and 4th cousins. How could I have missed her?

Then I found a note where she indicated the names of her parents. So I thought that I would try to build out a family tree for her and see where the Russell family intersected – looking for a connection at the 3rd cousin (i.e. great-great-grandfather level). Since I know all the family information, I really only had to find her great-grandfather/grandmother on the Russell tree and there were just a few possibilities.

I worked her tree back, hit several paths that were clearly not going to connect as they were not in New England. Then a name came up at the great-grandmother level of Charlotte Hoyt. That was her married name. There was a Charlotte Russell who was a sister of my great-grandfather who I showed as born in 1876, but who was noted as having died in 1902 without any change in last name, indicating that she was unmarried. Could my family tree be wrong?

All the other family trees that were built by others had the same set of facts. Charlotte/Lottie could be found in the 1880 census when she was only four years old. And there was a grave for Charlotte Russell in that part of Connecticut indicating a date of birth of 1876 and a death in 1902. So how was it possible that this potential cousin was descended from Charlotte?

Using the name Charlotte/Lottie Hoyt, I did some further checking. I found Charlotte and her husband in the 1900 census with two children (her third child, the grandmother of my potential cousin, was not born until 1902). But this census also unveiled a key fact. Living in the same house at the time was one “George H Russell” with a notation of “brother-in-law”. Since another brother of my great-grandfather was George Hall Russell, and the ages matched, this seemed to be confirmation that Lottie Hoyt was in fact the married name of Charlotte Russell. But did Charlotte die in 1902?

That seemed possible as the death was in December of that year and the third child of the family and the grandmother of my potential cousin was born in June. But then I was also able to locate Charlotte/Lottie and her husband in later census records as well. It appears that the Charlotte Russell who was born in 1876 and who died in 1902 is not the same Charlotte Russell who is in my family tree – or in all the other family trees which record the same “fact”.

I have now traced all the descendants of Charlotte/Lottie Russell Hoyt, add several new relatives to my family tree, and added a new page to my list of Walter Russell descendants! What a great find – and all possible because of DNA analysis!