Friday, September 27, 2013

DNA and good old-fashioned research

I'm fascinated by the intersection between high tech and plain old thinking. DNA genealogy sleuthing takes both. I spend a lot of time searching through my DNA cousins, hundreds of them at the 5th to 8th generation level, but it only works as far as the paper trail and sharing of research allows.

A list of people I am related to only helps me if both they and I have done all we can to fill out the family tree as high and as wide as possible. Each new record (and I learn of new matches every week) is a new opportunity to look for a familiar location or name. I work to get my tree as filled out as I can so I will be caught in the net of someone else searching for their family and looking at my tree.

These clues only get more valuable as I go, and more people join the searching.

I could devote myself to this every waking hour without exhausting the possibilities!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Little Alice is still with us!


You might recall that there were some letters in your grandfather McNamee's papers from a neighbor back in Lisnafin, Ireland, where he grew up. The letters shared the sad news of his brother's recent death, but also of those who were helpful to him in his last days.

One vivid description, mentioned in a few letters, was of a little Alice who was only ten years old but would walk over the "mountain" (fields) to wash old Barney's dishes, make him tea, and take home little treasures like broken cups. These repeated mentions of Alice have charmed cousin Mary and I and she had the idea to try to find Alice's family to see if they had any memories or letters from our family. It was a long shot, but what did we have to lose?

I spent a morning searching and piecing together a family tree from what I knew of Alice's family and contacted someone who had the same surname and happened to have photographed the family graveyard in Ireland. Unbelievably, the lady reported that it was indeed the same family and that she would contact a man she had met in Tyrone who was a relative of the family.

Dad, you are not going to believe this but little Alice is still alive. I've calculated she must be about 94. The fellow turns out to be her grandson. I have sent a message through him to please let little Alice know that her kindness to our great grand uncle is still remembered.

What marvels: a written letter from 1930 tells a story that only the Internet and two cousins raised separately could find. Amazing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Faces from Ardstraw

The home parish for the McNamees, in living color. Hard not to search the faces for familiarity, or to regret losing those ties...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

pulling threads

I haven't posted lately as I've been quite buried in conflicting tasks. My goal is to have a first draft of this manuscript in the next few months so my task lately has been to clear my desk. I have retired from many of my volunteer duties, stopped doing other work, focused on family, and tried to clear away many of the small details left undone in my genealogy searches.

The problem with genealogy is as soon as you follow one trail there is always another to go re-trace.

The DNA tests, in particular, open up endless leads and fun ways to analyze the data. This could easily be not only a full-time job but a life-long one -- not what I had planned.

Yet I have to say, this is the best fun I've had in ages!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Irish cousins in a pub

Once upon a time a young man in Ireland was in love. His fiancé was pretty and strong and ambitious. She was in love, too, but determined to go to America despite the dangers of the long sea voyage and the uncertainties of the late 1800s. Bernard refused to go. Bridget went anyway... with Bernard's brother. The scandal tore the family apart so thoroughly that Bernard's family never spoke of brother Patrick again. Notably, no one on Bernard's side of things named any descendants Patrick nor did the latter's family use the names of the other siblings. For the Irish there are were only so many names to recycle and we can only imagine the pain in those absences.

So let us imagine what Bridget and the men who loved her would make of a reunion today in a Virginia Irish pub. Four cousins who didn't know one another existed shared a meal and many stories. The descendants of the brothers' families found one another on something unimaginable in the 1800s: the Internet.

We toasted our ancestors (over coffee and tea, mind you, not pints of Guinness) and for some reason we especially admired Bridget -- the woman who caused our families not to know one another. All is not only forgiven but celebrated. All four of us admired her moxie. The brothers came out well, though that Irish boy never did marry.

I loved meeting my cousins and adore the story that both divided and now brought us together. Now we're swapping photos and documents in a delightful pursuit of more family stories. It can't be genetic, because most of our families look askance at genealogy, but it is not only family connection that binds us: we all share a passion for genealogy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

That loopy place

Reason 412 for genealogy quests: geography lessons.

I have to confess that I knew exactly zero about St. Louis until recently, except how to pronounce it properly -- which I can also do in French when necessary, which in this case is not. But researching our family tree has the power to make places "matter" to me. Finding relations from St. Louis has taken a place with no interest to one of keen curiosity.

And suddenly that loopy sky sculpture isn't just a picture, but a place.

Friday, May 17, 2013

NGS conference in Las Vegas: rolling with genealogists


I met more of our species last week! Not relatives, but fellow fanatics. 1,700 genealogy fans all in one building for the National Genealogical Society conference. I learned many things that can't be gleaned at a distance.

  • Genealogists like coffee. There was always a line. It was not a relaxed line.
  • Genealogists like to carry their families around with them in the form of black rolling laptop bags with room for folders.
  • There's something amusing about the level of tech savvy around the oldest and least technical issues of life: birth, death, memory, relationships.
  • Family historians, or at least those who go to conferences, can be averaged as female and around 60 years old from a small town and of European descent but not for several generations.
  • Although the conference hotel had a casino I saw itineraries for sight-seeing in fellow conference-goers hands, not slot machine levers.
  • Famous genealogists are like any movie star or rock idol: surrounded by groupies.

My favorite quote of the week: "We're all frustrated detectives."

My insight of the week: I liked Las Vegas as much as I thought I would, which was not at all. Silly, silly place. Mountains pretty from a distance but then, so is the moon and seemingly as fertile.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More details of Adsen

Daddy, cousin Torbjørn has given us more information on the island:

Asen has many white sand beaches.
It is also very much flowers on asen.
Approximately 220 different species.
The people who lived there built small houses for ducks.
Duna in the nest, were important income.
It was sold to duvets and pillows.
Pets like cat, was been shut inside the May and June months.
So do not hurt the birds.
It bred thousands of birds on the asen.
The same birds come back every year.
Lovisa known birds .. she could take the birds at them lay on their
eggs and rocking ..

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More pictures and stories

Where each of the family members lived on the island

Some of the buildings on the farm - no longer there

This is Henry's youngest sister, Lovise Marie. She corresponded with her US siblings. She apparently was loved by children. Jacob Lyster used to send her prunes and chocolate from the US which she shared with the local kids. She raised ducks for their down and could take eggs from a laying hen without disturbing them. There is a rock on the island, by the beach, called Lovise's rock.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Henry's sister, and possibly his father!


What amazing information and pictures from Norway yesterday!

A wonderful young man, Torbjørn, who now owns the property, has described life on Adsen for us:

"The people who lived there lived well. There was a lot of food. There were about 150 people lived there in years 1830-1890.
It was a very good fishing for salmon out there. Great crab and lobster. Was enormous amount of birds out there, a lot of eggs. Rich fishing for cod, redfish and haddock. Farm with sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and horses. There were six houses. Was a lot of fishermen who stayed and slept in barns.
I also caught a lot of salmon there. My grandfather and father caught plenty of salmon. My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper on the asen."

a map of the island, including notes on where your great grandmother lived (and great grandfather was 'lost at sea')

Our friend is not sure which of the men this is: either  1.Jens lyster sivertsen.
2.Jens Peter Andersen.
3.Klaus peter.
In other words, it could be Maren's father, husband, or son

Meet Lovise Marie, Henry's youngest sister and the last of the 10 siblings to live there.
She was, by reports, in touch with the US Lysters.

Friday, April 26, 2013

my first genealogy conference: NGS 2013 here I come!

It's nuts, I know, but when I return from a work conference in Montreal next week I'm taking a day to do my laundry and getting on a plane again the next day for Las Vegas to attend my first genealogy conference: the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference.

First time in Vegas, first genealogy event.

I'm going for two reasons: to get clues to our family's histories, and to learn about the world of family history. I've always been a participant journalist and this is the kind of opportunity to walk amongst passionate, interested people -- my favorite kind!

Doing this research on our families introduced me to a universe of thinking and science and ethical issues I'd not entertained. I'm hooked.

I look forward to meeting folks at NGS. I only know one other person who'll be there. If you're going, and have advice for a newbie, please let me know!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

the Pastor's three sons

Well, dad, you were right when you were looking at the town of Luster as the origin of our name. Dale church in Luster, in Sogn, is where it came from. Now, how did the name get from there to the area of Sør-Trondelag where it continues to persist?

Luster, or Lyster, in Sogn
Turns out there was a German fellow named Christen Henrikson who lived from 1590 to 1645 and moved to Luster sometime around 1620 where he became the local church's minister. He adopted the name Lyster and gave it to his three sons. One son, Erik, was born in Luster but moved up to Sør-Trondelag. One expert, Lars Oyane, tells me that "apart from a family from the Ronnei farm in Luster County who emigrated to Wisconsin in the late 1800's, I believe everyone today using the Lyster surname descends from this Pastor thru one of his three sons!"

So, this dude is the grandson of Christen Henrickson, also a pastor.
Seems to have been a family business.
No one has a particular theory on why the name has been passed down matrilineally a number of times, as it did with us. 

It occurs to me that this happened to my kids, too: through hyphenation. So I'm following family tradition, without knowing it!

Henry's brother, Klaus: a photo!

Daddy, a young man whose grandfather bought the farm from your great-grand-uncle has sent me the most wonderful picture: Henry's brother, Klaus Peter.

He looks like Henry, and James, and YOU.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Thursday Club

Welcome, Adsen friends!

I've just made contact with actual cousin from Adsen, and posting this here so they can see the connections:

It is so exciting to make the acquaintance of the lovely folks who go out to Adsen on Thursdays in the summer to maintain the lighthouse, including at least one 4th cousin!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Interesting fact: Henry is the only one of his parents' ten kids to have descendants living now. Only one other sibling had kids and that line only went two generations.

Henry had five kids, but only one had kids: James.

James had 6 kids, and I haven't quite figured out how many grandkids and now great-grandkids he's got now!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Lyster page on Facebook

Sorry for the break in posts. I was in California giving a speech.
I've been in contact with Roger's son's wife and daughter!

They have a Facebook page for people with our name - and they are so excited to have the photos I sent them.

Email me and I'll send you the link!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The kindness of (Norwegian) strangers...

I've found another kind friend in Norway. He maintains a large ancestry database and was kind enough to do some research for me on what happened to the 10 siblings.

Hey Laura
Now I think that I have list of those who remained in Norway. Them 
 were ten siblings.
Anders: He was the first to go over. He left his wife and two children, unless they knew about it. He died in the U.S., possibly killed? His wife left Adsen, traveled back to his birthplace Rennebu.
Jens Henrik, Stina Sophie, Margaret Christina, Anna Karen, Sara Didrikke, Joakim Martinus all traveled to the U.S. at different times.
Sivert Nikolai died in 1885, unmarried.
Klaus Peter became the owner of their property, but he had the difficult economy, so the property due andwas not taken care of. He was declared incompetent in 1934 and he died in 1935. Unmarried and without children.
Lovise Marie was the last survivor of this large sibship. She lived with her brother Klaus, and when he diedshe was staying on the property by the new owners. She was unmarried and had no children. She had contact with his siblings in the U.S., until she died in 1966
The houses where them stayed matured and is now gone.

No descendants of some of those who remained in Norway, except  maybe the two kids that Anders vasleaving .This I have not figured  out yet   
Hope you understand my bad English                                      

Friday, January 25, 2013

Henry's view

Yesterday's pictures sent from a genealogy friend in Norway of Adsen (or Asen, or Åsen) have opened up a trove of insights. It's an island, not a farm. It is now unoccupied. It is spectacularly beautiful.

I am imagining a family with 10 kids living on this island with a few other scattered families on that huge rock.

The lighthouse on the island is still operating, but unstaffed. There are tours, and you can even rent it out for overnight stays. A local foundation maintains it.

Mark says he thinks I'm pretty much driven to go visit but I don't know.

But to see this in person:

And in what is the second of the truly unbelievable coincidences of this quest, I recognized the lighthouse immediately because in my random trolling of information on the county there's this completely unnarrated 3-minute video that says nothing about Adsen (well, there's a clue in the video title but not one I would have understood) but for some reason I had watched the whole thing and been enchanted by it not having any idea it was OUR Henry's someplace.

Here's the video:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another great-grandmother for you

I've learned another great-grandmother for you (from Jens and Maren's marriage certificate). Your father's father's father's mother, Karen Jensdatter.

Which, of course, gives us HER father's first name...

Go check in your file to see!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

now we know where Margaret went: back home to Norway

this isn't the exact farm record,
but from the book of records for the parish
I found something significant about Henry's family!

The 1901 Norweigan census shows that by that time, Henry's father had died and his younger brother was running the farm. His sisters, Margaret and Lovise were living there. Plus a Karoline, who I believe is the brother's wife.

They are all using the name Jensen, but the farm's name is Adsen. (In 1865 the farm was Nordadsen, or "North Adsen" and there was a Soradsen, too for the southern part, presumably) Now there are 2-3 households at Adsen and all the names are familiar but I'm still putting it all together.

The ages and location fit perfectly, and the siblings we know were in the US at the time are of course, missing.

If we had been searching in the census for the "Jensen" family on the paternal side (except when it is "Adsen" "Andersen" or "Asen") it would have been a different search! But there are so many Jensens we'd need to have known from where - that's why knowing they are from the Adsen farm was a breakthrough. And that we only found because of the search for Maren Sabine's name.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

pictures of the neighborhood

There are some great family pictures, posing outside farms, from the local area of Nes - in the same county as Henry's parents and grandparents.

Wilson Line

An ad for Henry's passage from Norway.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Irish side

Harry Avery's Castle, near Newtownstewart, Ireland
I'm trying to tackle the Irish side now. There's so much more information on that family name, even that name from the right County, but that's actually harder than trying to track down a rare name. I'm sure I'm about to learn a great deal, just as I did with the Norweigans.

One question a relative asked me recently was about how the descendants of those left behind in other countries feel about these genealogy digger-uppers? Is it different for Norway than Ireland?

Having been brought up around genealogy ties to Africa, I think a lot about how different it is to try to make a connection that you feel was taken from you, than one where your relatives left.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ida's parents, brother and sister

Here's something new on your great grandmother Ida Siverts: her parents and brother and sister:

So, Dad, that adds another generation: your great, great, greats, Martin and Louise. Plus a new great great aunt and uncle. I'll see what I can dig up about their descendants.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

baby Henry

Henry's baptismal record from 1851, listing his birth and parents and godparents.

One mystery we may never understand is why "Jens Hendrick's" birthday is one year and one month different than "Henry's!"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

and the boat he came in on

I think this is my favorite thing we found about Henry: the ship we know he was on when he emigrated to the US. Having not only a name of the ship but the dates and then finding a photo: makes it seem more real.

Add caption

Monday, January 7, 2013

Webcams from Henry's history

Wouldn't your grandfather, Henry, have loved to be able to use the Internet to "see" his hometown in real time back in the 1800s?


Sunday, January 6, 2013

tenuous connections

Our new friend, Ole, who compiled the family tree of Norwegians that helped us find Henry and his family, is indeed our relative -- by marriage and numerous twists of genealogy.

He is my:

1st cousin 2x removed of husband of 2nd cousin 2x removed

Which I now understand to mean that someone with whom I share a great grandparent but is two generations away married a guy who shared a grandparent but was two generations removed - making us rather distant relations but at least on our side very grateful ones!

My father's father's father's mother's father's daughter's daughter married the son of the daughter of the mother of the mother of the father of Ole. I think.

And no, without's "relationship to you" function I would not have any chance of figuring that out. Even so, it took four hours of searching and sleuthing relations in common to even get the program to try!

The most charming name, almost as complex as the sequence of relations she is a link for, is this:

Hansine Ludvikka Kristiansdatter Sundet (1883 - 1957)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

This is the church, this is the steeple

These pictures of the churches our ancestors worshipped in are wonderful:

MunicipalityParish (sokn)ChurchLocationYear builtPhoto

Bjugn Church (NorwegianBjugn kirke) is a church in the municipality of Bjugn in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. The church is located along the Bjugnfjorden about 5 kilometres (3 mi) west of Botngård.[1]
The cruciform church was built in 1956 after the previous building burned in a fire in 1952. The church is a copy of the church that was built there in 1637.[2]

Bjugn ChurchBjugn1956Bjugn Kirke.jpg

JøssundJøssund ChurchJøssund1875Jøssund kirke.jpeg
NesNes ChurchNes1878Nes kirke 011.jpg

Unfortunately, none of these were standing when Henry and Andrew and Carrie and Jacob left Norway - but they are where their siblings and, I think, parents are buried.

It is really fun to explore the neighborhoods with Google Maps, where you can drag that little stick figure onto a street and walk around and look.

The best walk is around the Jøssund Church.

Jøssund Kirke
7167 Vallersund
72 51 95 60

Show on Google Maps
Google Maps