Serendipity in Scaling Brick Walls
Perhaps you are thinking that it is hard work that brings down brick walls. Or perhaps time at the game, diligence, persistence or any number of worthy attributes. I have to say in my experience two things have helped the most—and they are a bit of a surprise to me—and maybe to you as well. As the title says the first is a heavy dose of serendipity. And the second is asking for help.
Let me give you a few examples.
CASE ONE: Back in the 1970’s I found a church record in Minneapolis for my 2nd Great-grandmother Elizabeth OLSON who was born in Vinje, Norway and immigrated first to Chicago where she married Charles Gustavus VANSTRUM ( Wennerstrom, Warnstrum) and then settled in Minneapolis, MN. Since I was not sure which Vinje I wrote to all the archives having a place name spelled Vinje or anything similar. Came up empty at all of them—and even with the exact birth dates of Elizabeth and her sister Sigrid’s birth date some years later.
Fast forward about 40 years. At 23andMe I got a 100% Norwegian match in 2013 and sent him my information. He did not know how we were related, but he said he had a Norwegian Facebook group, would I like him to post my query there. Sure, I said even though I was not on Facebook—
What happened next was nothing short of unbelievable. The next morning I got an email from him. A wonderful researcher had found Elizabeth, her sister Sigrid, their emigration records and everything matched except names. “Hi, this needs to be proven but we have this birth in VINJE, TELEMARK: Asloug, entry number 12, born March 30, 1827 in Vinje, Telemark.” We have subsequently proved that this is OUR Elizabeth but she was born Asloûg Elifsdotter. Her father was Eliv OLSON, so it seems she took an Americanized version of her name. Sure enough her sister is also recorded on the proper date a few years later. But it gets better—in short order had a complete tree for Asloûg reaching back to the early 1600’s and more help than one could imagine including a book sent to me on the Farm histories of Vinje (aka Bygdeboks) and help translating the old archaic farm histories including stories about my ancestor “Lazy Lodford” who literally bet the farm, lost it all and became a wandering minstrel.
CASE TWO: This one recently happened. The question was asked on Twitter by American Ancestors about a marriage records. I had a photograph of my great grandparents on their wedding day (colorized below). It was taken in Minneapolis and the date was on the back of the photograph. Years ago in the 1970’s I had dutifully written to the Hennepin County Clerk and subsequently the surrounding counties in search of their marriage record. I still have the returned letters saying the marriage record could not be found (notice a pattern here?) Well I posted it on Twitter and later that day I received copies of the banns and license and was able to find a listing in a Norwegian Minneapolis paper. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
CASE THREE: Where did Robert WHEATON live? On a trip back to Rehoboth, MA in search of Robert WHEATON (1606-1696) we took a ride down WHEATON Ave but had no idea which property was his. So we drove along and I spotted a lovely farm ahead and asked my husband to pull over so I could take a photograph of it. As I exited the car, a woman across the road, asked if she could help us. I said I was just taking a picture of the farm—that we were both descendants of Robert WHEATON and she said “well that is the original WHEATON farm!” She told us her husband who was the Rehoboth Fire Chief knew more and that if we came back n about an hour he could help us. When we came back they showed us original paintings of the farm and he gave us a map book to help us get to the original “Ring of Green” now located in Rumford, Rhode Island. We later learned that Roberts home lot was on the “Ring of Green” and his property from the second division (his farm and wood lot) was just where we were on WHEATON Avenue!
CASE FOUR: Since the 1970’s a group of MOSER researchers believed that they were all related but there was no proof. Almost everyone had heard the family legends that these MOSERS were from Alsace area. A random search and I found part of an answer from a MOSER researcher who had paid German genealogists for help. He had pulled down his website as it had been stolen by others and replicated but I was able to contact him and he shared his work with me. Over subsequent years and finally with DNA we were able to prove that all these men who thought they were related in the 1970’s were indeed from the same root in Bavaria Germany and the immigrants to Pennsylvania were 6 brothers and one sister. A random search yielded a gold mine.
CASE FIVE: For forty years I struggled to find out what happened to my 3rd Great grandfather John L. MOSER who disappears after 1840 and nothing can be found of him or his family until the children begin marrying in the early 1850’s in Hancock Co, IL and Lee Co, IA. One of those cute little shaky leaf hints on Ancestry led to the answer. John and his brother Joel MOSER died at Nauvoo, Hancock IL in late May and early June of 1845. John died first of tonsillitis (quinsey) May 29th and his brother Joel followed 9 days later 7 June of pneumonia (lung fever). I was later able to locate the transcription of the Sexton’s records for Nauvoo.
For many years everyone believed that my 3rd great grandfather Andrew J. Stewart was the son of his father, Daniel Bertine STEWART’s and his 2nd wife Ruth Arnold FULFORD. But someone posted a little note on ANCESTRY that suggested that he was the son of the first wife, Olive SCOVILLE. In fact there was a Ohio Supreme court case on Andrew’s maternity and over twenty pages of testimony showing he was indeed the son of the first wife although raised by the second wife and immigrated west to live with his father when he was grown. This meant I needed to lop off this whole part of my tree and rebuild with the proper mother. He was her only child, all the others born to the second wife. Interestingly I had no DNA matches with any line associated with Ruth Arnold FULFORD but when I attached Olive SCOVILLE, matches magically appeared.
My ADVICE: Keep an open mind, retrace old steps, follow your hunches, pay attention to shaky leaves and others notes and most of all ask for help.
Kelly Wheaton Copyright All Rights Reserved 2021