Genealogy Blog

5 Tips for Using a Professional to Overcome Your Brick Walls

26 Jul 2014

Five

I am often asked what professional genealogists do. My colleagues and I are also often asked “Why should I hire a professional genealogist? And why won’t they guarantee results?” The truth is that professional genealogists can be of tremendous help to you. Here are five tips to help you work with a professional genealogist to break down your brick walls.

1. What can a professional do for me?

Professionals have extensive experience. They have spent years educating themselves, researching, and are quite knowledgeable. Their knowledge of methodology and research techniques is usually quite great. But it is not just for research only that you can hire a professional. Many of them will also do consultations for a fee, giving you assistance on where to focus your research.

2. Why can’t I just do it myself?

We can’t all be experts on everything. Professionals often have extensive experience, sometimes in a very narrow area. Sometimes, especially with your brick wall problems, you may have run out of ideas. Professionals with their greater expertise, may be able to find new avenues for research. They also usually have access to vast networks of colleagues with whom they can consult for even further ideas. This can be a shortcut for you, potentially saving you years of time.

3. Why won’t a professional guarantee results?

Because there is no way to know how long it will take, if ever, to find the answers you are seeking. When you hire a professional, you are paying for their expertise and their time to search. Sometimes we find the answer in a day, and sometimes it takes years, and there is no way to know in advance how long it will take. This is especially true of brick wall problems, where you have already examined the easily available resources. It took me seven years to find one marriage record in my own ancestry. The solution only arose when I saw a single, unrelated, original record, that indicated the family had moved elsewhere for a time. Not only won’t a qualified professional guarantee you results, you should run away from one who dies. They are clearly more interested in taking your money than providing you with excellent research services.

4. What should I do before hiring a professional?

Put together a succinct description of exactly what you are looking for. Send it to the professional, asking to gage their interest in the project. You should ask for an estimate of how much time, and the hourly rate. You can negotiate a certain amount of time. As a rule, it is better to authorize a minimum of 3 to 5 hours. It will take awhile for the professional to get moving, and you don’t want to cut them off if they are hot on the trail of a solution for you. Most professionals will ask for a retainer when working with a new client. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.

5. How can I find a professional to help me?

In the United States, visit the Association of Professional Genealogists. They have the largest network of genealogists. You can search the database by place of residence, as well as by areas of expertis. Members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists have undergone additional testing of their expertise. Member of all three organizations are required to agree to certain ethical standards, and you should certainly file a complain with the organizations if you feel that a professional has violated ethics in their work with you.

 

How Our DNA Affects Our Relationships

26 Jul 2014

We have been using DNA testing in the genealogical community now for a number of years. We have made great strides in breaking down brick walls, first using y-DNA and mtDNA, and now using autosomal DNA. It has also been used to help us with our family medical health history. But now DNA has new uses.

Toronto-based Instant Chemistry has done research to show that there is a biological as well as psychological component to human relationships. It appears that DNA has been influencing our love lives all along.

 

Instant Chemistry

 

 

Studies have shown that couples in long-term relationships often have very different immune systems from each other. They find each other more attractive, enjoy more satisfying sex lives, have increased fertility rates, and have greater marital stability. Children of these relationships are able to more successfully  defend against a wider variety of infections.

 

It is the genes that comprise the immune system that are responsible for this. More specifically, it is the genes that are part of the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) system. These are the genes responsible for identifying foreign bodies that can cause infections and other problems. They also contribute to the natural body scent that is unique to each of us. Research shows that we can subconsciously detect these scents, and they are responsible for our attraction to each other and choosing our partners.

 

Genetics can also now assist in predicting potential problems the might develop in relationships. For example, the serotonin transporter gene is responsible for moderating positive and negative emotional behavior. Short versions, for example, can mean higher negative and lower positive emotional behavior and declines in marital satisfaction over time.  Knowing this in advance, couples can get counseling to obtain tools to overcome these potential issues.

Instant Chemistry  will do genetic testing to help determine how your genes might influence your relationship. You and partner do the familiar spit test, and the company will evaluate you and inform you of any potential issues. The company has also partnered with matchmakers and online dating services to offer the testing in advance, to help match you with someone who may be more compatible genetically. Currently the test is only available for heterosexual couples, but they are currently testing gay and lesbian spouses to determine if the science is true for same-sex relationships as well.

Discovering this makes me wonder if there could be genealogical applications for this technology. Could the tests be done on our ancestors? Could we find out more information about their relationships? This could potentially shed new light onto our ancestral families.

Seeking Michigan Ancestors

21 Jul 2014

I’ve just returned from several days at the Archives of Michigan in Lansing. I was the featured speaker for the annual Abrams Foundation Family History Seminar. There were a number of other speakers, and a great turnout.  While I was there, I got to explore the archives and the Library of Michigan, which are both parts of the Michigan Historical Center in downtown Lansing. If you have Michigan ancestors, a visit here (at least virtually, if not in person) is a must.

The library’s collection focuses on printed sources. They have an extensive collection of local and country histories, and transcriptions of records (cemeteries, etc.) from all over Michigan. Many of these were small print runs or typescripts that might be difficult to find elsewhere. There is also a large collection of city directories.

One of my favorite parts of my day at the library was working with the extensive collection of newspapers. So many older newspapers are available online now, but there is still a giant hole between the start of the twentieth century and the 1990s when newspapers started going online. I found a large number of obituaries in this time period that has helped me identify and located modern-day Franklin descendants. Unfortunately the library is a bit behind the times. The only microfilm scanner produced images that were so bad that I ended up printing out the obituaries because they were so much better.

 

Archives of Michigan

 

The Archives of Michigan is on the other side of the building from the library. In contrast to the library, the archives has taken steps to implement technology to improve the customer experience. Starting with registration, where you are assigned a photo identification card with a bar code, which allows you to be processed in and out of the facility very quickly. They have a state-of-the-art scanner for microfilm. Even more interesting is their setup for digital images of manuscript items. They have an iPad on a flexible stand holds it above the items at whatever distance you like. When you are done photographing the manuscripts, a PDF file is created which can be downloaded to a flash drive or emailed to you (your choice).

A few years ago the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection was transferred from the library to the archives. Over the past thirty years, the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation has donated more then $2 million for the collection and for creating resources for genealogists, including the annual seminar.

Over the last few years, the archives has been actively working to provide resources to genealogists through a new website, Seeking Michigan. In addition to advice on getting started, there are dozens of guides to help with many different types of records in the collection. They are also working to digitize records and make them available online, such as Michigan death records and the Michigan state census.

If your ancestors spent any time at all in Michigan, spend some time with the library and the archives. You will find a plethora of records to assist you in your search.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, July 18, 2014

18 Jul 2014

This week’s stories range from George Washington and Henry Knox to Twitter and the Digital Public Library of America. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We start with a post from Myra Vanderpool Gormley’s blog, Shaking Family Trees. As part of a project to write about her research subjects at least once each week (known as the 52 Ancestors project among bloggers), she recently wrote about the husband of Mary Vanderpoel, Joseph-Louis, Chevalier d’Anterroches. Documentation of their courtship and marriage comes from a letter written by Henry Knox to his old boss, George Washington. It seems Washington received a letter from the Chevalier’s mother, and asked Knox to find out more about him. Read more of the story in #28-52ancestors: d’Anterroches-Vanderpoel: Surprising French Connection.

WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin, reported on an interesting story out of the town of Eureka. The Wagoner family, doing renovations on the kitchen of a farmhouse, found a ledger in the ceiling. This was not just any ledger, however, it dated from 1865 and contained a roster of Civil War soldiers from the 42nd Regiment of the Wisconsin volunteer Infantry. Read more, and watch a video story, in Civil War Ledger Found in Eureka.

 

Civil War Ledger

 

Patrick Allan wrote a moving piece yesterday for Lifehacker. A few years ago, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher participated in a Twitter chat question and answer session. What made this chat so special? Both Herbert and Zelmyra were centenarians. They were the longest-married couple in history. They were married for 87 years before Herbert passed away at the age of 105 in 2011. Allan wrote about some of the answer they gave about married life. Read more in Marriage Advice from the World’s Longest Married Couple.

Chrisopher Mims writes for the Digits blog for the Wall Street Journal. This week he wrote about cybersecurity. He had a conversation with cybersecurity consultant Michael B. Williams so he could become part of the 1% — “that one in 100 people whose online life is secure enough that hackers just can’t be bothered to try to break into their accounts.” Read more, and get his tips in Commentary: What I learned, and What You Should Know, After I Published my Twitter Password.

The Digital Public Library of America is a non-profit project to take materials from libraries, archive, and museums around the country and make them available to the public around the world. Larry Kaukam is retired from the Central Library Rochester and Monroe County, New York, where one of his responsibilities was  family history. He recently wrote a piece for their news section to discuss how DPLA can be useful to genealogists, including a discussion of a curated exhibition, Leaving Europe, about those who came to America in the 19th century. Read more in Finding Family Information Through DPLA.

 

Hunting for Treasure at the Brimfield Fair

15 Jul 2014

This weekend, as part of my birthday celebration, I got to do one of my favorite things. I went to the Brimfield Fair with friends. The fair is a long-standing New England tradition. It started back in the 1950s. My mother used to do with her father when she was a girl. It is now the largest outdoor antiques show in the country. Located in the quaint town of Brimfield in western Massachusetts, the show runs along a half-mile section of Route 20. Dealers extend back hundreds of feet from either side of the road.

The stands are filled with everything from small collectibles to large pieces of furniture. Dealers come from all over the country to sell here. Tens of thousands of people walk through the fields during the course of the week. As a genealogist, I was in seventh heaven combing through the stalls.  While much of it can be junk, many valuable things can be found.

One of the first things I saw when moving through the stands was a chest of drawers, about four feet high and the same wide, with three large drawers. It was panted with high gloss black paint, two cannon were painted across the front.  On the top was the name of a captain in the Royal Navy, and the name of a ship. The date 1861 was written across the front. It was a beautiful piece, but the dealer want almost $1,000 for it, which was way out of my budget.

You my find small antiques, however, that speak to your ancestors. Kitchen furnishings, farming implements, occupational tools, and more, can show you how your ancestor lived.

Two stalls away, however, I found a beautiful, large family Bible. While it is common to find such large Bibles with family information recorded, this was practiced more by Protestants than it was by Catholics. What made this Bible special is that it was an 1844 Catholic Bible, with a two-generation family record in the section between the Old and New Testaments. I purchased it for $40, and have already traced several living descendants whom I will soon contact so as to repatriate the Bible to family members.

 

Title page of family Bible I found at the Brimfield Fair. (From the collection of the author, used with permission)

Title page of family Bible I found at the Brimfield Fair. (From the collection of the author, used with permission)

 

The best part of the show for me, however, were the dealers who had ephemera. These are loose papers and other items that were intended to be discarded once they fulfilled their original use. Among these items one might find:

  • letters and notes
  • postcards
  • invitations
  • greeting cards
  • receipts
  • checks
  • bills
  • calendars
  • appointments books

Of course, the best finds you might make are papers dealing with your own family. But you may find papers that can help you put your own family in context. For example, tax bills can show you what the rates were like in the town where they lived or school bills might show you how much they paid to educate their children.

I found a book presented by the church to a couple on their marriage day. It detailed the church’s beliefs about marriage and the rights and responsibilities of the married couple. Even if it weren’t your ancestors’ marriage record, it would help you understand more about them if they attended the same church that presented the book.

Antique shops and fairs can be wonderful resources for genealogists. When you visit places where your ancestors lived, check out the local shops for materials that might be useful to you. But don’t forget, antique stores anywhere can be very helpful. Items, especially paper, can travel very far afield. One of the items I picked up was a receipt dated November 1931 for the rent of an apartment — in Shanghai, China. So keep your eyes open where you go!

Who Owns Our Family’s Stories?

12 Jul 2014

Last week in the New York Times, Roxanna Robinson had a wonderful piece entitled The Right to Write. Robinson is a novelist and biographer, and told of an experience she had:

 

I sat on a panel once with another novelist and a distinguished African-American critic, to discuss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The critic said, “Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience.” The other novelist said lightly, “No, of course not. And I had no right to write about 14th-century Scandinavians. Which I did.”

The exchange made me wonder: who has the right to our stories?

 

The rest of the opinion piece is an interesting discussion of that question. Reading it, I could not help but think of a similar discussion that perpetually erupts in the genealogy world: who has the right to write our ancestors’ stories?

The first part of the conflict settles around factual research: the dates and places of events that took place during a person’s life, especially birth, marriage, and death. Often a great deal of research needs to take place for an individual to find this information. But conducting a large amount of research does not give one proprietary rights to the information. Facts cannot be copyrighted. The way in which you present the facts (eg., the language you use, etc.)can be protected by copyright. But the fact that someone was born on a certain date, or joined a particular society or organization, etc, cannot be copyrighted. That information can be used by anyone.

But beyond the facts are the stories we uncover. The service of a third-great-grandfather in the Civil War. The volunteerism of a great-grandmother in her church group. The conviction of an ancestral uncle as a horse thief.

Sometimes researchers get very proprietary about the stories that they uncover. Once again, one can only copyright the way in which the stories were told. If they are factual stories (and one presumes that if you are writing stories about your family, it is not fiction), the facts cannot be copyrighted. Anyone is free to tell these stories as well.

One of the major issues we run into with telling stories is not only who has the rights to them, but whether or not they should be published or shared with the world. Many people may disagree with an ancestor’s actions or words, or they may be embarrassed by them and not wish to be associated with them.

My rule of thumb is not to publish stories about living people without their permission (one does not wish to open one’s self up to a libel suit). I also do not share things about people one generation away from living people, unless there is a very compelling reason to do so. And this can be a tricky decision.

During the course of my research, I knew that as a teenager my paternal grandmother lost her mother. And her father (who died when I was only a year old) was not a very pleasant man (to put it charitably).

Research uncovered the fact that her father, Joseph Dubé, was involved in a barroom brawl that ended with a young man being so severely injured he died. Joseph was sentenced in Lewiston, Maine, to a year in prison. After his release, the family moved to Central Falls, R.I. Because this occurred before my grandmother was born, I never knew if she knew the facts about her father. But because she was in her late 80s when I discovered the information, I decided not to share it with her.

 

News story from "La Justice" newspaper in Biddeford, Maine, on October 5, 1899, showing that Joseph Dube was sentenced to a year in prison in the death of Mr. Legere.

News story from “La Justice” newspaper in Biddeford, Maine, on October 5, 1899, showing that Joseph Dube was sentenced to a year in prison in the death of Mr. Legere.

 

It did shed new light on Joseph’s story, however. He was only 21 years old when the fight occurred. At that age, we all did dumb things we are not necessarily proud of, and make poor choices. So now, instead of being a mean old man, I wonder: was he involved in the brawl because he was a mean person deep inside, or did he make a mistake as a  young man when he got drunk; a mistake that he spent the rest of his life regretting because it cost a life, and it turned him very bitter. And who is the one to decide which of those stories is true?

For the most part, the reality is that any of us can publish any stories about our ancestors that we find. The important thing is to do your own research, and don’t violate anyone else’s copyright. And, for me at least, it is important to not publish things that would intentionally hurt a living person. My grandmother was the last of her siblings to survive. Once she passed, I had no problem discussing her father’s story. But I would not do so while she herself might be hurt by it.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, July 11, 2014

11 Jul 2014

This week’s news roundup takes us on a quite a journey. We start with a discussion about DNA and genealogy, then Judy Russell explains to us what a prothonotary is, and then learn about good news for those looking at the family history of adoptees in Illinois. We finish up with two stories about people finding interesting stories in their family history.

The Scientist is a magazine for life science professionals. This week an article was published that discusses the boom of DNA testing in the field of family history. One of the interviewed experts states “We have a generally low genetic literacy in the U.S. and elsewhere. . . If someone misunderstands what a test means, or is unhappy with the service, oftentimes it is the result of not understanding what they’re buying.” You can read more in DNA Ancestry for All.

Judy Russell is one of the most helpful genealogy bloggers out there. This week she helps us understand another term: the prothonotary. She starts with an apocryphal story about Harry Truman. “The story is told of President Harry Truman being introduced to a prothonotary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, in typical Trumanesque fashion, asking the question. ‘What the hell is a prothonotary?’” Find out exactly what a prothonotary is in Of Clerks and Fences.

Adoptees and their descendants just got great news from the state of Illinois. Recognizing the importance to those who were adopted of understanding their family history, especially in terms of medical issues, the governor of Illinois this week signed a new law that will allow them access to the original birth certificates, which have heretofore been closed. Find out more on the story from WLS in Chicago in New Law Helps Illinois Adoptees Seeking Family History.

 

Mission Local Cleery Family

 

Mission Local is a project of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California/Berkeley. Elizabeth Creely relocated to San Francisco twenty-three years ago, settling in the Mission district. Little did she know that her new home was within a block of where her great-great-grandparents lived. She has since learned of the great contributions these Irish immigrants and their descendants have made. Read more about their story in The Irish Mission: A Family History.

Like most American schoolchildren, thirty-seven-year-old Trent Megill learned the story of the most well-known feud in American history: the Hatfields and the McCoys. A few months ago, during the course of researching his family history, he discovered that his ancestors were involved in their own feud in Florida; one between the Whitehurst and Stevenson families that cost more than a dozen lives. Read more in Genealogy Research Reveals Blood Feud Between Local Families.

Five Women’s History Blogs

10 Jul 2014

Five

We all know that in America women can be difficult to research. Here are five blogs dealing with women in history that are interesting, informative, and sometimes just plain fun.

1. Strong Women in History

This blog is written by Linda Harris Sittig, “paying tribute to exceptional women in history.” She tells the story of average women doing amazing things. A recent post, for example, tells the story of Emily Roebling. Her father-in-law, John A. Roebling, designed the Brooklyn Bridge. After he died, the task of constructing the bridge fell to his son Washington. Alas, the son suffered from multiple cases of “the bends” (then known as caissons disease). It would be up to Washington’s wife Linda to act in his stead to ensure construction continued and the bridge was finished.

2. 18C American Women

Barbara Wells Sarudy combines images and essays clustered around “some chronological, social, cultural, or academic theme.” In one recent post, Lady Liberty in 18C & Early 19C America, she discusses how “American women would present their appreciation of the nation’s hard-won liberty as handiwork in the form of banners, flags, or standards to groups of soldiers of the United States military.”

3. Women of History

This blog, written by an Australian woman named Melisende, is “dedicated to the women who have graced the pages of history, from ancient to modern times.” She especially enjoys discussing women from ancient history, including Ancient Egypt, the Crusades, Japanese history, and the Ottoman empire.

4. History of American Women

Maggie MacLean is an amateur historian from Southwest Florida. She has written the History of American Women blog since 2007. She deals with women in the Colonial period, the American Revolution, and the 19th century. One of her recent posts discusses Midwives in 19th Century America.

5. Amazing Women in History

KeriLynn Engel is a freelance writer in Connecticut. She started this blog in 2011 to “bring attention to the lives of amazing women we’ve forgotten about.” Among her recent posts have included the story of Fe del Mundo, First Female Student at Harvard Medical School and Fannie Farmer, the Mother of Level Measurements.

The Doctor Rudy Wells of the World War I Generation

09 Jul 2014

For people of a certain age, the words “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” conjures memories of Saturday evenings in front of the television watching The Six Million Dollar Man (although in my case, it also brings up memories of my parents having to switch off every other Saturday night because while my brother loved Steve Austin, I was a die-hard fan of Emergency!). For those too young to know, the premise was that Austin was an astronaut who suffered severe injuries in an experimental plane crash. The government spent six million dollars to outfit him with bionic legs as well as an eye and an arm in a project headed by Dr. Rudy Wells.

Many people were subject to horrific injuries during the nineteenth century that caused them to lose limbs or subjected them to disfiguring scarring or worse. The vast majority of these injuries occurred during wars. Unfortunately, too little was known about medicine at the time. Most who suffered catastrophic injuries died of infections and gangrene. But with the advent of the twentieth century, medical treatment was vastly improved.

World War I saw millions of casualties. Tens of thousands of these were injured so badly that limbs needed to be amputated. With medical advances, many people who previously would have died now survived. This prompted incredible advances in prosthetics in both Germany and America. Enter William T. Carnes.

 

William T. Carnes

William T. Carnes

 

Carnes was a 26-year-old working as a machinist in Pittsburgh in 1902 when his right arm was caught in a milling machine. He was injured so badly that his arm needed to be amputated. He searched everywhere for an artificial limb, but found none that met his needs for form and function.

Thus a man with minimal education started down a path that would eventually help thousands. He became an engineer par excellence, examining even the tiniest movements of human hands and arms to develop mechanisms that would respond to the part of the living arm that remained. He eventually started creating new limbs not only for himself, but for others.

In 1908, Kansas City businessman J.P. Prescott met with an accident at his warehouse that resulted in the amputation of both legs and his left arm. Hearing about Carnes’ success, he ordered a limb from him.  He was so impressed that he offered to back Carnes in starting a manufacturing business. He moved to Kansas City and thus was born the Carnes Artificial Limb Company.

Carnes became the leading manufacturer of artificial limbs in the country. His designs were so effective that even today people use limbs based on his patents. He died in Vernon County, Missouri, in 1958, leaving his wife and son. His work changed not only his own life, but the lives of countless others. You can read more about him in The Mother of Invention’s Long Arm. You can read more about those injured in World War I in The ‘Bionic Men’ of World War I.

Last Chance to Contribute to GenForum

07 Jul 2014

Nothing lasts forever. And recently Ancestry.com announced that several of their websites would be closed to further updates. One of the biggest disappointments was the news that GenForum would be one of those sites.

GenForum was launched by Cliff Shaw, who later went on to found Mocavo. He designed GenForum as a place where genealogists could come and share genealogical information for free. Over time it grew into the largest message board for genealogy.

Cliff sold GenForum to the Genealogy.com website, and in 2003 Genealogy.com was acquired from the A&E Television Network by Ancestry.com. GenForum has continued to be an extremely popular forum for genealogists to find and share information.

After more than a decade, Ancestry.com has announced that GenForum will be closing to new posts as of September 5, 2014. It will remain online as an archive of the messages posted up to the day before it closes.

Greg Boyd of Arphax publishing made a suggestion on Facebook yesterday that is being picked up by many bloggers, and I wanted to share it with you. He wrote:

“Hey genealogy buddies: here’s an idea that some of you should consider. September 30th will be the last day EVER for Genforum entries. You could literally have the last word on any message threads where bad information has been spread over the years.

After Sep 30th, all message boards will be read-only. Google still gives very high page rankings for Genforum entries by the way.

One word of advice: be sure to use an email address with your account that you plan to keep the rest of your life. If they have an old address on record, you might consider changing your settings to reflect your latest.

Just a thought.”

 

GenForum

 

[Note: there is a conflict in the dates. Greg writes September 30, but the GenForum home page says September 5. Apparently Ancestry.com has delayed the closure date because of their recent outage, but hasn’t changed the date on the website. Don’t wait until the last minute though, so you don’t get locked out!]

By this morning many genealogists, including Judy Russell and Cyndi Ingle were talking about what a wonderful idea this is. And I completely agree. This is a great opportunity to make a valuable contribution.

Take some time to look at your most important lines over the next few weeks. Then post to GenForum about it. This is especially important for lines where there may be major misinformation floating around. Once you post it to a forum, it will be preserved in the archive even after the closure. Visit GenForum today to see what family members you can post about before it is too late.