Have you found all the school records there are to be had for your ancestors? Most of us haven’t, and the chances are very good that there are still some gems out there waiting to be found. Here are ten solid strategies that will help you track them down for your genealogy research.
Because the movement for compulsory public education didn’t begin until the 1920s, many people assume that there few records to be had for genealogical purposes prior to that time. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children attended school much earlier.
In fact, it may be surprising to learn that the first public school in what is now the United States opened in the 17th century. On April 23, 1635, the first public school was established in Boston, Massachusetts.
It was a boys-only public secondary school called the Boston Latin School, and it was led by schoolmaster Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler. The school was strictly for college preparation, and produced well-known graduates including John Hancock and Samuel Adams. It’s most famous dropout? Benjamin Franklin! The school is still in operation today, though in a different location.
Thousands of schools serving millions of students have been established in the U.S. since the inception of the Boston Latin School. (According to 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there are 132,853 K-12 schools in the U.S.) This means that the chances of there being school records for your ancestors is great indeed!
10 Solid Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy
Here are 10 proven ways to find your ancestors’ awkward yearbook photos, sports triumphs, and much, much more.
1. Establish a Timeline of your Ancestor’s Education
Check your genealogy software database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college. Keep in mind, as recently as the 1960s, children did not go to Kindergarten but may have started school at about 6 years old and beginning in First Grade.
To keep my search organized, I decided to create a simple worksheet form in a Word document. It allows me to identify the right time frames, locations, and other pertinent information for my search, and record my progress along the way.
Premium Bonus Download: Click to download the blank school records worksheet for your own school research use. (Premium Membership required.)
2. Consult Family Papers and Books for School Records
Go through old family papers and books looking for things like:
- school photos
- senior calling cards,
- high school autograph books,
- journals and diaries,
- fraternity or sorority memorabilia,
- yearbooks and more.
When I dug through boxes and my grandmother’s cedar chest I found several records like…
a Report Card:
Grandma’s class picture from the 7th grade in 1925, Chowchilla, California. She is in the back row on the far right, and her brother is the boy in the center of the back row:
And Grandma’s senior portrait, 1930:
3. Google for Academic Family History
From the professional website of the state archives to the family history site cobbled together by a cousin you’ve never met, the potential for finding school records on the vast expanse of the internet is limitless! Google is the tool to help you locate websites that include school-related records with lightning speed.
Since I’m not sure which school my grandmother attended, I started off my search for my grandmother’s school with a simple query for the history of schools in the county where she lived as a child:
I was pleasantly surprised at the first search result. It’s a newspaper article from the Madera Tribune literally outlining the history of how the schools evolved in the county! It details such things as the driving forces behind where schools were located, when they were founded, and which ones at the time of the article were no longer in existence.
Next, I focused my attention on the grade school listed on Grandma’s brother’s 6th grade report card that I discovered during my search of family papers. I Googled the name of the school, county and state.
A search like this can literally deliver millions of results. In fact, this specific search brings up over 1 million search results.
You can typically reduce the unwanted search results by 90% by using search operators. These symbols and words give Google further instructions on what you want done with the words you are searching.
While I cover a large number of operators in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m going to use just one of the most popular to dramatically improve my search for the Sharon school.
In the example below I put quotation marks around the name of the school. Doing this explains to Google that I want this phrase to appear exactly as I typed it in every single search result. You’ve probably noticed that when you search a phrase by itself, you’ll receive results that include only one of the words, or the words spelled differently, or in a different order. The quotation marks search operator prevents this from happening. It mandates that the phrase appear on every result exactly as you typed it.
Notice that I didn’t put quotation marks around the county name or the state. I recommend using search operators sparingly, at least in your initial search, to ensure that you don’t miss out on good results. If I were to put quotations marks around “Madera county” I would not receive any web pages that do mention Sharon School but just don’t happen to mention Madera County as a phrase.
Notice also that this search resulted in just over 11,000 results, a small fraction of what I would have received had I not used the quotation marks! Even more important is that the results on the first few pages of are all very good matches.
I could try a few more variations such as adding words like history, genealogy or records.
My googling led me to the Internet Archive where I found old silent color movies shot in the 1940s. There were several films and one featured the local school in the area where my relatives lived. Many, many people were filmed! Could one of those faces be one of my relatives?! Learn more about finding genealogical information includes school records by watching and reading 10 Awesome Genealogy Finds at the Internet Archive.
4. Search Newspapers
Historic newspaper are also a wonderful source of honor rolls, school sporting events and anything else having to do with school life.
While there are certainly more historic newspapers online than ever before, it’s still a fraction of what is available.
A visit to the Chronicling America website can help. At the home page click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button:
On the Directory search page, enter the state, county and town:
On the results page, click the “View complete holding information” link:
Now you can view all of the known available locations for this item:
In my case, the Chowchilla newspaper of the early 20th century has not been digitized and is not available online. However, the California State Archives in Sacramento has an extensive collection of microfilm. I was able to make the trip in person, and was certainly glad I did! They not only had the newspaper I needed but also countless other resources that were helpful for my genealogical research.
Here are additional resources to help you find newspapers for your school records research:
- Local newspapers can also be found by searching for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the library’s online card catalog or contact them directly to see what newspapers they have and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through inter-library loan.
- Click here to visit Newspapers.com by Ancestry website. This is a subscription website with over 14,900+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s and millions of additional pages being added monthly.
- Click here to search Genealogy Bank – (This page includes a 7 day free trial option.) This popular subscription website has over 11,000 newspaper, 95% of which Genealogy Bank says are exclusive to their website.
5. Consult U.S. State Archives and Libraries
The public libraries and state archives across the country are a treasure trove of genealogical resources, and that includes school-related records.
While it’s easy to stop by your local library for a search, it may not be as easy to make your way to the public library in the town where your ancestors lived. Turn to the internet to do your homework regarding the repositories, their holdings, and the most convenient and economical way for you to access them.
A great place to start is the WorldCat website.
Start by conducting a search. Once you find an item of interest, enter your zip code under the “Find a Copy in the Library” section to identify where it’s available.
As you can see, the name of the libraries are hyperlinked so that you can click through to the item on their website. This makes requesting a look-up or photo copy very easy.
I can’t stress the value of State Libraries enough. Gere are three more excellent resources:
- Click here for the List of U.S. state libraries and archives at Wikipedia.
- List of U.S. State Libraries and Archives at the National Archives.
- Click here to read Archivist Melissa Barker’s article called Using Vertical Files in Archives.
6. Contact State Historical and Genealogical Societies
In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks, school photograph collections or other records. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large collection of Ohio school yearbooks.
Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia in their small or archived collections.
To find contact information for a local historical or genealogical society, Google the name of the county and state and add the words genealogy, history and / or society at the end. For example: Darke County Ohio genealogy society.
7. Search for Online Yearbooks
One of the most exciting genealogical record collections to have come out in recent times is Ancestry.com’s U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999 collection. It is an indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks from across the United States.
In June of 2019 Ancestry replaced old records with new updated records for most of the yearbooks found on the site. They also added new records from 150,000 yearbooks that previously only had images available. Later in August of 2019 they improved the collection even further by adding a staggering 3.8 million new records. This update also included 30,000 new image-only books.
MyHeritage has an international collection of yearbooks. In the menu under Research go to the Collection Catalog and search for Schools & Universities.
Additional websites featuring yearbooks include:
Old-Yearbooks.com – According to the website, “Old-Yearbooks.com is a free genealogy site, displaying old yearbooks, class rosters, alumni lists, school photos and related school items. All materials on this site are the property of the submitter. You may not use the images, text or materials elsewhere, whether in print or electronically, without written permission from the submitter or this site.”
Classmates.com – “Register for free to browse hundreds of thousands of yearbooks! You’ll find classic photos of friends, family, and even your favorite celebrities. Viewing the books is always free, and you can purchase a high-quality reprint.”
E-Yearbook.com – Their goal is to digitize all old high school, college & military yearbooks. The site has millions of yearbook pictures digitized, they say they are adding thousands of new pictures every week. “From our estimates, we offer the largest collection of old high school, college and military yearbooks on the Internet today.”
8. Check Township Archives
You might be thinking you didn’t read that right, but you did. Townships are small areas within the county. These small townships may have their own archives or one room museums. They are often the holders of some pretty one-of-a-kind finds.
The best way to determine what the township may have is to contact the township trustees. Google your township name, the county name, state name, and add the word trustee. You will likely need to give one of the trustees’ a phone call to ask what resources might be available.
9. Search ebay Auctions
The auction website ebay is the perfect place to look for school record and memorabilia, particularly hard-to-find yearbooks.
Conduct a search on the school or town you are looking for to see if anyone is selling a yearbook that you want. (You’ll need a free ebay account to do this.) Also, search for old photographs or postcards of the school building that you can add to your family history.
When I searched for Chowchilla California School, several auctions for school-related items from Grandma’s high school came up. Unfortunately, these are auctions for yearbooks after she had already graduated. But no worries! This search is only for today. Tomorrow someone could put up an auction for exactly what I want. There’s only one problem: no one has enough time to search every single day!
A way to save time and ensure that you don’t miss new auction items is to save your search.
Click the Save this search button toward the top of the page:
By doing this, you will be sent an email any time a new auction comes up that meets your search criteria. You can learn more about setting up ebay saved searches for family history by listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #140.
Here’s another one of my favorite strategies: After you run your initial search, check the box on the results page to include completed listings.
In the revised “Completed” search results you may see some items that are of interest. If the item has a green price, it means the item was sold. If the price is black, it did not sell.
Each item will also have a link that says View Similar Active Items. Click that to see a list of items currently for sale that are very similar to one that you wanted.
You can also contact the seller of any item to inquire about the unsold item or to ask whether they have related items.
I bought the yearbook above on ebay several years ago. It includes several photographs of my husband’s grandfather who was a music teacher at the high school back in the 1940s.
10. Call the School
If the school is still in operation, try calling the main office of the administration office. They may have old yearbooks and scrapbooks in their library or on display. If they don’t, they may very well be able to tell you where they can be found.
You can obtain contact information by Googling the name of the school and the location.
Good times to try calling a school are mid-morning after kids are settled into class, or between 3 and 4:00 pm local time, when many of the kids have gone home but the school office is still open.
Tell Us About the School Records You Find
Using these strategies you are bound to find more school records for your genealogical search. Please leave a comment below and share what you found, where you found it, and which strategy you used. It will inspire us all to keep looking! And if you have a favorite strategy that we didn’t mention here, please do share that too.
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Elevenses with Lisa Episode 43 Show Notes
Do you like finding new stuff about your family history? Well, then you’re in the right place because today that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this episode of Elevenses with Lisa.
If you’re looking for new information about your family history, an important website to add to your research list is the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a free website that attempts to archive the web, and that includes online genealogy!
One of the best ways to approach your search at the Internet Archive is by focusing on a particular type of record. Here are 10 genealogy records that every genealogist needs that can be found at this free website.
Watch the Internet Archive episode:
Getting Started with the Internet Archive
You are free to search for and access records without an account, but there’s so much more you can do with a free account. Here are just a few advantages of having an Internet Archive account:
- Borrowing ebooks
- Saving Favorites
- Uploading content
- Recommending websites to be archived.
Getting a free account is easy. Simply click on the Sign Up link in the upper right corner of the home page.
Types of Content at the Internet Archive
There’s a surprisingly wide variety of content available on the website including:
10 Awesome Finds at the Internet Archive
A great way to discover all that the Internet Archive has to offer is to think in terms of categories of records. I’m going to share with you ten genealogy record categories that include several specific types of records.
Start your search for each category using just a few keywords such as:
- a location (town, county, etc.)
- the type of record,
- a family surname, etc.
Next try applying some of the filters found in the column on the left side of the screen. I try several combinations of searches to ensure that I’ve found all that the Internet Archive has to offer. Let’s get started:
Genealogy Records Category #1: Church Records
In Elevenses with Lisa episode 41 we discussed how to find and use church records for your family history. Here are just a few of the specific types of church records you can find at the Internet Archive:
- Meeting Minutes
- Church Histories
- Quaker Records
Genealogy Records Category #2: Family Records
- Compiled Family Histories
- Family History (general)
- Family Bibles
Learn more about finding and using family bibles for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 29.
Genealogy Records Category #3: Location-Based Records
- Location History (Example: Randolph County Indiana History)
- City and Rural Directories
- Plat Maps
Genealogy Records Category #4: School Records
- Student Newspapers
- High School, College, etc.
Genealogy Records Type #5: Work Records
- Trade journals
- Corporate histories
- Works Progress Administration (WPA)
- Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC)
Genealogy Records Category #6: Military Records
- Military Radio Shows
- Military histories
- Photographic reports
- Veterans Administration Payment Records
- WWI County Honor Books
Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 features the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library which hosts much of their content on the Internet Archive. Tip: If you find a collection difficult to navigate, visit the website of the sponsoring organization (such as the Allen County Public Library) which may have a better user interface for searching the records.
Genealogy Records Category #7: Patent Records
From the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Keep in mind that your ancestor may be mentioned in a patent even though they did not file it.
Genealogy Records Category #8: Probate Records
Although there doesn’t currently appear to be a large number of probate records, the Internet Archive does have some. Try searching by location to see if it includes a probate record for others from the same community. For example, a prominent shopkeeper might list many in the town who owed them money.
Genealogy Records Category #9: Audio and Video Records
Audio records include:
- Oral interviews
- Old radio shows
- Music from days gone by (78s, cylinders, etc.)
Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Listen to episode 176 of the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast for more on the Great 78 Project at the Internet Archive. (Learn more about joining us as a Premium Member.)
Video records can include:
- Old home movies
- Local shows and news
- Newsreels shown in movie theaters
- History Documentaries
I searched for the small town where my husband’s ancestors lived for several generations and found a great video from 1954. It featured a parade float sponsored by his great grandfather’s business and several faces I recognized! Watch Winthrop Days.
Genealogy Records Category #10: Collections!
A collection is a group of records submitted by a user. Often times these will be organizations, libraries and archives.
Here are just a few examples of collections that may be of interest to you as a genealogist:
- American Libraries
- Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center-microfilm
- Genealogy (a collection of over 160,000 items)
- Canadian Libraries
- British Libraries
- Australian libraries
- Reclaim the Records
Borrowing Books from the Internet Archive
Visit the Books to Borrow collection. You will need to be logged into your free Internet Archive account in order to borrow books. You can borrow the book in 1 hour increments. In some cases, you can choose a 14-day loan. If there is only one copy of the book available, the 1 hour load will be the only option. If there are no copies available you can join a waitlist. No waitlist is necessary for one hour loan ebooks.
Learn more about creating your own collection at the Internet Archive.
Tips for Using the Internet Archive
Tip: Find More at the Internet Archive
Scroll down below the individual item for:
- Download options
- “In Collections” (which can lead you to more content from the same collection)
- Similar items
Also, when you find an Item of interest, click the Contributor link to see all of the items uploaded by the user. It’s very likely they will have additional similar items.
Tip: Use the Internet Archive Advanced Search and Search Help
One advantage to using the Advanced Search is when you are searching for items from a specific timeframe. It’s much more efficient than clicking the box for very year in the range in the filter.
Tip: Downloading from the Internet Archive
Download the full cover version of the PDF when available. Images will likely be clearer and more accurate.
More Interesting Content at the Internet Archive:
- Video Game Oregon Trail
- Old Radio Programs
- bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872
- Veteran’s Administration Pension Payment Collection
- Oaths of Allegiance and Naturalization Index
- Genealogical publications
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
Question from Sue: What does metadata mean?
Lisa’s Answer: Metadata is data that describes other data. For example, the date of upload is metadata for a digital file that you find online. Metadata is often added by the person or institution doing the uploading to the Internet Archive. I like to search both “Metadata” and “text contents”.
Question from CA: Date filter really applies to date posted not date of item u r looking for….correct?
Lisa’s Answer: In the case of genealogical documents, the date typically refers to the date of original publication rather than the date posted. You will find dates back into the 19th century in the filters.
Question from Mary: is there a print icon? I don’t see it.
Lisa’s Answer: Instead of printing, look for the download options. Once downloaded to your computer, then you can print.
Question from Susie: Would this site have membership of Rotary clubs and such type groups?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely! Search for “rotary club” and perhaps the name of the town or locality.
Question from Sally: Is broadest search METADATA? Does it catch everything?
Lisa’s Answer: No. Metadata is the default. I would strongly advise running both Metadata and text context searches for your search terms.
Question from Amy: Lisa, do you know of a way to correct records that are incorrectly or in sufficiently tagged?
Lisa’s Answer: To the best of my knowledge, you can only do that if you were the one who uploaded the item. If anyone else reading this has found a way to edit or tag other user’s items, please leave a comment below.
Question from John: You may have mentioned this but what is the difference between searching metadata or searching text?
Lisa’s Answer: Searching metadata is only searching the data (like tags) that were added to provide more information about the item. A text context search will search all the text that was typed including the title and description. I recommend searching both ways. Keep in mind that not all user’s include detailed descriptions, which is why metadata is very important.
Question from K M: Why does Allen County Library have this archive?
Lisa’s Answer: I think it may be because the Internet Archive provides affordable cloud storage which can be a big expense when offering online records.
Question from Karen: Lisa will you explain the download options?
Lisa’s Answer: Options are based on the type of item. For print publications you will often find you can download the item as an EPUB, PDF, Full Text, etc. Download options can be found by scrolling down just below the item near the description and Views. You can also found download options for Adobe files while viewing the item in the viewer. Click the three dots in a circle icon just below the search icon.
Question from Barbara: Would audio include old local radio programs?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely!
Question from Rita: Can you share info about how to upload something?
Lisa’s Answer: Learn more about creating your own collection at the Internet Archive.
Question from Margaret: What about information on the Mayflower?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes. Search Mayflower and then use the filters to narrow your results by Topic & Subject and by Year.
Question from Jeremy: Any pointers on Swiss Mennonites, Lisa?
Lisa’s Answer: A search of Swiss Mennonites brings up 21 items, some of which look rather interesting. Otherwise, like with all genealogy research, formulating a more specific question can help you craft a better search query at the Internet Archive.
Subscribing to the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel:
with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode, I chat with Angela Walton-Raji, expert in U.S. and African-American research, about tips for interviewing relatives and taking your African-American family tree back to the era of slavery.
Other highlights of this episode include:
- A RootsTech 2017 recap, with info on archived streaming sessions;
- Great news from Findmypast about its new Catholic Heritage Archive;
- A ground-breaking study from AncestryDNA that identifies specific migration patterns among genetically-related clusters of people;
- Follow-up mail from Lisa’s Episode 200 celebration;
- An expert Q&A on finding relatives who don’t appear in the census where you expect them to;
- A teaser clip from the upcoming Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us.
ROOTSTECH 2017 RECAP
Genealogy Gems booth streaming sessions are on the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook page. “Like” our page, and then scroll down to Videos and click See all (shown here).
- Lisa Louise Cooke: Google search methodology for genealogy, using Google Earth for genealogy and creating memorable, easy family history videos;
- Diahan Southard: Understanding your DNA ethnic pie chart;
- Amie Tennant: Digital journaling and scrapbooking;
- Sunny Morton: Jogging your memories and “Genealogy Jackpot” (on researching her ancestors’ survival of the Great Johnstown flood of 1889.
POPULAR ROOTSTECH STREAMING LECTURE “THE BIG 4” NOW ONLINE
Watch “The Big 4: Comparing Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage” by Gems Editor Sunny Morton and catch a summary of its main points
Catch our future free Genealogy Gems streaming sessions on Facebook!
You can also Like and follow the Genealogy Gems Facebook page to hear about (and sometimes watch) streaming sessions.
GENEALOGY GEMS APP BONUS MATERIAL
If you listen through the Genealogy Gems app (FREE in Google Play) and $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users), your bonus material for this episode is a short video clip showing a time-lapse perspective on RootsTech 2017 from the exhibitor hall.
NEWS: FINDMYPAST CATHOLIC HERITAGE ARCHIVE
In the Boston Globe: Archdiocese of Boston and New England Historic Genealogical Society plans to bring 10 million+ parish records online
Robin mentioned she’s learned so much from Lisa on these topics:
- Google Books for genealogy,
- Newspaper research,
- How to use an iPad for genealogy,
- How to organize electronic files (see the free Family History Made Easy podcast, episodes 32-33)
- Google Drive
- Scrivener software for writing family history
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.
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: ANGELA WALTON-RAJI
Angela Walton-Raji instructs the African-American Genealogy Research Essentials webinar.
Angela’s oral history questions: What to ask your elders
Did they happen to know anyone who had been born a slave when they were a child?
Who was the oldest person that you remember when you were a child? And did that person ever talk about anyone who may have been enslaved?
What do you know about where the family was from? (Were we always from Georgia, or, were we always from Pennsylvania, or was there a time when we came from another place? (Read more about the Great Migration she mentioned.) Why did we move? Who remembers that journey?
Who in the family participated in the military (in World War II, I, the Spanish-American War)? African-American military units through the mid-20th century were still referred to as Buffalo soldiers. (She mentioned the Triple Nickel, a unit of all-black World War II paratroopers.
MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.
EXPERT TIP ON FINDING ANCESTORS “MISSING” IN CENSUSES
Read their Q&A: Kate Eakman takes on a Gems listener question from someone who has already done a lot of work trying to locate a relative in the 1940 U.S. census
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.
There is no doubt that this is an exciting time to be a genealogist. Here at Genealogy Gems, we are announcing new record collections online every month, advances in genealogy databases and their ability to retrieve the information we are looking for, and of course, DNA testing. There really has been no time in history where such a wealth of information about our past has been so readily available to so many.
In another ground-breaking development in the DNA world has been a recent publication in a scientific journal by the scientific team at AnccestryDNA. It is titled, “Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America.” Or, in more understandable terms, “Your DNA can tell us where you came from in America in the last 500 years.”
Wow, right? So how did they do this?
Well, the power really is in the numbers. In this particular paper they used 770,000 people, but now that they are approaching having testing 4 million people, you can bet the same principles will be applied to a larger data set and we will see even more as a result. But even though it takes a large data set to accomplish this, it really all still comes down to the relationship of two people.
To start, Ancestry determines how just two people are genetically related. Then they find how those two are related to a third, again, looking only at pairs of people. This goes on and on and on until everyone in the group as been compared. Then we use a graph to plot those relationships, with those more closely related clustering around each other. Then the real key, the point where we see the marriage of genetics and genealogy: they add in the family history information for each of these individuals in the cluster. What they found was astounding. They have displayed the data in Figure 3 in the paper:
Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America. Summary map from Nature Communications; click to see article with full explanation of map data. Image used with permission of Ancestry.com.
It is a map of the United States with colored dots scattered across the landscape. The location of the dots corresponds to the genealogy of those tested, while the color of the dots relates to their genetic clustering. Those who clustered closest together are the same color. The result is a nearly perfect rainbow, with each color holding its respective spot on the map, with very little overlap between groups. (There are actually two maps in the paper, just to make things easier to see.)
We might be tempted when looking at the maps to think, oh, well, of course there is a large population of European Jews in New York, everyone knows that, no breakthrough there. But it IS!! This isn’t their family history, or their accent or their culture that is telling us this, it is their genetics!
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, further on in the paper they describe how we can trace migration patterns of different groups over just a few generations. In the paper they specifically mention French Canadians and Cajuns/Acadians, but this same principle can theoretically be applied to dozens of other groups.
For example, let’s say you have an ancestor in Texas about 4 generations ago, but you aren’t sure where she came from. If technology like what is published in this paper ever reaches your testing company, your DNA could tell you that you fit into the Lower South group, meaning that your ancestor likely hails from, well, the South!
This is just a glimpse into what the advances in genetics are bringing to your genealogy toolbox. So hang on to your hats, and keep tuned in here at Genealogy Gems for all of the latest updates.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
The Truth According to Us by internationally bestselling author Annie Barrows
It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
Annie Barrows is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel takes place after World War II in a London recovering from the Blitz and an island recovering from German occupation. At the heart of Guernsey is an unlikely love story and the inspiring tale of a community that took care of each other in their darkest days with humor, compassion and good books.
Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.
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