Where Are the Petersons? Considering Lack of Representation

During my college years, I took as many genetic genealogy tests as I could. Even in the early years of testing, I had a large number of genetic cousins in several of the databases, but something disturbed me. Why was it that I did not have any genetic connections to the family of Andreas Peterson or his wife Inga Carolina Sophia Overn?

Andreas Peterson ca. 1900

In an earlier article, I wrote about Andreas Peterson and the tragic death of his daughter, Nettie, during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. Andreas was born in 1849 in Håbol parish, Älvsborg, Sweden to Pehr Johannesson and Kristina Jansdotter.[1] In about 1869, Andreas learned the shoemakers trade from a Mr. Johansen in Tistedalen, Norway about 50 kilometers Northwest of the family’s farm. A few years later, he traveled to Christiania (Oslo) where he worked as a shoemaker. While there, he was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was eventually baptized in May 1872.[2]  Following his baptism, he served as a missionary in Norway. While serving as a missionary, he met and baptized his future wife, Inga Carolina Sophia Overn, and they eventually settled in Logan, Utah.

Growing up, I heard many stories about Andreas Peterson and enjoyed reading about the adventures he recorded in his journal. Why, then, was I not sharing DNA with any relatives of his family? If you have ever taken a DNA test at one of the major genetic genealogy companies, perhaps you have had similar puzzlement over your own results. “Why do I not see surnames I recognize among my genetic cousins?” “Why do I not have any genetic cousins through grandpa so-and-so’s line?” “Is he really related to me?” “Was my grandfather adopted?” “Was his biological father really the man who raised him?” The list goes on, but just because you don’t have genetic cousins from a particular branch of your family tree, don’t jump to a hasty conclusion assuming that there was a case of misattributed parentage. The best way to prove or disprove a biological connection to a particular family may be to find living relatives from that family and invite them to perform DNA testing. While adoption and misattributed parentage could explain a lack of connections to a particular branch, there are many other reasons why you may not find relatives from a specific branch of your family tree in your match list. A closer look at the Peterson family and the other lines of my family tree offer some clues as to why members of Andreas’s family were underrepresented in my DNA match list.

My family is big… really big. I have more than forty first cousins, and hundreds of second cousins. That is nothing in comparison to the number of my third, fourth and more distant cousins. At one Woodbury family reunion in the early 2000s, I remember hearing an announcement that the number of living descendants of my fifth great grandfather, Jeremiah Woodbury (1791-1883), at that point exceeded 10,000 individuals, and that was twenty years ago for just one fifth great-grandparent.

Many of my recent ancestors were early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were pioneer settlers of Utah and the Mountain West. One of the more controversial practices of the early history of the church was plural marriage, and at least fifteen of my ancestors were polygamists. Some of my ancestors, like Jeremiah Woodbury and Lyman Stoddard had plural wives, but only had children by their first wife. Others, like Aaron Johnson (1806-1877) had many children by several wives. The accompanying table lists my ancestors who were known to have practiced plural marriage, the identities of their wives and the total number of children they fathered. Wives who bore children are identified in bold font.

AncestorWives# of Children
Jeremiah Woodbury (1791-1851)Elizabeth Bartlett (1794-1851)
Charlotte Frost (1798-1883)
Phebe Kingman Pendleton (1797-1868)
Ursula Billings Hastings (1799-1875)
8
Charles Lambert (1816-1892)Mary Alice Cannon (1828-1920)
Euphemia Martha Gilhespy (1850-1917)
19
Lyman Stoddard (1795-1854)Ruth Wright (1805-1877)
Anna Maria Truman (1812-1891)
Abigail Brandon (1802-1871)
Cynthia Dorcas Hurd (1792-1869)
8
Isaac Chase (1791-1861)Phebe Ogden (1794-1872)
Rosina Whipple (1787-1869)
Elizabeth Ann Calvert (1825-1912)
Charlotte Walters (1824-1884)
Martha Nelson (1808-?)
17
Henry Sudweeks (1815-1900)Sarah Sweet (1826-1911)
Emma Sudweeks (1845-1932)
14
Edson Barney (1806-1905)Lillis Ballou (1805-1897)
Louisa Walker (1822-1888)
16
Cyrus Sanford (1813-1900)Sylvia Elmina Stockwell (1815-1912)
Olive Pixley (1808-1872)
Happylona Saphronia Clark (1824-1867)
Mary Ann Coon (1831-1903)
10
Orin Nelson Woodbury (1828-1890)Ann Cannon (1832-1921)
Frances G. Goddard (1844-1904)
20
Charles John Lambert (1845-1924)Lilly Harriet Almira Druce (1848-1908)
Mary Lavica Hovey (1859-1947)
12
Carl Johan Mansson Capson (1822-1901)Ingre Hansson (1823-1896)
Johanna Caroline Bengtsdotter Malmgren (1837-1927)
Matilda Charlotta Kannen (1822-1904)
19
Judson Lyman Stoddard (1823-1869)Rhoda Ogden Chase (1830-1920)
Sylvia Chase (1819-1865)
Mary Louise Barnard (1833-1922)
18
Isaac Hunt (1829-1904)Ann Newling (1826-1915)
Partha Ann Barney (1850-1928)
21
Joseph Johnson Smith (1821-1902)Ann Coleman (1833-1909)
Sarah Ann Liddiard (1831-1909)
18
Aaron Johnson (1806-1877)Polly Zerviah Kelsey (1808-1850)
Sarah Mariah Johnson (1824-1850)
Jane Scott (1822-1880)
Mary Ann Johnson (1831-1913)
Rachel Robinson Ford (1834-1878)
Harriet Fidelia Johnson (1837-1919)
Eunice Lucinda Johnson (1835-1873)
Margaret Jane Ford (1831-1893)
Julia Maria Johnson (1842-1915)
Cecelia Elmina Sanford (1841-1934)
Sarah James (1836-1922)
Jemima Davis (1794-1863)
55
Peder Nielsen (1836-1912)Kirsten Larsen (1826-1905)
Nelsena Christena Nielsen (1855-1932)
Bodil Kirstine Carlsdatter (1836-1913)
Karen Hansen (1804-1898)
19

While the church stopped performing new plural marriages in the 1890s, the effect of these marriages on my family history has been long lasting. In future articles, we will explore the lived experiences of some of my ancestors who practiced plural marriage as well as the effects of anti-bigamy laws on their lives. In addition to emotional, social, cultural and psychological effects plural marriage had on my ancestors’ lives it also continues to drastically affect genetic genealogy efforts in my family because of the large number of descendants of my ancestors. Even for my ancestors who did not practice plural marriage, some of their sons, brothers and other relatives did. As a result, many of my recent ancestors have extensive progenies with hundreds and often thousands of living descendants, and even if just a small percentage of the descendants of these ancestors perform DNA testing, they are still heavily represented in my genetic cousin match lists.

One way to consider how prolific a family might have been is to consider the number of descendants after a few generations. In the following table, I report the results of an analysis on the number of great-grandchildren of each of my fourth great-grandparents. These numbers were determined using the descendancy view on FamilySearch. As this is a compiled record, there may be some inaccuracies, but even so, the numbers are nearly correct. Those descent lines which included polygamists are identified in bold font.

Set of fourth great grandparentsNumber of deceased great grandchildren
Jeremiah Woodbury and Elizabeth Bartlett261
George Cannon and Ann Quayle
George Cannon and Mary Edwards
294
Charles Lambert and Mary Alice Cannon
Charles Lambert and Euphemia Martha Gilhespy
273
John Druce and Julia Ann Jinks125
Mans Jonsson Capson and Metta Pehrsdotter
Mans Jonsson Capson and Bengta Persdotter

Mans Jonsson Capson and Sissa Andersdotter
245
Hans Joransson and Elna Christina Fondahn34
Peter Arthur Ranck Sr. and Margaret Elizabeth Eicholtz187
James Lemon and Catherine Keyser
Samuel Zell and Catherine Keyser
65
Lyman Stoddard and Ruth Wright147
Isaac Chase and Phebe Ogden
Isaac Chase and Elizabeth Ann Calvert
Isaac Chase and Charlotte Walters
294
Ann Steed73
John Reed and Rebecca Bearce316
Jean Pierre Coumerilh and Anne Ichante22
Henry Sudweeks and Sarah Sweet
Henry Sudweeks and Emma Sudweeks
210
William Hunt and Mary Ann Holmes334
Edson Barney and Lillis Ballou
Edson Barney and Louisa Walker
302
Johan Olofsson and Maria Jacobsdotter52
Jan Bryngelsson and Ingjerd Andersson
Jan Bryngelsson and Kierstin Bryngelsdotter
133
Bernt Rasmussen and Ingeborg Olsdatter18
Knut Olsen and Sigrid Arnesdatter29
Samuel Taylor and Sarah Whitehead199
Ebenezer Rogers and Jane Hartley123
William Smith and Sophia Brooks134
Prime Coleman and Sarah Thornton319
Albert Miner and Tamma Durfee
Enos Curtis and Tamma Durfee
John White Curtis and Tamma Durfee
307
Solomon Drake Chase and Lydia Ann Thorn255
Didymus Johnson and Ruhamah Stevens293
Cyrus Sanford and Sylvia Elmina Stockwell
Cyrus Sanford  and Happylona Saphronia Clark
301
Niels Alexen and Anne Marie Nielsdatter114
Niels Christian Nielsen and Karen Erichsdatter263
Knud Sorensen and Mette Kirstine Jensdatter86
Anders Christian Thompsen and Pauline Mariane Jensen Anders Christian Thompsen and Lisa Christoffersen139

The pattern is clear, those ancestors who practiced plural marriage or who had descendants who practiced plural marriage had many, many more descendants than my other ancestors. In my family, the average number of great grandchildren for polygamous lines is about 246 while the average number of great grandchildren for non-polygamous lines is about 97.

Each of my great grandparents had at least one polygamist ancestor. All, that is, except one: Anthon Overn Peterson, son of Andreas Peterson and Inga Carolina Sophia Overn. Perhaps because of this, Anthon was also the only one of my great-grandparents to have fewer than 500 relatives within the range of half second cousins.

Great-Grandparent# of Close Collateral Relatives (sibling-half 2C)% of total
George Lambert Woodbury95216%
Susannah Louisa Capson5129%
Ira Stoddard82914%
Opal Gay Coumerilh86715%
Anthon Overn Peterson2314%
Gladys Louise Taylor77413%
Cyrus Grant Miner115519%
Geneva Bernece Nielsen60110%
Total5921100%

Andreas Peterson and Inga Carolina Sophia Overn were also my most recent immigrant ancestors. By the time they arrived in the United States in 1874, some of my other ancestors’ families had been here anywhere from a few decades to a few centuries. Many of my other ancestors had deep roots in New England and collateral relatives from those families are also well represented in my match lists. Many of the members of Andreas’s and Inga’s families, meanwhile, remained in Norway and Sweden.

Later testing for members of the Peterson family did confirm genetic connections to the families of Andreas and Inga, but those genetic cousins still make up only a tiny portion of the genetic cousins in my match lists. For example, Peterson relatives only account for about 80 of my first 3000 genetic cousins at AncestryDNA – about 3% of my matches, but that might be expected given the size of their family in comparison to my other ancestral lines. The amounts of DNA that I share with these Peterson relatives are appropriate given their proposed levels of relationship. Therefore, the initial lack of genetic cousins from these families was due to a lack of representation in the database rather than a case of misattributed parentage.

Relationships between me and some relatives of Andreas Peterson and Inga Carolina Sophia Overn

If you find that a particular branch does not appear to be represented in your genetic cousin match lists, consider researching the collateral lines of those families. How large were those families? How many descendants were there? Were they recent immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants? How common is DNA testing in the countries where they originated? If possible, consider inviting specific descendants to test to find genetic confirmation for these proposed ancestral lines. A lack of genetic cousins from a particular line could be due to a case of misattributed parentage, but it could also be due to a lack of representation in the database.


[1] ArkivDigital: Håbol (P) C:6 (1836-1868) Image: 50 Page: 93, baptism of Andreas Peterson, 24 July 1849, born 23 June 1849, Håbol, Dale-Ed, Sweden, https://app.arkivdigital.se/, subscription database, accessed May 2020.

[2] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 1, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), pp.1-4.

2 thoughts on “Where Are the Petersons? Considering Lack of Representation

  1. Interesting thoughts; I had not considered how plural marriages would confuse ones search for a particular branch in a match list.
    In my case, a first cousin four times removed married the man who would become the 4th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had at least five wives and his son had several too.

    Like

  2. In 1993 I published a book on my fourth great grandfather, Philo Hodge. He had fifteen children in total, one of whom joined the Mormon church in 1837. Her descendants engaged in plural marriage. This creates a perfect storm on the DNA Thrulines at Ancestry. Not only do I have a myriad of cousins, but those cousins have online family trees that work their way up back to Philo.

    However, my particular lineage from Philo through his oldest son has only one surviving child leaving issue for three generations straight. I literally know personally and grew up with all five people in my generation descended from Philo’s oldest son.

    Love this column. Appreciate the statistics.

    Like

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