Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Genealogy is a hobby that often relies upon the help of other people to further your own pursuit of knowledge. Some individuals serve solely as information sources that can provide important clues to your family, but they have little personal interest in research. Others are necessary connections in solving the deeper mysteries of your heritage.

No Genealogist is an Island

In the past several years, I have connected with others via the Internet in a sharing of information. Some of this collaboration is somewhat one sided and other relationships have been mutually beneficial. In every case, these individuals found me through either or Find-A-Grave. Since that time, I have now branched out to genetic genealogy with participation in several sites and projects.

One such collaboration occurred a year and half ago and was with a second cousin once removed who found my entries on Find-A-Grave. Mike had performed a considerable amount of research on our Schad families, yet was stymied by why our family came to the US and then returned to Germany and then returned to the US.

Knowing the reason, I was able to provide this answer that they had received an inheritance and since the money could not be exchanged, they went back to Germany. The majority of the family returned over 20 years later (my great grandfather came back earlier and one brother stayed in Germany). Had they not returned to Germany for a 20 plus year stay, chances are that Mike and I would not be here today, as the family would have certainly died in the Johnstown Flood since they lived in the flood plain.

Mike shared his research and together we were able to ascertain the correct maiden name for my second and his third great-grandmother. In 1968, my grandmother told me that her grandmother's name was Margaret Eichenauer. While she is associated with that surname, it was the name of Margaret's stepfather and was not her maiden name.

Since Mike lived a short distance from a Latter Day Saints Family History Library, he was able to order and copy the records for their home parish in Landenhausen, Hesse-Darmstadt. It was in his search that he discovered our most common recent ancestor’s maiden name was actually Völler and not Eichenauer (curiously enough, her great-grandmother's maiden name was Eichenauer).

 Margaret Völler Schad; Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, PA

Although Mike had been through these registers in the past, six additional generations of our family unraveled before his eyes and he shared this information with me. I in turn was able to provide him information regarding more recent generations. My research consisted of Civil War records from the National Archives and newspaper and legal documents from Cambria County, Pennsylvania. While I will admit that Mike did some spectacular genealogy research and the lion’s share of the work, our sharing was mutually beneficial.

As Paul Harvey used to say, "Page Two!"

About the same time, I received an email from a fourth cousin from one of my two Myers families. While my research was at a standstill on this line, Steve was able to invigorate life back into a line that I stopped working in 2007 because of the many dead ends and brick walls. While I have not been able to connect my two Myers lines that circumstantially appear to be related, Steve provided me with some necessary information that led us to Franklin County, Pennsylvania where I spent some time researching our family.

While I was not able to go back more than one generation, it was a key to understanding our family lore of having Scotch-Irish ancestry via one of my great-grandmothers – whose family by all appearances of name and religion were German and Swiss. The key was my 3rd great grandmother’s maiden name of Jamison – which led back to an Ulster-Scots family that had immigrated to Pennsylvania prior to the Revolutionary War. Much needs to be done on both the Myers and Jamison lines, but meeting Steve was a key to understanding a heritage that was claimed, but was not able to be proved until now.

Adam Jamison Myers - brother of my 2nd Great Grandmother
Independence-Butler Cemetery, Butler, Richland County, Ohio

In the last several years I’ve additionally had the pleasure of connecting with descendants of my father’s half-sisters and a descendant of my step-father’s half-brother. With my entry into genetic genealogy, I am beginning to understand some of my colonial lines and am getting closer to pinpointing the Scottish and Irish connections of my McAnulty and Jamison forebears. Time will only tell what more I can learn about my heritage through these links to the past.

The Synergistic Effect

These connections have provided a forum for our learning more about our families. The old adage is “Two heads are better than one.” This has proven itself time and time again. These relationships provide synergy – a word that stems from the Greek noun ergos : εργος meaning work and the preposition “with” (sun : συν).

I like Chris Adams’ definition of this term on “Synergy is when the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Synergy is created when things work in concert together to create an outcome that is in some way of more value than the total of what the individual inputs is.” In other words, you can accomplish more working together with less energy expelled than you do by working alone. In genealogy this is very important.

Although I have made great strides in my research over the past several years by working with others, one synergistic relationship stands head and shoulders above the others and it created a family bond that has been mutually beneficial for all of the parties involved. There are mysteries in my primary line of research that I would have never solved on my own. There are places I would have never visited due to restrictions, but have seen through photos and videos. The synergy in this bond goes beyond research as there are some definite genetic personality traits that we both share.

And Now, for the Rest of the Story

Two years ago this weekend, I received a message through my Owston/Ouston surname message board that stated, “Hi, I am looking up the ancestry of my great grandfather George Arthur Owston, married Nellie Ebton in Cobourg, Jan 1912, his birth date, abt. 1851, his father, William, his mother, Orillia or Arlia.”

This was exciting as I had traced George’s family and had only recently become aware of George’s second marital relationship when the Ontario marriage records became available on; however, I never knew of any children that were born to this brief relationship. After a score of emails that day, we concluded that we were fourth cousins and began a research relationship that has lasted two years, and hopefully will last a lifetime.

“Cousin L” had only learned about the Owston connection of her family three years previous when her grandmother passed. Her grandmother wasn’t even aware of her birth name until she went to file for her old age pension some years earlier. The office told her that her birth name was Ouston (as it was recorded on the certificate). “Cousin L’s” mother told her about this incident as she was preparing her grandmother’s eulogy. Three years later, she embarked on a journey that has made a perfect complement to what research I had already conducted since 1978.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Referring to ourselves as Holmes and Watson, we have compared notes and “Cousin L” (AKA Watson) has been able to conduct research in Canada that I was unable to do and would have never had the opportunity to pursue due to distance, cost, and time. Her second cousin and my fourth cousin Tom of whom I’ve known since 1991 has also joined in the mix and also shares information with our cousin from the “Great White North.”

Being There is Half the Battle

The nice thing about having a fairly close relative in an ancestral location is that she has research advantages that neither Tom nor I have, as we both live 60 miles from each other in Southern West Virginia. Since our discovery two years ago, Dr. Watson has visited and taken photos and videos of property that once belonged to our family.

 Houses near where the old William Owston, Sr. homestead was once located
Farm on the property once owned by William Owston, Jr.

She also found the burial location of our 3rd great grandmother and photographed this unusual cemetery that holds 37 graves that is surrounded by a parking lot. The surviving stones were embedded in blacktop and most of the graves are probably under the blacktop of the adjoining parking lot.

 The Remnant of St. Andrew's Kirk Cemetery in Cobourg, Ontario

She also found several other graves including her grandmother’s oldest half-brother. That particular stone had sunken into the ground. She and Peter Bolton (a genealogist and historian I had contact with in the late 1990s) searched the plot by probing the ground with a big screwdriver. Finally, they hit stone and were able to rescue the gravestone from oblivion.

George Frederick Owston grave at Port Hope (Ontario) Union Cemetery
Note the surname - the family would not change spellings for another 20 years. 

To date, her greatest discovery was finding the first cousin of both her and Tom’s grandmothers. The final record I had of the woman named Frances Winnifred Beatrice Owston (AKA Fanny W.B. Owston and F. Winnifred Owston) was from a 1915 land record. The deed recorded her last known locality as Toronto and a 1909 deed indicated that her middle name Winnifred was her primary identification. At that point, the trail was cold and I could go no further. She had completely vanished, vamoosed, and disappeared. Was she abducted by aliens? Even Mulder and Scully couldn’t solve this one.

The Plot Thickens

Leave it to resourceful Watson to unearth the mystery. While it didn’t come overnight, she was able to ascertain that by 1911 Winnie became known as Winnifred Margaret Houston – hence, my inability to find her. Margaret, which was not her given middle name, was her mother’s first name, and perhaps she assumed it after her mother’s death in 1907 – we may never know the answer to this mystery as well as to reason she adopted the surname Houston (pronounced House-ton and not Use-ton). Drop the “H” and Houston and Owston are pronounced alike. The reasons for her new identity probably followed her to the grave in 1962.

The unusual thing about the surname change is that among William Owston, Jr.’s descendants, this was not the only name change. Her first cousin changed his name from Owston to Austin and one of his sons went from Owston to Austin to Ouston. This is very strange indeed as no name changes had occurred in our allied family since the early 1700s when two lines went from Owston to Ouston. Up to that point and even back to the earliest record of our line (1567), the spelling remained constant.

With the knowledge of the new identity and sheer basic grit and determination to get an answer, “Cousin L” found Winnie’s marriage certificate and eventually her date of death. One month ago this weekend, she visited Winnie’s grave site for the first time and closed the loop on this hard to find relative. Incidentally, her grave marker has her name as Margaret Winnifred Spragge. Another change or perhaps a mistake – we may never know.

Grave for Winnie, her husband, and her in-laws at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto

Winnie having married later in life (and even misrepresenting her age as five years younger) had no progeny to carry on the Owston DNA. Despite that, it was great to finally know what happened to the woman that appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth. One down and about seven to go in the mysterious disappearances of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of William Owston and Frances Wilson.

DNA Doesn’t Lie

In addition to working on our lineage, “Cousin L” and I have also participated in DNA testing – and yes we are actually related. If there were any doubts that George Arthur Owston was her great-grandfather – they have been completely dispelled. Below is a representation how "Cousin L" matches me and my brothers.

In addition, we have discovered that we are also distantly related through my mother’s family. How remains a mystery, but one that Holmes and Watson will end up sleuthing over the miles and across at least two nations – my, Baker Street is one long highway. Happy Anniversary, Cuz.


  1. I married a James Mike Spragge :) wonder if we are related???? Sincerely Alice