National Grandparents Day
It’s National Grandparents Day today, 9 September 2012, in the United States. All over the country, if grandchildren are wise, they’ll be picking up the telephone to call their grandfathers, sending flowers to their grandmothers.
Would that The Legal Genealogist could do either, for any of my four grandparents.
Two — my father’s parents — I never knew. Both were dead before I was born. I knew my mother’s parents well; my maternal grandfather lived until 1970, and my maternal grandmother until 1995. Being able to pick up the phone, to send flowers… it would be a dream come true and it hurts knowing it can’t be done.
And among the many things that hurt this National Grandparents Day is knowing that I don’t have — and may never get — the maternal (mitochondrial, mtDNA1) and paternal (YDNA2) haplogroups for all four.
We’re okay on my maternal grandparents’ sides, thanks to the willingness of various kin to be tested.
My maternal grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell was born 20 April 1898 in Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas, and died 21 September 1970 in Richmond, Virginia.3 His son, my uncle, has been YDNA tested so we know that his haplogroup was R1b1a2. Clay’s mother was Martha “Mattie” H. Johnson Cottrell, and we will soon know her mtDNA haplogroup. A second cousin, a great granddaughter who descends from Mattie through daughter Maud and granddaughter Ravia, has been tested and we’re just waiting for her mtDNA results.
My maternal grandmother Opal E. (Robertson) Cottrell was born 21 August 1898 in Eagle Lake, Colorado County, Texas, and died 15 March 1995 in Charlottesville, Virginia.4 Her nephew, son of her brother Ray, my first cousin once removed, has been YDNA tested so we know that the Roberston YDNA haplogroup is J2. And I’m the stand-in for the mtDNA side: I am the daughter of her daughter, and our mtDNA haplogroup is H3g.
But the German side is a real bottleneck — we’re only batting 25% there.
My paternal grandfather Hugo Ernst Geissler was born 24 March 1891 in Bad Köstritz, Thüringen, Germany,5 and died 13 January 1945 in Chicago, Illinois.6 My brother, his grandson, has been YDNA tested so we know that his haplogroup was E1b1b1a1b. But there is no living direct-line female descendant of Hugo Ernst’s mother, Emma Louisa (Graumüller) Geissler, to test for his mtDNA haplogroup. Of her five daughters, two had no children and three only had sons and no daughters. We can only hope that, one day, we can locate a direct-line female descendant of Emma’s mother, Auguste Wilhelmina (Zimmermann) Graumüller, or another representative of that line.
My paternal grandmother Marie Margarethe (Nuckel) Geissler was born 9 February 1891 in Bremen, Germany,7 and died 12 April 1947 in Chicago, Illinois.8 As far as we know, Marie had no brothers who lived past childhood; her father Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel was an only son; and while he certainly had male cousins who we hope had sons, as yet we don’t have the Nuckel YDNA haplogroup. Marie herself had only one daughter, Marie, who died as an infant in Bremen.9 We know she had sisters, and at least one sister had a daughter, but we haven’t yet located records of that sister or her daughter. We’re hoping the recent changes in German privacy laws will help there.
So there’s a double moral to this story.
First, pick up the phone and call your grandparents today. Send flowers. Love them. They’re gone too soon.
And second, get them — or kin who represent them in the lines of descent — DNA-tested now.
Time is running…
- See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 30 Jul 2010. ↩
- See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 23 Jul 2011. ↩
- Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (1970); Division of Vital Records, Richmond. ↩
- Va. Dept. of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995). ↩
- Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 69 Nr. 21 aus 1891, Baptismal Record of Hugo Ernst Geissler; digital image in possession of JG Russell. ↩
- Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate No. 1145, Hugo Ernst Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Springfield. ↩
- Bremen birth certificate, attached to visa application, Form 255, 4 December 1924, Marie Geissler; photocopy received 2004 via FOIA request by Judy G. Russell from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). ↩
- Ill. Dept. of Public Health, death certificate no. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Apr 1947. ↩
- “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875-1939” (Funerary Records of Bremen from 1875-1939), Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen (http://www.die-maus-bremen.de : accessed 8 Sep 2012). ↩
Do you pay for all these DNA tests out of your own pocket? I frankly, still don’t get DNA genealogy unless you have a particularly tough surname to research or to prove a person of a given surname belongs to a given ancestor with that surname. Even then you only know approximates and never a true answer. What is the purpose in stockpiling the DNA if you’ve already proven your lines to the limits of record existence? I had thought about getting my grandfather’s DNA tested before he passed in 2007, but I thought why bother? I already knew his patrilineal line back 400 years and I knew his umbilical line back six generations into the mists of Scotland. What purpose would it have done other that the curiosity factor in knowing what haplotype he was?
(a) It’s a sure bet nobody else is going to pay for tests I want! (b) Good for you that you have your lines researched back that far! I don’t, and with record losses and burned counties, may not be able to get nearly that far. So I use all of the research tools I have available — and DNA is one more tool. And (c) I’m a curious soul and want to know if perhaps that paper trail you’ve so carefully researched back into those mists might have had, um, shall we say, well… it’s called a non-paternity event. Your mileage may vary.
Sadly I am of an age that all my grandparents are long gone. I was fortunate enough to have my paternal grandparents, Lawrence and Rose Potvin Rucker as a part of my life growing up. Rose lived long enough to see me get married and have my two sons. My maternal grandparents, Lee J and Esther Hartz Myers were divorced and Lee lived in California so we did not see him that often but I knew who he was. Esther did live near us and she too was present at my wedding. Sadly she passed away before our first son was born. She would have been so thrilled to meet her great-grandchild. I will always be grateful to Esther who carefully typed the history of her father’s family and gave me a copy shortly before I got married. What a treasure! I owe a lot of my genealogy success to her.
On the other hand I owe a lot of my genealogy headaches to Lawrence Rucker. The identity of his great-grandfather is the source of much speculation and gossip in the family. DNA is the only way we are going to be able to identify the “culprit”. “Who’s your Daddy?” maybe the catch phrase of the 21st Century but it sure rings true for the descendants of a man who may or may not be Ezekiel/Elzaphan Rucker who supposedly died in 1814 but his wife Francis continued having children for another 20 years but never remarried. The phrase “non-paternity event” was made for Francis.
Esther sounds like a dream, Pat. And Lawrence… well… hey… where would we be without those folks who bring us our speculation and gossip???
Thanks for the inspiration to showcase my grandparents today for Grandparents Day. Like you, I’d give anything to be able to call them but they’ve all be gone for at least 25 years 🙁
It sure does hurt, doesn’t it, Debi? But at least we can honor them as best we can.