DNA: Breaking Down Brick Walls and Validating Legends

Well, I finally did it…I sent in my DNA to help in my genealogy search.  There were a few reasons I have delayed doing this, but primarily I was waiting for the technology to get better and to not have to rely on Y dominated tests.  You see, I have a problem in my family with Y DNA…there are just not very many Y’s (males) around and definitely not in the areas where I need them to solve my brick walls.

What are the chances that not only am I the only child of my mother and father, my mother was the only child of her mother and father, my grandmother was an only child, my great-grandmother was an only child and my great-great grandmother was an only child (at least as far as we know)?  So, technology has finally going to help, not just with my mitochondrial DNA (which really only tells me about the female line and which hapo group I come from, but my autosomal DNA – or the “cousin test”.    There is a nice description of this at the DNA Testing Advisor, so I won’t go into it here where my skimpy science knowledge will most likely butcher it!

Let me tell you about my brick wall (I have more, but this is the one that keeps me up at night).  Great-Great Grandma Margaret Augusta Radel had quite a story to tell.

Margaret Radel Dey

It has become a legend in our family and as a legend it usually means you cannot prove it. I have always hoped that is not the case with Margaret.   Here is the story and what we have been able to prove so far:

The Legend

  • Margaret Augusta Radel was born aboard a German ship in German waters.
  • Her mother died in childbirth on the ship.
  • Her father took her to Berlin and left her with an aunt and uncle, but we do not have their names.
  • Her father died very soon after leaving her with the aunt and uncle.
  • The aunt was nice; the uncle was not.
  • She was raised with two girl cousins.
  • She learned to sew by Catholic nuns (though there is no indication she was Catholic).
  • When she was 18, her uncle sent her off to America on a boat by herself.
  • She arrived in New York not speaking a word of English.
  • She met my Great-Great Grandfather Blanchard Dey (a pianist) at a boarding house in New York City and they got married.
  • She visited two German “spinster” aunts in San Francisco in the 1920’s, but no one remembers their names.
  • My mother used to say we were Castilian Spanish from Grandma Radel’s side, but my Grandmother doesn’t know why she told me that. Now that Mom is gone, I can’t ask her why, though Mom was very close to her Grandmother, so maybe she said something in an off-handed conversation.  Also, I think my mom thought it explained her long nose she had inherited from that side of the family!  And I must say, Margaret Augusta doesn’t look very Scandinavian, even if her mother’s name was listed as Martha Nelson.

The Facts

  • We have the ship passenger list with her arrival in New York City on 12 July 1884.  She departed from Bremen, Germany. Her age is difficult to read, but looks like it might be 19.
  • We have their marriage certificate from 3 December 1885 that lists her parents as Martha Nelson and William Radel. It states her place of birth as Hamburg, Germany and that she is 19 years old.
  • We have a birth certificate for Margaret and Blanchard’s second child born 29 August 1888 (who must have died very soon after, as no one in the family knew she had existed). In this record, Margaret says she was born at sea in the Atlantic Ocean and that she is 22 years old.
  • We have Margaret’s death certificate that has her date of birth 21 Jan 1866. My great-grandfather Walter Dibben was the informant and he reported that the name of Margaret’s father was Radell and her mother unknown.

What makes it a Brick Wall? 

My issues are not insurmountable, but they are problematic:

  • The next records to search are in German and I don’t speak/read German.
  • Records for Bremen departures were destroyed.
  • If Margaret was born aboard a ship and her mother died on the same ship, I haven’t a clue where I would get the records. However, since she once stated she was born in Hamburg, maybe that is where they docked in Germany after she was born. It might be a good place to start.
  • Since we don’t know the name of her aunt and uncle, my best chance of getting any records of her life in Berlin is to hope she was baptized or confirmed there. However, we will have to check all denominations, as we don’t know what religion she was raised in.  My great great Grandfather was raised a Presbyterian  and they were Christian Scientists later in life.
  • If she were educated by Catholic nuns, perhaps there are school records?
  • Radel is an odd last name. It’s not really German, unless it is Roedel and Megan Smolenak among others has corrected us all on the fact that the names of our ancestors were not changed at Castle Garden or Elis Island. They were changed later by our ancestors trying to fit in. So what nationality is Radel? Where did William Radel come from?

So, I am hoping that DNA will be a little short cut. I am not expecting miracles, but maybe there is someone out there who is related to that aunt, uncle and cousins? Maybe I will get a hit on other families with the name of Radel?  Time will tell and I will keep you posted on the results.

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5 Responses to DNA: Breaking Down Brick Walls and Validating Legends

  1. Kathleen says:

    You were sound asleep just as your head hit the pillow last night. Maybe an answer is on its way and your conscious part doesn’t know it.

  2. Rob Radel says:

    We should compare family notes.

    • Rachelle says:

      Yes, I would definitely like to compare notes! When did your family come to the US? Where were they from? Do you want to discuss via e-mail?

  3. Pingback: End of the Year DNA Updates | Ascending the Stairs

  4. Pingback: Genealogy Do Over Week 9 & 10 – Back at it again! | Ascending the Stairs

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