12 Things You Can Find in Obituaries

Paul McClellan obituariesRecently I decided to learn more about my great-uncle Paul McClellan, my grandfather’s brother. After World War II, Paul left his Idaho hometown for Pennsylvania. Surviving relatives know hardly anything of his life or family.

The census only takes me through 1940 and he lived through the 1970s. Pennsylvania vital records are pretty tight-lipped. So almost immediately, I found myself looking for obituaries.

Our online community tree at FamilySearch told me when and where he died. I emailed the local history and genealogy contact at the public library in that town. I heard back within a day and had this obituary within a week.

I’ve seen a lot of detailed obituaries. But perhaps because I’m so thirsty for information on Paul, the level of detail in this obituary made me especially happy. I see his:

  1. Age
  2. Street address
  3. Hospital where he died and length of stay there
  4. Birthplace and age
  5. Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
  6. Employer and retirement date
  7. Membership in local civic organizations
  8. WWII Army veteran status
  9. Surviving widow’s name, including maiden name
  10. Names, spouses and residences of surviving siblings
  11. Name of funeral home and officiator of funeral
  12. Cemetery name

Wow! Some of these details confirmed that I had the right guy: his age, birth data, relatives’ names. Others open new avenues of research for me. I’ve already started following leads to the civic organizations, funeral home and cemetery.

You know, what is NOT said in this obituary may also prove important as I continue my research on Paul. First, there are no surviving children or grandchildren listed. This disappoints me as I was told he did have children by at least one previous marriage. If he did have children, the informant (his widow?) either didn’t know about them or didn’t choose to mention them. Second, the informant did know a lot about Paul’s kin. Maybe Paul and his wife didn’t totally lose touch with the folks back home–it just seems so years later.

Have you worked much with obituaries? Do you know how to find them? Learn more in Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in print or as an e-book. There’s an entire chapter on online digitized newspaper collections, and one on online resources for finding newspapers (either online or offline). Yet another chapter is devoted to African American newspapers. This book will teach you to find all those elusive obituaries–and plenty more mentions of your family in old newspapers.

Family Tree DNA Review: GEDCOM Search Tool Added!

Family Tree DNA review GEDCOM Search toolFamily 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.”GlobalSearchJuliaPond

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.

GlobalSearchJuliaPondMatchDetail

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.

10 DNA Guides BundleAfter this Family Tree DNA review, if you’re ready to explore what DNA can do for YOUR genealogy, why not explore how I can help you do it? My quick guides on genetic genealogy include a guide specifically for those who test at Family Tree DNA.

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!)

Did your family follow the usual path? Mapping U.S. Migration Patterns

NYT Mapping Migrations Map Screen Capture

Mapping Migration in the United States. From the New York Times. Click to go straight to the source!

The U.S. has long been typified as a nation of restless wanderers. Are we still? Well, it depends on where in the U.S. you are from.

A new interactive infographic on the New York Times website looks at U.S. migration patterns: where residents of each U.S. state in 1900, 1950 and 2012 were born. According to the accompanying article, “You can trace the rise of migrant and immigrant populations all along the Southwest, particularly in Texas and Arizona, the influx of New Yorkers and other Northeasterners into Florida starting in the 1970s; and the growth in the Southern share of the Illinois population during the Great Migration.”

“In 1900, 95 percent of the people living in the Carolinas were born there, with similarly high numbers all through the Southeast. More than a hundred years later, those percentages are nearly cut in half. Taken individually, each state tells its own story, and each makes for fascinating reading.”

If you live in the U.S. now, click on your state to zoom in. You’ll see the statistics more fully represented. How many natives of that state still live there? Where else are its residents from? Where do you fall in? I am one of less than 1% of Ohioans who was born in a western state (excluding California). My husband and children are among the 75% of Ohio natives who still live here.

It might surprise you how little–or how much –your fellow state residents have been on the move. Now turn back the clock by clicking on the 1900 or 1950 maps. How did your family fit the norms for the time?

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064If you love learning history through maps, go to our Home page and click on the Maps category in the lower left under Select Content by Topic. You’ll find lots more great online map resources and plenty of great map research strategies.

HOW are We Related?? Use a Cousin Calculator

 

Recently, I heard from Shirley in Austin, Texas (U.S.) with a question about how her relatives are related to each other:

“My GGM (Caroline ‘s) great grandfather (Franz Joseph)  is the same as my GGF (Eduard ‘s) grandfather (Franz Joseph). How would they be related to each other?  Half 2nd cousin twice removed?

The relative in common (Franz Joseph) and his same wife, had two sons: Franz Carl who is Eduard’s Father, and Johan Anton, who would be Caroline’s Grandfather.”

Genealogy relationship cousin calculator

My answer: 

I like this Cousin Calculator tool (also called a relationship calculator) at Searchforancestors.com. If Caroline is the Great Grand daughter of Franz Joseph and and Eduard is the Grandchild of Franz Joseph, then according to the Cousin Calculator they are first cousins one time removed. Hope that helps!

What kind of complicated or double family relationships have YOU discovered on your family tree? Enter them into the cousin calculator. Then tell us how they’re related on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

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