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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Will computers ever change genealogical methodology?

I have been reviewing a few of the books from my collection of older genealogical publications dating back into the early 1900s. It is always amazing to me how much of what is written accurately reflects exactly what is taught today as genealogical methodology. You would think that ever-advancing computers and software programs would have had more of an impact on genealogy than it apparently has. 

Now, what about all the online databases and family trees? What about DNA testing and matches? What about all of the online instructional classes and webinars? Well, all of that has failed to make significant changes to the basic genealogical research and recording process. An online family tree looks almost exactly like a paper pedigree chart and includes the same information about an individual as was asked for in the original family group records. Here is a pedigree chart from the following book published in 1915.

Genealogical Society of Utah. Lessons in Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1915, Page 53.

Although this is a descendancy chart and not one showing the ancestors for a specific individual, the information contained on the old chart is similar to what is shown today by descendancy pedigree such as this one from the Family Tree. the main difference is the older chart is vertical and horizontal and the newer Family Tree chart is entirely vertical. 

Although the Family Tree shows a landscape view, a portrait view, a fan chart view, and this descendancy view, they all essentially show the same information. So why is there a problem? With computers today, we could show each individual with a cloud (network) of relationships. Some desktop programs have tried to do this with more or less some degree of success. What is missing from this old standard pedigree view? Almost everything. For each individual, all we have is a name and some dates. Some of these people had multiple spouses. All of these people lived in a variety of locations during their lifetime. The list of things missing is reflected by all "features" of online programs that add maps, detail pages, source lists and etc. Nowhere is all of this information gathered together in one interactive view. I have to have half a dozen or more windows open on my screen to see all the information about any one individual. So I would envision a program that showed each individual as a cloud with connecting to photos, relationships (already available in some programs) but also showing a cloud of sources, maps of locations, and other information about the individual with a way to zoom out to a family (group of related people) view. Some of the programs, such as the Family Tree, now connect sources to multiple individuals, they map multiple locations, and they have connections to alternative family relationships (multiple spouses, etc.) but they do this using separate files and separate entry forms. Essentially, if I wanted to spend the time, I could duplicate all this on paper. In short, what we have today with all this computer power and the internet is a glorified paper system of doing genealogy. Almost all the online and desktop genealogy programs have done is add word processing ability and some interactive network connections to paper forms. 

We are still living in genealogical caves. The forms we use online are the same as those used by genealogists and proto-genealogists for centuries. Of course, if you want to preserve information you need forms but there is no reason to stop with pages of entry forms. It not really a major step from the form in the 1915 publication and the form on the Family Tree. 
Where have I seen this idea displayed? The answer is not very genealogical but the best representation of the idea is in the Iron Man and Avengers movies and visual computers used by Tony Stark. Even though you might think this is science fiction or even fantasy, we could do this today with the powerful computers we already have. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Sixth Generation Barrier

A complete pedigree of six generations, counting yourself as the first generation, would have a total of 62 people including your parents and not counting you. If you count your parents as the first generation the total number of people would be 126 but normally, you are counted as the first generation in genealogical methodology. See FamilySearch Research Wiki, Genealogy Numbering Systems (National Institute). Now, the number of additional people, including the descendants of all those grandparents, can be in the thousands. Here is a chart from the FamilySearch Research Wiki articles I just cited. 

How far back in time would you go to research all of your 3rd great-grandparents (the sixth generation)? The answer to that question also depends on how long each generation lived and when they had their first child and if you are descended from the first or last child in the family. Also, whether or not you end up with 62 people depends on available records and whether or not the mother or father of a direct line ancestor is known at all in any record. Many genealogists think they have completed their genealogy when they get back a few generations of one or two lines, usually their paternal and maternal surname lines. When you realize that the sixth-generation number means that you have far more surnames, in fact, 32 to be exact unless someone managed to marry a cousin. 

I can give an example of the birthdates of my sixth generation ancestors. The most recent date is 1829. The most remote date is 1761. To go back one more generation and identify their 124 parents you would have to research back into the early 1700s on every line. By the way, because the numbers, at least, double every generation, automatically have an exponential increase in the amount of research and an equal increase in the difficulty of finding and researching the records. 

It is quite common when people find out I do a lot of genealogy, to ask me "how far back to you have your genealogy?" I usually give a vague answer because if all I had done for the last forty years was to work on one ancestral line and assuming that the line did not end or records run out, I could be back quite some time. But in the real world of my own genealogy, some of my ancestral lines end in the seventh generation simply because there are no more records. Genealogy is not a game to see who can go back the furthest or accumulate the most names. 

If you work back systematically and not only document all of your ancestors but also all of their descendants, you will have plenty of work to do in the first six generations. Fortunately, we can pick and choose which family lines we want to focus on. 

Let's suppose that your goal is to find a royal line or "prove" that your ancestor was a famous person. Then you probably don't care about all the other names or family lines and you will be missing almost everything there is about genealogical research that makes it interesting and challenging. Finding out that your ancestors were poor tenant farmers or coal miners may not be as impressive to some as finding a royal ancestor, but it is a lot more of a challenge when you do find someone as difficult to find as the common people beginning in the mid to early 1700s. Since none of sixth-generation ancestors left a lot of money to their children or grandchildren, I have learned to find out about them and their lives and that is wealth enough for me. 

If you have a well-documented genealogy going back six generations on every line, you have really accomplished something very few people can or would want to do. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Getting the most out of historical records

How do we wring the last drop of information out of historical (genealogically significant) records? If you happen to be using one of the more popular genealogical database and family tree programs, you are probably getting a lot of record hints. In most cases, the record hint technology has advanced to the point that they are fairly accurate. But if you simply click on the record link and give it a cursory review and then attach it as a "source," you may be ignoring and losing the full benefit of information supplied.

Let me give a few examples of the in-depth information that is likely lurking in those ignored records. Granted, if you have a great deal of genealogical research experience and use a large variety of record types, you probably know how to read a record for content but if you haven't looked carefully at the existing records attached to an individual or family and wrung them dry, you will benefit from a more detailed examination. Here I go with the examples. The first one is a commonly used U.S. Federal Census Record. 

This is a page from the 1900 U.S. Census taken in the St. Joseph Precinct, Navajo County Territory of Arizona. What can this Census record tell us other than the obvious fact that my ancestor's family lived in this location on the date the record was created? Some of this additional information only becomes of interest when we ask a series of questions about the record. 

A record such as this one was not created in insolation from every other event in my ancestor's life. This particular record is, in a sense, a snapshot of one day in the life of my ancestral family. To fully understand the record and glean all of the available information, we need to know a lot about the history of the area and the history of the families that appear in the record. As we continue to gather records, we will begin to have an increased insight into the details contained on this particular record we may have missed in our first brief review. 

My ancestor is Henry Martin Tanner. He is shown with his wife Eliza E Tanner and nine of his children. The record indicates that both Henry and his wife, Eliza, were born in California. There is no information about the birthplaces for Henry's parents, but Eliza's parents were said to have been born in England. Remember, a census record is a record that was created by a census enumerator and the person supplying the information may or may not have accurately known the information supplied. But if start to look at this record, we will see more about the individuals and the family as a whole. 

We should continue to examine each entry for each person in the family. The children were all born in Arizona. This information gives us a sense of the continuity of the family but also raises a question about the birthplace of the parents in California. It appears that even though the parents were both born in California something must have happened to have all the children born in a very small and isolated town in Arizona. It is also significant that all four of the older children are designated as being "at school." Looking at all of the entries suggests that further information about the family might come from school records, records in California, and in the case of Eliza's parent records in England or elsewhere. 

To add some outside information, Eliza's parents emigrated from England and lived in Australia where they joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and travel to America where they ended up living in San Bernardino, California where Henry's parents had also settled. In 1857, the United States government sent an army led by Albert Sydney Johnston to put down a rebellion in Utah. As a result of this military action, the members of the Church who lived in California were "called home" to Utah and some of the families including Eliza's family and Henry's family moved to Utah. This event is the basis for the seeming anomaly of the parents' birthplace. 

Perhaps you can begin to see how much history is wrapped up in just a few entries in this census record. Now, what else it there? Census records in 1900 were systematically enumerated, that is, the enumerator went up and down the streets in the town so the people who appear on this sheet lived physically close to my ancestral family. Right next door, there is another Tanner family, Emma E. Tanner and her four children. Who is Emma Tanner? She is the plural wife of Henry Martin Tanner. The four children are Henry's four additional children by his second wife. Interestingly, these children's' parents were both born in Utah. Emma's family also was born in England and then emigrated to Australia and then to America so her parents were born in England but the father of her children was not born in Utah. He was born in California. Why Utah? Now, we get into a lot of history. The simple explanation is that whoever gave this information lied about the father's birthplace because plural marriage or polygamy was illegal at that time in Arizona. 

Who else shows up on this same census page? Martin Tanner Jr. and his wife Prudence. Martin Ray Tanner was the oldest son of Henry and Eliza but he was not a junior at all. This process can go on and on. If I examined the rest of the census pages for St. Joseph (now Joseph City), I would find even more relatives and more implied history. There are only four pages of the census from the St. Joseph Precinct. 

Of course, this census record suggests looking for birth records if they exist, church records, newspaper records, probate records, marriage records, death records, and many other records of different types. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Comments on truth in genealogy

This post follows one entitled, "Truth, Reality, Proof, and Genealogy," that I wrote back in 2016. 

At a time in our history in the United States when the issue of "fake news" has become a political battle cry for some, it is a good idea to generally review the concept of truth and how that concept applies to history and more specifically to genealogy. Genealogists like to throw around terms such as "truth," "evidence," and "proof." They (we) also like to consider that their (our) "evidence" proves our version of history. 

There is a huge body of writings on the subject of truth, but I am going to narrow down the concept to only those aspects of truth that directly relate to historical and genealogical investigations.  The concept of historical or genealogical truth presupposes some sort of reality that is independent of any one individual's concept of that reality. Truth is what ends up recorded in documents. If there are no records there is no truth, only speculation and ultimately fantasy. From this statement, you can understand the problem that occurs in an online family tree website, such as the Family Tree when there is "information" or entries in the Family Tree and no "sources" indicating where that information came from.

I mentioned that I am not going into Aristotle or all that, but if you want a fairly good summary of the subject of truth you can read an article appropriately entitled, "Truth" from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I would guess that my view of historical/genealogical truth is called the correspondence theory. Here is a short definition of that theory from the article I just cited.
The basic idea of the correspondence theory is that what we believe or say is true if it corresponds to the way things actually are – to the facts.
In this case, what things actually are consist of documents and records. But what if the records or documents are "wrong" i.e. untruthful or false? Well, then we have no basis for determining what is or what is not the truth. What if there are no records at all? I already answered that question. No records = No truth. Hmm, but what if the records disagree? There we go, now we are getting to the real issue of doing historical/genealogical research. When does truth become opinion? Now you can dress all this up in some claptrap using legalese (as I have also written about extensively) but it still turns out to be opinion when records disagree or when there are no records. Essentially, you have discovered the "truth" when you convince yourself your conclusions (opinions) are right or correct. 

I am also staying away from any "religiously" established truths in this post. That is a private, individual process. From the standpoint of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our 9th Article of Faith states:
9 We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
 Many genealogists can relate stories of finding information in unusual ways but this is not what I am writing about in this post but I do acknowledge and believe that we can learn the truth in ways that do not involve historical records. 

Now we need some examples. Here is a simple one to start out.

What was this person's name? What is his birthdate? Where was he born? Is this information truthful (i.e. correct)? Now, here is the harder question to answer. Is there any other document or record that shows a different name, birthdate, or birthplace? And here is the followup question, how would you know if some document with different information exists? 

Would you be justified in entering this information into an online family tree as the truth? Why or why not? By the way, I almost always refrain from asking why questions. The answer to a why question hardly ever reflects any kind of correspondent truth in genealogy. 

Here I get into the idea of "consistency." Truth is usually consistent with all of the information we obtain about a historical or genealogical event. All you have at present about this person is this one document or record. We have to assume that you or I will find more documents about this person and as we do, we can judge (make an opinion) about the consistency of the information. This is a simple example but there are a lot of cases when the date of a person's birth is not as well documented or as easily obtained. As we research records back in time, finding a birth record becomes harder and harder until finding an accurate or explicit record is nearly impossible because no such record exists. 

This brings up the Second Rule of Genealogy: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive. We can turn that around a little and say absence of a birth record does not mean that the person never lived. So the idea of truth is flexible enough to adjust to situations where there are no records about individual events or even when the records that do exist are in dispute. 

So what is the methodology here? First, we need to find a genealogically significant record with the information about an event in our ancestor's or relative's life. Next, we need to form an opinion about the reliability of the information in the record. Then we record the information with an attached explanation (source) identifying the record and telling everyone where we found it. We need to keep working on finding more records until we die. Pretty simple!

Do we really need to worry about truth in doing genealogical research? Think about it yes, worry about it no. What we really need to worry about is whether or not the records we find justify our opinions and conclusions. Why shouldn't we worry so much about the "truth?" The answer is found in the Fourth Rule of Genealogy: There are always more records and when you find the next record it may completely revise your entire opinion about your ancestor or relative. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

How Many Records in the World have been digitized? A Cautionary Tale

When I began digitizing records now quite a few years ago, I also began noticing the claims of the large online digital databases about the huge number of documents and records being digitized and included in their collections. As the numbers increased, it seemed that most of the records we needed to do genealogical research were now online. As the numbers of digitized records continue to increase into the billions upon billions, you might get the impression that we have made a significant dent in the world's paper records but it turns out that the whole process has just barely started. 

Why is this the case? One example was the year my wife and I spent digitizing records for FamilySearch at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland. Our team of four cameras likely digitized close to 20 million probate records. This may seem like a significant number, but the number left to digitize was many magnitudes larger. In fact, the number of digitized records from that one archive are still a very small percentage of the entire collection. 

While living in Annapolis, Maryland, we had a number of opportunities to visit both the Library of Congress and the National Archives. I had an opportunity to discuss the number of digitized records available from the Library of Congress with a knowledgeable staff person. Again, the percentage of records and books digitized is a vanishingly small percentage of the total number of documents. You can also see the number of digitized records on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA or National Archives) website. You have to work through the difference between digital preservation and the digitizing of paper documents. To the National Archives, digital preservation means the preservation documents in digital format. 

No one really knows how many documents are stored by the National Archives but here is a relatively recent estimate from the article entitled, "About the National Archives of the United States."
NARA keeps only those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.
The percentage of textual records that have been digitized is vanishingly small compared to the number of records in the National Archives' collections, despite a number of Digitization Partnerships. Obviously, only some of all the documents in the National Archives are genealogically important or even interesting but there are huge collections that are interesting to genealogists that are still on paper. 

When I visit archives, libraries, and historical societies, I often try to determine how much of the collection is digitized and available online. I am usually disappointed to learn that some large, extremely valuable collections are "waiting" to be digitized due to budget constraints or other issues. 

In addition, just because documents are digitized, it does not mean that they are online and/or available to the public. Use restrictions and paywalls are common. For example, some of the "partners" listed by the U.S. National Archives are commercial websites with subscription requirements. If you start searching for digital records on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website you will soon be linked out to another website. The number of documents actually available on the National Archives website is very small. 

The summary of all this is simple. Dedicated genealogists who are involved in extensive research will inevitably end up exhausting online resources and will likely have to travel to specific archives, libraries, historical societies, county courthouses, and many other locations to look at microfilm or paper records. They number of digitized records has decreased my personal need to travel but not eliminated it. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Plumbing the Depths of the FamilySearch Catalog

This is another in the "Plumbing the Depths" series of posts. This post is about the Catalog, the window to the entire collection of records on the website as well as the contents of the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. The highlighted notice at the top of the Catalog page shown above reflects the closure of the Library and all the local Family History Centers due to the worldwide pandemic. 

I am still amazed to talk to people who profess and interest in their family's genealogy that are not familiar with the free website. I am more than aware of the ambivalent attitudes towards the FamilySearch Family Tree, but free records online are a bonanza and especially when there are billions of them. Here are some current statistics about the records on the website.
  • Digital images published in FamilySearch's Historic Collections online 1.43 Billion
  • Digital Images published only in the FamilySearch Catalog online 1.8 Billion
  • Number of searchable historic record collections online 2,845 Collections
  • Number of searchable records 5.07 Billion
  • Number of digital books  489k
Granted, other websites claim more records but the records are behind a paywall. Actually, the records on the website are, in many cases, unique since microfilming of the records began in 1938, long before computers and digitization. Some of the records may no longer be available anywhere else in the world. Nearly all of the previously microfilmed records are now available in digital format. 

However, it is always important to remember that the number of records claimed for a website are meaningless if the website doesn't have the records you need or are looking for. That brings me to the Catalog. You don't know what is in the catalog until you actually look and looking may involve a fairly high degree of background and experience. 

There huge collection of records on the FamilySearch website is divided into two main categories: those records that are indexed and those records that are only available in the Catalog. If you look at the statistics I cited above, you will quickly see that there are more records in the Catalog that are available only as digital unindexed images than there are indexed images in the Historic Record Collections. This means that if you search for the name of your ancestor, you are absolutely missing all of the other potential records in the Catalog that are yet unindexed. What this means is that anyone who really wants to find their ancestors is going to have to follow traditional genealogical research methodology and search the digitized records page by page and name by name. This is what I mean by plumbing the depths. 

Let me give an example. I have a relative who was born on 27 June 1856 in Yadkin, Rowan, North Carolina, United States. I did searches for this person and relied on automatic record hints using the Historic Record Collections and found 33 sources. However, those records are limited to census, marriage, deaths, and burial records. Now, if I look in the Catalog, I will see a whole world of other record types that are available. Here is a series of screenshots of the different levels of records available from North Carolina. First, all of the records from the state level of North Carolina.

Perhaps this gives you an idea of what you are missing by stoping with name searches. But there is more. There is a link at the top of this long list to "Places within United States, North Carolina." This menu lists all of the North Carolina counties. 

Now, I can choose Yadkin County. Here are the categories of records from Yadkin County in addition to the records available on the state level. 

Here you can see Bible records, Biographies, Business records, Cemeteries, Court Records, and so forth. All of these categories of records should be examined and searched if they correspond to the time period when my relative lived in the county. Wait. There are more records. You can see a link to "Places within United States, North Carolina, Yadkin."

I can then get records from each of the towns listed. Here is one example from Boonville. 

Granted in this location there are not a lot more records but if there was a big city in the county, there would be a lot more records at this level. After reviewing and searching all the records at all these levels, you have now just begun your search. You have the rest of the internet with records that may have links to records about that particular area. You cannot dismiss FamilySearch as a record source until you have searched every single record in North Carolina or wherever you are looking. 

Now to repeat. That is what I mean when I write about plumbing the depths. You have to know that the depths are there and actually do the searches. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Where is British Colonial America? What do we mean by standardization?

Fantasy World

Some of the online genealogy family tree programs suggest geographic locations when a user begins to enter information into an entry that calls for a place where an event occurred. In the case of, the suggested places are entitled "Standardized Place." The Help Center has an article entitled,  "How do I enter dates and places into Family Tree?" The first sentence reads:
Using standard formats for dates and places in Family Tree improves the accuracy and searchability of the information you enter.
The article goes on to explain how to enter dates and place standards. However, there is also a statement that says the following:
The database of standard places is not yet complete. The standards will improve over time.
It is a physical reality that every event in a person's life occurs within a specific location. Technically, that location could be identified by a geocoordinate system. But genealogy is history and history deals with records and documents that record events. The main activity of genealogical research is discovering the history, as recorded in those records and documents, of individuals and families. There is a one to one correspondence between genealogy and records and documents. Human memory is fallible and evanescent, without documents knowledge of our ancestors would soon disappear notwithstanding the preservation of oral histories. Many people I deal with cannot tell me the full names of their own grandparents and it is very unusual to find anyone who can tell me more than a few names of their great-grandparents. 

Although I have written about the subject many times, it seems that what I write is never enough. Discovering the information that does exist about individuals and families in the past is the main challenge of genealogical research. The key to this discovery process is a systematic investigation of existing records and documents and proceeding individual by individual, generation by generation documenting every possible event in each person's life. The entire research process depends on accurately discovering the exact location of specific events. What is this the case?

Here is the rule again. Genealogically significant documents and records are created at or near the time and place of an event by someone who either witnessed the event or has some duty to report the event. Records and documents created at either a time or place that is removed from the actual event tend to be less reliable than those that are created at or near the place and time of the event. These rules are not absolute but accurate genealogical research depends on connecting the place of the event with possible existing records and documents. 

For example, if my ancestor's name was Thomas Parkinson and that was all I knew about him, where would I find records and documents concerning his life? Think about it. Where would you begin to look? How about just picking anyone with the name of Thomas Parkinson and choosing that person to be your ancestor? What are the chances that you would make a valid guess? I might mention that this is just about the level of some genealogical research that I frequently run into. 

Now, what about standardization? The list of possible locations in the world is practically endless. For example, how many mailing addresses do you think there are in the world? In addition, how many geographic place designations are there in the world? How many places in the world can billions of people be born, married, and die? Now, why would anyone try to "standardize" all that information? Good question. 

Before going on too much further, I need to remind everyone of two genealogy standards. First, place names should reflect the name of the place at the time of the event, and place names should always begin with the smallest geographic or jurisdictional area. 

If I go back to the statement I copied at the beginning of this post, the reasons for standardization are accuracy and searchability. Accuracy is good but who needs searchability? Well, we all do but we do not need to sacrifice accuracy for searchability. Right now, with a database of standards that is far from complete, adding a standard may actually result in a loss of information. I am talking about the standardization of place names, not dates. Dates are relatively straightforward and subject to standardization but places are not. Here is an example from the Family Tree.

Birth  27 July 1757 Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island, British Colonial America

This is a standardized place with a standardized date but the question is, is it accurate? The process of determining the accuracy of the place names includes researching each level of the jurisdictional place named to see when they were originally established. It evident that before the European immigrants came to America, none of these "places" had European derived names. OK, here we go with the research. You will likely find the results rather messy.

Hopkinton is a town in the present location of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the official name of the state). Quoting from Wikipedia: Hopkinton, Rhode Island: "Hopkinton is named after Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations when the town was partitioned from Westerly and incorporated in March, 1757. Hopkinton consists of four villages, Ashaway, Bradford, Hope Valley, and Rockville. Rhode Island (Remember the Official name is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) was granted statehood on May 4, 1776. Notice the birthdate above, 27 July 1757. Kings County was created in 1729. Hopkinton is presently in Washington County but Kings County was renamed Washington County in 1781. So, yes, Hopkinton was in Kings County in 1757 but the birthdate could be before Hopkinton was incorporated. 

Now, what about "British Colonial America?" Well, there is no such place with that name. As you can see from the research explanation, the name of the Colony was the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Why do we need another colony designation? The Colonies are known as The Thirteen Colonies or The Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies or technically they were part of Great Britain and could also be called the British American Colonies. As I have pointed out previously on this topic, why is there no Spanish Colonial America or French Colonial America? The real answer is that none of these names were actual names at the time the colonies existed. 

So where was the person born on the date of 27 July 1757 actually born? Want to take a try at coming up with the most accurate name? Is the Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island, British Colonial America name accurate?

Friday, July 17, 2020

DNA Helps to Solve an Ancestral Mystery

There are two components to receiving any genealogical benefits from a DNA test: the actual test itself and the relationships shown by having your well-researched family tree on the website with your DNA test. In writing about this particular incident, I am constrained by the need to avoid creating a family conflict due to long-standing family traditions and the idea that I am promoting one DNA test website over some others. So I will not identify the family or the DNA website.

The situation was this. One of my great-grandparents (could be more than one great) was reportedly adopted. There was a family story that he could have been the illegitimate son of one of the daughters in the family. There was only one church record with the notation that he was adopted. So there was a mystery as to whether either or both of these stories were correct. Both my great-grandparent and his sister were married and had children and through some interesting circumstances, I am related to both lines (i.e. cousins married). 

Research by one of my daughters disclosed a potential candidate birth event showing that this great-grandparent was very likely adopted. However, when we accumulated quite a bit of DNA matches it was obvious that he was adopted. None of the descendants of his sister matched and of his own descendants. Mystery solved. There are 40 DNA matches of the family that came through the sister and 12 DNA matches for the family that came through the great-grandparent. None of these matches overlap indicating that the two lines are not related through the sister's parents. In addition, my daughter was able to find DNA matches with the descendants of the assumed father of the adopted child. 

This may seem a bit complicated but it is an interesting illustration of how DNA tests plus careful research can unravel and difficult problems. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What's Happening with Genealogically Oriented Publications?

As digitized books, newspapers, journals, and magazines became available online, there was a lot of speculation about the demise of paper publications. Despite claims to the contrary, genealogy has never been an overwhelming popular topic but the number of genealogy specific publications is still extensive. This brings me to PERSI or the Periodical Source Index which is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. Created by the staff of the Allen County Public Library Foundation and the ACPL’s Genealogy Center. PERSI has about 2.7 million entries by surname and location organized in a 16 volume set covering from 1847 to 1985. Fortunately, you can also search the Periodical Source Index on The index list of results is free to the public.

But what about the journals and books? Well, if you want to find genealogical books and journals, you should use

So let's suppose that you wanted a list of genealogy journals and magazines. Just do a Google search in Google Books. A free app called will let you collect a bibliography on any topic or subject. There are several YouTube videos online that show how to use this invaluable app. Here is a list of a few of the genealogy journals produced by Zotero from a Google Book search. By the way, these journals and magazines are valuable even if they are no longer in print. You can also find copies of some of them online in digital format. 

Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Washington. D.C. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society., 1988.
Genealogical Journal of Jefferson County, New York. Family Tree, 1998.
Hispanic Genealogical Journal. Hispanic Genealogical Society of Houston, 2006.
Ancestry Inc. Ancestry Magazine. Ancestry Inc, 2002.
Journal of Genealogy. Anderson Publishing Company, 1976.
National Genealogical Society. “National Genealogical Quarterly (NGSQ).” Accessed July 13, 2020.
New York Genealogical & Biographical Society. “NYG&B Record.” Accessed July 13, 2020.
The American Genealogist. New Haven, CT: D. L. Jacobus, 1937-. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009 - .)
The Genealogical Magazine: A Journal of Family History, Heraldry, and Pedigrees. Elliot Stock, 1900.
American Society of Genealogists. “The Genealogist.” Accessed July 13, 2020.
The New England Historical & Genealogical Register and Antiquarian Journal. S.G. Drake, 1873.
Toledot: The Journal of Jewish Genealogy. Toledot Press, 1981.

Of course, there are whole libraries of books about genealogy and genealogical research not counting all the contents of all the archives and record repositories in the world. You will never run out of things to learn about genealogy. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

A New Rule of Genealogy Discovered: Number Thirteen

Here are the previous 12 Rules.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
As I said back in November of 2019, you never know, there might be another rule somewhere out there in the genealogical universe waiting to be discovered. Well, here it is:

Rule Thirteen: Genealogists abhor a blank field

Other than my obvious borrowing from the old scientific saying from physics known as, horror vacui, or plenism, commonly stated as "nature abhors a vacuum," attributed to Aristotle, this came to me as I was correcting entries in the Family Tree. It seems like some genealogists are compelled to fill in a blank even if they have no idea what should go there. Hmm. I might say that some people are compelled to fill in a blank even if they have no idea what should go there and not attribute all that extra stuff to genealogists but in my experience, it is genealogists that obsess over empty fields such as birthdates before there could possibly have been any birth records. 

Genealogy should be source-based. This means that when we add information (an event) to our family tree, it should be based on a valid historical source not just our speculation about the event. You might want to look at Rule Two (above) and think about the fact that empty fields may simply reflect the last of a record and not a failing on the part of the researcher. 

Take some time to think about what you are adding to your own family tree and take some more time to think about what you add to an online public family tree. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Nine: The persistence of birth

Mayflower II in the Plymouth, Massachusetts Harbor (my photo)

Richard Warren KXML-7XC, a Mayflower passenger is another of my Revolving Door Ancestors. Here are some quotes about his birth. 
Richard Warren's English origins and ancestry have been the subject of much speculation, and countless different ancestries have been published for him, without a shred of evidence to support them. 
The Richard Warren Silver Book, Mayflower families through five generations. descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass. December 1620 Volume eighteen, part III, Volume eighteen, part III reads that Mourt's Relation states he was from London and that “This statement that he was from London is all we know about the origin of Richard Warren despite considerable research to learn more.” See Mayflower families through five generations. descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass. December 1620 Volume eighteen, part III, Volume eighteen, part III. 2001.
Genealogists abhor a blank field. A blank field on a family group record or a pedigree chart cankers the soul of the true genealogist. There is an overwhelming urge to fill the field even if the information is totally fabricated and has no valid historical source. If we don't know the exact place of an event, we will fill the blank with a state, province, or country. If we don't know the date we will guess and put "about." We are so conditioned to ambiguity and inconsistency that we will accept almost anything that even comes close to our guess or wish. 

Hmm. I just realized I have discovered a new Rule of Genealogy. See "An Update on the Rules of Genealogy" My statement above is now Rule Thirteen: Genealogists abhor a blank field.

Back to the Mayflower folks. Despite the fact that there have been over 100 years of "considerable research" no one has been able to find and confirm a birth record for Richard Warren and two more FamilySearch Family Tree users today (the date of this post) added two different birth dates and even one source for a christening record for a person named Richard Warren. Another Hmm. A quick look at shows that during the time period from 1560 to 1580 there were 779 men born with the name "Richard Warren" or a variation thereof. Only three of the results show a birth record and coincidentally, two have death dates in England. You can only hope. But there are no records connecting the one Richard Warren who might have lived with the one who was a passenger on the Mayflower.

If you think you are a descendant of one or more of the Mayflower passengers, you need to overcome your need to fill in the blank spaces and spend some time doing intensive research. Start by reading all the resources about the passenger online. Obtain a subscription to the New England Historic Genealogy Society and read everything you can find about the Mayflower and its passengers. Then start working back verifying every event in every person's life that you believe is a descendant of one of those passengers. If you do find that you are related, join me in helping to keep the entries about the passengers realistic and verified. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Free Access to All Birth Records on MyHeritage

MyHeritage announces the following:
We’re happy to announce that we’ll be offering free access to all birth records on MyHeritage from July 10–16, 2020!

MyHeritage boasts a vast treasure trove of 104 birth record collections, containing more than 1 billion records from all over the world. Birth records are a perfect place to start when researching your ancestors, offering an important glimpse into the moment when their lives began. Where did it happen? On what date, and at what time? Who was present for the birth, and who registered it? You might learn the answers to these questions from a birth record.
The notice goes on to explain:
Normally, most of these records are fully accessible only to paid subscribers of MyHeritage, but as of July 10 and ending July 16, you’ll be able to access them freely even if you’re not a paid subscriber. This is an excellent opportunity for users who have wanted to access birth records on MyHeritage but haven’t wanted to commit to a subscription.

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Eight: Working with the weekly Reports

Pilgrim Memorial State Park in Plymouth, Massachusetts

There are currently 188 people watching Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 and 544 past contributors. How many of them do you think agree on every detail of his life and his family? Once you have taken on a project to work with a "Revolving Door" ancestor or family, you probably will want to check your FamilySearch Family Tree messages and look at any particularly "changeable" ancestors more frequently than once a week. Getting upset or mad about the changes is nonproductive. Anyway, before you get mad, you should make absolutely sure that anything you do is supported by sources (in the plural) and makes sense. Make use of the Recents menu on the Family Tree to quickly review any changes. If you made the last change, then your name should be at the top of the list of Latest Changes. 

Here is an example of a weekly report. 

As you can see from the heading, this report includes changes to 15 people and has a total of 74 changes. As I pointed out previously with an early report, Most of those changes pertain to one individual, in my case, Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7. 

You can review a report like this in just a few minutes if you don't have a Revolving Door ancestor (or more) on the list. In the case of Francis Cooke, the changes can be fairly complex. I am guessing but after reviewing thousands of changes over the years, I believe that only about 10% or less have a supporting source. The most frequent changes almost never have a source listed supporting the change. This particular list took me just a few minutes to review. Except for Francis Cooke, the rest of the changes were adding sources or similar activities. 

If those people who were correcting the incorrect changes would have taken one more step, then the number of changes would have gone down by now. As I have noted in previous posts. it is important to explain to the person making the wrong change why their change was wrong. Usually, a short answer is not enough. I compile a set of "standard" responses to the most common changes and have them in a program or file that I can access easily. I copy the response and use it as the reason for me changing the error and also send a copy of the reason to the person who made the improper change. I only very occasionally get any response back but I notice that the person seldom makes the same change again. 

What about those people out there who are certain that their information is correct and continue to change it back? I have found the sending longer and longer explanations usually helps but sometimes you just have to last them out and keep correcting the entry until they get tired of the process. I never get tired of the process. With an ancestor such as Francis Cooke, you cannot expect to see any results from your efforts for months or even years of work. But slowly, the old PAF files and GEDCOM files are exhausted and no one has anymore basis for taking an interest in your and their ancestor. 

It certainly helps if there are other relatives who are willing to assist in the process but don't count on that happening. If you do find someone correcting bad entries and supporting changes with valid sources, it is a good idea to send them a thank you note. 

It is extremely important that you do all the research and know more than you think is even reasonable about the people you support in this way. Don't be part of the problem. By the way, do not ever use a Mayflower Society Application as a supporting source for a change. Always go to original contemporary, if possible, sources. 

See previous posts


Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five: