Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sometimes You Just Have to Pay for a Record

Not everything in life is free.  Genealogy can be expensive, however, IMHO, it has become much less expensive than at any time in the past.  Folks who don't want to spend money on a subscription can use the library edition of at their local library.  Sure, it's not the same as an individual subscription but it suffices for the hobbyist. is free to anyone who create an account.  There are lots of records available for no cost online but we are far from the day when everything is available on the web.

Last weekend, my local genealogy society offered it's family help day.  Seven of us spent the afternoon assisting interested folks in overcoming their brick wall.  Maybe because it was such a beautiful spring day, our turnout was much lower than usual.  I only assisted 2 people all afternoon.

The first woman I assisted had a lengthy handwritten letter written in the 1960's that contained EXACT QUOTES purportedly said by a Revolutionary War patriot.  We talked about kernels of truth in family lore and how it was unlikely that the letter writer had firsthand knowledge of a conversation that occurred nearly 200 years earlier.  

Since the woman wanted her granddaughter to join the DAR, I went to their nifty ancestor search and lo and behold, there were several women who had joined based on the named individual.  She was delighted.  I provided her with the contact information for a local chapter that assists interested people at a nearby library.  I then explained what she would need to bring them - her granddaughter's birth certificate, her daughter's and her birth and marriage record, and back to whoever the last connection to the DAR member was.  She was reluctant to have to pay for any vitals.  Unfortunately, there just is no way around that.

The next inquirer had done extensive research and I was pleased that he had brought it with him.  He had three needed items - a probate record, a naturalization record and a marriage record.  He knew where and how to obtain the documents that were not online.  He just felt it was unfair to pay a New York City church $50.00 for the marriage record, the District of Columbia court for the probate record and the US Federal government for the naturalization record.  He inquired how he could find a back door for the records.  There isn't one.  The owner of the records sets the price based on how they value the record or the cost they believe they incur for someone to go in the archives and retrieve it.  He was not happy to hear that.  I suggested he prioritize which ones he wanted to obtain and pay based on his need.  I also recommended he ask family to give him those records for his birthday, Father's Day and other holidays.  He laughed.  Truly, family never knows what to give those interested in genealogy.  I'm sure they'd be happy to help in giving a gift that is truly meaningful. 

Both of these folks did not have a brick wall; they had a reluctance to spend money on a needed record.  Sometimes, you just have to pay to get what you need.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

DNA Has Changed My Habits...and not for the good, I'm afraid!

I just came to the realization that DNA has made me a lazy genealogist.  Here's why...

I have made public several trees that are quite large.  The reason for their size is because I once did surname studies - I tried to link all of the Leiningers, Harbaughs, Duers, Kos[s]s, Landfairs and Kuhns in the U.S. from an identified gateway ancestor.  I want contact from far flung relatives as I don't know these folks personally and needing closer relatives input, I made the trees public.

Due to the many places I've placed the trees online, their size, and my weekly blog posts, I get over 500 comments weekly.  Granted, many are spam, but quite a few are serious inquiries.

Before DNA, I would go to the tree mentioned, search for the name provided in the inquiry, review what citations I had and then respond.

Since DNA, I find myself instead responding with my own query - Have you had your DNA analyzed and if so, what provider did you use and what is your profile name?

Last evening, after sending the same question repeatedly, it hit me that this is a seriously lazy response to well meaning folks who've taken the time to contact me.

My intentions were never to be rude but I'm afraid that's how it's appearing.  I'm not sure how I'd feel if I was the recipient and wasn't into DNA.  I queried colleagues in my local genealogical society and they think my response is acceptable but I'm not so sure.   What do you think, readers?!  Would you be offended if you emailed someone for more information and received a question in response? 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Genealogy Mysteries - The Unclaimed Dead

Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in genealogy encounters missing ancestor information.  Although women are more often found in this category due to changing surnames when they wed or a lack of surviving documents due to limited citizenship rights, men, too, often simply disappear into thin air.

Lately, after seeing the Disney movie, Coco, and spending last month traipsing through the Central American jungles in search of Mayan remains, when I get back to my tree I'm more driven then ever to discover why and where my disappearing family went. That's my current research focus - I've identify 10 individuals with missing death dates/places and I'm on the hunt to narrow down information.

Unfortunately, the missing continues even today.  If you're interested, a volunteer organization of which I've blogged about previously, Unclaimed People, assists coroners in reunited the recently deceased with extended family.  The organization's motto, Every Life is Worth Remembering, is powerful.

Recently, I came upon the following article, Trail of Ashes:  A Local Man's Work to Restore Identity to the Unclaimed Dead.  It is a must read!

1.  Photo by Lori Samuelson, a rural unnamed cemetery in Quintana Roo, Mexico, 15 March 2018.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

More Nickname Identification Help

Hit a brickwall because of a family pet name?  Nicknames are sometimes the reason why we can't make progress on our family trees.  I've written previously about matching nicknames to legal names - see Knocking Down Nicknames.  

Recently, Niyi  at asked me to let you know about the site's Nickname Generator, which consists of a database of  various nicknames.  I'd like the site to create historical nicknames, such as Mary - Molly, but it is a fun place to go if you're in need of a little help in creating a new millennial moniker. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Brit Speak

My DNA results showed I have much more Brit in me than I ever thought.  If you, too, had this finding and were surprised by your results, you might want to have fun with this BBC "quiz" Do You Have a Secret British Accent?

Apparently, mine is East Midlands.  I don't know if that's because I spent my youth in the northern U.S and the rest of my life in the south resulting in a blended accent.  In my travels, people can never identify where I originate.  Or, perhaps, I'm harboring deep down ancestral roots from the East Midlands where my family did originate in the Leicester region in the 1600's. 

Blimey, this is ace barmy! (Translation:  Wow, this is amazing crazy!)  So give it a try.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Marrying Your Half Sibling? It's Possible in this Brave New World!

Last week, I wrote about MyHeritage's backing of a study recently published in Science.  One of the questionable findings was that the number of cousin marriages decreased after 1875 due to changing societal norms.

After reading the recent article, Sonoma Teen Tyler Sievers Discovers 20 Half Siblings, my first thought was marrying a cousin wasn't such a bad thing when compared to possibly marrying a half sib (you didn't know was your half sib).  Sure, that's not what happened to Tyler but the possibility of that occurring is greater today than anytime in the past.  Tyler's (birth) father donated on both the east and west coast.  That means, he has a population of children on both sides of the U S and so far, only 20 have been identified.  It's not far fetched to believe that these children could meet and fall in love.  Their mom's selected the father based on information provided that they liked.  It's not a stretch to think that they would have other habits, beliefs, and commonalities in their raising of the resultant offspring.  People tend to hang out with those like them and in sharing friends the circles increase.  Social media makes it even easier.  Online dating even more so.  Thus, an increase in half siblings finding each other, marrying and having children is a real possibility

This got me thinking of what the family trees of these children would look like.  I scoff when I see a chart that has a family with 20+ children but I guess in the future, there could be fathers who do have great numbers of children.

Perhaps, in the near future, a blood test with DNA analysis will be required before a couple weds.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Shame on You, MyHeritage

Last week I blogged about MyHeritage's special free offer for assistance to adoptees who are interested in finding their birth families.  I was also pleased that in the past few days, MyHeritage announced several other improvements - their DNA Matches are now 1-to-many instead of 1-to-1 enabling more connections and if you are a member of the LDS faith, a new synch with  These innovations are positive and important to the genealogy community.

Unfortunately, their latest "scientific" data analysis that was recently published in Science, is hogwash.  You can read about it here and here.  I have several problems with the study:

  • "The tree is based on data assembled by roughly 3 million genealogy enthusiasts who have identified the familial relationships of more than 86 million individuals" the key word here being enthusiasts.  I'm enthusiastic about many things but that does not make my attempts at the arts, dance, cooking, etc. well done or accurate.  Using inaccurate data does not provide an accurate result.  If the results of professional genealogists were used I'd be more inclined to believe the findings.
  • The study's authors claimed their data was accurate because they cleaned it.  "The researchers found that on average there was a 2% error when listing a person's father, and a 0.3% error for a mother. They also found that about 0.3% of profiles included clear mistakes such as a person having more than two parents, or someone being the parent and offspring of the same person."  Removing the obvious errors does not mean that the resulting information is correct.  Did they check to see the validity of the remaining source citations?  Actually, were there any source citations?  Did they use DNA?  No, they did not.  After eliminating the obvious mistakes they took the remaining data an analysed it.  That is a major mistake.  Anyone can place any info online but that does not make it factual; I would think a computer scientist would be aware of that.
  • The study is clearly biased and Eurocentric.  First of all, only users who have placed info on the website are included.  The majority of the sites users would most likely be middle to upper class individuals from the U.S. who have access to a computer.  Most of those individuals are not people of color and most would have European ancestry.  So, duh, they're going to see this result "By comparing people in the system with 80,000 death records from Vermont spanning from 1985 to 2000, the authors also found that the people included in their family tree were not any more likely to be rich or poor than the general population. They were, however, much more likely to be white."  Did they know that 96.7% of Vermont is white?1  Are they aware that people who inputted the information were probably middle class as Vermont's sizable middle class population grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010?2  Making conclusions based on faulty data is irrational.  
  • One of their "findings" was that social norms more than increased modes of travel led to Americans marrying unrelated individuals, ie. someone other than a cousin, after 1875.  The time period they were exploring was 1825-1875.  For 40 of those 50 years, slavery prohibited large numbers of people from using any form of transportation to go a 'courtin.  Native Americans were increasingly subjected to a life on a reservation.  The Irish potato famine contributed to large numbers of very poor individuals scraping together the fare for passage and would settle down in the large cities, like Boston and New York, where the ship landed and they stayed until they could earn enough to relocate elsewhere.  Only after becoming established in their new homeland did people have the opportunity to move from Chinatown, Little Italy and other ethnic neighborhoods that had provided support to the new immigrant.  And let's not forget the Civil War during this time period.  Unfortunately, the authors excluded all of these important influences in their study.  The social norms did change by 1875, thus allowing more movement and along with the increased modes of transportation, migrations farther from place of birth to marry did occur.  Claiming analysis of their data cobbled from Geni to reach this conclusion is laughable.

I first read of the study on one of my genealogy list servs and then friends and family began to contact me about it.  Here's my analogy of the Geni database.  Imagine asking every kindergartner in a private school in the U.S. what their favorite ice cream is.  Now take all of their favorite flavors and extrapolate the findings to every other kindergartener  - those in public, charter and home schools.  Now take it further and apply it to every individual in every state.  Without including other groups, you cannot draw a correlation between the private kindergarteners' results and others.  I would say it was simply silly but the scary part is that the study is being given press by legitimate media outlets on both coasts.  If the headlines and the story explained that the most novel finding in the study was it is one of the first to explore free crowd sourced provided information I would be okay with it but that is not what the headlines state.

One outcome I am applauding is that I understand some folks are concerned that their data was used in a way they had not intended.   INMHO, that is their own fault for not reading the fine print of the Terms of Service.   This is the beginning of the use of large crowd sourced data.  If you are uncomfortable with your information being used then it's a wake up call for you to take the time to read the company's rights without merely clicking the box to accept.  Yes, it is boring and time consuming but important.

I am extremely disappointed in MyHeritage.  I expected better from an organization that has been making such positive strides.

1 "% Vermont white", accessed:  4 March 2018.
2 "%Vermont middle class", accessed:  4 March 2018.