Bertie Mae McMurry Killen: Like a Sister to My Granny

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Sister.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


If anyone were like a sister to my granny, it was her cousin Bertie Mae McMurry Killen. They were double-first cousins: their fathers, George and Jim McMurry, married sisters, Lula and Mary Frances McKaskle:

According to autosomal DNA statistics published by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), double-first cousins share about 25 percent of their DNA.¹ That’s the same amount as one might share with a grandparent or grandchild, an aunt/uncle, a niece/nephew, or a half-sibling.² Genetically, Ethel and Bertie Mae were like half-sisters!

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John Wright McMurry: My Granny’s Brother

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Brother.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


My “Unk” – John Wright McMurry, December 1981

Photograph of John Wright McMurry, December 1981, digital image, privately held by John Dewey Horne, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Louisiana. Photo taken by John or Gwen Horne during Christmas celebration at home of Ethel McMurry Horne.

I only knew one of my granny’s brothers, my great-uncle John Wright McMurry. Everyone else in my family called him “Uncle Wright,” but I affectionately shortened it to “Unk.”

Unk lived with my grandmother in her house trailer on our property. Every afternoon when my dad came home from work, he, my mom, and I walked next door and had coffee with Granny and Unk. The only distinct memory I have of Unk is burying my face in his rust-colored recliner anytime he got up to refill his coffee cup. I thought if I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see me — and that was a fun game of hide and seek for a toddler.

Unk died when I was three years old. I don’t remember any details, just lots of food brought to Granny’s house and my wondering where Unk was. Now that I’m older, I realize how amazing it is that I have any memories — even faint ones — of him.

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George Washington McMurry: Distinctive Grave Marker at the Cemetery

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is At the Cemetery.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


I grew up visiting Ogden Cemetery — the burial place of many of my family members — often. It was just down the hill from my grandparents’ home, and I sometimes went with my dad to place flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day. I even did a special school project on gravestone rubbings in sixth grade.

George Washington McMurry Grave Marker – Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana
(photo by Ron Manley)

From a young age, I was always enamored by my great-grandfather’s grave — probably because the marker was so distinctive and easy to identify. It was located under a cedar tree near the curve in the gravel road, and it was shaped like a tree trunk!

Now that I’m a genealogist, I know much more about these “tree trunk” grave markers issued by the Woodmen of the World. I also know more about my great-grandfather George Washington McMurry, father of my grandmother Ethel. And even though the cedar tree was removed several years ago, I can still find this grave marker easily, a memory ingrained from childhood.

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John McMurry: Another Brick Wall in Winn Parish

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Brick Wall.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


Brick walls? Every genealogist has a few. They’re the difficult ancestors who seem to appear out of (or disappear into) thin air, leaving few records and stumping us for years. These family members are our greatest challenges, but — if we make a breakthrough — are our greatest victories.

John McMurry, my 2x-great-grandfather, is one of my long-standing brick walls. Like my challenging Smart family, John lived in Winn Parish, Louisiana, in the 1880s. The courthouse and all its records were destroyed by an arsonist’s fire on November 26, 1886.¹ (The courthouse had previously burned in 1868, and was again destroyed by fire in 1917.²) Records that could answer my questions about John McMurry were likely lost in these fires.

But courthouse disasters don’t mean the end of the road for genealogy research. It just means we must look for evidence from other sources.

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What a Tangled Web We Weave: Exploring Color Clustering with My Complicated Family

Like many users, my AncestryDNA match list is filled with testers without trees.  Over the years, I’ve built trees for matches I know in real life and those I communicated with online.  Sleuthing skills helped me fill in the gaps on some unresponsive matches.  But even after all my efforts, about a third of my closer matches (2nd – 3rd cousins) remain a mystery.

Then Dana Leeds introduced her color clustering technique to the Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques Facebook group.  I was eager to try it, especially on my father’s side where I have a couple long-standing brick walls.  My paternal side also has quite a bit of intermarriage among four key families, and I hoped color clustering might prove a nice way to illustrate our complex family.

I followed the instructions for clustering 2nd – 3rd cousins (those matches sharing between 90 – 400 cM) on my paternal side, and my result was not four nicely sorted columns.  I expected it to be a little messy — but 10 columns was more complicated than I anticipated:

Color Clustering - Traditional
Result of Leeds Color Clustering method on my paternal DNA matches (clustering from highest-to-lowest shared CM)

I sought Dana’s advice at her presentation to Houston Genealogical Forum’s DNA special interest group earlier this month.  While she hasn’t extensively tested this method with endogamous populations or families with pedigree collapse, Dana suggested flipping the match list and clustering from lowest to highest shared cM.  I tried her suggestion, and the 12-column result was unfortunately just as confusing:

Color Clustering - Backward
Result of Leeds Color Clustering method on my paternal DNA matches (clustering from lowest-to-highest shared CM)

I had some success on my maternal side by removing the “problematic matches”  — those testers who match me in more than one way — and then clustering.  However, the problematic matches on my paternal side are 80% of the list.  From both attempts, I can clearly identify the clusters related to my 2x-great-grandfather Joshua Lawrence Horne, but all the other families — Johnston, Smart, McMurry, and McKaskle — are extremely mixed.

To illustrate, I prepared this simple family tree of my Johnston, Smart, McMurry, and McKaskle family and the intermarriages among these families.  I then plotted my top AncestryDNA matches on the chart and realized seven (!!) of my top ten are involved in this tangled web.  No wonder my color cluster is a big blob!

Johnston-Smart-McKaskle-McMurry Intermarriage
Intermarriage of Johnston, Smart, McKaskle, and McMurry Families (highest AncestryDNA matches plotted with dotted lines) [download PDF]
As I’ve reflected on my color clustering results, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • Clustering will likely be difficult because of my grandparents’ shared Smart family connection (unknown relationship).
  • Close matches that would typically be helpful in sorting/filtering/clustering have multiple shared ancestors, eliminating them as useful “constants” for comparison.
  • Because of intermarriage, testers who only match my father through one ancestor couple likely exist at the 4th cousin level or greater.  Unfortunately, up to half of 4th cousins will not share enough DNA to show as a match according to ISOGG statistics.
  • I may not have enough testers on desired family branches to be helpful in clustering.

Next Steps:

  • Pursue DNA testing of these family lines:
    • Descendants of William Silas Johnston & Harriett Johnston (Johnston double-cousins)
    • Descendants of James Monroe McKaskle who did not intermarry with other family lines — Nancy Bell McKaskle, Willie Keiffer McKaskle, Sr.
    • Descendants of “lost siblings” of John McMurry from 1860 census.
  • Attempt a 4th cousin-only color cluster.  Capturing data from cousins “less intermarried” may result in clearer clusters.