Love Encounters Centuries-Old Mystery!

For 45 years I have been trying to solve a several centuries-old mystery!   I began my quest in November 1969, when I was home just one week from my mission to Florida and had enrolled in BYU’s block plan for returned missionaries. In one of my first classes, Cleon Skousen’s Old Testament 301, I met my own true love, Mary Ellen Gleason. Here she introduced me to her family’s 18th Century Gleason Family History Brickwall: The Lost Origins of James Gleason (b Mar 1772; m Drusilla Wight 1795 Dorchester, MA; d Aug 1805 Dorchester, MA.)  

As an avid genealogist and hot shot young former missionary, I wanted to dazzle my new found love and help her discover her ancestry. Armed with only a one-page summary of the Gleason lineage supplied by her father, Herbert, that went back to Massachusetts in the late 1790’s, I set out to uncover her family tree as I was just beginning my professional genealogy career. But, try as I might in those early years before we married in 1972, I couldn’t get past James Gleason. He had died early, leaving a widow, Drusilla, and four young children, James Glover Gleason (1795), Elizabeth Leads Gleason (1799), Samuel Wight Gleason (1801), and Joanna Davis Gleason (1803). Except for these few family relationships and events, his records were almost non-existent.   Genealogical discovery is rooted in records; family history work requires identification and documentation; and in those days, such a dearth on James, brick-walled our Gleason family history work.

Traditional Genealogy Research: to no avail

Since I joined the Gleason Family four decades ago, I have revisited our ancestral mystery again and again through traditional genealogy research, including the Family History Library and ordering records and documents from governmental archives and other private and public repositories. Along with letter writing, family reunions, and onsite research in Massachusetts where his historical records were created, and throughout New England, we studied and compared James with the Gleason families we could identify. Over the years, and especially with the coming of the Internet, we have added details and insights here and there; but, never breaking through to that elusive earlier generation.

We learned there were many Gleason families in Massachusetts with the vast majority descending from a Thomas Gleson/Gleason b 1638 Cockfield, Suffolk; d 1705 Framingham, MA; m Sarah ___. With a lack of records on James and his close proximity to these Massachusetts Gleason families, we surmised that he was likely English, possibly with the connection being a generation or two earlier across the pond; but we had no proof. We had searched town minutes and vital records, church registers, deed records, probate files, court documents, and even military rolls for a clue, for some evidence, all to no avail for his origins. It was as though James Gleason had crawled out from under a rock, and had not existed prior to his marriage in 1795.

There had to be another way

This past spring we decided as a family there had to be another way to solve our Gleason mystery. We wanted to do family history work for our ancestors and knew traditional record research wasn’t enough to make the breakthrough. We needed revelation. We needed DNA testing because family history is in our genes.

In our modern world where new technologies and science are explosively changing family history and genealogy discovery, identification and documentation, I have worked on numerous cases where DNA experts have employed genetic genealogy studies to tackle family history brickwalls. While testing does not reveal names and dates of ancestors, results do provide genetic patterns that can help an individual identify others to whom they are related, called “matches”. By collaborating in genetic genealogy studies with these living relatives, new information about ancestral lines can be determined and historical research pursued along with additional DNA testing, and family history mysteries are being solved.

DNA heritage testing is an exotic science that boggles my traditional research oriented mind; full of terms like haplogroup, genetic distance, chromosomal markers, and many more, all of which are as foreign to me as “pedigree”, “chancery”, “sasine”, or “paleography” might be to a genealogy novice. But, over the last 10 years, I have seen more and more families finding some success and having breakthroughs with this relatively new approach to genealogical discovery as they have combined DNA testing with traditional genealogical research. Now it was time for us to do likewise.

Taking the DNA Leap over the Brickwall

While genetic genealogy samplings are still relatively small for the Gleason surname, with Mary’s father now in his early 90’s, we knew it was the right time for him to participate in a Y-DNA heritage test to see if we could resolve our ancestral brickwall. In anticipation of having preliminary results by Father’s Day, 2014, we signed him up for several comprehensive DNA ancestry tests at FTDNA; and with a cheek swab, began the journey of discovering the genetic heritage of both his father and mother.

Once the tests results began to come in, Mary and I became absorbed in a new world of genealogy study, learning as much as we could about the scientific process, and the meaning of genetic markers, and how geneticists can tell from a DNA sample where near ancestors may have come from, and where distant ancestors (going back thousands of years) came from on the World Stage.

For example: In a recent client study, the broad distant genealogy timeline of that client’s ancestry was determined to have left Egypt, and moved into the land known today as Israel, and in about 750 BC they moved northward into Turkey and Eastern Europe. We reported to the client that this historical setting described through genetic analysis, indicated the ancestors were Israelites but not Jews. This characterized the northern Israelite tribes that were led away into captivity, and became the lost tribes. Is possible that the gathering of the lost tribes in the latter days may come about through genetic studies? Would we find such in our Gleason Surname Study?

Father’s Day 2014: DNA Revelations

On Father’s Day 2014 we gathered at dusk as a family around the fire pit at our JimR’s Putting Green to reveal the stunning results: We are Irish from Tipperary, Ireland! Our favorite movie is The Quiet Man, inspiring us over the years in taking our many “Going Home” ancestral family history vacations here in the USA and abroad! Mary’s favorite folk song as a child was My Wild Irish Rose – no wonder we named our daughter Rosemary! And all the years of green eggs and green ham, and green pancakes and green balloons for St.

Patrick’s Day – oh, we had come full circle! We are Irish!!!!! Family history is in our genes! For us, this was as if we had received a revelation from God, and the way was being opened up to discover more about our fathers!

DNA testing revealed that James Gleason had 0% connection to the English based Gleason families of Massachusetts; but instead was almost a perfect match to several Gleeson families of County Tipperary, Ireland, and their descendants in Australia and the USA. It appears that either James Gleason or his parents came to America from Ireland, and other relatives scattered around the world as part of the Irish diaspora of the 18th and 19th Centuries. It has been a long way to Tipperary – but we are packing our bags for that ancestral trip Home as we now see over the Brickwall of James Gleason’s Origins.

For Help in Packing Your Bags for Going Home

In the coming months read more in this 3 part series “DNA Revelation!” and learn how to do genealogy research and use DNA Testing so you, too, can discover your origins, do family history work, and make the journey home. If you have had a success in genealogy using DNA testing that you would like to share or have any questions, please contact us through Meridian or here:

For the Latest Genealogy and Family History News, Updates and Tips – Contact Information:

James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (, the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including expert family tree research, LDS family history assistance, and answers to genealogy questions, please see Heirlines website, and blog For more genealogy and family history help and advice, please follow James W Petty, AG, CG and Heirlines Family History & Genealogy on Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+.

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