Here’s what you need to know before you encourage your relatives to join you on your genetic genealogy journey. There are a few things to think about before they spit in that tube and our DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, is here to help!
Did you see those holiday price wars on DNA testing over the holidays? I’m guessing we haven’t seen the end of these now that it’s becoming so trendy! Genealogists are seeing the research payoffs of DNA testing and now another major genealogy website (MyHeritage) is offering testing services, as well.
As the prices and sales generally become more attractive, more of you will want to expand your personal genetic database to include aunts, uncles, and cousins. But what is the best way to proceed? How exactly do you ask someone for his or her DNA? You may just have one shot at this. If so, which test? Which company? Here are three tips to consider before spitting into the tube!
Tip One: Test the Eldest Generation First
You likely have a limited amount of funds with which to populate your family genetic database, so you’ll want to use them wisely. Anyone who does not have both parents living should be tested first. Here’s what I suggest:
ordering an autosomal DNA test for everyone
ordering a YDNA for one male delegate for each surname you want represented
As for the testing company, you now have four choices:
While there are several factors to consider when choosing a company, database size is probably the number one factor. Currently, AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database. The reason this is important is because your DNA will be matched and compared to others who have taken a DNA test. By testing with a company that has done lots of tests, your chance of finding matches goes up tremendously. You can also go to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s wiki for a full list of characteristics of each company.
Tip Two: Take Care of Everything for the Person Being Tested
Depending on the needs and interest of your relative, you can handle everything from ordering, payment, to even correspondence. All they have to do is spit or swab! This will often alleviate feelings of trepidation on part of the person being tested, especially if they aren’t really into this genealogy craze in the first place. Here are my recommendations:
If testing at Family Tree DNA: You will need to keep track of the log-in credentials for each relative.
If testing at AncestryDNA: Make sure all kits are registered under your account. The easiest way to do this is to have the family member take a photo of the activation code on the sample collection tube and send it to you so you can register it after you have logged into your Ancestry account. Hint: Register everyone’s DNA test results under the family member who has a subscription to Ancestry!
If testing at MyHeritage: Make sure that all kits are registered under your account. To the best of my knowledge, you order the kit under your account.
If your relative does want to be involved, all the better! You can have them share their Family Tree DNA or 23andMe login with you, or they can share their AncestryDNA results with you. To share their AncestryDNA results with you, visit my website at https://www.yourdnaguide.com/sharing-ancestrydna.
If you haven’t tested with a particular company yourself, familiarize yourself with the sample collection so you can be helpful when they have questions:
First of all, nothing speaks louder than your own experience. Before asking your relative to take a test, consider starting with a short summary of your own DNA journey. Keep in mind what might interest them – do they like deep history? If yes, you could share the ethnicity results of your own test. Did they have a special connection to Great-grandpa Joe? In this case, you could show how your DNA connected to a 2nd cousin who was also a descendant of Joe. Maybe you could bust out the photo album. Remind them that while Joe is gone, there are threads of DNA that can speak for him and we need as many of his descendants as possible to be tested in order to preserve his genetic legacy and unravel the mystery of his past.
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!
Federal court records are wonderful because they are so packed with genealogical information. But knowing which records are available and where to find them can sound daunting, and that stops many genealogists from ever tapping into them. In this episode our aim is to fix all that. Professional forensic genealogist Michael Strauss is here to pull back the curtain and introduce you to these valuable records.
You know Michael from our Military Minutes segments here on Genealogy Gems. He also recently introduced us to descendancy research on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcastepisode 174. The response to that episode was terrific. Many of you wrote in to say that it opened up a new avenue of research for you. This episode promises to do the same.
The Federal Court System of the United States was established under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 76) on September 24, 1789. Click here to read more about the role and structure of the federal courts at the United States Courts website.
Trial Courts of the United States. Their jurisdiction include:
These courts began at different times dependent on the geographic area and when the states were created.
Originally established in 1789 as three courts and later expanded to nine courts by 1866. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all matters (especially criminal) covered by Federal Law. Abolished in 1911 and taken over by District Courts.
Circuit Courts of Appeals:
Established under the Federal Court System by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 826), by acquiring the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Circuit Courts and later the U.S. District Courts. They have different geographic jurisdictions than the regular federal courts.
It is recognized as the highest court in the United States operating as an appeals court. Although a criminal case may have first been heard at the local level, it may have escalated to a federal court. Therefore, there could be federal records on that case.
Application for the Genealogist:
Michael has found that some of the richest records in the federal court system have come from the criminal court records. Our ancestors did get into trouble upon occasion. Michael’s grandfather was arrested in the 1940s and he was able to obtain those records.
Searching for Federal Records
Is it worthwhile to head to the National Archives and generally search to see if an ancestor has records? Or is it best to identify a case first, perhaps through a newspaper article, and then go to the National Archives location that would have the records for those identified cases?
No one is wasting their time going and searching the records. It’s a great way to get familiar with them. However, identifying a case through other records first can lead you quickly to the federal records. (Michael first found his grandfather’s case in a newspaper article.)
Types of Federal Court Records:
Dockets: Lists of cases heard by the court. Sometime referred to as court calendars.
Brief daily accounts of all actions taken by the court.
The specific judgments or orders of the court. An example would be an order granting citizenship.
Legal document arguing why one Party should prevail on a case.
When a Defendant obligates themselves to engage in activities in exchange for suspension of sentence. Frequently seen in Criminal Court.
All the loose documents relating to the case bundled together.
How to Find Records at the Archives:
Review the finding aid
Request the Index and find the name and corresponding file information
Request the record
An appointment is not required. They will pull the records as you request them. Record groups are pulled at different times. For the most part you will have the opportunity to view the original documents.
The National Archives is set up by record groups, such as:
Records of the U.S. Court of Claims – RG 123 (Claims against the US. Individual citizens could actually file claims against the US)
Request the individual record groups separately.
Bankruptcy Acts were passed by Congress usually after business disturbances or financial recessions.
Bankruptcy Act of 1800
This act followed the business disturbances of 1797.
The first national bankruptcy act was approved on April 4, 1800 (2 Stat, 19.) It provided for an effective period beginning June 2, 1800 and continuing for 5 years.
It applied only to merchants or other related parties. The act provided for compulsory or involuntary bankruptcy, but not for voluntary bankruptcy. Because of its limited applicability the act was repealed on December 19, 1803, just months before its expiration date.
Bankruptcy Act of 1841
This act followed the business panic of 1837.
The second national bankruptcy act was passed on August 19, 1841 and was to take effect on February 1, 1842.
The law allowed voluntary bankruptcy to all debtors, but limited involuntary bankruptcy to merchants, bankers, factors (an agent or commissioned merchant), brokers, and traders.
It eliminated the requirement of the consent of the creditor for a discharge. The bankrupt filer, however, could obtain his discharge through a jury trial if the jury found that he had surrendered all his property and had fully complied with the orders of the court.
Bankruptcy Act of 1867
This act followed the post-Civil War recession of 1866-1867.
On March 2, 1867, Congress approved the Nation’s third bankruptcy act to assist the judges in the administration of the law, the act provided for the appointment by the court of registers in bankruptcy.
The registers were authorized to make adjudications of bankruptcy, to hold and preside at meetings of creditors, to take proofs of debts, to make computations of dividends, and otherwise to dispatch the administrative business of the court in bankruptcy matters when there was no opposing interest.
In cases where opposition to an adjudication or a discharge arose, the controversy was to be submitted to the court.
Bankruptcy Act of 1898
This act followed the business panic of 1893 and the depression that followed. We are currently under the umbrella of this fourth act.
In 1889 The National Convention of Representatives of Commercial Bodies was formed to lobby for bankruptcy legislation. The president of the Convention, Jay L. Torrey, drafted a new Bankruptcy Bill otherwise known as the “Torrey Bill.”
In 1898 Congress passed a bankruptcy bill based on the previous Torrey bill. This Act also called the “Nelson Act” was passed July 1, 1898, (Ch. 541, 30 Stat. 544.) It was the first United States Act of Congress involving Bankruptcy that gave companies an option of being protected from creditors. Previous attempts at bankruptcy law had lasted at most a few years. Its popular name is a homage to the role of Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota.
Bankruptcy files are in the custody of the National Archives and now stored offsite at the National Archives branch in Kansas City, MO. Researchers should contact the Archives directly to conduct searches. Some indexes are still maintained at the regional archives.
Bankruptcy Records Examples
1) Two pages from the Bankruptcy File of Percival L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks Co. PA. 1 Page is the petition and the second page is a page from “Schedule A” which lists the debt owed by the bankrupt.
Petition by Debtor: Percival L. Strauss
Schedule A – No. 3: Creditors Whose Claims are Unsecured (Percival L. Strauss)
2) Tintype of Percival L. Strauss-circa 1872 within a few years of filing Bankruptcy.
Percival L. Strauss. (Courtesy of Michael’s cousin Harry B. Strauss of Myerstown, PA)
Percival Long Strauss (Son of Benjamin Strauss & Rebecca Long)
Born: December 16, 1830-Upper Bern Township, Berks Co. PA
Died: Mohnton, Berks Co. PA
Married: April 9, 1855-Bethel Township, Berks Co. PA to Malinda Smith (12 Children)
May 18, 1867 (Page 3, Column 6), in the Berks & Schuylkill Journal newspaper the entry reads: “P.L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks County, PA Class #13 License paid $10.00 to conduct store (merchant).”
This is the business he had at the time of his bankruptcy filing on May 27, 1867 in Philadelphia, PA in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Types of Information Found in Bankruptcy Records:
Lists of creditors (name, address)
Amount of money owed (the debt)
Specific information about the items for which the debt was incurred
Total dollar amounts
Follow the Federal Record Trail:
Information found could lead you to additional records. For example, if your ancestor filed for bankruptcy due to debts associated with his business, you could go back to the local level to look for records such as a business license, newspaper articles, etc.
Lisa suggests searching Google Books for digitized items such as county histories, almanacs, catalogs, merchant association books, etc. Here’s an example of a bankruptcy notice found in Google Books (which is free) for Michael’s ancestor Percival L. Strauss
Searching for Percival L. Strauss bankruptcy notice in Google Books
Bankruptcy notice (Oct. 9, 1868) found in Google Books
Bankruptcy Act of 1841 – Edgar Allen Poe filed bankruptcy in 1841.
Bankruptcy Act of 1898 Act – Dean Martin in New York
Amendments to the most recent bankruptcy act include:
1933: The “1898 Bankruptcy Act”
Amended to include railroad reorganization, corporate reorganization, and individual debtor arrangements.
1938: The “Chandler Act”
Amended the earlier 1898 Bankruptcy Act, creating a menu of options for both business and non-business debtors. Named for Walter Chandler.
1978: The 1898 Bankruptcy Act
Replaced by The Bankruptcy Reform Act. This Act is still used today.
Writs of Habeas Corpus:
Habeas corpus is a court order from a judge instructing a person who is detaining another to bring the detainee before the court for a specific purpose.
It was often used during the Civil War for soldiers under the age of 18 years and in reference to runaway slaves.
Writs can be found in most case files. They usually involves a petition, transcript, order, and the writ when ordered by the Judge. Contact the National Archives regarding RG19 for records pertaining to this set of documents and indexes.
Fugitive Slave Act:
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. It was one of the controversial acts passed down by law. Runaway slaves could be returned with the help of the Federal Government.
Records can include:
Documentation of ownership
Records are typically found in the court of original petition and the court with jurisdiction over the area where the slave escaped. Search under the slave holder’s name.
The Confiscation Act of 1862:
Passed by an act of Congress on July 17, 1862, the full title is “An Act to Suppress Insurrection, to Punish Treason and Rebellion, to Seize and Confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for Other Purposes.”
This Act gave the power to take the land and businesses of persons who served the Confederacy. Records include case files include; petitions, orders of the court, proofs of public notice, and notices of seizure
Example: General Robert E. Lee. The act covered land under Union Control. Lee lived in Northern Virginia, and his home was confiscated. The file has a complete inventory of his house. The location is now the Arlington National Cemetery.
Federal Criminal Records
Criminal records could include cases covering:
Assault and Battery on the high seas
Conspiracy to over through our government
Carrying on a business without a license
Not paying taxes
Records were created:
at the federal level
at the local level – local court at the county level
1790: The first national act created a two-step process:
Declare your intention to become a citizen
File your petition for citizenship
Your ancestors may not have finished the process, and they may have filed both at local and federal levels.
Petition for Naturaliztion
Resource: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
Episodes focusing on the Naturalization process include:
This episode begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.
Thank you to Michael Strauss for contributing to these notes and sharing his expertise!
This free podcast is sponsored by:
MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Visit www.MyHeritage.com
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. Visit www.RootsMagic.com
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DNA health reports are becoming a more common option for those who test their DNA for family history. Should you order a DNA health report? Here are the ones Diahan Southard recommends most. Her top pick is inexpensive, available to all testers, and promises confidentiality for your genetic data.
DNA Health Reports May Have Saved a Life
At Rootstech 2017 I was sitting at my booth answering questions and talking with many of you about your experience with genetic genealogy. A woman came up to the booth and exclaimed, “You saved my son’s life!”
She went on to explain that she had come across my booth at a previous RootsTech and engaged me in a discussion about using this kind of genetic genealogy test to find out more about a person’s health. I explained that while the focus of these genetic genealogy companies is to further our ancestral research, the DNA that they test does contain some health information. In fact, 23andMe used to offer a full health report as part of their service, but the FDA decided they better regulate that sort of thing, and put the kibosh on it. I told her that while 23andMe is slowly edging back into that arena, you can find out some interesting personal health information today, using the results from any of your genetic genealogy testing company.
How to Get DNA Health Reports
1. Download your results. The first step is to download your raw DNA data from wherever you were tested. Just as Lisa Louise Cooke is always encouraging us to be the owners of our own family tree data, we should be the owners of our own genetic data, too. Save a copy of your raw data to your computer. You can find instructions here on my website.
2. Choose a DNA health report provider and upload your DNA. A growing number of companies offer these reports. Within the genealogy industry, 23andMe sells them and recently Family Tree DNA began offering them to existing customers (more on that coming soon).
But the DNA health report provider I recommend the most is Promethease.com. Their service is available to anyone with a DNA sample–you don’t need to test with any specific company. It’s easy and inexpensive: just $5. This report will tell you about various aspects of your health, including your predisposition to certain diseases and ailments, as well as your likely response or sensitivity to certain drugs. And the site promises confidentiality and impartiality, which are crucial in this age. The Privacy statement reassures users, “At no time is your DNA data shared – or sold – to any external party, period. We also do not sell any products like vitamins or supplements.”
Editor’s note: the following paragraph was updated on January 3, 2018: Promethease now offers the option to keep your raw DNA on the site and obtain updated health reports for free at any time. Click here to read more about these options. An email sent to Promethease customers on January 3, 2018 explains, “We added this infrastructure so we could use de-identified stored data to better assess the accuracy of the raw data produced by different companies, platforms and technologies. This will also allow us to provide the best, independent assessment of true vs. false data in future Promethease reports and add new features.” The email also reminded users that updated reports are valuable because the genetic database that fuels the reports “doubles almost every year, and Promethease’s interface is always improving to enable better searching, filtering and exporting options.”
Here’s a screenshot of part of a sample report:
If you would like to read more about Promethease, I suggest reading over the ISOGG wiki page, paying special attention to blog posts by legal and genetic genealogy experts. There is also a Facebook group to ask and answer questions about Promethease.
One more option for DNA health tests that I want to bring to your attention: Livewello. At Livewello you can combine your own personal exploration of your genetics with the tracking of your family’s health. Livewello offers resources about these ailments and predispositions, as well as support groups and chat rooms for you to explore and ask questions. It does have a fee of $19.95 to join, and some of the feature reports do require a monthly subscription fee.
3. Remember that DNA health reports are in their infancy. It is critical to remember that research hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the complex way our genetics interact with other factors in order to make our bodies work. So whatever you see on these kinds of reports, take it for what it is: just information, not some kind of crystal ball. If you see something concerning, you may want to consider talking to a genetic counselor.
This woman at my booth found out some interesting information on Promethease, then consulted the professionals already involved in her son’s care, ultimately changing the course of his treatment, and she believes, saved his life.
As more and more people get genetic testing completed, more and more tools are becoming available to track your personal health history. Whatever you decided to do, please remember that your raw data contains your own personal information that does identify you uniquely from anyone else on the planet. While you shouldn’t be afraid to try new tools and explore your personal genomics, it is very important to read the privacy information of each company carefully to be sure you know what you are consenting to when you are uploading your data. Most companies are fastidious about privacy, but many are also involved in research endeavors, including pharmaceuticals, so please be aware before you upload.
As the genealogists in the family, we are the keepers of many important truths and documents, and certainly, that includes our important health information.
Your DNA is Part of Your Story
Watch this free webinar with Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard to learn more about the role your DNA plays in your story. Get inspired, get informed–and get digging into your DNA! Click on the video below to watch it now.
Want tips to keep your online trees current with the master version in your family tree software? I’ve fielded several questions recently from Family Tree Maker users that might be useful to everyone.
In the wake of the announced retirement of Family Tree Maker software, questions continue to pour in about how to use family history software along with online trees. I’ve also taken a couple of questions from people wondering whether to continue their subscriptions at Ancestry.com if they’re not using Family Tree Maker. Find my answers below–and thanks to Gladys, Charles, Lisa and others for sending in these great questions!
Q: “Why switch from Family Tree Maker if it still “works” even after it’s retired? Ancestry.com and its tree system can be continually updated via GEDCOMs (click here to learn more about GEDCOMs) from one’s current Family Tree Maker for as long as one desires. The key problem is that support for FTM will soon disappear.”
A: Yes, you’re right, the key probably is that support will be gone. Into the future, as operating systems and hardware change, FTM users will likely eventually experience problems and ultimately be unable to continue reinstalling it onto new computers. (As I mentioned in this article, this happened to me with my first database.) While it isn’t an emergency, there is an advantage to migrating now. Other companies are offering great specials, and are currently knowledgeable and focused on assisting FTM users in making the move and ensuring that all of their data migrates successfully. Click here to learn about some of these specials.
RootsMagic is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, and the software that I use personally. The following question came from a listener who wanted to know more about it and how to move their data:
Q: “Can you explain more about RootsMagic and what it can do? Will it allow a transfer of data from the old Family Tree Maker files where I have already stored significant amounts of information?”
A: You can download your content from Ancestry and then load that into RootstMagic. This article on the RootsMagic blog will guide you. And they have an entire “Help” page here devoted specifically to assisting Family Tree Maker users. (Click here to learn why I recommend RootsMagic, which is a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast.)
Q: “Should I just resign myself to having to upload a new GEDCOM to RootsMagic every month to add any new people/content I’ve found on Ancestry.com?”
A: Rather than adding info to my Ancestry tree and then duplicating it in RootsMagic, I look at it the other way around. I enter new found data directly into RootsMagic as I work. I may go ahead and add it to my Ancestry tree as well, but it really depends on what it is. You see, I view my Ancestry.com tree as a drafting table or a work space, not the final resting place for my family tree. For me, a little extra effort is worth keeping control of my data.
I really don’t foresee Ancestry.com resurrecting Family Tree Maker or selling it to another company. This article explains some of the business reasons why.
Q: “If I continue to use Ancestry.com and add content to my online tree, what is the best way to get that content into my RootsMagic tree?”
A: You can download your content from Ancestry and then load that into RootsMagic. This article on the RootsMagic blog will guide you. I think after reading all my answers here you will see that I use Ancestry and MyHeritage as research tools, and RootsMagic as my master complete genealogy database. So I leave RootsMagic open on my computer in the background, and pop over to that window to enter confirmed data as I am working on the various websites.
BONUS QUESTIONS! Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com Subscriptions
Here are my responses to Family Tree Maker user questions about where to invest their subscription dollars and efforts.
Q: “Do you recommend not using Ancestry.com for research anymore?”
A: I think Ancestry is a treasure trove of genealogical data and documents, and I absolutely will continue to use it. However, as I mentioned in my article, I’m a believer in housing my master family tree on my own computer, and backing up that computer to the cloud (I use BackBlaze. I like the service so much they have become a sponsor ofthe Genealogy Gems Podcast.) That way I control the data and know it is protected. I don’t use Ancestry trees for my master tree. Rather, I upload a GEDCOM of the branches I want to generate leads for (shaky leaves). When I find new information I may or may not add it to my Ancestry tree (based on my research needs) but I always add it to RootsMagic master database.
Q: “Should I switch to MyHeritage?”
A: MyHeritage is a great website as well. I use it in much the same way I use Ancestry (above). It has been invaluable for my international research. (Click here to learn why I recommend MyHeritage.com, which is also a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast.)
Final thoughts: In the end, it’s your data and your decision. I hope you’ve found these conversations helpful as you do your own homework on what is right for your family tree.
More Gems on Family History Software and Online Trees