Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Genealogy and the Romani

By AdiJapan - Own work, Public Domain, Flag of the Romani people
Possibly, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world are the Romani, also called gypsies or Roma. Rom is the Romani word for "man of the Roma ethnic group." The plural of the noun "Rom" is "Roma." The word "Romani" is the feminine adjective and the masculine form is "Romano." Here is a short description of the Romani from Wikipedia: Romani people.
The Romani (also spelled Romany /ˈroʊməni/, /ˈrɒ-/), colloquially known as Gypsies or Roma, are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern Indian subcontinent, from the Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Sindh regions of modern-day India and Pakistan. 
Genetic findings appear to confirm the Romani "came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago." Genetic research published in the European Journal of Human Genetics "revealed that over 70% of males belong to a single lineage that appears unique to the Roma." The Romani are widely known among English-speaking people by the exonym Gypsies (or Gipsies), which some people consider pejorative due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity. They are a dispersed people, but their most concentrated populations are located in Europe, especially Central, Eastern and Southern Europe (including Turkey, Spain and Southern France). The Romani originated in northern India and arrived in Mid-West Asia and Europe around 1,000 years ago. They have been associated with another Indo-Aryan group, the Dom people: the two groups have been said to have separated from each other or, at least, to share a similar history. Specifically, the ancestors of both the Romani and the Dom left North India sometime between the 6th and 11th century.
Genealogy is of universal interest and it should not be surprising the Romani genealogy has some very active and even academic methodologies. Here is a list of websites dedicated to Romani genealogy. In some cases, you may need to be aware of the emphasis on copyright protection exhibited by some of the writers.

Here are a very few books and articles on the subject:

Hayward, James. Gypsy jib: a Romany dictionary. Wenhaston: Holm Oak, 2003.
Michael L. Chohaney. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Mixed Methods and the Marble Orchards of the Vlach Rom (Gypsies) in Toledo, Ohio.” Journal of Cultural Geography 31, no. 1 (2014): 57–80.
“New Methodological Approaches in the Anthropological Demography of Romani Groups: An Example from the Study of the Evolution of the Infant and Child Mortality of the Gitanos or Calé of Spain (1871-2007).” Sociologia: Revista Da Faculdade de Letras Da Universidade Do Porto tematico (2014): 175–204.
“Romanies,” 2014, 213.

I have researched at least two of my lines back to individuals that have indications that they might be or have been Romani. So I do have a personal interest in the subject.


How to Start Learning History for Genealogists (and everyone else too)

If you obtained a college or university degree in history, where would you go to find a job in the United States? Clearly, many employers are simply looking for a "college degree" and don't really care about the subject matter studied, but if you wanted to pursue a career in history, what would you do? If you look at the list of suggested jobs for those with a history degree, most of them assume that you would seek additional training in some other pursuit or teach history in high school or become an elementary school teacher.

The reality of today's school systems is that history, as a subject, is not being taught at all. It has been replaced by "social studies" which consists mostly of propaganda about how minorities have been treated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. Children all know about Martin Luther King, Jr. but have never heard of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison. If you want an interesting experience, ask to see a middle school student's history book.

This is not a new situation. I did have an American History class in high school and some history in grade school, but my high school class never got past the end of the Civil War and most of the history I had in grade school was Arizona history because that is what we studied in Arizona. There is a distinct opposition in the American school systems to teaching world history at all and even if world history is taught, the emphasis is on Western Civilization, not the world.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you learned about the history of Africa or Southeast Asia? In my opinion, one of the reasons why the U.S. Government was able to fight a war in South Vietnam was the dismal lack of any knowledge among Americans about the history of that part of the world. How many people know or knew that the U.S. was supporting French foreign domination of the area and not the interests of those people living in Vietnam? You might want to read what happened at the 1954 Geneva Conference for a start.

How does this affect the pursuit of genealogy? Well, genealogy is history albeit a very specific version of history dealing with particular families. But these families lived and died and were part of the "history" of their country and the world. I find that most people cannot tell me even what religion their ancestors believed in or what political divisions were in force at the time they lived. Both of these "facts" are important in identifying and locating documents about ancestral families. Some of the most common "brick wall" issues in genealogical research are instigated as a result of unsupported assumptions about ancestral families that have no basis in history or geography.

I have commonly used the boat floating in a lake analogy for those who do not consider or even know about the background history and geography, including political geography, of the areas where their ancestors lived.

Genealogical research without a significant knowledge of the history and the geography of where events in your ancestors' lives occurred is like sitting in a boat on a lake with a rifle and shooting into the water hoping to hit a fish when you don't even know if there are any fish in the water.

Where do you start? Well, who are are interested in finding at the moment? Let's suppose that your ancestor came from Europe in the mid-1800s and appears in Maryland. You might think to begin research in the country of origin, but common genealogical methodology dictates that you begin research in the country of arrival. So what do you know about Maryland history? Wait a minute. Your records show that his descendants said he or she was from "Maryland." Where were they living? In one recent case I have been researching, the known family was living in Mississippi and had a "tradition" that the family came from Maryland. You need to start with research in the last verifiable place where an event occurred in that particular family line. Not back in the place where they may have come from. So what do you know about the history, geography, and political boundary changes in Mississippi? Where would you go to find that information?

What I do is start with examining the county boundary changes associated with the times when the events occurred. What do I mean by "events?" Births, deaths, land purchases, censuses, school records, etc. Interestingly, when I work through this with people I am helping, I sometimes have to start with them and their parents because none of the other information is sufficiently documented to be reliable.

To start, look at maps. Google Maps is a good place to begin. Also, look for the places in Wikipedia and read the available history on that website. From there, start doing research online search for "the history of..." and go from there to books and other records. If you are like me, you will probably find that there is a degree of confusion about the places, dates, and appropriate jurisdictions in what has already been recorded about your family. Don't be surprised.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Books, Ownership, and Copyright

Let's suppose you look online and see a newly published book. After reading a few reviews, you decide to buy the book and being a traditionalist, you order a hard-bound copy for your personal library. You pay for the book using your online account or with a credit card. Within one or two days, the book arrives at your door. It turns out to be a wonderful book and you enjoy reading it. Do you now "own" your book? Surprisingly, that is a serious and not a silly question. If you do not own the book outright, what are the limitations on your "ownership?" Do any of these limitations change if you had purchased an electronic version of the same book? If you own the hardback copy of "your" book, do you have to pay for an ebook copy of the same book?

The answers to all these questions are pertinent to the crisis in the free flow of information in our worldwide society. As genealogists, we bump into this problem on a regular basis whether we are aware of it or not. Here is an example from the Books section of the website.
I have used this notice as an example recently but I am returning to the subject of the previous post. What does this notice mean and why have the book listed online if it cannot be viewed? I view copyrighted books online all the time. I use a library app such as or the and read the entire book. What is the main difference between checking a physical book out of a library and reading a digital copy of the book from a library website? In both instances, I only have "possession" of the content of the book for a limited period of time, usually two weeks.

Back to the issue of owning a book. When you purchase a book that is subject to a claim of copyright, even though I have purchased a book, the content and use of the content is still not under my control. For example, I could not reproduce my "purchased" copy of the book and sell it. Technically, what you purchase when you purchase a book subject to copyright is a limited license. The terms of your license are contained in the provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act and all of the cases decided by all of the Federal Courts on copyright in the United States.

There are some real property analogies. Even if you "own" the largest interest in real property called a "fee simple" ownership, you are still subject to real estate taxes from various government agencies. If you fail to pay your taxes, you may ultimately lose your real property. You may disagree with the government's right to assess your property with taxes, but there is almost nothing you can do about it.

The main problem with the government limitations on books and other intellectual property is that the limitations that were originally designed to apply only for a limited period of time now extend for more than the lifetime of anyone now living. So, if you purchase a book published in 2018, you will die before the copyright expires. In fact, probably most of your children and even your grandchildren will still be subject to the copyright. The current copyright term is 70 years after the death of author. but if a work has corporate authorship, the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first. If you have a particularly long-lived author, you might have a copyright that lasts for almost 150 years. What other parts of our government do you know that might last that long?

In reference to the notice above, I have no idea what it means or why it would even appear. Obviously, a copyright does not prevent a book from being viewed online. However, the paper copy of a book and the ebook copy of the same book can be separately copyright protected. In the case of most of the books pertinent to genealogy, there is very little benefit from copyright protection. If you publish a personal family history, for example, yes, you have a copyright. But why would you want to protect the contents from being copied? If you think you are going to write the great American novel, perhaps, but considering the literary value of most of the family histories I have looked at, I don't think commercial viability is an issue.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A New Look for FamilyHistoryExpos
Family HistoryExpos has a new look that appears to be a lot more functional and informative. You should take some time to explore all the options of this updated format. For example, the link to Research Guides takes you this page.

Perhaps you were unaware that all of these resources were available. In addition, there is a link to the upcoming virtual family history conference called "Pirates of the Pedigree." The conference link takes you to a page with all of the information about this Conference that will be held from October 15th to October 20th, 2018.
You should also check out Holly Hansen's YouTube Channel. She is the President of Family History Expos and has over 50 videos available. I should also mention that I am also on the Board of Directors and have been an active contributor to Family History Expos for many years.
Check out both the website and the YouTube Channel, you might be surprised at what you will find.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel logs over 500,000 Views
Having 500,000 views on may seem like small potatoes, but for the Brigham Young University Family History Library it is a milestone. There are now close to 400 videos with more being regularly added to the collection.
I have only been doing one webinar a month while here in Annapolis, Maryland working at the Maryland State Archives as a FamilySearch Document Preservation Specialist, but others at the BYU Family History Library have been regularly contributing. You can also see a list of the videos on the BYU Family History Library website. Many of these have been made available so they can be viewed in Chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since is usually blocked in the Chapels.

If you have a suggested topic for a future video, you can leave me a comment or contact me on Facebook or email me and I will make sure the topic is considered.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Case Studies in Migration: Part Ten: The Interstate Highway System

By SPUI - National Atlas, Public Domain,
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act.  The Act originally authorized the spending of $25 billion for the construction of a 41,000-mile interstate highway system across the country. One of the original stated purposes was to provide access for the defense of the United States in the event of a land-based attack. The map above is from the National Atlas, now part of the National Map of the U.S. Geological Survey of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Stepping back a few years, one of the first transcontinental roads was the Lincoln Highway that was dedicated in 1913 and ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco and crossed 13 states. The original highway was 3,389 miles long. It was mostly replaced by the currently designated Interstate 80.

One use of a map of the Interstate Highway system for genealogists may not be very obvious. A map of the Interstate Highway system shows that the highways roughly follow the historic wagon roads and thereby indicate the overall migration patterns of the United States. This can be dramatically seen in the juxtaposition of the Beale Wagon road of 1857, Historic Route 66, the BNSF Railroad (formerly the Santa Fe Railroad), and Interstate 40:

The faint line in between Interstate 40 and Historic Route 66 is the old Beale Wagon Road and it is still visible as a wagon track across the desert. It is extremely important to understand how and why people moved from place to place in any country. Researching your ancestors and other relatives involves finding documents and the only way you can find documents is to know where to look. If you have a person who appears in the record in California, unless they spoke Spanish, they came from somewhere else. The essence of learning about and making progress in genealogical research is discovering where to look for records. Migration patterns are one consistently helpful clue in tracking down elusive ancestors.

Here are links to the previous Case Studies:

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4:
Case #5:
Case #6:
Case #7:
Case #8:
Case #9:

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Your Grandmother's Name is not Private nor Secure

Do the terms private and secure and personal have anything in common? Yes, they are all used to describe things that are not private, not secure and not personal. For example, one common "security question" used by financial institutions is "What is your grandmother's (or grandfather's) first name?"
Anyone with a modicum of genealogical research experience realizes that finding a person's grandparents in public, online records is relatively easy for almost anyone in a developed country.

What else? Is your social security number personal, private, or secure? Hardly. It is a government issued number used mainly for government purposes and co-opted by numerous other agencies and business for identification. It is by definition public information. It is an outstandingly poor method of identification and having such a limited and archaic method of personal identification makes obtaining someone's Social Security Number essentially trivial.  Notwithstanding this unfortunate consequence, Social Security Numbers are so frequently "stolen" that they have become essentially meaningless. For example, at one point, my own Social Security Number was used as my student number in school and my ID number in the military. How private is that?

If anyone, including the United States government, really cared about identity theft and personal security, they would use a "secure" method of identifying people that relied on encryption and/or biometrics. We are stuck with 17th Century security methods in the 21st Century.

What about credit cards? Is your credit card number private, personal, or secure? Again, hardly. When was the last time you used your credit card to make a purchase? What happened to the information on your credit card when you gave it to the clerk in the store or pushed your card into an electronic slot? Do you really know? Where did you get your credit card? In the mail? From a bank or other financial institution? Do they have a record of your credit card number? Once again, that number is plainly public.

Can you really be secure, private, or have personal information? Not when we have to provide much of that same information for routine business, social, and other transactions. How long did it take you to fill out the form presented to you at the time of your last doctor's visit? Did you pay for the doctor's services with your credit card?

Identity theft is a crime only because of the way we ignore technology when we transact business in our world today. Can identity theft be prevented? Not as long as we continue to use outmoded and primitive methods for our business transactions.

Here is an example of a secure transaction.

Let's suppose I wanted to buy gas at a local service station. Today, all I would have to do is drive in, put my card and a "pin" number in the machine, usually my zip code (a very public number) and fill my tank with gas. How could this be made more secure? Hmm. How about two part ID? When I insert my credit card into the machine, it sends me a long randomly encrypted code number that triggers an app on my smartphone that requires me to use my thumbprint to proceed with the transaction. My phone then has to send another randomly encrypted number to the machine that then proceeds with the sale. What if any other sale, online or in person, required the same procedure.

This method might take a few seconds longer than what we do now. It might not be 100% effective, but it might stop a high percentage of the use of unauthorized credit cards. We have the technology to be secure, personal, and to some extent, private. But we do not use these methods because they might add an additional few seconds to a transaction or a few cents to the cost of transactions.

Do we really want to be secure or private? Good questions to ask. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

In Social Networking, Pinterest Rules

It seems to me that in the rapidly evolving social networking world that Pinterest and Instagram have become the venues of choice for most of the people around me. Granted, Facebook is still holding its own, but I watch my Pinterest site grow at percentages such as a 42% increase in daily viewers. I am also finding that I can get more information about my family faster by checking Instagram than I can through Facebook. I have been limiting my Instagram links so that the venue does not get clogged with non-family information but Pinterest is wide open. Since I am now posting to a large number of social networking venues, I have no idea how many people I am connecting with.

OK, so what about the blogs? I have been noting for some time now that the "golden age" of blogging has now passed. I continue to use blogs as my primary method of communicating because I like the ability to write, add photos and screenshots, and edit the content before publishing. But you might notice that I am trending more towards interaction on Facebook. I post all of my blog posts on my Genealogy's Star Facebook page.

The idea is to provide a one-stop-shop for content. As I return to Provo in a few weeks, I will be ramping up my involvement with both The Family History Guide and FamilyHistoryExpos. I just posted another webinar for the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel also.

Using Multiple Online Genealogy Programs to Find Your Ancestors

So you should not have any trouble finding me online.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Case Studies in Migration: Part Nine: The Homestead Acts

HR 125, An Act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain, March 25, 1862, printed House bill with Senate amendments RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate
The Homestead Acts, beginning in 1862, had more impact on the population of the country as a whole than almost any other government action, law, or policy. Here are some statistics from the National Park Service, Homesteading by the Numbers.
  • 10 Percent of U.S. land given away under the Homestead Act.
  • 30 Number of states in which homestead lands were located.
  • 40 Percent of homesteaders that "proved up" their claims earned a deed from the federal government.
  • 123 Years the Homestead Act was in effect.
  • 160 Acres in a typical homestead claim.
  • 4,000,000 Approximate number of claims made under the Homestead Act.
  • 27,000,000 Total number of acres distributed by the Homestead Act.
The Homestead States corresponded to the Federal Land States as opposed to the State Land States. The Federal Land was acquired after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In State-Land States, the land is still mainly owned by the individual states, mostly the original colonies, with the major exception of Texas. Here is a map of the two divisions.
If your ancestors settled in the homestead states during the early years of settlement, it is entirely possible that their motivation for moving was the promise of homestead land. There were a whole series of Homestead Acts. Here is a short summary of each of the acts. You can see more detailed information and a lot of citations in the Wikipedia article, "Homestead Acts.  I also suggest reviewing "How the West Was Settled," by Greg Bradsher for the National Archives.

Donation Land Claims Act of 1850

The Donation Land Claim Act allowed settlers to claim land in the Oregon Territory, that included land in the modern states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Wyoming. Settlers were allowed to claim 320 or 640 acres of land for free between 1850 and 1854, and then at a cost of $1.25 per acres until the law expired in 1855.

Homestead Act of 1862

The original homestead act that was motivated to move settlers into territory that the North wanted to preserve as "free states" starting during the Civil War. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:
The homestead was an area of public land in the West (usually 160 acres or 65 ha) granted to any US citizen willing to settle on and farm the land. The law (and those following it) required a three-step procedure: file an application, improve the land, and file for the patent (deed). Any citizen who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government (including freed slaves after the fourteenth amendment) and was at least 21 years old or the head of a household, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. Women were eligible. The occupant had to reside on the land for five years, and show evidence of having made improvements. The process had to be complete within seven years.
Southern Homestead Act of 1866

Again a politically motivated act aimed at giving land to poor tenant and sharecropper farmers in the South. See Southern Homestead Act of 1866.

Timber Culture Act of 1873

The Act granted up to 160 acres of land to a homesteader who would plant at least 40 acres (revised to 10) of trees over a period of several years. This quarter-section could be added to an existing homestead claim, offering a total of 320 acres to a settler. This offered a cheap plot of land to homesteaders. See Wikipedia: Timber Culture Act.

Kinkaid Amendment of 1904

Quoting from Wikipedia:
Recognizing that the Sandhills (Nebraska) of north-central Nebraska, required more than 160 acres for a claimant to support a family, Congress passed the Kinkaid Act which granted larger homestead tracts, up to 640 acres, to homesteaders in Nebraska. See Kinkaid Act.
Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909

the Enlarged Homestead Act was passed in 1909 to enable dryland farming. It increased the number of acres for a homestead to 320 acres of marginal lands (especially in the Great Plains), which could not be easily irrigated.

Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916

The Stock-Raising Homestead Act allocated settlers 640 acres for ranching purposes. See Stock-Raising Homestead Act.

Subsistence Homesteads provisions under the New Deal – 1930

Quoting from the Wikipedia article, "Subsistence Homesteads Division:"
The Subsistence Homesteads Division of the US Department of the Interior (DSH or SHD) was a New Deal agency that was intended to give safe residences to urban poor in small plots of land that would allow them to sustain themselves. Unlike subsistence farming, subsistence homesteading is based on a family member or members having part-time, paid employment.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ended homesteading;

The sales of public lands were conducted by the General Land Office or GLO. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a website with the GLO records. See General Land Office Records.

Here are links to the previous Case Studies:

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4:

Thursday, September 20, 2018

DNA Ethnicity Questioned in Lawsuit Against the US Department of Transportation

Quoting from an article on entitled, "A Man Says his DNA Test Proves He's Black, and He's Suing."
In 2014, Ralph Taylor applied to have his insurance company in Washington State certified as a “disadvantaged business enterprise.” The DBE program at the U.S. Department of Transportation was originally designed to help minority- and woman-owned businesses win government contracts. So as proof of his minority status, Taylor submitted the results of a DNA test, estimating his ancestry to be 90 percent European, 6 percent indigenous American, and 4 percent sub-Saharan African.
According to The Atlantic, his application was denied because he looked white and that he was unable to document any nonwhite ancestors. Other news articles about the lawsuit, such as this one from the entitled, "Lynnwood man tried to use a home DNA test to qualify as a minority business owner. He was denied -- now he's suing" classify the lawsuit as frivolous but the discussion in the article points out that the government has no solid basis for its determination of minority status. The Seattle Times article claims the following:
Some experts say there is little science behind DNA ethnicity results. 
“It’s quite scientifically inaccurate,” said Jennifer Raff, an assistant professor with the University of Kansas anthropology department. “Most in the scientific community would repudiate it.” 
She also said it’s misguided for people like Taylor to redefine themselves based on the results — and unethical to use them for minority applications and government contracts.
The genealogical community has embraced DNA testing as a fundamental tool of genealogical investigation. This lawsuit raises fundamental issues as to not only the reliability of DNA testing for establishing ethnicity but also raises some basic issues about our collective attitudes and beliefs about race.

It is important to point out that for many years in the United States, defining someone as an "African American or Black person" involved the assumption that "one drop" of Black blood made someone Black.

This lawsuit is just the beginning of the issues that will begin to be explored in the courts and the press about DNA.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Registration for RootsTech 2019 Now Open
You know what they say about early birds, but even if you aren't looking for worms, you can now take advantage of registration for the RootsTech 2019 Conference. There are several interesting options for expanded opportunities at the Conference. I would suggest that if you are thinking of coming, you should make hotel reservations early.

I am planning on physically being at RootsTech 2019, so I hope to see you there.

MyHeritage DNA now supports 23andMe and Family Tree DNA

DNA testing is only as valuable genealogically as you have people to compare tests. Adding more tests and more test subjects increases the chances you find a match (or a whole lot of matches). So it is a big deal that allows additional DNA test results to be added to their website. Of course, all this assumes that you have your family tree information on Taking a DNA test without having a supporting family tree is pretty useless genealogically speaking.

Here are some of the details of the announcement from MyHeritage's Blog post entitled,
"New: MyHeritage supports 23and Me v5 and Living DNA uploads."
We’re happy to announce another industry first from MyHeritage! We now support the upload of 23andMe v5 and Living DNA data files, in addition to supporting data uploads from all major DNA testing services, including Ancestry, 23andMe (prior to V5) and Family Tree DNA (Family Finder). 
Since 2016, MyHeritage has allowed users who have already tested their DNA to upload their DNA data from Ancestry, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. They receive DNA Matches and ethnicity estimates on MyHeritage for free. Our free upload service is a unique benefit not offered by any of these other companies. However, previously MyHeritage did not support the upload of tests based on the chip called GSA (Global Screening Array), now being used by 23andMe (v5), and by Living DNA. Recent improvements to our DNA algorithms now allow us to support DNA data processed on GSA chips, and so we now support uploads of 23andMe v5 and Living DNA data files. 
Uploading your DNA data to MyHeritage is fast and simple. For users that upload now, we offer full access to DNA Matching, Ethnicity Estimates, our industry-leading chromosome browser, and more, for FREE.
Please read the entire blog post because this "Free" offer will expire on December 1st, 2018. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Case Studies in Migration: Part Eight: The Second Great Migration

This is a derivative of UNDERSTANDING MEDIA AND CULTURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO MASS COMMUNICATION by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
The period of immigration from England to the American Colonies between 1620 and 1640 is generally called, "The Great Migration." But there is a second Great Migration from the Southern States after the U.S. Civil War and when the "Jim Crow" laws became unbearable. This second event is truly The Great Migration. It involved the movement of more than 6 million African Americans from the Southern States to the Northern States and California. This movement is generally considered to have begun about 1916 and continued until 1970. Interestingly, by 1970 another massive population movement was in full swing as people of all races migrated to the "sun belt" for work and escape the cold northern winters.

The underlying causes of this vast movement were the attitudes of the Southern States and the implementation of strict segregation policies as well as the economic conditions. Quoting from the website article, "Great Migration."
By the end of 1919, some 1 million blacks had left the South, usually traveling by train, boat or bus; a smaller number had automobiles or even horse-drawn carts. 
In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the black population of major Northern cities grew by large percentages, including New York (66 percent), Chicago (148 percent), Philadelphia (500 percent) and Detroit (611 percent).
Fortunately, for Genealogists, the time period involved has fairly good records and it possible in most cases to document the movement of the population. Research into the origin of the migrants should begin by accumulating information about the families in their destinations and not by jumping back to an assumed origin in the South unless that documentation already exists in the family's records.

Here is a better explanation of the process and the conditions of the migration from, "The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration."
The migration began, like the flap of a sea gull’s wings, as a rivulet of black families escaping Selma, Alabama, in the winter of 1916. Their quiet departure was scarcely noticed except for a single paragraph in the Chicago Defender, to whom they confided that “the treatment doesn’t warrant staying.” The rivulet would become rapids, which grew into a flood of six million people journeying out of the South over the course of six decades. They were seeking political asylum within the borders of their own country, not unlike refugees in other parts of the world fleeing famine, war and pestilence.
Continuing with another quote,
The refugees could not know what was in store for them and for their descendants at their destinations or what effect their exodus would have on the country. But by their actions, they would reshape the social and political geography of every city they fled to. When the migration began, 90 percent of all African-Americans were living in the South. By the time it was over, in the 1970s, 47 percent of all African-Americans were living in the North and West. A rural people had become urban, and a Southern people had spread themselves all over the nation.
The impact of this vast movement is still being felt today. Here is a map showing the changes in the African Americans' share of the population in major U.S. cities from 1910 to 1940 and from 1940 to 1970.

By US Census Bureau - US Census Bureau, Data Visualization Gallery,, Public Domain,
 Here is a list of books about the Great Migration.

African American Genealogy Group (Philadelphia, Pa.), and Pa.) Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (Philadelphia. “African American Genealogy Group Newsletter.” African American Genealogy Group Newsletter., 1990.

Bascom, Lionel C. Voices of the African American Experience. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Boehm, Lisa Krissof. Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration. Jackson: Univ Pr Of Mississippi, 2010.

Burroughs, Tony. Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree. New York: Fireside Book, 2001.

Clark-Lewis, Elizabeth. Living in, Living out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration. New York: Kodansha International, 1996.

Garb, Margaret. Freedom’s Ballot: African American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration, 2014.

Greenfield, Eloise, and Jan Spivey Gilchrist. The Great Migration: Journey to the North, 2011.

Hait, Michael. African American Genealogy Research. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2011.

———. African American Genealogy Research. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2011.

Harris, Laurie Lanzen. The Great Migration North, 1910-1970, 2014.

Harrison, Alferdteen. Black Exodus: The Great Migration from the American South. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Mack-Williams, Kibibi. African American History, 2017.

Trotter, Joe William. The African American Experience. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Here are links to the previous Case Studies:

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4:

A Final Goodbye to the Mesa FamilySearch Library

I spent ten years working at the Mesa FamilySearch Library aka Mesa Regional Family History Center aka Mesa Arizona Family History Center. During that time, the Mesa FSL served tens of thousands of patrons. The closing of the Library is a sad event. Think of all the resources both physical and in the minds of the volunteer missionaries that are now lost. The Mesa FSL had thousands of books, microfilm records, microfiche, maps, reference books, and other valuable resources as well as computers, classes, seminars, workshops, and a series of conferences. The October Conferences were always packed with hundreds of interested people anxious to hear their highly experienced presenters.

Most of all I am sad that the friends in the Mesa FSL will no longer be able to serve. Some of my best friends served with me during the time I was there in Mesa. I will always cherish and appreciate the kindness and friendship of these wonderful people. What can I say? A major genealogical institution has died!

I fully realize that there are plans to open a Family Discovery Center, but the resources of the Mesa FSL will not be duplicated. Of course, microfilm and microfiche are on their way out, but the books and the experience of the missionaries cannot be duplicated.

Thanks again to all who served for your wonderful and caring help to a whole generation of genealogists.

Another Home Run for Reclaim the Records

Here is a quote from part of the Reclaim the Records Newsletter announcing the availability of the New York State Birth Index, 1881-1942.
We made a Freedom of Information request to the New York State Department of Health a year ago, in September 2017, and it has finally been fulfilled. The data for 1881-1934 is online right now at the Internet Archive and the remaining data for 1935-1942 will be online by the end of this week. It's over 700 GB of high-resolution images, so it's been taking us a while to upload it all.
There is a long explanation of the process and some really disturbing issues raised by the arguably improper involvement of  Although it is apparent that has certainly interfered with the process of obtaining the records, there is a lawsuit pending that may shed more light on the situation. Here is a quote explaining what has happened so far.
Okay, so let's talk about the elephant in the room. A few of you might have noticed that commercial genealogy behemoth also put these new New York State birth index files on their website a few weeks ago. However, their image copies of these public records are, as usual, hidden behind their very expensive paywall. In comparison, all data that we at Reclaim The Records ever win or acquire is always published for free, explicitly in the public domain, and is even downloadable. 
As a rule, Ancestry refuses to give any credit for records sets that Reclaim The Records has targeted, acquired, and published over the past few years, even though we always share our data freely. So we think it's only fair to give a little backstory here. 
We believe Ancestry may have piggybacked on our 2017 FOIL request for these New York State birth index files, thereby getting "first dibs" access to the records (both the original microfiche sheets and the newly-digitized image files) before we did and before the general public. We know for a fact that this is what Ancestry did for an earlier record set from this same government agency, the New York State death index from the NYS DOH. For that set, we received copies of documents from the DOH showing that employees at Ancestry actually cut-and-pasted our own words from our FOIL request, and used our words for Ancestry's subsequent FOIL request, and then even had the state fulfill their request more than a year before ours. And they apparently did not face the same kind of restrictions the state had attempted to put on us, such as the inflated cost of the records, the "exploding offer" ten-day timeframe for providing payment, the sign-off from a state archivist, the condition of the microfiche scanning machine (!), and more. 
That whole sketchy situation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit of ours in the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, and you can read more about it in one of our previous newsletters. Should we win that lawsuit, we look forward to bringing to the public and the press any documentation we find about the state's financial dealings with Ancestry, which members of the press have described as a sweetheart deal. 
So, yes, they did get these records online first. But we got them online and free first, we very likely filed the original FOIL request first, and we didn't have to lift anybody's words or make a backroom deal with the state to do any of it.
 If you are interested at all in records in New York, please read the entire newsletter article. For comparison, here is's listing of the collection.

There is no mention of Reclaim the Records or of the same records on It is ethical for these websites to take freely available records, no matter how obtained, and put them behind a paywall? Think about it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Case Studies in Migration: Part Seven: Westward Expansion

By C. C. A. Christensen - Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Public Domain,
Manifest destiny was a driving force during the entire 19th Century in the United States. It was widely believed that the expansion of the United States was both justified and inevitable. One phrase that expresses this sentiment is "pushing back the wild frontier." However, conditions in the eastern part of the United States were not always conducive to the settlement of the huge number of immigrants arriving in the United States. This flood of people into the United States culminated during the period from 1880 to 1920 when over 20 million people came from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. Additionally, until around 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, there were no restrictions on the numbers of people who could enter the country.

The United States government facilitated the expansion with programs such as the Homestead Act and its successor legislation that gave land to anyone willing to pay a nominal price and build improvements. First, however, the land needed to be acquired by the United States. Here is a map showing the expansion and the time period of addition of each of the states.

By US gov - US gov, Public Domain,
The closing of the "frontier" is generally dated from the time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. But the expansion of the population of the country into the West began in earnest in the early 1800s. There is no real way to accurately estimate the number of people who crossed the Plains by wagon or by walking or by pulling handcarts, but the number can be seen by the numbers estimated for two of the main trails: the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail.

The Oregon Trail is a 2,170-mile large-wheel wagon route from the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. It is estimated that beginning in 1839, over 500,000 people emigrated along what became the trail. Another similar trail that followed the same general path came to be known as the Mormon Trail. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been driven from their homes by mobs in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois and fled to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake for protection. The numbers of Church emigrants is a little better documented and the Mormon Pioneer Emigration Facts website indicates that between 1847 when the exodus began and 1868 when the railroad reached Utah, about 60,000 to 70,000 people, usually referred to as pioneers, crossed the Plains in whole or in part in wagons, by walking, or by pulling handcarts.

These were not the only major routes for westward expansion. Here is a short list of the major routes and the dates when they were first established.

For genealogists, these trails and the fact of western expansion become a factor in locating and dating the movements of our ancestors. For example, in my own history, every one of my ancestral families traveled one of the trails to Utah and then some of them to Arizona before the railroads were established.

Of course, if your ancestors were already here in America when the Europeans arrived and had settled in the western part of the United States, you probably have an entirely different view of the idea of manifest destiny and westward expansion. This is a particularly important subject for me since I speak Spanish fluently, studied American Indian languages, and have worked extensively on Latin American and American Indian genealogy.

It is always a good idea for genealogical researchers to have a basic understanding of the movements of their ancestral families. Unfortunately, the subject of westward expansion became highly politicized during the later part of the 20th Century and much of the history has been discredited or rewritten from a political standpoint.

Here are some books for reference about the western expansion of the United States.

Behnke, Alison. A Timeline History of the Trail of Tears, 2015.

Billington, Ray Allen, and Martin Ridge. Westward Expansion a History of the American Frontier. New York; London: Macmillan ; Collier Macmillan, 1982.

Garavaglia, Louis A. To the Wide Missouri: Traveling in America during the First Decades of Westward Expansion. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme, 2011.

Harris, Irene. The Homestead Act and Westward Expansion: Settling the Western Frontier, 2017.

Hudson, John C. Making the Corn Belt: A Geographical History of Middle-Western Agriculture. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Morgan, Robert. Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion, 2011.

Morgan, Robert, David Drummond, and Hoopla digital. Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion. United States: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books : Made available through hoopla, 2011.

Olson, Steven P. The Oregon Trail: A Primary Source History of the Route to the American West. New York: Rosen Central Primary Source, 2004.

Otfinoski, Steven. A Primary Source History of Westward Expansion, 2015.

Sandler, Martin W, and Robert Barrett. Who Were the American Pioneers?: And Other Questions about Westward Expansion, 2014.

Torr, James D. Westward Expansion. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003.

Wexler, Sanford. Westward Expansion: An Eyewitness History. New York: Facts on File, 1991.

Woodworth, Steven E. Manifest Destinies: America’s Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.

Here are links to the previous Case Studies:

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4: