Our Stories: Genetics leads to genealogy


Some people begin with traditional family history and turn to genetics to find more connections, but MyHeritage member Peggy Shackelford, 64, of Southern California began her geneajourney to understand the genetics in her family.

She has two grown daughters and three dogs. She holds a BS in computer and management sciences and works as a business intelligence developer. Although born just outside Chicago (in Hammond, Indiana), Peggy grew up in northern California. Her work involves analytical research and developing business intelligence software.

Peggy and her family at a recent family gathering. Peggy is center back in the peach color.

About 30 years ago she started the journey to discover her family roots. Armed only with some family stories she began her research. It was very hard going back then, she says. There was very little available online and most of her research involved sifting through microfilms of census records to find people and clues.

Genealogy has become one of my passions and I love to travel to locations where my ancestors lived and explore the history of the area.

Her family’s genetics played a huge part in her passion for family history.

My mother, Edna has five sisters and brothers. All my aunts and uncles have had either breast, ovarian or prostate cancer including my mother. It was a concern as to whether or not this might be hereditary cancer that I started researching my ancestors to see if early deaths from cancer were prevalent. One good thing I have found is that most of my ancestors died quite old, excluding the occasional childbirth death or death by Indian attack, etc.

Along the way, she’s learned much about her father’s family, who were, she says, basically illiterate Kentucky “hillbillies.”

My paternal grandfather, John H. Shackelford and his family could not read or write, so any information from that side of the family was verbal and suspect to inaccuracies. Little did I know the illustrious family history that was behind these rural folk from Kentucky.

Fast forward to today, with all the available indexed records found on MyHeritage and other sources that have aided her research.

I quickly started to find hints that kept leading back further and further into the family. The family lived in Kentucky for a long time, some of the first settlers there, but the family had even a more distinguished past in that they were some of the very first settlers in the Americas.

As she explored the family lineage, she discovered his family had been in this country for hundreds of years, going back to the first Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (later to be New York):

Map of New Amsterdam, circa 1660.

Maria Phillippese du Trieux  traveled to Manhattan with her father, Philippe, on the ship New Netherland, Nieu Netherlandt in 1624 – the first ship of the Dutch West Indies Company. They were Wollons – Protestants of French ancestry who lived in today’s Belgium. An infamous tavern keeper, she had two husbands, and I descend from Jan Peeke, the second. Maria was booted out of the settlement for tapping after hours on the Sabbath and for selling to the Indians.

The New Netherland ship

There’s even a Mayflower connection:

Thomas John Rogers, a Mayflower passenger, is my ninth great-grand-uncle. Although he died the first winter at Plymouth, but his son lived and more family arrived later.

Most of her father’s family had immigrated to the New World in the 1600s.

There were doctors and ministers and the family is distantly related to Teddy and Eleanor Roosevelt and William Rogers Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. It seems that with large families, the younger siblings had to keep moving west to obtain land and possessions and, as the family kept moving west, the poorer and poorer they were.

MyHeritage has allowed Peggy to quickly link up to other family members researching these same roots through SmartMatches and the hints are growing faster than she can keep up.

I receive several Smart Matches each week. While some are not relevant, many are valid connections that have aided in my research and in advancing it.

The family had also long believed that her maternal great-grandfather, Edward MacKay, was born in Scotland, listed on his death certificate as birth location. Peggy was able to trace his birth back to Limerick, Ireland, even though he changed his name several times over the years. He was actually Irish and not a Scot. His name changed from census to census, sometimes Mulchay or Mulcahy, to MacKay and McKay Peggy joined MyHeritage more than 10 years ago. She loves that she can now print a copy of everything in the tree in book form.

It’s a great way to share with the rest of the family.

As to her family’s involvement in her quest, Peggy says she has been sharing her findings with the rest of the family and one of her sisters is also researching with her. Her tree has more than 2,800 individuals currently. While her immediate family is on the West Coast, her ancestors stretch back to the East Coast and most points between. We asked Peggy if she’s discovered unknown or long-lost relatives.

I made a friend on Facebook that lives in Atlanta. I offered to help her do some research on her family to get her started. I was amazed to find that we are actually related. Her great-aunt married a descendent of one of my family lines. She also comes from ancestors that immigrated to this country in the 1600s.

An interesting discovery was an old newspaper article about the death of her great-grandfather, Thomas Allen Shackelford

He was working at a mill when the valve on the boiler stuck. He and four other men were trying to fix the problem when the boiler blew up, killing all five men.  Until I found this article, I didn’t know when or how he had died.

On Peggy’s maternal grandfather’s side, two big mysteries have been solved. The first was the origin of one grandfather Albert Fischer, of German heritage; he left home at a very young age and had little contact with his family. The rumor was that the family was Jewish and this was of great interest to Peggy because Jewish ancestry is a large risk factor in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene related to breast and ovarian cancer, two forms that are all too common in her family.

I took the Autosomal DNA test and discovered that I have less than 2% European Jewish ancestry and further research has led to determining that the family was highly likely Catholic.

Peggy learned that Albert Fischer’s mother was Louisa Kramer. In one census, Louisa’s brother was a priest in Chicago. His father was also Albert Fischer and came from Wurttemberg, Germany.

I have not been able to get any further back into Germany for the Fischers, but the Kramers were from Bavaria, a heavily Catholic area. I recently took the specific test for the BRACA1 and BRACA2 genes and other related genes, but will not receive the results until September.

The second mystery is still revealing itself.

We started with very little information on my great- grandfather Edward McKay, whose  death certificate indicated he was born in Scotland. Through a combined effort of cousins, we were able to locate other records that show that his name changed several times over his lifetime and he was really born in Limerick, Ireland as Edward Mulchay.

The family is still trying to locate his origins and family members, but at least we are now looking in the right country.

The Soundex search helped greatly in locating possible candidates that further research verified as related.

There are many challenges in genealogy research, says Peggy, “but MyHeritage is helping to break down the barriers and giving me wonderful tools to move forward (or backwards, as it were).” Peggy shared these tips for those just beginning their family history journey:

— Check your dates and make sure that the dates are reasonable. I have seen some people connect a woman with a child and the woman would have been in her 60s or older when the child was born. That just doesn’t add up. Or a child attributed to a husband deceased several years prior. –Just don’t take anyone else’s research as fact unless there is documentation to support it and it seems reasonable.

Did you enjoy reading Peggy’s story? Share your comments below. Do you have a story to share? Send it to stories@myheritage.com.

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  • Kathleen Parker-Hopkins

    August 30, 2014

    My late mother also found out that we are descended from Thomas Rogers of the Mayflower.

  • Linda

    September 3, 2014

    I really enjoyed that story.

  • Matti Kujala

    September 7, 2014

    “Check your dates and make sure that the dates are reasonable”
    Easiest way to get wrong dates is getting them from a false SmartMatch. For example from brother or sister or same name with 100 years difference.

  • Janis Lanphear

    September 14, 2014

    Great story. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Steve Simons

    September 14, 2014

    I started searching all my GREAT GRANDPARENT. What a surprise I found, on one side I have it confirmed by a expert in the field 550AD!!! here is brief on it

    “Ancestors of LOUIS DU BOIS, American Immigrant
    Compiled from “Your Family Tree” by Dr. David Starr Jordan, from B. C. 75
    down to about 100 A. D., ending with Eustace I. Standing by itself this
    source is regarded as the very best authority, Jordan being a scientist of
    great distinction.

    Reverend William Twyman Williams, Minister of Hampden-Sydney College,
    Hampden-Sydney, Virginia is author of a sketch entitled: “Du Bois,
    Seigneurs de la Bourse and de Beaufernez.” Dr. Williams, himself a
    descendent of Louis Du Bois, has carefully traced the ancestry of Louis Du
    Bois back to Eustace I.

    “Lineage of Charlemagne,” by J. Milton Williams.

    Anderson’s “Royal Genealogies,” edited by Dr. Jordan.

    The Bible Genealogy taken from “The Davidson Genealogy,” by Elizabeth
    Davidson Harbaugh, Ironton, OH, 1948.

    (Only relevant names in the above listed lineages have been included in the index.)

    (and the Du Bois Family)
    Aeneas, married Creusa
    Ascanius, the Trojan, progenitor of the Julii Juli.
    Julys, who being deprived of succeeding his father in the Kingdom of Latium
    (which Silviud, his father’s half brother obtained) was made High Priest,
    which office continued in his family, as some think, down to JULIUS CAESAR,
    the Dictator, but his descendants are unknown for about 560 years, during
    the Latin and Roman kings, till about the reign of TARQUINIUS SUPERBUS, when
    we read of one,

    Numerius Julius Julus, who asserted his descent from Julus the son of
    Ascanius, the son of Aeneas. His son
    Lucius Julius Julus, not famous in history, father of,
    Caius Julius Julus, was Consul with Pinarius, An. U. C. Varroniano 265,
    father of
    Caius Julius Julus, Consul with Q. Favius, U.C. 303, father of
    Caius Julius Julus, Consul with M. Geganius, U.C. 307, and again with L.
    Virginius, 319, and again with Ditto, U.C. 320, father of
    Lucius Julius Julus, a Military Tribune with consular authority, U.C. 351,
    father of
    Lucius Julius Julus, a Military Tribune with consular authority, U.C. 368,
    though it
    is not clear that he was the son of the last Lucius
    Lucius Julius Libo, who had no honors of state, but his son
    Lucius Julius Libo, was Consul with Marcus Attilius Regulus U.C. 487. His
    son or grandson is supposed to be
    Nurmerius Julius CAESAR, the first of the Caesars, the name of Julus being
    henceforward omitted for that of Caesar, his son
    Lucius Julius CAESAR, whose name is only recorded, father of
    Sextus Julius CAESAR, a Military Tirbune under Lucius Aemilius Paulus,
    Proconsul in Liguria, U.C. 573. His son
    Sextys Julius CAESAR, the Roman Ambassador with Sempronius Bloesus, for
    restoring liverty to the people of Abdera, U.C. 584, and the Consul with L.
    Aurelius Orestes, U.C. 597, father of
    Lucius Julius CAESAR, lived without state honors, father of Caius, Julius
    Caesar, called Strabo, a courteous and witty orator often mentioned by
    Cicero, and another son was
    Lucius Julius CAESAR, who was Consul with Rutilius Lupus, U.C. 664, during
    the Social War. He was the author of the Julian Law. He was a Censo with
    Pub. Licinius Crassus, U.C. 665, and had
    Julia, married Mark Anthony 2nd, son of the eloquent orator Mark anthony
    1st, born B.C. 143, died B. C. 87, son of Gaius Antonius, died B.C. 68.
    Their son was
    Mark ANTHONY 3rd, born B.C. 83, died B.C. 30. Defeated at the battle of
    Actium he

    page 68

    fled into Egypt with Cleopatra where both committed suicide. He had four
    wives; Antonia, Fulvia, Octavis Major and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. His
    daughter by his third wife, Octavia Major, was
    Antonia MINOR, born B.C. 38, died B.C. 9, married Caludius Drusus Nero
    Germanicus (son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, and the brother of the Emperor
    Tiberius) She was an excellent woman and was mother of
    CLAUDIUS, the Emperor. He was great uncle and stepfather to Nero. His
    VENISSA m. Arviragus, eleventh son of Kimneline, King of the Britons.
    Succeeded his brother A.D. 44, died A.D. 74.
    MARIUS succeeded his father A.C. 74, is said to have erected a stone upon
    Stanmere in memory of a victory over the Picts. His wife, name unknown, was
    the daughter of Boadicea, Queen of the Icenians. He died A.D. 125. Son
    COLIUS I, “Old King Cole” became King of Britain A.D. 125, died A.D. 170.
    He was educated in Rome where he attained much knowledge and the affection
    of the Romans. Is said to have built Colchester (Coel-Castra)
    Athildis, married A.D. 129 Morcomir, King of Franconia, who died in 149
    Clodomir IV, King of the Franks, died 166 after a reign of 17 years. He
    married Hasilda, daughter of King of Rugij.
    King Farabut, reigned two years, died 186.
    King Sunno, reigned 28 years, died 213.
    King Hilderic built Hildeburg Castle on an Island in the Rhine. Reigned 40
    years, died 253.
    King Bartherus, reigned 19 years and died in 272.
    King Clodius III, reigned 27 years, died 298.
    King Walter, Reigned 8 years, died 306.
    King Dagobert, a kind and loving Prince, reigned 11 years, died 317.
    Genebald I, Duke of the East Franks, reigned 30 years, died 350.
    King Clodius I, reigned 10 years, died 389.
    King Marcomir, Duke of the East Franks, reigned 15 year, died 404.
    King Pharamond, Duke of the East Franks, elected 419 Duke of the West
    Franks, King of Westphalia, died 430, married Argotta, “the mother of all
    the Kings of France.” She was a daughter of Genebald, the last Duke of the
    West Franks.
    King Clodio, called the “Long Haired,” King of Westphalia, died 455, married
    Basina, daughter of Weldelphus, King of the Thuringians.
    Merovee (Merovaeus,) repelled Attila, King of the Huns and conquered
    Piccardy, Normandy and the coast of France. Died 458, married Verica.
    Childeric I, King of the Franks, born 436, extended his kingdom on the
    Rhine, died 481, married 465 Basina, daughter of Thuringen.

    page 69

    Clovis, born 465, first King of all the Franks, succeeded his father at the
    age of 15. His capital was first atRheims and later at Paris. He died 511,
    married Clothilde of Burgundy, born 475, died 545 at Tours. It was thru her
    influence that he embraced Christianity and with 3,000 of his followers was
    baptized at Rheims on Christmas Day in 496.
    Clothaire, King of Soissons, died 565, married Ingonde.
    Blitheledes, married Ausbert of Mosell. She was the daughter of the above
    Clothaire, 1st King of France.
    Arnolph, Margrave of the Schelde married Oda a Suabian lady. After her
    death he became a monk and entered the monastry of St. Martin in Villa
    Longs, which he had built, became Bishop of Metz and died in 601.
    St. Armolph married Dodo a Saxon Lady and after her death he became Bishop
    of Metz.
    Anchises, Margrave of the Schelde, married Begga of Brabant, daughter of
    Pepin I and in her right became Duke of Brabant. Died 698.
    Pepin d’Heristal, Mayor of the Palace, died 714.
    Charles Martel, the Hammer, Mayor of the Palace, King of France, born 688,
    died 10-22-741, married Rotrude who died 724.
    Pepin the Short, King of France, born 714, died 9-24-768, married Lady
    Bertha, daughter of Charibert of Laon. She died 783.
    CHARLEMAGNE, King of the Franks and Emperor of the West, (742-814) married
    Lady Hildegarde of Swabia.
    Louis I, of France (778-840) married Judith, the Fair of Bavaria.
    Charles II of France (843-878) married 1st: Hermentrudis, daughter of Odo,
    Count of Orleans ( -869).
    Louis II, King of France (844-879) married Adelheida.
    Charles III, King of France (879-929) married Edgina, daughter of Edward I,
    the Elder, King of England.
    Louis IV, King of France (920-954) married Princess Gerberga, daughter of
    Henry I of Germany.
    Charles, Duke of Nether Lorraine (953-994) married Bonne, Countess de
    Arderne, daughter of Duke of Moselle.
    Princess Gerberga, Countess of Lorraine married Lambert I, Count of Mone,
    died 1015.
    Eustace I, Seigneur and Baron de Fiennes, married Adele De Fumes, Dame de
    Conon, Seingeur and Baron de Fiennes (1099-1112) married Alix de
    Eustace II, Singeur & Baron de Fiennes.
    Enguerrand I, Seigneur & Baron de Fiennes, died on Crusade, 1207 married
    Sibylle de Tyngrie, descended from Guillaume Cound de Boui8llen, youngest
    brother of Godfrey de Bouillon, first Crusader King of Jerusalem.
    Guillaume (William), Seigneur & Baron de Fiennes, Baron de Tyngrie 1233,
    married Agness de Damartin.
    Enguerrand II, Seigneur & Baron de Fiennes, Baron de Tyngrie ( -1265)
    married a de Conde.
    Robert L., Seigneur de Bouchin, Younger married Claude Dame Du Bois.
    Henry I, do Bois de Fiennes, FIRST TO ASSUME THE NAME OF DU BOIS, Signeur de
    Heuchin & d’Esquerdes, married Marie de St. Venant.

    page 70

    Henry II du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Heuchin & des Querdes married
    Jacquelin de Beaufremont.
    Sorier du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Heuchin & des Querdes married Marie
    de Azincourt.
    Jean I, du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Heuchin & des Querdes & Baron
    d’Eanes married Heanne de Lens, Dame de Annequin; both of Royal descent, as
    were the wives of six preceding Seingneurs de Fiennes.
    Baudouin du Bois de Fiennes, younger son, Segneur de Boyeffles, 1399 married
    Dame de Montignies.
    Nathieudu Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Boyeffles, Treboult, La Bourse & de
    Aix, in part, called Le “Gallois.” married Tasse de Sains who was a widow
    in 1474 when she held fief of the Castle of Hesdin.
    (?) Laurent du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de la Bourge married ________,
    daughter Jeanne was the second wife of her cousin Jean III du Bois de
    Fiennes, Seignour de Heuchin, d’Esquerdes, de Vermelles, d’Annequin, de
    Raincheval, de Noyelles, Baron D’Esnes, whom she married in 1480.
    (?) du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Gerfontaine, La Pontus du Bois de
    Fiennes, Seigneur de la Bourse.
    Pontus du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Gerfontaine, La Crox 7 la Bourse
    married Phillipotte de Landas.
    Wallerand Du Bois de Fiennes, Seigneur de Beaufermez, La Bourse, La Croix &
    Gerfontaine married 1583 Magdeleine De Croix.
    Chretien du Bois de Fiennes, dead by 1655 when he was mentioned as desceased
    in the marriage record of his son Louis Du Bois, born at Wicres, Oct. 1626;
    died June 1695 at New Platz, N.Y. married in Manheim Germany, October 10,
    1655 Caterinen Blanchan. They emigrated to America.

    Gerberge is grandaugher of King Louis IV of France. Her other notable ancestors include Charlemagne King of the Franks and Emperor of the West, Clovis I first King of all the Franks, Mark Antony. This ancestral line also goes back to the Julii Caesares family line, from which Julius Caesar also descended.
    Julii Caesares is a subdivision of the patrician Julii family in the Roman Republic, and the beginnings of the Julian side of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. All its members had the nomen Julius and the cognomen Caesar and can only be told apart by numbers and differing praenomina.
    Now that is a WOW

  • Stella Dixon

    September 14, 2014

    I too love My Heritage, it’s a great site,I can never keep up with my hints, but have gained so much information from them. I enjoyed Peggy’s story very much, Thankyou for sharing it.

  • wani dileep

    September 15, 2014


  • chenita leblanc-slack

    September 15, 2014

    I really enjoyed your story. Thank you. I traced my family back 7 generations and My Heritage really made it fun.

  • Peter Curtis

    September 15, 2014

    Too enjoyed the story very much. It shows
    The value of census and smart matches but
    Not all relevant.I am at present trying to
    Find details of ship and passenger list to trace
    my Great Grandmother and brother from
    Ireland. The story was inspiring

  • Brian O Cinneide

    September 16, 2014

    Brian O Cinneide

    I am an Irishman of Gaelic descent. I have had Duptytren’s Contracture in my right hand. I found out that it means that I also have Viking blood in my veins.
    My wife, who is descende4 from the first White South African family, has family members with Parkinson’s disease. It has recently been discovered that people of that descent are prone to it.

  • Kathryn Graf Garcia

    September 16, 2014

    I enjoyed Peggy’s story and will now start my own search for both sides of my family. I have a nephew who is doing research only when he has time, but I plan to start soon. I have been under the impression that my mother was Cherokee, however I think that may be the wrong tribe.

  • Barbro Lindholm

    September 16, 2014

    Hello Steve Simons!!! We have the same Great Grandparents!! It has been a Fantastic “travel”to find so many Interesting people!!!
    You are maybe my Cousin?!!!

    Kind Regards

    Barbra (Barbro Lindholm)

  • Ted Holtzman

    September 18, 2014

    I also descend for Maria and Jan Peek. Their being banished from New
    Amsterdam was akin to being banished from Sodom for bad behavior.

  • DorthyDowning

    September 18, 2014

    I really enjoyed this page and do think it will help me with doing better about finding out about the illnesses that has been in my family. Thanks

  • b w wood

    September 21, 2014

    ? I am fascinated and hope to learn what I can do to find my missing ones.

  • b w wood

    September 21, 2014

    Most interesting;look forward to usingit

  • jennifer thomas

    September 22, 2014

    Your story on genealogy and genetics is awesome. I just love it.

  • John Boak

    September 25, 2014

    I’ve always been fascinated by this family tale passed on down the many generations my mother often told me ‘ your several times great grandfather married an Indian Squaw…’

  • George McGowan

    November 12, 2014

    I enjoyed reading this account, MY Heritage line now has nearly
    14000 individuals and 8000 families and still growing. Like Steve
    Simons my line joins the early Roman line then on into the Troy
    line,Jewish and on into biblical genealogy i was also interested to see Peggy was able to put her genealogy into book form.My Heritage really is the best recorder of family history.
    thanks you.