Brick Wall Case Studies #1: Solving the question of a Connecticut man's unknown parents using genealogical records and DNA

Descendants had been trying to find out who Ruluf's parents were for more than 100 years unsuccessfully. Family records, Y-DNA testing, probate records, land deeds, and death records showed his likely parents.

Since the 1880s the posterity of Ruluf Andrus had been trying to find out who Ruluf's parents were. Ruluf had a large family of 13 children and many grandchildren, and it seems that Ruluf himself never talked to his children about his family. Ruluf was born in Connecticut at a time when births were recorded, but yet no birth record or christening record had ever been found for him. He married his wife in Poultney, Vermont, and if the marriage was recorded, a courthouse fire burned the marriage records that were recorded. Ruluf died in Ohio before death records were kept. Without a birth, marriage, or death record to go by and no family information available, no one had been able to solve the mystery of Ruluf's parentage.

What We Knew

  • One of Ruluf's sons wrote an autobiography in which he stated that his father Ruluf was a native of Connecticut. He also stated the places where Ruluf had lived: in Connecticut, then Rutland County, Vermont, then 2 counties in New York; then Huron County, Ohio, and finally Lorain County, Ohio.
  • The tombstone for Ruluf Andrus in Henrietta, Ohio, gave his birth date as 12 March 1773 and his death date as 29 June 1849.
  • Ruluf was found in the 1800 census in Pittsford, Rutland County, Vermont; in 1810 in Jay, Essex, New York, and in 1830 in Norwalk, Huron, Ohio.
  • Ruluf's name was listed in various documents as Andrus, Andrews, Andress, etc.
  • There was a guardian bond for Ruluf that had been found in the probate records of Hamden, Connecticut when Ruluf was 16 years old. On 31 December 1789 Joseph Johnson was listed as Ruluf's guardian. Ruluf's parents were not named on the document, nor did the document say if or how Ruluf was related to Joseph Johnson.
  • Ruluf and his wife had 13 children and they named their first daughter Sybil.

Records We Located

  • In the records for the Mount Carmel church in the town of Hamden, it listed the death of Mrs. Sybil Andrews on 15 July 1789, just 4 months before the guardian bond was posted for Ruluf. In the contemporary usage of the day a "Mrs" with her own name rather than her husband's name could indicate an unmarried woman with children. In the neighboring town of Cheshire, Sybil's death was also recorded in the vital records, and she was listed as age 36, making her birth about 1753 or 1754.
  • In the vital records for the nearby town of Wallingford, Connecticut, there was a birth record for Sybil Andrews born 6 July 1754, daughter of Amos and Content Andrews. She matched the age of the Sybil Andrews that died in 1789. There were no other Sybil Andrews born in this area of the right age. There were no other marriage or death records for a Sybil Andrews in this area either, indicating that the Sybil born in 1754 and that died in 1789 are the same woman.
  • In the land deeds for the town of Cheshire, Sybil Andrews sold some land in 1784. The deed stated that Sybil was selling the land of her father, Amos Andrews. She was selling this land with her own maiden name and not a married name and so appears to be a single woman. Joseph Johnson was a witness on the deed. (Note that Joseph Johnson was also the man who became the guardian of Ruluf.)
  • A guardian bond was created when a child had parents that had died. There were not any other Andrews that had deaths recorded around 1789 that could fit as a parent of Ruluf other than Sybil Andrews. In addition, Ruluf named his daughter Sybil, indicating that Sybil was likely a family name.

From these records, it appeared that Ruluf's mother was Sybil Andrews. Sybil Andrews appeared to be an unmarried woman with children and she died 4 months before Ruluf was appointed a guardian. There was also appeared to be a connection of some sort between Ruluf and Joseph Johnson.

Adding Y-DNA Evidence

Because Joseph Johnson was the man who became Ruluf's guardian after his mother died and Joseph was a witness on land documents for Ruluf's mother, he was viewed as a potential candidate to be Ruluf's father.

Y-DNA is passed down from father to son. It stays relatively stable through many generations and can be strong evidence for which paternal family someone belongs to. (Y-DNA is a test specific to the paternal line, and is a different test than the autosomal DNA tests offered on Ancestry and other websites.)

Three of Ruluf's paternal descendants were tested for Y-DNA, but their Y-DNA didn't have any close matches in the Y-DNA database other than each other. We located a paternal descendant of Joseph Johnson to do a Y-DNA test to see if his DNA might match those of Ruluf's descendants.

The Y-DNA of the Joseph Johnson descendant and the Ruluf descendant had a genetic distance of 1 on a 37 marker test, indicating a close relationship. In fact, some of the descendants of Ruluf matched the descendant of Joseph Johnson even more closely than they matched the other descendants of Ruluf who took the test.

We now knew that Ruluf's father was part of the Johnson family of New Haven County, Connecticut. His likely father was Joseph Johnson in that family.


Though we had no birth, marriage, or death records to tell us Ruluf's family, when we used probate, land, and church records, along with Y-DNA, we were able to determine that Ruluf's mother was Sybil Andrews of Wallingford, Connecticut, a woman who never married. His likely father was Joseph Johnson, the man who became Ruluf's guardian after his mother died. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of Ruluf Andrus in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID KWV9-WPY.

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