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Cemetery in Ardmore, County Waterford, Ireland
Ellen and Elizabeth, ancestrysisters, are sisters “stumbled into a deep passion for family history” while researching their own family tree. Their research specialties include United States, Canada, Ireland, England, Germany, Bohemia, Mayflower Passengers, Adoption Searches, Roman Catholics, DNA Testing, Brick Walls, and more and this is reflected in their many offerings on Genlighten.
How did you get started doing genealogy research?
My sister, brother and I were doing our annual walk thru Mount Carmel Cemetery in Chicago looking for our ancestor’s graves. One of the headstones was for my Great Grandmother Ellen, who I was named after. It dawned on me that I didn’t know anything about her. That afternoon, I went home and began researching my family online. Right out of the gate, I found a census record for my Great Grandfather who worked at the Cracker Jack Factory in Chicago in the 1920’s. I was hooked. 3 months later, I dragged my sister to Connecticut so we could find out more about where Great Grandma Ellen came from. We drove from town to town for a week, going thru all the records we could find. She was hooked.
How have you developed your research skills?
We have spent tireless hours investigating our own family trees and that knowledge has given us a desire to help others. Ancestry Sisters believes in good ole fashioned leg work. While online research has made genealogy so much more fruitful, we still will go thru microfilm from various repositories, visit the local courthouses, scroll thru newspapers, and walk thru cemeteries for our clients. I have a philosophy that I want to try to do one of everything for my own family research. Recent discoveries include conducting family DNA testing, pulling records from the NARA, and visiting foreign country repositories.
Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?
We are very tenacious about our research. We don’t give up.
Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.
Our Bohemian grandmother was born in the year 1900 in Chicago and given up for adoption. It was one of the last family searches I attempted to work on because of the daunting nature of the challenge. Over a period of 9 months, I scoured every record I could think of, including working with the Catholic Archdiocese for orphanages, and scrolling thru microfilm at the Daley Center looking for a divorce record for the birth mother. Eventually I struck gold with the divorce, which led to a sister of the birth mother who was a witness in the divorce case. I was able to figure out the birth mother and her family, where she was born, and where she died in Idaho in 1942. Fast forward to this month, we just got exciting news about the birth father. I located a 3rd cousin of the suspected birth father. She took a DNA test along with my brother, and it came back with a match. It was a beautiful moment.
Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.
My Great Great Grandmother Eliza died in a small town in Southern Illinois in 1872. I could never figure out what happened to her mother Martha who was living with her in the 1870 census. I searched for Martha for over a year. I chased her other children, grandchildren, a suspected brother, and a potential father. Finally, it was the death certificate of her son Valentine that made me raise my eyebrows. He died 40+ years later in the same small town of his sister, even though he lived all of his life in Missouri. I knew there was more to the story because his death certificate said there was a coroner’s inquest. Sure enough, I uncovered an article in the paper due to the odd nature of his death. Valentine was visiting his mother’s grave and had a stroke. He fell onto a pile of rocks and wasn’t found for 24 hours. While the story is sad, his death was the reason why a record was kept that would eventually confirm what happened to his mother Martha.
What’s the most unique records that you’ve found in your research?
Sadly, one of our Irish GG Grandmother’s spent many years in a hospital in Connecticut. I found records that told me what hospital she was at, and it is still in business today. So I worked with the administration that was kind enough to humor me. They found her medical records from 1873. It was a fascinating read.
What’s the one must-visit repository for research in your area?
Never forget the value of cemetery records. Some cemeteries can pull cards on the deceased that may have new information related to your ancestor. And there are many cemeteries where the families buried up to 8 people in a grave. I bet I visited the Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, IL about 25 times. I pulled every card on every relative I could think of and struck gold more than once, including finding a GGG Grandfather who I had thought died in Canada.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break through a brick wall?
Never give up. I was stuck on my Irish ancestors for a long time until I began to research the baptism records for all the children born to my GG Grandparents. After putting together a spreadsheet of all the sponsors, I began to form ideas for additional research.
Sure enough, one of the baptism sponsors for their daughter had a son that eventually married her. That could not be a coincidence, especially when it came to the Irish. So I began to investigate the sponsor, and almost immediately found his marriage record in a Massachusetts town where I would eventually find my GG Grandfather John living before he got married. This led to John’s 5 siblings, and a brother’s marriage record in MA that had the parish name in Ireland where he was born. Knowing how difficult Irish records are to find, that was a huge win.
We made our first pilgrimage to the homeland as I like to call it (Ireland) in August, and at the National Library of Ireland, we found the marriage record for John’s parents, along with his baptism record from Killavullen, Cork, Ireland at the parish of Annakissy. I love that name Annakissy !!
What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not doing research?
There is nothing we love to do more than travel. Our ancestors have now given us a great list for future destinations – next up is Humpolec, Czech Republic.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Another story is that while in Ireland, we visited the town of Leap, Cork, where our Father’s line of Irish ancestors came from. Inside the church of St. Mary’s were recycled bottles of Holy Water with a sign that said “take one”. There isn’t any other memento that means more to us than this free bottle of Holy Water from the church that our ancestors used to pray at in the 1840’s.
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Our Bohemian grandmother was born in the year 1900 in Chicago and given up for adoption. It was one of the last family searches I attempted to work on because of the daunting nature of the challenge. … Fast forward to this month, we just got exciting news about the birth father. I located a 3rd cousin of the suspected birth father. She took a DNA test along with my brother, and it came back with a match. It was a beautiful moment.
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