Family Bloodhound on the Scent…

This is a stream of consciousness blathering about family history and genealogy I have sat on for well over a year. It was conceived hoping to convince others to dip their toes in the research/family history pool.  It rambles on incoherently at times, but it has a few good points and may help to tip the scale of someone already wanting to strap the family history feedbag on and take a big bite. Go ahead, it’s very satisfying and low in carbs!

At the time I started getting really serious about genealogy and family history, around 25 years ago or so, Jacob Floyd “Jake” Proffitt was as far back in the family that anyone could remember.

This was before Ancestry.com had even been created, so methods were the same as they had been for decades or even centuries…asking your relatives lots of annoying questions, checking old family bibles, visiting cemeteries, and researching local city and county tax records.

If you were lucky, a relative had at least started the documentation process and created a paper trail of the “John Smith begat John Smith Jr in 1902” variety. While I did have such a document on my mothers side for the her father’s Clemans family (thanks Aunt Donna!) and a very good start for the Egelston side, there was pretty much zero for the Proffitt line or any other line of my family, at least that I was aware of.

My dad had a few family stories, and even fewer photographs, as his grandfather Floyd was gone before he was even born, and great grandfather Jake died when he was just 13 in 1935…his great grandmother five years before that.

My mother’s mother had been adopted, which is still a major brick wall I research constantly, and mom was rather estranged from her father for many years before he moved back to Ohio later in life and reconnected with her, so very few real stories there either.

Most youngsters, of course, have other things on their mind (primarily themselves) besides digging through old dusty family archives.  To be fair, I was well into my thirty’s before I calmed down enough from adrenaline filled adventures to start actually doing something serious about my family curiosity.

However, the curiosity has always been there…even as a young boy I would wonder if some coon-skin cap wearing Profitt had gone through Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone, or floated down the Ohio River on a pioneer flatboat like we were learning about early settlers in history class.

I had (have) a very active imagination, and I remember coming across a French army officer in either the French and Indian or Revolutionary War, I can’t recall, with the same last name as me.

I then supposed we might be of French decent and wrote a fanciful story for a writing assignment of how my ancestor was an accomplished French fur trapper, that headed west into the wilderness of Kentucky to find fame and fortune with his traps, powder horn and Kentucky long rifle to fend off the Indians.

Little did I know at the time that the actual story of our Proffitt family’s arrival to the new world would be even more intriguing than that…involving political intrigue and rebellion against the English Crown in the misty lochs and hills of Scotland, with battles, trials, imprisonment in English dungeons and banishment on a sailing ship to the colonies as an indentured slave for many years.  You can certainly make this stuff up…people have…it’s named Outlander and a very popular series of books and TV shows, but reality often is a much better story.

Our ancestor Silvester Proffitt actually lived it for real from 1698 to 1767, creating a family history in the new world beginning in 1716, that is over 300 years old…older than the United States itself.

Speaking of Indians, there was also a persistent family story that we had Native American blood in us…somehow…that somewhere down the line we had a full-blooded Cherokee in our line.  This knowledge, of course, sent me as a youngster off to learn everything I could on native tribes, particularly those of Kentucky and Ohio.

This included immersing myself with making my own war clubs, bows and arrows with real feathers and flaked flint tips, head dresses, bead work, clothing, peace pipes and other Native American paraphernalia.  I blame it on OCD, which still serves me well doing genealogy.

While I have found little evidence of Native American in any documented, direct family line, or in DNA evidence from most companies, a recent DNA test with 23 & Me shows a glimmer of hope, with .5% Native American showing for me, and my Aunt Jean shows a full 1% with AncestryDNA. These are low enough to potentially just be “genetic noise”, but we shall see as things evolve over time.

It can only take 4-5 generations for autosomnal DNA chromosome to be divided up and thinned out so far that it fades away, so if it was over 100 years ago it may not show at all. Y-DNA tests, for males only, can connect paternal ancestors thousands of years back, as MT-DNA testing can show maternal ancestor connections thousands of years back.

These types of tests from Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) are generally more expensive than the more ubiquitous autosomnal tests from the other major companies and are geared for more serious genomic research than the “family match” tests most take.

Please understand ethnicity estimates from DNA are just that, estimates based on base sets of people tested that have very documented families that show their linage.  These estimates are updated all the time as an evolving science.

It amazed me, and drove me crazy, that this family information was seemingly lost to everyone I knew. I started making notes and assembling what I knew and could gather from family, but my genealogy affliction still hadn’t developed into full-on nose to the ground, relentless, bloodhounding madness yet.

I remember trying to find family with my original Ancestry account, 20 years ago when the company was brand new, and really couldn’t get anywhere as there simply wasn’t enough on-line records available yet…remember, these were the days of a very primitive World Wide Web with Compuserve and America Online (I had them both) and just logging in with a modem took 5 minutes of annoying noises.

So I let my Ancestry account lapse, and picked away with other web sites such as RootsWeb, which is where I got a great deal of early information, and other more manual sources.

Having much creative energy, I had begun restoring and color correcting our family photos and wanted to share these photos, which were in much better shape than the originals. So, I created a family web page to start sharing what photos I had, mostly from my parent’s collection.  This was originally just to share photos and stories with my immediate family, and quickly developed into a place to share photos of our over-the top thematic Halloween parties and other family shenanigans.

I used to regularly pick the brain of my father’s youngest sister, Aunt Janice, when visiting family in Ohio, and she would recount what stories she knew and occasionally bring a few photos over to my sister’s house to show.  After a few of years of this she brought a shoebox full of photos over and I convinced her I would protect them with my life if she would allow me to take them back to Washington so I could do high resolution scans and restore them.

She only gave me a handful at first, I don’t think she fully trusted me early on.  This I fully understand…I have lost many photos over the years to friends and acquaintances “that just want to show them to someone” or “I’ll make copies, and give them back, really”…never to see them again.

If you haven’t already surmised, I am a very visual person, and I even decided almost 40 years ago to make photography and filmmaking my career, enjoying it immensely for over 30 years, before moving involuntarily into project management, which also serves me very well for organizing and documenting things.

As part of my fascination with capturing images and telling stories, I hold photos and documents, particularly old ones, with a reverence approaching religious fanaticism.  If my house were to start on fire, my photo archives would be the first thing I would rescue.

I think Aunt Janice perceived this reverence and respect for the photos in her care that had managed to survive so many years…so after this first test batch, with her seeing how I restored them better than new, the floodgates were opened.  For several years, on every trip I made back to Ohio, I would exchange the old batch from Aunt Janice with a new batch, never letting them out of my sight in my carry-on baggage, lest I be cut off from Janice the pic-pusher from my crack-photos.

As I scanned and restored them I added them to the family web page…the site became larger as now there were photos from other sides of the family, like the Egelston’s, McGlothen’s, Clemans and others. Many of these were images of people no one could now identify, which fills me with sadness.

For me, every photo has meaning. Someone loved and thought enough of that person to take a photo to save that moment…in these modern times where everyone has a camera on their phone and we are flooded with endless selfies and a barrage of what was for lunch, it is all too easy to dismiss the cost of owning a camera, buying film and paying to get it processed into prints in the good old days.

Even in my immediate family, it was not unusual to snap one or two photos for a major life event and then take another year or more to complete that roll of film.  Just ask my brother Paul, who swears he only has a total of 7 photos of the first 20 years his life.

Over time, the Apple Webpage infrastructure I was using became obsolete and decommissioned by Apple, so I created a new stand-alone web site with my own family domain name on Go Daddy.com, named profittfamily.com, and created personal email accounts for the whole family to help share photos, stories and family interaction.

About this time, a little over 10 years ago, Facebook started becoming a big thing, and the family took less notice of the web site as Facebook became the latest and greatest shiny bit of distraction. I still pay to keep the name and web page up, but it’s life may be limited with no one actively using the email accounts anymore.

I tend to get more inquiries from unknown distant cousins looking for family information related to some stories still on the website.  Lately, I have even seen people uploading edited versions of this as documentation on Ancestry.  I guess I should update it or take it down before some of my attempts at humor become fact.

Trying to stay current and keep everyone invested in the family, I then created separate private Facebook Groups for my maternal and paternal sides, and continue scanning, restoring and sharing.

Initially, this again was associated primarily to my grandparents, Nannie and John M Profitt and their children…my aunts and uncles, but this has happily snowballed to include even more extended family, all cousins related by blood, marriage or circumstance (I stopped judging a long time ago).  It is fantastic to learn of and meet new family, even if it is only virtually.

Seeing so much disinformation on the internet, I also created a separate Facebook Group named “Descendants of Sylvester Proffitt”, which includes a lot of the documentation I have found relating to our ancestor Sylvester that brought the Proffitt name to the Americas from Scotland, as well as photos of areas where he may have lived from my pilgrimage to Scotland.  It’s a work in progress, but still growing every year.

DNA – One genome to rule them all

When DNA testing became available and a bit less cost prohibitive a few years ago, I paid what seemed like a king’s ransom of $160 to dive in and get tested with AncestryDNA.  Today, I have accounts with all the major genealogy companies: Ancestry.com, 23 & Me, My Heritage, Family Tree DNA, GEDMatch, WikiTree, Genetic Affairs, FamilySearch, DNA Painter, WeGene, Prometheus, and so on.

In searching for the big clue for the solid brick wall on my mother’s side (her mother was adopted as an infant from a Catholic children’s asylum), I have spent a small fortune on DNA testing and subscriptions with all these companies to get the broadest swath of matches possible. I am fortunate to be able to afford it, and love sharing it with family.

These days you can get great discounts (under $50) on tests at certain times of the year, and most of my family has now done DNA testing…in fact I manage over 20 DNA accounts for family and friends that connects their DNA results to my well-developed family tree for better matching results.  It is not unusual for results to vary enough to have some siblings match cousins that others do not.

I believe I have taken the family convincingly back to our roots in Scotland, England and Western Europe in the 1600’s…growing DNA research suggests we came from the Viking stock of Norway and the Celts of Ireland before that…our rich family history is so much more personal, exciting and endlessly fascinating to me than a novel or movie about others and I hope some of that rubs off on y’all.

Ultimately, I hope to leave a rich, well-worn path of photos, stories and documentation for future family bloodhounds, so they know where they came from and are able to pick up the scent on the trail of other long-lost family members and build an even greater, more accurate story.

So please, dig in your closets, attics and basements, especially for those boxes of fading photos with people you may never have known or even recognize.  Get them in front of as many family as possible to tickle memories long lost to us, there is a good chance they will be better than gold to someone.

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