Standing in Judgment of Our Ancestors

Standing in judgement of our ancestors may be unavoidable. Genealogists dig up the good, the bad, and the ugly. We cannot pick and choose what we find, but we might be able to pick what and how we share it with others.

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Recently, I received a letter from a Gem’s reader which included a very delicate and sensitive matter. She writes:

Hi Lisa!

I love your blog and podcast. Thank you for all you do getting gems together for us!  I have a question for you and would love to know your opinion (or the opinion of anyone else as well!)

I was recently at a family wedding. I printed out all the family and ancestor’s paper trails and documents and was passing them around to my aunt, uncles, and cousins. My mom’s eldest brother brought up a memory he had of his grandfather, my great-grandfather, a German immigrant. My uncle whispered it to me because the saying my great-grandfather often said is very prejudice. I won’t tell you what the quote is but it’s prejudice against Jewish, Irish, and Dutch people. Here’s my question – should I write down that my great-grandfather was prejudice against certain people to preserve this part of his character or should I let this information fade into history? As genealogists we are always trying to get a full view of the person we are researching – past the census records, military service paperwork, and wills – and into the real person and personality. So, I now have a more broad view of my great-grandfather, but it’s negative. Should I preserve this character flaw in my ancestry notes? I’m conflicted about what to do. Maybe if this was a further distanced relative I would have an easier time brushing aside this prejudice but I’m having a hard time with the “right thing to do.” Any advice would be wonderful!

As a side note I will tell you that in the following generations this mans’ children and grandchildren have married Irish and Jewish spouses. Haha. I guess the “saying” was never echoed by his descendants!

Thanks,
Jennifer

Judgement of Our Ancestors

This is a great question and I applaud you for thoughtfully taking a moment to really think it through and ask for advice before moving forward on recording what you were told.

 
You asked – Should I write down that my great-grandfather was prejudice against certain people to preserve this part of his character or should I let this information fade into history? My opinion is, no. Mother Lisa says this is gossip and you didn’t hear it straight from your great-grandfather. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone else attributing a negative comment to me without having the chance to review or rebuke it. It’s a slippery slope.
 
judgement of our ancestors

Little Tea & Gossip by Robert Payton Reid, Source: http:⁄⁄www.liveinternet.ru⁄users⁄pmos_nmos⁄post357791815⁄

 

You also asked – Should I preserve this character flaw in my ancestry notes? And there’s the slippery slope. I believe that we, in modern times, should avoid sitting in judgement of ancestors who are not here to defend themselves. We don’t want to presume that we are in a position to decide how wrong “the crime” is. We certainly don’t want to be negatively prejudiced against others ourselves, but it is impossible to put oneself in another’s shoes in a differing time and circumstance. We know nothing about what the person really said. Perhaps they were joking (even though in extremely bad taste!) Maybe the person who heard this, and passed it on, had an ax to grind and part or none of it is true. Or, maybe there was an experience that our ancestor suffered that could have given him a reason to gripe based on his personal experience. You just don’t know.

In my book, I would chalk this up to gossip and either prove it with substantiated evidence or move on. What goes around comes around so let’s hope it will prevent an occurrence of someone gossiping about you and your future descendant spreading it into the ages.

 

Deciding to Write the Whole Story

In cases where you have secured substantial evidence that a negative story is true, you still have a choice to make. When I come across particularly sensitive or negative information about an ancestor, and before I make it public, I ask myself, “who will this help, and who will it hurt?” Does adding it to the family history enrich it? Is there anyone living today who might be hurt? If someone stands to be injured, but you’re set on capturing the story, I encourage you to do so privately for your own records and of course, cite all of your sources.

 
If you do decide to write and publish sensitive stories, I know that you will want to do so in as gentle and fair a way as possible. Here are some things to consider when writing about delicate stories of our ancestors:
  • Be sure to cite your source – who told you the story and when. The reader can decide whether to take the story with a grain of salt or believe it.
  • Let your readers know your reason for sharing the story in the first place. Genealogy Gems blogger Amie Tennant recently read a family history that included a horrible childhood memory. The writer stated it was important to put the family dynamics in full view so that other stories would be seen in the “right light.”
  • If naming everyone in the story will cause hurt or embarrassment, consider documenting the essence of the story without naming names.

Whatever you decide, writing a family history, though difficult at times, can be a rewarding experience.

 

71,000 pages of Canadian Genealogy and History Now Online

canada_flag_perspective_anim_150_clr_2301If you have Canadian roots, you’ll want to know about a rich new resource now at Findmypast.com. It’s the Canadian Books collection, with 71,000 pages of keyword-searchable histories, vital records, directories, published genealogies and more.

“Dating back to the 1600s, the Canadian Books boast 71,000 pages of items such as military, religious, occupational and immigration records, business directories, published genealogies and BMDs [births, marriages and deaths],” states a Findmypast.com press release. “The books feature a sizeable amount of military records with various nominal rolls and rolls of honour relating mostly to the First World War, such as The Royal Montreal Regiment, 14th Battalion, University of Toronto Roll of Service buy heartworm medication online canada 1914-1918 and 31st Canadian Infantry CEF 1914-1919.”

Though the core content is Canada, the reach of this 200-volume collection extends outside Canada’s boundaries. “With titles such as Sketches of Irish soldiers, The Scotch-Irish of California, and German-Canadian Folklore, the collection is valuable for people with Canadian ancestry and those who can trace their origins back to the UK or Europe.”

This collection comes from the Archive CD Books Canada Project, which has gathered, renovated and reproduced Canadian historical books, documents and maps for over a decade. The 200 volumes are searchable through all Findmypast international sites with a World Subscription and in the U.S. and Canada resources at Findmypast.com.

Which Genealogy Website Should I Use? Comparing the Genealogy Giants.

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4

“Which big genealogy website should I use?” Genealogy Gems takes on that ambitious family history question in ongoing comparative coverage of the “Genealogy Giants,” Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. (Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links. we will be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you for supporting this free blog.)

Which Genealogy Giants website is best for me?

The four Genealogy Giants (Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com) all offer the following to their top-tier users:

  • millions of historical records from around the world;
  • powerful, flexible search interfaces;
  • family tree-building tools;
  • automated record hinting (if you have a tree on the site);
  • Help/tutorials for site users.

But each has unique strengths and weaknesses, too. You may determine that one or two of these sites meets your needs now. But your family history research needs may change. For example, you may discover an Irish or Swedish ancestor whose records may be hosted on a different site than the one you’ve been using. Or you may find that you need DNA to push back further on your family tree. It’s critical to which sites offer what records and tools, so you know your options when your needs or interests change.

Comparing the Top Genealogy Websites

There are so many features on each site–and an apples-to-apples comparison isn’t easy.

Here’s one example: how many records are on each site? Some sites include DNA results and user-submitted family tree profiles in their total record count. Others don’t. One site has a universal family tree–ideally with one record per person who has ever lived–and the others host individual trees for each user, leading to lots of duplication. Does a birth record count as one record? FamilySearch thinks so. But other sites may count a birth record as three records, because a baby, mom and dad are all named. So it’s not easy to compare historical record content across all the sites.

Watch the “Genealogy Giants” kick-off lecture

Additional Genealogy Giants Website Resources

Ancestry.com:

  • Click here for a step-by-step introduction to getting started on Ancestry.com.

FamilySearch.org:

  • Click here to learn why everyone should have a free FamilySearch login–and use it!

Findmypast.com:

  • Click here to learn more about the historical record collections Sunny Morton loves on Findmypast, including British Isles resources and content for tracing your U.S. ancestors!

MyHeritage:

Reviews of “Genealogy Giants”

“You may have asked, ‘Which is the best online genealogy service for me to use?’….I suspect this video [presentation by Sunny Morton at RootsTech 2017] will answer most of your questions. Topics covered include cost, record types, geographic coverage, genetic testing, DNA matching, search flexibility, languages supported, mobile-friendly, automated matching, and a lot more. Sunny provides the most information about these four sites that I have ever seen in any other one document or video. This is a keeper! I have been using all four of these web sites for years and yet I learned several new facts about them, thanks to Sunny’s online video presentation. I suspect you will learn some things as well.”  – Dick Eastman, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

“We want to tell you how much we enjoyed the presentation about the comparison of the four major websites. [Sunny] did an excellent job and we were so thrilled with her presentation. She was so prepared and presented it in such a manner as to be understood. Give her our best.” – Eldon and Dorothy Walker

“I am incredibly thankful for your Big 4 session. I’ve never had interest in Findmypast or MyHeritage as I felt FamilySearch and Ancestry had it all…and hadn’t heard of PERSI either. With newly found Irish roots (via DNA), I’m excited to extend some lines that have gone cold.” – a FamilySearch employee

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!

GEDmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

 

The genetic genealogy community has a crush. A big one. Everyone is talking about it. “It has such great features,” says one. “It has a chromosome browser!” exclaims another. “It’s FREE!” they all shout. What’s all the hype about? GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch is a mostly free online tool where anyone with autosomal DNA test results from 23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA can meet and share information. All you need to do is download your data from your testing company and upload it into your newly created GEDmatch account.

GEDmatch Set-up

gedmatch-find-matches

Gedmatch Find Matches

GEDmatch is set up just like your testing company and provides two kinds of reports: ethnicity results and a match list. Remember, ethnicity results, meaning those pie charts that report you are 15% Italian and 32% Irish, are based on two factors: a reference population and fancy math. GEDmatch has gathered data from multiple academic sources to provide you with several different iterations of ethnicity reports. This is like getting a second (and third and fourth, etc) opinion on a science that is still emerging. It is a fun exercise, but will likely not impact your genealogy research very much.

The more important match list does allow you to see genetic cousins who have tested at other companies. Of course, only those who have downloaded their results and entered them into GEDmatch will show up on your list. This means GEDmatch has the potential to expand your pool of genetic cousins, increasing your chances of finding someone to help you track down that missing ancestor.

Many also flock to GEDmatch because they were tested at AncestryDNA and so do not have access to a chromosome browser. A chromosome browser allows you to visualize the physical locations that you share with someone else (see below). Some find this a helpful tool when analyzing their DNA matches, though in my opinion, it is not essential.

dna3

Example

GEDmatch also has some great genealogy features that let you analyze your pedigree against someone else’s, as well as the ability to search all the pedigree charts in their system so you can look specifically for a descendant of a particular relative. However, even with all of these great features, GEDmatch is still yet another website you have to navigate. With that, there will be a learning curve and certainly some frustration.

GEDMatch or Not?

So, is it worth it? If you are fairly comfortable with the website where you were tested, and you are feeling both curious and patient, I say go for it!

It’s too much to tell you right this minute how to download your data from your testing site and upload it to GEDmatch, but you’re in luck! I’ve put step-by-step instructions for getting started in a free tutorial on my website at www.yourDNAguide.com/transferring.

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