Friday, March 30, 2018

Ancestor Ages

About three years ago I made some calculations for my wife and I on what our life expectancy could be expected to be (*1). I used several different methods, looking more for trends than exact details. The bottom line was that we each have an expectation of living into our mid-to-late-80s, with her life expectancy a little longer than mine. In those calculations I went back to our grandparents, but now I’d like to go back a few more generations.

With a relatively small number of ancestors at each generation, it only takes one “outlier,” say an individual who passed away at age 35, to have a significant effect on the average of individuals in that generation. However, I believe that one needs to include them anyway. On the other hand, since we are looking at individuals who lived long enough to marry and have children, we are thus also excluding the impact of those who “died young,” so the below statistics are not comparable to other studies which looked a life expectancy in past generations. In order to increase the number of individuals being considered, I’m going to take my ancestors and my wife’s ancestors together instead of separately as I did in (*1).

Parents – average life span was 85
Grandparents –72
Great-grandparents –67
Great-great-grandparents –69
Great*3-grandparents – 69
Great*4-grandparents – 63

I’d also like to take a look at the range of ages in each generation. The below is the number of individuals in each age-range.

20-29   – 0   0   0   2   0   0
30-39   – 0   0   3   2   3   7
40-49   – 0   0   1   2   1   6
50-59   – 0   1   3   2   6   9
60-69   – 0   2   1   3 10   8
70-79   – 0   3   6   8 10 16
80-89   – 4   2   2   9   8   7
90-99+ – 0   0   0   2   2   7

Total    – 4   8 16 30 40 60

I’ve chosen to stop at this point, not because I don’t have any data, but I’ve already begun finding situations where our family tree has holes in it because I have not yet been able to fully populate all the branches (for example, I only have both birth and death dates for 60 out of 128 possible ancestors in the last column). This is especially true for those lines which have more recent immigrants and where I don’t have easy access to foreign records.

In looking at the distribution of ages, I have a couple of observations. First, there are more “early deaths”, i.e. individuals who died prior to say 60, in the older generations. And secondly, except for my parent’s generation, the distribution curve for every generation tends to peak in about the same place, namely in the 70s. So, I decided to recalculate the average ages if one removed any of the “early deaths”. The averages then, for each of these generations, were 85, 73, 75, 79, 75, and 77.

So, my conclusions, at least in looking at my and my wife’s ancestors are the following:

First, the key difference over the last 200 years is not that people are living longer, but that we have better medicine and other things that have addressed diseases and conditions that caused early deaths in the past. If you lived until the age of 60, then your life expectancy did not change that much.

Second, beginning with my parents’ generation, in addition to addressing causes of early death, we have finally made some progress in increasing the life expectancy of those who live to age 60. I don’t want to extrapolate this too far just based on the above numbers since there are only four individuals represented in the average for that generation, but the Social Security Administration has calculated that individuals who reach the age of 65 have a life expectancy in the mid-80s (*2). The data for my and my wife’s ancestors confirms this result.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sideways Research

Most effort expended by users of or other such tools is discovering “ancestors”, i.e. going back in history to see “where you come from”, “what famous people you are descended from”, etc. And certainly, this is useful – I’ve done a lot of that myself and it’s both interesting and fun. But our degree of connectedness to others should not be just looking back, but also looking sideways. Having others who are connected to you then becomes a shared experience and a richer one.

In this entry, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail but will try to organize all the things that I’ve already written on the subject.

Tools for research

Many of the tools that are used in ancestor research are the same ones that we can use for this “sideways” research, but there are some differences. For one, in the US, census results are not made public until 72 years have elapsed (*1). This means that most living individuals will not be found in these very valuable records. We must find other things to supplement this limitation (see *2 and *3 for some of these). But this is not to say that census records are useless as sometimes we need to go “up” our ancestry tree and then back “down” again to find our connection to these relatives (see *4 for an example).

Finding people you already know of

Sometimes you already know who you are connected to, perhaps you met them at a family gathering several decades ago, but you haven’t been in touch since them. Here’s one example (*5) from my own experience where I was able to reconnect to a 2nd cousin whom I had only met once – over 50 years ago.

Using family trees

One has to be somewhat cautious in relying on family trees built by others. I’ve seen countless examples of trees with children who were born before their parents were living, etc. People are not very consistent in checking on the “facts” that they rely on, being so focused on building a “deep” tree and going back as far as possible. However, in the lower, more recent, levels of a tree, things tend to be pretty accurate as this part of a tree is generally built using personal knowledge of the person’s parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. Thus, they can be a very valuable resource. I’ve already noted in (*5) above how I used a tree to locate my “lost” second cousin. Here are a few other examples of the results that I’ve gotten that relied on a combination of recent census results and family trees built by some of my newly found cousins.

More complicated connections

One of the more complicated pieces of sideways research involved what was seemed a simple question, “what happened to Juanita?” (see *4 and *8).

The answer lay in some further research I began doing into the children of my great-grandfather’s, Louis Russell’s, second wife, Helen (*9). She had several daughters from her two prior marriages who would have been Louis’s step-children. While not technical blood relatives, these ladies would have been my father’s aunts when he was growing up, and my research showed that there were close connections to them, including their attendance at my mother’s bridal shower in 1946 (*10). Through this research, I identified an individual, Lauren, who was living outside of Boston and who was a 2nd cousin (but by marriage, not by blood). I visited Lauren, and she loaned me the journals of her grandmother who was one of these step-aunts of my father (*11). In these journals I found an entry that gave the new address of Juanita in New Jersey and this led me to where Juanita had gone, who she eventually married, and where she lived out the rest of her life (*12). It took many steps, but at last I had the answer.

DNA research

Another useful tool is looking at your DNA and finding others who share some of that DNA. When I got my results (*13), I found a surprise connection that led to me having to correct a “fact” in my family tree that everyone else had gotten wrong too. And I was thus also able to make a connection to a previously unknown distant cousin.

Helping others

One of the greatest joys that I’ve gotten from all this work is in helping others. As I stated at the beginning of this article, “Having others who are connected to you then becomes a shared experience and a richer one.” I was contacted by someone who wanted to give her friend some “roots” that he had not had while growing up (*14). Since he shared a last name with my mother, she wondered if I would be able to help. I was able to determine that he was my 4th cousin (relatively close as things go), and then to put together his family tree as well as bunch of genealogy stories for him. It was my pleasure to do so!

Long Lost Family

I’d like to close this entry with some “sideways” research I did to help someone else. There is a TV show called “Long Lost Family” where they try to help those who have lost their family connections, through adoption/divorce/etc. The same skills that I have developed to connect to my distant cousins can be used here.

I was contacted by one of these cousins that I had connected to asking if I could help her husband, who was adopted (*15). As you can see in that story, I was able to do so. This will not be in a TV show, but it has had a profound impact on those involved. This is the true value of this “sideways” research – making a difference in your life and in others!

Monday, March 26, 2018

DNA Validation for my wife

My wife’s DNA results from show the following percentages:
·       Europe West – 44%
·       Great Britain – 30%
·       Europe East – 17%
·       Ireland/Scotland/Wales – 3%
·       Europe South – 3%
·       Caucasus – 1%
·       Scandinavia – <1%
·       European Jewish – <1%

Let me look at the family tree I’ve constructed for her to see how much of this can be validated.

·       Europe West
o   The VanDeCar family is from the Netherlands and over the time they have been in America (since 1630), primarily married others of similar background, with a few exceptions as noted below.
o   Her great-grandfather, John Duba, was from Canada and both his parents were of French ancestry (Debeau and Dion)
o   Estimate = 50%-12% exceptions+6% from Europe east exceptions = 44% (right on!)
·       Great Britain
o   Her maternal grandfather’s surname was Wright and nearly all of his ancestors were English (via New England)
o   A few of the marriages on her father’s line were to individuals of English descent, such as her great-great-grandmother, Nancy Kitchen
o   Estimate = 25%+6%=31% (within 1%)
·       Europe East
o   Her maternal grandmother’s surname was Cincush, which is the anglicized version of Czenkus. Her family was from an area that is now part of Poland. However, some of the Czenkus ancestors came from a bit further west in Germany which would be counted in Europe West, and others seem to be a bit further south which would be counted as Europe South.
o   Estimate = 25%-6% exceptions to Europe West-2% exceptions to Europe East=17% (right on!)
·       Ireland/Scotland/Wales
o   One of her great-great-grandfathers was Christopher Swaney. His parents were John Swaney and Rosanna McFadden, both from Irish immigrant families
o   Estimate 6% (over by 3%) – since early Irish records not available it appears that some of them may have originally come from other regions
·       Europe South
o   Estimate = 2% exceptions from Europe East = 2% (within 1%)

The other DNA regions are at the 1% or less level, so would be very difficult to confirm. But just on a rough basis, each of the other regions above have been confirmed on a rough basis.

I am pleased that my research into her ancestors has been pretty well confirmed by her DNA results. The only real unknown is from far back in her Irish ancestors where they appear to be from other regions and I have no way of confirming it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Early Poems

My first attempt at poetry was in the third grade.  We were given an assignment – to write a poem on the subject “If I had a Hundred Dollars.”  This was 1956 – Disneyland had opened the year before, and one of my favorite TV shows was the “Mouseketeers” which ran from 1955-1959.  I was enchanted with Annette Funicello.  So my poem went like this:

If I Had a Hundred Dollars             1956

If I had a hundred dollars
            I’d go to Disneyland.
For if I went there
            I’d see my girlfriend.

I’d take her by the hand
            and go out for a date,
For I’d be in California
            and that’s a beautiful state.

As you can see, even at that early age, rhyme and meter were important to me!

My next attempt at poetry, again as the result of a school assignment wasn’t until 1965.  I was in the top track in high school.  That meant not only that we took Algebra I in 8th grade so we could get to Calculus by senior year, but that we doubled up in English in 11th grade so we got to take an elective, World Literature, our senior year.  Part of our reading assignment was Milton’s pair of poems, “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (the happy man and the thoughtful/pensive man).  We were then asked to write a poem in the style of Milton.  I decided to take that pretty literally and wrote the following poem (the title then roughly translating as “the realistic man.”)

Il Realite                                                        1965

Come, lazy, false faced Jest,
            The son of Mirth and all her loathsome kin.
How much you all do sin,
            And fail to face up to the final test!
Find homes within the dead,
            Or give some fool your laughing merriment,
Who has a natural bent
            For doing all the wicked kind of things
That all of you do bring,
            And place within the most unwary heads.
But, hail! that blessed truer life,
Reality and all its strife.
Though seeming quite an ugly one,
‘Tis better far than all that fun.
While Beauty’s quite a lovely dream,
And Laughter’s lots of fun, it seems
That transitory is all they are
And will not get you very far.
Come, truest Life, the only good,
The final goal for those who would
Belong to earth, and sky and sun
And care about not anyone.
The fittest will survive, they say;
I know it’s true, because, some day,
The ones who laughed and fooled around
Will find that they have all been downed,
And stomped and squashed by those who knew
What this cruel world was coming to.
For work, work, work and think, think, think
Are all to keep you from the brink
Of deep despair and death, perhaps,
And joining all those foolish saps,
Who played around and didn’t care
And so, none of them did prepare
To live again another day.
They never watched along the way.
So work you should, and think you must,
Unless you would return to dust,
For doers are the only men
Who will escape that rotten pen,
Where other men are born and die
And never do learn how to fly
O’er that barred gate that leads to life
Who does not want to stick a knife
In each broad back and hairy head,
Until he’s sure that they are dead.
For in the pen Decay rules all
And does make sure that all will fall,
And never rise again to live.
This is the life that Fun does give.

            And now I will this statement make,
            That fun is nothing but cultured hate.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Famous American Ancestors

Both my ancestors and my wife’s ancestors have been in America since the 1630s. Since that pre-dates the founding of the US by over a century, there has been a lot of time for successive generations to meet and marry into other families. This has led to several instances where some of my distant cousins have become famous Americans.

I’ve written about some of them previously, but I thought it would be interesting to see if there were others that I could discover. Here is what I have found so far. I’ve left off the “x times removed” which would be needed to account for the difference in ages.

·       Louisa May Alcott (author) – 3rd cousin
·       Aaron Burr (vice-president) – 2nd cousin
·       Sara Van Alen Collier (wife of publisher Peter Collier) – 7th cousin of my wife
·       Calvin Coolidge (president) – 7th cousin of my wife
·       Jonathan Edwards (Puritan preacher) – great*7 uncle
·       Nathan Hale (patriot) – his first cousin married my great*7 aunt
·       Ernest Hemingway (author) – 9th cousin
·       John Pierpont Morgan (banker) – 3rd cousin
·       Hezekiah Pierrepont (founder of Brooklyn NY) – 2nd cousin
·       James Lord Pierpont (writer of Jingle Bells) – 3rd cousin
·       James Pierpont (founder of Yale University) – great*7 grandfather
·       Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of president) – 6th cousin of my wife
·       Theodore Roosevelt (president) – 5th cousin of my wife
·       Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) – 5th cousin
·       Seth Thomas (clock maker) – 3rd cousin
·       Mark Twain (author) – next door neighbor of Harriet Beecher Stowe above
·       Martin Van Buren (president) – 3rd cousin of my wife
·       Noah Webster (dictionary) – 3rd cousin of my 2nd cousin
·       Eli Whitney (inventor) – husband of my 2nd cousin

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tracing my Jewish Heritage

I’ve known for quite some time that I have a Jewish heritage, as my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Vera Levy (although she always denied that heritage). And as I began building my family tree about 5 years ago, I had put together a partial lineage of her ancestors (*1). But I thought it was time to try and put together all the facts that I had and see what else I could discover.

My Starting Point

I have census records and a few other documents from the US going back into the middle of the 1800s, one of the key ones being a ship’s manifest showing the family coming here in 1851 and becoming naturalized citizens a year later in 1852. I also have some English census records for 1851 and 1841, as well as a few other documents from there – the oldest being records of my great*5 grandfather in 1733.

I went through all these, looking at any other information on these documents. The ones of most interest to me were the addresses where various family members were living during the 1841 and 1851 census in England. These included “10 Goswell St, Clerkenwell, Middlesex” and “St James Duke Place, Middlesex” as well as “Aldgate” and “St Botolph St”.

In addition, I have the occupations of family members at this same time. My great-grandfather was a printer, his father sold stationary, his father was a cigar maker, and his father was a watchmaker. All these were typical occupations of the European Jews of that period.

Finally, I have my DNA analysis which indicates that I am 22% Eastern European Jew.

Further Research in England

I began my search by looking for all the locations indicated in the various English records. All the locations are in east/north London. And more significantly, most of them are in the same neighborhood in East London. St James passageway is a small alley, just block long, off of Duke Place, and Duke Place ends at St Botolph St just a block away. The only other location on Goswell St appears to be where my great*2 grandfather moved sometime in the 1840s.

But how big was the Jewish population in London during this time period? After a bit of searching, I found some rather interesting information.

The first recorded Jewish settlement in England was in 1066. The number of Jews remained fairly small for the next century or so. Beginning in 1233, anti-Jewish sentiment was increasing, leading to their expulsion from many towns (*2). In 1278, Edward I imprisoned all Jews on suspicion of coin-clipping (with 293 being executed in London), and in 1290, all the remaining Jews were expelled from England. Except for a few who began to return in the early 1600s, there were no Jews in the country for the next 360 years.

In 1655, Menasseh ben Israel, a rabbi from Amsterdam, came to England and petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to return. The following year, parliament agreed that the Edict of Expulsion of 1290 only applied to the Jews who had been living in London at the time, thus clearing the way for immigration of Jews once again. The first were Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal.

This same source (*2), then notes a key date that begins to merge with the facts that I already had. In 1692, “the first synagogue of the Ashkenazi community in England is founded in Duke’s Place, in the City of London. This reflects the fact that Sephardi Jews are being joined in England by Ashkenazim, Jews of Central and Eastern European background, mostly from Germany.” For further information, see (*3), (*4) and (*5). Also note in (*5), that this included Polish Jews as well.

With this simple statement, the addresses of my ancestors, the content of my DNA, and the history of Jews in England all come together! This also establishes the approximate date that my Jewish ancestors settled in England and where in Eastern Europe they had likely come from. It also shows that they were among the very early Jewish settlers of the time, as (*4) notes that there were only 400 Jews in England in 1690.

The Jewish population in East London continued to increase over the coming years. By 1880 it had increased to approximately 46,000 and by 1919 to 250,000. But my ancestors had left England in 1851, long before the great immigration which was several decades in the future.

Further Research in the US

The Jewish population in the US was pretty much in line with that of England in the early years. According to (*6), there were only a few hundred here in 1700 and that had only increased to a few thousand by 1830. By 1850 it had increased to 50,000, but by the end of the century it had exploded to about a million. Most of the immigrants to both England and the US were from Eastern Europe where persecution of Jews was increasing (*7), but this was primarily after 1881. Since my ancestors came here in 1851, they were once again part of the leading edge of this wave of immigrants.

The head of the Levy family who came to the US in 1851 was my great*3 grandfather, Lewis. My great*2 grandfather, Alexander was 11 at the time. The family lived in Brooklyn where Alexander married in 1863. My great-grandfather, Maurice, was born in Brooklyn in 1870, but the family moved to New Milford, CT when he was only 2 years old. There he met Caroline Northrop whose family had moved to New Milford from Massachusetts at about the same time. Caroline was not Jewish. Maurice and Caroline married in 1893 and they moved back to Brooklyn. My grandmother and my great-aunt were born there in 1895 and 1899 respectively.

But Maurice appeared to want to move his family away from the tenements of Brooklyn. In May of 1899 when my great-aunt was just 3 months old, Maurice placed an advertisement in the Hartford, CT newspaper that read, “Wanted – Foreman, live printer, 16 years; best country and city experience; seeks steady position; A-1 make-up, stone hand, etc. MAURICE LEVY, 1135 Halsey st., Brooklyn.” But it appears that this advertisement was not taken up by anyone as the family remained in Brooklyn for the next 10 years.

In 1910, the family was still living in Brooklyn, but about 6 miles to the southwest on 72nd St. The census records indicate that two more children had been born since 1900, but neither of them survived childbirth. Then suddenly, in November of that year, Maurice passed away at the age of just 40. His wife and two children moved back to New Milford where all her relatives lived, and apparently left their Jewish connections behind, even burying Maurice in the Center Cemetery in New Milford instead of the Jewish cemetery which was in Fairfield.


It’s satisfying when everything comes together. In this case, all the documents that I was able to locate which had information on my Jewish ancestors, my DNA analysis, and the history of Jewish migrations and dates is all consistent. Since this branch of my family tree accounts for nearly ¼ of my DNA, I’m happy to be able to confirm my ancestral research.


Monday, March 19, 2018

My Wife’s Ancestor Occupations

Having done my own ancestor occupations yesterday, I thought it would be good to do the same for my wife.

Like in mine, in the below table, I’ve used the notation “KH” for most of the wives as their occupation is listed as “Keeping House”. While the job of raising a family, preparing meals, and often gardening or tending animals is not a simple task, it adds little interest to this study. I’ve also used the letters F/M to denote “father” or “mother”. Where an individual had different occupations in different census records, I’ve indicated both of them.

My Wife – Donna VanDeCar – Preschool Teacher/Director
            F – Charles VanDeCar – Factory Worker
                        FF – Archibald VanDeCar – Machinist
                                    FFF – Dennis Birley Vandecar – Farmer
                                                FFFF – Dennis Oliver Vandecar – Farmer
                                                            FFFFF – Anninias Vandecar – Farmer
                                                FFFM – Cordelia Huntley – KH                               
                                                            FFFMF – John Huntley – Farmer
                                    FFM – Alta Larrow – Servant / KH
                                                FFMF – Charles Larrow – Farmer
                                                FFMM – Adelaide Campbell – KH
                                                            FFMMF – Orin Campbell – Farmer

                        FM – Gertrude Duba –  KH
                                    FMF – William Duba – Farmer
                                                FMFF – John Duba – Sawmill Operator
                                                FMFM – Delphina Dion – KH  
                                    FMM – Rachel Swaney – KH
                                                FMMF – Christopher Swaney – Farmer
                                                            FMMFF – John Swaney – Farmer
                                                FMMM – Nancy Kitchen – KH

            M – Mary Ellen Wright – KH
                        MF – Frank Wright – Farmer
                                    MFF – Jonah Dayton Wright – Farmer
                                                MFFF – Benjamin Wright – Farmer
                                                MFFM – Phoebe – KH
                                    MFM – Abigail Barrows – KH
                                                MFMF – Andrew Barrows – Blacksmith
                                                MFMM – Lucy Reed – KH
                        MM – Cassie Cincush – KH
                                    MMF – Adolph Cincus – Farmer
                                                MMF2 – Michael Kowalske – Farmer
                                                MMFM – Wilhelmia Lupke – KH
                                    MMM – Annie Addis – KH
                                                MMMF – Joseph Addis -- Farmer
                                                MMMM – Weronika Ratnow – KH

With only a few exceptions, my wife’s ancestors were all farmers. Coming from that kind of background, the fact that my wife went on to college and even got a master’s degree was definitely breaking tradition.