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.

Continue reading George Washington McMurry: Distinctive Grave Marker at the Cemetery

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.

Continue reading John McMurry: Another Brick Wall in Winn Parish

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.

13 Jul 1908: John McMurry Dies in Winn Parish, Louisiana

On this day in 1908, my 2x great-grandfather, John McMurry died in Winn Parish, Louisiana.

I know very little about John McMurry; what I have learned is pieced together only from census, land, and church records.  It seems he lived a very un-recorded life, a simple farmer in a quiet community.  Because I know so little about him, he remains one of my major research interests.

John McMurry was born about 1853 in either Mississippi or Louisiana.  He first appears in the 1860 census with mother Judah, brother Robert, and sister S. A. near Farmersville, Union Parish, Louisiana.  He then appears as a farm laborer / hired hand on the next two censuses — in the household of Morris Evans near Oak Grove, Carroll Parish (present-day West Carroll Parish), Louisiana, in 1870, and in the household of G. B. Higgs in Ward 2, Jackson Parish, Louisiana, in 1880.

Sometime after 1880, he married Mary Smart, daughter of Samuel Smart and Adeline Shaver.  I have not found a marriage record for John and Mary; however, their son Robert lists Mary Smart as his mother’s name on both his Social Security application and on his own marriage license application in Franklin Parish.

John and Mary had three sons:  Robert Franklin McMurry in 1882, James J. “Jim” McMurry in 1884, and my great-grandfather, George Washington McMurry, in 1888.

On December 1, 1898, John purchased and was issued a land patent by the US Government for 159.74 acres in Winn Parish, Louisiana.  The patent describes the property as “the south half of the northwest corner and the north half of the southwest corner” of Section 22, Township 13N, Range 2W — placing the property near the community of Gaar’s Mill.  John and his family likely lived in the Gaar’s Mill area even before purchasing this property, as my great-grandfather George listed Gaar’s Mill as his birthplace on his World War 1 draft registration.

By the 1900 census, John was widowed and living with his three teenaged sons in Gaar’s Mill.  He was working as a farmer with his sons as farm laborers.

The only other information I have found about John McMurry is his appearance in the records of Harmony Grove Baptist Church.  The church was located in the community of Gaar’s Mill.  The transcribed membership list shows a “J. Mack Murry” joining the church by experience in September 1893.  Under his entry are lines for Robert McMurry and James McMurry, most likely referencing his sons.  These church records also include other McMurrys, but I have not yet established a relationship for these McMurrys to John and his family.

The final notation in the church records state John McMurry died on July 13, 1908.  His burial site is unknown; however, it is possible he is buried in the Harmony Grove Baptist Church cemetery.


1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls.  Judah McMurry and household, Union Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls.  John McMurry in the household of Morris Evans, Ward 5, Carroll Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records ( : accessed 10 Jul 2018), John McMurry (Winn Parish, Louisiana), accession number LA1420.069.

Harmony Grove Baptist Church, Dodson, Louisiana.  “Record Book 1: 1877-1912,” transcribed by B. Jo Branch., accessed 1 Aug 2016.

“Robert Franklin McMurray” in U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line].  Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls).  John McMurry in the household of G. B. Higgs, Ward 2, Jackson Parish, Louisiana.  Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.  John McMurry, Police Jury Ward 7, Winn Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, George McMurray, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.