Doris and the Schuesslers of Los Angeles

Using DNA to identify grandparents

Back to the DNA

Ancestry is full of people with long family histories in the US, and many of them attach detailed family trees to their DNA results. By comparing the family trees of these people, we can determine how they are related to each other.

Generally, if someone has several DNA matches who show a common pair of shared ancestors, that person would also descend from those ancestors. When I started helping Pam, she already had a detailed tree for 3 of her 4 grandparents. Only her maternal grandmother’s side was missing.

Adoptee DNA Tree

Pam had been noting which matches were from her father’s side (Robbins and Goodwin) and her mother’s father’s side (Garvey), and had found a few who didn’t fit into either of those groups. This 3rd group shared a common trait — they all had ancestors from Germany or Poland.

An ethnicity estimate alone won’t locate an ancestor, but it can help narrow the search. With no known German or Polish in Pam’s family tree, yet >25% Prussian DNA, Doris’s mom was probably Prussian.

Although a child inherits exactly 50% of her DNA from each parent, the ratio of genetic inheritance from preceding generations can vary. Usually, it’s about 25% from each grandparent. Pam’s estimate below shows 20% Germanic Europe and 9% eastern Europe. This suggests Doris’s mother probably had a German or Polish surname.

Ancestry Ethinicity Estimate Eastern Europe
Looking for the missing 25%: Pam has one 2nd great-grandmother from Mexico, explaining the 2% Native American. The rest of her known ancestors were of Irish/English and northern European descent.

The mystery woman who gave birth to Doris did not have any close relatives who had DNA tested.  At first it seemed there were hardly any matches to Doris’s mother at all, but in reality, there were many very distant cousins who were somewhat hidden by the huge number of close matches to the Robbins, Goodwin and Garvey sides.

This is what Pam’s AncestryDNA match list looked like a few months ago. I color-coded the names to show how Pam is related to each of these people.

Paternal DNA matches color coding

Scrolling down the page, none of the first 12 matches are to Doris’s mother’s side.  The 17th person on the list doesn’t match the Garvey or Robbins/Goodwin sides. This was Pam’s closest maternal match, and she didn’t appear on the list until October 2018.

Figuring out unknown DNA matches

The next highest match to Doris’s mother’s side was 105 cM, but he appears so much farther down the list, I didn’t bother uploading a screenshot.

It’s like rain on your wedding day.

Usually, by some irritating twist of fate, an adoptee’s most useful matches will use fake names or will not have family trees attached. Pam was fortunate because two of her closest maternal grandmother-side matches had a family tree linked to their DNA. The third had no tree, but did have an unusual surname, which made it easy to identify his ancestors.

Note: I must stress how time-consuming a search like this can be. If you are an adoptee or are searching for an unknown ancestor, try to do as much of the work as possible yourself before hiring a professional. I took on this case as a volunteer because I have a soft spot for undocumented depression-era adoptees of Central European descent. Also, Pam’s willingness to let me write her story and use her real name won me over.

I Spy A Schuessler!

I looked for the same ancestors, or surnames, to appear in the family trees of these top three Polish/German matches.

Match 1: The Pittsburgher

Pam shares 139 cM with the person below, or about 2% of her DNA. She was born in Pittsburgh and had a distinctly German surname in her tree. I began researching Ada Schuessler of Pittsburgh.

DNA match tree

Ada Schuessler was the daughter of John Schuessler and Carolina Frick, and most of their family moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s.

Coincidence? Probably not.

Match 2: The Irishman

Pam shares 116 cM with her 2nd closest match, a man from the Los Angeles area. Ancestry tells us he’s also related to the Pittsburgher. He had a small family tree attached to his profile, but only for his father’s side. All the names were Irish.

Eastern European DNA Matches

However, when viewing his profile with Ancestry’s side-by-side heritage comparison tool, it shows that both he and Pam have a significant amount of Germanic and eastern European DNA.

Using DNA and Heritage to Find Birth Parents
Pam: 29% Germanic + Eastern European. Irishman: 37% Germanic + Eastern European.

The link had to be from the Irishman’s mother’s side. Fortunately, he did reply to Pam’s messages. He told her the names of his mother’s parents and I added them to the research tree.

Irish DNA

Remember Schuessler from the previous tree? Adelaide “Ada” Schuessler and her husband Archer “Archie” Hill are the shared ancestors of both the Pittsburgher and the Irishman.

 Archie, Ada, and sons
Archie Hill, Ada (Schuessler) Hill, and sons, circa 1913. Image credit: Gini Hoyt Bowers.

I didn’t immediately find a link connecting the Wackerman to the first two matches, so I went back a little farther in the tree. Ada Schuessler’s parents, John and Carolina met and married in Pittsburgh around. John was a barber by trade who emigrated from Prussia with his father in 1876. John made his way to Pittsburgh, where he met and married Carolina Frick around 1885. Carolina was the daughter of two Prussian immigrants, Charles and Minnie.

Four of their eight children died.

John and Carolina had eight children, but four of them died in infancy. Those who lived were Ada (b. 1889), Alden (b.1891), Leona (b. 1894), and Mathilda (b. 1903)

Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the marvels of modern medicine and sanitation. I can’t imagine the pain of losing one child, let alone four. And sadly, each of these children died from preventable or now-treatable conditions.

The children who died:

  • An unnamed male Schuessler was born in 1885 and died 4 days later of umbilical hemorrhage.
  • Martel Schuessler was born in 1887 and died 5 weeks later of septic blood poisoning.
  • Viola Schuessler was born in 1899 and died two months later of cholera.
  • Eugene Schuessler was born in 1893 and died seven days later. The cause of death was listed as imperforate bowel (he was born with an incomplete or nonexistent anus).

While researching the Schuesslers, I found an intriguing newspaper article from 1908.

He threatened to shoot her.

After all the tragedies the Schuesslers endured, the couple’s marriage was breaking down.

Mrs. [Carolina] Schuessler said that she had ceased 21 months ago to acknowledge John as her husband, and she was staying at the house as housekeeper.

She claims he threatened to shoot her.

He claims he does not want her as a housekeeper, as he had a grown-up daughter [Ada]. He was ordered to pay the costs and keep the peace.

Mr and Mrs Schuessler
Pittsburgh Daily Post, 01 Mar 1908, Sun • Page 24

Despite his previous demands for her to leave, Carolina and John temporarily reconciled. They were still living together as husband and wife in 1910, and appeared on the census living with Carolina’s widowed mother. Also in the home were all four Schuessler children and Ada’s new husband Archie.

In 1915, Carolina left John. But she didn’t go very far.

Lena leaves John
Pittsburgh Daily Post 17 Jan 1915, Sun • Page 10

Carolina appeared on the 1920 Pittsburgh census with her three younger children. Daughter Ada and Archie and their four children were living just down the street. Carolina reported herself to be a widow, but across town, her ex-husband John was still very much alive and listed as married on his census page.

The following year, Ada and Archie, were having some troubles of their own.

Archie, Ada, and sons
Circa 1913: (left-right) Archie Hill, Ada Schuessler (and their two sons), and other members of the Hill Family. Photo provided by Gini Hoyt Bowers.

Racy Allegations

On November 21, 1921, Archie Hill placed a notice in the newspaper. He stated Ada left him and he was no longer responsible for taking care of her.

Adelaide Bertha Hill
The Pittsburgh Press. 21 Nov 1921, Mon • Page 27

A few months later, the same paper published an article detailing Ada’s alleged affair with a widow named Charles Mitchell.

…recommends a divorce be granted to Archie T Hill…from Adelaide B. Hill, on the ground of infidelity. Charles W. Mitchell of East Ohio St., was named as co-respondent.

It was testified Mitchell and Mrs. Hill were arrested Nov. 2nd in the former’s apartment. Constable George Clark, who made the arrest, testified he found Mrs. Hill in the co-respondent’s apartment clad in night clothing.

Hill, who was with the officer, corroborated him. Witnesses called for the husband testified Mitchell was a frequent visitor at the Hill home while the libellant was away at work.

Hill testified he was married June 3, 1900, and his wife left home Nov. 23, 1921.

The wife contested the case, both she and the co-respondent Mitchell testifying. Mrs. Hill claimed she was forced to leave her husband on account of ill-treatment and taking her two daughters with her, went to Cedar St, North-side. She said she became out of funds and accepted Mitchell’s offer to take her children to his apartment temporarily.

Mitchell’s son and daughter lived with him and there was nothing improper in her relations with Mitchell, the wife testified. Mitchell testified he gave Mrs. Hill refuge because he had known her for some time, and declared at no time had he been guilty of improper conduct with her.


Racy Allegations Figure in Divorce
Pittsburgh Daily Post. Sun, Jul 09, 1922

We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know Ada and Archie divorced. He kept their sons in Pittsburgh and she took her daughters to California. This would explain why the Pittsburgher was still in Pittsburgh, and the Irishman was in California. It also explains why the Pittsburgh relatives we’ve contacted didn’t know much about the California relatives, and vice-versa.

(Click on page 4 to continue)

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