Photo of the Day – July 19, 2015

Click to enlarge.
Each Saturday I look forward to reading an article that former Youngstown resident Bob Trube writes on his website “Bob On Books“. His “On Youngstown” series highlights different aspects of working class Youngstown. Yesterday’s article was about the different family owned grocery stores that he often visited as a child.
As a product of Youngstown in the 1980’s and 1990’s, my grocery store visits were usually to chain stores including Giant Eagle in Liberty or the Sparkle Market on Gypsy Lane. I have only a few memories of visits to the Pyatt Street Market or the A&P on Elm Street.
Historically, however, my maternal family has a history of operating groceries. My great great grandfather Joseph F. Witt operated a grocery at 413 Ford Avenue on Youngstown’s north side. His brother John A. Witt operated a grocery at 1001 Blackadore Avenue in Pittsburgh. The photo above is of Joseph in his store at sometime in the 1930’s. Canned goods, tobacco, fresh vegetables and even Hostess cakes are visible in the picture.
Grandpa Joe passed away in 1943. Today the 400 block of Ford Avenue is vacant, with his store long gone and a Youngstown State parking lot nearby.

Joseph Franklin Witt (1868-1943), photograph, taken in Witt’s grocery at 413 Ford Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1930’s; image taken by unknown photographer; privately held by Joseph Lowry, [address for private use], Sterling, VA. Provenance is Mary Catherine Witt Sanders to Joseph Lowry.

The Bixler Family in 1891

If your family member appears in a genealogy database, odds are that one type of record attached to that person is a city directory. A city directory, as stated in the famous Boston Directory, is “a list of the merchants, mechanics, traders, and others, of the town…; in order to enable strangers to find the residence of any person.” City directories predate the phone book by a few hundred years, as is the case in Boston. Most large city’s have published directories at some point in their history. No doubt with the internet, much of this information has transitioned to online. Still, many central business districts have published directories featuring the businesses and people in that area.
I have a love-hate relationship with the city directory. The two largest genealogy research websites, and both have very large databases of city directories, covering hundreds of cities over 100 or more years. When I searched the online catalog on FamilySearch for ‘City Directory,’ I received 27,338 returns. When I’m conducting research on the larger genealogy websites such as, city directories returns can cloud my results. Especially when published annually, a city directory is rarely going to be a groundbreaking document. Still, the city directory can be very useful to know what your ancestors are up to year to year. As the U.S. Census is only taken every ten years, city directories can fill in the gaps.

One such city directory is the 1891 directory for Youngstown, Ohio. As most of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire, an 1891 directory provides much needed information on this time period. Opposite an advertisement for the Youngstown Iron and Steel Company were several groups of Bixler’s. The Bixler’s are the family of my maternal great grandmother. Listed in the directory are:
  • Bixler August, clerk Lakeshore Ry, res 333 Meadow
  • Bixler A M, bakery and confectionary 245 W Federal, res same
  • Bixler Miss Bertha, res n s Mahoning ave w of Creek
  • Bixler Charles F, driver A M Bixler, res n s Mahoning ave
  • Bixler Frederick, farmer, res n s Mahoning ave w of Creek
  • Bixler George P, painter, res 360 W Rayen ave
  • Bixler Miss Louisa R, res 333 Meadow
  • Bixler Miss Minnie, clerk L Osborne & Co, res 360 W Rayen ave
  • Bixler Nicholas, painter, res 360 W Rayen ave
  • Bixler Phillip, butcher, res 121 Stull
  • Bixler Miss Sophia, res 121 Stull
  • Bixler William, wks Lloyd Booth Co, res 333 Meadow
  • Bixler William G, laborer, res 333 Meadow
  • Bixler William J, wks Cartwright, M & Co, res 121 Stull
Based on the addresses listed, we can assume several of those listed are related to each other in some way. I’ve added my relationship where I know it.
  1. Bixler August, clerk Lakeshore Ry, res 333 Meadow – My 2nd great grand uncle
  2. Bixler Miss Louisa R, res 333 Meadow – My 2nd great grand aunt
  3. Bixler William, wks Lloyd Booth Co, res 333 Meadow – My 2nd great grandfather
  4. Bixler William G, laborer, res 333 Meadow – My 3rd great grandfather
121 Stull Street (Lower West Side) – renamed West Avenue, mapped address is approximate.
  1. Bixler Phillip, butcher, res 121 Stull
  2. Bixler Miss Sophia, res 121 Stull
  3. Bixler William J, wks Cartwright, M & Co, res 121 Stull
  1. Bixler George P, painter, res 360 W Rayen ave
  2. Bixler Miss Minnie, clerk L Osborne & Co, res 360 W Rayen ave
  3. Bixler Nicholas, painter, res 360 W Rayen ave
245 W Federal Street or Mahoning Ave (W of Creek is presumed to be Mill Creek)
  1. Bixler A M, bakery and confectionary 245 W Federal, res same
  2. Bixler Miss Bertha, res n s Mahoning ave w of Creek
  3. Bixler Charles F, driver A M Bixler, res n s Mahoning ave
  4. Bixler Frederick, farmer, res n s Mahoning ave w of Creek
There are only one of the four family groups for which I’ve identified a relationship, but I believe I can probably work to tie all of these people together in some way. As I am fond of writing, there’s more research to do!

Youngstown City Directory, 1891-1892. Akron, Ohio. The Burch Directory Company, 128. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Accessed 28 Jun 2015.

Census Sunday – The 1910 Census of Martin and Elizabeth Witt

You would be hard pressed to find 337 Rebecca Street in Pittsburgh today. It simply doesn’t exist, but it did exist in 1910 and that is where my 3rd great grandparents Martin and Elizabeth Witt made their home. Rebecca Street in the North Shore neighborhood is today known as Reedsdale Street, but now it is just a series of short segments cut by Highway Route 65 and Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

79-year-old Martin, born in Germany, was a grocer while 70-year-old Elizabeth kept the house. She was born in Pennsylvania to German parents. Martin and Elizabeth celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the year prior, as the census sheet indicates they had been married for 51 years. Elizabeth gave birth to 13 children, 8 of whom were still alive in 1910.

State: Pennsylvania
County: Allegheny
Name of Incorporated Place: Pittsburgh
Ward of the City: North Precinct
Enumerated by me on the 21st of April
Joseph H. Borton, Enumerator

Supervisor’s District: 23
Enumeration District: 398
Sheet No. 10

Dwelling No. 337
House No. 156

Family No. 166

Address: 337 N Rebecca Street (map)

Witt, Martin, head, male, white, 79 years old, 1st marriage, married 51 years. Born in Germany. Father born in Germany. Mother born in Germany. Immigrated in 1831. Naturalized citizen. Speaks English. Employed as a clerk in a grocery. Is not out of work; out of work 10 weeks in prior year. Can read: Yes. Can write: Yes.

” Elizabeth, wife, female, white, 70 years old, 1st marriage, married 51 years. 13 children born, 8 still living. Born in Pennsylvania. Father born in Germany. Mother born in Germany. Not employed. Can read: Yes. Can write: Yes.

1910 U.S. Federal Census, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, population schedule, Enumeration District 398, Sheet 10, Dwelling 337,. Martin Witt; digital image, ( : accessed 7 Jun 2015): FHL microfilm: 1375315. National Archives microfilm publication Roll T624_1302.

Photo of the Day – May 27, 2015

My niece Amelia being held by her Uncle Joe.
Joseph Biden, Amelia Nagy, Jon Nagy and Caroline Lowry-Nagy, photograph, taken at the Golden Dawn Restaurant in Youngstown, Ohio on 4 Oct 2010; digital image taken by Patrick Lowry; privately held by Patrick Lowry, [address for private use], Poland, Ohio. Vice President Joe Biden holding Amelia Nagy while parents Jon and Caroline Nagy look on.

Photo of the Day – May 26, 2015

Here’s a photo of my grandmother Barbara Wolford and her sister Betty from 1941. The twins were about 10 years old when this photo was taken. This was around the time they were living with their parents in Denver, Colorado. I will need to ask my grandmother where specifically this photo was taken.

Barbara Jean Wolford and Betty Jean Wolford, photograph, taken in unknown location (possibly Denver) in 1941; digital image, photocopy of original, scanned by Joseph Lowry; privately held by Rebecca Lowry, [address for private use], Poland, Ohio. Two young girls standing in front of a bird bath with trees in background. Provenance is Rebecca Lowry to Joseph Lowry.

Photo of the Day – May 25, 2015

I’m going to get back into the swing of posting here, I promise. I actually enjoy sharing my family discoveries and have been quite active in my genealogy work. I just haven’t been posting anything to the blog. I hope to change that in the coming days and weeks. You can certainly expect some great daily photos in the very near future. Mary Catherine Sanders (nee Witt) provided me some amazing photos of my 2nd great grandfather and his family that I can’t wait to scan and share. I’ve also made some discoveries involving Civil War records and closed a very big loop regarding Edward Lowry, my 2nd great grand uncle from Washington state. So stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Today’s photo of the day is the wedding photo of John Albert Witt and Johanna Thaner. They were married on 22 May 1890 in Saint Mary’s Church in Pittsburgh. John is the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather Joseph Witt. I’ve written about John’s unfortunate death here.

John Albert Witt (1863-1942) and Johanna Thaner Witt (1862-1949), photograph, taken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 22 May 1890; digital image, photocopy of original, scanned by Mary Mathewson; privately held by Mary Mathewson, [address for private use], Rocky River, Ohio. Man seated in suit and woman standing in wedding gown. Provenance is Mary Mathewson to Joseph Lowry.

My DNA Says I Am From Where?!

DNA tests can reveal new ancestors, show your ethnic breakdown and solve genealogical mysteries that would otherwise go unanswered. A problem arises when the same genetic material gives you two different answers to one question:
Where Am I From?
Trying to figure you where you came from historically and genetically is much simpler than it was a decade ago. Several companies offer DNA tests that include ethnicity estimates. These estimates are created by analyzing your genetic material (just a small amount of saliva) and comparing it to thousands of others. While realizing they are only estimates, they provide a little more truth to statements such as, “I’m 50% Irish, 30% German and 20% English,” or whatever you’ve always believed your ethnic breakdown to be. Keeping in mind that these are estimates and that Europe is as much of a melting pot as America can lead to some interesting statistics.
I wrote about a DNA test that my father took a few months ago through Family Tree DNA. I recently took a DNA test of my own through AncestryDNA, another company that offers tests as part of their genealogical product offering (the parent is Included in my results was the ethnicity estimate. AncestryDNA writes that they calculate their ethnicity estimates this way:

We create estimates for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0) contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions. 

We build the reference panel from a larger reference collection of 4,245 DNA samples collected from people whose genealogy suggests they are native to one region. The images below show the process of gathering local samples from various parts of the world. 

Each panel member’s genealogy is documented so we can be confident that their family is representative of people with a long history (hundreds of years) in that region.
Each volunteer’s DNA sample from a given region is then tested and compared to all others to construct the AncestryDNA reference panel. In the end, 3,000 of 4,245 individuals are chosen for the AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0). These individuals make up 26 global regions.

We then compare your DNA to the DNA in the reference panel to see which regions your DNA is most like. The ethnicity estimate you see on the web site is the result of this comparison. When we calculate your estimate for each ethnicity region, we run forty separate analyses. Each of the forty analyses gives an independent estimate of your ethnicity, and each one is done with randomly selected portions of your DNA. Your genetic ethnicity estimates and likely ranges for these estimates come from these forty analyses.[1]

With all of that in mind, I was excited to see my breakdown and learn if it matched my research. That research would indicate that I’m at last 60% German, 25% Irish, and 15% English. Keep in mind this is only going back 5 generations on average; going back any further is rather complicated because of the number of grandparents and the gaps in research. Much to my surprise, it was nowhere close!
My AncestryDNA estimate indicates that I am 62% descended from Great Britain, 20% Ireland and only 5% from Western Europe. WHAT?! Where are my Germans?! I have German surnames including Bahle, Witt, Bixler, Governor, Porubsky, Schulmeister, and Pepperney (Anglicized in a few cases) in my family history and they are getting almost no recognition by my saliva!
My ethnic matches from AncestryDNA’s autosomal DNA test. (click to enlarge.)
I was a bit stunned by the results but realize that over centuries people move. These results aren’t meant to capture a single moment in time but ancestral makeups throughout history.
Once I had my AncestryDNA results, I actually transferred my raw DNA data to Family Tree DNA. They have a service that takes the raw data from another company and uses their algorithms to produce an ethnicity report. After only a few days (since they only had to analyze the data and not test saliva), I had my results based on their algorithm.
According to Family Tree DNA, they calculate their estimates based on the following, in part, and with a bit more science in the explanation:

We assembled a large number of candidate reference populations which were relatively unadmixed and sampled widely in terms of geography. From these we removed related or outlier individuals with the Plink software, utilizing identity-by-descent (IBD) analysis and visually inspecting multi-dimensional scaling plots (MDS). Further visualization established that the reference population sets were indeed genetically distinct from each other. We also ran Admixture and MDS with specific populations to asses if any individuals were outliers or exhibited notable gene flow from other reference groups, removing these. Admixture was run on an inter and intra-continental scale to establish a plausible number of K values utilizing the cross-validation method [Alexander2011]. After removing markers which were missing in more than 5 percent of loci and those with minor allele frequencies below 1 percent, the total intersection of SNPs across the pooled data set was 290,874. The final number of individuals in was 1,353. 

To validate our Reference Population set we tested them against a list of well studied benchmark groups whose ancestral background in the literature has been well attested. Additionally we also cross-checked against individuals with attested provenance within the GeneByGene DNA database.[2]

So both companies test their results against certain population groups who they believe have remained relatively static over time. Still, once I checked my result, I was again surprised and this time for entirely different reasons.

My ethnic makeup according to Family Tree DNA. (click to enlarge.)
My Family Tree DNA estimate indicates I am 42% British Isles (Great Britain and Ireland), 30% Scandanavian, and 26% from Southern Europe. A mere 2% Central Asian is a statistical anomaly that I discount. So what does this imply? It’s certainly very different from my AncestryDNA results. It too fails to properly represent my presumed Germanic background. Neither result indicates anything close to the percentages I had assumed based on my research.
This raises so many more questions than it answered. It is forcing me to dig deeper and cast a wider net than I previously imagined in search of the truth of where I come from. I also realize these are simply estimates based on a small bit of saliva. If the tests were run again, the results could be slightly different. Genetic genealogy is a new field for me, and one that I am eager to continue exploring. I plan to share more of these discoveries in future posts!

Ball, Catherine A., Mathew J. Barber, Jake K. Byrnes, Josh Calloway, Kenneth G. Chahine, Ross E. Curtis, Kenneth Freestone, Julie M. Granka, Natalie M. Myres, Keith Noto, Yong Wang, and Scott R. Woodward. “Ethnicity Estimate White Paper.” (2013): n. pag. 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Khan, Razib, and Rui H. “MyOrigins Methodology Whitepaper – FTDNA Learning Center.” FTDNA Learning Center. Family Treee DNA, 8 May 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Shared Birthdays

For this edition of Saturday Genealogy Fun, it was proposed to identify ancestors with whom you share a birthday. I’ve identified exactly one ancestor born on my birthday, March 11. My sixth great grandfather Gottfried Wohlfarth (Wolford) was born on 11 Mar 1738 in Breitenfürst, Rems-Murr-Kreis, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. He died in 1828 in Belmont, Belmont, Ohio, United States.

Relation To Me:
Gottfried Wohlfarth (1738-1828)
father of:
Moses Wolford (1777-1845)
father of:
Mathias Wolford (1821-1876)
father of:
James Mathias Wolford (1846-1905)
father of:
Stanton M Wolford (1864-1946)
father of:
Raymond Hudson Wolford (1909-1970)
father of:
Barbara Jean Wolford Witt Viti
mother of:
Rebecca Witt Lowry
mother of:
Joseph Patrick Lowry

Photo of the Day – January 29, 2015

My sister Caroline had to be only a few weeks old when this photo was taken in June 1983. I believe this was my Witt grandparents’ living room at 330 Fairgreen Avenue in Youngstown. My mom is holding me while my cousin Jacob Sofranko holds Caroline. John Sofranko is to the left of my mom and their mother (and my godmother) Julie Sofranko is on the right.
John Sofranko, Joseph Lowry, Rebecca Witt Lowry, Jacob Sofranko, Caroline Lowry, Julie Sofranko, photograph, taken on Fairgreen Avenue, in about 1983; digital image, photocopy of original, scanned in 2013 by Joseph Lowry; privately held by Rebecca Lowry, [address for private use], Poland, Ohio. Two mothers surrounded by four children. Provenance is Rebecca Lowry to Joseph Lowry.