Are there scallywags in your family tree?

Searching out your roots, whether through DNA or more traditional genealogy, can be enlightening, but beware—you may reveal secrets you’d rather remained hidden

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje William Ellis Evans, Sr. remained married to his first wife through 25 years of his marriage to Myrtle Grace Einum.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje
William Ellis Evans, Sr. remained married to his first wife through 25 years of his marriage to Myrtle Grace Einum.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje Myrtle Grace Einum, from whom the author gets her Norwegian Ancestry.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje
Myrtle Grace Einum, from whom the author gets her Norwegian Ancestry.

Shelby Gilje
Seattle, Wash.

A challenge from two granddaughters prompted me to check out my family history after they announced: “Bestemor, we are more Norwegian than you!”

But yes, they had done the math correctly. Since my late husband, their paternal grandfather, was born in Stavanger, Norway, it meant their father was half Norwegian, and his girls were at least one-fourth Norwegian.

I have guessed that I am about one-eighth Norwegian. Credit that to my maternal great-grandfather, Sever Andrew Einum, born in July 1867 in Trondheim, Norway, who immigrated to the United States in 1871 with his parents. Unfortunately Sever died at age 41 in Snohomish County, so I know little about him. My maternal grandmother told me her father had died in a logging accident, and that her mother, the former Emma Ford, eventually remarried.

I have always hoped to learn whether I have a drop of Native American blood as long rumored in my father’s family. He once told me that half of the family wanted to prove it had Native American heritage; the other half did not want to know.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje William Collard reached America as a stowaway from England, and married Mary Thompson  in 1890.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje
William Collard reached America as a stowaway from England, and married Mary Thompson in 1890.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje Mary Thompson is the one rumored to have Native American ancestry.

Photos courtesy of Shelby Gilje
Mary Thompson is the one rumored to have Native American ancestry.

So with that background and only bits of information I decided to test my deoxyribonucleic acid—that’s DNA.

DNA saliva tests for ethnicity range from about $80 to about $200, plus postage, depending on whether you choose Ancestry, 23andMe or National Geographic’s Genographic. The International Society of Genetic Genealogy at www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart provides a comparison chart of costs, and other details for www.23andMe.com, www.Ancestry.com, genographic.nationalgeographic.com and similar services.

Frankly, I balked at some of the detailed questions about my medical issues asked by 23andMe before the test. And I chose not to answer all questions. Why were they asking?

The company says in its privacy statement that it does not sell, lease, or rent your personal information without permission. Additionally it states: “Self-Reported Information is all information about yourself, including your disease conditions, other health-related information, personal traits, ethnicity, family history, and other information that you enter into surveys, forms, or features while signed in to your 23andMe account. Self-Reported Information is included in 23andMe Research only if you have given consent as described in the applicable Consent Document.”

After the test results were in I received notices from the service that two males distantly related to me would like to correspond. I chose not to respond.

A DNA test from my saliva by Ancestry.com indicated I am just a smidgeon over one-eighth Norwegian. But to my surprise I have nearly 35 percent Irish heritage. On that subject one Norwegian friend said: “Well, the Vikings were everywhere so of course you have some Irish blood, but it’s really Norwegian.” (The Norwegians will claim all that they can!)

Ancestry.com reported:
100% European, divided as below:
35% Ireland
29% Western Europe
14 % Scandinavian
14% Great Britain
6% Iberian Peninsula
2% trace Finland/Northwest Russia

I also consulted 23andMe.com to learn whether the two tests would agree. They differed a bit. From 23andMe I was found to be not quite 9 percent Scandinavian in contrast with 14 percent from Ancestry.com. Interesting, but perhaps it depends on how things are categorized.

23andMe.com tests reported:
99.8% European
58.9% British & Irish
8.8% Scandinavian
3.9% French & German
27.6% Broadly Northern European
0.5% Broadly European
0.2 East Asian & Native American
0.1% Native American
0.1% Broadly East Asian & Native American
0.1% Unassigned

Ancestry.com did not detect any Native American component in my DNA tests. However, results from 23andMe.com showed 0.1 percent Native American roots. Not much, but a touch to back up some family members’ claims.

But wait: 23andMe.com also detected 2.3 percent Neanderthal DNA in my tests. Clearly I will have to stop saying: “You Neanderthal, what were you thinking?” as a pejorative. Because I’m one of them!

“So, we’re all from a ‘melting pot’ just as we were taught. Works for me!” one brother said.

As I awaited test results from the two services, I searched birth, immigration, marriage, divorce, and death records more intensively that I had done previously.

While it is interesting to learn about one’s family history, don’t be surprised to find a few skeletons in your historical closet.

I confirmed that my maternal grandfather, William Ellis Evans, Sr., was a bigamist, a status about which I had received hints before, and my paternal grandfather, William Collard, had come to the U.S. from England as a stowaway.

“You have a checkered history!” a friend said when told the news. I prefer to call it colorful.

I learned that my paternal grandfather, William Collard, and his brother, Charles Collard, who emigrated from England, apparently had not been paying customers aboard ship because no records of their arrival exist. A researcher at the Federal Archives in Seattle noted that it was not unusual for immigrants to enter the United States as stowaways in that era. My paternal grandfather, William Collard, was born June 4, 1861, in Wiveliscombe, England’s Somerset area, and died September 26, 1913, in Spokane, Washington. He left a widow and nine surviving children, including my father, who was then about 3 1/2 years old.

When William Collard was in his 20s, he rented a room from a family in Spokane County, Washington. On April 10, 1890, he married one of his landlord’s daughters, Mary Thompson, who became my paternal grandmother. Mary was born February 26, 1873, in Tecumseh, Nebraska, and died June 9, 1949. She was rumored to have Native American ancestry.

My maternal grandfather, William Evans, was born to Welsh immigrants in Ohio in 1882 or 1884—sources disagree on the year. Myrtle Grace Einum, my maternal grandmother, was born March 19, 1891, in Dunn County, Menominee, Wisconsin. W.E., as he was often called, married Myrtle in August, 1909, in Victoria, B.C., but did not divorce his first wife until 1934. By then Myrtle and William had four children. No wonder Myrtle and other family members were furious at learning the truth, though she never discussed it with me. I do recall hearing hushed conversations on the subject between my mother and aunt, but they gave me no specifics. Ultimately William and Myrtle married legally, but divorced about 1945. When he died in the fall of 1958 he was being cared for by his sister in Colorado.

I do not know how or why the information surfaced about my grandfather’s first marriage. As a child I once asked my grandmother why she was so angry with my grandfather. She simply smiled and said: “He’s a scallywag,” a word I had to look up. I believe she wanted me to love him, despite his checkered marital history.

While it is easy to see how marriages might have been casually dismissed by some folks that long ago, I find it inexcusable. People moved and lost contact with previous friends and maybe spouses in other states. Hand-written records were not kept as precisely as they are today. And of course there was no internet, no Facebook that sometimes reveals too much information; no cell phones, no texting or tweeting. Long-distance phone calls generally were made only to notify family and friends of a death.

All this research has reminded me that I should have studied genealogy much earlier in life while some ancestors were still living. How about you? Done your family history yet? Don’t wait too long.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

You may also like...