Searching for an emigrant for 15 years

This is the story of how I helped a distant cousin, Kate in Maryland, USA to find out about her great, great grandfather, whose origins she had been trying to trace for 15 years, using a combination of DNA family history research and traditional paper based family history research.

For those who haven’t tried it yet, there are 3 types of DNA tests used in family history research (Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA) all of which can be used to connect with cousins and investigate ethnicity.


In this case my autosomal DNA had matched with that of Kate in Maryland, USA and Kate had a tree on the My Heritage website where I spotted her great, great grandfather John Lees Barr born in Scotland around 1860. Now this caught my attention because I have ancestors with the surnames of Lees and Barr on my maternal line.

Now it should have been simply a case of looking for a John Lees Barr born in Scotland around 1860 and such an unusual name should have been easy. However I know from years of researching my Barr family that Lees is often used as a middle name but never in the official records. Therefore unsurprisingly there was no John Lees Barr and lots of John Barrs born in Scotland around 1860.

As a result my next step was to find John Lees Barr in the USA records and work backwards. I found John’s death certificate on the Ancestry website. He had died in Pennsylvania in 1928 and his death certificate named his Scottish parents. From there I traced back 118 years to the birth in 1810 of his grandfather John Barr who was the son of my 4 times great grandparents, John Barr and Agnes Lees.¬† So I discovered that Kate in Maryland and my mum are 4th cousins with the same 3 times great grandparents.

This is Annie Barr, the daughter of John Barr who emigrated to the USA and the grandmother of Kate in Maryland:

Anne Jones Barr Schmoll.jpg

When I contacted Kate she was absolutely thrilled as she had been searching for the Scottish roots of her great, great grandfather for 15 years but had got absolutely nowhere! I’m finishing this story with Kate’s reaction: ‘Oh I hope you can feel it because I am hugging you like crazy in my head.’

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