Elmer Nesteby Family Christmas Card cropped for Facebook

Mr. Hans Von Sphikenshpokenblunggerfungger

I am working up a research proposal to identify all the tenants who lived in Minneapolis’s oldest house between 1853, when the first family moved out, and 1905, when the Hennepin County Territorial Pioneer’s Association bought it with the intention of turning it into a museum. Today I stopped in the special collections room at the Minneapolis Central Library to read through a 1983 research report, newspaper clippings, and other materials about the history of the house.

To my surprise, an article published in the February 13, 1927, issue of the Minneapolis Journal carried the headline, “DO YOU REMEMBER SPHIKENSHPOKENBLUNGGERFUNGGER? He Was Listed in First Minneapolis Directory of 1859, Preserved at Godfrey House.” I will be relying heavily on the Minneapolis city directories for my research, so I already know my way around them. When I checked the city directory from 1859-60, sure enough, there was Hans Von Shpikenshpokenblanggerfungger. According to the directory, he resided, on Main Street near the sidewalk.

Minneapolis City Directory, 1859-60
Snipped from Commercial Advertiser Directory, for St. Anthony and Minneapolis; To Which Is Added a Business Directory, 1859-60 (St. Anthony and Minneapolis: H. E. Chamberlain, 1859), pg. 118.

Who was Hans Von Sphikenshpokenblunggerfungger? He can’t be found in any census records. Was this a case of atrocious spelling of a long German surname? Was it the whimsical alias of a local comedian? The 1927 newspaper article provides the answer. “Hans was really a joke of the publishers. He never existed save in their fancy, but his name was a byword in the pioneer homes of the time.” Perhaps it was a derisive nickname used by Yankee residents for German and Scandinavian immigrants in the city (though there wen’t that many yet in 1859; most residents were from New England or upstate New York).

The moral of the story is, you never know what real or fictitious people you will run across when doing genealogy research!

Elmer Nesteby Family Christmas Card cropped for Facebook

Real-life DNA Testing, 2017

As I kick off 2017, I am working on (and waiting on) quite a number of DNA projects. Here’s a rundown. I hope these provide some ideas about different ways you might be able to use DNA to answer your own genealogical questions.

  • A client and I are waiting on the AncestryDNA test results of her brother as we search for information about their biological grandparents. Their now-deceased father was left at an orphanage as a newborn. While the ethnicity breakdown is somewhat useful, what we’re really looking for are relatively close cousins on their paternal side.
  • My dad and I are awaiting his AncestryDNA results, which he sent in before Christmas. I have spent years building out my family tree. It was a difficult “loss” when I found out my dad was not my biological father and that his ancestors were not also my ancestors, at least not genetically. (I’ve written elsewhere about how I have embraced having three full branches on my family tree.) So I’m excited to see the results for a family that, as it turned out, my own DNA couldn’t tell me anything about. My dad’s family tree is pretty interesting. The top half—his father’s ancestors—were all of Czech origin, but their surnames suggest a mix of Slavic, German (Bernklau, Fitzthum), and even Italian (Filipi) ancestry. The bottom half—his mother’s ancestors—were a muddled mix of people who traced their roots back through the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic. Before the branches converged in Illinois and Nebraska, they were English settlers in New Jersey, German and Scots-Irish settlers in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Swedes from the New Sweden colony, Quakers around Philadelphia, and a mix of English, Scottish, Welsh, and French Huguenot settlers in colonial Maryland.
  • Sometime in the next couple weeks, I will be sitting down with my 91-year-old maternal grandmother to talk about her family history. I am hoping I can convince her to take a DNA test. (I won’t force her if she’s uncomfortable with the idea.) It’s always good to test the oldest people in your family if you can.  My grandmother’s ancestry is fully Irish. Her fore-bearers came from all corners of the island: Mayo, Kerry, Laois, Wicklow, and Derry, plus a couple lines whose specific origin in Ireland I am still researching. I am hoping the cousin matches will help me prove a couple relationships here in the U.S. and back in Ireland.
  • Last week I met with my wife’s uncle. While we were researching my wife’s maternal family a couple years ago, we discovered that her great-grandfather Edward Van Loy had been born out-of-wedlock in the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. The document recording the marriage of Edward’s mother Theresia Gedaan to Alphonsus Van Loy includes a section in which Alphonsus agreed to recognize Edward and his sister Seraphina (who had also been born before the marriage) as his own children.  My wife’s uncle agreed to take a Y-chromosome test to see if we can identify a probable surname for Edward’s biological father (or, less likely, confirm that Alphonsus Van Loy was in fact the father). We ordered the 111-marker test from FamilyTreeDNAthe most detailed one—to give us the clearest picture right from the start.
  • Angelique Gobin Gervais was born around 1830 in the Red River Settlement and lived to be about 95 years old. At her death in 1925, people believed she was even older, about 105 or 106. This photograph of her was originally posted on Ancestry.com by another decedent. We must always be wary of judging race by appearance alone, but Angelique’s facial appearance at least suggested the possibility of Native American ancestry.

    Documentary evidence leads to the conclusion that one of my ancestors was a Native American woman who lived near the Red River of the North around 1800. She was possibly a member of either the Ojibwe or Assiboine tribe. I’m too many generations removed from her for Native American DNA to appear in my ethnicity chart. Her genes simply did not survive eight generations of random genetic recombination. I descend from the woman’s mixed-blood daughter Louise Godon and granddaughter Angelique Gobin. Unfortunately, the next person in the line between us is a man. In hopes of proving the Native American connection, I have reached out to a couple cousins who descend from Angelique or Louise through entirely female lines. I am encouraging them to take a mitochondrial DNA test. If everything is as expected, their mitochondrial DNA should come from one of the distinctive Native American haplogroups.

I will provide some short updates as results come in.