Recently I heard from listener Tom, who is trying to document Civil War veterans from Washington state. “I am taking pictures of their headstones,” he says. “I currently use just a spray bottle and soft brush to wash away the 100 years plus of dirt so I can better see and photograph the inscriptions. Do you have a better way to clean and photograph or maybe rub the headstones?”
I don’t recommend tombstone rubbings because each time a genealogist does that it wears the headstone down just a little bit more, causing deterioration.
However, I have a better solution for how to read a faded tombstone. I created a free video based on an article I wrote for Family buy serc medication Tree Magazine. It’s called Grave Transformations and you can watch it for free on Family Tree Magazine’s YouTube channel or just watch below. The idea is that instead of touching the headstone at all, you can simply manipulate your photographic images of it instead! Watch the video and you’ll see those faded letters come back into view. It’s pretty cool!
Did you know the Genealogy Gems You Tube Channel has over 70 free videos on a wide variety of genealogical topics? Click to go to our channel’s home page. Be sure to click the SUBSCRIBE button on the channel so that you won’t miss our new videos when they are published!
Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) has some of my very favorite genetic tools to help you make connections with your DNA matches when you can’t immediately find a genealogical connection, but it’s no secret that their genealogy tools leave much to be desired. However, their latest genealogy tool has promise: if certain conditions are met, you will be able to see whether any descendant of one of your ancestors has taken a DNA test!
For quite some time now FTDNA has allowed you to enter your genealogical surnames and locations into your account and list your earliest known paternal and maternal line ancestors. The latter is displayed for your YDNA and mtDNA matches to see and the former for your autosomal DNA matches to see. As a bonus, if one of your autosomal matches shares an inputted surname, FTDNA will bold that surname (or location) for you in the “Ancestral Surnames” column of your match page.
A few months ago they upgraded their pedigree tool for uploading a GEDCOM into your account. This GEDCOM does not in any way interact with your DNA match list or results; it is just provided as a resource to your matches. The pedigree tool itself is clumsy at best, but at least it is searchable and can give you a head start when looking for matches. It would be really nice if FTDNA could scrape all the surnames and locations from your GEDCOM and use that to populate your Ancestral Surnames field, but it does not.
The latest addition to FTDNA’s mediocre genealogy offerings is the ability to search all of the uploaded pedigree information in the FTDNA database. The best part about this feature is that it is not limited to searching just your DNA matches. This means you can see if any descendant of one of your ancestors has taken a DNA test! This is great news!
Of course, you see the immediate problem: if the cousin of interest hasn’t uploaded a GEDCOM, you still won’t be able to find them. And, of course, the usefulness of the information is completely dependent on other people’s genealogical sleuthing skills. But still, this can be a useful tool.
I tried using this tool to find out if there were other descendants of my ancestors Julia Pond and Austin Tilton who had tested. I have one DNA match who descends from this couple and I am fairly certain this is our connection. I wanted to see if there were others out there who were also descendants of this couple. I started with just a search for “Julia Pond” and got 37 results. I then used the advanced search feature to add her birth year “1821” and “Ohio.”
There were two matches. My family tree, and another belonging to Katie. It was frustrating that I couldn’t see right away if Katie was also a DNA match. But in the Advanced search I can ask to see only DNA matches, and repeat the search. Katie disappeared. By doing this I learned that Katie is descendant of Julia and Austin, but she and I don’t share enough DNA to be considered related. This makes sense, since descendants of this couple would be my 4th cousins at best, and I know that I will only genetically match about half of my fourth cousins. I can now contact my DNA match that lists Julia and Austin on his pedigree and ask him if Katie shows up on his match list. Perhaps they share some DNA that I do not.
Speaking of that DNA match of mine: why wasn’t he listed in my search results for Julia Pond? Well, it turns out that in his pedigree she is listed as born in 1821 from OH, and my search said Ohio. Ah. The search function is not catching those kinds of differences. So be careful.
When implemented properly, this tool can help you collect all of the descendants of a particular ancestor so you can learn more about what DNA you inherited from whom, and further your genealogical efforts.
Are you ready to get started? If you’re new to genetic genealogy, the first thing to do is acknowledge you may face some unexpected discoveries. If you’re not willing to chance some surprises on your family tree, don’t pursue it yet. Next, evaluate FTDNA (or other DNA companies) for yourself. If you decide to get started, your first step should be to upload your own GEDCOM, and make it public. Don’t feel like you have to put everything you know in this GEDCOM, just what you are certain of and feel confident sharing. To make it public, go into your Account Settings, and agree to share your Basic Profile.
You can also hire me for an individual consultation to make sure you’re doing the right DNA tests with the right relatives to answer your burning genealogy questions. (Testing the wrong people or DNA type can be a very expensive mistake!)
It’s time for a new season of Who Do You Think You Are? here in the U.S. Episode one features comedian and actress Aisha Tyler (Archer, GhostWhisper.)
According to TLC, Aisha “tracks down her 2x great-grandfather, whose story had been lost over generations, and uncovers an astonishing tale of a prominent ancestor whose struggle to keep his illegitimate son a secret made headlines.”
The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? premieres Sunday, April 3 at 9/8c
The contributors featured in the upcoming season include:
Scott Foley finds a relative who risked his life for one of America’s founding fathers, and an ancestor who suffered unspeakably during one of this nation’s darkest times.
Lea Michele nails down where her mysterious paternal ancestors came from, and learns of the dire economic circumstances they endured while trying to emigrate to the U.S.
Chris Noth learns his ancestors suffered during one of the greatest catastrophes in American history, and a relative who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of all time.
Molly Ringwald explores family lore of Swedish royalty which uncovers her ancestors’ harrowing lives and a brave woman who forever changed her family’s fate.
Katey Sagal is shocked to learn of her family’s Amish roots, and digs deeper as she realizes the level of dedication to their faith.
Famicity: a new free platform that allows families to gather, record and share their stories. Now in English and French.
One of the things I love about RootsTech is meeting innovators who are passionate about creating new ways to discover, preserve and share family history. While I was there I met Guillaume Languereau, CEO and co-founder of Famicity. I was impressed with his enthusiasm and dedication to his company and thought I’d share it with you.
What is Famicity?
Famicity is a free platform that helps families curate and share their pictures, videos and memories “so future generations remember who they are and where they come from,” says Guillaume. “The goal is to create a living family tree where the whole family will collaborate and share to preserve the story of each and every person.”
“It’s a legacy center,” Guillaume says, meant not just for distant family history but for recording the history that’s unfolding now. In fact, he says, “the users who share the most are young mothers with a newborn baby.”
Famicity appears to work similarly to family trees on many genealogy websites, with emphasis on family social networking and privacy. No paid subscriptions are required; relatives can be invited by email. You can build a tree from scratch or by importing a GEDCOM file. Each person in the family has a profile, with his or her information organized in timeline format. The design is meant to serve the needs of old and young. “A child just has to click on a person to discover the story of his/her life. It has never been easier to tell every family member’s story.”
The service was developed in France over the course of 5 years. It launched there and now has 150,000 users who have documented more than 3 million ancestors. Its success brought Guillaume to RootsTech 2016 to launch Famicity in English.
Famicity is a free service available on PC, MAC, tablets, and mobiles. Here’s a video teaser:
I do remind everyone, when they upload and share family history pictures, video, stories and other precious “digital artifacts,” to keep and back up their own master copies of them on their own computers. I love seeing relatives share and collaborate online–and I also love knowing they’ve secured and backed up their master files within their own reach. I use Backblaze which you can learn more about here.
A determined graduate student found some chilling historical video footage of a ship that capsized in Chicago. It was in an online archive–but he still had to dig deep for it!
Recently Gems fan Kathy sent us a story about an amazing video footage find. The subject line of her email caught my eye: “Gems can’t always be found by ‘panning:’ sometimes we have to ‘dig!'” She went on to say:
“You’re always stressing the importance of looking in the less obvious places but this is one of the best examples. Attached is an article about a horrific tragedy that happened in Chicago 100 years ago….It explains how video footage [about this disaster] was found in a British online newsreel–but it was not referenced under “Eastland,” the name of the ship, or “Chicago,” the location. We all like the easy way of finding things but finding gems sometimes takes digging and you just can’t pan for it.” (Click here to see the footage, though it may not be something everyone wants to watch.)
Thank you, Kathy! I often encourage people to dig for historical video footage (see Resources, below). Old footage shows us the past so compellingly! Also, did you notice that the video for a Chicago disaster was found in a British archive?? Not even the same country! Not too long ago, we blogged about how the media often picks up out-of-town stories. We may discover coverage about our relatives in newspapers and newsreels far from their homes. Just a tip to help YOU find more gems.