Steven Butler in London, England (where his convict ancestor came from), 2007.
This section of my website is where I share (whenever I have the time and inclination) any news I may have about my family history research and also my views or thoughts regarding the results of my research. Most visitors, I expect, won't be terribly interested in this section but that's okay. I have added it as much for myself as for anyone else, to give myself a place where I can put down in writing the myriad thoughts that go through my mind while researching or while reflecting on my research.
If you do decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it. If you have a comment or question, send email to email@example.com. Thanks!
(Monday, August 27, 2018)
Note: In order to protect the privacy of the people in the following story, I have not given their names nor, I hope, any information that would make it easy for someone to identify them. Doing so made it a lot more difficult to write in a coherent fashion, but I hope I have managed to do so.
Above is a photo, taken at White Rock Lake in Dallas about 1953, of me (wearing cowboy hat), my step-great-grandmother on my mother's side of the family, and three other kids whose identities, until last summer, were a mystery to me. Little did I know that my efforts to discover their names would lead me to also discover some remarkable and completely unexpected coincidences!
To make a long story short, I finally found out last summer (2017) that the three other children in the photo were the son and two daughters of one my mother's cousins, who I have no recollection of meeting, although I probably did because there are three of his kids in this photo! This means they are my second cousins, since their father is my first cousin 1x removed. However, that was probably the first and only time because I have no recollection of either him or his kids, who I probably never saw again---until recently that is, some sixty-plus years later!
Last summer, I managed to learn the name of the cousin sitting in the stroller in the photo, and invited both him and his uncle (who because his grandfather had two wives, is actually younger than him), to lunch. During the course of our conversation, I was told that the older girl in the photo, the one standing next to me, now lives overseas but that the other girl, the baby in the photo, lives in an adjoining state. After I got her email address from her brother, I wrote to her, to introduce myself, and received a very welcoming reply, inviting me to look her up if I was ever in the state in which she resides.
About two weeks ago, while on a road trip through that state, I phoned her and we set a time and place to meet up toward the end of my vacation. Four days earlier, while traveling through an entirely different city in that state, my youngest son (who accompanied me on the trip) and I had dinner with another relative, one I had never met before--the brother-in-law of a first cousin on my father's side of the family.
Okay, so here's where the remarkable coincidences begin: While conversing with my second cousin (on my mother's side, remember), I casually told her than the man my son and I had dinner with a few nights earlier happened to have the same last name as my second cousin's mother, and I wondered aloud if they might somehow be related since it was an uncommon surname. My second cousin then asked: "What's your brother-in-law's wife's first name?" When I told her, she asked, "Does she have a brother named XXXX?" When I said, "yes," my second cousin asked, "Did they live in [a certain part of Dallas]?" "Yes," I replied. And then, my second cousin said, "I know him!" "What! How it be that you know the man my son and I had dinner with the other night, who is the brother-in-law of a first cousin on my father's side of the family?" "Because," she replied, "My brother and sister and I grew up in the same part of town." "In fact," she added, "the man you had dinner with was my brother's best friend!" But wait! There's more: When I afterward emailed her brother to tell him that I had had dinner a few earlier with one of his childhood friends, he not only confirmed that they were buddies in school but that he (my second cousin on my mother's side of the family) had been best man at his friend's wedding! (Remember, the man in question, the man my son and I had dinner with, is the brother of the wife on one of my first cousins on my dad's side of the family.)
To make things even more remarkable, my second cousin, the woman with whom I was having this conversation, revealed that she had once lived in the same neighborhood in which I now reside, and futhermore, that her children went to the same elementary school as my kids! But not at the same time, because she and her family had moved away from that neighborhood the year before I and my family moved there! Keep in mind that this is a second cousin I had not seen in over sixty years, since we were children and had our photo taken together!
Well, needless to say, I was completely taken aback and astonished by all these remarkable coincidences! What's ironic though, is that after doing some research upon returning home, I have discovered that the answer to my initial inquiry--were my second cousins on my mother's side related to the wife and brother-in-law of my first cousin on my father's side--is almost certainly "no," although I still think there might be a possibliity of it if I (or someone) made the effort to go back a few more generations.
So, as I often say, doing family history is a lot like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, "You never know what you're going to get!"
A Mother's Day Tribute to the Five Most Special Mothers in My Life (Sunday, May 13, 2018)
Well, it's been a while since my last post, almost two years! But here I am on this Mother's Day to pay homage to the five most special women in my life, all of them mothers!
The first on the list (I'm going in the order in which I became acquainted with them) is my actual mother, born Ida Louise Jenkins in 1930 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Sadly, my mother's own mother died when she (my mother) was a little girl of three. Consequently, my mother was raised by her father, William Ollie Jenkins, and also, because my grandfather was not always the most reliable or responsible parent on the block, her grandparents, William Newton and Lestie Jenkins, and then later her Aunt Pearl and Uncle Ernest Hayes, with whom she was residing in Dallas, Texas, when she met and married my father in the late 1940s.
Unfortunately, although my mother and I loved each other, we were not as close as I would have liked. Why? Because I didn't spend a lot of time with her. In effect, I "lost" her three times. The first time, in 1958, when she and my first stepfather moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and I went to live with my dad and new stepmother. The second time, in 1960, when she left my first stepfather and then went to live in Chicago, where she remained for the rest of her life. The third time was in 1995, when she unexpectedly died at the age of 64.
The second mother on my list is my mother's older sister, my Aunt Nez Hickman, born Emma Inez Jenkins in 1927, also in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Aunt Nez was one of a handful of people who saw me and held me shortly after I was born. During my childhood, she and my Uncle Charles Hickman were like a second set of parents to me and I spent a lot of time with them, so much in fact that after my parents were divorced and my mother remarried, they proposed to adopt me. My mother wouldn't agree to it, however. I owe Aunt Nez a lot because she was there for me, loving me and caring about me during a time when I often felt unloved and unwanted, after both my parents remarried. She was in some ways more of a mother to me than my own mother and we remained close until she died in 2009. Aunt Nez was also special to me because unlike my mother, who had no interest in family history, Nez was enthusiastic about helping me learn more about my maternal ancestors. She was a great help to me in that department also.
Third on my list is my grandmother, Alice Tate Butler, who I called "Nannie." Born in a little town in Alabama in 1885, she came to Texas at the age of three with her family, settling in Dallas in 1890. She also loved and cared for me during those unhappy years when I felt like a "leftover kid." I spent a lot of good times with her, staying with her on weekends and sometimes longer, at her home in East Dallas. When I was around twelve, she nursed me through a bout of Scarlet Fever, an infectious illness that she had suffered herself as a child. By the time I came along she was in her sixties so I only remember her as an old lady, but a very sweet and loving one, who always made me feel wanted and special. When she died in 1972 at age 86, I felt like I had lost one of my best friends in the whole world, which I had. I still keep a photo of her and I together, taken when I came home on leave from the Navy, on my chest o'drawers. I also owe my grandmother a debt of gratitude because it was she, albeit without meaning to do so, who inspired to to begin my lifelong hobby of family history research.
The fourth mother on my list is my mother-in-law, Fay Wolfson. What can I say about Fay? She had a heart of gold and I just wish everyone could have a mother-in-law as wonderful and kind and generous and sharing as her. Born in London, England in 1913, Fay had a hard life, especially during the Second World War, when the Germans were bombing the British capital, but through all her hardships, she kept smiling. She always made me feel welcome, from the first day I met her in 1969. Unfortunately, like my own mother, Fay died suddenly and unexpectely, although at the more advanced age of 74.
Last, but hardly least on my list, is my wife, Anita, the loving, caring mother of my sons, and the wonderful "Nana" of my grandsons. There are not enough superlatives to express how much I love and appreciate her. She figuratively, and perhaps also literally, saved my life by coming into it at just the right time. Of all the people in my life, she is undoubtedly the most important. Although the other women I've named above have all, in their own way, made me feel special and loved, no one has ever done a better job of it, and for much, much longer, than my wonderful wife.
A Special 4th of July (Another additional posting 28 June 2016)
One of my goals when I first began to research my family's history was to learn how the Butler family came to be in Texas. In fact, I remember very well, back in November 1971, asking my paternal grandmother, after she told me how her parents brought her and her siblings to Texas from Alabama in 1888, if she knew how my grandfather's (her husband's) family came to be in Texas. She said she didn't know. All she knew was that he (my grandfather Butler) grew up in Denison, a little town located on the Red River a little more than an hour's drive from Dallas. For a long time that's all I had to go on and it wasn't much.
In 1986 (or thereabouts) I discovered that my grandfather's grandfather was the first member of the Butler family to come to Texas and that he arrived in 1846 (shortly after Texas became a state) as a soldier in the War with Mexico. A decade or so later, after doing some research in the Alabama state archives in Montgomery, I discovered that his regiment (the First Alabama Volunteers) had first arrived in Texas not just on any old day that year but on the 4th of July!
This means that for our family, the 4th of July is not just Independence Day but also "Arrival in Texas Day" and this year marks the 170th anniversary of that event. This is something else of which I remind myself whenever I'm feeling down about my seeming inability to break through those genealogical "brick walls" that frustrate me. Forty-five years ago I set out to answer a specific question and although it took me something like twenty-five years to do it, I did do it!
My next quest, after that goal was accomplished, was (and still is) to try to find when the Butler family came to America! We are, I think, either English or Irish in origin. Unfortunately, so far I haven't been able, despite my best efforts, to get any further back than my grandfather's grandfather! I live in hope however and if I ever achieve this so-far-seemingly unattainable goal, I will be sure to post the news here! In the meantime, have a safe and happy Independence Day and if you are related to me, be sure to fire off an extra firecracker (only if it's legal where you live) or drink an extra beer or something to mark the occasion of our family's 170th anniversary in the State of Texas!
37 Family Trees (Additional posting 28 June 2016)
Starting last Thursday and finishing today, I have created several "Family Tree" webpages for this site that illustrate the line of descent from thirty-seven different pairs of ancestors down to and through me to my grandchildren. When I started my research forty-five years ago, I only had knowledge of two (my two sets of grandparents). When I think about about all the genealogical "brick walls" I've yet to overcome and become frustrated, it helps me to remember that if I had not made this effort, it would either have had to wait for another generation to discover all that information or it would have continued to be "lost."
The first of these trees was the toughest to build because I used what is known in HTML lingo as "nested tables." The information boxes, with the names and dates of birth and death for each ancestor, weren't so hard. It was making sure all the connecting lines went in the right direction and made the right connections that proved to be the most difficult part of the job, but I knew that once I finished one successfully, it could serve as a model for all the others, which it did except for the two that illustrate how I have two sets of first cousins as husband and wife in my tree. One of these is one my father's side of the family and the other is on my mother's. Here's a link if you are interested in taking a look!
I'm not adopted. (Posted 28 June 2016)
As announced in a previous post, I recently bought an Ancestry.com DNA kit for my 88-year-old father. Yesterday, the results arrived. The good news is that the man I've spent all my life thinking of as my father actually is my father! In short, I'm not adopted or someone else's kid. Not that I ever thought so after I told my oldest son about the test he said, "Hey, what if you find out he's not your Dad?" One of my cousins said the very same thing. My reply to both of them was that I would be pretty upset about it, of course. When I told my dad what they said, he replied that he would be pretty upset too! Fortunately, there's nothing to be upset about and the DNA test proves it. Not that I needed one for that purpose. I only have to look in the mirror to see quite clearly that I'm my father's son.
My father's results are as follows: Completely European (no surprise there); 57% British (less than me but still high, I have 70%), Irish 18% (higher than me, I'm only 6%), Western European 15% (higher than me, I have only 3%), Scandinavian 4% (much lower than me, I have 9%), Eastern European 2% (lower than me, I have 3%), Finland/NW Russia 2% (I don't have any of this at all!), and Iberian Peninsula 2% (I have 5%), No Jewish or Caucasus or Italian or Greek at all. Since I have trace amounts of all these, I guess this test means that I got them from my mother's side of the family.
Guess Who I'm Related To! (Additional 18 June 2016 posting)
I nearly forgot to mention that almost exactly a year ago, while doing some research on my mother's side of the family, I discovered that I am descended from a Frenchman who is known as Mareen "The Immigrant" Duvall.
Mareen is apparently so well known in history that he even has his own Wikipedia page (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mareen_Duvall. He also has a lot of descendants, some of whom are famous.
What this discovery means, fortunately or unfortunately depending upon one's point-of-view, is that I am distantly related to at least two U.S. Presidents as well as some other famous folks, who are also descendants of Mareen "The Immigrant" Duvall. Here are photos of the Presidents:
Barack Obama (ninth cousin)
Harry S Truman (seventh cousin, twice removed)
Other famous cousins include the actor Robert Duvall (eighth cousin, once removed), Wallis Warfield Simpson (sixth cousin, two times removed), the divorced American woman for whom Britain's King Edward VIII abdicated his throne , and former Vice-President Dick Cheney (ninth cousin).
Friends and family who know me well will have no trouble guessing which of these cousins I am pleased to have as relatives and which I am not too happy about!
In any event, as I have frequently commented, ancestors and relatives are like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, "You never know what you are going to get!"
Thanks to the White House Presidential biographies webpage for presidential photos.
Random Reflections (Posted 18 June 2016)
I can't believe it has been nearly a year since my last post. The older I get, the faster time seems to pass!
Since tomorrow is Fathers Day I'll mention that about a month ago I bought an Ancestry.com DNA kit for my 88-year-old father. We haven't got his results yet (it will probably be another month or so) but I am eager to find out from which side of my family I got which percentages of my genetic ethnic makeup. I can't have my mother tested unfortunately because she died more than twenty years ago but having my father tested ought to be sufficient to figure things out.
I have to say too that I am impressed with the accuracy of these DNA tests. My cousin Kathleen (on my mother's side of the family) was tested earlier this year and after her results were in, Ancestry.com correctly identified her as my first cousin! More recently, they connected me to a fellow I had never met (although as it turns out I knew his father, a first cousin of my mother's), saying they were pretty sure we were either second or third cousins. Well, they were right, he is my second cousin. (I used my Family Tree Maker software to calculate the relationship.)
I am a little puzzled though about one thing: Although Kathleen's father and my mother were siblings, Kathleen had no percentage of Western European ethnicity in her DNA. I find that curious in light of the fact that we are both descended from the same set of French, Dutch, and German ancestors who are quite obviously Western European. I think I read somewhere though that even siblings do not always get the same "dose" of genes so maybe that accounts for it. In either event, I thought it was odd.
I GOT MY DNA TEST RESULTS! (Posted 11 July 2015)
About a month ago I received the results of my Ancestry.com DNA test. In the main the test revealed what I already believed to be the case, namely that my ancestry is almost entirely European (98%) and largely British (70%).There was only one small surprise (1% European Jewish) and also a small disappointment (no Native American DNA at all). The test revealed that my non-European ancestors (2%) came from the Caucasus region of Western Asia.
Here's the complete breakdown of percentages:
- 98% European
- 70% British
- 9% Scandinavian
- 6% Irish
- 13% "Trace Regions":
- 5% Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal)
- 3% Eastern Europe
- 3% Western Europe
- 1% European Jewish
- less than 1% Italy/Greece
- 2% West Asian (Caucasus Region)
Above: A satellite photo of my ancestral home.
The Caucasus, according to Wikipedia is "a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, which contain Europe's highest mountain, Mount Elbrus. Politically, the Caucasus region is separated between northern and southern parts. The southern parts consist of independent sovereign states. The northern parts are currently under the jurisdiction of Russia. The region is known for its linguistic diversity: aside from Indo-European and Turkic languages, the Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian families are localized to the area."
According to the map that Ancestry.com uses for DNA test results, the Caucasus region also includes Turkey and much of what we today think of as the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Iran, and Iraq).
As I say, the results were not terribly surprising and also, by corroborating the documentary evidence I have so far uncovered, they are actually reassuring. I knew already that my mother's ancestors were Welsh and it's a fair bet that my father's are either English or Irish. Along the way, I have discovered ancestors who were Scottish, Northern Irish, Dutch, French, and German—all of which the DNA test results seem to confirm.
A LOOK BACKWARDS AND GETTING ORGANIZED (Posted 11 July 2015)
The receipt of my DNA results prompted me to do something I have been meaning to do for quite some time, namely get things better organized. Whether it is the work I do to make a living or the work I do as a hobby, the part I like the best is the actual "doing," which in the case of my family history work means "research." The part I like least is the "paperwork," that is getting things organized.
As I looked around my house, I realized I had lots and lots of unfiled notes and papers that needed to go into the file folders I created long ago in an effort to keep things better organized. So, after buying new file folders and labels (to replace the folders and labels that had become rather battered-looking over time), I spent about a week, on and off, just filing. Apart from a small stack of notes, I am now finished (at least for a while) and feel a lot better about things.
One thing that came to my mind as I was filing was that that three of the five drawers in the large filing cabinet I possess are devoted to Family History folders. I also have some other Family History related items in cardboard boxes, as well as in binders, some of which are quite large. In other words, during the nearly forty-four years I have been trying to track down my ancestors, I have accumulated an enormous amount of data.
There and then, I realized I also need to do something else I have been meaning to do for a long time: Digitize as much of this material as possible, so that it won't take up as much physical space in my home and also so that I can share it with other family members who may be interested. That's my next big project!
Getting better organized also led me to contemplate the fact that although I often getting frustrated by my seeming inability to break through some of those genealogical "brick walls" that nearly every researcher inevitably encounters, in nearly forty-four years of intermittent research I have actually made tremendous progress.
In November 1971, when I first set out on this journey of discovery, I knew practically nothing about my family's history. I did know who my grandparents were and I personally knew two of them—my mother's father ("Grandpa Jenkins") and my father's mother, or "Nannie" as I called her—the person who was the first one to help me on my quest.
Thanks to my "Nannie," I also knew the names of two of my great-grandparents (her parents) and that they came to Texas from Alabama when my grandmother was very young. I also knew that my grandmother's father had been a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. On my mother's side of the family, I personally knew one step-great-grandparent (my grandfather's stepmother)—but that was it!
As for my father's side of the family, all that "Nannie" could tell me is that her husband—my grandfather Butler—had spent his childhood in Denison, Texas before his family finally came to Dallas.
That was then; but what about now?
Today, I know the names of more than fifty direct ancestors on my father's side and more than twice that many on my mother's side! That's more than 150 altogether! And that number does not include all the aunts and uncles and cousins I have likewise discovered, some from the past and some still living today! (And sometimes helping me or me helping them with our mutual interests and research!)
In some cases I also know much more about my ancestors' lives than just the dates and place of their birth, marriage and death. I have also personally visited the places where some of them lived and died and are buried, and in a few cases where they fought in some of our country's wars.
I have traced some of my ancestors all the way back to Europe and in a few cases, I even know the name of the ship that carried them to the "New World."
These are all things that that might have continued to be lost to history had I not made the effort that I've made over the past four, going on five, decades!
I have to remind myself of these accomplishments from time to time because I often become discouraged by my seeming inability to learn the answers to the things that I still don't know, to get through the so-called genealogical "brick walls" that in some cases have frustrated me for many long years.
Looking back, I am also struck by something especially ironic. Although my father is not as intensely interested in family history as I am, he seems to enjoy hearing about my discoveries (provided I don't go into too much detail) and has never discouraged me from pursuing my research. In fact, from time-to-time, whenever I've asked him, he has been quite helpful. In contrast, my mother's attitude was "let the dead stay buried." In other words, she not only had no interest whatever in her family's history, she also tried to discourage me from looking into it. I can see why. Some of it, particularly the story of her own immediate family, is quite sad. Her mother, who she barely remembered, died young from tuberculosis and her father spent some time in a TB sanitarium while she and her siblings went to live with grandparents who resented taking the responsibility and treated the children accordingly. The irony therefore is that I have had much better success tracing my maternal ancestry than my paternal ancestry! This is something I would never have accomplished had I not chosen to ignore my mother's indifference and even opposition to the effort!
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