This morning I looked out my window and could see a huge plume of smoke. Across the valley a wild fire is raging that began yesterday afternoon. The hot and very dry conditions have fueled the flames, and homes are starting to be evacuated. It’s a grim reminder that disasters do happen and no one is immune.
It is National Preparedness Month in the United States, and for genealogists, that means disaster planning for our home archives and family history files. We don’t like to think about the unthinkable: losing our original photos, documents and years’ worth of research in a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster. But it’s happened in places as high-and-mighty as federal archives here in the USA: it can certainly happen in our homes. Even a leaky roof, downed tree, bug infestation, basement mildew issue, theft or other “minor” disaster can mean total annihilation of our family archives if it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As I watch the fire and monitor it’s progress on Twitter, I’m thankful that I can rest easy that my precious family history is protected in a number of ways. This month, I’ll share four steps to help you secure the future of your family past, one step for each of the next four weeks. This gives you time to follow through on each piece of advice before you get to the next step. This week’s step:
ASSESS YOUR GENEALOGY ASSETS. What needs protection?
Your top priority, as a genealogist, will likely be original photos, documents, artwork and one-of-a-kind family artifacts like a family Bible. In other words, things that can’t be replaced.
Next, think about things you’d rather not have to replace: records you’ve ordered from repositories; several years’ worth of genealogy notes and files; computerized family trees. Make yourself a list, so in the weeks to follow you can carry out an emergency plan for each item (starting with high-priority items) as your time and budget permit. Next week’s topic: DUPLICATE THE PAST.
A new Premium member shares her family disaster stories (TWO in the same family!) in response to Sunny Morton’s Johnstown Flood story.
The Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with international best-selling novelist Annie Barrows, talking about The Truth According to Us, and how we all must make sense of what’s true in the past.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares a great case study about mixing autosomal and mtDNA information to solve family mysteries.
Lisa introduces a museum curator who has done some great genealogical sleuthing to tell the stories of Texan family heirlooms now on display.
Lisa weaves in her own tech tips, research strategies and web resources that will help you be a more thorough and efficient genealogist, including Google (and more) for researching major disasters online and how to create your own Google Books cloud library.
“One of the artifacts I researched was a red-on-white appliqué quilt. It was made in 1805 in Vermont and donated by the quilt-maker’s 3x great granddaughter who lived in Houston.
It should have been easy to figure out the lineage by the inscription on the quilt—but it wasn’t. There were two Cynthia Tuckers and two Pearl Browns in the family and one quilt owner had been married a couple of times and used a nickname. So it took a bit of sorting out. The research was all done using census data, but it all came back to the inscription on the quilt for final verification.”
A CHILD’S SUIT:
“Another item in our collection is a small buckskin suit that belonged to a little boy named Edward Clark Boylan. He was born in New Orleans in 1840 and died three years later near Galveston, probably from yellow fever. We knew his birth and death dates from his sister’s descendant who donated the suit, but not much else. I found some cryptic notes in our files taken by a previous curator and was able to trace Edward to Captain James Boylan who was captain of the ship Brutus during the Texas Revolution.
I found a passenger list from 1839 with Captain Boylan, his wife, and daughter traveling from Puerto Rico to New York. Mrs. Boylan would have been pregnant with Edward during that voyage. The year that Edward died, his father was mentioned frequently in the newspapers as he led a flotilla of ships out of Campeche. He was probably not present when little Edward died.”
LIST OF SLAVE BIRTHS:
“One of the most interesting items we’ve received in recent years is a slave birth record that was part of a family collection. The donor’s ancestors were early settlers of Washington County. The slave record was interesting because it listed birth dates from 1832 to 1865. Out of curiosity, I tried tracking some of the slaves to see if I could find living descendants. I started with the 1870 census—looking for African Americans with the surname of the plantation owner and first names that matched the slaves in the birth record. I was able to follow through on one of the names to find a living descendant. She and her family came to visit the museum and see the birth record of their ancestor. While the family was visiting, during last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the donor of the slave record also visited the museum and the two families were able to meet.”
ADVICE FROM A CURATOR:
“Learn about the artifacts you have and match them to their owners. There is plenty of information online that will help you identify and date artifacts. Knowing the date of an artifact helps you determine who had it in the past.” -Shawn Carlson
Book Club update: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, a former Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title, is now available in paperback at a very reasonable price!
DNA GEM FROM DIAHAN SOUTHARD:
My family recently visited the Jelly Belly Factory in northern California. Of course at the end of the tour they funnel you into their gift shop where you feel compelled to buy jelly beans and other sundry treats. My favorite part of the big box we bought were the recipes on the side to turn the already delicious variety of flavors into even more pallet-pleasing options.
This got me thinking about DNA, of course!
Specifically, I was thinking about the power of combining multiple test types to get a better picture of your overall genealogical relationship to someone else.
If you will recall, there are three kinds of DNA tests available for genealogists: autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y chromosome DNA (YDNA). Much of the focus these days is on how to use the autosomal DNA in our family history research. I guess this is because the autosomal DNA covers both sides of your family tree, so it is seen as a catchall for our family history. While it is a very powerful tool for our research, it can also be a bit overwhelming to try to determine how you are related to someone else.
Let’s look at an example from my own family history. My mom matched with Tom at 23andMe. Their predicted genealogical relationship, based on how much DNA they shared, was second cousins. To begin we need to understand which ancestor could be shared by people who are genetic second cousins. To figure it out, you can count backwards, like this: people who share parents are siblings, sharing grandparents makes you first cousins, while sharing great-grandparents makes you second cousins. So if my mom and Tom are true second cousins (meaning there aren’t any of those once-removed situations going on- but that’s a subject for another time), then we should be able to find their common ancestor among their great-grandparents. Each of us has eight great-grandparents.
Because we can’t usually narrow down shared DNA to a single person, but rather to an ancestral couple, we are really just looking at four possible ancestral couple connections between my mom and Tom. My mom doesn’t have any known ancestors, as she was adopted, so we can only evaluate Tom’s line. Tom was kind enough to share his pedigree chart with us, and he had all four of his couples listed. But how do we know which one is the shared couple with my mom?
Now, for those of you without an adoption, you will have some other clues to help you figure out which of the four (or eight, if you are looking at a third cousin, or 16 if you are looking at a fourth cousin) ancestral couples is shared between you and your match. Start by looking for shared surnames. If that comes up short, evaluate each couple by location. If you see an ancestral couple who is in a similar location to your line, then that couple becomes your most likely connecting point. What then? Do genealogy!! Find out everything you can about that couple and their descendants to see if you can connect that line to your own.
However in my mom’s case, we didn’t have any surnames or locations to narrow down which ancestral couple was the connection point between our line and Tom’s. But even if we had locations, that may not have helped as Tom is very homogenous! (All of his ancestors were from the same place.) But we did have one very important clue: the mitochondrial DNA, which is partially evaluated by 23andMe. Remember mtDNA traces a direct maternal line. So my mom’s mtDNA is the same as her mom’s, which is the same as her mom’s etc.
At 23andMe they don’t test the full mitochondrial DNA sequence (FMS) like they do at Family Tree DNA. For family history purposes, you really want the FMS to help you narrow down your maternal line connection to others. But 23andMe does provide your haplogroup, or deep ancestral group. These groups are named with a letter/number combination. My mom is W1.
We noticed that Tom is also W1.
This meant that my mom and Tom share a direct maternal line – or put another way, Tom’s mother’s mother’s mother was the same as my mom’s mother’s mother’s mother. That means that there is only one couple out of the four possible couples that could connect my mom to Tom: his direct maternal line ancestor Marianna Huck, and her husband Michael Wetzstien.
Now you can only perform this wondrous feat if you and your match have both tested at 23andMe, or have both taken the mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA.
Just as a Popcorn Jelly Belly plus two Blueberry Jelly Bellies makes a blueberry muffin, combining your autosomal DNA test results with your mtDNA test results (or YDNA for that matter) can yield some interesting connections that just might break down that family history brick wall.
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Lacey Cooke, Happiness Manager
Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Hannah Fullerton, Production Support
Last but certainly not least in our preparedness process, we want to share what we have with others and keep our digital files fresh. I’ll cover both of these steps in this post.
SHARE! First, after you’ve copied, scanned or photographed your family archive, spread your digital archive around by sharing it with others. If you leave all your files on the computer in the same building as your originals (your home), one house fire or theft could easily take out both your original and your carefully-made backups. Instead, disseminate your copies to at least two additional physical locations.
For electronic data, I recommend cloud storage like Dropbox, or iCloud. That immediately gets a copy away from your physical home base, but keeps it accessible to you (and others, if you like) from any location, computer or mobile device. Also consider distributing copies to fellow relatives or your genealogy buddies, the first because they should have family information anyway and the second because your genealogy buddies will likely take good care of your files. Just make sure those who receive your files don’t all live in the same general area, or again, the same typhoon may destroy all your copies. And check your CDs and cloud storage periodically to make sure the files are still in good shape.
UPDATE. Finally, every once in a while you’ll need to update your copies. It may sound unthinkable that someday your PDFs or JPGs won’t be readable, or that your computer won’t have a CD drive. But file formats do eventually become obsolete and storage media do decay and corrupt over time. Keep listening to the Genealogy Gems podcast so you’ll be aware when major transitions in technology happen. I’ll tell you how and when to update specific file formats and storage types that are starting to phase out.
I almost forgot–the last and best step in all emergency planning. When you’ve done everything you can to protect your family legacy from disaster, breathe a deep sigh of relief. The peace of mind alone is worth all this effort!
Genealogy records are about to expand online. It’s still about 9 months away, but in the time it takes to bring a new descendant into the world the National Archives will be delivering the 1940 US Population Schedules to the public. There are a couple of guys who have been on the forefront of this event: none other than Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub. (You’ll remember hearing from Joel from his past appearance on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.)
Of course family historians are chomping at the bit to dig into the 1940 census even though there won’t be an index when it’s first released. However, the guys have put out a press release about what you can do now to get ready to search:
“It will not be name indexed, so it will be necessary to do an address search in order to find families. Address searching involves knowing the ED (enumeration district) in which the address is located.. The National Archives (NARA) earlier this year indicated they had plans to make available in 2011 the 1940 ED maps of cities and counties, and ED descriptions, but their recent move to consider having a 3rd party host all the images may have appreciably set back this timetable.
The only website that currently has location tools for the 1940 census is the Steve Morse One Step site. There are several such tools there, and it could be overwhelming to figure out which tool to use when. There is a tutorial that attempts to clarify it and an extensive FAQ.
We are announcing the opening of another educational utility to help people learn about the different 1940 locational search tools on the One Step site, and information about the 1940 census itself. It is in the form of a quiz, and should help many, many genealogists quickly learn how to search an unindexed census by location. The new utility is called “How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step“. Not only is it informative, we hope it is entertaining.”
Entertaining it is – at least to those of us passionate about family history! Now you can get started preparing to get the most out of the 1940 population schedules right away.
There’s another way to prep for the big release. Learn more about the 1940 enumeration process by watching the National Archives YouTube channel’s four short videos created by the US Census Bureau prior to 1940. These films were used to train enumerators on their general duties and responsibilities, as well as the correct procedures for filling out the 1940 census.
Though family historian tend to focus on the population schedule, there were several different schedules created and the films describe the main ones including the population, agriculture, and housing schedules. (Learn more about the various census schedules by listening to Family History: Genealogy Made EasyEpisode 10 featuring Curt Witcher.)
You’ll also learn more about the background of the census and the reasons behind the questions that were asked. And it’s the reasons behind the questions that shed even more light on what the priorities were back at that time and clues as to what life was like.
The films also cover the duties of the enumerators, highlighting the three major principles they were instructed to follow: accuracy, complete coverage, and confidential answers.
It’s time for the third part of our disaster planning process in honor of National Preparedness Month in the United States. Two weeks ago, I talked about assessing your home archive and research files and prioritizing the items you want to protect. Last week, we talked about making copies of important originals and other valuable items. This week:
PROTECT PRECIOUS ORIGINALS. After you’ve duplicated your originals, take steps to preserve them. How exactly you do this depends on what you’re protecting; how much time and money you’re willing to spend; and how you plan to store or display them. The core strategy is to store them in appropriate archival materials away from direct light and extremes in temperature and humidity. No damp basements or hot attics! But what materials constitute safe storage are different for paper items, different types of photos or cloth, and electronic items, so you need to do a little research. (Hey, we genealogists are good at that!)
Several resources can help you learn more about giving your family artifacts the protection they need, including: