Genealogy Blog

DNA Testing: 23andMe is Top of the Class

10 Aug 2013

There are a number of places for genealogists to get their DNA tested. Several years ago I had mine done. This past year, I had it tested with a different company to see what the results would be. Advances in testing over the years would make it likely that there would be differences.

23andMe (the name comes from the 23 chromosomes you get from each parent) did the testing this time. I must say, I am very pleased with the results overall. The test itself was extremely simple. You order it and pay for it online, and a test package is sent to you. I spent a few moments filling a tube with saliva. Then packaged it up in the included envelope. A few weeks later you will receive an email that your results are ready.

The 23andMe website has been dramatically remodeled, and I find it very easy to use. The Ancestry Composition section shows you what percentage of your DNA comes vrom various populations around the world. My standard estimate states that I am 99.7% European, 0.1% Middle Eastern and North African, and 0.2% unassigned (other populations include Sub-Saharan African, South Asian, East Asian & Native American, and Oceanian). You can also get conservative or more speculative estimates that might change your numbers slightly. Unassigned represents DNA that is found in a very wide area and cannot be narrowed down further. Each of those groups can be subdivided further. For example, I have 8.1% British and Irish ancestry and 2.3% Italian.




One interesting test result was the percentage of Neanderthal DNA that I carry. It is known that Homoneanderthalis interbred with homo sapiens. Although the Neanderthals went extinct about 30,000 years ago, the DNA survives today through the interbreeding. Traces of it exist in all modern humans outside of Africa. Each of us carries between 1 and 4 percent. I am in the 62nd percentile with 2.8%.

On area shows the countries where people with sections of DNA close to my own appear. In my case, the top five countries are France, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, and Sweden. Now, I have traced almost every single branch of my family back to Europe. I know that I have ancestors in France and Ireland. There is no evidence to support any ancestors from Poland, Ukraine, or Sweden, so I’m not certain where this comes from unless it is people who migrated more than 500 years ago.

Once your results come back, 23andMe checks for relations based on identical sections of DNA. My profile shows 984 people in the database are related to me. These individuals are grouped into categories. Close relatives are first cousins or closer (siblings, parents, etc.). I have none of those (not surprising to me). The next group is 2nd and 3rd cousins. There are 53 of those in the database. This is an intriguing number to me. I have 58 second cousins and 63 third cousins (with likely an additional 5-10 third cousins that have not yet been identified). This means that more than 40% of my second and third cousins have been tested. That would appear to be a large percentage. The largest group is 711 people who are 4th cousins. There are 220 people who are more distantly related.

One of the nice things about 23andMe as opposed to other genealogical websites is that they also test for health issues. These range from minor to major. It is important to remember, that many of these are indicators, and are based on averages. For example, one indicator said I likely had brown eyes, which is true. Another shows I have decreased odds of male pattern baldness. More serious ones show that I do not carry the gene that makes me less susceptible to getting HIV. One of the most serious, however, is the presence of the gene for Alzheimer’s. You even have to answer several times that you actually want to know whether you carry it.

I cannot recommend 23andMe more highly. The testing is excellent, and goes beyond the ordinary services from the usual genealogy results. And, unlike some services, you can download the raw data from your test results at any time so you can upload them to other databases for comparisons and connections. Give it a try, you will be surprised what you find. It may be the best $99 you spend this year.

What kind of genealogical research have you done this summer?

10 Aug 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked what kind of genealogical research have you done this summer? At least 57% of you have researched online and 17% of you were able to get to a repository to research. We hope that you will be able to continue to sneak in some research time throughout the rest of the summer and we are looking forward to helping you every step of the way. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.


News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, August 9, 2013

09 Aug 2013

Following are some recent news stories and blog posts of interest to genealogists. I hope you find them as engaging and informative as I do.

Back in 1964, newborn Paul Fronczak was kidnapped by a woman pretending to be a nurse. More than a year later, police returned him to his parents. Or so they thought. Recent DNA testing has proven that Paul is not the child of the Fronczaks. He does not yet know who he is, and an investigation is being reopened. You can read more about how DNA will help Paul determine who he really is, and possibly help identify where the real Paul Fronczak is, in Man Discovers He Wasn’t Kidnapped Baby; FBI Reopens 49-Year-Old Mystery on CNN.

Copyright laws were put in place to insure that content creators, such as authors and composers, would get fair compensation for their work, and to stimulate the creation of such work. Unfortunately, as the twentieth century progressed, more corporations (such as movie and television studios and record companies) got into the business of creating content. Their movement to change copyright law to protect their profits has had devastating effects on creativity. A recent story in The Atlantic shows that a book published when Chester Arthur (the 21st president) was in office has a greater possibility of still being in print that one published under the administration of Ronald Reagan (the 40th president). Read more in The Hole in our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, has an interesting post this week about probate. Using an example from Wisconsin, she shows where to look when the information is missing. There is likely a very good reason for it to not be there. Discover more in The Missing Term in the Will.


Congressional Cemetery Goats


Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., dates back more than two hundred years. In addition to 90 former members of Congress, it is the final resting place of a vice-president, a Supreme Court Justice, J. Edgar Hover, Matthew Brady, and John Philip Sousa among others. Long neglected, there is now a preservation group dedicated to cleaning it up and preserving the integrity of the monuments. This week they have an old-school project going on: they are cleaning up a particularly rocky and rickety section of the cemetery by using herds of goats. Read more in Why Are There Currently Goats in Congressional Cemetery?

Finally, this week, we have an interesting story from Discover magazine. Have the experiences of your ancestors left an indelible mark on you through the genes you have inherited from them? Biologists and geneticists now believe that it is possible to pass on epigenetic mutations to your descendants. Read more in Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes.


The Three Rs of Research

08 Aug 2013

The other day I wrote a blog post about families whose surnames daughter out. In this post I used my own family as an example. Among the descendants of my great-great grandparents, Abraham Leclerc and Celina Lavallée, there is only one known male in the sixth generation that carries the surname.

In reviewing my research on the family, I noted that I hadn’t researched those lines in quite some time. The last time I had done any work on it at all was six years ago, when I wrote an article for New England Ancestors magazine about a family tradition. And even then, it wasn’t extensive.

As I delved into the family, I was reminded of how long it had been since I last worked with the descendants of this family. I was lucky in some respects. My great-grandfather was the eldest son. There was one daughter, Josephine, older than he. There was a twenty-two year spread among the children. The last, Henri (known as Babe), was born in 1909. My grandfather was born only three years later. My grandparents owned a bar and social club from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Because of this, when I was young I actually got to meet a number of my grandfather’s aunts, uncles, and cousins (my great-great-great aunts and uncles and their children).


Through the years, however, the descendants grew apart. The last time I saw many of them was at my grandfather’s funeral a dozen years ago. Without these personal connections, it was difficult to trace the more recent generations.

But now, there are so many more resources available. The last time I looked at the family, the 1940 census was not yet available. With the help of that census, I was able to identify several more of my grandfather’s first cousins. I was also able to determine that two of his aunts were divorced quite early (back in the 1930s, when it was not as socially acceptable).

With access to city directories, public searches, cemetery databases, online newspapers and obituary databases, and more, I was able to quickly identify almost two dozen new descendants, including one who lives only a short distance away from me in Boston.

The important lesson learned is about revisiting research. All too often, we think we are “done” with a line. Or, perhaps, that we have looked at everything available. But in today’s world, new resources are constantly becoming available. So it is important to schedule some time periodically to return to those lines that you thought were “finished” or “impossible to take any further” and review them.  You never know what additional treasures you will find when you revisit them.


Three Steps for Sharing Your Research

06 Aug 2013


One of the best parts about family history research is being able to share the information and stories that you find with other family members. There are so many ways to do this nowadays, but all have one thing in common. We want to do the best job we can with our research, so the people we are sharing with can understand what we found. We also want to know that we have found the correct information. After all, who wants to have someone else’s ancestors on their family tree? Here are two tried and true, simple tips for doing a great job with your work and sharing it the best way possible.

1. Summarize Your Work

The very act of writing out a summary of your knowledge will help you with your research. Be certain to put a footnote for the source citation of every piece of information you have. If you don’t have a source, this will appear as an empty footnote, which will show you where additional research needs to be done. When I am writing up my research, I also include information that I don’t even have yet. For example, if I don’t know when and where someone died, I write “He died.” Putting a footnote with no source provides the flag that I need to know that more research needs to be done.

2. Genealogical Review

This is a trick from the experienced professionals. Have one or two people who are experienced and competent genealogists look at your research. They will see things that you don’t. It is simply human nature. If we have too much information in our brains, then we fill in the blanks when we are reading. Those with less information cannot fill in the blanks, and can more easily find missing pieces or assumptions in our work. These reviewers may also be able to give you some ideas on how to move find solutions.

3. Writing Review

Once you have gone back and filled in the missing pieces with additional research, it is time for an independent review of your writing. It is a well-known fact — writers cannot edit themselves. It is vitally important to have someone else read through it. They will find typographical as well as grammatical errors. It is best to have someone with writing and/or editing. If you are publishing a book-length work, it is absolutely critical to have a professional editor look at your work. This is not as difficult a process as many fear, and in the end it will serve only to save you the embarrassment of publishing a work filled with problems.

Whether you are writing on a blog, an essay for your family members, or a book, these three steps will serve you well. They will ensure that people can trust your work, and that you have interpreted it correctly.

The Case of the Disappearing Surname

05 Aug 2013

Compiled genealogies often maintain their focus only on those who carry the surname forward: i.e., sons and their sons and their sons, etc. While this may be a good thing for large families with lots of sons of sons of sons, many families do not face this problem, and it behooves them to include the descendants of daughters. After all, my mother’s ancestry is 50% of my ancestry, right? In addition, many families are daughtering out, with the surnames disappearing.


Family of Abraham Leclerc and Celina Lavallee, from the collection of the author, used with permission.

Family of Abraham Leclerc and Celina Lavallee, from the collection of the author, used with permission.


This situation can happen very quickly. Let me use the example of my great-great grandparents. Abraham Leclerc and Celina Lavallée had thirteen children. But from these 13 children came only 27 grandchildren.  Of these children, 9 were sons: Joseph (my great-grandfather), Olivier, Arthur, Majorique, Onile, Antoine, Charles, Abraham, and Henri. But these 9 were responsible for 21 of the grandchildren (one daughter had 4 children, one had 2, and the other two had no children).

Of the 9 sons, Antoine, Charles, and Henri died leaving no children. Onile and Arthur each had one daughter and no sons. This brings us down to 4 sons with grandchildren. Arthur had two children: a son and a daughter. Olivier had two sons and two daughters. Majorique had three sons and five daughters, but one son was killed at the age of nineteen in World War II, leaving only two to reach adulthood. My great-grandfather Joseph had one son (my grandfather) and four daughters.

Within two generations, there were only 6 boys left to carry on the surname. Of Abraham and Celina’s grandchildren, 78% were granddaughters or sons of daughters. My grandfather Alfred had 3 sons and 3 daughters These six children have thirteen children. Five of these are the children of daughters. My father and my Uncle Leo each had two sons and a daughter. My Uncle Roger has one son and one daughter.

This leaves us with five males who carry the name Leclerc: Myself, my brother Dennis, and my cousins Peter, Eric, and Matthew. Neither Eric nor I have any children, and at our age it is unlikely that we would have any. Dennis has two daughters and will have no more children. My cousin Peter has one son and one daughter (and I believe he is done having children as well). My cousin Matthew is in his mid-twenties and single, so he may yet have a son. But as of this moment, Peter’s son Colin is the only one to carry forward the surname of my great-grandfather Joseph.

Joseph’s brother Arthur had one son, but that son had only a daughter. Olivier’s two sons currently have no grandsons to carry forward the name. That leaves Uncle Majorique’s two surviving sons. Between them they had seven sons, six of whom might carry on the surname (one had no sons, the rest I have not yet traced).

In summary:

  • Generation 2: 9 sons (13 children)
  • Generation 3: 7 grandsons carrying surname (27 grandchildren)
  • Generation 4: 12 great-grandsons carrying surname (25 great-grandchildren)
  • Generation 5: 14 great-great-grandsons carrying surname (40 known great-great grandchildren)
  • Generation 6: 1 great-great-great-grandson carrying surname

Abraham and Celina’s children were born between 1887 and 1907. It has taken only a little more than a century for the Leclerc surname to be dropped to a handful of individuals who might carry it forward. It does not take much to realize why we should pay attention to all the descendants of our ancestors, not just those males carrying the surname. Only a small percentage do. It is vital to look at all of the family, especially if we want to be certain that their stories are preserved.


Blog posts and News Stories for Genealogists, August, 2, 2013

02 Aug 2013

This week’s gathering of blog posts news stories is filled with fun! I hope you find them interesting as well as informative.

A number of years ago, geneticists identified “Ancient Eve,” the common female ancestor of almost all humans on the planet. Tracing “Ancient Adam” has proven much more difficult. The Huffington Post reported on a number of different studies that have managed to several different common ancestors, including one who lived between 237,000 and 581,000 years ago. Read more in Genetic ‘Adam & Eve’ Chromosome Study Traces All Men to Man Who Lived 135,000 Years Ago.

The National Archives blog had an interesting story this week on Civil War Pension indexes and records. Did you know that there are five separate series of pension files? That the most commonly-used index is available online, but it is not complete? What’s the best way to obtain records for files after 1928? Get the details in C and XC Pension Files for the Civil War.

Genealogists come across many different ways in which our ancestors were buried and/or memorialized after death. Technology has only expanded these options. Musicians and music aficionados now have a new way of preserving their memory. A London company called Vinyly (get it? Pronounce it out loud) will take human ashes and press them into a vinyl record complete with music. Find out more in You Can Now Have Your Ashes Pressed Into a Vinyl Record.


Sea Fort Hotel


Many of us have ancestors who had military service of one sort or another. Many of these served in places that you can now visit as a tourist attraction. Imagine, however, being able to spend the night in the place where they served? An 1867 fort a mile off the south coast of England has been converted into a luxury hotel. It will be interesting to see if this idea catches on. Read more in Historic Sea Fort Reborn as Luxury Hotel.

I’ve discussed C.G.P. Grey before in What’s the Difference Holland and the Netherlands? Upworthy has uploaded a new interesting and entertaining video from Grey. This video discusses the strange border between the United States and Canada, which is not as straight as most people think. Watch the video at One Look at the United States-Canada Border Reveals Some Ridiculous Things.

How Historical Conferences and Symposia Can Help Your Research

01 Aug 2013

History conferences and symposia are a staple of academia. It is a place where historians and students doing graduate and post-graduate work can present papers about their research, which helps with their path to a tenured faculty position. These programs can be an excellent resource for genealogists.

Here are some examples of workshops, symposia, and conferences that have been held over the last few years:

Massachusetts Historical Society
Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation
Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disuion

Omohundro Institute
Africans in the Americas: Making Lives in a New World, 1675­–1825
Early American Biography

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

In addition to attending these events, there is another way that they can be helpful. Often the papers and proceedings are published afterwards. Individual presenters may also publish their work in more complete form in an individual book.


Law in Colonial Massachusetts


One example that I have found quite valuable is a conference held by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts in 1981 entitled Law in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630–1800. Three years later, the Society published a 600-page book based on the conference. The book is divided into three sections. The first contains 11 articles based on papers presented at the conference. Among these are “The Transformation of the Law of Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts,” “Criminal Practice in Provincial Massachusetts,” and “Law and Authority to the Eastward: Maine Courts, Maigstrats, and Lawyers, 1690–1730.”

The second section has four articles on source materials:

  • “Immortality brought to Light”: An Overview of Massachusetts Colonial Court Records
  • Court Records as Sources for Historical Writing
  • A Guide to the Court Records of Early Massachusetts
  • A “magistracy fit and necessary”: A Guide to the Massachusetts Court System

The third part contains four valuable bibliographies:

  • Sources for the Study of Law in Colonial Massachusetts at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Sources for the Study of Law in Colonial Massachusetts at the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts
  • Sources for the Study of Law in Colonial Massachusetts at the Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Sources for the Study of Law in Colonial Massachusetts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts

It is the second and third parts that I find extremely helpful. The information about the court records and how they were organized is invaluable. The examples of records that show how the information is organized within them is extremely helpful in working with these materials. The best part is that this was published prior to the creation of the state’s judicial archives. This may help me identify materials that we know existed prior to everything being physically moved around.

Check historical societies and university history departments near you, or near the locations you are interested in, to see what conferences they might have coming up. And look at their past programs to see what might have been published from them. I think you will find this a great way to boost your knowledge for your research.

Out With the Old and In With the New: NARA’s new Online Public Access

30 Jul 2013

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has long been working to make it easier to access the materials in their collections. A decade ago NARA launched the Archival Records Catalog (ARC). Now the time has come to say goodbye to ARC.

ARC provides descriptions of the permanent holdings in NARA facilities. The descriptions are quite detailed. Here you will find information on the federal department or agency that created the record set and a description of the records. This can include why and how the records were created, which is important information. Knowing this will help you understand what information is in the records, and why certain information is not in the records.

Another bit of important information is the provenance of the material. Nowadays materials usually go straight from agencies and departments directly to NARA. But it doesn’t always happen this way. And, more importantly, this path is not historically true. Remember that NARA was not created until 1934. Prior to that, federal agencies and departments were responsible for storing and maintaining their own records. This was followed with varying degrees of consistency.

Many records were lost or destroyed in the pre-NARA period. A perfect example of this the 1798 Direct Tax. This was a federal tax paid directly by citizens to the government. The funds were used to pay for the quasi-war with France. Unfortunately, the tax schedules were not turned over to the federal government. Few schedules are known to survive. In 1844 William Henry Montague (one of the founders of the New England Historic Genealogical Society) was appointed a clerk at the U.S. Customs House in Boston. One crisp autumn day he arrived at work to discover the janitor setting up paper and kindling for fires to warm the offices. The paper caught Montague’s attention, and he examined it closer. This inspection revealed it to be the actual 1798 Direct Tax for Massachusetts and Maine (which as part of Massachusetts at the time the tax was taken). He immediately ordered the janitor to cease setting fires. He managed to save most of the surviving pages, and arranged to have them put on deposit at NEHGS, where they remain to this day.

Not all records followed this fate, however. Many were turned over to NARA after it started operations. But understanding the path they followed to get there will help to understand why breaks may occur in the records.




In just about two weeks, on August 15, ARC will be shut down. The demise of ARC, however, does not mean that we will no longer have access to this information. That information is now available in the new Online Public Access (OPA). Many libraries, archives, and other repositories have moved to modern Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs) in the last decade, so if you are used to working with those, you should have no trouble accessing the information in OPA.

The NARA blog is posting regularly about the switchover. And you can visit the OPA page directly for more help. Start exploring the vast treasure of records available to you from the federal government.

“Don’t be discouraged . . . one bit of success makes up for a hundred false trails.”

27 Jul 2013

Like many men, my first recollection of fictional detectives turns to those famous brothers, the Hardy Boys. I was a voracious reader even as a child. I saved my allowance so my mother would bring me to the Ann & Hope store. I would run right over to the bookshelves on the main floor to pick out my new edition.

Edward Stratemeyer, founder of a book packaging firm, sold the idea of the series to Grossett and Dunlap and the first three books were published in 1927.  The books have always been written by ghostwriters and published under the pseudonym of Franklin W. Dixon. They have been published in several series through the years:

  • The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories (original series, hardcover, 58 titles, 1927–1979)
  • The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories (digests, softcover, 132 titles, 1979–2005)
  • The Hardy Boys Casefiles (130 titles, 1987–1998)
  • The Hardy Boys are: The Clues Brothers (17 titles, 1997–2000)
  • The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers (softcover, 39 titles, 2005–2012)
  • The Hardy Boys Adventures (4 titles to date, 2013– )

The Frank and Joe Hardy are the teenage sons of private detective Fenton Hardy. They reside in the fictional town of Bayport, located on the Atlantic Coast on Barmet Bay, with their father, their mother Laura, and their father’s spinster sister Gertrude. With their friends Chet Morton, Tony Prito, Biff Hooper, and Phil Cohen as well as Frank’s girlfriend Iola Morton (Chet’s sister) and Joe’s steady date Callie Shaw, the boys had adventure after adventure.


The Hardy Boys first adventure.

The Hardy Boys first adventure.


Although young, the boys were well-versed in modern and adult methods of investigation and detection. They learned much from their father and his police colleagues. From fingerprints and photography to plaster casts and undercover work, the boys never shrank from a challenge.

Genealogists can learn much from how Frank and Joe approached their mysteries with their detective skills. First, they had excellent powers of observation. No detail slipped by them. From fingerprints and footprints, to misplaced furniture and stolen documents, they were experts at evidence gathering. And frequently the important clues were what was missing, as well as what was there.

The boys never jumped to conclusions. During the course of a particular case, they would work hard to gather evidence and compile theories about where the evidence might be leading them. They never presumed anything without the evidence to back it up. They worked hard to preserve and record each piece of evidence as they acquired it, whether making plaster casts, taking photographs, or making notes. Being human, they did occasionally forget something, but in the end they always returned to the evidence and accounted for all of it.

The boys often immersed themselves in undercover work. This involved looking, sounding, and acting like the suspects. As genealogists, putting ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors can help us a great deal in understanding more about them. They also understood the importance of the law, and knowing how to correctly apply it to their cases. This is equally important for genealogical research, where understanding the law of the time and place in which you are researching is critically important to getting the most out of the evidence.

I still own my Hardy Boys books, and they are prominently displayed in my living room. From the The Tower Treasure to The Sting of the Scorpion, I bought almost every one of the original series (and eBay is helping me fill in the very few gaps). The title of this post comes from their first adventure [Franklin W. Dixon The Tower Treasure (New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1959), p. 41]. Joe is disappointed in their work one day and tells his father “Today’s sleuthing was a complete washout.” Fenton Hardy’s response? “Don’t be discouraged,” he said. “I can tell you that one bit of success makes up for a hundred false trails.” Wise words for the genealogist.