How to use Animoto, my favorite new tech tool for creating professional-looking slide shows and videos
New Genealogy Gems team member Amie Tennant shares insights as she prepares for professional certification
A listener shares a favorite genealogy database for finding recent relatives
A listener uses DNA to connect adoptive and biological relatives?who were closer than she thought
A segment from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with author Helen Simonson on The Summer Before the War
News from Dropbox and a new initiative to capture the family histories of remote, indigenous populations
NEWS: Dropbox Improvement
New on Dropbox: Now when you share Dropbox content with someone, shared links will stay active even if you move or rename the file or folder.
Dropbox file-sharing tip: “If you ever want to unshare something you’ve already sent out (like to remove access to a sensitive document), it’s easy to disable an active link.” Just sign in to dropbox.com. “Click the link icon next to the file or folder, and click ‘remove link’ in the top right corner of the box that appears. You can also remove the link by visiting dropbox.com/links and clicking ‘x’ next to the file or folder.”
Russ recommends the “U.S., Public Record Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2.”
“Volume 1 is far more interesting with more data. A search will return a Name AND Birth date, along with more than one ADDRESS, Zip Code and sometimes phone numbers.”
Ancestry’s description of its online database for Volume 1 says original data comes from public records spanning all 50 states, such as voter registration lists, public record filings, historical residential records and other household database listings.
Thoughts about using the U.S. Public Records Index (some of these points come from the FamilySearch wiki):
Not everyone who lived in the U.S. appears in the index, and you’re more likely to find birth information for those born between 1900 and 1990. What you’ll find is primarily where someone lived, and often when they lived there.
It’s rarely possible to positively identify a relative in this index, since there’s limited information and it spans the entire country for up to a half century, and you can’t follow up on the record it comes from because the index doesn’t say where individual records come from. As Russ says, this is a great resource to use in combination with other records. It’s a similar concept to the way you might consult uncited family trees: great hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.
When you find more recent listings, you can sometimes find telephone numbers for living distant relatives. The Family History Made Easy podcast has a 2-episode series (episodes 14 and 15) about cold-calling techniques for reaching out to distant relatives you don’t know.
MAILBOX: Katie on Cold-calling and Adoption and DNA
What have you learned in the process of preparing for certification?
“I think the biggest thing I have learned is the meaning of true exhaustive research. We talk a lot about that in our genealogy standards, but essentially, it is looking EVERYWHERE for EVERYTHING that might shed light on your research question.”
Why do you want to become certified?
I want a way to determine how well I am doing. A measuring stick of sorts.
What is the process like?
The process is the same for everyone. Once you have decided to become certified, you apply to the BCG. They send you a packet of information and you are “on the clock.” The clock is up in one year unless you ask for an extension. The portfolio you create consists of:
Signing the Code of Ethics
Listing your development activities (like formal coursework or enrichment activities);
Transcribe, abstract, create a genealogy research question, analyze the data, and then write the research plan for a document that is supplied to you;
Do those same 5 things for a document of your choosing;
A research report prepared for another person.
A case study with conflicting, indirect or negative evidence;
A kinship determination project (a narrative genealogy that covers at least 3 generations)
There is a lot of great free content on the BCG website: articles, examples, and skill-building activities.
GEM: How to Create Family History Videos Quickly and Easily
Beatrice Nash is a bright, cosmopolitan young lady who has grown up traveling the world with her father. Now he’s gone, and she’s landed in the small village of East Sussex, England, where the locals aren’t entirely thrilled about engaging her as a female Latin instructor for their schoolchildren. She spends a summer fighting for her job, meeting a local cast of engaging eccentric characters (both gentry and gypsy) and trying not to fall for handsome Hugh. Then the Great War breaks out.
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!
According to an article on the FamilySearch blog, 90% of all indexed records on FamilySearch are those for English-speaking countries. While this is super exciting for me and my family tree, many of my friends are unable to trace their family histories past their great-grandparents. Why? Because the records in their native country have been digitized, but not indexed.
FamilySearch Indexing in These Easy Steps
I have been indexing at FamilySearch for years and you can join me! Just follow these simple steps:
Go to www.familysearch.org.
Sign-in and click on Indexing and choose Overview from the pull-down menu.
Click on Get Started, which will direct you to the Get Started page. You will need to download the indexing program directly to your device.
From your desktop, open the FamilySearch Indexing program by clicking on the icon.
Sign-in again and click Download Batch at the top left corner.
Choose a project to work on.
If you feel you need some further instruction, watch these helpful videos below:
FamilySearch is looking for three kinds of people:
Fluent, native speakers of non-English languages living in their native county or in an English-speaking country.
People who have extensive training in a non-English language.
English speakers who are willing to learn how to index specific types of non-English records.
I know what you are thinking…you hardly passed French 101 in high school! But, you can do it.
There was recently a very successful Italian indexing training initiative in the U.S. It more than doubled the worldwide number of individuals working on Italian records. You can be a part of the growing need for French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese record sets.
Training guides and videos have been created for the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages. As we accomplish the work for these places, FamilySearch will add more languages. The videos and guides will help volunteers to learn how to index specific types of records. Click here to learn about this language learning initiative and to get started.
What Else Can You Do for FamilySearch Indexing?
If you have friends or family who are fluent in another language, ask them to join you. Share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook to get the word out. Does your teen need some service hours for graduation, Girl/Boy Scouts, or other organization? This is a unique service project that even teens can do and that will be meaningful to many.
“Mama arrived with 4 year old Martha gripping her hand tightly. She said she looked feverishly around for Papa, and spotted him across the room. She ran to meet him and gave him a kiss, which she normally would never have done in public!”
That was the scene my Grandma described as Louise and Gustaf reunited near a wooden column outside the Registry Room at Ellis Island aptly known as “The Kissing Post.” Many public displays of affection took place there after long journeys across the ocean.
Approximately 12 million immigrants were processed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. It seems like only yesterday that the long dilapidated buildings were finally restored and reopened to the public. They have become one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York City, welcoming over 35 million visitors to date.
This month marks the 20th Anniversary of the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island which first opened on September 10, 1990.
According to a recent Ellis Island press release , “Just half a mile from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the museum’s exhibits highlight the growth of America during the peak immigration years of 1880-1924. The galleries illustrate the Ellis Island immigrant reception process, the immigrants’ arrival and settlement throughout the United States and feature their “Treasures From Home” – the cherished personal objects, photographs and papers they brought with them from their homelands. And the American Immigrant Wall of Honor® celebrates the immigrant experience with the inscription of the names of over 700,000 individuals and families who have been honored by their descendants.”
Of special note is the Ellis Island Oral History Archive, which was created by the Foundation and contains the reminiscences of over 1700 individuals who either immigrated through or worked at Ellis Island during its heyday as the country’s largest immigration processing center. If you are lucky enough to visit in person, you can listen to excerpts from these oral histories through the museum’s popular audio tour. You’ll walk the corridors vividly reliving the immigrant experience as if you were a “new arrival.”
If an in-person trip is not on your horizon any time soon, don’t fret. More than 1,700 first-hand life story audio recordings of Ellis Island immigrants are now available online for the first time free at Ancestry.com.
“As immigrants created new lives in the U.S., the stories of their homelands and their remarkable journeys to America were often lost,” said Christopher Tracy, senior vice president of global content for Ancestry.com. “We are thrilled to offer people the opportunity to hear the voices of their ancestors sharing stories of their lives.”
The oral histories were originally recorded by the National Park Service starting in the 1970s, and contain first-hand accounts recalling the lives these immigrants left behind, their reasons for leaving and their incredible and often-trying journeys to America. In addition to oral histories from immigrants, the collection also includes recordings from former Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty workers, and military personnel who were stationed on Ellis Island.
“To our family it is important that we in the U.S. know the origin of the people who came to this country, settled here and made it what it is today. It makes us very proud to know that our mother was part of this,” said Yvonne Rumac, daughter of oral history participant Estelle Belford, who immigrated to the United States from Romania via Ellis Island in 1905.
And if you are interested in learning more about your own immigrant ancestors here are some resources for you:
(Comprised of more than 170 million records, the Ancestry.com U.S. Immigration Collection includes lists of passengers who immigrated by ship to America between 1820 and 1960, including those who came through Ellis Island; more than 7 million citizenship and naturalization records; border crossings, passport applications and more to help reconstruct our ancestors’ journeys and early lives in America. Ancestry.com has also added nearly 2 million new U.S. naturalization record indexes.)
The FamilySearch Wiki
A brain trust of some of the best researchers out there, the FamilySearch Wiki allows you to search on keywords to learn more about a vast array of topics including immigration. Much of the information comes from the experts who work at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You get the benefit of their immigration research knowledge from the comfort of your own home.
If your search at the EllisIsland.org website doesn’t retrieve your ancestors head on over to Stephen Morse’s One Step Pages. There you will find dozens of links to search resources including the Ellis Island Gold Form for arrivals between 1892 and 1924. Even the folks at Ellis Island refer researchers to Morse’s site. Listen to my interview with Stephen Morse on Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #10
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast Episodes on Immigration and Naturalizaton
Genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization in depth in episodes 29, 30, and 31. Steve even offers up some little known tips about deciphering some of the crytic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.
In this episode we take a look at a subject that is difficult, and yet ultimately faced by all genealogists: Downsizing. Whether you need to help a relative downsize, or it’s time for you to move into a smaller place or just carve out more room in your existing home, this episode is for you. You’ll hear specific action steps that you can follow to the make the job of downsizing easier and more productive.
Also in this episode we’ll cover the latest genealogy news, and take a quick look at the 1830 census.
Please take our quick podcast survey which will take less than 1 minute. Thank you!
New and Returning genealogy-themed television Shows:
A New Leaf on NBC
A New Leaf will be included in the Saturday NBC morning programming block called The More You Know beginning October 5, 2019.
From the Ancestry Blog:
“Each week ‘A New Leaf’ will follow people on the cusp of key life inflection points, who using family history, genealogy, and sometimes AncestryDNA® analysis will go on a journey of self-discovery and learn from the past while looking to the future. In partnership with Ancestry, Fuentes will join families as they learn the importance of appreciating and understanding their family history and ancestors in order to make important life decisions. ”
“Genealogist-on-Demand: Legacy Tree Genealogists Launches Virtual Consultation Service Offering Access to Family History Experts, Any Time, Any Where.
Legacy Tree Genealogists announced today the launch of a new service—45-minute, virtual one-on-one consultations with a professional genealogist. At only 100 USD, these consultations provide users with a cost-effective resource to have their research questions answered in real-time by a professional genealogist, from the comfort of their own home.
Users have the option to schedule either a DNA Consultation with a genetic genealogist who can explain their DNA test results, or a Genealogy Consultation with access to one of their worldwide researchers with expertise in regions around the globe, including England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia.
Tailored to your specific research questions, the one-on-one consultations are conducted utilizing screen sharing technology that allows the user to share documents, records, or DNA results with the genealogist in a secure, virtual environment.
Legacy Tree will continue to expand its consultation offerings to include additional regions in the near future in order to continue to serve the global genealogy community.”
In the past I’ve told you about the incredible work that Larsen Digital did for me getting some of my old home movies digitized. Well, they’ve just launched a new service where you can send them your old negatives and they will convert them into beautiful high-resolution digital images that you can use. We’re talking 4000 dpi images!
I’ve had boxes of negatives in my closet that I inherited from my paternal grandmother. She had negatives for all sorts of pictures that are either long since lost or the photo album went to someone else in the family.
I really had no idea what these old photos would turn out to be, but I ended up with wonderful images of my great grandmother, my grandparents, my Dad when he was a kid, and countless relatives.
The service is called Value because it’s less expensive than the Pro which includes restoration. It’s a great way to get all your old negatives digitized. Then you can decide if there’s further restoration you want done on select images.
DIY: You can do color correction and repairs yourself with a simple free app like Adobe Fix. See my book Mobile Genealogy for much more on using this and other apps for genealogy.
Negatives can deteriorate over time just like photos. The sooner you get them digitized the better condition images you will have.
Larsen Digital is offering Genealogy Gems listeners a great discount on both the new value service and the Pro negative digitization service, as well as 35mm negatives & 35mm Slides. Visit the Genealogy Gems page at Larsen Digital here and use the coupon code GENGEM.
Here are a few examples of old negatives that I had digitized by Larsen Digital.
My Dad with this family’s first TV set!
Never before seen image of my great grandmother (seated), her daughter and grand daughter. Watch the video that autoplays on this page to see how I restored this photo after receiving the digitized image.
It’s really kind of amazing to think I’ve sat on these negatives for so long. I’ve been sending the pictures to my Dad and he’s been emailing me back not just the names and dates, but the stories behind many of these photos.
Findmypast Now Supports Tree to Tree Hints
Long gone are the days of having to search for genealogical records all alone. When you have any part of your family tree online on any of the “Genealogy Giants” websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast and FamilySearch) they do a lot of the hunting for you. They deliver hints that have a good chance of matching up with your ancestors. Your job is to carefully review them and determine if they are your ancestor’s records.
(Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Listen to Premium Podcast Episode #175 devoted to hints at Ancestry that includes a bonus download guide on Genealogy Hints at a Glance.)
Up until now, Findmypast offered hints on birth, marriage and death records. Now they are joining the other Genealogy Giants in offering hints based on other user’s family tree on their website.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software for her master family tree. Visit www.RootsMagic.com
GEM: Downsizing with Family History in Mind with Devon Noel Lee
Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mindhere. (We hope you enjoyed the interview. Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting our free podcast by using our link.)
Click the image to order your copy.
At some point we all face downsizing. Whether we are helping our parents downsize to a smaller house, or we need to downsize our own belongings to carve out a spare bedroom or just make room in a closet. it’s never really an easy task. And I think it’s safe to say it’s even more difficult for the family historian, because we collect a lot of paper, photos and other things that are often near and dear to our hearts.
Devon Noel Lee and her husband Andrew Lee of the Family History Fanatics YouTube channel have taken on this challenge themselves and they’ve written a new book called Downsizing with Family History in Mind. Here to help you make the tough choices and clear the clutter is Devon Noel Lee.
There are many reasons for downsizing:
To move to a smaller place
Absorbing inherited genealogy
To free up space in your own home
Downsizing the sentimental items is the hardest part of downsizing.
Question: A lot of us just think, well it’s a Saturday morning, I think I’ll just do some decluttering. But you say in the book that decluttering doesn’t work. Why is that?
“There are three things that experts teach us that are absolutely wrong:”
We don’t give ourselves enough time for nostalgia.
We’re really bad at evaluating what’s going to last for the long term
We use the wrong boxes when decluttering – all the experts say to use Keep, Sell and Donate.
Devon recommends the following boxes:
Giveaway (combining sell and donate) – to family, societies, archive, university special collections, libraries, etc.
Trash (or recycle)
How to “process”:
Process the information in your binders and get rid of the binders if no one wants them.
Sad to say, most people don’t want your family china. Give yourself permission to use it and enjoy it now. Make memories with it!
Let your children play with things.
Four Basic Downsizing Principles in the book:
Reduce: Divide things into the boxes.
Preserve: This is when you’re going to digitize the things in your process box. Photograph objects. Transfer your genealogy into software and online trees.
Reclaim: Take everything out of the process box after processing, and divide into Giveaway, Trash and Keep. Don’t put things into storage!
Showcase: Put on display what you found worth keeping so it can be enjoyed. Transform what you have into something that is easier to pass on like videos, podcasts, scrapbooks. Focus on story-based items.
From Lisa: It puts us back in control as to what happens to it. Making sure the right people get it.
I’m a big fan of displays. If we haven’t taken a moment to get something on the wall – to put a display together – how can we expect our family to appreciate it and embrace our family history values?
Question: Many downsizing projects are much more than a single day. When you’re faced with a really big job, where do you recommend that people start, and where should they put their primary focus?
The book includes action plans for folks who have:
just an hour
Capture what is right now:
Photograph the outside of the home.
Photograph what’s inside.
Then focus on photographing the collections in their context.
Mentioned by Lisa:
Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #21 includes a Gem called Thanks for the Memories. In it, I share an example of mentally walking through my Grandma’s house and capturing all of my memories on paper.
Get a piece of paper or pull up a word document. Close your eyes for a moment and visualize a favorite memory from your childhood.
In my case I started with a favorite place, my maternal grandma’s house. But perhaps yours is the back alley where you and your friends played baseball, or your great uncle’s garage where he showed you how to work on cars. Whatever is meaningful to you.
Now, open your eyes, and write your thoughts one at a time. Just free flow it. They don’t have to be complete sentences.
Later you can try your hand at writing more of your actual experiences or memories of a person. Again, it doesn’t have to be a novel or sound really professional. It’s just the memories from you heart.
Question: If we have piles and piles of family photos, particularly ones we’ve inherited, how to do we decide which to keep and which to toss? Or do you ever toss?
Get rid of the duplicates!
Keep 1 of the biggest and best and throw the rest away. Don’t bog yourself down with hours spent trying to track down someone else to give them to.
Get rid of blurry, overexposed, underexposed, and meaningless photos.
There will be some circumstances where you will not be able to keep them. You can’t go into debt for unlabeled photos. You want to separate them from the labeled so that other family members don’t throw them all out together.
If you have time, try to identify them by asking relatives, and posting them to DeadFred.com.
If you can, donate the remaining unlabeled photos to orphaned photo collectors, or toss.
You did the best you can. Don’t feel guilty because your ancestors didn’t label their photos.
Question: What advice do you give your readers who are faced with what to do with their genealogy when they don’t have descendants or when no one in the family wants it? What encouragement can you offer when there is no one who descends from you, or there is no one who wants them.
If you think you don’t have anyone in your family who is interested, you’re wrong.
Downsizing and organizing will increase the chances of someone willing to take it later.
If you don’t have anyone in your immediate family who wants your stuff, start looking for distant cousins actively working on a surname. They won’t want everything. You will have to divide the material. They want it organized.
Do it while you’re living – don’t leave it to someone else.
Digitize it and get it online where it can be shared.
Getting your stuff in good condition makes it more desirable.
Our collection, broken up, may have much more value to other people.
Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mindhere. (We hope you enjoyed the interview, and thank you for using our link.)
The 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. Click the logo to learn more.
GEM: Profile America – The 1830 U.S. Federal Census
Saturday, October 5th.
The national census to be taken April 1 next year will be the 24th time this once-a-decade count has been conducted since 1790. The fifth census in 1830 profiled a quickly expanding nation, counting nearly 13 million residents — an increase of more than one-third in just 10 years.
New York remained the largest city, while second and third places were a near tie between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Also, among the 10 biggest cities were Charleston, South Carolina, and Albany, New York.
In the decade to follow, Cyrus McCormick invented the grain reaper, opening huge sections of the Great Plains to agriculture, and Texas declared its independence from Mexico.
This episode celebrates the most recent family history there is: our own. A chat between host and producer Lisa Louise Cook and Gems editor Sunny Morton explores the meaning and memories behind heirlooms hanging in Lisa’s bedroom. They comment on the larger value, for self and others, of recording our own memories in honor of Sunny’s new book, Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy.
Also in this episode:
A spotlight on new marriage records online for the U.S. and around the world.
Lisa walks a listener through several tips for learning more about her immigrant ancestors (a mother and daughter). Lisa shows how to use today’s technology tools to help with traditional research skills such as locating passenger lists, immigrant society records and naturalization.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard talks about organizing your DNA matches so you can get the most out of them.
Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman describes what it’s like in her home–which doesn’t use electricity–as the days grow shorter and the darkness comes earlier.
NEW RECORDS ONLINE: Marriage Records
New York City Marriages: a new index to more than 3 million marriage licenses for recent New York City marriages (1950-1995)
Free FamilySearch marriage record collections recently added or updated include:
Question from Jo: “I have been fortunate to find information about most of my great-grandparents. I have hit a wall with my maternal great grandmother who immigrated from Switzerland to the US in the 1880s when she was 8 years old. I was hoping that by upgrading to International records on Ancestry that I could find the ship and where she and her mother came from. The curious thing for me is that she and her mother traveled solo to the US and went to Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve been to Cincinnati and have searched there and have found directories with addresses but no profession is listed like other people. I didn’t find any ship records either. Where might you suggest that I look or search to find more information?”
Tips for searching passenger arrival lists:
Consider what ports would have been the most logical point of arrival for an immigrant ancestor based on the time period and the U.S. location in which you find them. Cincinnati, Ohio, was reachable by rail by the 1880s from major ports, as well as by water via the Mississippi River for southern ports, so that doesn’t narrow things down much. According to an Ancestry.com article, more than 80% of immigrants arrived at the Port of New York by the 1890s, so Jo might scrutinize those New York passenger arrival lists for the 1880s again.
For “deeper” searching at Ancestry.com or other sites with powerful, flexible search interfaces: do a “nameless search” (without any name) for girls around age 8 for arrivals in particular years. Try additional searches with various combinations of name, place of origin (Switzerland) or “Swiss” in the keyword field, which will bring up that word in the ethnicity or nationality column. That column doesn’t have its own search field in Ancestry.com but it is indexed, so use the keyword field to search it.
Research Swiss immigration to Cincinnati during that time period. Who was coming, why they were coming and where they were coming from? Click here for free tips about researching historical questions such as these.
Tips for researching records of immigrant societies:
In the U.S., the time between an immigrant’s arrival and naturalization is often documented in records of ethnic organizations such as fraternal benefit societies, immigrant aid and colonization societies. These kinds of community groups often existed in cities and towns where specific immigrant groups had a strong presence.
Become an expert Google searcher (for genealogy and everything else you want to find online) with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition, by Lisa Louise Cooke. Or click here to get started with basic Google search strategies you can use now.
Tips for researching naturalizations:
Naturalization records from that time period won’t reliably tell you where an ancestor was from. But they’re still worth looking for, especially if census or other records indicated that the person naturalized.
When looking for women’s and children’s naturalization records, remember that during this time period, they automatically became naturalized if their husband or father did, so individual records for married women and minor children won’t exist under their own names. But a woman could apply on her own, too. Click here to read a free article on women’s naturalizations.
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. In the works: RootsMagic will be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to 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 http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
INTERVIEW: Sunny Morton on recording your own life stories
Featured Genealogy Gems Book Club author Sarah Chrisman describes what it’s like when the days get shorter and the darkness comes early?in a house without electricity.
Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.
Parents spend a good portion of their parenting time ferreting out the real story from their children. One time when Henry was in Kindergarten he was playing outside with another little boy. I was in and out of the house watching him and checking on other things. Hours later I noticed that his bike had been spray-painted black. When confronted, he claimed he had no idea how such a thing could have happened. Unfortunately, I jumped to conclusions and blamed the other kid (you have to give me credit, at six Henry was such a good boy and had such an angelic face with his blue blue eyes and blonde blonde hair). But as I was on the phone with my husband telling him about the issue I looked over at Henry and I saw it- that guilty look and my stomach sank, recalling the things I had said to the other boy’s mom. “I’ll have to call you back,” I told my husband.
As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story from our ancestors, or at least from the records they left behind, because they’re not sitting in front of us with guilty looks on their faces. We are constantly checking family stories against, say, the information on a census record, then comparing it to the family will, then making sure it all agrees with what’s in the military records. And even if we have total agreement, which isn’t always, more information often comes along, like in the form of DNA testing, and we may find even more apparent discrepancies.
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who talks about finding just that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” And he makes the point that “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States),” which could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to INVENT a new legacy, not just reinvent it. His assessments are certainly interesting, and worth reviewing, to help us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at family stories and traditional research results.
McWhirter may be the classic modern genealogist, never having set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfiche, relying instead entirely, he reports, on internet research. Now before you roll your eyes, just stop for a minute and appreciate how exciting this is. Here is a man who never gave his family history a second thought, yet because of the death of his parents started to tinker around a bit, and then due to the large volume of information online “was quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.” I say, score one for the genealogy world!
What he found was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”
McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way they flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity. But the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists. He might even more powerfully transform his sense of family identity if he took a look at his match list and saw an actual living cousin, for example, a third cousin perhaps who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.
Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all of the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. It’s like we multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us?literally?who are descended from the same people and interested in finding them. As long as they’re as diligent in their research as we are, of course.
At a recent conference I met a 5th cousin. Even with a connection that distant it was exciting, and it made we want to look again at our connecting ancestors and pause for just a minute to marvel how my DNA verified my paper trail back to them, and that part of them was around, in me, and in my new cousin. To me, THAT’s a bigger picture I want to see?when the paper trail comes together with the DNA trail and turns into real live cousins, even if they turn out to be a little different than the stories and sense of identity that were handed to us when we were young.
Maybe you’re something like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued (or disappointed) by the ethnicity results, but haven’t yet fully explored all your matches on your list. I’m telling you, you may be seriously missing some opportunities. If that’s you, I may actually have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have tested. You’ll get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process, and access to a free bonus template for evaluating the genealogical relationship of a match in relationship to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting UNknown relatives on your match list into known relatives, which is what we’re going for here.
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