Saturday, February 27, 2016

Big Surprises In Small Packages

Nellie Serena Pallady

or so the saying goes.  And so it is with the various genealogical DNA tests offered by several different companies.  I should know--I've tried most of them.  With the exception of one, all the tests involved spitting into a small tube, mailing the tube to the company, & then stalking your email waiting for the notification that your results are in. 

There weren't too many surprises in the results that I got back. Probably the biggest one was finding out I was more British & French than Irish & that my mother's haplogroup originated in the Basque region of Spain.

Each company has its own method of linking your results up with other people who share the same genetic history, with varying degrees of success.  I have had some success in finding new relatives & connections on, but the absolute biggest success for me came from the way 23&Me connects users.  Because of this method, I was able to blast through a previously-thought impenetrable brick wall just 3 generations back: my paternal great-great grandparents, James Stillman Pallady & his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Spencer.

The information that my mother & great uncle had put together for this couple amounted to little more than their names & when & where they were born.  And my great uncle even got my great-great grandfather's name wrong! It's a pattern that's seen again & again--youngest child of a parent who dies when said child is still very young leads to not very much information about the parents for the child to pass on to his or her own children.

Sarah Elizabeth Spencer
And so it was with poor Nellie Serena Pallady.  Until recently, we thought she was an only child born of parents who seemingly appeared out of nowhere & vanished without leaving a trace.  Try as I might, I could find no information about James Stillman Pallady, other than where he was born in upstate New York.  I found a reference to his marriage to Sarah Elizabeth Spencer at a church in Malone, New York around the time that Almanzo Wilder was living there (brush with greatness #1).  That same announcement listed some of the guests, including the bride's father, James C. Spencer, but not her mother's name. The 1840 Federal Census indicates the mother was alive, but that census was only a tally of people in each household.  By the 1850 Census, the mother had obviously died, as James C. appears in that census as a widower living with a few of his children, who thankfully, are named.  This was the extent of the information I had discovered about this little family group until I got the results of my 23&Me test.
James Stillman Pallady

Since Pallady was a name that I am on constant alert for, I tried out my first filter with it, and struck pay dirt.  I found a close DNA match & sent out a request to share information.  What I got back blew my mind.  This person's own great-great grandparents were the older brother & sister of my own Pallady/Spencer couple!  Double cousins!  Not only that, she sent along a couple of links to some local history articles that included names, dates, and locations of the Pallady & Spencer families!  

Now armed with this information, I kept plugging away.  I discovered that my g-g grandfather's brother attended the Franklin Academy that a future vice president of the United States (William Wheeler) & Almanzo Wilder's older siblings did.  (In the book "Farmer Boy," Almanzo watches his mother weave the cloth she would use to make Royal's academy uniform.  Although the name of the school is never stated, the author wrote that it was in Malone.)  I also found mention in a census that James Stillman worked with leather, making boots, saddles, & harnesses at a business in Atlanta, Illinois.  "Oh!" said my newly-found cousin. "That explains my family oral tradition that someone in our family made the boots worn by Abraham Lincoln at his inauguration!" (brush with greatness #2) I wondered why Lincoln would go all the way to Atlanta, Illinois to get his boots, but later discovered that the Pallady brothers owned several boot & saddle making businesses, with James actually starting the business in Springfield in the 1850's.  Their reputation was such they were able to expand to other cities, such as Atlanta, in the 1860's.

Not all the information I found about them has been happy, however.  I knew that at some point, James Pallady died and his widow remarried and moved to Kansas.  In looking at various federal censuses, I found mention of two sons, Charley & Bertie.   Having narrowed down when James could have died by looking at federal censuses, I decided to roll the dice and find his gravestone on  Paydirt again: He was listed as "J S Pallady," buried in Atlanta, Illinois in 1879.  Even more surprising was that on the reverse side of his tombstone was a list of the couple's children who had already died.  None of these children had lived more than a year or two.  Interesting note: In the 1900 Federal Census, Sarah E. Spencer is listed as a widow, living with her younger sister.  She told the census taker that she had had seven children, only 2 of whom were still living. (Shortly after this, I discovered that Charley had died in 1897.)  Sarah does not appear in any other federal census, so it is likely that she died before 1910.  I have not yet traced when and where, however.  As for Nellie, she died at home suddenly and only a neighbor was nearby to give the coroner any information.  All she had to give the coroner was the surname of Nellie's father & a possible name of her mother (which was incorrect.) Until this year, all the information my family had on this couple was based on this death certificate. How wonderful it has been that something as simple as a small tube of saliva could turn these ancestors into actual people who lived instead of just names and dates on a genealogical chart!

Of course, as more and more people get their DNA tested, more and more connections are being made.  Who knows what new discoveries await for family historians! Just today, I got hints that might help break down another brick wall in my family tree, this time from, so it does pay to test with more than one service. I have been quite satisfied with the results I have received & feel that what I have been able to uncover has been worth the cost of the tests.  (All photographs in this entry belong to me.)

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