Searching for Grandmother

There are two kinds of stories about the search for our ancestors. Either we have a story about finding them and going on or at least find a dead end to put our search to rest, or we find our search expanding into a larger historical contest to discover what might have been going on in Grandma’s neighborhood.

With the advent of the use of DNA in ancestral research we have one clue previously missing. On those two key lines, our paternal line and our maternal line, we can know something about our ancestors from getting our own DNA tested. I cannot find a particular grandmother in my maternal line, but I know her maternal DNA heritage.

When I look at a family tree showing my mother’s mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother, and the next generation is not another mother but a sister-in-law, I can see that the pattern is wrong. The next woman does not have my maternal DNA. She is a stranger to the group. Yet that pattern has been posted in several cases purporting to be describing a shared ancestry. Likewise, her husband has been replaced in multiple family trees by one of several impostors. In one case a young Yankee soldier who died a month after Grandpa and never married seems rather out of place on the family tree with his gravestone in Arkansas while Grandpa is buried in Missouri with his sons and sons-in-law.

Let’s begin our search¬† for Grandmother from what we know. From Census records we have a birth year for both Grandmother and her husband around 1807, in North Carolina. We have no proof of this date or location other than the information they would have supplied to the census gatherer. Grandmother’s name changed between the censuses, and the family name was expressed in alternate spellings. Grandmother is sometimes “Ann” and sometimes “Nancy Ann.” Postbellum she appears briefly as “Nancy Ann.” The spellings of the family name are a few of the variations of Pirtle, Pertle, Pirkle, Pyrtle, etc. The family name really is an identifier for the husband and the children. The children follow the Pirtle styling of the name. Ellen Pirtle was my great-grand-mother. We do not yet know what was Nancy Ann Pirtle’s maiden name.¬† Let’s just call her “Ann.”

While we do know at this time know her maiden name, we do in fact know something about Ann. Her DNA, as passed through her daughters, granddaughters, etc to the present shows us the probably source of her own ancestry.

We also know a little from the brief history of the young American nation about what was going on in North Carolina shortly after Ann was born, and the population trends of white people and native tribes at the time. It was the age of western expansion. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett had made new routes to the west. Wagon trains were moving out to Tennessee and Kentucky.

A young lawyer from Tennessee went back to North Carolina to join a young man from the Pirtle family. They traveled together to Tennessee and continued on to Missouri. The fellow from Tennessee kept on moving. He went North and West and made it to Oregon, but didn’t stick around long. He heard about gold in California and headed south with a group. In Sacramento, folks needed help organizing governments and making general order of things. Folks made this traveler the first Governor of California. He wrote a memoir about is time as a pioneer, so we have a little info about the Pirtle family.

I guess Ann was just bound to be stuck with pioneers. Her DNA belongs to a group that includes Basques, and possible some other groups. A king of Basques was knocking around America before Christ was born, so maybe Ann’s grandmothers have been in America for a couple millennia.

Here I will add some notes from what I have been reading. These old fashioned books don’t have practical highlight modes to search data later. My notes here will be my cookie crumbs to see if we can learn more about Ann’s people.


  • Early Basques
  • Fashions Change

Exploring History through Ancestry and Literature