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What to Keep When Cleaning Out a Relative’s Home

Cleaning Out a Relative's HomeRecently, Genealogy Gems podcast listener Debra Ingrum Trammel wrote to me with this question about cleaning out a relative’s home. Does it sound familiar?

“Hi Lisa, My husband is faced with the daunting task of disposing of his parent’s belongings. His parents at age 92 and 86 have things that go way back!!

We live in Tennessee and his parents lived in Texas so that in itself is a real chore to have to make numerous trips back and forth. My husband is so eager to get all of this finished but I am concerned that he will overlook or not be aware of any items that should be kept for his family history.

I continue to work on researching his side of the family. I know that we should keep certain documents: birth certificates, marriage licenses, definitely old photographs, etc. but I fear that there are items that I might not think about as being important. Might you offer some suggestions for us?

Here’s my answer:

Debra, I sympathize with your concern about overlooking things. When my Grandpa died I was pregnant with my last child and unable to go back and help clear out the house in another state. I worried too about things being tossed without folks realizing they were important.

One area to keep an eye out for is bills & receipts – a lot of folks (like my Grandmother) kept receipts from way back. While on the surface they seemed prime to toss, I actually retraced their steps and homes through the 1940s and 1950s based on the addresses written on the receipts!

Old letters genealogyPaperwork is often the area we itch to toss, but old envelopes and letters from other people writing to our relatives can provide many clues.

I also carefully go through all old books before giving them away because more than once a special tidbit has been tucked inside the pages. If you don’t plan on keeping the book, or don’t want to keep the item in the book, be sure to make note of which pages it was nestled in between. There could be a special meaning there. If everyone involved is in a big hurry to finish the clean up and you don’t have the luxury of time to go through the pages of the books, at least give give them a gentle shake over a table allowing anything tucked inside to fall out.

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 39 I tell the story of one of the most significant finds in my family that almost got tossed out. But Grandmother was tapping me on the shoulder, prodding me to look further before wrapping things up – and boy am I glad that I did!  If folks in your family think you are being too persnickety about not over looking things, play that segment of the show for them, or tell them the story.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I invite all of you readers out there to share your unusual finds and recommendations for Debra on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. (And don’t forget to “Like” us!)

Wishing you family history success, and many thanks for writing!  Lisa

Learn US History through the Census

 

Remember the board game LIFE?  Archives.com has put its own spin on this family favorite that experienced a revival in the 1960s.

(Quick Quiz: 1. What  year was the game of LIFE created?
Bonus: 2. What was the original name?)

 

We recently discovered this cool, interactive webpage for learning more about U.S. history through census facts. It’s called The American Family Through Time and you can “play” it here free at Archives.com.

This clever page uses census data to show how American life has changed over the course of 220 years (and 23 censuses). You can click on decade-by-decade summaries on the “gameboard.” In addition to the census questions, you’ll find some fun now-and-then comparisons for housing, education and occupations. Great for kids of all ages!

Quick Quiz Answers:
1. 1860
2. The Checkered Game of Life

Longtime Family History Mystery Solved Online

computer_magnifying_glass_400_wht_11672Everyone’s families have a little bit of mystery in their past–or a lot!

TheBlaze.com recently posted this great story about a woman who was able to solve a longtime family history mystery by posting it online at Metafilter.com, a crowd-source blog. She posted this query:

“In my grandmother’s final days battling brain cancer, she became unable to speak and she filled dozens of index cards with random letters of the alphabet. I’m beginning to think that they are the first letters in the words of song lyrics, and would love to know what song this was. This is a crazy long shot, but I’ve seen Mefites [other site users] pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!” Then she posted the “code” from one of the cards.

Within 15 minutes someone solved part of the puzzle: a section of the code was the first letters of the prayer from the New Testament, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”

Have YOU ever been faced with indecipherable notes left behind by a family member? What family history mystery do you wish an online community could help you solve? Share this on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and leave your answers.

Why I Wish the DAR DNA Policy Was a Little Different

why the DAR DNA

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) accepts limited DNA evidence to prove descent from a Revolutionary War veteran. In my opinion, the DAR DNA policy is a little too limited. Here’s why–and what you can do.

Membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has been a holy grail for U.S. genealogists for 125 years. With its requirement of proof of a “lineal bloodline descendant from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence” in three categories: birth, marriage, and death, as well as proof of Revolutionary War Service, membership is exclusive to those with an iron-clad paper trail.

That is, until 2014, when the DAR added DNA evidence to its list of acceptable documents proving a relationship to a Revolutionary War ancestor.

What does the DAR DNA Policy Accept?

The DAR only accepts one of the three forms of DNA testing which is the Y chromosome test, or YDNA. The YDNA traces only a direct paternal line, making it a great choice when trying to link living males with their Revolutionary counterparts. This YDNA is basically passed unchanged from generation to generation, making the modern day holder of the YDNA the proud owner of possibly exactly the same YDNA that fought the Redcoats. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

The DAR recently announced that to further help those wanting to use their YDNA as part of their application, they have formed a project at Family Tree DNA, the company that provides the YDNA testing. Projects are absolutely the best way to get the most out of your YDNA testing. There are surname projects, location projects, haplogroup (deep ancestral group) projects, and even special interest group projects, such as this one for the DAR.

While the results of the testing are only available to members of the group, the statistics page gives us an idea of the scope of this project. They currently have 1,242 total members and what looks to be about 430 YDNA tests completed (though it is admittedly difficult to tell based on the chart online.)  This means if you think your paternal line may be a candidate for the DAR, you can have a representative of your line tested and compared to the group. If you find a match, you will have relative certainty that you do connect to that Patriot, and can then be more confident in your traditional research in pursuit of the necessary paper connections.

In April the DAR opened up project membership to include mtDNA and autosomal DNA. They will not be using these two kinds of DNA in their applications (yet), but hopefully this project will pave the way for the addition of those tests in the future (though, for several reasons, inclusion of these tests in the application process will be more difficult.)

Though, in all honesty, they have made the YDNA process difficult enough. Let’s say that you are actually able to trace down multiple generations to find a direct male descendant of your Revolutionary guy to be tested, an individual who is, the DAR mandates, “sharing your maiden name or your mother’s maiden name,” and you convince that unassuming relative to give up his saliva, you still are only half way there. The DAR guidelines also state that you have to have a second individual who is “a descendant of the same Revolutionary War ancestor through a different unbroken male lineage that has been previously proven on a DAR application…” (I added the emphasis here.)

A Practical Example of the DAR DNA Policy

OK, so let’s say you are a genealogical whiz and, let’s face it, you were lucky, and you find two such candidates and have them tested.

Well, the DAR tells us that those two men must match EXACTLY on the 37 YDNA markers tested. Now there is no telling when that YDNA might experience a mutation. So to me it seems a little unfair to require perfection. So it is possible, that even after all the work of finding the right guys to be tested, the test itself may work against you, as even one difference is enough to keep this YDNA off of your application, at least for now.

So while I applaud the DAR for using YDNA testing at all, and for spearheading a special interest project at Family Tree DNA, the reality is that the limitations of direct paternal line genealogy and the requirements of testing make it unlikely that very many will be able to take advantage of the YDNA in their DAR applications.

However, there are a few things you can take away from this article now:

  • First, collect those DNA samples whenever you can, especially for key relatives, like your paternal line and the oldest living generation (whose DNA is less likely to have experienced any mutation.)
  • Second, keep your research paper trail strong. Nothing in the near future of the genetic genealogy industry tells us that distant relative connections (like to your Revolutionary War ancestor) will be provable by DNA alone.
  • And third, definitely look at crowd-sourced studies for your particular DNA. Those surname, location, haplogroup, and special interest group projects I mentioned from FTDNA are just some of the ones that might help your research—or that you could use to help someone else’s. I’ve talked about these studies before: click here to read about them.

My Complete DNA for Genealogy Research Guide Series

I am Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, and the author of a series of genetic genealogy quick guides. My guide called Y Chromosome DNA for the Genealogist is the perfect tool to help guide you through the testing and analysis process. Click here to learn more about this guide and here for all of my guides, or click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos, also available to Gems fans for a special price.

Thanks for sharing this post with your genealogy friends who do DNA research (especially those who may have Revolutionary War ancestors!)

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