Recreating family history one piece at a time.

My Granny’s brother has always been a big of a mystery.   He has been tied up in family legend that the facts have neither been able to support or refute. The legend about Jimmy Duncan is that he died in Pearl Harbor.    That is the whole story, no more details to be told.

Granny never supplied any additional information no matter how often or how I worded my questions.   I had found him on the 1930 census and from that managed to determine his birth year and gotten a copy of his birth certificate.    Jimmy was one year younger than my Granny, but in all the pictures I saw of Granny as a young girl there was only her mother and her younger sister.    Never the father or the her brother.    When my Granny passed away I got a photo of my Granny when she was been somewhere between age five and ten. In this picture there was also her brother and father!  It is the only images I have of them.  Photos always make people so much more real.

I have been working with this limited information for years.    Jimmy was never showing in the high school year book with his sister, even though they were one year apart.  He was just gone.    Finally I met up with a man who was the son of my Nanny (Granny’s mother) foster brother.    He remembered once when Nanny visited them in that the adults were talking in hushed tones about her visiting someone in prison.   I was again off and running contacting Oklahoma corrections looking for either of the missing men in my family.    That never got any response.  One of the many frustrations of research.   No response to a SASE, not even to say we don’t do this kind of thing.

I had combed all the Pearl Harbor records looking for Jimmy.   I had contacted Veteran’s Affairs, National Personnel Records and the National Archives looking for for a hit with the information I had.   It always came back as not found. When the 1940 census records were made available 2012, I hit a jackpot.   Jimmy was indeed in the military in 1940 and was stationed as a private in Hawaii.   So as in all legends, there was that element of truth in the story I had been told.   I had some more information on James M Duncan, Jr.  and was off and running again.  Once again it was not found. I spent time researching his military group and looking for details online, and confirmed what I already knew, so much of what I want is not online.   You can not get everything via Google contrary to popular belief.

I always watch and read about additional historic records being index or made available to the public.   It is a slow and expensive process.  Not really a priority item, until some news report about archived records being stolen because they are basically just piled up because we don’t have resources to property index and store them.     I had recently read an article about how some of the records damaged in the 1973 fire were being reevaluated for preservation with newer technology to save and access these records.   So I figured what the heck try again and submitted my request again.   I got home from work to discover I had a letter from the National Personnel Records Center and it was asking for money.    The fee was for $70 so there are at least six pages available on Jimmy.

I have written my check and done my mighty expensive happy dance.  Now I wait.   The lesson from this is time does change what is available.   Don’t be afraid to ask again.    It also reminds me of what an expensive hobby this can be.

DNA – The results

I previously blogged about my mixed feelings about doing a DNA test.   Curiosity and a $100 introductory  price tag got the better of me, and I did it.   I have had a fair amount of time to explore  the test results and how I feel about the whole experience.

First and foremost I am glad I did it.  Now  I have put my DNA in the world-wide genetic pool,  privacy fears and all.     May those folks who are making the bucks selling the information however diluted it may be, always remember that any data in the wrong hands can be a dangerous situation.   My genetic history and markers have likely reduced me to an anonymous number that is some genetic researcher’s dream.   I hope that it will contribute to finding the cause of diseases that prevent kids from becoming healthy adults.  Selfishly I could wish to contribute to the cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer;  they would be a sucky way to go, but  I am lucky I have had a great life.   Longer and so much more healthier than many others.   Bottom line  I made peace with that issue  when I sent it in, and there is nothing to undo it so it is, what it is.   No do-overs.  Onward, enough of the philosophical melodrama.

Did I make any new connections?   No, but I never expected to.   I have been researching my family off and on nearly 30 years.   Not some casual researcher, but someone who is looking for evidence to back up what I put down on paper.   I have recorded many legends repeated by Great Uncle, and written by my Great-Great Aunt and Uncle.   I have written to strangers.  I have conversed with others who have made the trip back to the homelands and investigated even more.  I have poured through archives, papers, and photos  looking for answers and hints that might prove those legends, but not afraid when the preponderance of evidence is something far different from the legend.  I have trace much of my family back through the wars of our country WWI and II, Civil War, War of 1812, Spanish American and even the Revolutionary War.   My tree is pretty complete when it comes to names and numbers.

Did I make any ethnic discoveries?   I would have to say yes.

First there is the family legend that every serious researcher on my Virtue family side has heard and/or repeated, that we are descendent of a Count from France.  Yet none of us have found anything to support this.   Serious researchers in our family  have pretty much all discounted this as purely fiction.   My DNA has told me that there were NO  indication of any French blood in my DNA markers.   Though DNA is still an evolving science, my DNA  and all the research of others who are doing evidence-based family history research give me enough to say this one is fiction.   Unless or until someone can bring me a tree with documentation, this is no longer open to debate for me.   That we have a count from France in  our Virtue history, is pure fiction.

Most of my DNA is based on a heritage from  the British Isles.   51%   in fact.   This is not surprising to me in that my most recent immigrants in my family came from Ireland and England.   But also when I trace families who have been here pre-Revolutionary War many of them were also from England, with a few from Scotland sprinkled in.

The remaining  results were somewhat more of a surprise to me.   Not because they contradict my research results, but I have nothing to support anyone coming from those regions.  DNA is different from regular tracing your family roots, it isn’t so much about what country were they from or born in, but also what nations overtook other nations in years gone by.   It requires that one look at world history much more than I have done in the past.   I am now cursing the terrible world history teacher I had in high school who soured me on the subject.   Here are my other DNA roots:

17% Eastern European   – I have some names that I have not traced back to the old country or the country of origin  really doesn’t seem to match the surname.   This puts forth an interesting option to look this direction.   But this genetic factor may be no more than remnants of when Alexander the Great was in power, or an invasion of the Ottoman Empire.

8% Southern European – This is another great mystery, but eight percent in many ways is pretty dilute in my mind.   I suspect that this could be the results of the during the time of the wide-spread  Eastern European influence and invasions.   I have to say that Italy, Spain and Portugal were not even on my radar.  I am not sure if my descendants came from this area or the genes of my ancestors are just mixed up with a few folks who came from this region

8% Finnish/Volga-Ural – In some ways this all plays in the Eastern European conqueror theory.

16% Scandinavian – Another big blank for me.

What wasn’t there was also surprising.   No Germanic heritage.  I had some ancestors who came from that  region.   The interesting part of this is  though the surnames of the  families don’t really seem Germanic.   Were they really Slavic or Scandinavian.   The surnames make it possible.

The analytical side of my brain also wants to know how creditable is this woman DNA stuff.  I am still a little skeptical, and this really hasn’t made it any more or less so.  I have one brother who is genetically the same as me, what would his DNA tell?   Would his be the same as mine, or because he is a man, would his be different, carrying different markers?   I wish I had won the lotto and money was no option.   It would be fun to see what was revealed if siblings both did the test.

My husband whose family for the most part is only a generation or two off of the boat is now interested in seeing what one of these DNA tests would tell about his family.   Ancestry is running another $100 special and he  just ordered one for himself.

Maybe it is time for me  to stop chasing the family stories on this side of the pond for awhile and  go back just plain root chasing.   I have mastered the fine art of finding history in the US, and looking for my history in  the old world countries would give me a whole new set of challenges.

Was it worth it?   I have spent $100  getting less feedback  when tracing my family history.   Skepticism did not cause me to  tell  my husband I thought he should not spend a $100 to do his, nor if money was no option would I not be thinking of asking my brother to do his.   So I suppose yes it was worth it. I suspect as the data pool becomes better, my results may shift or become a little more specific.    Don’t it expect DNA to be some great wall breaker, instead it is another tool that may provide an insight, inspire you to dig more, keep you plugging along when things had gotten stagnant in your research or just information for kicks and giggles.   It is like everything else in the quest for the past, you never know what you will find, if it will be useful today or in the future.  It is only those regrets that we did not check something or ask questions  when we had the chance that bug us years later.  If you can afford to do, I would say do it.

Resources – Ancestry

I recently asked if Ancestry is worth it?   Hmmmm….. How do I answer it?   It is the place with the most wrong stuff and a place with some of the best stuff.   I have paid subscription fees for 12 years this December so I would have to say it is, but like everything else you need to be smart.

Lets start with what I hate about Ancestry.

  • I hate trees build by subscribers and users with NO sources, nothing to substantiate what they post.   Then the next want-to-be family historian comes in and starts their tree and uses those “wonderful” hints and builds their tree again with undocumented family members.   Before long you have a huge tree and you have traced yourself back to the old country.    Unfortunately just like the whisper game you played in grade school where a a message was sent around a circle of children, your tree is as wrong as that classmate who had to say the message out loud.  I have turned these off as hints.    It isn’t to say that I haven’t taken a look at these trees when I was at a dead-end hoping that some one posted something they knew for a fact because their Grandpa told them.   That little item gives me something  to prompt my search in a new direction.  Sometimes helpful, sometimes nothing to be found.   Family trees without any sources is just gossip, nothing to back it up.
  • I hate the cost.   When I divide it out over the year it really isn’t that bad, when I look at what I have spent in 12 years it is appalling.

What I love about Ancestry.

  • Indexing.   The fact that  I can put in a name, a date and place and get potential hits.   It makes lots of sources that used to take hours to search is what I now call low hanging fruit. Easy pickings  I can prove or disprove lots of things in short order because I can see familial relationships once every ten years.
  • Partners for the same price.   My favorite partner is Newspaper Archives.     This is so wonderful in that I can search and read old newspapers that have been scanned in OCR fashion.   What OCR is, is Optical Character Recognition.   What that means is, it recognizes the letters and make words, so you can search on a name and find newspaper articles about your family you would not have known about.  I no longer only look only around birth and death days for significant family events, but now can also learn about when they sang for the church choir-giving me a church name to search, when they attended wedding showers-finding cousins, played sports-learning talents, made the honor roll-giving me school names and won the Halloween window decorating contest.
  • I can do it at home in my jammies.    I will never be able to visit all the places I want to, to dig and find the family history I am in search of, but Ancestry gives me access to enough information that I can always find something new, at home while the snow howls outside.
  • They are constantly adding new information.   Each year when it comes time to renew I think do I or don’t I.   I still do because of the additions they make each year.   The amount of data that they make available online is amazing and a real help to those of us who are researching our family history.   It is those additions that make my family stories better and better.   It is that data that makes me learn more not only about my family but also about my  nation and the road it has traveled.

There are many other things to like, hate and be indifferent about in an Ancestry subscription, but these are a few of my highlights.


I have struggled with the whole DNA thing and tracing your family roots.  Mostly because I am a privacy freak.   The best historical DNA comes from a man and I can’t imagine asking my brother to take a DNA, even if I paid for it.   Besides the privacy it still largely an expensive undertaking to do right.

I on the other hand am somewhat fascinated by my Virtue side of the family.   Mostly because they are in Ireland for one generation and no one, including Ralph who actually got talk to many of the children of James our immigrant never found a prior generation.   Now with all the wonderful historical records being made available, this is still a dead end.   DNA probably isn’t going to answer some great question because by in large I am descendant of people of Northern European origin.   Much of my family has been in the US  for many generations, some prior to the American revolution on both paternal and maternal side, so those folks have likely commingled diverse genetic backgrounds.

On the other hand there may be some ethnic factors that show up that will not make any sense to my 30 years of research.   Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants to discover that there were some significant indicators to show I have Southern European roots.   Nothing in my research indicates that to be the case.   Then again maybe some of my ancestors only were in their Northern European country for a generation before immigrating to the US.

I am blogging about this because Ancestry just recently developed a test that is suppose to work well for even females, and they did an introductory special for $100.   Best of all they do allow you to opt out of pooling your data for research, statistics, etc.   I am not fooling myself that if there is a way to make a buck with my DNA someone will, but the actual ability to opt out will hopefully not let some insurance company find out my stuff that is none of their business in my lifetime.   Nor am I expecting my history to be as good if I asked my brother to do one of the more expensive tests, but that $100 price tag and the ability for them to acknowledge I am opting out threw me over the line.

I have my kit here and am going to gather my specimen and send it off today.   Six to eight weeks from now I will hopefully have something to share that will make for some interesting reading for those of you have wondered about the DNA and family history.

My Great-Great Grandmother on my father’s side,  Katherine Philomenia Guehtle Morris,  found herself a widow at age 27.   She had three small children and was pregnant at the time.    Her youngest would be born over a month  after the death of her husband.

Katie’s early life is still sketchy and full of lots of holes yet in my research.  Though her own mother passed away when she was just five.  The period after the loss of her husband has left lots of clues about what happened to the family.  This would impact all her children for all their lives, one of these being my Nanny (Great-Grandmother for the rest of you).

Her oldest Eddie would go to live a prosperous Iowa cattle farmer, Cyrus Tow,  at the young age of eight.   There was a convoluted sort of family relationship there, but I doubt the young lad knew much about the family since they lived several counties away.   He was allowed to go to school but at age of 13 was listed as a farm hand so I am not sure it was family relationship as much as cheap labor.  When he was in his late teens he would go to live with his mother.

The next was my Nanny, Viola.   At the age of 3  she would go to live with the Hoskins, a local childless couple.  Bertha and Del were not related and I am not sure how they were chosen.  Of all the children Viola  appeared to have landed in  the most stable home any of the Morris  children would find.  Viola was never formally adopted by the Hoskins.   They took in a second child, a nephew, Ralph,  as well, so it was a complete family with a mom, dad, son and daughter.     Viola was the only one of Katie’s  children to graduate from high school.   Ralph considered Viola a sister, and he and his family would visit her even years later when she lived in California and Ralph was still in Iowa and visa versa.  Ralph’s children talked about Aunt Viola with great affection. Bertha and Del would visit Viola after she moved away from Iowa.  I think that these were really strong ties for Viola.    Until I started research I always thought Great Grandma Bertha Hoskins was a genetic grandmother.   Unfortunately that area of Iowa suffered a devastating flood and many of those historical records were lost, so some details will never be known.

Dora,  who was less than one when her father died was adopted by a family from Iowa who moved to California.   I am not sure what happened but her biological mother would have her again when she was nine.

Pearl, who came after her father’s death, would be kept by her mother the whole time.

Katie, as Katherine was known, moved to Kansas where she married a second time to Mr. Driskill.  It appears that during this marriage she called all her chicks back to her.   All the children, but Viola, suddenly no longer appeared with the families that they had lived with for the past eight years, instead they were in Oklahoma.    Even Dora, who was adopted and living in California ended back with her mother and her second husband in Oklahoma.   Viola never was subject to this upheaval.  I wonder if the Hoskins prevent this.    Husband number two would pass away only eight years later.

One year later Katie would marry a third time to  Mr. Kime.  This appears to be another period of great unrest for the children living with Katie.  Pearl and Dora would marry  two months after their mother did on the same day.  What made these young women marry so promptly after their mother did?  They were only 15 and 16 years old.   Their older siblings were busy with their own lives so it appears that they were not options for these young women.   Ed was away serving in the Army during World War I.   Viola had graduated from high school in Iowa, and was married with her own household during this time.

Katie and George Kime would be married for 25 years until his death in 1944.

Often times we feel that we have invented dysfunctional families in this generation.   We believe that we are the first generation of divorce, grandparents raising children, mothers or fathers who leave their children and estranged family members.    I am not sure about what others who research family history find but I can tell you that all this craziness did not start in this generation.  So hold on to your hats as I share some stories of family history we haven’t talked about in years.

CCC Records Update

I just received a reply and the CCC records have been transferred from their longstanding location to another archives location.   They are no longer free.  At $20 they are still a bargain, since the likelihood of a trip to get them myself are slim to none.   So I will write my check and watch to see what recorded history will tell me about my Great Uncle Sherm.

Pay It Forward

One of my things I do as part of my family research is pay it forward. I have researched for others.  Another of my favorite things is to transcribe digitized images into a searchable index.   It is fun to be the first person in years to review files.

If you are a genealogy buff I would suggest you sign up and become a transcriber of records, or  go to a cemetery that is not longer being maintained and transcribe the tombstones.  We all need to help make records available and preserve records before they are lost.   We have all tapped into things like this that others have done for us and it is up to us to pay it forward for others.

Presevation of History

Old Montana Homestead

Yesterday we went hiking and came across an old homestead.   It made me think about the family homestead of my Timms family and how we debated how old it was.

Many in our family  had all heard and been told stories about the Timms place; many similar others quite different.   As this debate went on we fortunately had someone in our family who is in the architecture business.  His knowledge and insight really helped us when we were asking questions and when historical folks came out to look at the family site.

In the Midwest the preservation of a family homestead, such as the one my Uncle Sherm lived in, even if covered and added on to is unusual.  Many original homesteads and structures no longer exist.   I think that they were lost to progress.  I can remember growing up as  farms got larger and absorbed other farms, older homesteads were torn or burned down to make row for more corn and beans.   It always seemed sad to me and I wanted to walk through them before they were gone,  down to feel and see the history before it was lost.

In Montana there seem to be an abundance of abandon homesteads still preserved.   I think two things contribute to this abundance.   First our dry weather causes very slow rot and decay.  Second we have much less cultivated ground here.   In open range, ranchers don’t have the same need to get rid of a homestead as you do when your livelihood is based on the number of bushels of corn and acre can produce.   Cattle wander in and out of old homesteads until nature and time causes them to collapse.

I love to find old ranch and mine sites and wander through them.   I wonder what made the family choose this spot to stop and build a home, how long they stayed and why they left.   Usually not much is left there but my imagination and questions.

Dr. Edna Davis Timms is one of my proudest finds in researching my family history.  She was a women’s activist and a revolutionary thinker of her time. Edna was born just two years after the close of the Civil War in northern Illinois where so many of our family resided.  The Harvey Mann Timms family would eventually leave Illinois and make their way to the west coast.  The first to arrive was Edna’s twin brother, Eugene in 1893, and Edna came just two years later.  It appears that the rest of the family arrived in Portland by 1897 or 1898.

Edna’s first job in Portland was as an artist for the newspaper, The Oregonian.   I do not know when she entered medical school, but by 1897  city directory  her occupation was medical student. In 1899, at age 32 Edna graduated from the University of Oregon as a medical doctor.

As a physician she specialized in  gynecology.  She travel to Vienna to further her studies in 1901.   Edna  was the first woman listed as an instructor at the University of Oregon medical school in 1910.   She appeared to have been highly respected and presented often presented papers to the state medical society about women’s gynecological health and childbirth.   She was elected to multiple offices, treasurer and vice-president for the Oregon State Medical Association.   She also belonged to the AMA, the Women’s Medical Association and the Portland public health board.

Dr. Timms was the mistress of ceremonies in 1905 for the placement of the cornerstone of the building of the Oregon Nurses Association.   I think she was respected by nurses as she often spoke in their favor, to the outrage of some male doctors.   She once stated at a state medical association that she would rather deliver a baby in a home with a good nurse than in a hospital.  Boy  that got lots of comments from the floor.

Edna most pivotal contribution came after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Many of the refugees from the disaster left California and headed to Portland.  Once in Portland  the refugees found aid in the form of free medical care, clothing, food and more at a new organized The People’s Institute.  After the crisis abated these Edna continued on with the fledging organization as one its first physicians.   The People’s Institute at the turn of the century recognized that women’s health was an important issue.   It started  in one of Portland’s poorest and seedier neighborhoods.  The People’s Institute, with support of  financial benefactors and  physician’s like Edna, would establish  a kindergarten,  well baby clinics, social services, medical clinics, visiting nurse services, parks, nutrition programs  and more.   The People’s Institute  would eventually become the outpatient clinic of the University of Oregon medical school.

Unfortunately Edna’s  fullest potential may have never been known.  At the age of 43, only ten years after she became a doctor she was killed, when the auto she was riding in making an emergency call  was struck by a street car.  She made such a difference I am sure on so many lives, though it was cut short in what was the prime of her life.  If you are a member of the Timms family you should stand proud to be related to Edna Davis Timms,M.D.

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