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Year In Review 2019: Newtown Residents Discover Their Ancestry



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More than 20 million people throughout the world have begun exploring their genealogy through websites like ancestry.com and 23andme.com.

Whether the person is hoping to gain insight on their family’s past, connect with living relatives, or know their genetic makeup, there is an innate curiosity that has fueled the surge in people participating in DNA-based websites.

In the beginning of 2019, The Newtown Bee invited residents to share stories of what they discovered after participating in these sites and how their findings have affected their lives.

Sandy Hook resident Doreen (Murphy) Kelleher kicked off the series in February and said that after taking a 23andMe DNA test, it confirmed what she long suspected.

“[I’m] 100 percent Irish,” Ms Kelleher revealed.

What did come as a surprise, though, was that after creating her family tree on ancestry.com, she found living relatives all over the world.

Her family was so excited to connect in person that Ms Kelleher helped organize a Murphy Family Reunion with 180 of her relatives — the youngest in attendance was a newborn and the eldest was 94 years old.

Lifelong Newtown resident Sandy Schill never guessed that when looking into her ancestry she would find that her family played a part in founding multiple towns in Connecticut, including Waterbury, Middlebury, Farmington, Milford, and Norwalk.

After using the genealogy site MyHeritage, her family tree began expanding at a booming rate, and she discovered nearly half a dozen ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.

“It’s amazing to me how when you look at the family tree and it’s all these branches, you think, ‘Gosh, all of this had to come together just right for me to be here,’” she said.

Overall, Ms Schill’s genealogy search brought her together with relatives she never knew existed, answered family mysteries, and set in motion a multi-generational family adventure to Sweden.

As a history teacher, Sally (Leety) Stevens spent her 35-year career educating students about America’s history and people. What she did not know at the time was that her family’s stories would bring her lessons to life in a whole new way.

After retiring, Ms Stevens took on a number of personal projects that involved her going through a variety of old family photographs. Discovering the old photos inspired her to try out ancestry.com and utilize the free one-month offer to start a family tree.

She used additional resources, including newspapers.com, findagrave.com, and the Civil War Pension Files, to learn about her paternal great-great-grandfather, John Miller; her paternal second great-uncle, Joseph Mercill; and her second cousin, three times removed, Gotlieb Luty of Emsworth.

Capping off the ancestry series in April was Jane Sharpe, a 52-year resident of Newtown whose family tree is as diverse at it comes.

After teaming up with her cousin, Donald “Don” Jacobs of Rhode Island, who used ancestry.com, the two found out that Ms Sharpe is a descendant of kings, queens, and an orphan.

She even discovered an unexpected family connection to Sandy Hook, specifically to the Loveland family. When the trail of information seemed to stop cold, much remained a mystery surrounding her family member Bessie Smith.

After the article was published, however, Ms Sharpe was contacted by a number of Loveland family members and friends to help her continue her genealogy journey.

Sandy Hook resident Doreen (Murphy) Kelleher, pictured second from back left, helped connect with relatives online to arrange a “Murphy Clan Reunion” that welcomed 180 people from around the world. It took place at her aunt’s house in Congers, New York, on May 28, 2017. —photo courtesy of Doreen Kelleher
Pictured from left is Carolee Kingsbury, Sandy Schill, Amelia Schill, and Kirsten Bazuro in June 2018 on the day they signed their applications for Daughters of the American Revolution at the Watertown Old Burial Ground, where their family’s ancestor and patriot Samuel Woodruff is buried. —photo courtesy of Sandy Schill
Newtown native Sally (Leety) Stevens holds the photobook she put together of her uncle, Robert Miller Leety, who died in World War II. —Bee Photo, Silber
Pictured from left is Jane Sharpe with her daughter, Kim (Sharpe) Mead, who is holding a doll that Bessie Smith made for her first daughter, Lydell. The doll is over a century year old and has porcelain head and hand-stitched clothes. Lydell died at 6 years old of scarlet fever, but the doll has passed down through the family to Ms Sharpe. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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