Autosomnal DNA Testing

In an attempt to educate the public about autosomal DNA testing, I recently submitted an article to the editor of the Stonebridge Press. The article appears today in the Spencer New Leader, page 9. Click the link below to view a scan:


A Father for Martha

I adore my mother-in-law. No, seriously, I hit the mother-in-law jackpot when I married. Born in 1922, June Merrick is a product of her generation; raised by hard-working parents she scorns any idleness. Rarely still, she sews and knits and crochets, donating most of her output to various charities. When she speaks of her parents, her love for them comes through, and it is obvious that she misses them greatly. So it was difficult when, as a genealogist, I broached the subject that her beloved mother was probably illegitimate.

Many years ago, when first bitten by the genealogy bug, I had looked at her family. It didn’t seem as though there was much for me to do – her father Anthony Hjalmar Hall was born in Sweden, and in that pre-internet age, I had no plans to research Swedish ancestors. Her mother, Martha Haase, was born in Minnesota, of German immigrant parents. And there it all lay for many years.

DNA tests are such a wonderful addition to a genealogist’s toolkit. I tested, my mother tested, my sister tested, my brother tested. With those results, we proved out what had been a weak paper trail to HAMLIN cousins in the Midwest. I made a start at unwinding my tangle of WILLIAMS ancestors, and found some HANEY cousins who were stalled in their family research. Along the way, I started to help others figure out their own results and make similar discoveries. One of the most important things I learned was the importance of testing older relatives, before that DNA is lost forever. Hence, I asked my mother-in-law to submit a sample – not for any particular research problem, but just to have it “on file” so to speak.

In spite of the dry-mouth problem that plagues so many older folks, she produced a decent sample and I sent it off to Ancestry. While waiting for her test to process, I worked expanding her family tree. I entered what little I knew about her HALL ancestors in Sweden, and then started on her mother’s HAASE family in Minnesota. It didn’t take long to run into trouble.

Martha Haase Hall
   Martha Augusta (Haase) Hall

Martha Haase was born 3 March 1893 in West Albany, Wabasha County, Minnesota to Anna Haase, and a father who died shortly after, name unknown. has (unindexed) birth records for Minnesota so I dove in; found the correct book for Wabasha County, paged through to births recorded in West Albany in 1893, and there was Martha, born March third. Oddly, no father was listed. I checked for the birth date of her younger sister, Helen. No father listed. I looked through the index at the beginning of the book for her brother. There was an index entry for William Haase, born in West Albany in 1888 – book B, page 63, line 7. I found the book and page, and line 7 was – blank. Well, not exactly blank. Before the image had been scanned, someone had carefully run a strip of white-out tape across the entry. In the “condition of birth” column, you can read through the tape. Illegitimate. So much for the “father died young” story – Anna Haase bore 5 children between 1887 and 1902 without the benefit of marriage.

My mother-in-law took it well. Turns out, she always suspected the truth. She knew that her grandmother had been a cook in a lumber camp filled with men. Naturally, she assumed that I could research and find the father with ease. After all, didn’t she just do a DNA test? Suddenly this had turned from a lark into a burden. I had work to do.

When her results were available on Ancestry, I carefully scanned her matches. The close ones were known family members. Fanning out, I found connections to the Haase family in Minnesota, and lots of Swedes. Gedmatch provided much of the same – no match close enough to pin down; no family trees with a young man in the right place, at the right genetic distance, and at the right time (an 1890 census would be helpful!) Once again, I had to set it aside.

Months later, I received a curious email. “*TT” informed me that June Hall Merrick was his closest match on Gedmatch, which he had just joined. He could see that I was in the US; he has no relatives in the US. His great-grandfather had come here in 1881, but returned to Sweden in 1884. The great-grandfather had a brother who traveled with him. The brother remained here, married but had just one child who never married. I asked him if he was related to the Hall family of Vetlanda. He did a bit of research and confirmed that he was not. Please, I asked, send me the information on that one brother who came to the US and remained here. After several agonizing days, *TT responded.

Alexander Olsson was born in Sweden 22 April 1859. He arrived in Boston in 1881. His whereabouts for the next few years are not known, but on 15 March 1893 he married a woman named Christina. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, 70 miles up the Mississippi River from West Albany, where Anna Haase had just given birth to her daughter.

Laying out a family tree based on Alexander Olsson, June and *TT are second cousins, once removed. The expected amount of shared centimorgans for that relationship is 106 cM. Their actual number is 113. June’s ethnicity estimates show approximately 75% Scandinavian, with the remainder being Western European, indicating that 3 of her 4 grandparents may have been Swedish, and the other German.

Alexander Olsson, welcome to the family. I never would have found you using standard genealogical research. And thank you, *TT, for randomly deciding to do a DNA test!

The Stones Hold Stories of the Past


(This story was written for the Brookfield (Massachusetts) Citizen, published 2005.)

The historical significance of the Brookfield Cemetery, National Register of Historic Places, does not lie simply in the fact that it is “old”. The gravestones located there are inscribed with information about residents of Brookfield through the years, and also about the formative years of the emerging nation. One such stone stands not far from modern route 9.

Here lies ye Body of Doct Thomas Weld, son of ye Revd Habijah Weld of Attleborough,

The first member of the Weld family to set foot in the New World did so in the port of Boston in 1632, during what historians now call “The Great Migration” of emigrants from Europe, mostly English. His grandson, Habijah, was born in Dunstable, MA, in 1702. Graduating from Harvard in 1732, Habijah became pastor of the church in West Attleboro and served in that capacity until his death in 1782. He married Mary Fox in 1728, and together they reared a family of fifteen children.

Their seventh child was named Thomas, who trained to become a doctor, finishing his training by the age of nineteen. When the call came from the military for young men, Thomas joined up in his professional capacity.

Having been upon ye Expedition against Crownpoint, Anno 1756,

By the middle of the 18th century, England was eager to expand her holdings in the American colonies. The western lands – namely the Ohio valley– were rich in natural resources for those strong enough to take them. Unfortunately, the French had already claimed these lands, and were prepared to fight for them. The French controlled traffic on Lake Champlain, an important transportation link between Canada and the disputed lands, by holding Crown Point, at the narrowest part of the lake. War was officially declared in 1756, and several attempts were made to take the French fortifications in the area.

And upon his Return home died at ye House of DoctorJabez Upham, in Brookfield, December ye 24th, 1756, in ye 21st year of his age.

“Home” in this case refers to the settled lands of New England, Brookfield being an important stopping place for travelers. The sick, cold, and discouraged troops would have found rest and food here on their journey back to the east. Among the sick was Thomas Weld, who apparently was taken to the home of the town’s best doctor, Jabez Upham, where the young doctor/soldier died. Out of respect for his profession or maybe for his military endeavors, Thomas was laid to rest in the Upham family plot, with a simple yet eloquent piece of slate to mark the spot. Thomas’ headstone today, nearly 250 years later, is worn and chipped, but still stands to remind us of the short, noteworthy life of Thomas Weld, Dr.