Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Was the Biggest Surprise You Found about an Ancestor?

For this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver borrowed a provocative question from another blog.

For this week's mission (should you decide to accept it), I challenge you:

(1) The Family History Hound listed 20 Questions about Your Ancestor, and I'm going to use some of them in the next few months.  

(2) Please answer the question - "
What was the biggest surprise you found about an ancestor?" 

(3) Write your own blog post, make a comment on this post, or post  your answer on Facebook or Google+.  Please leave a link to your answer in comments on this post.

I considered whether I should choose learning that my grandfather's biological father was not the man his mother married, but that really wasn't a surprise.  By the time I had my cousin's DNA tested, I pretty much expected my cousin and my father not to match.

What was a surprise, however, was learning that my great-grandmother Nanny Ireland gave birth to a daughter three years after her husband, Elmer, had died.  It was also surprising that my grand-aunt did not try to hide the information.

Several years ago, I acquired a list of the children buried in the same cemetery plot as my great-grandfather.  One of the names was Bertolet Grace Sellers.  She was said to have been born about 1921 and died in 1927.

I had never heard of Bertolet Grace and had no idea who she was.  I had been told that one of my grandfather's sisters had had a daughter who was born about 1922 and died in 1927.  This little girl was very close in years, although that other child was not said to have been named Bertolet.  I wondered if perhaps there had been some confusion about the name in the records.

I called my grand-aunt and told her about my discovery.  I asked if Bertolet Grace could be Catherine's daughter, and someone had gotten the name very wrong.  Aunt Betty responded in a totally unexpected manner:  "Oh, so you've found our little secret, have you?"

She proceeded to tell me that no, Bertolet was not Catherine's daughter.  She was in fact a much younger sister [technically half-sister] born in 1921, three years after Elmer had died.  Aunt Betty did not know who Bertolet's father might have been.  She remembered her little sister very well, though.

Some additional research turned up another surprise:  a memorial printed in the newspaper on the one-year anniversary of Bertolet's death.  The memorial was stated as being from Bertolet's mother (Nanny Ireland) and all of Bertolet's siblings.  It was a very sweet poem saying how much the family missed the small light in their lives.  So not only did my great-grandmother have an illegitimate child out of wedlock three years after her husband died, she placed a memorial in the newspaper a year after the child had died.  Definitely not trying to cover up the information?

The last surprise related to Bertolet, at least so far, came when my sister obtained copies of Bertolet's birth and death certificates.  Nanny Ireland declined to list Bertolet's father on either document.

Overall, I think I'm safe in saying that Nanny Ireland was a surprising woman for her time.


  1. This is a great story. I like Nancy Ireland!!

    1. Thanks! But it's Nanny, not Nancy. Her given name was Laura.

  2. Janice, Great story. Nanny was very surprising for her time.

    1. Thanks, Linda. One might almost think of her as "forward thinking."

  3. One ancestor developed a breed nof pear, that bore fruit early, very handy in cold New England.

    Another was an early pioneer in dental X-rays, but sadly was electrocuted by his equipment.

    A third was the first woman to attend Harvard, essentially auditing every class with her husband. Although Harvard was technically an Episcopal seminary, it was in the process of becoming a liberal arts university. She and her husband were ordained in the Universalist church, and, ate in life, were excommunicated for heresy. I didn't think that was possible in the Universalist church - it's like being kicked out of Burning Man for indecent exposure.

    1. I remember hearing about the pears and the first woman to attend Harvard, but the X-ray pioneer and the excommunication by the Universalist church are new to me. I agree, I wouldn't have thought the Universalists excommunicated anyone either. I love your analogy. :)

  4. I keep finding pieces - this year was a gold mine. I normally do Genealogy during the "rainy season" - essentially November to April. I get a six month Ancestry subscription, and work like crazy.

    The previous five years have been droughts, and I did not do much Genealogy!

    For the past year, I have to be an "indoor cat" and can't take vacation, but retire in 44 days. Then I can go back east and find graves, get documentation, visit the NEHGS, etc.

    Mike O'Dorney

    1. Wow, only 44 days left? Congratulations! You'll have a blast with all the time you can spend on genealogy.


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.