Recently my Premium Podcast included a letter from Pat, who was looking for advice on how to return lost or orphaned heirlooms to a family. Ancestry.com had a few family trees posted. Pat didn’t know “whom to contact to get the materials to the most interested, closest family members.” This was my advice–and here’s the inspirational report back.
I would first focus on the tree where the tree owner is most closely related to the folks mentioned in the memorabilia. I would probably make copies (depending on what the items are) and offer to all. If I didn’t get a confirmed answer from the first choice in a reasonable time I would offer to my second choice. I would ask the recipient to allow me to pass their contact info on to any others who get around to responding after the fact since it’s everyone’s “family”.
“I finally took up the challenge, determined to find a family and offer up the material I had recovered. This material contained old (labeled!) photos, school records, dance cards and letters home to Mom and Dad and seemed potentially quite precious.
It proved difficult to determine which family seemed to have the closest connection, so I decided to offer the material to the person whose Ancestry.com tree contained the most (valid) sources. Fortunately, the tree owner was quick to respond, eager to receive the materials I had to offer. I sent them off and the tree owner is delighted as she is the granddaughter to the original party and believes herself to be the only living descendant of that person!
It feels just right to get those materials back “home”! I encourage other listeners to do the same. It produces a great sense of genealogical balance. So many others have done blessedly wonderful things for me in my research, making it easy to pay it forward just a little bit.
Thank you for the encouragement and the advice. I have loved both podcasts for a number of years now–you are consistently wonderful!”
Thanks, Pat, both for the compliment and for the inspiring message! I love hearing these kinds of stories.
Two cousins recently chatted after learning that they share DNA. The first asked whether the second is white. “No,” she answered. The response: “Are you sure?”
In our modern society, families are defined in a myriad of different ways. Using DNA for genealogy is certainly contributing to these
A family and its female slave house servants in Brazil, c.1860. Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view full source citation.
changing definitions, as families find themselves genetically linked across social and cultural boundaries to kin they never expected.
Such is the case for a Bartow, Florida resident who submitted a DNA test out of curiosity and found more than she expected. Through a combination of DNA testing and social media, Mary McPherson, who is white, met one of her cousins, Dolores Washington-Fleming, who is black.
Peter Williams’ entry in 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule, St Bartholomews Parish, Colleton, South Carolina. Image from Ancestry.com.
According to an article on The Ledger, the two women share a great-great-grandfather, Peter Edward Williams, who was born in South Carolina two centuries ago. Peter was a slaveholder. The 1850 census slave schedule shows that he held a female slave who was a few years younger than she was. Dolores believes that’s her grandmother’s grandmother.
The two finally met this past May for the first time and enjoyed this new definition of family. I think what I like most is what Dolores’ son said about the situation: “My mom and I are fascinated by history, and this is history. We represent what the times were like back then.” It still boggles my mind just a little that we are able to use the DNA of living people today to resurrect the past, and bring depth and meaning to the present, and possibly even prepare us for the future.
I find myself in a similar situation to Dolores and Mary. My mom was adopted, and even though we have had DNA testing completed for several years, we didn’t have any close matches, and honestly, we weren’t looking. Though she did have a passing interest in her health history, my mom did not feel the need to seek out her biological family. But then over the last few months various pieces of her puzzle have started to fall into place. This is much because of a key DNA match that popped up in March.
With that one match and subsequent correspondence, our interest in my mom’s biological family has skyrocketed. Why? I think it is because our DNA match, sisters from Texas, have shown us genuine kindness and interest. They have truly shown us what it means to be family. Even though we are unexpected, even though we aren’t sure yet how exactly we are connected, they have embraced us without reservation without hesitation.
To me, this is what family is. They accept you in whatever condition you come in and do their best to make you feel like you belong. Now, that kind of welcome isn’t felt by everyone who meets their genetic cousins, and people should carefully consider whether they’re ready for unforeseen results or unanticipated reactions from DNA matches before they get started.
But what about you? If you’ve started down the genetics path, how has DNA testing expanded or strengthened your definition of family?
Learn more about DNA testing for genealogy–how to get started or how to make sense of testing you’ve already had–with my quick guides available at the Genealogy Gems store, and then contact me at YourDNAGuide.com to arrange your own personal DNA consultation.
Resources for DNA for Genealogy
DNA Quick Guides for Genealogy (Bundle them for savings!): Getting Started, Autosomal DNA, Y Chromosome DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, Understanding Ancestry, Understanding Family Tree DNA
New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!
Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches?
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Ancestry.com has improved the ability of AncestryDNA to find good matches for Jewish, Hispanic and other ancestries that maybe weren’t so precise before. Here’s the lowdown, quoted liberally from Ancestry.com’s press release:
The problem: Predicting genetic relatives among customers of Jewish and Hispanic descent and some other groups. “In DNA matching, we are looking for pieces of DNA that appear identical between individuals,” says the release. “For genealogy research we’re interested in DNA that’s identical because we’re both descended from a recent common ancestor. We call this identical by descent (IBD). This is what helps us to make new discoveries in finding new relatives, new ancestors, and collaborating on our research.”
“However, we also find pieces of DNA that are identical for another reason. At one extreme we find pieces of DNA that are identical because it is essential for human survival. At the other, we find pieces of DNA that are identical because two people are of the same ethnicity. We call these segments identical by state (IBS) because the piece of DNA is identical for a reason other than a recent common ancestor. This, we have found, often happens in individuals of Jewish descent.”
“The challenge in DNA matching is to tease apart which segments are IBD, and which ones are IBS….Most Jewish customers find that we predict them to be related to nearly every other Jewish customer in the database….Detecting which cousin matches were real and which ones were bogus has always been a challenge for these populations.”
First step toward a solution: “By studying patterns of matches across our more than half a million AncestryDNA customers, we found that in certain places of the genome, thousands of people were being estimated to share DNA with one another–likely a hallmark of a common ethnicity. Our scientific advancements… have allowed us to effectively “pan for gold” in our matches–by throwing out matches that appear to only be IBS, and keeping those that are IBD.”
“While the problem was more pronounced in customers of Jewish and some Hispanic descents, we observed this problem across all ethnic groups. So, all customers will see increased accuracy of their DNA matches, and significantly fewer ‘false’ matches.”
AncestryDNA results with better matches found by this method “will be available in the coming months,” says the release. They plan to email existing customers when results are ready.
Recently Genealogy Gems Podcast listener Rosie wrote in with an Evernote question:
“I really enjoy listening to your podcasts. Thanks so much for all your efforts. As a long time researcher I always wondered how the Hunt family got from New England to Ohio around 1800. Not too long ago another researcher found some autobiographical sketches written by Thomas W. Hunt in the Library of Congress. They posted it on Ancestry.com and another researcher sent me the link. I am still trying to figure out Evernote but I am wondering if there is a way to transcribe the sketches from PDF format with this tool.”
Good for Rosie for considering her options for how technology might be able to make the task at hand just a little bit easier!
Currently you must have an Evernote Premium account in order for your PDF documents to be keyword searchable or to annotate PDFs directly. The pdf document that Rosie was hoping to automatically transcribe with optical character recognition (OCR) is in cursive handwriting. Evernote can apply OCR to simple, clear printing, but it can’t read script, especially fancier writing such as this Thomas Hunt sketch or old German script and handwriting.
That would require ICR, or intelligent character recognition, and that technology is still emerging and isn’t widely available to consumers yet.
The Solution: Evernote doesn’t transcribe documents. To get the genealogical content from the sketches into Evernote, Rosie will need to start a new Evernote note and re-type the documents herself. Once that is done, then Evernote can apply OCR to the note and the typed transcription will be keyword-searchable.
A Solution for Type and Printing if you aren’t an Evernote Premium user:
If you are fortunate enough to discover a long-sought after genealogical document such as Rosie did, and your PDF document is typed text or simple, neat printing then you are in luck. There are free conversion tools available online that can do the trick. I use ConvertOnlineFree.com
to convert my PDF document to text. I like it because I can use the tool directly from the web without having to download software to my computer.
(As with all tools we discuss here you’ll need to do your own homework and decide if it is right for you.)
1. click the Choose File
2. select the PDF file I want to convert from my computer
3. click the Convert button
4. save the converted file to my computer
5. copy and paste the text into a new note in Evernote, and OCR does the rest.
How to Use Evernote for Genealogy: The Ultimate Education
Evernote for Genealogy laminated quick reference guide, available for for both Windows and Mac users. This guide is handy for everyday reference, and it’s packed with time saving tips you can use every day in your genealogy research.
How to Add Text to a Web Clipping in Evernote
It’s nice to share
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Partial image of Histomap of World History from Slate.com.
This might be the single most ambitious publication EVER: a chart that lays out the history of human civilization. It’s the ultimate infographic, created long before the era of the infographic!
What you see here is a partial image, a screenshot taken from a cool article on the 1931 Histomap: Four Thousand Years of World History.
It’s not perfectly accurate, it carries some cultural biases and ignorance of much of Africa’s rich history and the dates are given more as a range than anything. So what makes this a useful tool for genealogists?
We’re always looking for historical context: a way to understand how our ancestors fit into the “big picture” of history. Are you learning about a Portuguese or French line in your family? Learning by DNA tests that you have some deep Asian roots? Find these categories displayed on the map along with other dominant (or not-so-dominant) groups of your ancestor’s era. It’s cool to look at! Check out the entire map (and an explanatory post in this post by Rebecca Onion at Slate.com.
Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton owns a book with a similar chart in it: Timechart History of the World (Timechart series)
The Timechart History of the World. The oversize, double-sided stiff cardboard pages fold out to more than 30 feet of full-color Victorian-decorated timecharts. She highly recommends it for the coffee table, if your coffee table is big enough to handle it!
Bonus: The Huffington Post has a neat article (with a photo) of another map from this series,The Histomap of Religion. (Time Chart of World Religion: A Histomap of Faith Through the Ages) Religions can be tough to trace forward over time, as various sects divide or merge. Every tool helps!