By Juliana Smith 13 December 2010
19 December 2010 The Weekly Discovery from Ancestry.com
Re-printed with Permission

If the answers to your family history dilemmas can’t be found in the descriptive materials for the collection, as we discussed in the previous article, here are some problem-solving strategies that can help.

1.) Look at External Factors
For the past week, our local weatherman has been warning us of the storm that began yesterday, and since I’m in charge of snow removal for our house and several neighbors who are unable to do it, last week I made sure that the snow blower had gas, and I had my gloves, hat and scarf at the ready. With the sophisticated weather predictions that are available now, it’s hard to imagine not knowing when bad weather might strike. Certainly, our ancestors learned to keep their eyes on the skies and noted certain weather indicators, but they couldn’t just flip on the Weather Channel and be informed as to when and where they should evacuate. The 1900 Galveston Hurricane is a tragic example of the catastrophic results that often came when unexpected weather events struck populated areas.

If your ancestors inexplicably picked up and moved, turn to local histories to see if you can determine the reason. Drought, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, pestilence, a brutally cold and snowy winter, or an unusually hot summer may have convinced your ancestor that this was not the place he wanted to raise his family and he may have moved on to greener pastures.

Check local histories and familiarize yourself with major events in the areas in which they lived. You may find it helpful to create a local history timeline that you can compare against the timelines of your ancestors.

2.) Widen Your Horizons
Just a decade ago, your chances of locating an ancestor with wanderlust were much slimmer than they are these days. With the ability to search the entire country–or even abroad–with the click of a mouse, it’s much easier to find ancestors who turn up in unexpected places. Try a search without including a residence, but instead including other factors that will narrow the search to your ancestor–things like age, birthplace, race, and in some cases, even the names of other household members.

In researching our Tobin family of hatters, I was missing my ancestor’s brother in 1870. The family had for the most part stayed in the New York City area, but George was eluding me that year. When I removed the residence of New York and searched for him using his name, age, and birthplace of Ireland, I was able to quickly locate him in Washington, D.C., where I had no inkling any of the family had lived. Without the nation-wide index to the census for 1870, I might not have thought to look for him there.

3.) Explore What’s Available
There are currently nearly 30,000 individual collections available on Ancestry.com, and some of them may hold the clues you need. But with so many options, it can be difficult to keep up. This past year, Ancestry.com created new place pages that give you a better look at what’s available for the places where your ancestors lived. To access the state pages, just click on the Search tab, and then select a location from the map in the lower left corner of the pages.

Sometimes it pays to revisit collections as well. New data may have been added or search functionality may have been tweaked and your ancestors may surface where they hadn’t before. You can see when a collection was last updated by locating it in the Card Catalog. Hover your mouse over the collection title and you’ll see a box appear a brief description along with the date the collection was originally published on Ancestry.com and the date it was last updated.

4.) Side-Step
Consider this–a spouse dies and in the next census you find that several young children are also missing. An epidemic, natural disaster, or perhaps some other family tragedy? Perhaps. But maybe they were sent to live with other family members because the single parent was unable to care for them while they were working to support the rest of the family. Check with other family members and see if you find them living with siblings, grandparents, or cousins. You may also find your ancestor’s parents living with his or her sibling. Be sure to conduct “whole family” research, gathering census records for even extended family and keep track of the addresses you find on records. You may find that the address your ancestor gave on his marriage record was the same as that of his aunt and uncle.

5.) Finding Holes in Your Research
Too often I’ve found that my brick-wall problems are of my own making. Usually they are based around some assumption that I’ve sub-consciously made. I learned early in my career writing about family history that if I ever want to find a hole in an area of my research, I should plan an article around that very topic. Never fails. As soon as I start writing about how I made this amazing discovery, I’ll find holes in my logic. But it’s a good way to keep my research on track. Try it. Write up a brief summary of the research steps you’ve taken and keep it with your research log. Not only does putting it in writing help you to better analyze your research, but years from now when you’re wondering how the heck you came to that conclusion, it will be right there for you.

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Daily Genealogy News, Tips, Ideas

A good place to see general genealogy news for ideas, tips, and what other’s are doing is at this daily genealogy newspaper. The link is http://bit.ly/fk5AWJ.

Good Review of FREE Genealogy Software

There are lots of opinions of the best programs to use to get your family history data on to the computer, etc. One I ran across today from one of my RSS feeds is from Gizmo, a site which reviews FREE software in general.

The posting today lists some of the most popular FREE genealogy programs. For most of us (and especially for those just starting to get your data on your computer) these programs will work just as well as the ones you have to buy. It would be possible to start here and never use any other program, or a person could start here and upgrade to a commercial program later.

If you have been looking, you might want to give this Gizmo page a look-see: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-genealogy-family-tree-software.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+gizmosbest+(Gizmo’s+Best-ever+Freeware)

FREE Genealogy Help at About.com

Familiar with About.com? This all inclusive website/service features (for FREE) advice on all sorts of topics. Particularly helpful to genealogists is Kimberly’s Genealogy Blog at genealogy.about.com.

Kimberly Powell features what seems like a never-ending variety of topics with which she is familiar and has obviously researched. For instance, recently she offered an entry on questions to ask to get your relatives to give their oral histories and an article titled “Family Health History Better Than Genetic Screening.” Many other postings there include sources for searching for information (almost always FREE) and how-to tips.

Thanks to QPL Librarian Delene Delarosa for suggesting this website which I have used so often but that I guess I took too much for granted.

Free Military Records Search This week

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Diane Haddad of the Genealogy Insider blog and Family Tree Magazine for this notice: Ancestry.com will allow free search of its military records this week in honor of Veterans’ Day. Details are at this Genealogy Insider page.

Genealogy Networking Near and Far

While some people are reluctant to join Facebook because they think (erroneously it turns out) it’s just for teeny boppers, for dating, or makes them vulnerable to loss of privacy (again in actuality, these are not true), there is a social networking site where we can talk with and explore the ideas, etc. of other genealogists.

It is Genealogywise, a free site, which some of our own society members have frequented from time to time.

On top of that, there is a page there set up for members of the Wood County Genealogical society called the Wood County (TX) Genealogy Coffee Klatch. While it has been quiet all this past spring and summer, discussion topics, etc. which are not really appropriate for the society newsletter (that is ideas in the formation stage or those just being floated to test the waters of member opinion) will be posted there starting in October and into the future.

You are urged to go there and post your own ideas, suggestions, etc. and comment on the ones others post there.

Genealogywise, of course, is much broader than just our society and includes a variety of topics about genealogy. This month’s Genwise Newsletter, in fact, features a group started by a member of the Wood County Genealogical Society called Save Our (Local Genealogy) Societies. It was started by your newsletter editor, Deason Hunt. (Yes, it seems very strange to talk about myself in the third person.) If interested, you can check it out by clicking the link above.

SOS(Local Genealogy)sites

The Genwise September 29, 2010 Newsletter has this to say about the SOS group: Genealogy societies are important partners in our genealogy research. Local genealogy societies can be a place to learn and network and those societies in our ancestor’s locality can be a place to ask for research help. This group started by Deason Hunt is for “Discussion, Tips, and Innovations to strengthen and help local genealogical societies with growth and ideas for activities.”

Genealogywise is a website worth checking out. Most likely we all have something to add to the discussions there as well as enjoying getting to network with other genealogists online.

Have You Really Proved Your Ancestry?

Using RootsWeb
By Mary Harrell-Sesniak
“Genealogy is not just a pastime; it’s a passion.”

Have You Really Proved Your Ancestry?

Researchers often feel they’ve proved ancestry because they located family in one or more online trees.

But tying into a database doesn’t suffice as proof. For that, you need to verify an author’s sources and references – whether they are from original or derivative documents – and whether they can be treated as primary or secondary sources.

Original vs. Derivative Documents
The first term is easy, as original records must be original and not copies. Examples are birth, marriage and death certificates created by attending physicians or officiates, any hand-written or original typed document / letter and first time photographs, which are not scans or reprints.

Derivatives imply that documents came from (e. g., were derived from) other sources. This applies to, but is not limited to, abstracts, articles, scans, copies, transcriptions, family histories, card files and online databases.

Derivatives can establish viable evidence of ancestry, but only

if citations are accessible for examination

if they are not too many steps removed from the original — such as a fact referring to a reference which was not verified (e. g., a copy of a copy of a copy)

Rule of thumb:
Any document, database or citation which is one or more steps removed from the original, must be evaluated as to whether the intermediary author examined the original or a reliable reference referring to the original.

This doesn’t mean we should discount all online data. Just treat it as possible leads (not proof), and find source documents for verification. After all, most of us would not be able to pursue so much of our ancestry, without these valuable clues.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary sources are those created close to the time of an event, assuming the originator had the proper expertise and authority to create it. Some examples are:

birth, marriage and death certificates
artifacts, such as military badges
commemorative plaques
certain ephemera (e. g., playbills, advertisements)

Secondary sources are all those created after an event, including:

delayed birth registrations
abstracts, summaries, etc.

Some documents have both primary and secondary elements, depending upon the information. For example, a passenger manifest is a primary document in regards to the details of the voyage, but a secondary source for birth dates, addresses, etc. The same issue relates to birth dates on tombstones, which are always secondary. And depending upon when the monument was erected (or replaced), a death date can be secondary.

Diaries, whereby events were recorded on a day by day basis, are considered primary, but an author’s memory of the past is secondary.

And a dilemma exists in regard to Bible records, whereby the author and date of the entry is uncertain. As a result, many lineage societies note whether a title page with publication date is available, and whether the handwriting and ink changes from item to item.

One might think that original documents are always primary sources – and that derivatives are always secondary. But in reality, it is possible for either type to be primary or secondary. For example,

A hand-written letter discussing family births is an original document, but the source is secondary, since it occurred after the original events.

A film created of an original document (such as those made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is a derivative treated as a primary source, since the copy is a reliable representation of the original.

Preponderance of the Evidence vs. the Genealogical Proof Standard
The final step in proving ancestry lies in the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

Until recently, researchers cited evidence based upon the legal principle of preponderance of the evidence – meaning that if definitive proof documents could not be located, and if all evidence pointed in the right direction, then a lineage or relationship was accepted as true.

But there are numerous examples of why this might not be true. In my own ancestry, there were three William Harrells, recorded on early census records in Wythe Co., Virginia. A logical assumption might be that they were kin, given that they shared names and lived in the same vicinity. But DNA studies imply that they share a more distant relationship, despite the preponderance of the evidence.

Although certification is not a requirement for proving ancestry, you may wish to review the five elements of the GPS, established by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). They recommend that a strong genealogical proof should include:

a reasonably exhaustive search;
complete and accurate source citations;
analysis and correlation of the collected information;
resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

As you search through records on RootsWeb, and other sites, keep in mind that you can’t be sure of the information until you have seen the evidence. Happy sleuthing!

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 8 September 2010, Vol. 13, No. 9 Reprinted with permission

Whose DNA Should You Trace?

Used with permission from Rootsweb Review

When analyzing DNA for genealogical purposes, it’s important to look at all of your ancestral names.


As discussed a few months ago by columnist Joan Young, in DNA and Genealogy – Beyond the Paper Trail (RootsWeb Review 9 Dec. 2009, Vol. 12, No. 12), DNA tests reports on direct pedigree lines, e.g., from father to son to son, or from mother to daughter to daughter, etc.

There is no cross-over between mtDNA and Y-DNA, so your immediate family members can only be tested for these two lines.

If you are looking for other ancestry – say, for example, your deceased father’s father’s mother’s markers, you can still determine them. Find someone who meets a direct descendancy criteria; this would be through a mother to son (grandfather) or mother to daughter to daughter(great aunt’s daughter) relationship.

Female Research
Known as mitochondrial or mtDNA, women inherit markers from their mothers, but not from fathers. The mitochrondion occurs in the cytoplasm of the cell, as opposed to the nucleus, and typically changes slowly from generation to generation. This is why researchers have determined that there is a “Mitochondrial Eve”, a common matrilineal (female) ancestor, from whom we all descend.

Male Research
Through the direct patrilineal lineage, we theoretically descend from “Y Chromosome Adam”, although the measurements for time periods are eons apart.

The reason for this is that men test their direct male lineage through Y-DNA, as they share a Y chromosome with their fathers (contained in the nucleus of the cell, as opposed to the egg that supplies the mtDNA). In the case of the paternal test, a haplotype is determined, based upon Y chromosome patterns which are distinctive and easily identifiable. Men also inherit mtDNA from their mothers, which is why they are logical test subjects for extended DNA testing.

Another advantage for testing men, is that unless there were an adoption or legal name change, a son would share a surname with his father, unlike women, who unless they had not married (or coincidentally a father-son combination had married women with the same surname), the family name would change at every generation.

Who should get tested?
To solve brick walls, consider testing,

1. Elderly male relatives, and a male at each living generation, to take an extended maternal and paternal test of at least the basic markers.
2. Any female from a unique and direct mitochondrial line to take a basic maternal test.

In my family, the mitochondrial line traces 7-generations to immigrants from Ireland. Several 32 marker tests have been submitted, and two matches of interest have surfaced. One is a 3rd generation American female of Irish descent, and the other is a male, confident of 5-generations of research on his mother’s side. So far, we have not determined the common thread, but we do know that, in all likelihood
The female match indicates the common ancestor is probably at the 8th generation or earlier.
The male match may (and most probably does) share ancestry with the immigrant family, although the common link could be earlier.
Few changes in mtDNA (known as mutations) have occurred from generation to generation.
Without DNA testing, we would not have the opportunity to collaborate.

Another ancestral family line came from Holland. We know the immigrant arrived in America in the mid to late 1700s, but little else. I am urging my male cousins, who share this surname, to take the paternal test, with the hope that a European match will surface.

Follow these charts to see whose DNA test would be the most beneficial for your purposes.

Follow along the colored lines to see the direct mtDNA connections. (Other mtDNA connections are noted by different colored lines and circles.) The Y DNA connections are noted by the color of the male’s box.

Whose DNA do you want? Who can be tested?

Your own…………You, a son or a daughter
Your father………Your father, your paternal grandfather (father’s father only), your brother or your brother’s sons (nephews)
Your mother………You, your brother, your sister, your mother, your mother’s brother (uncle), your maternal grandmother (mother’s mother only), your mother’s sister (aunt), your 1st cousins who are children of your mother’s sister or 2nd cousins via your mother’s sister (assuming they are her daughter’s daughters)
Your mother and father (at same time)…..Yourself, if you are male, or any of your full biological brothers
Paternal grandmother (father’s mother)…..Your father, his brother (paternal uncle), his sister (paternal aunt), the female children of his sister or the female grandchildren of his sister (assuming they are daughter’s daughters)
Paternal grandfather (father’s father)…..Your son, your father, paternal grandfather (himself), your father’s brother (paternal uncle), your brother’s son (nephew) or any male descendant that traces through the male line only.
Paternal grandmother and grandfather (at same time)…..Your father or his brother (paternal uncle)
Maternal grandmother (mother’s mother)…..You, your mother, maternal grandmother or your mother’s brother (maternal uncle)
Maternal grandfather (mother’s father)…..Your uncle, your uncle’s sons (nephews) or paternal grandfather (mother’s father)

Services which test and gather DNA results for genealogical purposes are:




RootsWeb articles of interest:

FamilyHart DNA Projects (Pennsylvania Dutch Families) by Don & Jeanine Hartman
Lost Colony Research Group (Successfully Using Autosomal Testing in Conjunction with Mitochondrial and Y-Line) by Roberta Estes
Mayflower DNA Projects (Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants) by Susan E. Roser

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 14 July 2010, Vol. 13, No. 7

FREE Genealogy Guide

Thanks to member Scott Fitzgerald in a posting to tx-etgs@rootsweb.com for this tip: a free downloadable .pdf copy of William Dollarhide’s “Getting Started in Genealogy Online.”

It’s a 60-plus page book with the basics of starting (and re-starting and getting back on track) your genealogical search with a large number of online clickable web links. You can go buy the hardbound book or get this one for free by downloading it.

There are a few ads on the first pages (three) one for a book by Scott Drew, one for the Genealogical.com website where you can — if you wish — sign up for a free genealogy newsletter by email, and one for WorldVitalRecords.com which is offering the Dollarhide book download for NOTHING. As a courtesy I looked at the ads and as a way of thanking them, I browsed those three ad pages, but it’s not required.

For me, this download was a must have. After looking at it, I saved a copy (perfectly legal by their terms of use) to my computer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
This is the download link: http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/download-ebook.aspx

Scott Fitzgerald is the editor of “East Texas Family Records, a quarterly publication of the East Texas Genealogical Society which covers the counties of Anderson, Gregg, Henderson, Panola, Rusk and Smith.” and the “Treasurer (2008-2011) of the Texas State Genealogical Society” among other things in the genealogical world of Texas. He has also presented programs at our Wood County society meetings.

Free Getting Started – or Refresher – Lessons

Just starting out in your family history search or wanting to to refresh your memory on researching how to and techniques is often available from classes or one-on-one tutoring. There are some online sources, however, which you can access at home (or library) on your own computer and at any time convenient to you.

Among the various choices, four seem to stand out in terms of organization, simplicity of use, and overall value.

Researching Your Family Tree at learnwebskills.com meets all of these criteria and offers exercises to practice what it teaches. It is easy to follow, and you can do one exercise, go off and do other life things for an extended time, and pop right into the next step with little difficulty. The lessons offer a LearnGen Group at Yahoo groups.com which does not seem to be too active, but you could always share you results and questions with us here with an email to the bulletin. (Our email address is netexas@gmail.com). You can access the Researching Your Family Tree lessons at http://www.learnwebskills.com/family/intro.html.

A long time standard of the genealogical community online is Kimberly Powell of genealogy.about.com. She has posted information and tips on a regular basis for many years. Her Introduction to Genealogy series takes a slightly different approach to the beginning or refresher lessons, but they are rich in content and easily understood. Either by themselves are in conjunction with the Researching Your Family Tree lessons above, they are going to give lots of information, tips, and ideas. You can access Kimberly’s lesson series starting at http://genealogy.about.com/library/lessons/blintro.htm.

The Rootsweb Guide to Tracing Family Trees has also been around for a while and proved it’s worth. Like the others, it offers lots of basic information and is easy to follow. Rootsweb is a premier free website devoted to genealogy and is the source of all kinds of resources which help beginning and advanced researchers. You can access the Rootsweb Guide to Tracing Family Trees at http://rwguide.rootsweb.ancestry.com/.

Also, if you have high speed internet at home (or can go to a library computer) you can access the RootswTV video series Research Process Overview. It’s a movie (and a talkie) which covers the basic getting started concepts and interviews various genealogists to illustrate the topic points of every lesson. It is also graphics-rich so that you can see examples of topics and techniques. You can access this RootsTV series at http://www.rootstelevision.com/players/player_howto3.php?bctid=232.


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