Category Archives: Personal Family History/Research

Week 2 (Favorite Photo) – Mary Pennypacker Garner

For the second week of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge the prompt is “Favorite Photo.” I was not sure I could really pick a favorite photo because each ancestor photo that I have been lucky enough to get is very important to me. But after thinking about it for a little while, I decided to blog about a tombstone photo that I took myself on a visit to Vincent Baptist Cemetery in Chester Springs (Chester County) PA back in 2005. It is a picture of the gravestone of my third great-grandmother Mary Pennypacker Garner, who was born in 1802 and died in 1852.


Grave of Mary Pennypacker Garner, 1802-1852, Vincent Baptist Churchyard, Chester County, PA

Before I talk about the tombstone photo, I first wanted to blog a bit about Mary. She was born 4 Jul 1802, to Henry Pennypacker and his wife Susanna Zublin.1 She had an older sister Elizabeth and younger siblings James, Aaron, Owen, Sarah and Susan.2 Her father Henry was a farmer in Chester Springs. The Pennypackers were an established family that trace their roots back to the immigrant Heinrich Pennebacker, who immigrated from Holland prior to 1700 and eventually settled in what is now Skippack, Montgomery, Pennsylvania.

Mary married John Garner circa 1822.3 Their known children were Samuel, Susan, Sarah, David, James, Mary and John Jr. Census data suggests there may also have been a daughter born prior to Samuel. The young family seems to have moved around quite a bit. In 1830 they are in East Nantmeal, Chester Co., PA, in 1840 they are in Upper Union Township, Berks Co., PA and in 1850 they are in North Coventry, Chester Co., PA.4,5,6 Mary died in 18521 and by 1860, John is a widower living in Phoenixville, Chester Co., PA.7 Mary is buried next to her mother, Susanna Zublin Pennypacker, and step-father, Valentine Pennypacker (a cousin to her father), in the cemetery at Vincent Baptist Church. While I suspect her father’s family was Mennonite, her mother was a member of this church.

There are several reasons why her tombstone photo is so important to me. First, when I visited the Vincent Baptist Cemetery it was for general research. I knew that several of my ancestors and relatives lived in the area and was hoping to find some family members buried there. However, from what I knew of where the Garners lived based on census and land records, I was not expecting that Mary’s grave would be there. Finding it was wonderfully serendipitous!

Second, though her tombstone was in very rough shape, it was very informative. It gives the name of her husband (John Garner) and her parents (Henry and Susan Pennypacker) in addition to her date of death and age at death. It is, in fact, the only record I have been able to find of her vital information. I have not found her birth, death or marriage dates in church records, newspapers, any sort of family records or any other publications.

And the third reason I am so glad to have this photo is that when I returned to the cemetery about a year or so ago, her tombstone was no longer there! She is buried next to her mother and step-father. That area is now just grass. In the intervening years, her tombstone must have been damaged and/or destroyed and removed. Unfortunately, there was no one on-site at the church to ask. Since this is the only record of her birth and death dates, I am so very glad to have gotten a photo of it before it was gone.


  1. Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Vincent Baptist Cemetery, photographed 9/9/2005. Her tombstone inscription states that she was the wife of John Garner and daughter of Henry and Susan Pennypacker, died Sept 10, 1852, aged 50 years, 2 months and 6 days. (Admittedly, the tombstone is difficult to read, but this is my best interpretation.)
  2. “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” images, FamilySearch ( : 3 July 2014), Chester > Orphans’ Court records 1822-1831 vol 14-15 > image 259 of 575; county courthouses, Pennsylvania. Petition of Harmon and Matthias Pennypacker, sons of Harmon Pennypacker Sr. names the children of their deceased brother Henry.
  3. Marriage date is based on birth of eldest daughter possibly being circa 1823.
  4. 1830; Census Place: West Nantmeal, Chester, Pennsylvania; Series: M19; Roll: 148; Page: 203; Family History Library Film: 0020622. Household of John Garner
  5. 1840; Census Place: Union, Berks, Pennsylvania; Roll: 438; Page: 395; Family History Library Film: 0020535 Household of John Garner.
  6. 1850 U.S. census,, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Census Place: North Coventry, Chester, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_765; Page: 171A; Image: 347. Household of John Garner.
  7. 1860; Census Place: Phoenixville, Chester, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1092; Page: 697; Family History Library Film: 805092 Household of John Garner

Week 1 (Start) – Anna Maria Shimer Keeley


Cemetery at Brownbacks – Burial site of Anna Maria (nee Shimer) Keeley and her husband Jacob

The prompt for this week is “Start.” I chose my 4th great-grandmother Anna Maria (nee Shimer) Keeley to write about because she is the earliest documented ancestor in my matrilineal line. She represents a starting point of sorts since she is the ancestor that I can reliably point to as the one from whom I inherited my mtDNA (mitochrondial DNA).  [Here’s the link to my mtDNA post.]

Anna Maria Shimer was born about 1760, probably in Pennsylvania. Her father was Michael Shimer. 1 It’s possible that her mother was Catherine Ash (or Esch), daughter of Adam Esch, and that she had a brother and two sisters, but more research is needed to verify her mother and siblings.  2,3

The Shimer family lived in Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. 4 Their property was supposed to have been along the Schuylkill River and thus was likely near present-day Spring City.2

On March 7, 1782 the Lutheran minister Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg performed a ceremony uniting in marriage Anna Maria and Jacob Keeley. 5 Jacob also grew up in Vincent Township and was the son of Sebastian Keeley and Elizabeth Fry. His father was a prominent citizen who, at the time of his death in 1777, owned a plantation, mill and tavern in Vincent Township as well as a plantation in across the river in Limerick township (then Philadelphia, now Montgomery County, PA).

Both the Shimers and Keeleys were of German descent. Many German Protestants immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early to mid 1700s in large part to escape religious persecution. The Shimers and Keeleys were likely part of this group.

Jacob and Anna Maria Keeley spent the early part of their married life in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, PA – quite possibly living on the Limerick plantation originally owned by his father. They were enumerated there in 1790 and 1800. Upon the death of his mother in 1807, Jacob purchased his parents’ property in Vincent township from his brothers and sisters and presumably relocated his family to that land.

Jacob and Anna Maria had a family of nine children – 3 sons and 6 daughters. Their children were Hannah, Sebastian, Elizabeth, Jacob, George, Mary, Esther, Sarah and Catherine. 6 My ancestor was Catherine, the baby of the family, who was born in 1802.

Tragically, Anna Maria died on April 14, 1814, just one day before her husband Jacob. The church records say that Jacob died of typhoid fever. It is quite possible that Anna Maria died of the same disease. They are buried side by side at Brownback’s United Church of Christ Cemetery in East Coventry, Chester, Pennsylvania. 1 Note that Brownbacks was founded in 1743 and was formerly known as the First Reformed Church of Coventry, it being one of the earliest German Reformed Churches in Pennsylvania.7


  1. Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Brownback’s UCC Cemetery, photographed 6/25/2005. Her tombstone inscription states that she was 54 years of age when she died in 1814 and that she was the daughter of Michael Shimer and wife of Jacob Keeley.
  2. Shimer Allen R., History and Genealogy of the Shimer Family in America,(Allentown, PA: Press of Berkemeyer, Keck & Co., 1908), Vol 1, pg 52 and Vol 2, pg 221-222; digital images, The Internet Archive, Information on immigrant Michael Shimer and family.
  3. Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia, administration files; Author: Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills; Probate Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Probate file of Michael Shimer of Vincent Township, Chester, PA (widow was Catherine)
  4. Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Proprietary Tax Lists, Chester County Rates – 1771; Volume Number: Vol 11; Page Number: 772; Family Number: 1
  5. Tappert, Theodore G. and John W. Doberstein, “The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg,” Volume 3, The Evangelical Lutheran Nimisterium of Pennsylvania & Adjacent States, page 474; Marriage of Jacob Keely and Anna Maria Scheumer
  6. “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” images, FamilySearch ( : 3 July 2014), Chester > Orphans’ Court records 1809-1822 vol 12-13 > image 233 of 570; county courthouses, Pennsylvania. Petition of the heirs of Jacob Keeley, late of Vincent Township.
  7. Brownback UCC Church History. (

Using DNA to Put Cracks in a Brick Wall

One of my long-time brick walls is my 3rd great-grandfather Jacob Garber. He is an ancestor on my Dad’s side. I have written about the rather sparse information I have been able to gather on him and the challenges in finding his parents in the brick wall section of my website. [Here is the link:]

This is essentially what I know about him. He was born circa 1802, probably in the area of Amity or Douglassville, Berks County, Pennsylvania. He married Ann Campbell on 13 Nov 1825. Ann died in 1850 and was survived by six children – five daughters and one son. Despite the oldest daughter Mary Ann being born in Oct of 1825, all of Ann Campbell Garber’s children are presumed to be fathered by Jacob. At this point I am not sure when Jacob died. It is possible that he remarried after Ann’s death and fathered additional children.

So what’s the big break through with DNA? Well I have a AncestryDNA match who also has Jacob Garber and Ann Campbell in his tree. I have been in contact with him, but unfortunately he doesn’t know the parents of Jacob either. If my match would not have uploaded his DNA test results to GEDMatch that would be the end of the story – at least for now. But because of the chromosome-level matching information that we get through GEDMatch we now have a triangulation group that points to possible parents for Jacob!!


But there’s a twist. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have created paternal and maternal side kits on GEDMatch by phasing my original kit with my Mom’s. When I do a one to one comparison between my paternal & maternal side kits I get a 21.3 cM match on Chromosome 11. I was not surprised (nor upset) by this because I have known for several years that both my Mom and Dad descend from Valentine Keely & wife Susanna Mueller as well as from George Bechtel & Hannah Yocum. Both of these couples lived in the 1700s. Thus, in one case my parents are 5th cousins once removed and in the other case 6th cousins once removed.

As you have probably guessed by now, my Jacob Garber-Ann Campbell match (let’s call him EK) matches me on that very same segment where my two chromosome 11s match each other. EK, of course, also matches my Mom on that segment and matches my maternal uncle on part of the segment. So the main triangulation group is my Dad (via the segment I inherited from him), my Mom and EK. How awesome is that! (Note that recently my brother and a maternal Aunt tested and they share this segment as well!)

We first need to look at the match itself. I have a couple of graphics from GEDmatch to illustrate the match from the perspective of my paternal side as well as my maternal side. The first graphic shows the match based on what I inherited from my Dad. Leaving my Uncle out of the equation (for the moment), it is easy to see that EK has the exact same match to my paternal side kit as my Mom and I. It is also obvious that the matching segment crosses over the centromere and I’ll address that shortly.Garber-DNA-match-PThe second graphic shows the match based on what inherited from my Mom. I think the interesting thing to note is that this match to EK is slightly longer than the match based on my Dad’s side.

Garber-DNA-match-MGetting back to the centromere. If you have ever seen a graphic with a chromosome represented by an X-like figure, the centromere would be where the legs of the X connect. It is represented by the pinkish colored vertical band. It is also a region where recombination doesn’t generally occur and could be passed down unchanged for many, many generations. So a match on that area of the chromosome is usually considered a false positive in that it may not indicate a common ancestor in a genealogical time frame.

That being said the matching segments as pictured above extend well beyond the centromere and I believe they represent true IBD segments. In fact the Ancestry matching algorithm, which is supposed to be designed to subtract false positive areas, classifies my match to EK as 4th-6th cousin with shared DNA being a total of 18.6 cM across 2 segments. Kind of curiously, it classified both my Mom’s and Uncle’s match to EK as 5th-8th cousin, with a total of 15.6 cM across 2 segments and 14.9 across 2 segments, respectively. Given the results shown on GEDmatch, I would have expected my Mom’s match to EK to have been closer in length to mine, but for one reason or another Ancestry has not calculated it that way.

So getting back to the Garber connection. As it turns out, there are Garbers in my mother’s ancestry. One of her 3rd great-grandparents (my 4th great) are Conrad Garber and Anna Maria Bechtel. From Chester County, Pennsylvania estate documents we know that Conrad had a brother named John who died prior to 1837 leaving 12 children. The children are named in the probate file of their bachelor uncle Johan Adam Garber, as are the children of Conrad.

I have found baptism records for some of John Garber’s children, but not all of them. One of the children for whom I have not located a baptism record is the son named Jacob. For several years I have been wondering if Jacob, son of John, was the Jacob who married Ann Campbell. The approximate age is right and the location is right, but with multiple Garber families in the area I have felt that more evidence was needed to make that call. This DNA match is nudging me closer.

Going back a generation, the parents of Conrad, John and Johan Adam Garber were Johan Adam Garber and Anna Maria Schleicher. Assuming for now that Jacob is the son of John, my relationship to EK via my Mom’s side is sixth cousin once removed. The relationship on my Dad’s side is fourth cousin. A nagging issue is why my maternal side kit seems to share slightly more DNA with EK even though the relationship is more distant. I have a few thoughts on this. First, the randomness of DNA inheritance and recombination causes you to share more (or less) than the average amount expected at a given cousin level. Second, the fact that this matching segment crosses the centromere could have the effect of making it more “sticky” than if it were located elsewhere on the chromosome. Also, the Ancestry algorithm calculated a larger shared DNA amount between EK and me than between EK and my Mom and that is consistent with the actual relationships. So maybe whatever it does to strip out false positive regions is working in this case.

The bottom line is that I am cautiously optimistic that I have found Jacob’s parents – and a third common ancestor couple for my parents. However, there is still more work to be done to be sure the match is not inherited from Jacob’s wife Ann. While I have fairly good information on her paternal side, her maternal side is yet another brick wall. There is always the possibility, however remote, that Ann’s mother connects back to one of my known pedigree intersections – i.e. Valentine Keely/Susannah Mueller or George Bechtel/Hannah Yocum or an as yet unknown common ancestor shared by my parents. (Note that because EK descends from a daughter of Jacob & Ann who moved west (not the one born prior to the marriage), the chance of a link through another of EK’s ancestors is extremely remote.)

That all being said, I’m not a DNA expert so if someone reading this has other ideas or thinks I’m off-base, I would love to hear from you!

Gedmatch, Phasing and Losing Matches

As I mentioned in my last post, I have joined the autosomal DNA bandwagon and have uploaded my raw DNA data from Ancestry into Gedmatch. I have also had my Mom tested and have uploaded her results to Gedmatch as well. And now things are getting interesting!

One of the first things I did was to phase my DNA with my Mom’s. The phasing process compares my DNA to my Mom’s and determines which of my genetic information comes from her. The half that doesn’t come from her is assumed to come from my Dad. (He is no longer living, so I cannot phase directly with him.) As a result, in addition to my original Gedmatch kit, I now have a paternal-side kit and a maternal-side kit as well.

Before I jump into my DNA findings, I need to mention a bit about my heritage. Pretty much all of my ancestors on both sides were in the southeastern Pennsylvania counties of Montgomery, Chester and Berks since colonial times. Some arrived as early as the 1600s. Many were Pennsylvania German, but some were Welsh, Scottish, Swedish and a few other nationalities. The communities in which they lived were small and relatively isolated. As you might imagine there were cousin marriages.  This occurred within the lines of both my parents and also between their respective lines. So it’s possible, maybe even probable, that some of the phenomena I am finding with my DNA matches is a result of endogamy.

With that being said, here’s what happened. First I ran a 1-to-many match on my full kit using the default parameters. This should return all the people in gedmatch with whom I share a DNA match of 7 cM (centiMorgans) or greater, sorted largest to smallest. I got 1500 matches that were all 8.1 cM or longer. 1500 is the cut off for the number of matches that Gedmatch returns in the the 1-to-many results. Thus I hit the Gedmatch maximum before I reached the 7 cM threshold. To circumvent this, I decided to run the 1-to-many match on my paternal-side and maternal-side kits. My thinking was that this would not only sort my matches, but that by splitting them I would see the ones I missed due to the 1500 limit. So I ran a 1-to-many on my paternal-side kit, again using the default parameters, and got 389 matches. Then I ran a 1-to-many on my maternal-side kit and got 481 matches. A grand total of 870 matches!? Yes, I lost matches! Lots of them!

So what happened? I am not totally sure, but I have a possible explanation. The first step is to understand how gedmatch determines matches. Basically, the process of matching is comparing the respective values at certain locations (SNPs) on chromosomes of two people. But since our chromosomes come in pairs – with one coming from Mom and the other coming from Dad – we have 2 values at each location as does the person to whom we are comparing. In order to be a match at a given location only one of our values needs to match one of theirs. But when it makes these comparisons, gedmatch does not have the information to know which of the two values is contributed by which parent. To have a true IBD (identical by descent) segment, the matching values culled from my pairs must all come from either my mom or my dad, but not a combination of the two. Same for the other individual in the match. Thus, it would seem that the matches that disappeared were actually false matches and the result of one or more small segments inherited from my Dad combining with one or more small segments inherited from my Mom to form one larger segment that matched someone else. At least this the explanation I have come up with at this point.

What is still unclear to me is whether or not my results are typical. Does my genetic background and the fact that I have cousin marriages and pedigree collapse in my 8 generation pedigree chart make me more prone to these types of false matches? Is losing over 40% of their matches something most people can expect when they phase their kit to their parent(s)? I would be interested to hear what others think and what their experiences are regarding this.


My Journey into Autosomal DNA Testing

Until recently I was one of those people who did not think that autosomal DNA testing would bring much to the table in terms of advancing my own genealogy research. I have been researching for over 10 years and have built up my family tree through various traditional sources — both online and off-line. I have identified all my 3x great-grandparents by first and last/maiden names and all but 5 of my 4x great-grandparents. Granted, beyond that I have more holes and hit brick walls, but my thinking was that I would need to find a 5th, 6th or higher cousin with whom I share DNA and who is a lineal descendant of one of my unidentified ancestors in order to solve one of those brick walls. I thought the chance of that happening was pretty slim. But as the genetic genealogy buzz grew and more and more people were getting tested, I started to change my mind. Even if I was not able to break through a brick wall, maybe I would be able to find an elusive cousin who inherited the old family photographs or the family Bible. And so a couple of months ago I decided to get an autosomal DNA test.

Basically an autosomal DNA test is used to identify genetic cousins. Google can help you if you are looking for a detailed explanation of the mechanics. I chose to test with AncestryDNA because 1) they were having a sale [smile] and 2) I thought most AncestyDNA customers would be existing customers and as such would be more interested in finding cousins than in finding their deep ethnicity. (I must admit that based on the number of matches that I have with no tree, I was undoubtedly wrong on that account.) I was also thinking that I could upload my AncestryDNA results to FTDNA. This would enable me to take advantage of finding matches in their system as well, and I would only have to pay the transfer fee. I have not done this step yet, but I have not ruled it out. My current match results on Ancestry are pictured below.


At this point I should point out that when I made the decision to go with AncestryDNA I knew that a major downside was that they did not provide adequate DNA analysis tools – most notably a chromosome browser. They force you to rely only on member trees to work out your DNA matches. And while comparing trees is an important and necessary step in analyzing a match, not taking the next step and comparing chromosome data can lead to erroneous conclusions. (I already ran into this on the second group of “related” matches that I was working on.)

In order to look at the chromosome matches, AncestryDNA customers must upload their results to Gedmatch (or FTDNA). The Gedmatch website provides several useful tools. It operates on a “free-mium” model with certain tools being free to use while more advanced tools require a donation or subscription. An added benefit is that FTDNA and 23&Me customers can also upload their data, thus results from all three companies can be compared. I have only used Gedmatch a short while, but it has been incredibly useful and necessary. The major downside, of course, is that not all of your matches have uploaded their data to that site. So while Gedmatch is awesome, I still think the community needs to continue to try to convince Ancestry to provide it’s customers with the tools necessary to make informed and valid analyses.

The bottom line with all this is that I have already met and collaborated with cousins that I probably would not have found otherwise. I am glad that I joined the DNA band wagon — and I even convinced my Mom to join me!!!