Saturday, 10 November 2018

Celebrating all my possible Jewish connections

Last night marked exactly 80 years since the Nazi pogrom known as the Kristallnacht, where more than 7000 Jewish business were destroyed or damaged, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and at least 91 Jews were murdered. The Kristallnacht can be said to mark the beginning of the Holocaust - but then again, the Holocaust had been centuries in the making.

Sadly, antisemitism is still alive and well in 2018, and it seems that the fear and hate of people perceived as "Others" is on the rise again - be it "other" religions, "other" skin colours, "other" sexualities and gender identities, or "other" bodily functionalities.

Genealogy is, in its very essence, the study of connections between human beings. Thus, genealogists are in a powerful position to break down the boundaries between the perceived "Self" and the perceived "Other", and to further understanding between groups who are seen - or who see themselves - as different or even as polar opposites.

In my genealogical research, I - a non-Jew - have come across several clues to possible Jewish ancestors. This is a good day to reflect on those connections, and celebrate them.

The Norwegian government has not historically been particularly friendly to practising Jews, and most of my family's possible Jewish connections involve people who would have converted to Christianity before moving to Norway.

  • One of my ancestors was a Jan Beuns in Antwerp, Belgium in the mid-1500s. His surname was also spelled Buens. "Buen" is a Sephardic surname, and there were indeed Sephardic Jews in Antwerp at that time. The community was later expelled, but our Beuns/Buens family might have hid or (most likely) converted.
  • Another ancestor of mine seems to have been a Jew from Cologne named Eckebrecht, who converted to Christianity around the year 1100 following the horrendous Rhineland Massacres. This is extremely far back in time, and the connection - which I have from second-hand sources - may or may not be accurate.
  • A few of my ancestors are said, in oral tradition, to have been of Jewish descent. This includes one Anders Bruun, born around the year 1600, whose family Bruun might have been of "Jewish-Roma" heritage. There is also speculation that my ancestor Adrian Rockertszoon van Valkenier, who immigrated to Norway from the Netherlands in the 1500s, might have had Jewish roots, but there seems to be no firm evidence for that.
  • I have ancestors in the 1700s with the surnames Frankdahl and Weinberg, which are found among Ashkenazi Jewish families in Germany. There is, however, no evidence that my ancestors with those names were anything other than Christian. Our earliest known Weinberg ancestor, Melchior Heinrich Weinberg, was a member of the Evangelical church.
  • The Scandinavian Romani people has many stories of intermixing with Jews. Since I have ancestors who belonged to the Swedish Romani community, there might be Jewish connections on that side.
  • Additionally, there is some genetic evidence of Ashkenazi ancestry on my mother's side (disputed) and, more significantly, on my paternal grandmother's side (with the Buens, Bruun, Weinberg and van Valkenier connections). The DNA company MyHeritage estimates my paternal grandmother's brother to be 3% Ashkenazi (FTDNA reads it as Middle Eastern + North African + Central Asian). There are also some Ashkenazi cousin matches.

Perhaps all of these possible Jewish connections are real, but it seems more likely that only a few of them are. I do believe that some of them must be real, especially since the DNA evidence does suggest some Ashkenazi ancestry (and if 3% is correct, it is quite significant; equivalent to a 3rd great-grandparent).

I have a great love for Jewish culture, and especially Jewish food and traditional music. More importantly, some of my closest friends are Jewish. Even if the genealogical connections are not fully proven, I am proud to at least be a likely descendant of Jews in the not-too-distant past.

To the anti-Semites (indeed, anti-anything) of our modern day and age: Investigate your family tree, and you might very well be forced to re-evaluate your beliefs and assumptions about the world and human society!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Slave traders

Note: This blog post is mainly an English retelling of the main points of a longer Norwegian-language paper which will soon appear in Slægt & Stavn, the periodical for the Genealogical Society of Greater Copenhagen. I will post a link as soon as the paper is published online.


For years I have been trying to solve the riddle of my 6th great-grandmother Elisabeth Lind.

Elisabeth (also spelled Elizabeth) has numerous descendants, and appears in online family trees. Her husband was a successful sea captain and merchant, and some of the couple's immediate descendants became very prominent. Their grandson Claus Nieuwejaar Worsøe served as amtmann (bailiff) of two Norwegian counties and married a countess, while their granddaughter, my 4th great-grandmother Maria Elisabeth Schultz Worsøe, married a prominent mining official.

In other words, this is by no means an obscure family. However, until now, Elisabeth Lind's origins have been completely unknown, and strangely, nobody seems to have done a thorough investigation to find out where she really came from and who her ancestors were. As I will show in this blog post, even though the sources give little direct information about Elisabeth's origins, indirect information has been enough to establish her identity. We now know where she came from and who her family were.



A sketch of Elisabeth's life

The age estimates at the census of 1801 and her death indicate that Elisabeth Lind was born sometime between c. 1764 and c. 1766.

The first time Elisabeth is mentioned in a known source is on 20 August 1789, when she marries sea captain Claus Nieuwejaar in St Nikolaj church in Copenhagen, Denmark. Claus was born Claus Niejahr in 1752 in Wustrow, Mecklenburg, modern-day Germany. In the marriage record, Elisabeth is called a virgin, meaning she had never been married before. Lind is definitely her maiden name.

Claus had been a burgher of Bergen in Norway since 1783. Shortly after the marriage, he and Elisabeth moved to Bergen where several children are born. The family can be found in the 1801 census of Bergen, and Elisabeth is said to be 35 years old.

Elisabeth died in Bergen in 1829 and was buried there. At the time of death, she was said to be 65 years old. Claus died the same year, and the couple has a joint probate record from 1831 which, unfortunately, says nothing about Elisabeth's origins or any of her living blood relations.



Clues from the records

When Elisabeth Lind marries Claus Nieuwejaar on 20 August 1789, the best man is a person named "Brewer Vogel in Christianshavn". This person must be Johan David Vogel (1760-1829), who started a brewery in 1788 and was also a ship-owner based in Christianshavn.

In the census of 1801, a man named Jens Lind is living as a tenant in the house of Johan David Vogel. In other words, both Elisabeth Lind and Jens Lind are connected to Vogel and seem to have been friends with him.

This is the only record indicating a connection between Elisabeth Lind and another person named Lind. It cannot be a coincidence. I believe there must be a connection, somehow, between Elisabeth and Jens.



Who was Jens Lind?

Jens Lind was the son of sea captain Henric Jensen Lin or Lind (the original spelling seems to have been Lin), and was baptized in Vor Frelser church, Copenhagen, on 31 July 1764 (the father's first name is given as Hans, which is wrong; other documents confirm that this is the correct Jens, the son of Henric). Jens's confirmation took place in 1778 in St Petri German church, which tells us that the family might have been German-speaking. (Which is relevant, considering the fact that my Elisabeth Lind married a German.)

Jens's father, Henric Lin(d), was a sea captain who took part in the triangular trade between Denmark, West Africa and the Caribbean. He started out as a ship's mate working for the Asiatic Company, and became a captain in 1773. In 1779, he sailed the frigate "Postillionen" to Guinea. In 1781-82, he was captain of the slave ship "Gehejmeraad Gregers Juel" on a journey to Guinea and the Caribbean, on behalf of the Royal Danish Baltic-Guinea Trade Company.

The "Gehejmeraad Gregers Juel" transported 298 slaves from West Africa (probably the colony known as Danish Guinea, AKA the Danish Gold Goast in modern-day Ghana), of whom 186 survived the Middle Passage to the Caribbean.

In other words, Henric Lin(d) was a slaveship captain.

Jens Lind followed in his father's footsteps and became a seafaring man. He passed his captain's exam on 15 April 1783. Four years later he became the owner of a ship, the brig "Haabet" ("The Hope"), which he sent to Guinea and the Caribbean in 1787. It was certainly a triangular-trade voyage; we know that the ship brought sugar back from St Croix to Copenhagen on its return journey, and it must have brought slaves from Guinea to St Croix. After "Haabet", ships owned by Jens Lind transported slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean on at least six different voyages in the 1790s and early 1800s. In total, Jens's documented ships seem to have transported about 2000 - two thousand - slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean. Significantly, about half of these were brought to the Caribbean after the Danish prohibition on slave trade in 1803.

Jens Lind married Antonette Philippine Wrisberg, who was born 24 August 1776 on the island of St Croix. In the census of 1801, the couple had one African-descended slave or servant living with them in Copenhagen. A relative (possibly brother) of the wife, Johan Peter Wrisberg, had several such slaves or servants.

Jens Lind was a slave-owner, a major slave-trader, and the son of another slave-trader. In short, slave trade can be said to have been the family business of the Lind family.

Johan David Vogel, Jens's landlord, was also involved in Caribbean slave trade. They were likely friends, perhaps even business partners.



What was Elisabeth's relationship with Jens Lind?

Jens was baptized in Vor Frelser church in Copenhagen in 1764. We also know that Jens had a brother Clemens, who was baptized in Vor Frelser church in 1769. Could Elisabeth Lind have been a sister of Jens and Clemens? With a birthdate between 1764 and 1766, she would be the correct age.

I checked all the baptism records in Vor Frelser church between the baptism of Jens in 1764 and the baptism of Clemens in 1769. I found no Elisabeth nor indeed any other sibling of Jens and Clemens.

However, later on I did find Henric Lin's marriage record in 1761. That gives three years before the birth of Jens. What if Elisabeth was indeed a sister of Jens, but an older sister, born sometime between 1761 and 1763? The age estimates for Elisabeth were given at late dates in her life (1801 and 1829) and may not have been completely accurate.

Lo and behold: Henric Lin(d) and his wife Anna Dorethea Olufsdatter Lind did have a daughter Marie Elisabeth Lind who was baptized in Vor Frelser church, Copenhagen on the 19th of June 1762.

The coincidence is too great. I am convinced that this must be my Elisabeth.

Even the double name "Marie Elisabeth" supports this conclusion, since it fits with the naming tradition among the descendants of my Elisabeth. Her daughter was named Marie Elisabeth, her daughter was named Marie Elisabeth, and her daughter was named Marie Elisabeth! It seems they were all named after their ancestor Marie Elisabeth Lind from Copenhagen.

Marie Elisabeth Lind probably travelled long distances herself, just like her father and brother. She should be mentioned in the Danish census of 1 July 1787. She is not mentioned, which means that she cannot have been living in mainland Denmark on that date. Since her brother Jens is said to have done business in the Danish colonies around this time, I suspect Elisabeth may have lived in one of those colonies. Jens married a woman from the island of St Croix, and the family slave-trading business also seems to have focused on the Caribbean. I therefore believe that my Elisabeth was living in the Danish West Indies in 1787.



What does this mean?

The discovery of Marie Elisabeth Lind's identity means that we now know that my family is directly descended from a slaveship captain, Henric Lin(d), and closely related to other significant slave-traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s (Jens Lind, and perhaps others too).

What does one do with such knowledge? Spread it, of course. Which is why I have written this blog post and the paper which is soon to be published in Slægt & Stavn.

Most Norwegians have no concept of being connected to slavery in any way whatsoever. A few are aware that Denmark was involved in colonialism and slave trade, but the common conception seems to be that this was a Danish business in which Norwegians had little or no part. After all, Norway was subordinate to Denmark until 1814! However, evidence shows that many Norwegians did indeed take part in the slave trade in various capacities. And, as the story of Elisabeth Lind shows, some modern-day Norwegians - like myself - descend from Danish slave traders.

I hope that stories like that of Elisabeth will make Norwegians more aware of their own closeness to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many Americans descend from slave owners, as shown, for example, in various episodes of the TV series Who Do You Think You Are. Perhaps the Norwegians (and Danes!) who read this post and my article will follow those stories with a little less distance, a little less self-righteousness. Perhaps they will decide to educate themselves, for example by reading Mich Vraa's books about the Danish West Indies. The first book, Haabet, concerns a ship which is likely based on Jens Lind's real-life slaveship Haabet. Perhaps they will watch movies like Guldkysten, which tells of the situation in the Danish Gold Coast in the 1830s. My Lind family has connections to that colony as well. Jens Lind's son, Heinrich Gerhard Lind, was governor there.

As Europeans or colonial whites, our families have all benefited, to various degrees, from colonialism and the slave economy. I appreciate the knowledge of my slave-trading ancestors because it provides me with a connection that is tangible and easy to understand.

Of course, I do not forget that I also have West African ancestry, probably through an ancestor who was enslaved in the 1600s or early 1700s. I still do not know for sure what the story is; new evidence has appeared since I wrote my last blog post about this topic, and I will probably have to write another one soon. I find it very interesting that my West African connection and my connection to the slave-trading Linds both come from the same person: Inge Albert Winger Lister (1906-1974), my paternal grandmother's father.

The world is very complicated. I do what I feel is right, which is to embrace all sides of my ancestral background.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Reflections on an ancestor's journey: Sven Hansson Cederholm

I've recently been doing more research on the family of my 3rd great-grandfather Sven Hansson Cederholm. He is remembered today as a very wealthy man, a successful gardener and landowner whose son (my 2nd great-grandfather, also called Sven) went on to become a very successful banker.

But Sven Hansson didn't start out well-off and privileged. He was born in 1824 into extreme poverty in Fjälkinge, rural southern Sweden. He watched three of his siblings die. His 36-year-old mother (the daughter of a couple so poor that they were living on charity) died in childbirth when Sven was 10 years old, and his aging father's new wife would also die a few years later at the age of 33.

Sven left his home at the age of 13, moving from place to place and eventually ending up in the seaside town of Sölvesborg in the year 1849. Then he disappears from the sources for a period of 16 years, resurfacing in Norway in 1865 with the surname Cederholm. Four years later he married his much younger Norwegian wife, who came from an almost equally destitute family background (her mother's mother had been an unmarried servant who had three children with three different men). Sven and his wife settled in Oslo, where they somehow established themselves as an affluent family with their own spacious house - of which I have written before - and servants tending to their every need. The couple later sold their property to the municipality for the construction of Ullevål Hospital, but they are remembered in the name of the "Cederholm" building on the hospital grounds.

Apart from a single place-name (Trolle-Ljungby, his mother's birthplace), no information about Sven's parents or early life was passed down within the family; everything we know has been dug up from old written records. I think he must have done everything he could to forget his past and where he came from - even changing his name slightly, turning the patronymic Hansson into the middle name Hans - although I can't imagine he was ever able to. I don't think any other close ancestor of mine made such an abrupt class journey. Having died in 1912, Sven is _almost_ within living memory (his children certainly are!), and the more I learn about his background, the more I wish I could travel back in time and have a talk with him; to say "I know what you went through."

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Autosomal matching makes Romani history come alive

I recently rediscovered my downloaded file from 23andMe's old "Countries of Ancestry" tool, which showed you which countries your matches reported their grandparents to have come from. As I was looking through the long list of matches, I discovered something interesting: Some of my matches come from quite unexpected places both within and outside Europe. As I continued digging, I found a very interesting segment on chromosome 2, where several of my most "exotic" matches stacked up:

Match 1: Grandparents from Brazil, Poland and Hungary
Match 2: Four grandparents from Hungary
Match 3: Four grandparents from Romania
Match 4: Four grandparents from Greece
Match 5: Four grandparents from Iran
Match 6: Four grandparents from Iran
Match 7: Four grandparents from Sri Lanka

The matches are all between 5 and 7 cM long; in other words, very small.

Unfortunately, the CoA tool has been offline for years and the matches were anonymous anyway, so there is no way to see if they triangulate. However, the fact that these particular matches seem to share this segment is very significant. The matches trace a linear route from Sri Lanka through Iran, Greece and Romania to Hungary.

This route closely resembles the migration of the Romani people to Europe, which began in Northern India around the year 1000. Indeed, the Romani languages bear witness to extensive contact with the Persian language and culture, and Greece was the Romani people's first port of call in Europe in the 1200s. Romania and Hungary, of course, are known for their large Romani populations, who have long histories in both countries.

Along the way, the travelling Romani would have married locals and incorporated them into their group. Likewise, some Romani would have left their group and married into the local community.

Could the small matches from Iran etc. be a legacy of my Romani ancestors' travels in the 1000s, 1100s and 1200s?

23andMe reads the segment as Scandinavian; it is painted as part of a much larger Scandinavian segment covering almost the whole chromosome. However, a Romani connection would be several centuries outside 23andMe's timeframe of 500 years, and the segment is also very small. Both of these facts would presumably make the segment prone to being missed or misread, especially if some of the reference individuals for the Scandinavian category are less than 100% Scandinavian, which is not only likely but virtually certain.

What does the "Romani" segment look like in the chromosome paintings at GEDmatch? Here are the results from three different datasets, with the segment underlined in red:


The only non-European here is the strip that is read as "West Asian"/"Caucasus_Gedrosia"/"Baloch". Baloch refers to Balochistan (Baluchistan), a vast region spanning southwestern Pakistan, southeastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. Gedrosia is an old name for an area of coastal Balochistan roughly corresponding to today's Makran. This area is right on the border between South and West Asia. There also seems to be an affinity to the Caucasus, the mountains that comprise the border between Europe and (West) Asia.

It seems more likely than not that there is some kind of Asian admixture on this segment (which probably goes all the way to 213M, which is where the Asian stops). The region of Balochistan would fit quite well with a Romani connection, as the Romani's homeland in northern India is relatively close.

One of my matches on the segment has four grandparents from Sri Lanka. However, I do not believe the segment originates in Sri Lanka. If so, the segment would certainly have been painted as South Asian (or maybe Southeast Asian) and not Baloch, and it would have been more easily distinguishable from European. I believe it is much more likely that the segment originates in Balochistan or an adjacent region of northern India and moved west to Europe from there (illustrated by the red line on the map below), and that some of our ancient relatives in Balochistan or India moved to Sri Lanka at a later stage (blue line).


I find it extremely fascinating that we have relatives - that is what they are, after all! - as far afield as Iran and Sri Lanka. I find it even more fascinating that these relationships may date back as far as 1000 years ago. And of course, having tangible connections to living individuals along our Romani ancestors' migration route makes the history of the Romani people come alive and feel all the more significant. It gives real meaning to India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's statement that the Romani are "Children of India".

Friday, 27 July 2018

Unexpected Ashkenazi admixture on my paternal grandmother's side

Yesterday I uploaded my paternal grandmother's brother's FTDNA raw data file to MyHeritage. I was primarily interested in seeing if MyHeritage would pick up our family's West African segment (like 23andMe does), although that was doubtful, since the segment is very small.

What MyHeritage did give us was a surprise. They did not detect my grandmother's brother's African segment. They did, however, assign him 3.0% Ashkenazi Jewish! Three per cent is significant; it's not a tiny speck, it's not zero-point-something. It's within the range of what you would expect to inherit from a great-great-great-grandparent. FTDNA does not give my grandmother's brother any Jewish DNA, neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, but they do give him a trace of Eastern Middle East. If this Middle Eastern DNA is real, I find it more likely than not that it would have come from a Jewish ancestor.

Historically, Norway has a very poor track record when it comes to the treatment of Jews. Jews were effectively barred from the country for a long time. However, my paternal grandmother has a lot of Danish and German ancestors, quite close ones at that, and it may be that one of them was a convert from Judaism.

The closest holes in my paternal grandmother's pedigree are a great-great-grandmother from Skåne in Sweden, born 1798 of unknown parents, and a 4th great-grandmother from Copenhagen, born between 1764 and 1766 of unknown parents. There are also our Weinberg ancestors from Bremen in the early 1700s, whose surname seems to be most commonly found among Ashkenazi Jews.

My grandmother's brother - and, by extension, my grandmother - is literally a mix of everything, except East Asian. By paper trail he is about 6/8 Norwegian, 1/8 Swedish (from Skåne, historically a part of Denmark), and 1/8 mixed European (mostly Danish and German). At FTDNA he gets traces of South American, North African, Eastern Middle East and Central Asian. In addition, he has the segment of West African DNA which might stem from a Ghanaian-born mixed-race ancestor in the 1600s.

Here is a screenshot of his MyHeritage admixture estimate:

Friday, 20 July 2018

West Africa Update 5: Axing assumptions

In my previous post about our West African connection, I sketched a possible solution based on interpretations of family stories as well as the assumption that one of our ancestors had a biological father who is different from the one given in the records - in other words, a non-paternity event (NPE).

However, this assumption is a rather big one, and is problematic without more evidence to back it up. My sketch also relies on several other assumptions about how to properly interpret the stories that have been passed down in our family.

Let's consider Occam's Razor: "When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions." It would be better, then, if we could explain the African DNA without resorting to assumptions about NPEs or distorted family stories.

Why not simply follow where the paper trail leads?

In this blog post I will look at the DNA evidence in light of our known genealogy - our paper trail - emphasizing major points in the argument along the way. As I will show, this method leads us to a specific origin for our West African DNA segment and connects it to a specific ancestor.



Comparing paper trail and DNA evidence

Of the more distant matches who share our West African segment, three of them have Danish ancestors but no known Norwegian ancestors, and one seems to be a man from Denmark. (I don't know much about the rest of them). It seems, then, that our African segment is somehow tied to Denmark.

The immediate source of our West African segment is my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel Davidsen (1819-1866). My frustrating task has been to try to find out how the African DNA got into Daniel. The genetic link to Denmark is a valuable clue, because Daniel has only one known ancestor from Denmark (or indeed from anywhere outside Norway): his 3rd great-grandfather Søren Jensen Floss (c. 1645-1716), a tailor. Søren's wife, Daniel's 3rd great-grandmother, was Marthe Corneli(u)sdatter (1645-1727). They are both of unknown origin, although Søren is presumed, on the basis of his surname, to have come from Floes near Randers in Denmark.

Søren and Marthe lived in Vanse parish, Norway, around the year 1700. They had several children (born between 1671 and 1691/95, their birthplaces unknown), including one son Jens who settled in Copenhagen in Denmark and another son Cornelius who settled in Zierikzee in the Netherlands. In other words, the distant Danish-descendants who share our family's African DNA segment with us might well be descendants of Søren and Marthe through their son Jens in Copenhagen.

I know of no other relatives of Daniel Davidsen who settled in Denmark (although there were a few more who settled in the Netherlands). Any Danish connection in Daniel's family would most likely go via Søren and Marthe. In other words, if we take the paper trail as true, it seems very likely that our African DNA is inherited from either Søren or Marthe (Point 1).

We know from Y-DNA testing that Søren (again, assuming that there is no NPE along the line) belonged to haplogroup R1b-U106, a European haplogroup. Therefore, he cannot have been of full African descent. In addition, his surname points to a Danish rural origin. It seems unlikely that a person of West African descent would have reached rural Denmark significantly earlier than c. 1650, since large-scale Danish trade with the West Indies started only in the mid-1600s and the Danish Gold Coast colony was established only in 1663. All of this makes it likely that it would have been Marthe, and not Søren, who was of African descent (Point 2). This also fits with the historical fact that it was more usual in colonial settings for white men to form relationships (voluntary or not) with non-white women, than vice versa.

Marthe's patronymic, Corneli(u)sdatter, tells us that her father was named Cornelis or Cornelius - a Dutch name, which was brought to this part of Norway (the Southwest) by Dutchmen around the time Marthe was born (the so-called "Dutch Era", with significant trading activity between Norway and the Netherlands). We know from census records that there was no Cornelis or Cornelius living in Vanse in 1664, which means that Marthe was almost certainly not born there. Add to this the fact that one of her sons settled in the Netherlands, and it looks as if Marthe might actually have come from the Netherlands, or perhaps from one of its colonies (Point 3).

23andMe estimates our West African segment to come from an ancestor who was probably between 2 and 5 generations removed from Daniel Davidsen (but possibly more distant). Marthe is 5 generations removed from Daniel. In other words, Marthe must either have been fully West African herself, or her West African ancestor must have been very close (Point 4). The 1640s being a very early period in the history of contact between Northern Europeans and West Africans, any mixing in Marthe's family must have happened very recently. If Marthe herself was not of full West African descent, she was probably the daughter of a Dutch father, Cornelis, and a West African(-descended) mother. The name Cornelis suggests a Dutch origin, but does not prove it, since an African man might well have been given the name Cornelis by Dutch colonizers.

At Marthe's funeral in late December 1727 in Vanse, Norway, her age was said to be 82 years, 3 months and 2 days. We do not know the actual date of death, but if her age is correctly given, she must have been born sometime in September 1645. The priest noted no details about her apart from the fact that she was an "old woman" and lived at Vesthassel farm.

Marthe's probate record, although extensive, says absolutely nothing about her birthplace or ancestral origins; all that is said is that she is "the widow of the previously deceased Søren Jensen Floss". By that time, of course, Marthe had lived in Vanse for several decades and was fully part of the local community. She might not have been thought of as an outsider, and her origins outside the parish of Vanse might not have been seen as important (the record does, however, speak in some detail about her two sons living abroad, this being immediately relevant to the distribution of her estate). An expert might perhaps be able to find among Marthe's possessions some tell-tale exotic piece coming from the Netherlands, Africa or the Caribbean, but I am not an expert, and all I see in the probate record is a list of common household items and clothes.

If Marthe was non-white, would we then expect to see some note about her appearance? Perhaps the word morian, which was the term used in Denmark-Norway at the time to describe people of African descent? Not necessarily. Christian Hansen Ernst, another Black person living in Norway in the late 1600s, is found in a contemporary record making no mention of his colour or ancestry. Another person, Elizabeth Cooper (1757-1791) from the island of St Croix, who was probably of mixed race, is also not listed as such in official Norwegian records as far as I am aware. Although Norwegian officials sometimes did register a person's race or ethnic background, it was not done consistently, not even in the case of Black people although they would have been very conspicuous.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that Marthe Corneli(u)sdatter was born in September 1645 either in the Netherlands or in one of its colonies (likely the Dutch West Indies or the Dutch Gold Coast), and that she (or at least her mother) was of fully West African ancestry. This ties together points 1, 2, 3 and 4 and seems to be the only good explanation of our West African DNA and autosomal matches, provided we take the paper trail as true. This seems to be the explanation requiring the fewest assumptions (most significantly, it does not require an NPE), and is therefore the most plausible one in light of the available evidence.



Further thoughts and speculations


If Marthe was a descendant of West Africans who were in contact with the Dutch in West Africa itself, which seems probable, then her ancestors must have come from modern-day Southern Ghana. The three castles in Dutch possession by 1645 were Shama and Axim in the Western Region, and Elmina in the Central Region of modern-day Ghana. If Marthe's ancestors were from the vicinity of one of these castles, they would have come from an Akan people (Fante or Nzema).

The Wikipedia article on the Dutch Gold Coast tells of a custom among the colonial Europeans in this area (emphasis in original):

The European powers were sometimes drawn into conflicts with local inhabitants as Europeans developed commercial alliances with local political authorities. These alliances, often complicated, involved both Europeans attempting to enlist or persuade their closest allies to attack rival European ports and their African allies, or conversely, various African powers seeking to recruit Europeans as mercenaries in their inter-state wars, or as diplomats to resolve conflicts. Another way conflicts with the local inhabitants was avoided was through marriage. European men often created alliances with the local African people through a practice known as cassare or calisare derived from the Portuguese casar meaning "to marry." Dutch men and other Europeans would marry African woman whose families had ties to the Atlantic slave trade. In this way, both Africans and Europeans benefited from each other and allowed for peaceful trading partnerships. African wives could receive money and schooling for the children they bore by European men. Wives could also inherit slaves and property from their husbands when they returned to Europe or died.[4]

Many coastal ethnic groups in Africa, such as the Ga and Fante, used this system to gain political and economic advantages. These African ethnic groups had been using this practice before the arrival of the Europeans with strangers of a different ethnicity, and extended the same privilege to European men by the late 1400s. Cassare enabled Africans to trust strangers, like the Europeans, when dealing within their trade networks. It made the transition between stranger and trade partner a lot smoother.[5]

Might Marthe Corneli(u)sdatter have been born in the Gold Coast as the daughter of a "cassare" union between a Dutch slave trader and a local African woman?

Yes, why not? This was in fact my main theory about the origin of our African DNA until a glitch in FTDNA's matching system set me on the wrong trail.

A mixed-race "cassare" daughter from Ghana would have been brought up learning European ways and customs, and she might have received an education similar to that of Dutch girls. It would have been much easier - legally, socially and practically - for such a privileged and Europeanized mixed-race woman to move to Europe than for an enslaved West Indian woman to do so. Also, if Marthe was mixed-race, her appearance might have been less striking to Norwegians than if she had been fully African, and the fact that Norwegian records do not mention her colour becomes less strange (furthermore, Marthe's children might have looked fully European). What this means is that a Ghanaian "cassare" origin for Marthe requires fewer assumptions than a fully African origin or a West Indian slave origin, making the "cassare" scenario more plausible.

How did Søren Jensen Floss and Marthe Corneli(u)sdatter come to meet each other? We know nothing at all about Søren's life as a young man, so we can only speculate. Perhaps he started out as a seaman; a ship's tailor, for instance. He might have worked in the fledgling Danish Gold Coast colony in the 1660s; tailors would have been needed there. Interacting with the Dutch who were already established at the Gold Coast, he would have met Marthe, who would have been about twenty years old at the time. They got married in the colony, and their children would grow up learning their parents' native languages (Dutch and Danish), enabling them to settle and prosper in places like Zierikzee and Copenhagen. Later on, for some unknown reason, the couple ended up in Vanse in Norway, buying land and settling down with their eldest son Otte and their youngest son Søren, who is my ancestor. Perhaps the family moved gradually, first to the Netherlands (a natural first port of call in Europe if they had sailed from the Dutch Gold Coast), then to Denmark and then on to the southern coast of Norway.

This is speculation, of course, but educated speculation which fits well with the facts of history as well as what is known about our family.

Another possibility is that Marthe was brought to Europe as a child by her Dutch father.



The DNA segment

In an earlier blog post, I've written about the composition of our West African DNA segment and entertained the possibility that it might originate in the Senegambia area, e.g. among the Wolof. Additionally, a tiny East Asian speck in the segment might be interpreted as a sign of Malagasy ancestry. However, the whole segment itself is very small, and pinpointing its exact region of origin is difficult. The Asian bit is microscopic, and does not show in our cousin KN's 23andMe report (which does show the West African segment). The seemingly Senegambian affinity and the tiny speck of Asian are not strong enough evidence, in my opinion, to dismiss the possibility of a Ghanaian origin for the segment.



The Haitians

The Haitian matches are significantly closer to us (genetically) than the Danish-descendants (20 cM versus 8-16 cM, with most of the DDs being 8-9 cM). This makes me think that the connection to Haiti might be through one of Marthe's Norwegian descendants in the 1700s; after all, some of them were sailors, and we know that the district (Vanse) had contact with Haiti in the 1800s.

Whereas I currently believe it is most likely that the African connection goes through Marthe, I still believe that the second most likely option is that we descend from an Afro-Caribbean sailor visiting Norway in the late 1700s (perhaps as a result of shipwreck). This sailor would then have been the MRCA for our family and our Haitian matches.



EDIT 19.8.2018:

23andMe has updated their African and Asian categories in Ancestry Composition (for certain customers, that is). Our cousin KN's segment, which used to be 0.1% West African, is now read as 0.2% Broadly Sub-Saharan African. So it's more than before, but less specific! I still think it is West African, since that is how the GEDmatch calculators read my great-uncle's segment, and I believe there must be a reason why 23andMe used to read KN's segment as West African. Additionally, TL Dixon, after looking at my great-uncle's GEDmatch results, has told me he believes the segment is most likely West African.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

A blog hiatus!

I want to apologize for the lack of new blog posts lately. It has been a busy couple of weeks, and last weekend I was in Johannesburg and took the Shosholoza train back to Cape Town, a 37-hour journey.

Most importantly, though, I haven't made many genealogical discoveries worth mentioning. In fact, I feel like I am starting to exhaust the available information on my own family lines.

I will update the blog as soon as I have any genealogical news, or as soon as I hear of something interesting to report on :)


Sincerely,
Miriam