Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Which Ancestor Gives the Most Research Grief?

Saturdays seem to roll around very quickly, which is a good thing when it means that Randy Seaver has issued the new Saturday Night Genealogy Fun topic. This week, we are challenged to identify the ancestor which is causing us the most researching grief.

I thought about choosing one of my husband’s ancestors since I research his lines as well as my own. In the end, I decided to let sleeping dogs lie there. He has so many annoying ancestors who lived on the frontier and left few records that I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to just one.

My family, on the other hand, lived mostly in the northeastern area of the United States and left many records. It was much easier to choose only ONE ancestor in my line.

That one ancestor would have to be my Loyalist James Astle. He didn’t leave tons of records, but he left enough to identify himself, a wife and several children.

When was James Astle born? There is absolutely no documentation for his year of birth. First, Astle is an extremely uncommon surname in the 1700s in COLONIAL AMERICA. The key here is understanding that it’s only uncommon in the colonies. In England, where James was probably born, it’s quite common, especially in Derby.

In fact, the only other record I’ve found in the pre-Revolutionary War days for anyone with that surname is an Ensign Daniel Astle who fought in the French and Indian War and was apparently stationed in the New York area. Other than his military service, no other information has been found for Daniel Astle.

My James Astle married Elizabeth McLean on 20 November 1770 in Schenectady, New York and the baptisms of their first two children, Hannah and Angelica were recorded there at St. George’s Church.

The young Astle family made the trek first to the Gaspe Peninsula with other Loyalists at the close of the American Revolution. While they were there, a second James Astle/Astles appeared on a land lottery list with my James.

This second James was born about 1755. His family and descendants are fairly well documented as they remained in New Carlisle, Quebec, Canada for many years. However, the parents and ancestral origins of this James are also unknown.

My James Astle moved on to Nelson, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada, where they lived out their lives.

Since nothing is known about my James before his marriage, descendants of both have wondered if the two men were father and son, uncle and nephew or cousins of some sort. It would seem too big a coincidence for them to be totally unrelated with such a locally unique surname within a small group of settlers.

Modern times have not really helped matters either. Descendants of both men have taken DNA tests. Results show that they were, indeed, closely related. There is an 88% chance that they shared a common ancestor within two generations. James and James could be father and son, with Elizabeth McLean being a later wife or they could be as distantly related as second cousins or anywhere in between.

As exciting as that discovery is, future steps are still very limited. The One Name Study project needs many English Astles to submit their DNA test results, which could help point us towards at least an ancestral village.

Descendants of both James Astles have actively researched records for the last few decades, but there hasn’t been so much as a crumb pointing to other family members or a home in England.

My worry is that James and James hailed from an English village where church records have been lost or destroyed through the years, making the process of proving their ancestry much more difficult.

Yep, James Astle is definitely the ancestor who is causing me the most researching grief!




One thought on “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Which Ancestor Gives the Most Research Grief?”

  1. My research goes back only to the early 1800s so I have trouble imagining how you would proceed with an ancestor born in the 1700s. And not knowing where he lived in England before coming to America makes it all the more challenging. All I can do is wish you luck, Linda. (But new old record collections are coming online all the time, so maybe….)

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