Part II: DNA vs. Documentation
Portrait of Edward Musser Luden,:
McAtee, William. The Members of the Legislature of Pennsylvania and Heads of Departments: Session of 1895. Harrisburg, PA: J.H. McFarland Company, Mount Pleasant Printery. 1895. 11 February 2015 https://archive.org/details/portraitsbiograp00mcat
Portrait of Frederick Musser Yeager:
Yeager, James Martin (1857-). A Brief History of the Yeager, Buffington, Creighton, Jacobs, Lemon, Hoffman, and Woodside Families and Their Collateral Kindred of Pennsylvania. Lewistown, PA. 11 February 2015 https://archive.org/details/briefhistoryofye00yeag
Yesterday, I started the slow, winding description of one of the largest mysteries in my family tree. It’s one of those continuing stories over which I have continued to mull over, setting it down for a month or two only to pick it back up again to ascertain whether or not I missed a detail here, a document there.
A few developments recently (I’m referring to these developments as my giant “elephant in the room”) have given me pause…and lead me to put pen and paper together to allow my jumble of thoughts to spill out onto the paper for posterity’s sake. And sanity’s sake, because I can only mull over so much at a time!
- Man meets woman, man marries woman.
- Husband and wife have two children.
- Wife meets another man, carries on extramarital relationship.
- Another child born…followed almost 2 years later by another (*this is my maternal 3rd g-grandfather). Wife leads husband to believe that the first of these two children (a girl) is his. Girl is baptized with husband’s last name. The second child born (presumably out of wedlock…though this part is the crux of my debate) is not baptized until 7 years later, with the boyfriend (now new-husband’s) last name.
- Husband figures out game, files legal action against boyfriend.
- Divorce follows, but not before yet another child is born.
- Wife loses custody of eldest two children; husband takes said children and moves out of family home.
- Boyfriend moves in; marries woman. By an act of the State Legislature of Pennsylvania, the three children born (apparently fathered by boyfriend/new husband) are made legitimate (“legitimated” in legalese) and full heirs to his estate.
- Three more children born – one of them to include a boy who would eventually pioneer an entire candy empire out of his home kitchen as a teenager.
- Boyfriend/new husband dies less than 5 years later, ironically the same month in which his 6th child is born.
- Wife raises five children (one passed away at a young age); leads a life completely separate from her first two children from previous marriage -even though they live just minutes apart. Ex-husband parents these children on his own and never remarries.
- Wife’s will specifically entitles her two children from the 1st marriage to $1 each; the remainder of her rather large estate and personal belongings are given to her 5 remaining children…the ones she states are specifically “born” of her 2nd husband (now deceased). Two of these five children are executors of her will.
- Got that? Test later.
So much! Makes my brain hurt. Of course, here’s where I add that in order to create the timeline above, I amassed a large collection of US Census records, death records, wills, baptismal records, legal records, naturalization records, and on and on and on. Several emails with local historical libraries, aging historians, etc. Hours spent combing through newspaper articles. All documentation saved in my library of personal papers. If you want to see something in particular, please ask! I’ll gladly scan, email, whatever you need.
BACK to the issue at hand – the lovely, nudging, elephant.
What exactly IS this proverbial elephant? DNA evidence casting a nagging, somewhat annoyingly dark cloud over the nice, neat family tree I completed listing the parents of my 3rd great-grandfather, Edward Musser Luden (1854-1920) as the following:
- Sarah (Musser) (Yeager – 1st marriage) LUDEN (1822-1896); born in Reamstown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to parents William Musser (1790-1847) and Elizabeth Sweitzer (1796-1838).
- Jacob Luden (1824-1864); according to naturalization documents, born in Cleves, Kingdom of Prussia. Parents’ names unknown. Traveled from Antwerp, Belgium to the port of New York and arrived on 11 August 1849.
- *Side note here. I have examined all ship manifests from 11 August 1849, days, and weeks prior. Not a single “Jacob Luden” to be found. It’s possible he had another name…and I will probably never know. A little squirrely if you ask me! I have an 1850 US Census record from City of Reading, Berks County, PA listing his as a boarder in a hotel – under the name of G. Luden, Prussia. In 1860, he tells census takers that he is Prussian. After his death, his family lists his birth location in all census listings as “Holland”. Growing up, I was under the impression from oral tradition that I was part “Dutch”. It turns out that he was not, in fact, Dutch; he may have lived in Holland for a few years prior to arriving in the US, but when he was asked personally about his birthplace he always indicated “Prussia”. A good lesson for all families to CHECK THEIR SOURCES and never believe family history is 100% accurate until you have the documentation to support all claims. My two cents.
About two years ago, my mother and I both completed autosomal DNA testing through AncestryDNA. In a nutshell, autosomal testing presents information gleaned from both sides of your family tree –unlike yDNA (male only, surname lineage research) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the maternal line only). In addition to calculating your ethnicity using their in-house algorithm (all testing companies are a little different in this respect), you also receive weekly updates as other people test and start to match your DNA in some way. These “cousin matches” are presented in a variety of ranges: parent, 1st-2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, 4th-6th cousins, and 5th-8th cousins. First cousins share a grandparent, 2nd cousins a great-grandparent, and so on. If a “match” has connected their DNA data with their family tree, you might also receive a notice that the database has found an actual common ancestor (this is really great – assuming their tree is correct!). If you receive a cousin match notice, and their family tree profile is “public”, you can scan the tree yourself to identify a match or even reach out to that person via messages to shake out the tree. Here’s what I typically see when I log in:
You’ll see “28 Shared Ancestor Hints” – and this refers to people who match my genetic data AND my actual family tree…and the database identifies a shared ancestor.
There is also a way to filter your cousin matches by surname or birth location. Over the months, out of curiosity, I started searching for surnames belonging to the 1st husband’s side of the family in this particular family saga – the family of Amos Bright Yeager (1808-1889). Surnames such as Bright, Baum, Yeager, even Hunter – a translation from the original German “Jaeger”. All names used by Amos’ relatives within a few generations. Would you know…I started getting hits? I started noticing that several of my cousin matches (at least 10 for each surname) shared similar family members with Amos Bright Yeager? Reminder: my 3rd great-grandfather was born when his mother was still married to Amos Yeager. They were still living together. She had already tried to pass of his older sister as her husband’s daughter, a story that was later recanted. While my relative was a toddler, Amos filed for divorce. Makes a person start to wonder.
Looking at my tree, the only way I could have these sorts of matches with the first husband’s family were if he and his wife were somehow cousins. I have worked out Sarah (Musser) (Yeager) Luden’s family tree for several generations, and this seems to be impossibility. There is no other way that these several matches can connect to my tree in any other family line.
I have Yeager matches, my mother has Yeager matches. We have Baum matches (Amos’ grandmother’s maiden name). We have Bright matches (his mother’s maiden name). This is getting interesting.
When I search both of our DNA matches by surname for “Luden” or a variety of spellings of the name, I find a sum total of…ZERO. Nada. Cleves, Prussia? Nothing. It would help if I knew more about Jacob Luden’s extended family – in his meager defense. But that’s being generous, really.
In my actual family tree, I have the parents of my 3rd great-grandfather, Edward M. Luden, listed as Sarah Musser and Jacob Luden. All paper documentation points to this arrangement. Biographies written about him – as well as his candy-coated brother William H. Luden – say as much. BUT – the DNA is starting to chip away at this story, if I’m to believe it. What to believe? Will this elephant ever stop bothering me??
On Monday, I did something drastic. I changed my privacy settings on my online family tree in Ancestry.com to “private” to prevent people from copying my work. I moved Jacob Luden over, and I put Amos Yeager in his place as the father of my 3rd GG.
Y’all. Guess what happened.
When I logged into my DNA matches yesterday, the database had figured out that I have at least TWO new DNA matches with an identifiable common ancestor. FOUR in my mother’s data. The database estimates that we share DNA in common with several people who are direct descendants of Amos B. Yeager’s grandparents and one great-grandparent. Actual matching relatives in our trees. What the what?!?
So. What to do. Looking back to my seriously mysterious 4th great-grandmother and her web of personal relationships, I have to wonder a few things about my 3rd great-grandfather’s paternity.
A) Knew that her child, my 3rd GG, was her husband’s son, but since she was also engaged in a relationship with another man, she didn’t want to upset both and kept the secret to herself.
B) Was confused about her child’s paternity and decided to say he belonged to her boyfriend
C) Didn’t know and truly believed the child to be her boyfriend’s son.
With her husband filing for divorce due to adultery, she was going to lose her oldest two children from the marriage. She had another 3 year old daughter (by Jacob Luden?) and a 1 ½-2 year old son (my relative). Plus, she was pregnant with a third. If she admitted that the middle child – her toddler – was not the biological child of her boyfriend, Jacob Luden, I presume she would have lost parental rights. I hate to play the “if it were me” game…but I personally feel it would have been devastating to do anything to lose custody of my small baby. Maybe this is what happened. I have absolutely no idea.
Here I am in 2015, and the DNA evidence is blowing holes in family stories. Who is Edward M. Luden’s father? For all intents and purposes, it’s Jacob Luden. At least by way of memory and emotion. But, who is his biological father? I don’t know. All I can say is that the DNA evidence is casting enough doubt that I can’t confidently say one way or another. Honestly? I think it is Amos Yeager. But – with that revelation, how do I feel about his entire family line – a line I have always viewed with some distance (a “not my people” attitude). Are they ours? Can we claim them? I just don’t know.
What I DO know is that somewhere in Reading, Pennsylvania – between the years of 1856 and 1896 – there were two pre-teen children living with their father, without their mother. Their mother moved on, lived a separate life…a life fully documented in the Reading Eagle newspaper. Parties, a huge extended family of children and grandchildren. Frederick M. Yeager served heroically in the Civil War; his sister, Susan Yeager married Evan Mischler and they operated his family’s hotel business. Did they see their mother while shopping? Mourn her? Disown her? I would love to know. There is no mention of them in the newspaper articles referring to her large birthday celebrations hosted by Luden children…no mention of them in her obituary. No mention of them in my own family’s oral history…in fact I stumbled upon Frederick, Susan, and their father Amos Yeager while searching for Sarah Musser Luden’s will and her whereabouts in 1850. A completely fortuitous accident.
What’s next. A yDNA test would love this mystery once-and-for all, but sadly, the only male child of my 3rd GG died unmarried and childless in 1946. He would have been the key. Testing his yDNA in comparison with a male descendent of Fred Yeager.
Maybe I’ll reach out via message boards to identify living, direct relatives of Frederick M. Yeager or his sister, Susan Yeager Mischler…to see if either have done DNA testing. Also, to see if any have personal knowledge of the family history.
If you are still reading…thank you :). What a story! I’m not sure if it is bringing me closer to understanding how to balance DNA results and paper documentation – but at least the truth is there, somewhere, for us to tease out. A challenge to all to dig, discover, and don’t make assumptions just because a story has been told for generations – publicly or privately!