Uncle Bill – a DNA story

Miller kids

Uncle Bill and his siblings. Back row Robbie and Lydia Front row left to right Holmes, Cliff, Jimmy, Bill

As researchers we can find dates and places but we treasure those interesting items that give us insight into the people our ancestors were. DNA testing can match us with distant relatives who sometimes have quirky stories or information that we don’t have. It’s great when they share them with us.

William “Bill” Albert Miller is my great uncle. He was born on 28 April 1917 in Devlin, Rainy River, Ontario, Canada. His parents are Harry Miller and Margaret McCall. Bill grew up on the farm. His father worked hard hauling wood and doing labour for other people so Bill and his brothers and sisters worked hard on the farm along with their mother. Uncle Bill and his brother, Uncle Robbie, took over the farm when their father died. Bill had a dairy farm and his cows won red ribbons at the Emo fair.

Uncle Bill was quiet and gentle. My father remembers helping him out at the farm one winter. Dad was struggling with a high school math problem but Uncle Bill looked at the problem and gave him the correct answer. Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t accept the answer, because Dad hadn’t shown how he worked it out.

One time Uncle Bill taught us how to milk cows. I remember being really bad at it. He also repaired my bicycle before I went on a big trip. Another thing I remember about him is his interest in genealogy. I went to him when I started looking for stories about the family. He had a box of information and correspondence with a McCall family in Michigan.

For years Uncle Bill was a confirmed bachelor but in 1974, at the age of 57, he married Myrtle Ivy Brown.

Miller family

back row left to right – James Miller, Holmes Miller, Robbie Miller, Bill and Mytle Miller front row left to right Bethel Miller, Lydia Link, Bernice Miller, Edna Miller, kneeling in front is Margaret Miller

Now you’re wondering how DNA fits into all this. A DNA match of mine was someone Uncle Bill had written to years ago. This person sent me documents that included a copy of a letter Bill wrote about his marriage.

He says, “Yes I did get married, on the 29 of June….I now have a family of 3 daughters, 2 sons and 3 grandsons.

We are very happy, I should have made this move long ago. Why didn’t some of you old married folks tell me it could be this good?”

This letter is an amazing find. It gives me a better understanding of my Uncle Bill’s married life. He embraced family life and his new family embraced him. The kids, who were almost in their teens or older, called him Pops.

Our DNA matches may have information we don’t. It’s especially gratifying when they have personal items and stories relating to our ancestors.



William Miller Birth; Original Birth Registrations; Devlin Municipal Office, Devlin, Ontario

Collection of documents and letters from a DNA match; copies of originals.

A Black Sheep

These pictures have written on the back (left to right) Ira Titchworth, Nancy Mulholland, and William Titchworth. I’m not sure the names are correct.

We have a true scoundrel or black sheep in the family, Ira Titchworth. Ira, the son of William Titchworth and Nancy Mulholland, was born about 1840 most likely in or around Paris, Brant, Ontario, Canada. In 1861 he is working as a clerk in Beverly, Wentworth, Ontario. However, he changes careers and in 1864 he obtains a Second Class Certificate as a Common School Teacher and is able to teach for 1 year. He redoes the certification in 1866 and once again receives a Second Class Certificate.

When his mother dies, 2 of his younger sisters move to Norfolk County to live with relatives. It’s here that Ira meets his wife, Marilla Woodward. Marilla and Ira are married by a Free Baptist minister in Walsingham, Norfolk, Ontario on 27 June 1865. His sister, Pheobe Titchworth is the witness. Ira and Marilla are in the 1871 Canada Census, living in Townsend, North Norfolk with a 5 year old daughter, Mathilda.

Everything appears to be perfectly normal so far. He has a good job, he’s married and has a child. Now let’s get to the juicy bits. The next document I find for Ira he is a marriage to Ida Howard in Mariposa, California. He is 37 and she is 18 years old. It get’s better. Marilla is still alive. Marilla dies in 1922. On her gravestone it says “Marilla, wife of Ira Titchworth”.  They were never divorced. Ira is a bigamist! I know this is the correct Ira Titchworth because his father’s will states, “I will  my oldest son Ira Cyrus Titchworth (100$) one hundred dollars Maraposy California.”

My grandmother always said that her great grandfather married a student but I haven’t found proof of this. The age difference between Reuben Taylor and Leah Jane Titchworth isn’t that great and I searched the superintendent records listing teachers and Reuben didn’t teach where Leah lived. I think that it is Ira who married his student.

Ira marries Ida Howard on November 2, 1878 but by 1881 he is working as a teacher in Port Townsend, Washington State. His his married but is not with his wife. Did he leave his 2nd wife too?

So here’s where things start to get elusive. I’m not able to find any records of Ira after the 1881 census. Family stories say that Ira died in 1930. I have two letters, one written in 1923 from Silas Titchworth (Ira’s brother) to Pheobe Field (his sister). In this letter Silas says he is going to write Ira and hopes he hasn’t moved. This proves Ira was alive in 1923.

The other letter fascinates me because it suggests so much. This letter, from San Francisco is written to Pheobe Field, dated April 2 but no year is given. It’s written in pencil. I believe that the letter is written by Casper Titchworth’s wife. Whoever it is, Ira has obviously has her on his side. She makes excuses for his smoking,

“I think you are rather hard on Ira.  Remember we are not all constituted alike.  Ira did not commence to use tobacco because he liked it…. he studied so hard he could not sleep – and a doctor told him he should have to smoke.  I did talk to him and so did  [Casper] and he only smoked 3 times a day instead of 14 when we went away and he said he felt better for it.”

She also makes excuses for him leaving his wife and child (I assume it is his first wife),

“it seems a sin when one is blessed with such a child to leave them to struggle along as [he did] although he  was without his friends or [anyone ] to help him when he married so young if he had a hard time alone a wife and baby I would not he a half surely that is the way I look at it.”

Then she goes on to complain about how “uncle” (William Titchworth) left Ira so little in his will,

“I cannot see what ever possessed uncle to have cut him off in the manner he did.  I think it was dreadful and the other heirs should make it equal and do it willingly …to uncle knew just how he was situated I would never have tried to study medicine with the means he had or at his time of life.”

There’s more along that vein. Basically, she’s writing Phoebe to ask for money for Ira.
The line that convinces me that Ira has hoodwinked her is “I never met a man so good and pure as he”. I think that Ira had a way with women.

Now I have an unproved theory about where Ira disappears to. In the 1920 Census a man by the name of James C Titchworth appears. He was born about 1841 in Canada the same as Ira. His father was born in New York – Ira’s father was born in New York; his mother was born in Canada – Ira’s mother was born in Canada AND he’s a physician. The letter from the unknown woman to Phoebe states Ira is studying medicine. A directory of deceased physicians gives us the information that James was licensed as a physician in 1898 and that he died in 1926 of lung cancer. As I said this theory is completely without proof but maybe Ira changed his name and became a physician.

I do believe that Ira truly was a black sheep. Black sheep make family history research stimulating and sometimes have our brains running in circles trying to figure them out. I’m sure that Ira’s wives didn’t appreciate it though.

I’m hoping someone out there has more concrete evidence on Ira Titchworth and where he ended up. Please contact me if you do.


Ira Titchworth

1851 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; District 2; page 33, line 42; Microfilm C-11714; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1861 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; page 25; Microfilm C1109; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1861 Canada Census; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1861 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1086

Ontario County Marriage Registers, 1857 – 1924; Norfolk County, page 129; Microfilm Reel 1030061; Family History Library; Salt Lake City, Utah; original source; Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Canada

Sessional Papers, second session of the eighth session of Parliament of the Province of Canada, session 1864; from Early Canadiana Online; original source, Library and Archives Canada.

Sessional Papers, second session of the eighth session of Parliament of the Province of Canada, session 1866; from Early Canadiana Online; original source, Library and Archives Canada.

Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 01 July 2018), memorial page for Marilla Titchworth (1848–1922), Find A Grave Memorial no. 129816581, citing Johnson Cemetery, Saint-Williams, Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by 4ever Nanny (contributor 47345810) .

William Titchworth Will; Kay Corbett Collection, Esquimault, BC.

Ancestry.com. Washington State and Territorial Censuses, 1857-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.; Original data: Olympia, Washington: Washington State Archives. M1, 20 rolls.

James C Titchworth

United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9R6S-LP7?cc=1488411&wc=QZJG-NPD%3A1036469601%2C1038729301%2C1038803701%2C1589334637 : 15 December 2015), California > San Francisco > San Francisco Assembly District 30 > ED 222 > image 13 of 24; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929 [database on-line].Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc

Same name #52 ancestors

Margaret Jerry with class she taught

Margaret Electa Cranston is the teacher, in white at the back.

My great grandmother’s name is Margaret Electa Jerry (nee Cranston) and she has an aunt called Jane Electa Barclay (nee Taylor). I always wondered if this odd name was passed down from a long ago ancestor.

For some reason I thought the name Electa came from the Mulholland side of my tree. I did some research and found a 3 year old Electa Mulholland in the 1861 Census in Beverley Township, Wentworth County, Ontario, Canada. Her parents were George and Jennet Mulholland. She was a twin and her sister was called Celesta. Electa Mulholland  married John Morris Peregine on May 19, 1883. She died in 1899.

Further research uncovered an Electa Mulholland born in New York about 1826
She was living in Pennsylvania in the 1880 Federal United States Census. Turns out maiden name was Whitman. Then I found the tombstone Electa Mulholland born about 1800. Her maiden name was Trowbridge. Obviously, it wasn’t just the Mulholland family calling their daughters Electa.

That’s when I decided to google the name Electa. There is a lot of conflicting information surrounding this name. It either comes from Latin and means “selected” or “chosen one” or it is  a Greek term meaning “ceaseless” or “amber”. I tried using Google Translate but it wasn’t recognized in Greek and the Latin translation came up as “picks”

It turns the name “Electa” was quite  popular in the early years of the New England States which explains why I found it in my loyalist families. I’m quite glad it’s use has been discontinued. It’s a name I don’t like. Thankfully, my ancestors chose it as a middle name.



1861 Census
Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1086; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1861 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.

Ontario Marriage Registrations; Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1826-1936 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Book Title: George Wightman of Quidnessett, R I , 1632-1721/2, and descendants : Waitman, Weightman, Whiteman; Ancestry.com. North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012; Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.

The DNA Solution!

me and my 1st cousin 1 removed

I’m still not comfortable taking selfies. This is me and my 1st cousin 1x removed. We found each other through DNA!

Once in a while I get the “feeling” that an ancestor wants me to find him/her. This was the case with my biological grandfather, John Edward “Buster” Harrison. All I knew about him was his name; I had his obituary, and a picture of him in his WW2 uniform.  When my Grandmother Dunn divorced him and remarried, he gave up his rights to their 3 children so her 2nd husband could adopt them. That was the extent of my knowledge.

To find more information, I called my mom’s cousin to ask if she had any names or phone numbers for the Harrison family. Her response was, “Dean might to talk to you”. Dean is Buster’s younger brother. When I called he was delighted to hear from me. He eventually sent pictures and information about his parents and siblings.

Researching the family was my next step. I found Canadian records for Buster’s father, John Henry Harrison, and mother, Kate Atkins. The marriage record said John Henry Harrison was from Abthorpe, Northampton, England. His father’s name was James Harrison and mother was Mary Ann Winmill. Then I hit a roadblock. Yes, already! I couldn’t find anyone with his birth date in that location. His parents were just as elusive. That was it for researching for awhile. I set everything aside and started doing something else.

What does this have to do with DNA. Well, ancestors have ways of making you find them. I won a DNA test and eventually sent it in. The result was astounding!  My top match was a man whose last name was “Harrison”. It was my mom’s cousin.  Needless to say I contacted him immediately. He  has a large, sourced family tree. I love it when this happens.One of the documents he has is an affidavit stating John Henry Harrison had changed his name. His birth name was Henry Green. At the age of 17 he wanted to join the army but his father refused to grant him permission.  In order to enlist, he changed his name to John Henry Harrison and lied about his age. All his war and Canadian documents list him as John Henry Harrison. No wonder I couldn’t find him.  

This is my DNA solution . Not only did I find John Harrison’s birth name, my cousin already had a large tree for the Harrison and Atkins families. (Please note this doesn’t always happen.) I  met 5 female cousins on the Harrison side and of course the Harrison I matched DNA with. Who would have thought a DNA test would add so many living and dead relatives to my family?



Fathers – #52 Ancestors

I decided not to write about my 83 year old father, he’s still alive and it would just feel too much like doing a eulogy. There are lots of dads in my tree, but who to pick. I decided to do it by luck of the draw. My genealogy software has a function called “on this day list” so I asked it to give me a list for June 17, Father’s Day. All those fathers and only one had an event that occurred on June 17. Samuel Searles was the winner!


mariansleigh church

Church in Mariansleigh, Devon, England courtesy of UK Genealogy Archives at ukga.org

On  June 17, 1822, Samuel Searles was baptized for the second time. The first baptism took place on March 31, 1822 at his home. I asked an expert in British research why someone would be baptized twice. It means that the child was born but wasn’t expected to live so the Church of England priest would have hurried over to his parents’ house and baptized him. Well, Samuel was pretty tough and didn’t die so he was baptized in the church a few months later.

Samuel was born around March 31, 1822 in Mariansleigh, Devonshire, England. His parents were Michael and Betsy Searles. He wasn’t the first child named Samuel born to this couple. The first Samuel was born and died in 1816. Another custom of the day, naming another child after one who had passed away.



South Molten, Devon, England near Mariansleigh.

This was/is a farming area and Michael was a farmer. According the the website Pictures of England, Mariansleigh is a

“charming tiny village is set in lovely rural mid-Devonshire countryside within a short distance from the meandering River Mole in the beautiful Mole Valley, and the picturesque Crooked Oak stream.

This is a spacious country region, not much hassle from traffic – in the lanes it is more likely to be horses that you meet! Most of the landscape is given over to agricultural use, with a predominance of farms in the area.

Apart from the prettiness of the village, it is perhaps best known for its ancient church dedicated to St.Mary.”

After his uncertain birth, Samuel went on to become a farm labourer. These were the people who worked on the land of other people. It was a very insecure and difficult life.

When he was 22 years old, Samuel married Maria Nott, a single woman who already had a child. Samuel and Maria went on to have 3 more children. Lucy, Samuel, and Eliza. I am a descendant of his son, Samuel who eventually moved to Wales with his wife and children and then to Toronto, Canada. He is the father of my great grandfather Searles.

Samuel died young, at the age of 30, leaving poor Maria with 4 children under the age of 11. Maria, of course, remarried 3 years after his death.  Perhaps his early death occurred because of a chronic illness that began when he was born.

Going to the chapel

Gramma Dunn;s weddingHere’s a picture from my Grandparent’s wedding. I’m not sure if they even married in a chapel, but my grandmother, Gwyneth (Gwen) Harrison nee Searles married Walter Dunn on February 20, 1947 in Timmons, Ontario.  This picture from the wedding shows that Walter’s sister, Jessie, and her husband,  Austin, attended the ceremony. You can see Gwen and Walter are holding hands in the wedding picture, if you look carefully.

This was Gwen’s second marriage. She married John Edward “Buster” Harrison about 1939 and divorced him shortly before her marriage to Walter. Buster and Gramma Dunn had 3 children and when the divorce went through Buster gave up his rights to the children and Walter adopted them.

I always thought of them as my “grumpy” grandparents and figured it was because they drank so much. But now I think it might have been because 8 kids invaded their house for a few days. I have a few good memories of them. One is gramma cooking hotdogs for us because my younger brother loved them so much. Another is of gramma coming to Lavallee to watch the us when Mom was in the hospital having another baby. And I remember granddad  teaching us how to make a rose out of playing cards.

Gramma and Granddad were married 40 years when Walter died. I asked Gramma why she loved granddad. She thought about it for a bit and said, “He made me laugh”.





So far away!

I used to think families didn’t move around much in the past. It didn’t take long to realize this premise is incorrect. Let me use the Titchworth family to as an example.

William Titchworth was born about 1808 in New York (state or city I’m not sure). He migrated to the Dundas area of Ontario, Canada some time before 1839.(He married Nancy Mulholland in Dundas in 1839). His wife died about 1856 (information given to me by Kay Corbett, a descendant) and then about 1864 he moved to Kansas. So far away from his children!

William and Nancy’s children didn’t stay put either. Emily, married and stayed in Southern Ontario. One daughter, Leah, moved to Saskatchewan with her husband. Their son, Silas went to Detroit. Another daughter  Pheobe, moved with William to Kansas where she married then moved with her husband to the Victoria area of British Columbia.  And their son Ira, the black sheep of the family, ran away from his wife and daughter to Mariposa, California.  Most of this family was far away from each other.

I often wondered if they ever visited each other or stayed touch.  Then I discovered the  Kay Corbett who had saved letters written to her grandmother Phoebe Field nee Titchworth, the one who moved to Kansas then Victoria. Most of the them are written by the children of Leah Jane Titchworth and Reuben Clarence Taylor (my 3 great-grandparents).  The children lived in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada and California, Washington, and Michigan in United States.

They don’t contain much genealogical information (birth, marriage, death information) but they do describe our ancestor’ lives and their day to day concerns. One of my favourite letters is written by Silas in his old age, trying to get the family together for a reunion. He seemed to miss everyone.

Some letters let Pheobe know what was going on. This letter from Jennie Barclay nee Taylor was written Dec 2, 1942. She and her husband owned a raisin farm and we learn how hard it is to find workers during the war.

James is busy boxing raisins, it is some late but help was very scarce during the entire season & he cannot accomplish as much as he once could.  Like your apple crop the raisin & grape crop was short but good in quality & prices much higher, for which we are gratified.

Here’s one written by Josephine Taylor from Bethune, Saskatchewan in 1938. Can you imagine that much snow!

We have lots of snow. I had to get a man to shovel the snow away from the living room window before I could see to do much. The snow was banked up nearly to the top of the window…. We ought to have good crops this year.

Other letters talked about family. This letter from Jennie Barclay nee Taylor was written Dec 2, 1942.

Sister Emma (Nancy Emily Cranston (nee Taylor) passed away Nov 4 after several months of pain and suffering with cancer. Emma was our oldest sister & of course was very much to me. The sorrow is much but of course I knew when coming away fourteen months ago that I would not see her any more. (note: this is Nancy Emily Cranston nee Taylor, my great-grandmother)

Then there are fascinating letters about how world events affect the family. This letter is from Jennie Barclay in 1942  where talks about how the war (World War 2) affects them:

Yes all the Japanese were sent from California. They could not be trusted & like yourselves there is still danger on the coast near San Francisco particularly. There are watch towers through the valley and watchers continually on watch day & night.  We do not expect any japs to strike here but are prepared.

We have dim out orders & all window shades are drawn which seems funny to me as we never did draw our shades in all these years. I suppose you folks are rationed on sugar & coffee etc as we are here. We have not felt stinted for sugar. We have 1.2 lb each wk & get along very well.  Not so many pies of course & few cakes however we can get cakes & pies still at the bakery. Coffee ration has just begun, 1 lb every 5 weeks. We will not use that much at any time as we drink coffee only at breakfast. Gas rationing will not affect us as we do not drive the car to excess as some do of course.

One thing I learned from reading the letters is that family members did visit each other. Not often, but once they did they reminisced about the visit.

We seldom (well never) write letters, instead we use facebook or some other form of social media. It will be interesting to see what our descendants learn about us from our posts.

I’m thinking of posting all the letters. Let me know what you think.

Wilson, Thomas B; Ontario Marriage Notices, 1830 – 1856; Marriage of William Titchworth and Nancy Mulholland; page 56.

1851 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; District 2; page 33, line 42; Microfilm C-11714;accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1861 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; page 25; Microfilm C1109; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1870 US Census; William Titchworth Household; Cedar Creek, Cowley, Kansas; line 15; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online];

“Kansas State Census, 1875,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS3B-7SMY-M?cc=1825178&wc=WD7G-VFK%3A1597272361%2C1597272483%2C1597262301 : accessed 7 February 2018), Cowley > Windsor Township > 2 Agriculture > image 1 of 3; citing Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.

1880 US Census; William Titchworth Household; Windsor, Cowley, Kansas; line 16; Enumeration District 185; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online];

1885 Kansas Territory Census; William Titchworth; Harvey, Cowley, Kansas; line 32; Roll KS1885_29; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas

Kay Corbett Collection; Copy letters written to Pheobe Titchworth, Chester Field, and Kay Corbett in my possession.