Develop Your DNA Testing Plan for Genealogy

Developing a DNA testing plan can help ensure that your genetic genealogy testing has targeted goals and maximized results. Follow these tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists to create your own DNA testing plan. Already taken a test? It’s not too late to develop a real plan to get the most out of your results.

Your DNA testing plan

You have taken your DNA test, and you have your ethnicity estimate, but how does genetic genealogy testing actually help you with your genealogy? Where do you even begin? By developing a DNA testing plan you can ensure that you pursue your research with a focused goal in mind, which will help determine how best to proceed.

Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing us with this guest blog post.

Moving beyond ethnicity estimates

Even though ethnicity estimates get a great deal of attention, the most genealogically valuable element of your DNA test results is the match list which connects you to others based on your shared DNA inheritance. As you begin working with your DNA test results within the context of your genealogy, we recommend sharing and collaborating with your genetic cousins. The main goal of your correspondence with genetic cousins might be to determine the nature of your relationship, but could also include sharing information regarding your shared heritage and ancestors, or requesting their help in recruiting additional relatives to test.

However, your match list may sometimes present problems of its own. If it includes several thousand individuals it might seem overwhelming. If you only have a handful of matches, it might be discouraging. In either case, there is no need to worry. Genetic genealogy tests are constantly changing as more people test. If you have too many matches, just focus on the closest ones. If you don’t have enough, the genetic cousins you need to make genealogical breakthroughs may not have tested yet. Waiting for the right cousins to test need not be a passive pursuit. Consider target testing your known relatives (or the known relatives of your matches) to better achieve your research goals.

Creating a DNA testing plan

In order to create a robust testing plan, you first need to have a specific research subject and a clear objective. Focus on a single ancestor. Make a goal of what you hope to discover through DNA testing. DNA testing is ideal for addressing questions regarding kinship, but is not as good for exploring motivations, biographical detail or uncovering ancestral stories. Once you have a research subject and objective, then you can evaluate which relatives will be the best candidates to test to thoroughly address your research problem.

In this post we will create an example DNA testing plan for John Martin who was adopted by a shopkeeper and his wife in the mid-1800s. We have few clues as to who his biological parents may have been. Our research subject is John Martin, and our stated objective is to determine the identities of his biological parents.

Understanding shared DNA

Because of the unique inheritance pattern of autosomal DNA, testing multiple relatives of a specific research subject can be extremely beneficial. Each individual inherits half of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents. Beyond that, the amount of DNA shared in common is only approximate due to a random process – called recombination – which shuffles the DNA each generation. Each individual will inherit about 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent and approximately half the previous amount for each subsequent generation. Although two first cousins will have both inherited 25% of their DNA from each of their common grandparents (50% in total) they will have inherited a different 25%. Therefore, first cousins will typically only share about 12.5% of their DNA in common. Because descendants along distinct lines inherit different portions of their common ancestors’ DNA, it is important to test as many people from distinct family lines as possible.

Tip: Right click and ‘Save Image’ to your computer, then print this free, quick reference chart:

Don’t overlook the importance of traditional genealogy research!

Since it can be extremely beneficial to test multiple descendants of a research subject, before pursuing a detailed testing plan we recommend documenting as many descendants of an ancestor of interest as possible through traditional research. Though this process can be time consuming, it is often worth the effort. By tracing all descendants, you can accurately evaluate which genetic cousins will be best to invite to perform DNA testing. Additionally, tracing the descendants of ancestors can frequently lead to additional clues for extending ancestry. Just as different descendants inherit different DNA, they also inherit different information and historical documents regarding their ancestors. Some of that information could include clues regarding the very relationships you are trying to clarify. While searching for descendants of your ancestor of interest, consider utilizing compiled family histories, obituaries, city directories, family organizations and public records to identify living descendants.

In tracing the descendants of John Martin, we found that he had three children who lived to adulthood. We traced each of their descendants through traditional research and identified 10 living relatives (shown in gray, below). Now that we know the identities of all his living descendants we can prioritize which relatives to test.

Who you decide to test as part of your research problem can be considered within the context of coverage. Coverage is the amount of an ancestor’s DNA that is represented in a DNA among all of their tested descendants. Coverage can be estimated by determining the amount of DNA that one descendant shares with a common ancestor, plus the DNA that another descendant shares with that same ancestor, minus the DNA that both descendants share in common with that ancestor. When two full siblings perform DNA testing, they obtain a coverage of about 75% of their parents’ DNA. Testing three full siblings results in about 87.5% coverage of their parents’ DNA.

Prioritize testing to achieve the highest level of coverage

To achieve the highest coverage of a research subject’s DNA, prioritize testing the closest generational descendants. A living granddaughter of a research subject will have inherited much more DNA from the ancestor of interest than a second great grandson. You can often find the closest generational descendants of a research subject by searching for the youngest child of the youngest child of each generation of their descendants. These individuals will typically have the longest generation times, and therefore have a greater likelihood of having close living descendants.

Keep in mind that any DNA inherited from a common ancestor has to come through an individual’s immediate ancestors. If a granddaughter of a research subject is still living, and she in turn has descendants, any of the DNA that her children or grandchildren inherited from the research subject had to have come through her, and will be a subset of her own DNA. Therefore, if the granddaughter is tested, there is no need to test her descendants as well within the context of the research objective.

For example, in the case of John Martin, his granddaughter Maria is the closest living generational descendant. She will share much more DNA with John Martin than any of his other descendants. Also, any DNA that Maria’s descendants (Jennifer Jones or Matthew Williams) inherited from John Martin would be a subset of the DNA that Maria inherited from John. Therefore, if we were able to test Maria, we would not need to test Jennifer or Matthew.

Also, to achieve the highest coverage of DNA, we recommend testing descendants from unique lines. If a research subject had three children who lived to adulthood, rather than testing descendants of a single child consider testing descendants from each of the children. Testing only descendants of a single child limits the maximum coverage we can achieve, while testing descendants from each line enables maximum coverage. In this case, testing Maria, George, and Isaac or Julia would result in slightly higher coverage than testing Maria, Isaac, and Julia.

Other benefits of creating a DNA testing plan

So far, our discussion on testing plans has focused on the descendants of a research subject. However, it can also be beneficial to test other individuals as part of a research plan. Testing known relatives from other family lines can help to filter DNA test results. Any matches shared between a test subject and a known relative can be assigned to that side of the family. If there are proposed candidates who might be among the ancestors of the research subject, their descendants might be tested to prove or disprove hypotheses regarding their relationship. If, after testing, there are still very few genetic cousins, consider collaborating with those cousins to test their older relatives or representative family members from their various ancestral lines.

In this case, it has been proposed that John Martin was the son of a woman named Jessie Brown. Traditional research revealed that Jessie Brown had other living descendants who might be tested. Their test results could be used to confirm or refute the hypothesis of John’s relationship to Jessie. If their results confirm John and Jessie’s relationship, they could also be used to isolate which genetic cousins of the descendants of John Martin are likely related through the ancestry of John’s father. Finally, testing close known relatives from the other ancestral lines of each testing candidate could help to filter which genetic cousins are related through the ancestry of John Martin.

Since most researchers work within a limited research budget, developing a DNA testing plan can help prioritize which DNA test(s) should be performed first, and can help maximize the chances of successful resolution of research problems. Choose a research subject, define a clear objective, research their living descendants, prioritize DNA testing, and maximize your chances for genealogical discovery.

Creating a DNA testing plan can mean the difference between DNA results that solve genealogy mysteries and a few less-meaningful slices of ethnicity pie chart. It takes a bit of extra time, but it’s worth it.

And don’t worry: if you feel a little lost when working with DNA, Legacy Tree Genealogists has expert professionals (like today’s author) who can help you with your DNA testing plan AND help you integrate DNA discoveries and your traditional research finds for more powerful, confident answers to your family history mysteries. It’s easy to request a free consultation, and we have even arranged an exclusive offer just for our readers: $100 off a 20-hour+ research project with code GGP100.

Mid-Atlantic and Southern Genealogy: Tips & Record Types

Researching your U.S. mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy can be a challenge (ever heard of “burned counties?”). These top tips and key record types may help you bust your genealogy brick walls in these regions.

Thanks to Robert Call of Legacy Tree Genealogists for writing this guest post! Learn more about Legacy Tree Genealogists below.

The Challenge

Some of the most difficult genealogical research problems filter down to us through the poor record keeping, burned depositories, and social customs of our ancestors who lived in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern United States. Notoriously challenging, many of the requests that we receive at Legacy Tree Genealogists are to assist others in discovering their Southern ancestors. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the key record types we use when solving a Mid-Atlantic or Southern States problem.

Top tips for mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy

First, three general tips are good to keep in mind when researching Mid-Atlantic and Southern ancestors.

1. Be patient

Research problems from these states generally require much patience—slowly chipping away at the problem at hand, searching out documents, considering the evidence, and letting it simmer. Rushing through a problem will result in missed evidence, conclusions with insufficient proof, or even just accidental errors. Giving a research problem time allows for more evidence gathering, more critical evaluation, and for fresh ideas and potential solutions to emerge from the documents and our analysis.

2. See what’s been done

Evaluate the pertinent work others have done on the same ancestral families. Usually, the best places to find the best research are periodicals such as National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (which publishes articles pertaining to all regions of the United States), and The American Genealogist. (The article shown here comes from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol 99:1, March 2011, pp. 5-14.) In addition to these, there are state, regional, and local genealogy journals. [Note from Genealogy Gems: use PERSI, the Periodical Source Index at Genealogy Giant Findmypast.com to search for surnames and other subjects that appear in genealogy journal and newsletter articles. Click here to learn more about PERSI.]

Similarly, use search engines and library catalogs (such as the FamilySearch Catalog, university catalogs, and WorldCat) to discover whether book-length treatments of your family have been published. Because these volumes are usually not published by academic presses, are self-published, and are rarely peer-reviewed, the credibility of each history must be carefully evaluated but could offer important clues for your own research.

Online family trees at the Genealogy Giants, like the Public Member Trees at Ancestry.com or the global Family Tree at FamilySearch.org, may also provide good research or point to the holy-grail source—such as a property deed, family bible, probate document, etc.—that provides the necessary evidence. Of course, there is a lot of bad information floating around the Internet (including in online family trees) so be careful about what you accept as reliable. [Click here to watch a free video comparing the online tree model at Ancestry.com with the tree type used at FamilySearch.org.]

3. Befriend your ancestors’ friends

Pay attention to the extended kinship network and friends of your ancestors. These people often followed similar migration patterns, which can help you discover where ancestors originated, especially as people frequently moved throughout the South. For example, perhaps you know your Fitzpatrick ancestors in Georgia were born in North Carolina, but you cannot determine where in North Carolina. If many of the Georgian neighbors migrated from Rowan County, North Carolina, it would be worth a look in Rowan County’s records for your ancestors. Documents pertaining to aunts, uncles, cousins, or in-laws may shed light on your direct ancestors and help untangle the web of relationships that may not be clear from documents related to your ancestors.

Now for some insight into record types we frequently use for Mid-Atlantic and Southern States problems.

Top records for mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy

Property records

This record type is one of the most useful when tackling families in the South or Mid-Atlantic regions. Property records document the transaction of real and personal property among the parties to the transaction. This usually means the transfer of land but could also include enslaved people or other high-value items (we’ve even seen the rights to use and sell a patent in designated areas recorded in property collections).

Property was often transferred among family members, which in turn helps the genealogist in his or her work. Family relationships are not always stated in deeds, but sometimes can be inferred from the phrasing. Even a possible relationship can be noted until additional evidence proving or disproving the hypothesis is discovered. And don’t ignore the witnesses! Property records usually include one, two, three or more witnesses attesting to the validity of the transaction and the witnesses were sometimes family.

Less-experienced genealogists sometimes only search the deed volumes, but a county may have kept other types of property records (mortgages being a common one) which should be searched as well. Property records are helpful when researching enslaved ancestors as well because they document the movements among various slaveholders and sometimes the enslaved person’s family relationships. Because property almost always constituted an inheritance—which fell to family members after debts were paid—the distribution of an estate is sometimes documented in the property collections rather than the probate records.

Excerpt from a property transaction between William C. Cross and his wife, Elizabeth, and William D. Cross, recorded in Calhoun County, Alabama. FamilySearch.org.

Probate Records

Probate records are the documents a court generates to distribute a deceased person’s estate. As mentioned above, the property almost always was divided among the deceased’s family members (instances where the testator chose to bequeath his or her property exclusively to non-family which was a rarity). Thus, in the absence of good vital records, as is the case in Southern and Mid-Atlantic states for most periods, probates may offer the necessary evidence to prove a family relationship.

A word of caution: That someone was listed as an heir to a deceased person’s estate is not proof that he or she was a child of the deceased. Frequently, when an heir was not a child, he or she was a grandchild of the deceased, suggesting the parent of the grandchild was deceased and his or her portion of the inheritance then went to the grandchildren. Like property records, probate records can also help in researching enslaved individuals because they were considered property in the law and were included in probate records as property sold to pay debts or bequeathed to the deceased’s heirs.

Excerpt from a 1730s will from Cecil County, Maryland, where the testator leaves property to his “couzens.” FamilySearch.org.

[Ready to learn more about probate records? Click here to read Gems contributor Margaret Linford’s reasons for loving these genealogically-rich records.]

Guardianship Records

These records were created when a minor needed a legal guardian to represent them in legal matters (especially when the child inherited or could inherit property). It was not necessary for both parents to be deceased for a legal guardian to be appointed for a minor child. We have seen guardians appointed in instances when the mother was still alive, but the father deceased, and when the mother was deceased with the father still living. Guardianships can help prove a parent-child relationship or even whether a set of proposed siblings were truly siblings. These records also help prove the death of an ancestor. Guardians were sometimes older siblings, in-laws, grandparents, or extended families, so noting who the guardian was can help crack your Southern or Mid-Atlantic States research problem.

Excerpt from a guardianship bond from Butts County, Georgia appointing a guardian for William, Samuel, and John Shedrick, orphans of Samuel Shedrick. FamilySearch.org.

Civil court records

Once again, this type of record for mid-Atlantic and Southern states research problems often focused on property. When a dispute arose over property ownership, these matters were usually settled in the courts and there is a good chance that the documents pertaining to those proceedings may survive today. Disputes over property ownership may have been caused by conflicts regarding an inheritance. Or, perhaps neighbors argued over where a property boundary was located and the court records may document how the parties came about owning the property—which could have been through the family.

Court records may be more difficult to access because fewer have been microfilmed (the collections at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, are a good place to start but are by no means complete) or digitized, so it may be necessary to contact the local courthouse or the state archives. But the patience and effort may be well worth the discoveries.

Excerpt from the 1820s civil actions collection of Macon County, North Carolina, naming Su-e-Killah and Yo-hoo-lah as the children and heirs of Au-back, a Cherokee Indian, and his widow, Ta-nah. Ancestry.com.

While Southern and mid-Atlantic States genealogy research is some of the most challenging research in the United States, solving those “brick wall” problems is exciting and satisfying! Patiently working through the property, probate, guardianship, and court records while searching for our direct ancestors and those connected to them can help extend our ancestries and discover previously unknown ancestors.

Robert Call is a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit www.legacytree.comExclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100! (Offer may expire without notice.)

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Beginning German Genealogy: Defining “German”

Beginning German genealogy research starts with a key question: “What does ‘German’ really mean?” A Legacy Tree Genealogists expert responds with a story about ancestors whose German identity in the U.S. census seemed to keep changing—and why that was so.

Thanks to Camille Andrus of Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post.

What does “German” really mean?

My great-grandmother Erika was German. She was adamant about the fact that she was German. After her arrival in the United States, when she was asked to fill out information about her place of birth, she indicated that she was born in Germany. Erika was born in 1921 in Waschulken. Today, this small town is located in northeastern Poland. However, at the time, it was part of Germany. Although borders have since been moved, she never stopped claiming she was German.

In the United States, many German immigrants were listed on various federal censuses and other documents generically as being from Germany. Instructions given to census takers for the 1870 census notes that the country of birth for individuals who were born outside the United States was to be listed “as specifically as possible.” In the case of those from Germany, census takers were to “specify the State, as Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurtemburg, Hesse Darmstadt, [etc].” (Click here to read those instructions for yourself.) This makes sense, as the unification of Germany had not yet occurred.

Above: 1870 census for Henry Blaser household (Henry listed as from “Wuertemberg” and Christina listed as from “Hesse Darmstadt”). Click here to view on FamilySearch.org.

Instructions for the 1900 census, however, indicate that census takers should “not write Prussia or Saxony, but Germany.” Also, in the case of Poland, they were to “inquire whether the birthplace was what is now known as German Poland or Austrian Poland.” (Click to read.) Thus, at least in theory, earlier census enumerations should indicate a more specific area or region rather than the generic “Germany.” (In practice, some census takers still used “Germany” in lieu of a more specific place.

Above: 1900 census for Henry Blaeser household (husband and wife both listed as from “Germany”). Click here to view this entry on FamilySearch.org.

The unification of territories in January 1871 created the German Empire, which lasted until 1918. Prior to the merger, the area consisted of a multitude of separate kingdoms, duchies and provinces. When an individual claims to have German ancestry, they often mean that their ancestors lived within German Empire borders (although not necessarily only during the empire period). These borders were much larger than that of modern Germany, with the most striking inclusion being a large portion of northern Poland. Even after the fall of the empire in 1918, it took many years for the borders to shrink to their current position.

Beginning German genealogy research

Because the concept of who is “German” and what areas are considered “Germany” have changed frequently over time, it is vital to keep shifting historical boundaries in mind if you have ancestors who claim to be German. They may not be from the area of modern Germany.

However, even knowing the province your immigrant ancestor came from is usually not enough to begin researching in German record collections. You need to know the name of the town your ancestor came from. Although in some rare cases you may be able to identify your immigrant’s foreign hometown through indexes created from German collections, more often than not, traditional research will necessitate using church records, civil vital records, passenger lists, naturalization records, newspapers, and other such records in the country to which your ancestor immigrated in order to identify their place of origin.

Church records can be especially useful if the immigrant attended a church associated with their native language, as these records often list foreign hometowns in marriage and death entries. For German immigrants belonging to various Protestant faiths in the Midwest region of the United States, the book series German Immigrants in American Church Records is a quick source to see if your immigrant’s name appears in the extracted records. (Click here to see this book series in the FamilySearch Catalog. Look at the description for each volume, then click View this catalog record in WorldCat for other possible copy locations to look for the volume you need at a library near you.)

Newspaper articles including obituaries can also provide the name of the immigrant’s hometown. Where available, foreign language newspapers should not be overlooked as obituaries in such papers often provide additional details not listed in their English language counterparts. Check with local libraries or historical societies to see if they have copies of foreign language newspapers.

Although early passenger lists and naturalization records usually only list a province or “Germany” as an individual’s place of origin, naturalization records post-1906, as well as more modern passenger manifests, often do list exact towns of birth. On occasion, less-obvious records, such as wills, list the town of birth. So it is important to check all record types in search of the immigrant’s town of origin.

Once the town has been identified, church records and civil registration records, mandatory for the whole German Empire as of 1876, will be the most widely used sources for researching your German ancestors in Europe. (Click here to read about German census records, too.) As many of these records will be written in the antiquated German script, one will not only need to learn basic German genealogy vocabulary but also learn to recognize those words written in the old script. (Click here for a list of top German translation websites.)

Get help beginning your German genealogy

Camille Andrus is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. She and their other German specialists are skilled not only in identifying German hometowns of immigrants, but also in reading and analyzing old German church and civil records. They would love to help you trace your German immigrant ancestors back to their hometowns and extend their lines there. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit www.legacytree.comExclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100.

Disclosure: This article contains offers with affiliate links, which may expire without notice. Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Scots-Irish Genealogy: Getting Started

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy is easier if you can identify your ancestors as Scots-Irish! The Scots-Irish put down early roots in Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Appalachian “backcountry” and would likely have come from Northern Ireland or Scotland. Read these important tips for tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Thanks to Suzanne Earnshaw, Project Manager at Legacy Tree Genealogists, for providing this expert how-to article on tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Who were the Scots-Irish?

Researchers use the term “Scots-Irish” to identify a people who went back and forth between Scotland and Ulster, Ireland. The North Channel, shown on the map below (click on it to see the original image), is also known as the Straits of Moyle. It connects the west coast of Scotland and the Mull of Galloway at the narrowest part the strait. There, the strait spans only 13 miles. This short distance between Northern Ireland ports and the western Scotland ports made trade and commuting quite common between Ireland and Scotland.

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy

To find a Scots-Irish ancestor, start with what you do know. For example, my ancestors immigrated to America from Scotland in the 1880s. I traced my great-great-grandmother here in the US through US records, until I found a record which stated that she had emigrated from New Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Then, I began searching Scotland Census records in 1881 to find out more about my ancestors.

Good research methodology includes finding your ancestors in each record possible to get an accurate picture of their life, and collecting data through which you can learn more about the previous generation. As I moved back in time through the Scottish censuses in 1871, 1861, 1851, and finally 1841, I found that some of these family members family on a record were born in Scotland and others were born in Ireland—my ancestors were Scots-Irish and moved fluidly back and forth between Ireland and Scotland. Based on this fact, I then knew to conduct research in records for both Scotland and Ireland to find additional family records.

Scots-Irish Genealogy Resources on FamilySearch.org

The free genealogy giant FamilySearch.org has a variety of records available, which are cataloged by collection. To learn what collections are available, go to familysearch.org, sign in for free (click here to learn how and why), click Search and then Catalog. Type in the place you would like to search for record collections.

Records were often kept at a variety of government and church levels, and they might be cataloged differently. To properly research, type in “Scotland” and see what records are available. Then type in a narrower geographic area such as “Scotland, Dumbartonshire” and see which of those records might be of interest to you. The next search would be even more specific: “Scotland, Dumbartonshire, New Kilpatrick.” This increasingly-specific record search process can be done for any place.

If you type “Ireland” into the FamilySearch catalog request, one of your choices is the collection Death records of Ireland, 1864-1870, with index of deaths, 1864-1921. Clicking on this collection takes you to the collection page. There is a note: “Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes are available online” (see #1 in the screenshot below). By selecting that option, you will be able to search an index of names that appear in “1864-1958 births, 1845-1958 marriages, and 1864-1958 deaths, but excluding index records for Northern Ireland after its creation in 1922.” Note that the index extends to 1958, further than the collection name indicates.

Searching this index is a good first step, since it will provide you with the registration district if your ancestor is listed. Type in the name and identifying details. When I searched for “Catherine Halloran” Death 1900-1950, I found the birth that matched and it gave me the registration district as Galway.

To view record images available in this collection, you’ll need to scroll down on the above catalog page. You’ll see the collection broken down into groups of records. Those with a camera icon on the far right (#2 above) have digital images on the site that you can browse through page by page. (Click here for instructions on browsing FamilySearch images.) Unfortunately, images of the original 1931 death records and the original index aren’t on the site; you’d only be able to look at original records through 1870 and the original index through 1921, as the collection name indicates.

More sites for tracing Scots-Irish genealogy

Irishgenealogy.ie. This website is free and home to the historic records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths of the General Register Office. Civil registration in Ireland began in 1864. Church records are also available on this website. Most on this website are for the Roman Catholic Church, but they do have some Presbyterian records as well.

The Ulster Irish were mostly Protestant by faith, since many were originally English. The Scots mostly worshiped as Presbyterians (a type of Protestantism). Knowing your ancestor’s religion might be a clue to which records to begin research.

AskAboutIreland.ie. This website can help you research your family pre-census. The Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland. It was overseen by Richard Griffith and published between 1847 and 1864. To find your family, enter their surname in the search box. If you know the county you can put in that as well to limit the amount of records returned. Tip: Searching without the location can give you an understanding of the distribution of a surname at the time the valuation was taken.

Tithe Applotment Survey at NationalArchives.ie. This site has the Tithe Applotment Survey of 1823-1938 for the 26 counties of the Republic.

ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk. For information on how to search Scottish records on this official website for searching government records and archives, click here.

Here is my final tip: as you research your Scots-Irish ancestors be sure to thoroughly search record collections by looking for a variety of spellings, using wildcards in your search terms, and reviewing original records page by page when you don’t find them in indexes.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit https://www.legacytree.comEXCLUSIVE OFFER for Genealogy Gems readers! Receive $100 off a 20-hour+ research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists with code GGP100.

Disclosure: This article contains offers with affiliate links, which may expire without notice. Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Here’s Why I Reached Out for Help

Sooner or later, we all hit genealogy brick walls: a point in our family history research where we can’t seem to make any further progress. When I hit a brick wall with great-grandpa Gus in Eastern Europe, I turned to Legacy Tree Genealogists. Here’s what their experts found that I hadn’t discovered for myself.

My genealogy brick wall in Eastern Europe

My great-grandfather Gustav Sporowski was born in Kotten, Kreis Johannisburg, East Prussia on July 20, 1881. His wife was born in Kreis Ortelsburg in 1878. I’ve found all of her church records, but have had no luck with his. I’ve met so many people who get stuck researching in Eastern Europe, and East Prussia and the Belarus area in particular. (I strongly suspect that the Sporowski family came from the Sporovo lake region of Belarus). So I invited Legacy Tree Genealogists to take a look at Gus and suggest some next steps. I wondered what someone who specialized in Eastern European research might be able to tell someone like me, who knows how to genealogy but not-so-much in that part of the world.
Reviewing my work

Legacy Tree Genealogists assigned me to a Project Manager, Camille Andrus, who reached out to discuss what I already knew and what I wanted to learn. I requested their Discovery Research Plan, for which they just provide guidance about what record collections to consult and what methods or strategies to try. That way I can do the research myself (which I like doing!). I also asked Camille if she would write about her research process so I could share it with you. Here’s what she sent me:

“We looked over Lisa’s work, and upon initial inspection everything looked great. She had looked in the gazetteer (now available digitally at www.meyersgaz.org with maps of the area) and Lutheran church records. She had searched the records for her ancestor’s supposed home parish. When that failed to yield results, she had done a partial radial search, searching records in several adjacent parishes. Check. Check. Check. She was following all of the integral steps, but still not having success. What had she missed? What had she done wrong? The short answer — nothing. Her research was impeccable, and she was looking in the right places.”

While it’s nice to hear I was following the right path, I was a little worried that it meant there were no more “sledgehammers” out there that I would use to take a nice good swing at my brick wall. But Camille didn’t stop there. She dredged up several additional strategies for me to take, which was just what I was hoping for!

Getting around the genealogy brick wall

Camille had three specific suggestions for where to look next for great-grandpa Gus. At the end, she also offered some helpful reassurance. Here’s what she said:

1. Civil registration in East Prussia

After closer inspection of what Lisa had already tried, we saw several opportunities we could still pursue. We looked up civil registration records available through a Polish archive, since what was East Prussia is now part of modern Poland. German civil registration in East Prussia began in October of 1874 and is an important resource for researching individuals from this area. The Meyers Gazetteer confirmed that Kotten (where her ancestor was from) belonged to Kreis Johannisburg in the German Empire province of East Prussia. This village belonged to the Monethen (Kreis Johannisburg) civil registration district.[1]

The Olsztyn State Archive inventory lists several birth, marriage, death, and family books for the Monethen Civil Registration Office, but the books only cover the late 1930s and early 1940s. The whereabouts of the registers covering 1874 through the early 1930s are unknown. It appears as though the records covering this time period have been lost or destroyed. This situation is not unusual for East Prussia, in general due to the numerous conflicts that have occurred in the area over time.

2. Church records in East Prussia

Another major resource for German genealogy research is church records. The Meyers Gazetteer database noted that Protestant residents of Kotten attended church in the nearby town of Baitkowen (Kreis Lyck).[2]

The church book inventory for Baitkowen revealed that the Protestant parish was established in 1891, a decade after the ancestor Gustav Sporowski was reportedly born. No sacramental registers for this parish are known to be extant. It should be noted that the Baitkowen parish was created from parts of the Lyck, Ostrokollen, and Drygallen parishes.[3]

The Protestant parish of Drygallen (Kreis Johannisburg) has extant baptismal records which are available on microfilm at the Family History Library for the years 1730-1821 and 1844-1875.[4] Lisa indicated that she had reviewed these files but did not find any Sporowskis.

The Lyck Landgemeinde (the congregation for parishioners living outside city limits) was founded in 1704, but there are no known extant baptismal records for this parish after 1808.[5]

3. Following up on clues

The Protestant Bartholomew Church in Lütgendortmund, Dortmund, Germany. Von Smial – Eigenes Werk, FAL. Click to view.

A key clue came from Lisa’s notes. She mentioned that Gustav and his wife were married in Lütgendortmund, a town hundreds of miles west of Gustav’s birthplace, before ultimately immigrating to the United States. Luckily, their marriage occurred in a time when civil registration had been instituted. A search for marriage records showed there are civil registration records available for the town of their marriage, which are available at an archive in Detmold. We were able to advise Lisa that further research should pursue this record, as it may list information about his parents.

Getting Unstuck

The bottom line is that If you feel stuck, it’s not necessarily because you are doing anything wrong. Review the “checkboxes” of your research plan to ensure you aren’t missing any integral clues. If after final review of methodology concludes that you’ve pursued every avenue, the lack of success may be attributed to gaps in the records or perhaps they have been lost completely. Other times all you need is one clue to put you back on the right track.

This is exactly the kind of advice I was hoping for: expert and specific. I feel much more confident about how I’ll spend my time moving forward! If you have hit a genealogy brick wall in Eastern Europe (or anywhere else) consider hiring a professional to review your work. An investment with a pro can save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. Doesn’t that sound good?

About the Researchers: Legacy Tree Genealogists is a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. For a limited time, go to  Legacy Tree Genealogists and receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

[1] Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.

[2] Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.

[3] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Baitkowen (Baitenberg), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

[4] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Johannisburg, ev. Drigelsdorf (Drygallen), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

[5] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Lyck Stadtgemeinde, http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

Getting Started with Australian Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist

Ready to start your Australian genealogy research? A Legacy Tree Genealogist walks you through essential Australian history, geography, genealogical record types and online resources to trace your family tree “down under.”

Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post. 

Australian genealogy can be straightforward, but you do need to know a time period and a place, as well as the family name you are researching. Australia has only been a single country since 1901; before that there were colonies and territories beginning with the first European settlement in 1788. Even today the individual states and territories have their own governments and record systems with no single combined place to research. Therefore, knowing the time period and place where your ancestors lived is essential.

Australian history and geography

European settlement began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which included both male and female convicts and military and naval personnel. The colony became known as New South Wales, and occupied the eastern half of the continent of Australia including Tasmania (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land). The western half of the continent was never part of New South Wales and was originally known as the Swan River Colony, and later Western Australia.

With the exception of Western Australia, the other states and colonies were originally part of New South Wales. Victoria was known as the Port Phillip settlement before it became self-governing in 1851, and Queensland was the Moreton Bay settlement until 1859. Early records for both of those colonies will be in New South Wales, so it is important to know when the individual colonies and territories were established.

Australia in 1856 – image courtesy Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Australia)

Similarly, a knowledge of geography is essential, as Australia is a huge continent with most of the population along the coastline. Another complicating factor is that there may be places with the same name in one or more colonies/states. For instance, if researching ancestors from Maryborough, it would be necessary to identify whether you should be researching Maryborough in Queensland or Maryborough in Victoria.

To make matters even more confusing, some places changed their name! For instance, until 1911 Innisfail in Queensland was called Geraldton, not to be confused with Geraldton in Western Australia on the other side of the continent. Bendigo was originally known as Sandhurst, and many of the goldfield towns in central Victoria were known under the broader name of the Mount Alexander goldfield. Knowing the history and geography will help you immensely as you embark on your Australian genealogy research.

Getting started with Australian genealogy research

If you have Australian genealogy there are many wonderful free online Australian resources that will give you a head start in researching your ancestors and learning more about their heritage. Wikipedia – Australia is a good starting place for an overview if you are unfamiliar with Australian history and geography. Depending on where your ancestors were, read the appropriate sections of history and geography. For example, convicts were sent to New South Wales and Tasmania until 1842 when the colony was opened up for free settlement, but Western Australia only received convicts from 1850 to 1868. The gold rushes in Victoria in the 1850s attracted thousands of people, as did later rushes in Queensland in the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s.

Many immigrants were looking for their own land and a better life for their families. Each of the colonies had their own immigration schemes in a bid to attract as many people as they could. Most colonial passenger lists are now indexed and can be searched online at the various state archives. Some states have even digitized the passenger lists, which may be viewed freely online. State archives are a wonderful free online resource, and include offices such as the Queensland State Archives, Public Record Office Victoria, or the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

A free useful portal site is CoraWeb – helping you trace your family history in Australia and elsewhere. It is divided up into categories such as archives, cemeteries, convicts, maps, probate and will records, shipping, migration, and other genealogy-related topics.

Australian birth, marriage, and death records

Like everything else, you need to know an approximate date and place before you begin to research birth, marriage, and death records. Prior to civil registration there are some church records which consist of mostly baptisms and marriages, with a few burials. Civil registration started at various times, and different colonies collected different information at different times, with South Australia having the least information on the certificates.

Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) was the first to introduce civil registration in 1838, with Western Australia following in 1842, South Australia in 1842, Victoria in 1851, and New South Wales (including Queensland at that time) in 1856. Most states have online indexes available for searching, but only Queensland and Victoria provide digital copies of certificates for download after purchase. Western Australia still requires researchers to mail their applications with no online ordering.

Tasmania is perhaps the most helpful – with their early church records and births, marriage, and death certificates indexed, and digital copies online for free through the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. The Tasmanian Name Index includes free indexed and digitized copies of various genealogical resources.

Federation in 1901 and the National Archives

The individual colonies voted to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and since then there has also been a Commonwealth (later Federal) government. This took over some government functions such as the military, immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, although some states continued to have their own immigration schemes. This means that post-1901, researchers need to use the National Archives of Australia, as well as the various state archives.

In 1911 the final changes to the map of Australia took place, with the separation of the Northern Territory from South Australia, and the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory within southern New South Wales.

With the centenary of World War One, the National Archives of Australia has digitized all army dossiers and made them freely available online. RecordSearch is the main database, and it can be searched in a number of ways including a “Name Search” and “Passenger Arrivals.” While not every record series is indexed by name, it can be useful to search for an individual’s name, especially if they arrived post-1901 or served in the military during either World War.

Australian Newspapers and Photographs

In Australia, digitized newspapers are freely available online through Trove, which is maintained by the National Library of Australia. Along with newspapers, Trove also includes government gazettes, books, articles, maps, manuscripts, photographs, archived websites, and other resources. If you are interested in what a place looked like at the time your ancestors lived there, then try an image search in Trove. Remember that it is continually being added to, so it is essential that you revisit your searches from time to time. (Click here to read another Genealogy Gems article about Trove.)

Christoe Street, Copperfield Queensland in 1876 when my ancestors lived there. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland via Trove.

Individual state libraries also have genealogy sections with online guides to various family history topics. These can be a good place to start, and most participate in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ where you can get advice and information. However, they cannot do individual research – just answer questions.

About Legacy Tree Genealogists

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