DNA could stand for Discover New Ancestors!

On #52Ancestors, for week 15, the theme is DNA.  When I was growing up no one talked about DNA of course but I was always curious as to where our ancestors came from.

For sure I knew both sides of my mother’s family had immigrated from Finland so being about half Finnish was a given.  But my dad’s side was a mystery!  He never really talked a lot about it and I didn’t even know the name of his father who died in 1939.  We lived in Upper Michigan but my dad was born in Virginia-way too far away to visit- and besides, I found out recently that his family moved to lower Michigan in the Detroit area about 1923.  My Dad’s mother lived in Lower Michigan about 650 miles away and died when I was in high school.  The Mackinaw bridge wasn’t built yet so if we went to Lower Michigan to visit we had to cross the straits in a car ferry.  So we didn’t go but a few times.

The only person who ever mentioned any ancestry on Dad’s side was his brother Bill – who was the oldest and therefore must have known the family ancestry or did he?

LaFon, brothers and sisters and mother 001
William (Bill), Cammie, LaFon, Eddie, Coralie and Dreama June – Dad’s Family

My Uncle Bill said we were German, Irish and Dutch and mostly German and so we took that as our answer.  However when I did have my DNA done, there were some surprises!  Like I said, being half Finnish was a given and proved to be true.  My Dad’s side was more that half British and Irish so Uncle Bill did have something right, he just left out the English!  The German part was only around 5% and combined with French.  So he overestimated the amount of German ancestry.  The rest of the DNA report said broadly Northwestern European which could cover the Dutch ancestry that Uncle Bill talked about and a whole lot of other countries!

So now I had some definitive answers and as I am researching, I am able to find ancestors of the same descent as in my DNA profile.  Many of my paternal ancestors can be traced back to the British Isles including some from England, Scotland, and Wales.  I found some Irish immigrants also! You can read about them here: Irish Ancestors and Immigrants!  I may have found a German ancestor but cannot verify it yet but have not found a French ancestor as yet.

Now it is well and good to have clues from your DNA but I wanted names, stories and photos – which are exceedingly scarce on Dad’s side!  Over the last few years I have been researching mainly my father’s lineage and have found some great stories.  It’s the stories that give substance to the names!  Some stories are sad, some surprising and all of them are insightful!  Some of the stories were downright spooky such as the story of a missing heirloom! A Ghostly Story and a Family Heirloom.

Some stories were inspiring such as finding ancestors who were inventors! Inventors Uncovered!

So I have this Swanson family of my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents and am trying to see where they fit in the DNA profile.  The name Swanson seems like it would be Scandinavian, right?  Well, it is an anglicized version of Svenson and was found in the British Isles in the early, early times.  By the year 1221, it was found in Scotland in the name of Duncan Swainston (a version of Swanson) who acquired the lands of Swaynystoun, near Colinton, in Midlothian.  ( Ref: House of Names.com)  Swainston Manor was on the Isle of Wight and was later converted to a hotel.  It has a 12-century chapel on its 32 acres which is believed to have been built by the Bishops of Winchester.  Hm-m-m, could these be ancient ancestors?

Swainston manor 001

Swainston manor, hotel 001
Swainston Manor converted to a Hotel, Isle of Wight, Ireland

A cousin of mine who lives in Virginia and whose ancestor is my Swanson grandmother’s sister had some interesting family information.  I connected with her on
Ancestry.  She wrote that the Swanson families were of Scotch-Irish descent.  Now that made sense to me.  With just a little research on the web, I found out that the Scots-Irish were Scots who settled in Northern Ireland mainly in Ulster and most were Presbyterian farmers.  They started migrating to Virginia in 1715 and again in 1740 due to the famine in Ireland.   I found that many settled in the mid-to-southern counties of the Shenandoah Valley starting in Augusta County, Virginia and migrating to Rockbridge, Amherst, Campbell and other surrounding counties in the Appalachians.  These are the counties where I found my Swanson ancestors.

Knowing more about my DNA helps me to explore ethnic origins of ancestors that I find.  I may not always find definitive answers on their origins but certainly can piece together clues to form an educated guess!  Next week, I hope to delve into some Swanson stories!



A Family of Phillips!

For week 14 of #52Ancestors, the prompt is “brick wall.”  In genealogy, a brick wall is when you can’t find any records or information on an ancestor and can’t research further – just like “hitting a brick wall!”  I have encountered quite a few in my research but I am going to stretch the theme this week to write about an ancestor who worked in a foundry – a foundry that made bricks and cast iron parts!

Cora Phillips Swanson 001
Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson

To start at the beginning, this is a lovely picture of Cora Virginia Phillips, my great grandmother – the mother of my paternal grandmother, Cammie Lyster Swanson Lyons.  Cora married William Domman Swanson on 24 July 1884 in Amherst County, Virginia.  You can find the story of William’s tragic death here.  A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather.

Cora was the daughter of Oscar Fitzallen Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch, my second great-grandparents.  As I was researching, I did stumble upon another Oscar Phillips in the family and he was Oscar Stephens Phillips, a cousin, who married Pearl May Swanson, the daughter of William and Cora  Swanson.  Confused yet?  I was at first, too!  Oscar Stephens Phillips married my grandmother’s sister, Pearl.  We’ll just call him “Oscar S” as he will come up later in this story.  But let’s get back to Oscar Fitzallen and Nancy Jane.

Phillips, Benjamin, Capt, 3gg
Capt. Benjamin Phillips

Oscar Fitzallen Phillips was born 11 December 1832 in the town of Amherst, Amherst County, Virginia.  He was the son of Captain Benjamin Allen Phillips and Mary Nicholas Cazey (Casey) and was their 8th and last child.  His father, Capt. Benjamin Phillips was a veteran of the War of 1812 and was born in 1777 during the Revolutionary War in Henrico Co., Virginia.  Benjamin was a carpenter by trade and they lived in Lynchburg, VA.  The 1850 Census for this family showed that their son Oscar was 18 and was working as a “moulder” – a trade he will follow through his life.  A moulder made molds for cast iron parts or for bricks in a foundry by pouring the molten iron into molds and removing them when the iron has hardened – heavy and hot work!   Oscar’s brother, Benjamin S, was a “plaisterer” which is an old spelling of plasterer.  Capt. Phillips died 11 March 1863 in Amherst Co. and Mary Nicholas Cazey Phillips was born in 1795 and died 17 May 1857 in Lynchburg, VA.   Mary Cazey is one of my brick walls I need to work on!

The 1850 Census naming Nancy Jane Burch who was to marry Oscar Fitzallen Phillips is the first record I found of her.  She was the daughter of Stephen Burch and Elizabeth Miller McDaniel – or was the last name Miller or was Elizabeth a widow?  See what I mean about brick walls!  Clearly, more research is ahead for this family.

On the 10th of December of 1852, the marriage bonds for Oscar and Nancy were published with the bondsman being her father, Stephen Burch.  They were married on Christmas Day in 1852 when Nancy was but 16 years old and Oscar was 20.  By time Nancy was 20 years old, their first children were born – twins!- in October of 1856.  They named them Millard Fillmore Phillips and Mildred Frances Phillips (Millard and Mildred – how charming!)  Millard was noted in the 1870 Census but Mildred, or Millie as she was called, was not so it can be assumed that she may have died before 1870.  I could find no record that she had married or of her death.  Millard became paralyzed between 1870 and 1880 according to the census.  He was working as a farm hand in 1870 and paralyzed by 1880.  Millard lived with his parents until his death sometime before 1910.  Cause of the paralysis is unknown but could have been an accident or disease.

The twins were the first children of 17 known children – yes, 17 children- and my great-grandmother, Cora Phillips, was the eighth child.  The 1860 Census give little information about Oscar and Nancy’s family except that Oscar was a Grocer at the time and they had 3 children.  The value of their real estate was $200 and personal estate was $1000.  That would be about $6300 and $32,000 in today’s values.  The Civil War started a year later and affected everyone in the country as well as in Virginia where many of the battles were fought.  Nancy was 23 and Oscar was 26 when the Civil War started.  In searching Confederate files, I did find 3 records for an “O. Phillips” or “Oscar Phillips” but the records did not contain enough information to verify that this was our Oscar who served although it is likely to have been him as he was of age to serve.

After the war Oscar is again working as a moulder in a foundry for the next 20 years in Amherst.   The Lynchburg, Virginia City directory of 1875 listed him as a moulder at the Phoenix Foundry and living in Amherst (near Lynchburg VA).

Phoenix Foundry picture

Phillips, Oscar, city dir, 1875, Lynchburg VA 001

Nancy bore their last child Julia May Phillips in 1880 at age 44 or age 45.   Nancy bore 17  children in a span of about 25 years!  I found this information in the 1900 Census records where they listed the number of children born as 17 and the number of children living as 12.  I have only found 15 of the children so 2 may have died young between census records or at birth.  Oscar’s occupation is again listed as Iron Moulder and they owned their home and carried a mortgage.  Their paralyzed son Millard lived with them along with son Robert O, age 41, who is a locomotive overhauler; a daughter Alice, 30; Hubert F, 21, a cove maker in a pipe factory; and Julia, age 19.  This was a family who worked in the trades!

In 1910, their home is in the Madison Heights Village, Elon District, Amherst Co and Oscar is now 78 and Nancy is 74.  At 78, Oscar is still working as a moulder in a foundry and their son, Robert is a farmer running a truck farm.  Their son Hubert is 28 and a mail carrier for the Post Office.  About 1911, Nancy passed away although the exact date is not yet verified.  Oscar Fitzallen died at age 81 in Madison Heights of heart disease.

I can’t imagine my great-grandmother, Cora, growing up in a family of 17 children – there probably was never a dull moment!  I admire Oscar and Nancy for providing for and caring for such a large family!  Here’s a brief list of what I know about 15 of the Phillips children, siblings of Cora.

  • Millard Fillmore Phillips1856-bef.1910 – twin of Mildred, became paralyzed
  • Mildred Frances Phillips 1856-bef 1870
  • Robert Oscar Phillips 1858-1936, married Lucy M Moon
  • Charles Edward Phillips 1860-1947, married Sally Ann Franklin
  • Nannie Belle Phillips 1862-1945, married Simeon W. Ford, see a story about her here Simeon and Nannie Belle Ford – A Surprising Couple!
  • Mary Elizabeth Phillips 1865-1953, married Thomas Jefferson Wade
  • Melissa M  Phillips 1866-? (She was 14 in the 1880 Census, missing in 1900 – may have died or married before 1900)
  • Cora Virginia Phillips 1867-1945, my great-grandmother pictured above.  Married William D. Swanson.  She died at the home of Oscar S Phillips who married her daughter, Pearl May Swanson (Home where she died is pictured below)
  • Rosa Lee Phillips 1869-1954, married John Peter Ledbetter (picture below)
  • Alice Merriman Phillips 1876-1962, married Seabird Ayers
  • Lilian Mae Phillips 1871-1946, married Henry Rosser Holloran
  • Joseph Carson Phillips 1875-1950, married Mary Archie Robertson
  • Hubert Fitzallen Phillips 1878-1948, married Hattie E Woodson
  • Newman Phillips 1878?-?, possible twin to Hubert
  • Julia C Phillips 1880-1968, married Henry Jenifer May
Phillips, Rosa Ledbetter and Husb. d o Oscar Phillips
Rosa Lee Phillips Ledbetter and John Peter Ledbetter
Phillips, Oscar S, home at 56 Federal Street, Lynchburg VA
Home of Oscar S and Pearl May Phillips at 56 Federal Street, Lynchburg, Virginia.   My great-grandmother, Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson died in this house 26 April 1945.


  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1850; Place: Lynchburg, Campbell, Virginia; Roll: M432_938; Page: 74A; Image: 151.
  • Ricks, Joel, Lynchburg City, Virginia Marriage Bonds, 1805-1854, Page 32.
  • Ancestry.com, Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2014.
  • Find A Grave: wwwfindagrave.com/memorial/160388487/mary-n-phillips
  • Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1860; Place: Amherst, Virginia; Roll: M653_1332; Page: 400; FHL microfilm: 805332.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1870; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: M593_1633; Page: 4550A; Image: 362; FHL microfilm: 553132.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1880; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: 1353; FHL microfilm: 1,255,353.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1900; Place: Madison Amherst Virginia; Roll: 1699; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0010; FHL microfilm: 1, 241699.
  • United States Federal Census; Year: 1910; Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: T624_1621; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 00212; FHL microfilm: 1375634.
  • Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Database, FamilySearch, FHL microfilm 2,046,910. (citing Amherst County, Virginia).
  • Chataigne’s Lynchburg City Directory, 1875-76.