Saturday, August 22, 2020

52 Ancestors 2020 #34 - I'm Always Choosing Family

Choosing Family

The "prompt" for this was about a choosing a family (as in adoption, etc). But I was flummoxed. I could have written about Hank Monahan who was a family friend of the Higgins family a bachelor who pitched in with babysitting for my grandparents, and was always around on Sundays and holidays. But there's not much else to say. My grandfather Victor Higgins had half-brothers he treated as brothers (the Devaneys). Adoptions? I've already written about a couple adoptions (Fletcher Astels) and a DNA surprise.
I was thinking about choice, when it came to me that when you self-select to join a lineage society,  you're choosing to focus on one line of  your family. Yes, we genealogists/family historians tend to "choose" the family we wish to focus on.
With good reason: Some lines provide a wealth of saved material, and others are interesting, in either a good way or a bad way (any pirates in your family?). I have a convicted criminal in mine and my husband's ancestor was brother to no less than 3 alleged witches (all three were sisters) in the Salem Witch trials.

So I was thinking about the families I’ve CHOSEN TO OVERLOOK and why. Which families I have "chosen" to ignore? And why?  I came up with a short list & grouped them into categories. 

I - Great-great grandparents. The ones I know little about:
1 John Joseph Lawrence's parents, the Irish immigrants:
Lawrence Barnwell B 1848 Ireland D 9 Nov 1892 Brooklyn, Kings, NY, USA
and his wife and  JJL Barnwell's mother,
Mary Reynolds wife of Lawrence Barnwell, B 1 JUNE 1860 Ireland D 6 Dec 1943 Brooklyn, Kings, NY, USA
2 Catherine Higgins's parents in Ireland.
I presume her parents were wed, and she was not adopted.
I'm led to believe she was born in County Sligo. I have worked at finding her parents but there are too many good leads. So she’s dormant for now.
3 My husband’s paternal great grandfather - too many assumptions about him.
This was (allegedly) John Johnson from Sweden, but perhaps he was not his ancestor? Was his biological father someone else and John Johnson an adopted father (who died shortly after his death)? DNA hasn't offered us much help.

And then there are thorny issues I’ve “chosen” to ignore for the moment. For example:
II Secrets and DNA surprises
I did a post about my father's uncle who was (till then) "childless." My dad did his DNA in 2013 but only last year (2019) did a child of said childless uncle pop up in Ancestry as my dad's first cousin. Since we made contact, she's verified that she was adopted & she has a child of her own (as mentioned in the first paragraph)
More Secrets:
There a some secrets I'm privy to that I found out by accident. A few years ago I was scanning photos & asking my mother about the names. 
She told me one of my father's uncles had an entire family which I don't have in my tree. 
But I haven’t touched it. Here’s why:
One of my grandmother's other brothers (this is the sibling of the one who gave us the DNA cousin) was married and had a large family, then took a mistress, and had a large family with her. He worked to keep both families afloat financially.
And of course, now his offspring's DNA is surfacing. 
Now of course these are not ancestors but living relatives. But  we share the same ancestors.  
So, what should I do?
And how  do I record them? And do they wish to be recorded? I chose not to think about that, for the moment.

III And Firsthand Knowledge of Family Secrets
There are a lot of family “situations” I haven’t blogged about because I haven’t made up my mind whether or not I should. People make mistakes. And not everything is blog-worthy (is that a word?). 
There is general knowledge in a family which should be passed on, as in a genetic disease, for example. But where do we draw the line? Specifically when it comes to the facts of family traits. 
For example: My mother-in-law's brother died from alcoholism, as did their father. 
She always warned my husband against excessive drinking when he was a boy.
Late in life she sketched out a family tree by hand, and (at the request of a daughter) identified on it every man who was an alcoholic in the family tree. 
Her father was an alcoholic. 
And there on the family tree, Andrew Antilla has, written in bold letters:  “ALCOHOLIC”   
But what about his wife, Marion Lottie Cook? 
My mother-in-law passed away over 10 years ago. A few years ago, based on her stories, it came to me that not was her father an “alcoholic,” but her mother was an alcoholic, too. This would have been decades before it was acknowledged that women could suffer from excessive drinking.
And I wonder did their alcoholism shape their daughter, my mother-in-law? It must have been so very hard for my mother-in-law, as the eldest of 5, to not have a sober parent. So, yah, till now, I'd chosen not to write about that.  
Andrew Antilla Marion Lottie Cook May 1934, New Hampshire

IV The Old World
The Old World remains at an arms length but mostly because of my shortage of time and $. I have only dabbled in it. Mostly because I lack time, and they are (except for one) several generations distant. 

There's only so much time and attention we can give to our family tree. We're always choosing family. 


  1. That makes me realize that I'm ignoring some branches on my tree, mostly because of lack of good leads or too many people with the same name. Someday...

  2. I can definitely relate to what you are saying... choosing what to research, choosing what to share. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Great Post...I am a bit behind with my writing Because of vacation, a garden that is in over drive and some of the "phrases" are just not talking to me. I especially like the angle you took hoping it will give a some food for thought...about "choosing a family"

  4. Indeed! :) I didn't realize how much responsibility I was carrying when I began researching family history.