March 30, 2015

DNA Helps Scientists Identify Homeland of Caribbean Slaves

Slave traders in Senegal. "Marchands d'esclaves de Gorée-Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur mg 8526" by Rama - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Click to see image online.

Slave traders in Senegal. “Marchands d’esclaves de Gorée-Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur mg 8526″ by Rama – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Click to see image online.

Did you hear what has been discovered about the remains of three Caribbean slaves found on the island of St. Martin? Scientific techniques identified them as two males and one female, all between 25 and 40 years of age, who were buried around the mid-to-late-1600s.

But where were they from? It took DNA to help answer that question, with a process very similar to that used to identify our ethnic origins in DNA testing today.

First, scientists had to retrieve DNA from the sun-bleached, humidity-soaked remains. Their first stop: the teeth. Traditional DNA extraction and analysis methods failed, but results were found with a new method called whole genome capture. You can think of this method like unleashing an army of vigilantes on your DNA, each one tasked with bringing back a particular portion for analysis. While this method was far more successful, it still was only able to find 7% of the DNA of the best sample.

Second, they needed a reference population: a group of Africans to compare these results to in order to find a match. There is such a group assembled, which contains 11 of the likely 50 population groups that contributed to the slave trade.  Keep in mind that in Africa, especially at that time, populations were not defined by geography as much as language. So when you hear African populations defined, it is often according to their relationship to one very large language group in Africa, called Bantu. There are really two groups: those that are Bantu speakers, and those who are not.

Even with the incomplete DNA and the limited reference population, the group was able to determine that two of the slaves belonged to non-Bantu speaking tribes, likely in present day Ghana or Nigera, while the third was Bantu speaking, possibly from northern Cameroon.

Finding ancient samples such as these, and having technology enough to analyze them, if even just a small part, has huge implications for the future of genetic genealogy, and family history. These kinds of genetic techniques can help place you in a genealogical relationship with another person, where your traditional genealogical methods could not.  Family history, the substance and story of your relationship, inevitably follows.

I think Fatimah Jackson, a biologist and anthropologist at Howard University, said it best. “It seems to me that, as a scientist, the best way to ‘honor’ these unfortunate individuals is to allow their story to be told,” she says. “The story of a few can illuminate the condition of the masses.” We may never know the names and specific life histories of this woman and two men any more than we already do. But DNA has gotten us closer to telling at least some of their story. Click here to read the scientific study.

DNA and genealogyAre you ready to let your genetics help tell your story? Learn more about DNA testing with my Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy Quick Guide, available now in the Genealogy Gems store. In fact, I have a whole series of Guides there on using DNA for genealogy. Check them all out! 

If you’re ready for some one-on-one consulting to see what DNA can tell you about your family history, visit my website to learn more.

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Attend Free sessions in the NERGC 2015 exhibit hall

NERGC-frontI am coming to New England in a few weeks to keynote at the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC 2015). Will you be there, too? Come say hello!

Here are the classes I’ll be teaching:

  • Tech Day (Track 2) – Wednesday – 15 April 2015 – 10:45am – How to Turn your iPad or Tablet into a Genealogy Powerhouse
  • Tech Day (Track 1) – Wednesday – 15 April 2015 – 3:15pm – How to Use Google Earth for Genealogy
  • T-118 – Thursday – 16 April 2015 – 3:15pm – How to Use Evernote for Genealogy
  • S-329 – Saturday – 18 April 2015 – 3:15pm – Master Using Google for Common Surname Searches
  • S-344 – Saturday – 18 April 2015 – BANQUET – 7:00pm – The Google Earth Genealogy Game Show

I’ll also be giving a series of Outside the Box presentations in the Exhibitor Hall alongside New Englander Maureen Taylor (The Photo Detective) and Janet Hovorka (Family Tree Chartmasters). Here’s a schedule:

NERGC-schedule

New England genealogy conference NERGC 2015More about NERGC:

The conference theme, “Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future”, references the distinctive history of Rhode Island, while focusing on methodology with “navigating the past” and looking towards the changes of the future (technology, passing on information, and getting kids involved in genealogy). There’s nearly 100 lectures over two and-a-half days,  with levels ranging from beginner to expert. There’s an Exhibit Hall (where I’ll be!), Society Fair, Special Interest Groups, and an Ancestors Road Show, in which I will also be participating. Click here to learn more.

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We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsWe learn about great new genealogy records online every week! On Fridays we round up a few for you. Watch for databases and documents that your ancestors might appear in–and get inspired by the types of records that may be out there for your family, waiting for you to discover. This week: a photo archives for Canadian Mennonites, a Georgia state newspaper collection, a genealogy index for a northeast Ohio archive and WWII Cadet Nursing Corps membership cards (US).

CANADIAN MENNONITE PHOTO ARCHIVE: A new database is now online with over 80,000 images of Mennonite life from across Canada and dating back to 1860s. A press release says that the archive “is a project of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada  and includes Mennonite archival partners in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.” An online ordering system allows visitors to order image copies for noncommercial use.

GEORGIA NEWSPAPERS: The Digital Library of Georgia has launched an archive of north Georgia historical newspapers. “The North Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive provides online access to six newspaper titles published in three north Georgia cities (Dalton, Gainesville, and Rome) from 1850 to 1922. Consisting of over 33,000 newspaper pages, the archive provides historical images that are both full-text searchable and can be browsed by date. The site is compatible with all current browsers and the newspaper page images can be viewed without the use of plug-ins or additional software downloads. The archive includes the following north Georgia newspaper titles: Gainesville News (1902-1922), Georgia Cracker (Gainesville) (1894-1902), North Georgia Citizen (Dalton) (1868-1921), Rome Courier (1850-1855), Rome Tri-Weekly Courier (1860-1880), Rome Weekly Courier (1860-1878). The Digital Library of Georgia will add additional titles from the region over time.

OHIO GENEALOGY INDEX. The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, OH has created an online Genealogy Index to some of its most valuable and unique genealogical records, including original funeral home and Bible records. Also in the index are Jewish marriages and death notices, an index of names in a significant African-American manuscript collection, a 1907 Cleveland voter registration index, a photo database of Cleveland military personnel from WWII and the Korean War and a biographical sketch name index. Currently, there are about 320,000 records in the index; more are being added on an ongoing basis. The Society primarily archives records relating to Cleveland and northeast Ohio. Soon to be added are indexes to the 1870 mortality census for Ashtabula, Ohio and indexes to several church records collections.

WWII CADET NURSING CORPS (US): The WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, new on Fold3, contain membership cards of women who joined. According to Fold3, the cards “are organized by state, nursing school, and cadet name. Some cards include the date of admission to the school, date of admission to the corps, and date of graduation (or date of other reason for termination from the school). Others contain details like the woman’s marital status, father’s/husband’s name and profession, years of college completed, place of residence, and how they heard about the corps. Still others also record the woman’s age in addition to the previously mentioned information.”

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064To search for images you can use without violating copyright, do a keyword search in Google Images (or just do a keyword search from Google’s home page and then click “Images” above your search results). Click Search Tools. Another toolbar will pop up. Click “Usage rights.” You can sort search results by those that are labeled for reuse in different ways. You won’t capture every copyright-free image, but hopefully you’ll get a decent selection of options! This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.

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Did your family follow the usual path? Mapping U.S. Migration Patterns

NYT Mapping Migrations Map Screen Capture

Mapping Migration in the United States. From the New York Times. Click to go straight to the source!

The U.S. has long been typified as a nation of restless wanderers. Are we still? Well, it depends on where in the U.S. you are from.

A new interactive infographic on the New York Times website looks at U.S. migration patterns: where residents of each U.S. state in 1900, 1950 and 2012 were born. According to the accompanying article, “You can trace the rise of migrant and immigrant populations all along the Southwest, particularly in Texas and Arizona, the influx of New Yorkers and other Northeasterners into Florida starting in the 1970s; and the growth in the Southern share of the Illinois population during the Great Migration.”

“In 1900, 95 percent of the people living in the Carolinas were born there, with similarly high numbers all through the Southeast. More than a hundred years later, those percentages are nearly cut in half. Taken individually, each state tells its own story, and each makes for fascinating reading.”

If you live in the U.S. now, click on your state to zoom in. You’ll see the statistics more fully represented. How many natives of that state still live there? Where else are its residents from? Where do you fall in? I am one of less than 1% of Ohioans who was born in a western state (excluding California). My husband and children are among the 75% of Ohio natives who still live here.

It might surprise you how little–or how much –your fellow state residents have been on the move. Now turn back the clock by clicking on the 1900 or 1950 maps. How did your family fit the norms for the time?

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064If you love learning history through maps, go to our Home page and click on the Maps category in the lower left under Select Content by Topic. You’ll find lots more great online map resources and plenty of great map research strategies.

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DNA Health Testing Back on U.S. Horizon for 23andMe

DNA shopperA direct-to-consumer genetic test, the first of its kind to be approved in the U.S., may become available through 23andMe, according to letters recently received by 23andMe customers. The FDA-approved test is designed to check to see if you are a carrier for Bloom Syndrome, a disease most common among those of Jewish heritage.

This is a huge step for 23andMe, which lost the ability to report health related information to its U.S. customers in November of 2013 and has been working to restore it ever since. Health testing for 23andMe customers is currently underway in Canada and the UK. This is the first big step toward restoring the health component of their testing to those of us in the U.S.

This kind of direct to consumer (DTC) testing is going to be a huge industry. For those of you with any experience getting a genetic test ordered and executed through your doctor’s office, you know this process can be lengthy, not to mention very expensive.

As more and more genetic tests are able to be offered directly to you via commercial companies, there will be more competition for this kind of test, meaning that there will be more research conducted into the cheapest way to produce this kind of test. Since these are the same kinds of procedures used for our genetic genealogy testing, more research and lower costs for DTC tests means cheaper genetic genealogy tests.

In further news, 23andMe announced their intention to enter the pharmaceutical industry and begin to develop medicines to address some of the diseases and conditions it has engineered genetic tests to identify. This is a good reminder that a company we have previously lumped with the other two purely genetic genealogy companies (Ancestry and Family Tree DNA) is very much a medically-minded company.

While 23andMe does provide information regarding your ancestral heritage and provides a list of genetic cousins, it is important to realize that this company’s interest in your family tree is focused more on your family’s ailments than its ancestors. (Click here to read a Forbes article about this development, and click here for more information about the laws that are in place to protect your genetic data, including health testing.)

Using DNA for Genealogy Ancestry Family Tree DNA GuidesAre you ready to get started with DNA testing for genealogy, or to get expert help in interpreting the tests you’ve already done? I can help! I’m “Your DNA Guide.” Consider starting with my series of genetic genealogy cheat sheets in the Genealogy Gems store:

  • Getting Started
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • YDNA, Autosomal DNA
  • Using AncestryDNA
  • Using FamilyTreeDNA

And visit my website to learn more my consulting services.

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Share World War I Family History

flagTo commemorate the centennial of the First World War, and to mark the last full month of the exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture, the Wolfsonian at Florida International University (FIU) created a special Tumblr for sharing family stories, WWI memorabilia, and genealogy research tips called #GreatWarStories.

I first crossed paths with FIU’s Digital Outreach Strategist Jeffery K. Guin in 2009 when he interviewed me for his Voices of the Past website and show. Jeff was an early innovator in the world of online history, and he’s now brought those talents to the Wolfsonian, a museum, library and research center in Miami that uses its collection to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design.

The Wolfsonian team of historical sleuths is inviting the public at large to help them unearth the forgotten impact of the Great War by posting family facts, anecdotes, documents, and photographs. They were inspired by their current art exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture which focuses on artists’ responses to the war. They hope that #GreatWarStories project at Tumblr will be a “living, breathing digital collection of personal WWI stories, photos, documents and letters compiled in remembrance of the transformational war on the occasion of its centennial.”

Great war
Jeff asked me to join in on this history crowd-sourcing effort, and it was easy to comply. Several years ago  in going through the last of my Grandmother’s boxes, I found a booklet she had crafted herself called The World War.As a high school student, and daughter of German immigrant parents she set about gathering and clipping images from magazines and newspapers, depicting this turning point in history. I’ve been anxious to share it in some fashion, and this was my opportunity. Here is the result:

Do you have a piece of World War I history hiding in our closet? Why not join in this experiment in storytelling, sharing and curating, and share World War I family history?

Here are some ways you can contribute:

  • Sharing the story of your family’s WWI-related history through photos, documents, or anecdotes (possibilities include guest blogging, video/podcast interview, or photo essay)
  • Using your expertise and unique perspective as a launching pad for discussing the war’s impact in a different or surprising way
  • Alerting the museum to related resources or materials that would dovetail with the mission of the project

To see the living, digital collection, visit http://greatwarstories.tumblr.comIf you would like to participate, send an email to greatwarstories@thewolf.fiu.edu and the Wolfsonian team will be in touch to discuss storytelling ideas.

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Assisted Immigration to Australia: Queensland Passenger Lists

Drawing_of_migrants_disembarking_from_a_ship,_ca._1885

Drawing of migrants disembarking from a ship, ca 1885. From Cassell’s Picturesque Australia vol. 3, edited by E. E. Morris : Melbourne : Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1888, opp. p. 222. Wikimedia Commons image.

Did you know that the British government has not only encouraged many people to leave Britain, it has helped them do it? This is known as “assisted immigration.” It has affected millions of our relatives’ lives, both of original migrants and their descendants.

Australia received a LOT of new residents through assisted immigration from the 1830s clear through the late 1900s. Fortunately, passenger lists kept on these folks can help you find your relatives who participated. Some of these lists have come online, including for arrivals in Queensland.

Now you can search Queensland passenger lists for assisted immigrants (1848-1912, with over a quarter million records) in two ways:

Learn more about immigration to Australia at FamilySearch. You’ll find a fun published family history about an early Australian immigrant family on our Genealogy Gems Book Club page: The Worst Country in the World: The True Story of an Australian Pioneer Family.

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064Here’s a Google tip for finding datasets. Often you’ll hear about NEW datasets available on major genealogy websites, as I did from FindMyPast for the above collection. But sometimes that same data (perhaps in a slightly different format) is already available for free on another site. The big genealogy websites procure data from lots of other sources that may already host it online. Yes, it’s convenient to search all these databases in one central site like FindMyPast. But don’t subscribe to a site for the sake of ONE collection without Googling the name of the dataset first. That’s what I did in this case, and I found it online at the Queensland State Archive.

 

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Get Photos Scanned without Getting Scammed

tv_film_icon_400_wht_15178 (1)An ABC Action News Report presents a scary-to-us scenario: a family’s home movies disappeared with the company hired to convert them to DVD. The family only got their 16mm home movie reels back when the local news media went after the business owner. Here’s the story (now archived on YouTube). Keep reading for advice on how to make sure you hire reputable photo and film preservation services.

After watching this genealogy-version-of-a-horror-movie, I contacted ScanDigital, a reputable company that’s done some photo digitization work for me in the past. I asked them for tips on how to work with digital conversion companies.

“Sending precious, one-of-a-kind family memories can be a very stressful task,” responded Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives Koa Nu’uhiwa. “We suggest to all of our customers that they start by using a service they feel comfortable with. Comfort levels vary and are affected by a number of things, ranging from price, location, reputation, ease of use and friendliness of customer service interactions.  It’s important to find a business that meets the criteria that fit your needs.”

How does ScanDigital make their customers comfortable with sending off their originals through the mail? (I admit, I spent a fair bit of time on their site before I was ready to do this.) Here’s what they told me people should consider:

  • “Safety and security of materials while in our hands. We store every order in a plastic bin that is bar-coded and labeled with the customer’s name, order # and estimated completion date. Materials for each order are kept separate from materials for other orders to ensure things are kept safe, secure, and separated from other customers’ materials.
  • How to ship materials to us and how we ship materials back. We recommend using a shipping service that the customer trusts. We prefer UPS because that’s who we trust for 95% of our shipments, but they may not be the best option depending on your location.  Ultimately, as long as you have tracking and can verify your package is delivered to our headquarters, that is the most important. All of our packages are provided with tracking so we can check the status of the shipment. Additionally, ScanDigital is partnered with The UPS Store for safe and convenient shipping. ScanDigital customers can take their order to The UPS Store and tell them they would like to use the UPS Corporate Returns program to ship their materials to our headquarters. The UPS Store will provide packing material, pack your order for you, and ship it to us at no cost to you. It’s a partnership that’s been very convenient and helpful for many of our customers.
  • What it will cost to digitize the collection of analog memories. Our prices are clearly listed on our website, but we also have a great team of reps who can walk customers through pricing and even place orders over the phone. Often times, we can provide custom pricing, based on the materials a customer has, and ensure the pricing is very clear.”

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064Of course, ScanDigital isn’t the only reliable company out there that can get your photos scanned and home movies digitized. You may find a local bricks-and-mortar place that will do this for you. Some chain retailers have started offering this service, like Costco and Walgreen’s in the U.S. (though they may be mailing things off for you, too–ask them!). Cyndi’s List has this directory of Scanners and Scanning Services vendors.

Wondering what file formats are recommended for long-term digital preservation? Click here to learn more!

 

 

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Write Your Life Story: Good for Your Health?

old-letters-436502_640Did you know that writing–and then re-writing–our personal stories can be good for our health? And even better for our future, especially if we are struggling to define that future optimistically. 

So says a recent New York Times blog post. “We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves,” writes Tara Parker-Pope.

“But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.”

She’s not talking about writing childhood memories or ancestral anecdotes. In several studies, people who were struggling in an area were asked to write about it. Then they were presented with optimistic scenarios about how others had overcome difficulties. Those who rewrote their narratives were able to grab onto some of that optimism. They actually changed the way they thought of their “problem,” whatever it was. And long-term results in some studies showed that these people DID in fact improve.

We often see celebrities on Who Do You Think You Are? talk about how their ancestors’ lives inspire them or teach them new ways of understanding their own lives. Many who write their own family histories say the same thing. As we wrestle with memories or facts and how to present them in writing, we also interpret the past in new ways and, often, this new insight brings hope for a better future.

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family HistoryOne more GREAT reason to write your life story and family history, don’t you think? Thanks to my brother Chris McClellan for sharing this blog post with me.

Listen as Lisa and I discuss different styles for writing about your family history in the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast episode 176. Or get inspired by the family history-themed books we love and share on our Genealogy Gems Book Club page. Click here for great suggestions on what to read!

 

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WWII Dog Tag Finally Returns to Family: Orphaned Heirloom Rescue

stickman_holding_dogtags_800_wht_1897A 22-year year old man with a metal detector in France has brought a lot of joy to an 89-year widow in the U.S.

As reported in TheBlaze.com, Francois Blaizot found an American’s World War II dog tag in Normandy last year. Instead of keeping or selling it, he decided to try to reunite it with the soldier’s family. It took help from a local veteran’s affairs office for Francois to connect with the soldier’s widow, Catherine Wallace of Indianapolis, Indiana, US.

Francois sent a letter along with the dog tag to express his appreciation for U.S. military assistance to his country during World War II. As it turns out, the soldier did survive the war and continued home to serve his community as a firefighter. He passed away in 1997.

I don’t usually read the comments section of news article posts, but there are some nice responses to this article. I particularly like this one: “Man, talk about heart warming. We need more stories like this. And more metal detectors. LOL.”

Watch the story:

Did you know that there’s someone in our genealogy community who has made dog tag rescues her special priority? Lorine McGinnes Schulze of The Olive Tree Genealogy Blog coordinates efforts with volunteers who read her site postings and help her reunite these military artifacts with families. Click on the link to her blog to see a list of SOLVED cases along with OPEN cases that you could maybe help solve!

 

custom_text_present_14586We hear about orphaned heirloom rescues from time to time and I never get tired of them! Read more stories like this one by going to the Genealogy Gems home page and searching (on the lower left) under the category “heirloom.” If you’ve found an heirloom from someone else’s family, check out this post with advice on how to track down living relatives.

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