Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Will Wednesday - Andrew Simonton's Will (Died 1744)

Andrew Simonton was my 6th great grandfather.  He was believed to have been born in
Argyleshire, Scotland about 1663.

He came to the Portland, Maine area (at the time known as Falmouth) as part of the migration that took place in the 1820's.  I am not sure exactly when he arrived.  He died April 1744.

I am descended from his daughter, Christian Simonton, who married William White.  This Will is a great proof point that the Christian Simonton who married William White was Andrew's daughter.  Never hurts to have proof of family relationships.

Here are the details of Andrew Simonton's Will:
In the name of God, amen, I, Andrew Simonton, of Falmouth in the County of York New England - Yeoman, being weak of body, but of sound judgement blessed by God, considering the frailty of my nature, do make this my last Will & testament renouncing and making void heretofore made. 
Imprimis, I commit my soul to God which gave it hope at the Resurrection to receive immortal glory and my body to be buried in a descent manner at the discretion of my executrix hereafter named. 
Second, I give my dear and loving wife, Ann Simonton, my executrix & during her natural life, she shall have the improvement of all & singular of my estate.
Item, I give unto my well beloved son, William Simonton, my part or portion of all ye farm I now dwell on to him and his heirs forever.
Item, I give to my loving son, Walter Simonton, ten pounds old tenor.
Item, I give to my loving son, Andrew Simonton, ten pounds old tenor.
Item, I give to my loving daughter, Christian White, ten pounds old tenor.  I order my loving wife at her death to order & dispose of the rest of all my estate real & personal among my children to all above written.  I have hereunto signed, sealed published & declared this to be my last Will & testament witness this 25th day of April in the year of our sovereign King George annoq Domini 1744.   
Archebal Dowglass
William Simonton
James Noble 
Probated 9 August 1744

Source:  Maine Wills: 1640-1760, Maine Historical Society, p. 490

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tech Tuesday - AncestryDNA Review

The Good, The Bad and the Frustrating.  My experience with AncestryDNA.

I was one of the early guinea pigs to pay to try's latest DNA service, AncestryDNA.   The new offering really appealed to me for several reasons, but the most compelling was the ability to find male and female relatives through's new process of being able to tell the degree of relationship between you and other people pursuing their family histories.  As anyone who has read my blog will notice, I have dug deep into my family history and continue to find great stories.   There is one line in my family which has been a total mystery to me, my father's father's family.  My father was adopted.  I have uncovered his mother and have been researching his mother's family.  However, there is no record of his father.  AncestryDNA may be the only chance I have to try to track down any connection to my dad's father's family.

So I do have high hopes for the results from AncestryDNA.

The Good

Taking the test is very easy.  They send you a kit with explicit instructions on how to provide a "sample" to send to them.   You collect saliva and gently drool or spit it into a vial that you send back to  It sounds a lot grosser than it is.  Then you wait.

It took a little over a month to get my results.  I think it may be faster now.  My results came back July 11, 2012.  I immediately followed the link to the results on and linked my results to one of my several family trees.  

The results were interesting.  

They showed that my DNA indicated that I was 45% Eastern European, 40% Scandinavian and 15% Central European.  My research indicates that my mother's family was from present day Poland/Ukraine (which would count as Eastern European) and Germany (which would count as Central European).  The results seem to capture this part of my ancestry, but I am not sure I understand the percentages.  

But what about the 40% Scandinavian heritage?  The part of my father's family I am aware of is almost exclusively English, Scottish and Irish.  Not a 6'5" tall, blond anywhere to be found.  My DNA was telling me that I had no lineage from the British Isles.   Regardless of my research, I knew I had a British lineage.  My dad had very red hair and as as family, we don't tan very well.  Where else could we be from?  

As it turns out this is a common complaint about the AncestryDNA results.  There have been quite a number of people who have received their DNA results that believe them to be in error, because they know they have British heritage and the DNA results state Scandinavian.  

An interesting fact about the history of Great Britain is that it was invaded multiple times by the Vikings in 8th and 9th centuries.  The good folks at AncestryDNA use the instances of Viking influence in the British Isles to explain the results.  I guess I have to trust them on this, but it does sound unlikely.  I must have 100's or 1,000's of British ancestors and the fact that most or all of them were of Scandinavian descent seems unlikely.   Of course, I don't know about my dad's birth father, so that is a wildcard to my DNA.

Another good thing about the AncestryDNA results.......are they keep coming.  Almost daily, I can see that there are additional people that show up on as being DNA relatives.  Since July 2012, close to 400 DNA matches have appeared.  

The Bad

AncestryDNA is supposed to help you connect with unknown relatives.  Ok.  Where are the close relatives?  

I don't expect a long lost brother to show up, but someone that I can connect to my family somehow.

Of those 400 DNA matches, about 120 were better than 8th cousins.  These matches are described as being "moderate confidence" of a match.  To put that in perspective, it would mean that as 5th cousins that we share a great-great-great-great grandparent.  

As it turns out most people haven't been able to complete their family trees to their great-great-great-great grandparents.  So it is very difficult to find how are families are connected.  I am sure I am not the only one to experience this.

My closest DNA match results are 4th cousins.  I have 8 of those matches.   We share a great-great-great grandparent.  Of those 8 "close" matches, I haven't been able to find any genealogy evidence of family connections.

Out of the 400 matches, I have found exactly ONE DNA match that I can connect to my family.  I share
Thomas Woodbury with that person, our 7th great grandfather.  

The Frustrating

I am disappointed with not finding any close relatives, but it is ongoing and I have hope that a breakthrough will come.  I will update this post when and if I find any great matches.

My frustration has more to do with how other members "use" their AncestryDNA results.  

It seems reasonable to assume anyone who pays to get their DNA information will be interested with finding and potentially connecting with unknown relatives.  If so, they aren't making it easy.


  • Private Family Trees - I see I have new DNA matches, but they have made their family trees private. Only the tree owner or people they invite to see their family trees can see them.  So I can't see how we are related.  I can send them a message and they may invite me to view their tree, but since most of the DNA results haven't had a known connection, I don't want to be sending 100 or so requests to strangers to see their trees.  It gets a bit unmanageable.  
  • Small Family Trees - I have been seeing a lot of trees with DNA results with less than 12 people in them!!  With completed family trees this small you are only going to connect with people you know. Not sure the purpose of participating in AncestryDNA with a tree this small.  I have two 4th cousin matches where one tree has 4 people and another has 16 people.  I can suspect where we are related, but I almost feel compelled to do research for them to complete their family trees so we can prove some kinship.
  • No Family Trees - Ok, having 4 people in a tree is not optimal, but some people have NO TREES!  Ugh!  Nothing attached to their DNA results.  One of my 4th tree.  Nothing.  Very frustrating.  In some cases, they have trees, but haven't associated the DNA results to any of their family trees.  
  • No Response to Messages - Since I have about 400 DNA matches, I don't try to contact everyone. I try to target the ones that seem likely to be closely related.  I have contacted all of my 4th cousin matches.  Of those 8, I have received responses from 3.  Now, not everyone is as interested in connecting with relatives as I may be, but it does seem to be the reason why you would participate in AncestryDNA.  It is possible that many participants are only interested in connecting with 2nd or 3rd cousins and aren't interested in connecting with someone so distantly related.  Who knows.


My overall assessment is I am glad I am participating in AncestryDNA and that I expect that eventually an amazing match will emerge.  The one that will open up some incredible insights into the family history.

Everyone's results will vary, so your experience could be very different from mine.

AncestryDNA does have it drawbacks, but the offering is still fairly new and I have faith that the good folks at will continue to improve and enhance it.

My suggestion to would be to provide guidance to AncestryDNA participants about how to get the most out of their DNA results.  Everyone's DNA experience could be improved if they made their family trees public and they be open to connecting and corresponding to other DNA matches.

If you decided to take the DNA plunge, good luck!  

You never know, maybe we are related.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mystery Monday - How are the Purcell's of Utica related to the McGraw's of Syracuse ?

This is a mystery I haven't solved, yet.

We know that Patrick Purcell arrived in Utica, NY about 1850 and lived their until his death.  When he arrived the family lore indicates that he lived with some relatives.  But who?

We know that at least three of his sisters also arrived from Ireland and lived in central NY, but I suspect they arrived a few years after he became established.

To be honest, I hadn't spent a lot of time contemplating this mystery until I came upon a newspaper that mentioned that Miss Margaret Purcell and Mrs John Lynch (Patrick's sister, Julia Purcell) attended the ordination of Reverend John McGrath of Syracuse in Troy in May, 1896.

This caught my attention.  Troy is about 90 miles from Utica and a multi-day journey by horse or possibly a half day by train (assuming there was a train that connected Utica and Troy).  My point being is that not a trip someone would undertake lightly.   Not likely you would make that kind of trip for a friend.  Most likely a relative...probably a first cousin at most.

I conducted some research on Rev John McGrath.  Nothing.

I tried to find the ordination class of Troy in 1896 and did uncover that the Utica NY paper had published the name incorrectly.  It wasn't Rev. John McGrath it was John McGraw.   It is my understanding that in Irish that McGrath is pronounced like McGraw and this may explain why John's family adopted the McGraw spelling.

I have been able to uncover a little bit about John McGraw's family, but not the connection between the two families.

John McGraw (1870-1935) was son of Philip McGraw (1844-1922) and Margaret (last name unknown).  Both Philip and Margaret were born in Ireland, so it seems likely that the Purcell family is related to Margaret's family.  Not only did John become a priest, but so did his brother, James (1876-1938).  In addition, John had two sisters:  Mary McGraw and Margaret McGraw.

Margaret died unmarried inn 1951.

Mary McGraw (1875 - 1941) married David Burke in 1895.  Together they had 11 children:  David, Thomas, Edward, Francis, Mary, Joseph, Ambrose, Alice, Vincent, Philip and Margaret.

Another indication of the relationship between the McGraws and the Purcells is from an Syracuse newspaper personal section which stated, "Miss Ellen Purcell (Patrick Purcell's daughter) of Utica is the guest of Miss Margaret McGraw".

My recent efforts to trace the Purcell family back to their roots in Tipperary, Ireland.  As you will note from previous posts on the Purcell family, they are said to be from Upperchurch, near Thurles in Tipperary.  However, when reaching out to genealogical resources in that area of Tipperary, they haven't had any luck finding any records for Patrick's family.  

I have turned some of my research efforts to find where Philip McGraw and his wife Margaret may be from in Ireland to see if this provides more hints of the origins of the Utica, NY Purcells.

If you have any information about the McGraw's of Syracuse, please email me.

The search continues....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day - James A Kurtz WWII Bombing Missions

My great uncle, James Albert Kurtz was 2nd Lieutenant in the 57th Bomb Wing, 310th Bomber Group, 381st squadron.  He flew in 27 missions before he died in a training flight over Tunisia, North Africa on November 4, 1943.  I was able to uncover the records of his missions, their targets and their results and I want to capture them here to honor his war service.

James Kurtz was born on September 5, 1918.  He enlisted in the Army Air Force on September 16, 1939 and graduated from the cadets at Maxwell Field, Alabama January 14, 1943, where he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was sent overseas in April 1943.   He was a co-pilot in B-25 bombers based in Oudna, Tunisia. 

Here is a listing of missions that he conducted (I am missing a few, but this is nearly comprehensive):

1.       Milis Airdrome, Sardinia 7-7-1943
18 B-25’s escorted by 36 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Sardinia, Italy.  There was heavy flak.  Most of the aircraft were hit.  One of the B-25’s engines caught fire, causing him to make a landing in the sea 15 minutes from the target.  Air-Sea Rescue Service was notified to save the crew.
2.       Biscari, Siciliy 7-6-1943
18 B-25’s escorted by 24 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Biscari, Sicily, Italy.  Due to low visibility and terrain difficulty for the navigators, the bombs for this mission struck all over the country-side. 
3.       Viba Valentia Airdrome, Italy 7-16-1943
36 B-25’s escorted by 24 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Vibo Valentia Airdome, Italy.  A six hour trip to the toe of Italy via the south coast of Malta, in order to avoid our shipping.  The mission paid big dividends, as all bombs hit in the target area, destroying many of the 50 or more aircraft parked on the airdrome.  Buildings and hangers were also hit, and several oil fires were started.
4.       Ciampino Airdrome, Rome, Italy 7-19-1943
72 B-25’s escorted by 36 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Ciampino Airdrome, Rome, Italy.  35 enemy aircraft were dispersed on this mission and 10 destroyed on the ground.  No bombs struck in the center of the city.
5.       Battipaglia, Italy 7-22-1943
24 B-25’s escorted by 26 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Battipaglia, Italy.  The marshaling yards were hit by only two strings of bombs.  The remainder hit wide, mostly in the small town.
6.       Practicia Di Mare Airdrome, Italy 7-30-1943
 36 B-25’s escorted by 24 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Practicia Di Mare Airdrome, Italy.   Apparently the enemy was taken by complete surprise, for in addition to the 80-100 large aircraft on the ground, 3 were in the process of landing when the bombs hit.
7.       Crotone Airdrome, Italy 8-7-1943
24 B-25’s escorted by 26 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Crotone Airdrome, Italy.  The bombing was only fair –several strings did strike in the center of the landing area, but others were short and to the sides.          
8.       Marina Di Catenzara Railroad Bridge, Italy – 8-8-1943
Bridge area covered, but direct hits observed due to dust and smoke.
9.       Littorio Railroad Yards, Rome, Italy  - 8-13-1943
36 B-25’s escorted by 24 P-38’s went on a bombing run over Littorio Railroad Yards, Rome.  This mission was part of another combined big push by the air force to tie up rail traffic to and from Rome.   All planes returned safely. 
10.   Road Curve Between Palermiti and Valepiorita, Italy  8-18-1943.
A “Milk Run”.  No Flak, no enemy fighters and no direct hits on the road.
11.   Salerno Marshaling Yards, Italy 8-19-1943
Only average bombing results.
12.   Benevento Marshaling Yards – 8-27-1943
No details
13.   Civitavecchia Marshaling Yards – 8-30-1943
Good bombing with no enemy aircraft interception.
14.   Capua Bridge, Italy – 9-21-1943
36 B-25’s took part in a bombing mission to destroy 2 road bridges.  These bridges had been damaged in a previous mission on 9-16-1943.  This mission completed the demolition of both bridges.  This was part of the stated strategy to destroy lines of communication of the Germans which were currently in Salerno, Italy.  He Co-piloted B-25 42-32333
15.   Flumeri Bridge, Italy 9-22-1943
36 B-25’s mission to block retreat of enemy motor convoys, however, the flak was so heavy and accurate that it prevented an accurate bombing run.  Five of the aircraft were damaged.
16.   Highway and Railroad Bridges Near Amorosi, 9-30-1943
Plan to block the enemies retreat.   Bombs dropped, but no confirmed hits on targets.

During October, James Kurtz was copilot on the B-25 designated 41-30386.  He had a consistent crew which included the following:

Pilot:  1st Lt. Malcolm C. Hanna, 31 Elliot Place, Freeport, New York
Copilot:  2nd Lt. James Albert Kurtz, RFD#1, Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania (Norvelt)
Bombardier:  S/Sgt  George R. Trevethan, 427 Lois Road, Rochester, Michigan
Radio-Gunner:  T/Sgt  John R. Pelkey,  2822 Grant Boulevard, Syracuse, New York
Gunner:   S/Sgt  Celest F. Camagna,  727 Warren Ave., Apolho, Pennsylvania
Turret Gunner:  Pfc. Robert E. Frazier, Grahn Kentucky

17.   Highway at Formia, Italy  - 10-5-1943
An outflanking movement by allied ground forces above Naples is causing the withdrawal of German forces along this main highway.  The results of this mission have been reported to be successful.  Although, it cannot be determined if the Formia Highway was rendered completely unserviceable, crews observed many strings of bombs landing toward the two aiming points.  No flak or enemy aircraft were experienced.    
18.   Sessa Aurunca Road Junction, Italy  10-13-1943
Many direct hits were reported in the center of the road junction.  A road junction one mile west of the target was cut by bomb hits, as well as another road junction just east of the target.
19.   Grosseta Railroad Bridget, Italy  10-14-1943
Complete weather coverage at the target caused the flight to return without dropping its bombs.
20.   Centivari Airdrome, Italy  10-20-1943
Bombs hit directly across the field and into hangers and buildings on its north side.  Several aircraft parked near the hangers were hit.  Bombs also struck in the dispersal areas, causing at least 6 planes to burst into flames.  One string of bombs which fell short of the target cut railroad tracks.  A submarine was sighted when flying to target.  It was headed toward Lido di Roma.
21.   Railroad Tracks 10 miles Southeast of Orbetello, Italy   10-21-1943
The railroad tracks were bombed between a road junction at 42 23’ N – 11 27’ E and a lake at 42 24’N – 11 23’ E.  The tracks were reportedly severed in three places.  At least three direct hits were made on the tracks just west of a road junction and 6 direct hits on the tracks just east of the lake.  Black smoke was seen coming from a bombed area on the tracks near the east end of the lake.  Many near misses were reported.
22.   Railroad Bridge 2 miles south of Grosseto, Italy   10-22-1943
Considerable dust and smoke covered the target area, making observations difficult.   Post mission photographic analysis, revealed three direct hits on the bridge and one hit each on the approaches to the bridge. 
23.   Undecipherable Railroad Bridge, Italy    10-23-1943
Bomb hits were concentrated around the bridge, with several strings cutting across it.  Other strings of bombs blasted the north and south approaches.
24.   Railroad Tracks 10 Miles South of Cecina, Italy 10-30-1943
Flight turned back due to unfavorable weather conditions in the target area.

Sadly, there were no bombing missions flown in November 1943, but they did do training flights.  It was on one of these training flights on November 4, 1943 that James Albert Kurtz was killed.

Here is what was entered into the daily log:

Thursday, 4 November 43
News was received today from Oudna of an airplane accident in which 2nd Lt. James A. Kurtz and F/O Charles (NMI) Hudson Jr. were killed.  They were on a routine training flight , and had been flying formation over Tunis at 2000 feet with a pair of B-17’s, in the left wing position.  They pulled out of the formation and were flying straight and level when their B-25 suddenly went into a dive and then began to spin.  The plane crashed and burned about 5 miles NW of Oudna A/D #2.  No one else was in the plane.   They were buried at Tunis in the late afternoon.

WWII History
James Kurtz’s bombing missions coincided and supported the invasion of Italy and their surrender to allied forces.  Much of his mission activities were meant to limit German retreat from Italy and their supply lines.  These bombing missions were very successful and were important to the Allied troop’s success in Italy.

Here is a picture of James Kurtz and a flight crew.  I am not sure if this was taken in Tunisia or during his training in Alabama.     I suspect that this may have been taken during his training in Alabama.  The trees in the background look more like the southern United States vs. what I would expect would be a more arid environment in Tunisia.

Please let email me if you have any information about the men in this picture or the men that James Kurtz flew with.  It would be very interesting if they have any personal stories about serving with my great uncle.

The source of this bombing mission information was previously classified /secret mission logs which are posted on the following website.  I am thankful that they have published this information on the web for everyone to access.