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.
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):
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.