(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
Lisa: AncestryDNA is one of the leading DNA testing companies that has added DNA science to our genealogy toolkit. If you’ve tested your DNA, those results have become one of the important records that you’re using to build your family tree. The interesting thing about these records is that they’re quite different from other types because they evolve and change over time. The results themselves aren’t changing, but our interpretation and the information that we’re able to glean from them is evolving and continues to do so as more people get tested. Here to give us insight into the latest innovations over at AncestryDNA is the corporate genealogist for Ancestry, better known as the Barefoot Genealogist, Crista Cowen.
Crista: Thank you.
Why Have My DNA Ethnicity Results Changed?
Lisa: Hey, happy to have you here. We love to get together and chat about genealogy here at Elevenses with Lisa, and DNA is always on people’s minds. I know that one of the really common questions that I get a lot is around ethnicity, and about changes to the ethnicity percentages. Sometimes people see the results and they’re really excited about them. But then Ancestry publishes a new update and things look different. It can be a big surprise. Tell us a little bit about how often these updates happen and what causes them. Why do they change?
Crista: In order to answer that question, you kind of have to back up a little bit and understand the concept of reference panels.
Understanding DNA Reference Panels
When AncestryDNA started in 2012, we hadn’t sold any DNA kits yet. But we had purchased scientific reference panels from others who had been studying DNA for about a decade at that point. This was a group of people with deep roots in a particular place in the world that we can compare customer DNA to. So, as a customer takes their DNA test, the first process we run it through is this ethnicity estimate. We compare them to this reference panel. As our research team has expanded their reach, and then now we have 20 million people who’ve taken the ancestry DNA test, we’ve been able to identify candidates in our customer pool who are eligible to be part of that reference panel. Then the reference panel grows. And so statistically as it grows, those results are going to get more refined. They’re going to change a little bit. As the science advances, we also learn new ways to compare the data so that it’s more accurate.
Ancestry has been releasing an ethnicity update about once a year, usually in the fall. It’s just because we keep growing that reference panel, and because of the advances in science about how those algorithms work. And you get a lot of new people, obviously, on a regular basis for testing, so they’re adding to it.
Lisa: You started with that initial reference panel that you got somewhere else. Do you ever bring in other reference panels that become available to kind of speed up the process of the growth?
Crista: Yeah, we do. We’ve purchased a few different reference panels from research groups. But primarily, the growth now is coming not just from our own customer base. Also our team of genetic scientists are looking for individuals in places around the world that are underrepresented in our reference panel in order to increase the sample size. They’re excellent.
Lisa: Sometimes, the updates, they come out and people look at and they go, “that looks different! And now it’s saying this and not that.” Tell us a little bit about that because there’s some rhyme and reason behind why that happens.
Two Reasons Why DNA Ethnicity Results Change
Crista: There is. There are actually two challenges that our science team faces. One has to do with place, and one has to do with time.
What we may know as a place right now, likely didn’t exist 300, 500, or 1000 years ago. The boundaries have changed. The people that have migrated in and out of that place have changed. And so one of our challenges is to label those ethnicity estimate locations as something that people will recognize and be able to associate with, but fully recognizing that 1000 years ago that place may have had people there who were called something very different.
The second challenge we have is that time-based challenge. We use this reference panel of living people. But what we estimate is with this data, we’re showing you where your DNA came from 500 to 1000 years ago, and most of us don’t have trays that go back that far.
Lisa: Right, exactly. So how do you zero in on that? How do people make sense of when they see it, that they understand the context of the time frame?
Crista: We try to provide a lot of contextual data and a lot of people don’t even realize it’s there.
When you’re looking at your ethnicity estimate, you can click on any one of those – there’s usually two or even three drill-down screens – that give you some of that historical background, and some of that information about the time period that we’re covering, and what the names of some of the people who lived there were.
Why Do My DNA Results Now Say I’m from Scotland?
For example, Scotland was a big one, in this last (AncestryDNA) update. A lot of people ended up with Scotland as an ethnicity. But really what we’re looking at is who were the Britons? Who were the Celts? Who were the Gauls? And how to all those people, so many hundreds of years ago, how did they migrate in and out of those places? And what would that admixture look like, so that we can tell you. But if we said, “Oh, you’re Celt, Gall, or Britain, even some people wouldn’t understand what that meant. So we label it, Scotland, and then we expect people to drill down into that other information that we’ve provided by clicking through.
Encouraging AncestryDNA Users to Use the Website
Lisa: Do you find that people fully utilize this site? I’m thinking about how folks go to so much trouble and expense to get tested, and yet may not be taking full advantage of the results and the website. I imagine you see a lot of backend data. What kind of usage do you see? I think I’ve seen some recent updates that you guys have been doing to kind of help prompt people to get more involved and drill down.
Crista: Yeah, for sure. One of the things that we’ve done is we have a mobile app. What we’re discovering is that for a lot of people, their entry point, both to family history and through DNA is through mobile. So we’ve made some of the mobile prompts a little bit more prominent and a little bit easier to navigate. And then of course, we’re learning from some of that and applying it to the desktop version.
Another thing that we have that wasn’t introduced when AncestryDNA was first introduced, it took several years, is what we call our genetic communities. And that helps to give some additional context to some of those ethnicities as well.
What are Ancestry Genetic Communities?
Lisa: I’d love to have you talk more about genetic communities. It’s fascinating to see them and to see their evolution. They’ve really moved along quite quickly, haven’t they? Just knowing that there are many people who maybe have never looked at this, tell us what they’re missing and how to take advantage of it.
Crista: Yeah, so that first algorithm that we run against your DNA is comparing your DNA to that reference panel of people to give you those ethnicity estimates. Those are the ones with the percentages. There’s always going to be a percentage next to it. But the communities are a total evolution based on who’s testing and the family trees that are available.
Ancestry has 20 million people who’ve taken the DNA test, and 100 million family trees on our site. And here’s kind of how this works. As you test, you’re matched to other people who have taken the test. And I think the average AncestryDNA test taker has something like 75,000 matches. It’s kind of mind-blowing! But the idea is that the data underneath all of that means that we’re able to really clearly see networks of matches. So even if we didn’t know anything about your family tree, or anything about your ethnicity, just based on the matching data alone, we start to see these clusters or networks of people who all match each other. And so then because we have this rich family tree data, we can go into that network of 1000s of matches, and we can say what do they all have in common? And what we start to see is, the data very clearly points to specific birth locations within their tree within the last 200 years. So, your ethnicity estimate is looking at 1000 years ago, but those communities are where members of your family have lived within the last 200 years. And we’ve now got more than 1500 of those around the world.
Lisa: That’s amazing. And of course, if the person is in the tree they have timeframe associated with them as well, not just place, because like you said it’s just lurching the whole thing closer in time to us, which is really exciting. Right?
Crista: Yeah. And if you start to think about that time piece, right, so we’re looking at tree data 100 to 200 years ago because of this network effect. But what’s possible is as the network continues to grow, and as the science continues to get better, we may not only be able to connect you to specific genetic communities, but also show you migration paths from your original ethnic origins over time, which then allows people to have an entire complete family history story without ever starting a family tree themselves. Hopefully, that then leads them into it because they want to know “which branch of my family tree does this represent?”
My AncestryDNA match doesn’t have an online family tree!
Lisa: You’re talking about some people don’t have trees. Of course, that’s just the bane of every genealogist right? They go and they look, and they say “this person doesn’t have a tree, and they’re my best match!!” I know you get a lot of people who test – maybe they saw the commercials on TV – and they go, “Oh, that looks really cool. I’m gonna do that.” But they were not doing genealogy. How does that break down?
Crista: Yeah, so you know, it’s so funny that you say that, because anytime anybody complains about matches not having trees, I always send them to your RootsTech presentation that you did with Diahan Southard about No Tree, No Problem. Because, because the reality is like, you can figure out a lot from a match even if they don’t have a family tree.
There are probably about half of my matches that do not have any tree at all. And we see that that’s pretty consistent across the board, which means those are most likely people who this is their first foray into family history.
I actually was just on a call this morning with a woman who took the DNA test about four years ago. She had no idea there even was a match list. She didn’t think she could build a tree because she thought she needed a subscription. So, she just took the test to get the ethnicity estimate, and somehow ignored all the emails Ancestry sent her to telling her to check out her new matches or startup a tree. But once she was contacted by a match. One of the best things you can do for those matches who don’t have trees, is send them messages. She got this message from one of her close matches. It piqued her curiosity. She’s like, “how does this person know who I am?” She discovered the match list, and she started a tree. And she’s now had this whole family history journey where she’s figured out who her biological father is. Uncles and half sibling…and so for those of us who have trees and who are involved in family history, recognize those people taking a DNA test. That’s their first step in the door. And it’s up to us, I think, sometimes to nurture them through that door by engaging with them through messaging or sharing information that we might have discovered, in a non-threatening way, hopefully.
Lisa: So they’re testing, and they’re thinking, “Oh, I want to find out my ethnicity is” and not even realizing that there’s this whole matching thing going on. Do you find that a lot of those kinds of folks eventually get bitten by the bug? And I wanted to re-emphasize what you said, that you don’t have to have a subscription to add the tree. Tons of people don’t realize that.
What You Can Do for Free at AncestryDNA
Crista: Yeah, if you’ve taken a DNA test, and that’s the only thing you’ve paid for, you haven’t paid for an Ancestry subscription to access the 80 billion records on the site, then you can still start a family tree. That’s a free service on Ancestry. For anybody who has a free registered guest account, or anybody who used to have a subscription and cancelled it at some point, you can still work on your family tree. And yeah, that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize.
You can also and this is something else people don’t realize, respond to messages from other users. The Message Center is a free service. You can send messages, you can initiate contact with any of your DNA matches without a subscription as well.
Lisa: So you’re really getting to take full advantage of the whole DNA thing, even if you aren’t currently doing the subscription and doing the genealogical records and all of that.
Ancestry Website Interface Updates
I was watching your video recently, I guess it was the June update, and you were talking about how you got to see some of that backend data, and you saw that people weren’t really interacting with the website. I love the new buttons and the ability to add this is a son, this is a nephew, etc. Tell people a little bit about that. And how is that going? Is the rollout done yet? And are you seeing some great response?
Crista: Yeah, so we do continue to make innovations to the match list and how people interact with it. Of course, two years ago at RootsTech we introduced the custom groups with 24 different colors. And it was innovative for those of us who were deep into family history. We had this hypothesis, though, that new users would find that fun and interactive as well. Unfortunately, new users, especially those who’d never considered family history before, didn’t have the mental construct around a pedigree chart or sides of the family, and didn’t even have any idea how to group their matches. And so that had really low usage. The usage it had was among really core hardcore genealogists and people into genetic genealogy.
So, we’ve been doing a lot of testing over the last year trying to figure out how to solve the problem of new users coming to the match list and looking at it and going, “That’s great.” Now what we wanted was to give them something actionable to do. This has been released, and it’s been rolled out to all users, I think, as of last week. Every match has a little button on it that just says, Do you know this person? Yes. And if you don’t, you can click learn more to find out more about that experience. But as soon as you click Yes, it then asks you to assign a side of your family. So, you can say, “Oh, yes, I know this person, they’re on my mother’s side.” And then once you do that, it asks you if you know the specific relationship.
Here’s another little nuance that we’re helping train people into, in both in interaction, but also what family history really means. We give them a list of the possible relationships based on how much DNA they share. One of the things that DNA sometimes uncovers a surprises, and you might think this person is your full sibling that the DNA says otherwise. Or you might think, you know, whatever the relationship might be. So, we give you those options to assign that relationship. And then that fills another customer request, which is when you select the relationship, it updates from a predicted relationship on that match, which is usually a range of cousinship, to what the specific relationship is based on your assignment.
Lisa: I love it. I mean, you guys are in the driver’s seat in terms of knowing and understand the technology. It’s wonderful that you’re helping to guide people to get more out of it, and to get onboard quicker.
How Accurate are Ancestry’s DNA Tests?
I have to ask you this question, because I imagine you have gotten this question a lot and I’d love to know how you answer it. How accurate are the Ancestry DNA test results? I heard somebody asked that at a conference once and I wanted to sit by and listen and see what the person said. What do you tell people when they ask you that?
Crista: You know, it’s such an interesting question, because accuracy can be measured any number of ways. And we need to know what you’re talking about when you say accuracy.
When you ask, “is this person on the top of my match list listed as my parent or child, how accurate is that?” It’s like 100% accurate that that is how much DNA you share with this person. And that that is either the nature of the relationship, or you’ve got a parent with an identical twin. So accuracy, in that case, we’re super confident.
When you ask about accuracy of ethnicity results, we call it an estimate for a reason. One of the things you’ll discover when you click through to view it is that there’s actually a range. That top level percentage you’re seeing is an average of 1000 different times that the algorithm has been run against your DNA and that reference panel. That’s because of just the nature of the way that those results are analyzed. And compared to that reference panel means there’s going to be some swing around an average. And again, we release those updates every year. Because again, as the reference panel growth, there’s more refinement possible.
Lisa: Yes, exactly. Good answer. I like that answer.
The Most Popular DNA Question
What are some of the most common questions that you get about DNA? I imagine there might be some folks watching her going, “yes, yes. Yes, that’s what I was wondering! What do you hear?
Crista: I will tell you what our number one question is. And I bet a lot of your viewers have the same question, and a lot of people at conferences have the same question. We see it on social media all of the time. The most popular DNA question is “where is my Native American?”
Lisa: They still want the princess they’re looking for?
Crista: It’s amazing to me how prevalent and pervasive that narrative is in so many families. They take a DNA test with full confidence that it’s going to tell them that there’s 17 or 12 or 8%, indigenous North American, when the reality is if they do have a Native American ancestor, it is most likely that that person lived three or 400 years ago, and that they just didn’t inherit those bits of DNA. The inheritance of DNA is random, and a lot of new people in family history haven’t really wrap their brains around what that means yet. They think they get half of everything and haven’t done the math to calculate what that means. Or they were told that a parent or grandparent was full Native. I grew up with that narrative in my family, my grandfather boasted of the fact that he was a quarter of a quarter Native American. He was born in Indian Territory, and I think that’s probably partially where that started from. And everybody claims the features. But the reality is, he was not, there is no evidence of that in the family tree once the research has been dug into. But I still have cousins taking DNA tests and fully expecting it to show up and kind of freaking out when it doesn’t.
Native American DNA
Lisa: Is Native America a large reference panel that is well represented?
It was not in the beginning, but we have been collecting additional samples. It used to be, back in 2012 when we started doing DNA testing, if you had Native American DNA, we would just tell you, Native American, and that was all of the Americas: North, Central and South. We now have, I think, nine different regions of native indigenous American, so we can split it out across the two continents. We’re starting to see some communities around some of those as well. So, the reference panel is growing, and the number of testers are growing as well. Here’s what I tell people, and they don’t always like this answer. But if you have Native American DNA, it will show up on an AncestryDNA test.
Lisa: You made such an important point that you could have a Native American ancestor and not have Native American DNA, right?
Crista: Yeah, absolutely. It just depends on how many ancestors have Native American DNA and how far back they were, whether or not you actually inherited those.
How Many Generations Back Can DNA Go?
Lisa: Give people a sense of how many generations back that the DNA becomes minute, in terms of what you might be inheriting from someone.
Crista: I am not a math person, but DNA has changed my world! And it amuses my accountant dad that I can do this now in my head. Everybody inherits exactly 50% of DNA from their parents. Those parents inherited 50% of DNA from each of their parents, but what they pass down to you is going to be about 25% of your grandparents DNA. And then it just gets cut in half every generation back. So, you’re going to have about 12 and a half percent of your great grandparents DNA, and about 6% of your two times great grandparents, and about 3% of your three greats, and about a percent and a half of your four greats! And by the time you get to your fifth great grandparents, it is possible when you consider all the people in that generation, that you did not inherit any DNA from one of them. Because you got all of it from one of the others. So five times great grandparents is the generation where we start to see some of that fall off. But that means that you’re getting it from somewhere, so some of those lines of your family tree will go back to the seventh and eighth, and sometimes even ninth great grandparents.
Which DNA Matches Should I Work On?
Lisa: That makes the case why when it’s focus, focus on best matches right? You were talking about that some people might have 75,000 matches, but we’ve got to start with identifying who the closest were and work on these because they probably have the most potential to give you information, right?
Crista: Not only the most potential to give you information, but also to build a solid foundation, so that you can explore those more distant matches. Because unless you’ve built that solid foundation and validated the relationships all the way back to third or fourth or fifth grade grandparents, the hope of connecting with the eighth or ninth cousin on one of those other lines further back is going to be a lot more difficult and a lot more shaky of a conclusion.
How to Approach a DNA Match
Lisa: You know, when people get a best match, they want to reach out. You were talking about the messaging system is free. It’s part of what you have access to when you test. You’re on the phone, you talk to people, I’ve seen you at the conferences, you know, you’re talking firsthand to your customers and really hearing from them. What kind of coaching do you give people on how to approach somebody, particularly if they get resistance? Is there one more thing they might be able to say just to kind of keep the door open or somehow nudge the match to interact? What do you recommend?
Crista: Okay, so Lisa, I am single, I have never been married. And that might seem like a funny segue into this. But that means I have a whole lot of experiences. And I approach communicating with unknown or unpreviously connected to cousins a little bit like I approach it. You’re not going to spill all of your deepest, darkest secrets on the first date, or you’re going to send them screaming into the night. Or they may just entirely ghost you, right? That’s a new term for people who just ignore you after a date. And that happens. Sometimes people just go on for paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs in that initial message they send a cousin. And my guess is those cousins are seeing some of those messages and just being like, “I don’t even know what to do with this information. It’s overwhelming,” right? So, you have to tone it down.
But by the same token, right, I’m not going to go on a first date, and just sit there and not answer his questions or not try to initiate a conversation. And so again, similarly, when you send out that first message, you’re gonna want to provide enough information that’s something they can respond to. I’ve seen people send messages that say something like, “Hi, we’re DNA matches, do you know how we’re related?” and they give them nothing to nothing to work with. You have to give them just enough that they will want to respond and that they have something to respond to, but not so much that you overwhelmed.
Lisa: And maybe something just a little intriguing. I know that when I’ve talked to people who we are sharing ancestors on my family tree, one of the things I’ll say is, “you know, I have some photos. I’d love to talk to you about that. Maybe you do too.”
I remember, in the old days, I would send them all my best pictures, and they would take them and they never respond. You don’t want to give away the kitchen sink, right? That’s what you’re saying. I think that’s a good strategy. And sometimes back then I would get a message from somebody, and they sounded like a scientist, and I felt intimidated, like, “I can’t keep up, I’m gonna say something and I’ll be wrong” and they’ll be able to say, “Oh, my gosh, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” So, there’s also that intimidation factor. I guess even if we do know all that stuff, we don’t want to necessarily wipe people out with it.
Crista: I used to have a thing about intriguing, but intriguing, but not overwhelming. That’s kind of the mic that runs through my head when I craft those messages.
Lisa: I like that. Anything else when it comes to AncestryDNA that we should be keeping our eyes out for? Anything you want to tell us about? What’s coming in the future?
What’s Coming to AncestryDNA in the Future
Crista: There’s a few things. We can kind of divide them into two categories around the ethnicity estimates and the communities. Just to make sure this is clear, we update ethnicities about once a year in the fall. So, watch for that. We usually send out an email or put a banner on the site. But one of the things that we’ve learned is that a lot of people don’t know that. And so, they don’t know to come check and see what’s been updated. So just watch for those announcements or those emails.
Genetic communities can be updated at any time for two reasons.
One reason is, you may all of a sudden just have enough matches, that you’re pulled into an existing network that has been labeled as an existing community. So those communities could just pop up at any time.
The other reason is that about every six or eight weeks or so we’re releasing new communities. Our science team has been working fast and furious to identify new networked clusters and make sure that we’ve got them labeled correctly, and that we’ve worked with history professors and others to understand the cultural and historical implications because we want to be accurate and informative, but also sensitive to all the nuances around race and ethnicity and history. Because history is messy. And as people dive into it, those of us who’ve been doing family history, understand that. But again, a lot of people are new to family history, and DNA is their first foot in the door. And we want to make sure that we’re a little sensitive to how we present some of that information. So always new communities. That’s on the DNA side of the house.
And then we are working on some additional features for the DNA match list. We’ve previewed them with some customer experience groups. We’ve previewed them with influencers like yourself. And so just we can say that those are coming but can’t talk a whole lot about them. We’re listening to our customers and we’re really trying to make sure that that DNA match list experience works for more casual customers just taking their first steps into family history, and those of us who are hardcore into this and trying to break through 40-year brick walls using our DNA results.
How to Contact AncestryDNA
Lisa: Well, and you said, you listen to your customers. What is the best way for somebody to get in touch with you or just share feedback or a question?
Crista: There’s two primary channels for that, though, we listen in a lot of ways.
Ancestry has a Facebook page. If you go to the official Ancestry Facebook page, you can send a direct message to us with your feedback or post it just there on the wall. Our product managers do follow that and keep tracking and put that into our feedback system.
The other way to contact us is to just do a Google search for Ancestry feedback. It’ll bring up a feedback form that’s in our Help Center. It’s a little easier to find it that way.
Lisa: I think I was just talking to my show about sometimes googling for a page is easier. Ancestry’s website is so well organized, it will grab exactly whatever page you’re looking for probably even faster than navigating.
Well, how fun it has been to get a chance to catch up with you on the latest with AncestryDNA. I know we recently followed each other over on Instagram, and over there I see that we share another passion which is gardening. How is your garden going this summer?
I always had aspirations, but with all of the genealogical conferences and the traveling that I do for Ancestry I’ve never been home until this last summer. And so last summer, I tried it. And I failed miserably. I grew one tomato, and a little bit of basil. That was what I did, but I made it again. Yes. This year, I’ve got some zucchini going and some little herb garden and we’re trying tomatoes again. We’ll see how that goes.
Lisa: Good job. Are you planting in the ground? Or are you doing containers?
Crista: Both. So I have a little garden patch in my backyard. But then I also built some standing like garden racks for my herbs and stuff.
Lisa: Very cool. I’ve been in the same boat as you. It’s like after 14 years of constant traveling – which has been great, I’ve missed it – I started all this container gardening. I’m doing the self-wicking tubs. I saw a guy on YouTube doing it, and it looked awesome. We’ll see how it pans out here in the heat of Texas. But anyway, there’s never enough time to do all the wonderful things that we would enjoy doing and certainly genealogy is that way!
Thank you so much Crista Cowan! If somebody wanted to get in touch with you, where should they go check you out?
Crista: The best place is on Instagram and it’s just my Instagram handle which is just my name Crista Cowan.
Feeling frustrated by changing technology? Here’s a look back at a post I originally wrote in 2013 that addresses the mayhem tech changes can cause, and how a visit to a fast food restaurant changed my perspective on a particularly rough day.
The “Mayhem” commercials from Allstate are a riot, but of course all that mayhem isn’t all that funny when it’s happening to you.
Allstate Raccoon Mayhem Commercial
Sometimes it feels like technology companies are having a little mayhem fun with us when they get us up and running with their software program, or app, or phone, or tablet, or whatever, and then *BAM* they change it all up. Mayhem!
It’s not really that we don’t want new technology, it’s just that:
1. We sometimes get very little if any warning that it’s coming
2. The change requires investing time in learning all new ways to do something.
3. The change seems to be suspiciously benefiting the changer and not us – the “changee.”
4. We have to shift out of auto pilot into manual drive
…which means it takes longer to do tasks, and we tend to make mistakes more often because our brain, our eyes, and our fingers are all trained to quickly complete the task the old way.
I’m usually pretty excited about new technology and I love seeing what it can do for our genealogy efforts, but don’t think that I don’t have my moments when I just want to run screaming into the street and chuck my laptop in the gutter. We all have our moments. And I’m here to tell you that I feel your pain and have suffered myself, some mayhem this week, in fact, I call it:
See, the thing is, folks love their smart phones. Walt Mossberg,principal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal just tweeted that according to an Experian marketing survey the average America spends an hour a day with his or her smartphone. And iPhone users spend more time than Android users.
Google, and specifically YouTube which they own, has definitely taken notice of all this smart phone savvy-ness, and they’ve decided to turn my world, and all the other YouTube Channel publisher’s worlds out there upside down.
I launched my YouTube channel way back in the stone-age, 2007, before Google even owned YouTube. And I have over 60 videos on the channel, and we’ve been diligently working on getting prepared for a while new phase of video production here at Genealogy Gems. So I have had my hands quite full on the video front.
YouTube has implemented a total redesign of YouTube channel pages. The goal is to make the channels mobile friendly, while still accommodating the wide range of full size computer screens that are out there. But in order to accomplish this, we as channel publishers have to scramble and get new artwork for our banner, produce a new introduction video and rearrange the video layout.
So how did I respond to this change you ask?
I ignored it, of course, until I had about a week left before they were set to flip the switch. And then this week all of a sudden it was an emergency to get my channel ready.
So I finally broke down and hired someone to create the new artwork, then I spent hours one morning trying to get all the changes made. My frustration level was growing a little because I just wasn’t happy with how the design of the new artwork was fitting the new layout. And there were so many other things I wanted and needed to be doing that week.
Then my sweet neighbor came to the door and my dogs, who think every knock on the door is a masked marauder, went totally ballistic, blasting through the room knocking over my morning coffee on their way to the door. So now I had coffee all over the carpet.
After my neighbor left I got the portable steam cleaner out to clean up the coffee stained carpet and it worked for a total of 45 seconds, then dribbled to nothing. So I went to the kitchen and set it on the counter to look at it and when I took the nozzle off it dribbled dirty water all over my freshly cleaned kitchen floor.
I spent the next two hours cleaning the kitchen floor, fixing the steam cleaner nozzle, and cleaning my carpet. And my YouTube channel was still not quite right, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. Panic started to set in. All of a sudden I feared I would never figure it out, or get it done, and on top of that I was getting further behind on everything else I needed to do.
When my husband got home we went out for fast food because I hadn’t had a chance to do a thing about preparing dinner. So he listened to my day as we go through the line, and then I went to get my soda and I set my tray on the counter by the soda machine. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that the counter top was about six inches shorter than the tray, and my tray of shanghai beef and cream cheese won tons unceremoniously hit the floor.
At this point I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and pretty sure it was all YouTube’s fault.
Then, a woman my age came into the restaurant with her daughter and husband. She sat and waited while they ordered the food because she was in a wheel chair. And needless to say my perspective made a big course correction.
Maybe I don’t really know what frustration can be. And…get ready for it…maybe I over-reacted all day long.
She smiled at me and I smiled back and then I got to thinking back on my day. And I realized it’s so often not the change itself that causes the mayhem, but it’s our knee jerk response of fear to it.
If you have ever found yourself gritting your teeth as the next big technological roll out happens, or sometimes worse yet, the closing of a favorite tool like iGoogle or the Google News Timeline, here are some things to keep in mind:
First: Stay Calm and Carry On
Just like the famous saying from World War II Britain, we are much more effective in difficult times when we take a breath and stay calm, and then we continue moving forward to the best of our ability at our pace.
Often times it’s our lack of calm that causes us not carry on as usual, and in the end, brings more trouble down on our own heads.
The older I get the more I can see how human beings bring a lot of stuff on themselves. I didn’t start picking away at the new artwork and design until the last week before the change implementation because I was focusing on how they shouldn’t be changing it. And yea, that kind of thinking wasn’t hurting anyone but myself, because YouTube wasn’t about to call a halt to it because some channels didn’t like the idea.
And simple things, like I knew better than to set my coffee where I did, but I was so freaked out about the YouTube design I carelessly set it at dog level. And it was just silly to pull the nozzle off the steam cleaner over a clean floor rather than over the sink.
Second: The Technology Folks Probably Have a Good Reason for the Change
Sometimes it’s a financially driven change; they just can’t make it sustainable as is. And I would much rather see an inconvenient change than a complete disappearance of a Google or an Ancestry.
And sometimes it’s because the technology folks do have their eye on the future, and they see the big picture of how you and other users use your technology today. In the end the change will meet a pressing need, and they are striving to stay ahead of the game so we aren’t moaning down the road. YouTube’s change is a great example of that. They’ve made the case that a large percentage of users watch video from mobile devices and they challenged us as channel publishers to check our own analytics. And you know what, they’re right! I wasn’t keeping an eye on that but YouTube was.
Third: A Little Investment in Education can Go a Long Way
It’s OK if you have to slow down for a little while and spend some time getting re-educated. I decided to sign up for an online class YouTube offered channel publishers and in the first hour or so I came to better understand how my channel was going to benefit. And understanding the benefits will give you the motivation to take on the change.
I know, it’s hard to imagine that you can find even more time on education. But as I’ve said before on my Genealogy Gems Podcast, I think as genealogists we need to actually be budgeting a certain amount of time for education. Don’t leave it to be squeezed in in a panic. Allocate 10% of your research time for reading and education, and another 10% on staying organized, and I guarantee you remaining 80% will be much more productive!
The truth is, if my YouTube channel doesn’t look perfect yet, I trust that you guys will still be watching, and it certainly won’t stop me from publishing new videos.
And it’s sort of funny that this has been on my mind so much this week and I’ve been personally facing the YouTube change here at Genealogy Gems, because I just had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Ancestry.com where they provided a behind the scenes look at some of the changes they are working on for the upcoming months. Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 156 to hear the details.
After all I struggled with and all I learned from it last week, I found myself being much more open to the Ancestry changes. I was more focused on spotting the benefits to the genealogist, and I found myself admiring their commitment to continuous improvement. See the thing is, whether you are an individual genealogist or a big company like Ancestry, if you aren’t striving for continuous improvement you will fall behind, and the work will become more difficult because you are working harder than you have to.
You’ve heard of “burned counties,” a phrase used to describe places where courthouse fires or other disasters have destroyed key genealogy records? In this episode, a listener presents the problem of her burned city?Chicago.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares some of the latest buzz about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history?and some opinions about them
News from the Genealogy Gems Book Club
Get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury
The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shines the spotlight on archival collections that haven’t even been processed yet (and suggestions for getting to them)
Five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on researching your family in the 1940s and preparing for its release
Great news! Your genealogy society or group may reprint articles from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems blog! Click hereto learn more.
MAILBOX: GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Shannonby Frank Delaney and Irelandby Frank Delaney
(Thank you for supporting the free podcast by using our links to get your copies of these books.)
Book Club Guru Sunny Morton recommends the novels of Frank Delaney, beginning with Shannon (and now she’s reading Ireland). Frank is a master storyteller, and family history themes wind throughout his stories. Tip: he narrates his audiobooks himself. They are well worth listening to! But they’re so beautifully written Sunny is buying them in print, too.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
ARCHIVE LADY: UNPROCESSED RECORDS
As an archivist, working in an archive every day, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the genealogical and historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Archives receive donations of documents, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts almost on a daily basis.
Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.
Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.
Many times record collections haven’t even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn’t allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help you decide if a particular collection will be of help to you and your genealogy research.
The answer to your genealogical question could be sitting in a box of unprocessed records. I like to always encourage genealogists to put “unprocessed records” on their to-do list. As genealogists, we should leave no stone or box of records, unturned.
DNA WITH DIAHAN: MORE DNA HEALTH REPORTS
Recently, Family Tree DNAoffered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.
How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder testwith Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”
At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard:
There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:
Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports: Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”
Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”
Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”
And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”
This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these. Click here to read about their health reports, and click hereand hereto read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)
Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.
Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.
When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.
Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report?based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report?that includes some nutritional factors. (I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports.Click here to read it!) Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.
GEM: COUNTDOWN TO THE 1950 CENSUS: 5 TIPS
Get a copy of a census record for yourself or a relative (1950-2010). This costs $65 per person, per census year. In addition to genealogy uses, census records are legally-recognized documents to prove your identity, citizenship or age if you’re applying for a passport and you’ve lost your birth certificate or other situations like that. Order it through the “Age Search Service” offered through the US Census Bureau.
Post-WWII draft registrations: Click hereto order copies of draft registration records for men born 1897-1957. Requires full name of applicant, address at time of registration (tip: get it from a city directory).
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke (there’s an entire chapter on YouTube) Available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
Follow-up your discoveries with Google and YouTube search questions. Example: You find your grandmother working as a telephone operator in the 1940s in a city directory. What would her job have been like? Search YouTube:
In this episode, Irish expert Donna Moughty joins host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke to talk about Irish genealogy to help you get a jump on yours before everyone starts talking about their Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day next month! Also in this episode:
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard has DNA news
Other listeners write in with inspiring successes
Michael Strauss musters in with tips on finding your ancestors in the five branches of the U.S. military.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
INTERVIEW: DONNA MOUGHTY ON IRISH RESEARCH
The following review appeared in the January 2018 newsletter of the Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Public Library:
“If you want a quick guide on how to get started on Irish research, this short, four-page guide is an excellent resource. This guide will help you start your research in the United States, so you can figure out where in Ireland your ancestor came from. It is organized into 12 steps with helpful websites added. This guide is the first in the Irish Research Series by Donna M Moughty.”
Donna Moughty, shown left with Lisa Louise Cooke, is a professional genealogist and former Regional Manager for Apple Computers. She has been conducting family research for over 20 years. She teaches classes for beginners and lectures on a variety of subjects including Internet, Irish research, and computer topics. In addition, she provides consultations, research assistance, and training. She is a member of Association of Professional Genealogists and the Genealogical Speakers Guild.
Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research – Guide #1 (reviewed above): Without the right preparation, researching in Ireland can be frustrating! Before you jump the pond, start your research at home to determine a place in Ireland, as well as details to help differentiate your person from someone of the same name. This research guide will walk you through the process of identifying records in the US to set you up for success in your Irish research.
Irish Civil Registration and Church Records – Guide #2. Civil Registration for all of Ireland began in 1864, with Protestant marriages dating back to 1845. Even if your ancestors left before that date, they likely had relatives that remained in Ireland. Prior to Civil Registration, the only records of births (baptisms), marriages or deaths (burials) are in church records. This Reference Guide will explain how to use the new online Civil Registration records as well as how to identify the surviving church records for your ancestors in Ireland.
Land, Tax, and Estate Records – Guide #3 (NEW!). Had the Irish census records for the 19th century survived, Griffith’s Valuation, a tax list, would not be one of the most important resources for Irish researchers. Without any context, however, it can just seem like a list that includes lots of people of the same name. This Guide explains how and why Griffith’s Valuation was done, and how to use it to glean the most information about your family. Once you know your ancestor’s locality in Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation can place them on a specific piece of land between 1846 and 1864. After Griffith’s Valuation, the Revision Books allow you to follow the land and in some cases, to the 1970s, possibly identifying cousins still living on the land.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.
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
Each of the military branches is listed below, detailing information about when each was organized and resources available to genealogists on your ancestors who served in any of these branches.
United States Army. The largest of the five military branches dates back to June 14, 1775, during the early days of the Revolutionary War. Prior to the formation of the Army, each colony had companies and battalions of Associators and local militia. With the war, the need for a professional standing army to fight the British saw the formation of the Continental Army.
With the end of the Revolutionary War, the Army disbanded in 1783 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Later in 1796, two legions formed under the command of General Anthony Wayne would later become the nucleus of the United States Army. The Encyclopedia Britannica published this nice article on the history of the Army from its inception to the present.
A number of excellent genealogical resources are available to search for ancestors who served in the United States Army since the beginning. These databases are found on Ancestry, Fold3, and Family Search. One of the largest collections of records covers the United States Regular Army enlistments from 1798 to 1914 (available by subscription at Ancestry.com). Searching the card catalogs of Ancestry.com, Fold3and FamilySearch will yield many databases that contain information about soldiers who served, and sacrificed their lives with the Army over the last two centuries.
United States Navy. The United States Navy dates from October 13, 1775 when it was officially established by an Act passed by the Continental Congress. At the end of the Revolutionary War it was disbanded, and again reestablished under the Naval Act of 1794 which created the Navy as a permanent branch of the military.
The history of the Navy and technology can be divided into two major eras. The earlier period, called the “Old Navy,” was the age of wooden sailing ships, and still later came the birth of the ironclads during the Civil War. The later period called the “New Navy” occurred with further innovations in late nineteenth century as the United States transformed into a global power recognized the throughout the world.
The United States Navy website has a nice background history of the service. Numerous databases and searches for records of the Navy covering multiple war period detailing pensions, continental sailors, muster rolls, ships logs, and cruise books are located on Ancestry.com, Fold3and FamilySearch. Consult each database individually for records of interest.
Another organization related to the Navy is the United States Merchant Marines. Although not officially a branch of the military, the Merchant Marines sacrificed and lost lives since the days of the Revolutionary War, carrying out their missions of supply and logistics during times of war. Here’s an excellent website on the history of the Merchant Marines.
United States Air Force. The modern day Air Force dates from September 18, 1947, when it was formed as part of the Security Act of 1947. The Air Force and aviation history began under the authority of the United States Army, starting on August 1, 1907 when it was organized under the name of the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. Over the next 30 years the service changed names several times:
Aviation Section of the Signal Corps (1914-1918);
Division of Military Aeronautics (1918);
Air Service of the United States Army (1918-1926);
United States Army Air Corps (1926-1941);
United States Army Air Forces (1941-1947).
In that final year, it was separated as its own organization as it is known today. Click herefor a complete history of the Air Force from 1907 to the present.
Two excellent online sources covering the early history of the Air Force from World War I and World War II are located on Fold3:
United States Marines. This elite branch of the military began with the organization of the Continental Marines on November 19, 1775. The mission of the Marines initially comprised ship-to-ship fighting, security onboard naval vessels, and assistance in landing force operations. This mission would continue to evolve over the years. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Marines were disbanded on October 4, 1783.
Along with the Navy, under the Naval Act of 1794, the United States Marines were again re-established and would serve faithfully in every major war period and in peacetime between conflicts. The Marines will forever remain true to their motto of “Semper Fidelis” or Always Faithful as they continue to live up to their long-running tradition of honor and service. Click here to watch an interesting and accurate history of the Marine Corps is viewable online on You Tube.
Coast Guard. The history of this seagoing service dates back to August 4, 1790. Established as the Revenue Cutter Marines under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, the name was changed in 1894 to the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915. That year, an Act of Congress was passed and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson called the “Act to Create Coast Guard.” The United States Live Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service came together. Later, in 1939, the United States Light House Service was added to form the modern day United States Coast Guard.
The complete history of the United States Coast Guard from 1790 is on the Historians Office. It includes information about each of the separate organizations that came together to form the Coast Guard at. Ancestry.com has a collection of casualties of the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Very few additional online sources are available online for this branch of the service. Researchers must access these documents and records onsite at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
Military Minutes Case Study
By Michael Strauss
Subject: Russell Strauss
Died: December 27, 1981-Jonestown, PA
Son of Harry B. Strauss & Agnes S. (Gerhart) Strauss
Over the last 30 plus years doing genealogy research, I’ve discovered that nearly all of my family members who served in the military were in the United States Army. But I have been occasionally surprised to find relatives who served in other branches of the military.
On the paternal family several years ago one of my cousins gave me a box of photographs. One of the images was marked Russell G. Strauss. He wore the uniform of the United States Navy during World War II. I recognized his name and knew that he was my grandfather’s first cousin. I was 16 years old when he died and didn’t know him very well.
His uniform indicated that he was a third class petty officer in the Navy during the war. I looked further at his uniform and noticed a diamond shaped “S” as part of the insignia. This military occupation indicated that he was a specialist that would require further research. I spoke with a couple of my older family members who knew Russell. All of my family interviewed said that he in the military police (M.P.) during the war. With additional research, I discovered that his insignia was that of the Shore Patrol. When I compared what my family said to me and his uniform told me the information matched very closely.
I found on Ancestry his application for compensation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1950 when he served in the Shore Patrol in Norfolk, Virginia as part of his military duty (inserted below). Putting information from his photograph together with what my family members shared with me helped answer questions I had regarding of my relatives.
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
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