Saturday, August 29, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are? Review: Bryan Cranston

This has been one of my most favorite episodes in a long time. Perhaps because the subject, actor Bryan Cranston, digs up some serious dirty on his paternal line; dirt I can identify with.

Like everyone I have ever tried to help with their family tree, Bryan begins by saying he doesn't know much about his father's family. In actuality though, he knew his father, who was also an actor, was born in Chicago in 1924 and that his paternal grandparents names were Edward and Alice. That's enough.

This leads him to a 1930 census record with curious details; details that uncover that Grandpa Edward had a previous marriage and a daughter from that union. Like Bryan's father, who bailed on Bryan, his siblings and his mother when Bryan was just 11 years-old, Bryan's grandpa abandoned his first wife and child as well.

Through divorce records Bryan learns that his father had a half-sister, Kathleen. In the divorce record it shows Edward Cranston's first wife, Irene, requesting to return to her maiden name, Kelly. In light of the fact she had a child, the court encouraged her to retain her married name. If one pays close attention, though, we see when the half-aunt's death certificate shows up that Kathleen is recorded as Kathleen Ann Kelly; a detail that is not discussed on the show but one that I think ought to have been.

Bryan commented on the request by Irene to revert to using her maiden name when they are looking at the divorce documentation. He states something to the effect of, of course, why would one want to bear having to hold on to the name of a man who abandoned his family.

Whether is was done legally or not when Kathleen Cranston dies at the mere age of 16 her death certificate lists her with her mother's maiden name, as Kathleen Kelly because...why would one want to hold on to the name of a father who abandoned you.

There was a time when it was much easier to change one's name; illegally if you will. Some people went by many aliases. Nowadays with Social Security and the significance of "identity," changing one's name or even spelling of one's name is an intense legal process. But back in the day, names and what one was called were two different things and spelling almost never counted. We see this in other places throughout this episode; example, the Cranstons show up as Kramston in the 1930 census. It's only now that people are so hung up on spelling. But I digress...

Bryan is visibly moved by the discovery of his half-aunt's early death. He seemed genuinely hopeful that she might still be with us at the age of 100 or at the possibility of finding a long lost line of cousins. However, he was only left to wonder if Edward ever knew his first child died so young or if he even cared about her.

Edward Cranston apparently abandoned his family and opted to serve in World War I. Bryan discovers through Edward's Soldier's Bonus Application that Edward was also an actor. Now had the genealogist more thoroughly explored Edward's WWI draft registration card with Bryan earlier on, he might have noted that Edward had been employed by the Vaudeville Theater in Chicago; that was clearly visible on the show.

The biggest surprise on that Soldier's Bonus Application is that Edward’s marital status is listed as single. This dodgy move on Edward's part ensured that Irene and Kathleen would not receive any part of his soldier's pay. Grandpa Edward Cranston, in my opinion, was a big jerk and although Bryan doesn't say that he does state that this bit of information "exposes a link between his actions and my father’s actions. My father’s indiscretions, my grandfather’s indiscretions."

The pattern goes back even further, though when Bryan finds the baptismal record for his great-grandfather, James Daniel Cranston, born in 1849 in Montreal. I love this part too because my great-great grandfather, Damase Desjardins, was born in Montreal at about the same time. And as Bryan runs his finger down the column of recorded church functions he reads off some of the surnames one of which is Damase's mother's maiden name, Clement. This makes it feel even closer to home.

The baptismal record for James Daniel Cranston list his father, Joseph, as "absent." A subsequent record shows 2 year-old James Daniel living in a home for the destitute because his mother must work as a servant and can not financially support her child since the father has "dissipated." It is later discovered that the father had left Montreal to go off and fight in the American Civil War.        

Joseph Henry Cranston is found living in Ohio in the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. He too is listed as single when he entered the home in 1883. Through a newspaper article, Bryan learns that this great-great grandfather was found dead in a boardinghouse from what we presume to be carbon monoxide poisoning. At the time of his death 1889 the Soldier's Home appraised Joseph Henry Cranston's personal effects at just $0.25. Sad.

Granted, everything we learned about these men are facts. Facts that develop in us an opinion that is derived from our personal perspectives. We do not know the whole story. We have not walked in their shoes but Bryan ends the episode by stating: "There was so much abandonment in the line of men...these are men born with suitcases in their hands...this is what happened in my family and it stops with me."

Bryan also states that he wonders if there is really something in the genes. Is there? Or is this a learned behavior amongst certain clans that come to see this shunning, self-absorption, and distancing as acceptable? Who knows.

Bryan goes on to say that it seems you either move in the same patterns as your ancestors before you or you turn 180 degrees from it, in the opposite direction. This made me reflect on my own family's history of abandonment, well, more like estrangement in my case. And I thought really hard about it. It hasn't ended with me and I don't think it will. I do not, however, believe I am continuing in the same direction exactly. I have great hope what I do here, acknowledging of the truth of my family's history, will eventually bring about resolve for subsequent generations. I hope.    

Friday, August 14, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: Alfre Woodard

This past week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? focused on the ancestry of actress, Alfre Woodard. Specifically it focused on her paternal grandfather, Alexander Woodard, and his enslaved father, Alex or Alec Woodard.

Alfre's grandpa died when her father was a child and at many points throughout the episode Alfre stated that she was doing this research not only for herself but for her father. I have encountered this with many of the friends and patrons I have helped with their family trees. Even though their mother or father is long deceased, the person feels they are answering the questions their parents had about their family history. For example, I had one client burst into tears when I discovered her father's long lost brother in the Social Security Death Index. Through her tears she announced that that her father had wanted to find his brother so badly and "now he's dead too." Um, had the uncle been alive he's have been 96. Hmm. But I digress...

Woodard's journey really was an homage to her father and her African-American ancestors.

Although it is true that  African-American genealogy research can often hit a dead end due to a lack records identifying slaves by name, a great deal of information does still exist in post Civil War documentation including census, deeds, wills etc. The unfortunate truth is that enslaved African-Americans were considered property, however, they were indeed a valuable property and often documented in records of their owners. It was an obviously emotional experience for Alfre to see her great-grandpa at age 10 listed among the property of the estate of John Woodard, the slave owner.

That too can be a startling fact to most novice African-American genealogy researchers; that the African-American's family name is often derived from that of the white slave owner. I recently had to explain to a researcher that just because two African-American families in the same community have the same last name doesn't mean they were biologically related; it is probably more likely an indication that they were owned by the same white man or by white families that were related.

I think what was most moving to Alfre was the fact that this man who had been a slave with no possessions of his own had prospered after Abolition.Through tax records and land deeds we learned that Alex had become a land owner in Louisiana and paid the poll tax of $1 to become a registered voter.

The journey back in time through African-American ancestry can be emotional but it can be done. If the notion that you won't find any records because of slavery, or the Holocaust, or some war, or what-have-you, keeps you from researching you family history, don't be silly. Records do exist and you can uncover the stories of you ancestors who accomplished overwhelming feats.

Tune in again this Sunday for a special episode of WDYTYA called "Into the Archives." Can't wait to see what that's all about...

Tune in again this

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Social Security Death Index vs. Social Security Application and Claims Index

I have a beautiful little niece who is just about 3. When she was first born I called her Squooshy because she has the most delicious fat thighs; Gardner thighs, a trait both my sisters and I have gleened from my mother's DNA apparently. My father's family, with the exception of Uncle Tom's and his Popeye-like calves, seem capable of tottering around on toothpick-like legs. Squooshy their thighs are not.

As a christening gift to my niece I made her a family tree going back to her 3rd great grandparents; well, most of them. On my side, her mother's side, that was a breeze but this of course meant that I had to research my brother-in-law's family history. His family is not very close knit but they humored me and helped me in my research. There was one line on which I couldn't get back to her 3rd great-grandparents, though. My brother-in-law's paternal grandmother, Margaret, is a bit elusive. I was able to find her living with her father and step-mother in the 1930 census but could not determine her biological mother and at the time the Social Security Death index just provided a date of birth, death, and last known residence.

Margaret's parents would have probably been married in 1920 based on Margaret being born in September 1921. Therefore, Margaret would not appear in the 1920 census with her parents. And in the 1930 census her father is noted as having been married just 2 years prior. Thus the woman listed as his wife in that census, Delia, is not the biological mother of Margaret or her sister Alice who was born in 1923.

Every now and then I poke around on Margaret hoping will had some new record to lead me to Margaret's birth mother.

Well, lo and behold, my poking around last night paid off. now provides not only the Social Security Death Index now but also the Social Security Application and Claims Index.

What's the difference?

Glad you asked! The S.S.Application and Claims Index indicated the person's parent's names as they listed them on their application.

According to the S.S.Application and Claims Index Margaret's mother was Nora Kane.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Maiden Name

I am always startled when someone can't remember their mother's maiden name. Maybe it's because I am a genealogist and maybe being a woman has something to do with it. I have never quite understood "taking your husband's name."

I'm single. Probably terminally single and so I will probably never have to have this conversation with a potential husband but, I'm not changing my name. I'm in my 40s. This is my name. Have you been to the DMV? Or dealt with a health insurance company? Or Social Security? Yeah, unless he is willing to go through every process with me - - not gonna happen. Sorry Charlie - - or Bill - - or Tom, whoever you are. I'd be Mrs. but he'd be stuck with April Earle.

My step-grandmother is currently searching for her mother's maiden name in order to order a copy of her own birth certificate. I am sure she knew the name at some point. She needed it to get married and apply for social security, I am sure.

In any case it made me think about the maiden names of the women in my family tree and I can name not only mother's maiden name but both my grandmothers', my great-grandmothers' (Losee, Prince, Sauer, and Sharp), my great-great grandmothers' (Ethier, Gray, Hinch, Joyce, Krantzel, McLean, Samms, and Smith), and my 3rd great grandmothers' (Kelley, Carillion, Clement, Combs, Garvey, Goetz, Goodyear, Hughes, Kavanaugh, Moore, O'Neil, Organ, Page, Preuss, Schmitt, Walker), and more. Many many many more. Without looking them up.  But there are plenty of female ancestors that I do not know the maiden names of, so - - I'm gonna work on that.

Look out 4th great-grannies. I'm coming for you. Well, I'm coming for your poppas' names...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: J.K. Rowling

I love it when a family story gets debunked and that is just what happened to J.K. Rowling in last night's episode of WDYTYA? Now that is not to say that I like to see any one's dreams dashed, but history should not be a fantasy.

For those of you who are not familiar with Rowling, who is called Jo amongst her friends and family, she is the famed author of the Harry Potter series of books.

In this episode she explored her mother's French ancestry, focusing initially on her great-grandfather, Louis Volant, who apparently is not to be confused with Louis Volant.

Rowling's family lore had her believing that her great-grandfather, like herself, had been the recipient of the esteemed Legion d'Honneur; France's National Order of the Legion of Honor award first establish by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. She comes to find out, though, that the Louis Volant who received the honor was not her Louis Volant. 

Who would have thunk that there could be two men with the same name? (This is the point at which hundreds of Harry Potter's drop me a comment to declare their shock and dismay at their inability to cast spells.)

Rowling did learn, however, that her Louis was decorated for his brave service in WWI. And she appeared to be more moved by that knowledge than by the disappointment that he had not received the Legion d'Honneur; as it should be.

She also learned that several generations of her foremother's were single parents, just as she had once been. One of those single mother's was Louis Volant's mother, Salome Schuch and as evidenced by the record of her great-grandfather's birth at the Paris Hospital Archives, Louis was illegitimate. As an illegitimate child he was given his mother's maiden name at birth. Later documents reveal Salome, the single Parisienne servant, eventually becomes a dress maker and marries Pierre Volant, who took on Louis as his own son.  However, it is still unclear if he was or was not the biological father of Louis. Now there was a time when genealogists would have shrugged and left the paternity a mystery but now with the ubiquity of DNA testing, we might be able to resolve that question for Rowling.

As I often say, life is a struggle! There is no shame in survival. Legitimate or not, recipient of a one award or another, the struggles of Rowling's ancestors is still something she should be quite proud of; as should you be of your forebearers.

Next week's episode of WDYTYA? on Sunday, August 9 at 9 p.m. on TLC focuses on the ancestry of actress Alfre Woodard.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: Ginnifer Goodwin

It has been a while since I blogged. I've been busy with genealogy, though, and ushering relatives into the world of Ancestry DNA but I haven't really had the time to write.

The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? aired last night, though, and I like to write my reviews of these genealogy research vignettes while they are still fresh in my mind. And so, I am back on the blog...

...and maybe in time I will catch up on writing about my own summer family research. In time.

The first episode of this season of WDYTYA focused on the family history of actress Ginnifer Goodwin who played Margene Heffman in the HBO series Big Love. Ginnifer starts the episode by stating that she knew a great deal about 3 of her grandparents' heritage but nearly nothing about her paternal grandfather, John B. Goodwin. As the episode progresses we see there is a good reason for that; Grandpa John's relationship with his parents was undoubtedly painful.

In speaking with her father about his recollections of the Goodwin family, he expressed to Ginnifer that he wished he had asked his father more questions when he was alive.

This comment made me recall an informal family history interview I had with my maternal grandfather. My Grandpa Gardner's love for his children and grandchildren was palpable but he was not terribly forthcoming with information about his past or his family's past. Although many might argue with me on this, I believe that regardless of it being YOUR family history, someone's past is not necessarily any of your business and perhaps it was best for the Goodwins to wait until Grandpa John had passed to go rifling around in his childhood and upbringing.

By all means ask your loved ones while they are alive about their knowledge of family history but don't press them to stir up painful memories; that is simply unkind.

In any case, Ginnifer learned her great grandmother's real maiden name by obtaining a copy of her Grandpa John's SS-5; the application for a Social Security number. This program began in 1935 and although I have never used this type of resource in my research, it can obviously prove very useful to a researcher. It was evident to me, though, that Ginnifer's grandfather concealed his mother's maiden name on purpose. I suspect he did not want to revisit his relationship with his mother who could blame him.

The discovery of John Goodwin's mother's maiden name leads Ginnifer on journey through court records, divorce decrees, prison records, and hospital documents. Her grandpa John may have been better off on his own at age 11 then with his mother who suffered a series divorces from men who had more than mere run-ins with the law. John's biological father, Al Goodwin, was sent to federal prison for bootlegging. His mother and his step-father, Hugh Wyllie, were dealing narcotics at one point. And both John's mother, Nellie Haynes-Williams-Goodwin-Wyllie,  and his half sister, Pearl Williams, wound up hospitalized for addiction to morphine, a commonly prescribed painkiller at the time.

It was not a pleasant history to unravel but many are not. And whether any of us would like to explore them or not, a wealth of family histories are buried in court records. Don't be surprised, or disappointed, or ashamed to discover you have an ancestor or two who's suffering is documented in court records. Life is hard, people.

Next week's episode which airs on TLC on Sunday, August 2 at 9 pm, focuses on author J.K. Rowling's family history.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer Family Reunion of Sorts.

Every summer I go away for my birthday on a road trip. I insist that if one is not home for his/her birthday than it doesn't count. I will be 28 again...for the 13th time. I'm getting really good at being 28. Anyway...

This summer I was invited to stay with cousins in Minnesota. Cousins I met through genealogy research.

Many years ago I found a message board post regarding my great grandfather's sister; Florence V. Desjardins which lead me to Cousin Robert who in turn connected me to his brother, my Cousin Chris. We did not meet in person. All of our communication had been online. Then two years ago Cousin Chris's wife, Cousin Barb, came to New York for a business trip and she and I met. Now they have invited me to come visit.

I am excited!

Cousin Chris isn't much into genealogy but I plan to bring with me all the documents I have accumulated regarding our common ancestors; Great-Great Grandpa Damas Desjardins (a.k.a. Thomas Gardner) and Great-Great Grandma Malvina Ethier-Desjardins. I have neat things about them: Malvina's naturalization papers with a photo of her, Damas's obituary, etc.

I also have some documents regarding Cousin Chris's great grandparents: Their marriage record showing Florence needed her mother's consent to marry at age 16.

But my most favorite things: Newspaper articles!! Yeah apparently Chris's great grandpa and another of the Desjardins siblings got themselves into a lot of trouble in their youth. Breaking and entering, drunk driving, etc. Yeah - - that sounds like family.

The most important thing I want to share with Cousin Chris is that although our own immediate families are not what one would consider tight, there was a time when they were. After my Great Grandfather Albert died his wife went to live with Chris's great grandma Florence. And after Florence passed, my great grandma, Mamie, continued to live with her husband's brother-in-law who was Chris's great grandfather, Elbert. By the way, Elbert was my Grandpa Clarence's favorite uncle.

I have letters written by Great Grandma Mamie that tell a great deal about Chris's great grandparents. So although there has been quite a bit of distance and estrangement down the diverging lines for all sorts of reasons, there was a time when our family was close - - and there can be again. Although I have yet to even stand near, no less hug, my Cousin Chris, I feel like this is a bit of a family reunion. And I am deeply looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some Genealogical Mysteries

Back in March I started a new job. Once a month for half a day I am the genealogy librarian at a public library. I have four 1 hour one-on-one sessions with library patrons who sign up in advance.

So far it has been a wonderful experience really but I think some of these genealogy television programs have given people the impression that a genealogist clicks a few buttons and all your family mysteries can be solved lickety-split. Au contraire mon frère! That is not the case, my brother.

If you are just starting your genealogy research, I can show you tons of things; websites, resources. I can give you pointers on how to read census records, or ship manifests. And I might quickly be able to find your relatives in those kinds of records BUT those shows you see, Genealogy Roadshow, Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are?, they have lots of lead time and many genealogists at work behind the scenes. Me? I'm just me; learning about your family for the first time.

If you have done in depth research on your own and you can't unpuzzle the mysteries then I probably can't either in a one hour session.

And sadly, some genealogical mysteries will forever remain unsolved.

Say it ain't so, April!
No, it's true!

Records do not extend back to the beginning of man. In fact, most people would be lucky to get through the 1800s. We just weren't that big on record keeping until the mid 1800s. And not all records remain intact. Unbelieveable, I know, but shit disappears. Where are my tax returns from last year...hmm. But I digress.

Some genealogical mysteries are just part of they mysteries of life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Finally a Match!

For those of you who regularly read this blog you may know of Cousin Mary over at Threading Needles in a Haystack. She and I are 6th cousins once removed. My father and Cousin Mary have the same 5th great-grandparents; Jacob Raynor and Rebecca Raynor-Raynor. Jacob is a solid brickwall and although I grumble about him frequently, pretty convinced he was an alien dropped here from a far-off solar system, he is how Mary and I met. We connected through a shared record on probably 10 years ago now.

When I initially took my AncestryDNA test, a year or two ago, it said it could match with relatively good confidence genetic matches up to 6th cousins. I had hoped Mary and I would match, but we did not. That is not to say that we are not related. Oh we are but due to the recombinant nature of DNA she and I do not share the same sequence of DNA proteins from Jacob or Rebecca.

Since I took my test I have had several of my close relatives also take the test. It helps to both widen and deepen the pool from which to discover connections. So far, my dad, my sister, half-sister, two uncles, and two second cousins have taken the AncestryDNA test. Today the results came in for my Uncle Thomas and for the first time the results show that Cousin Mary and Uncle Thomas have a DNA match!


Now really all that does is scientifically confirm what Cousin Mary and I already knew. We're cousins! But oh, it's exciting to see one's research confirmed.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: Groban, Harmon, and Hayes

Although I have not had the time to write my review for these last three episodes of WDYTYA? until now, I have been watching them as soon as they aired on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on TLC; March 15, March 22, and March 29, 2015 respectively.  I hate cramming 3 reviews into one post but to do so means the highlights really rise to the surface.

Episode 2 of this season, Season 6, featured the family history of musician Josh Groban. (God, my mother loves him.) With the help of several genealogists, Josh tracked down his German ancestry. He learns that his 8th great-grandfather, Johann Zimmermann, was not only a religious leader, but also a music teacher & astronomer. In fact, he was such a well known astronomer in his time that Issac Newton referred to him in his own writings. Impressive!

But Josh's ancestor's astronomical sighting of Haley's Comet in 1682 lead him to predict cataclysmic doom which put him at odds with the church and thus forced him to head to the New World. Sadly, he never reached these new shores because he dies at sea. Sort of an anticlimactic ending for him.

What I loved most about this episode was Josh's reaction to learning of his ancestor's musical ability. I find that people love to credit their talents to genetics but the more and more I research family histories, the more inclined I am to believe that environment dictates talent so much more than genetics.

On her journey, actress Angie Harmon uncovered the life story of her 5th great grandfather, Michael Harman, who came America as indentured servant in the 1770s and went on to fight in the American Revolution. That means that, like myself, Angie could join the Daughters of the American Revolution. I hope that she does because Angie was so enamored by this man. In fact, she was so in love with him that it felt that some significant part of his story was left out. I mean I am sure tons get edited out of these episodes, and I do understand what it is like to deeply connect with an ancestor, but she was just SO in love with Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Michael Harman, it seemed a little - - much. That being said though, it kind of was my favorite aspect of this episode. You really can build significant bonds with your ancestors even though you have never met them, never will, probably will never even get to see a picture of them. It's a magical thing this genealogy research; the way it connects you to history and people.

Episode 4 featured one of my favorite actors, Sean Hayes. He played Jack on Will and Grace, the ever flamboyant gay neighbor. Sean's research lead him through a history of estrangement between his forefathers and their sons. Well, technically, those sons were also Sean's forefathers, hmm, but again, I digress. This is a type of family story is one that I am quite familiar with researching.
Estranged from his own father, Sean traveled to Chicago to learn the sad details of his paternal grandfather’s life. Not only did his grandfather die very young, at the age of 40, he also suffered an obvious decline into poverty. He didn't "die in the gutter" though, as Sean had been told but he was living in a flop house and died destitute.
Sean then follows the Hayes ancestral line back to Ireland, where court records show deep roots of estrangement and many relatives' brushes with the law. Through his research Sean comes to more deeply understanding his own broken relationship with his father. What I truly admire and appreciate is Sean's ability to not place blame.

Next week's episode features actor/director Tony Goldwyn. Tony is the grandson of media mogul Samuel Goldwyn which lends this episode to potential be quite dramatic.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: Julie Chen

Quite honestly, I didn't know who Julie Chen was but it didn't matter to me. I was so excited for the start of a new season of Who Do You Think You Are? that it could have been about an inanimate object, I would have tuned in to see it. Not surprisingly, though, Julie Chen and her ancestry is a whole hell of a lot more interesting than say a rock.

Chen is an American television personality and has been the host of the reality show Big Brother since it debuted in July of 2000. Obviously, it is not a show I watch. She is also a host on The Talk and an anchor on The Early Show. Again, I obviously don't watch morning television.

A few aspects of her upbringing struck me as intriguing right away. One, she was born and raised in Bayside, Queens. I had friends that grew up there and are around her age. maybe they knew each other...

And she is of Chinese descent and I have distant cousins who are also of Chinese ancestry and I know next to nothing about Chinese genealogical research. So I was captivated by this episode.

Not knowing a language other than English has impeded my genealogy research in European and even Canadian records. Reading Chinese seems even more challenging to me than trying to read French or German or even Czech. And Chinese naming patterns are entirely foreign to me. Julie, even though she is able to speak Chinese and knew some written Chinese, had various translators with her throughout her journey through China.

Julie first visited the National Library of Singapore where she met with Jason Lim, a historian from the University of Wollongong. Julie had seen her grandfather's English language obituary but there was more detail revealed in the Chinese language newspaper. There it described her grandfather as  having an "improper" childhood without an explanation as to what about it was "improper." This description perplexed and stayed with Julie through most of the episode. I could relate to that feeling of having to unpuzzle that description.

It was later revealed that her great-grandfather was appointed by the Emperor to oversee the Imperial Examination of young scholars. That position ended when the Dynasty abolished the exam, forcing Julie's grandfather to enter the workforce at just  13 years old in order to help support the family.

She learn the grandfather she never knew but had thought had always been so privileged actually made his own way in this world. I liked that this episode that further research into the lives of our ancestor can correct our sometimes improper and inform our always incomplete vision of the lives our ancestors led.

It was worth the watch and you can check it out online at

Monday, March 9, 2015


Did you catch Who Do You Think You Are? last night?

I plan to write a review of the episode sometime before the next episode airs on Sunday, March 15 on TLC; time permitting of course.

But I wanted to document last week's event on my blog...
A week ago today I received an email from a gentleman inquiring if I was indeed the April Earle quoted in this issue of Family Tree Magazine. Shock to me, I am the April Earle quoted in the publication. The issue talks about how to organize your family tree research and the author quotes this blog. I created a database to hemp me manage my genealogy documents a long time ago for a database design class I took. It's a simple Access database consisting of just three tables but what it has allowed me to do in terms of reducing my load of paper documentation is amazing. Sometimes technology really does help solve problems and make life easier....sometimes.

That is me in paragraph 2 on page 7!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Have Only Seen Photos of Her When She Was Much Older

In addition to helping me break through many of my research brick walls, my DNA testing has reconnected my family with not so distant cousins. This past week my Uncle's DNA results lead me to a match with a second cousin twice removed. 

That removed business confuses people. All it means is a generation apart. This cousin would be my grandma's second cousin, my dad's second cousin once removed, and my second cousin twice removed. Get it? No? Well, moving on...

This cousin had a photo of my paternal grandmother's paternal grandmother. My great-great grandmother, Annette Hinch-Henry. 

Annette Hinch-Henry circa 1889
I have only seen photos of her when she was much older.

I say this often. It is important to spread out and not just go back in time. Research more than just your direct ancestors. Research their siblings and in-laws. Sometimes those are the people who inherited the good stuff. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review - Philadelphia Historical Society (S2E6)

 I have been watching this program every week online. And sadly, I'm just not that into it. The genealogist presented six very compelling family stories but I'm just not into it. I appreciate that these are family history stories of everyday people and not celebrities but there is something about it that just doesn't captivate me.

The only story that struck me this week was that of the first guest. Genealogist, Joshua Taylor, revealed to a woman the full story of how her grandparents helped others escape the Holocaust.When in her early 20s, the guest's grandmother offered to buy her a car using money she inherited from a Jewish family. That family were cousins of the guest's grandfather. Using ship manifests and naturalization papers Joshua was able to show the guest photos of relatives; a brother and sister who escaped Austria at the beginning of WWII. She also learned the fate of their sister.

We don't know why the older sister didn't leave Austria but on the night of October 5, 1942, 549 Jews were removed from Vienna to an extermination camp outside of Minsk. The trip trip took 4 days and upon arrival the passengers were executed, including the older sister.

So very sad. It moved the guest and me to tears.

But it did show that European Jewish ancestors can be researched. I've had several friends of Jewish heritage sort of shrug off the idea of being able to research their family history. Yes, thousands of Jews were annihilated in the Holocaust and many European records were destroyed during the war but many records still exist and research can provide you an even more meaningful bond with those who survived the war as well as those who lost their lives.

You can view this episode online at

But in all honesty, I am looking forward more to seeing the new season of Who Do You Think You Are? which airs Sunday, March 8, 2015 on TLC. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review - St. Louis, Union Station (S2E5)

This episode aired on February 10, 2015 on PBS. You can watch it online up until March 11, 2015 at

While at St. Louis’ historic Union Station, this program's team of genealogists revealed many family histories including one to a pair of sisters who believed they had a link to a survivor of the infamous Donner Party, a man descended from a saint, an Italian-American woman seeking the validity of the royal family crest, a musician looking to determine if her great-grandfather was a famous jazz composer, a son and his elderly mother who never knew her own mother hoping to regain that half of her family tree, and a woman whose mother was adopted and wanted to know more about her biological ancestry. 

One of the two things that really stood out to me was the use of DNA testing in this episode. In the first reveal DNA was used to substantiate the family lore that the sisters were descendents from members of the Donner Party. In the second reveal DNA was used again but this time to dispel the belief that the race of the guest's great-grandfather was a big family secret. Both examples underscore that fact that DNA is useful genealogy research tool to both confirm and refute assumptions and family lore. It is not a substitute for documentation but when documentation just does not exist it is a very powerful form of evidence.

The story that stood out the most to me was the last one in which Joshua Taylor revealed to a woman the history of her biological family. It began with the guest explaining that family means so much to her but other than her mother and her daughter she knew no other biological relatives because her biological mother was adopted. 

In my mind, that statement alone sparks an incredibly powerful question of how one defines "family" and if DNA really is a factor at all. I feel that family are the ones that you surround yourself with but as you stretch back in history to individuals you did not personally know, is DNA the defining factor? It's a question I need to work through a bit more on my own before writing about it I guess. Anyway...

Josh uncovered for the guest incredibly examples of information resources for this woman whose ancestors' lives were ravaged by early deaths, abandonment, mental illness, and divorce. Through the use of adoption records, Josh was able to track down a marriage record for the guest's biological maternal grandparents. That document revealed the maiden name of the biological maternal grandmother. This in turn made it possible to research that family in the U.S. Federal Census records.

Census records can reveal quite a bit about the make up of a "family" as I defined it earlier; the people one surrounds himself or herself with. A census record shows who is living together and the relationships among the residents as well as their occupations, ethnicities, races, genders, and ages which can to some degree let a researcher make assumptions about the interactions among the "family" members.

In the case of this biological maternal grandmother, the 1940 census reveals that she too was an orphan and raised in an orphanage. Josh then shares film footage from 1940 of the very same orphanage. To think that the guest could have been seeing the face of her very own biological grandmother in that footage was riveting. Of course the woman's biological grandmother was not identified by name in the video but those children and nuns would have been her grandmother's playmates and caretakers. 

Just the string of resources that were used in this reveal were so overwhelming.For that alone, I recommend you watch this episode.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow: New Orleans - Board of Trade (S2E4)

So Genealogy Roadshow is back in NOLA (New Orleans, LA) for this episode. Hmm, I guess they didn't want to do too much traveling around on this season of Roadshow because there are so many other cities out there to visit; they have already been to New Orleans this season. Anyway...

In this episode, the team of genealogists revealed:
  1. A reestablished family history to a man who lost his family records during Hurricane Katrina
  2. A mufti-racial family with a common slave ancestor
  3. A man with link to the famous New Orleans residents Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and jazz clarinetist Barney Bigard
  4. A woman seeking to determine if her grandfather really did have a sister who died as a child
  5. Another woman curious about her great-grandfather's adoption from Honduras
  6. And a woman who had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War.

The two stories that stood out the most to me were that of the family history lost in Hurricane Katrina and the woman with a grandfather that had a vague recollection a sister.

Although I do not think of my community as "coastal" it is. I live on Long Island which although it's considered suburban, let's face it, it is urban. I feel like I live in a city. BUT it is an island. It is surrounded by the sea. So it is coastal, April.

Being coastal means that Hurricanes hit and in recent years Long Island has been hit hard by several hurricanes. In October 2012 we suffered a great blow from Hurricane Sandy which is often called Superstorm Sandy but let us not forget that just the year before in August 2011 Hurricane Irene ripped through my area as well.

In these impactful storms, many people lose everything they own; irreplaceable things. And although it is true that you can't get back everything you can rebuild. You can even rebuilt your family tree. This episodes shows how sometimes - **sometimes** - you can find books, documents and photos from and about your family in a library or archives. Cousin Mary over at Threading Needles in a Haystack wrote a great review of this episode in which she talks about how she found a family photo though an archive.

The other story about a woman who's great-grandfather had vague memories of a sister he might have had a sister who died when she was a child was very touching. I thought it also showed how sometimes, I would say more often than not, fragile memories and hard-to-believe family lore are true.

The woman told of how her great-grandfather would often stare off into space and when asked, would say he thought he might have had a sister named "Alice" who died when she was little. Sure enough, this man who wound up in an orphanage after the death of his parents and abandonment by his step-mother, did indeed have a sister. Mary Tedesco presented this woman with the death certificate for an unnamed female infant that dies shortly before this man's biological mother died.

Often death certificate state the place of burial and so I pray that the genealogist encouraged this woman to see if the cemeteries held more information - perhaps the baby sister's name would be listed there, maybe there is even a family plot with a headstone. Even if there is not, it was evident that this reveal meant an awful lot to this woman, to know that her great-grandfather's memories were real.

You can view this episode online at PBS until March 4, 2015:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Family History Object Number 1: My Claddagh Ring

The claddagh ring is probably one of the most well know symbols of Irish heritage. 

This is my Claddagh ring. It was given to me as a Christmas gift when I was about 13. I cannot remember the exact year but I got it from my mom. She said I was old enough then to own a real piece of jewelry.

The ring represent love, loyalty, and friendship. Love is represented by the heart, loyalty by the crown, and friendship by the two hands coming together.

My ring happens to be tricolor which I do not often see on other Claddagh wearers. The hands and the band itself are gold, the heart is rose gold and the crown is silver in color. I don't know if the crown is white gold or silver but the band is marked "10K 6" and thus I'm pretty certain it is all 10 karat gold because I know the 6 represents the ring size. I have little fingers; this is big on me.

The way one wears their Claddagh ring also has its own meaning. If someone is single then the ring should be worn on the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips. If someone is in relationship the ring will be place on the right hand with the heart pointing to the wrist. If one is engaged then the ring should be worn on the left hand with the heart pointing to the fingertips. If it is worn on the left hand with the heart pointing towards the wrist then it means the person is married.

I don't prescribe to those wearing rules. I wear mine on my left hand simply because I cannot stand jewelry in my right hand. It bothers me when I write and yes, I still write with a pen or pencil. It's not all typing you know.

I wear it on my middle finger, though. As cynical as I am about marriage, I still believe the left ring finger should be reserved for wedding and engagement rings. And because I am not currently in a committed relationship, I do wear the heart pointed outward towards my fingertip. Tradition is the one who makes the commitment to you should turn your ring around; if not actually give you the ring.

My DNA ethnic profile shows that I am 44% Irish. I have Irish ancestry on both my mother's and father's side of my family. Family lore on my mother's side, though, is that I am descended from the man who invented the Claddagh ring, however, there is more than one person given that credit and I have not been able to trace myself family back to either of them. 

One of the men credited with the design was named Richard Joyce. I do have the Joyce name in my family tree but it is a very common Irish surname. Although, my Great Aunt Ann did say the Joyces were from Galway which would jive with the story of Richard Joyce. Claddagh is a town in Galway County, Ireland where Richard Joyce returned to after his enslavement.

Oh yeah, Richard Joyce was captured by pirates in 1675, according to multiple online sources. He was on his way to serve as an indentured servant when pirates capture the ship. He was then enslaved to a man in Tangier, Morocco which is where he learned to be a goldsmith. In 1689, King of England, William III, managed to get the enslaved people back to Ireland. Among them was Richard Joyce who took his skills back to Galway, settled in the town of Rahoon, not far from Claddagh, married, had kids, and might have invented this ring design. He undoubtedly made rings of this design. Researchers just aren't sure if he invented it.

Like I may never know for sure if I am descended from him but I have Irish Joyce ancestry all the same and so it speaks to me just fine.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My Family History In A-Yet-To-Be-Determined-Number of Objects: Introduction

I am working on a second masters degree in public history. When told this almost everyone asks, "What is public history?" I tell them that it is like museum studies. If they nod knowingly I clarify further by stating, "It is how the public engages with history." Usually then they glaze over and if they hadn't already, they ask me what I do for a living or they move on to someone else, typically someone taller.

If they pursue a line of inquiry into the type of classes I take: "Ooo, what are you taking this semester?" Currently I tell them,"The History of Material Culture." And then they most definitely move on to someone else, definitely someone taller.

But since I have you here and you can move on of your own freewill, and I don't have to know about it, let me tell you what material culture is. In the simplest of terms it is the study of artifacts and what objects tell us about a people and their culture.

We have what hopes to be one of the coolest class projects in this course. The class is going to define the history of the University in a specific number of objects. We don't know what that specific number is yet - - maybe each student will research one object, maybe more. The assignment, however, is based on the book The History of New York City in 101 Objects by Sam Roberts.

This project has gotten me to thinking about how I might define my family history, or even just myself, in a objects. Like what would it be like to have a museum exhibit on me. How utterly insufferable that would be. This pondering also has me thinking up synonyms for self-absorbed: egotistical, narcissistic, conceited, pompous, megalomaniac...

Eh but who knows, maybe someday you'll want to do an exhibit on me. You could call it: "April Lynne Earle and The Shit We Had to Clean Out of Her Room."

I've been thinking how would I define myself in objects. Like what are the quintessential objects that people associate with me? What are those things I would take with me were - God forbid - if my world were on fire? And also if in those objects one might be able to see my family history. Hmm.

Maybe you can help me figure out what these things are and what they say about me and/or my family. I think there is no better place to experiment with this idea then right here on my blog. So be prepared to see some upcoming posts about the stuff I own. And feel free to contribute to the list of things I should include.

Or the synonyms for self-centered.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow: Philadelphia - Franklin Institute (S2E3)

This episode of Genealogy Roadshow aired on January 26, 2015 on PBS. You can view it online at

It took place at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this wonderful science museum, you should. It holds a dear place in my heart because as a child I had the opportunity to sleep there... Yes, sleep there ...with my Girl Scout troop. Yes, we spent a night in that museum, assigned to sleep in, of all places, the clock room. Tick tick tick tick tick - - all night. Not much sleep was had that night. But I digress...

In this episode the team of genealogists revealed many fascinating family histories including uncovering the validity of one mans claim to Viking ancestry;  the events that drove another man's family out of South Carolina and into The City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia), events which also impacted change in the history of race relations in the U.S.; the facts about a Portuguese great-grandfather's romanticized journey to the U.S. as a stowaway; and another family's connection to a big financial scam.

The story which spoke most strongly to me though was one that genealogist, Mary Tedesco, revealed regarding Loyalist ancestry. 

If you read my blog you know that I recently became a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Membership requires documenting one's lineage back to a patriot; an individual (not always a man but most often one) who fought or supported the efforts of the colonists to win the American Revolution.

Yes, I have Patriot blood in my veins. But if you know me, you know I have long standing roots in Long Island, NY. Roots that date back to the 1640s. And during the American Revolution, New York was a Loyalist stronghold; a location where most residents were loyal to the British Crown, the King of England. I have Loyalist ancestors as well as Patriot ancestors. In theory I had ancestors on my father's side shooting at ancestors on my mother's side. Makes sense.

The word "Loyalist" has entered my daily vernacular though as I currently have a friend rehearsing for a role in the musical 1776 in which he plays one of the most noteworthy Loyalist founding father; John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania. Yes, there were representatives at the Continental Congress who wanted to remain loyal to England.

Additionally, last week there was a 3 part mini-series that aired on the History Channel called the Sons of Liberty which portrayed the events of the American Revolution specific to Boston and Patriots such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Adams, Paul Revere, and George Washington; but marching around in that program were a lot of Loyalists.

So Loyalists and the American Revolution have been swimming around my head a lot lately.

In this family history reveal by Mary Tedesco, she presents a great deal of documentation solidifying the family lore of Loyalist ancestors absconding to Canada.Canada was indeed the land of refuge after the Revolution for those colonists who chose to stay loyal to the English. Not only did the colonists not want them around anymore, they didn't want to be around. So many went off to Canada.

The documents Mary shared revealed that the guest's ancestor was not only a Loyalist but really subversive in his efforts to keep the colonies British. He joined a colonial regiment of the army only to desert, he was found guilty of passing counterfeit currency in an effort to financially bankrupt the colonies, and ultimately he defected to a British regiment lead by the most notorious defector, Benedict Arnold.

You may know the name Benedict Arnold to be the most infamous traitor in U.S. History. Arnold started out as a General for the Americans' Continental Army, though. He actually fought at the Battle of Saratoga where my patriot ancestor also fought. 

Arnold was a very successful General for the colonists. We won the Battle of Saratoga; it was the turning point in the American Revolution. But after being passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress and having other officers claim credit for his accomplishments, Arnold became very bitter and decided to change sides. He began secret negotiations with the British to surrender the New York fort, West Point, to them. His plans were foiled and he narrowly avoiding capture. He lived out the remainder of his days in England labeled a traitor to America.

Having ancestry that was loyal to England during this time in American history is not uncommon. Many colonists consider themselves to be English, although the English did not consider them to be English citizens - they were merely colonists. If you wind up having Loyalist ancestors it is certainly not anything to be ashamed of, however, you probably wouldn't want it to be that Arnold guy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow: St. Louis - Central Library (S2E2)

This episode of Genealogy Roadshow aired on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 on PBS. I viewed it online at and it will be available at that URL until February 17, 2015.

For this episode, they were in downtown St. Louis at the Central Library. There the show's genealogists met with a woman interested in learning more about her great-grandmother's immigration from Italy to America to marry a cowboy, a woman seeking a connection to the pirate Blackbeard, a young man with Asperger's Syndrome looking for his genetic origin in Africa, and a mystery writer who's mother had a hidden secret that she can final explore.

As fascinating as that all sounds, honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by this episode. Regardless, I do like to watch the guests' reactions to the family history reveals. Sometimes there is shock, sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is elation. In this episode, I especially loved the reaction of the young man who wanted to know about his African ancestry. 

If you know any children who are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum you may often observe what seems to be a disconnection from the world around them. Often they lack the ability to communicate verbally or demonstrate empathy. In general, someone with Asperger's typically does not react the in the way one would expect. Sometimes they don't react at all; not even to things that should make they joyful, like receiving a birthday present. 

One aspect of the condition that I find most fascinating is that often the person will an intense interest in one specific, narrow topic. They somehow can connect with one topic. They are able to collect volumes upon volumes of detailed information relative to one narrow - granted, they don't necessarily having a genuine understanding of the broader topic but still.

This young man was very interested in genealogy. And when Josh Taylor revealed to him that his DNA absolutely confirmed this young man's suspicion, that his African ancestors did indeed come from the Mali Empire, the boy's face lit up.

Genealogy research absolutely provides emotional connections for researchers. Sometimes a genealogy find will make me feel like that on the inside but his expression was priceless. If you watch the episode for no other reason than that, it will be well worth it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oops! Genealogy Roadshow: New Orleans - Cabildo (S2E1)

Did I review the wrong online episode of Genealogy Roadshow last week? Yes, I did.

The Austin, Texas episode I wrote about last week aired on October 14, 2013; it was from last season. So I'm a little behind the times. That happened because I watch them online.

The episode that aired on Tuesday, January 13 on was centered in New Orleans. This too was a good episode but honestly, I liked the Austin, Texas one better. Maybe that is in part due to the fact that I know New Orleans has a much richer culture than the episode showed. See, in addition to the presentation of about a half dozen family history stories of everyday people, the program gives a little background on the city the show has traveled to. I would have liked to see a little more about the history of ethnic diversity in New Orleans. Nonetheless, this episode wasn't bad. What I enjoyed was the variety of resources presented.

I really loved the first guest's story. She was interested in finding out the about her family's house in the 7th Ward of the City of New Orleans. Josh Taylor presented the findings. Before revealing what he found he said to her, "We talk a lot about documents in family history, but sometimes its those physical assets, like the house, that is our link to the past." Ain't that the truth!

Now enrolled in a course of the History of Material Culture I am thinking about the story objects tell. But back to this reveal...

Josh showed the guest entries in city directories, census records (including surviving 1890 census schedules of civil war union veterans), birth certificates, and a civil war pension file.

That pension record revealed a first-hand account of this guest's racial background. Her 3rd great grandmother, who was born a free black woman, was the daughter of a freed slave woman and a white man. Additionally, the pension file revealed that the 3rd great grandmother did indeed receive her deceased husband's pension for his service in the Union Army. That pension helped to buy that home that the family has lived in for generation. 

"A single mother of six bought that house." 

And Josh is quick to point out that it was the Civil War and the ancestor's participation in it that changed the course of history, not only for the country, but also for that family as evidenced by that house.

I also love Josh's statement that pension files leave incredible first-hand accounts and "...if our ancestors were to write a blog, wouldn't we love to read the words?" Let's hope that blogs prove of interest to future generations of family historians.

The other presentation that really stood out to me was the one in which the guest wanted to find out more about the murder of her great uncle.

For this reveal, Josh presented a little about the value of headstones in one's genealogical research. Frankly, I don't have much first-hand experience with this because, um, my poor dead relatives hardly ever have headstones but this guest's relative did.

Her great uncle's headstone reads, "Neil Sessions. Born Nov. 28, 1872. Died Dec, 24, 1905. He was murdered and robbed. In life beloved, in death lamented." 

Josh then presents newspaper articles which he wisely points out are the best resources for anything sensational. From the information gleaned from the article Josh presents census records which establish the residents in the neighborhood and proximity of the murder victims home to that of the suspect. He then continues to search census records for what became of the suspect. By the 1910 census the suspect's mother indicates that only one of her four children are living; concluding that the suspect has died. Now is that true? Was the mother honest with the census taker or just hiding her son's whereabouts? The guest may never know for sure but she certainly got a more complete story.

There are a variety of resources available that can inform a researcher about his or her ancestor's life. This episode underscored the importance of exhausting them all.

And I must say before closing that the new genealogist they have added to the program, Mary Tedesco, was really a wonderful addition. I hope that in future reviews I'll feel inclined to recap her presentations. For now though, this episode will be available to view online until February 10, 2015 at

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Uncle Allen Gives a Spit

I bought my Uncle Allen an DNA kit for his birthday in mid-December. It took exactly a month for his results to come in. Yesterday I had the opportunity to look at the results with him.

Yet again I was dismayed to see how different his ethnic profile was from that of my father's. We know that siblings are not identical twins, that their DNA differs from one another yet when these profiles come back everyone is shocked that their profile isn't exactly the same as their siblings'.

My dad's results say 42% of his DNA is rooted in Great Britain. Uncle Allen's DNA is 54% Great Britain. That's a big difference. How can that be?

Well, it is the recombinant nature of DNA. Yes they each got exactly 50% from each of their parents but they didn't get the same 50%. DNA mixes itself all up each time it forms a sex cell. And that is the only answer to it.

This also means that my uncle had some different matches than my dad. But because they come from the same set of parents, all the matches that my dad has and all the matches that my uncle has are my relatives too. It doesn't matter that my dad didn't match to the same person as my uncle. My uncle could have only gotten that match from one of his parents, who are the same parents of my father, and my grandparents. All of Uncle Allen's matches are my relatives. By taking the test he has widened my research circle.

And widening the circle he has. DNA has this new feature called DNA circles and as soon as I linked my uncle to my family tree, two of these circles popped up - one for James Goodyear and one for Suzanna French-Goodyear; a set of my 4th great grandparents.

What these circles do is group together people who genetically match to the same identified family tree members. Each group currently contain 6 people, 4 of which I administered the test to; me, dad, my sister, and my uncle. One of the other 2 people in the circles is a woman who genetically matches my dad, uncle and sister. The second person is a woman who genetically only matches my uncle. But all of us have this couple, James and Suzanna Goodyear, as direct ancestors.

I reached out to the woman my uncle matches to. I wrote her and said, "Hi, you have a DNA match with my uncle which has put us in the same DNA Circle for James Goodyear and Suzanna French. That makes us 3rd cousins even though we don't genetically match to each other" And she wrote back, "I don't understand how we are third cousins, but don't genetically match."

Again, recombinant nature of DNA. .

James and Suzanna Goodyear lived in Newfoundland. Their daughter, Sophia Goodyear married Elias Earle in 1828. They had a son, Abraham Earle, who is my great-great grandfather. For a while I wasn't sure if Abraham was the son of Elias. I couldn't find any documentation about Abraham's parents. All I had was a handwritten scrap of paper from Abraham's daughter, nothing official.

Without official documentation, I was leery and hesitant about putting Elias in my tree as the father of Abraham but this past summer when I went to Newfoundland I saw that Elias and Abraham's headstones were in the same cemetery.
Cenotaph for Abraham Earle. He died at sea but his wife and some children are buried here.
Headstone for Elias Earle and his wife Sophia Goodyear-Earle. She was the daughter of James Goodyear and Suzanna French-Goodyear.

And not only are Abraham and Elias' families buried in the same small cemetery but they are only 6 feet away from each other.


These images were taken at Hart's Cove Cemetery in Twillingate, Newfoundland; the town where my great grandfather, Abram Earle was born. You can see many Earles are buried there including Elias and Sophia. Sophia being the daughter of  James and Suzanna Goodyear.

Stronger than juxtaposition of grave sites though is genetic matches to other known descendants. As more and more genetic matches appear, the more confident one can be regardless of official documentation.

If Elias were here to spit into a tube we'd know without question that I am a direct descendant but since he is not we can only depend on genetic matches to the living who have put the same people in their family tree. So thank you, Uncle Allen, for giving a spit.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review: Austin, TX (S2E1)

I had seen season 1 of Genealogy Roadshow and quite frankly, I was not that impressed. It had confirmed for me - at least back then - that people are only interested in their connections to famous people or significant events. That kind of turned me off but now the second season of Genealogy Roadshow is showing on PBS and I thought, "Well, I'll give it a second chance." I am glad I did. I really enjoyed the first episode which premiered on PBS this past Tuesday (January 13, 2015) at 8 p.m.

Unlike Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, Genealogy Roadshow's guests are ordinary everyday people, not celebrities. The show goes from city to city around the U.S. presenting snippets of family history of local residents.

What I appreciate most, perhaps, is the individuals' phrasing of their research question. Several years ago ran a commercial that stated that you didn't need to know what you were looking for, you just needed to start looking. 


That is not at all how good research is begun at any level. You must state your research goal!! One answer will lead to many more questions, trust me, but you must be able to clarify for yourself what you're looking for. A person's date of birth, if they participated in a war, where they lived - whatever it is, get a question!

This first episode of season 2 of Genealogy Roadshow took place in Austin, TX. The show provided some information about the history of Texas, Austin, and specifically the hotel in which these genealogy reveals were taking place, The Driskill Hotel.

In addition to absorbing some of Austin, Texas's local color, the genealogists,  D. Joshua Taylor, President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the Director of Family History at and Kenyatta Berry, past President of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and on the Council of the Corporation for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston, presented 6 people with glimpses into their family histories.

These guests' ancestry covered events including the War for Mexican Independence, D-Day, the U.S. Civil War, and the settlement of Rhode Island to name a few. Some of the guests connected to famous Americans such as Sam Houston, the first President and Governor of Texas, and early American theologian Roger Williams as well as lesser known figures such as Mormon bishop, Anson Perry Winsor

Josh and Kenyatta took turns revealing research. One reveal that stands out the most to me was presented by Kenyatta to a woman who was inquiring about a murder that may have taken place in her family's history as well as the speculation as to her connection to Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.

Kenyatta confirmed for the woman that yes indeed she was descended from not just one but four of the passengers on the Mayflower. Although that ship only carried 102 passengers, 45 of which died in the first winter, there are nearly 35 million people who claim to have descended from those Pilgrims. 

The guest was presented  with a book about the early settlers and informed that she could join the lineage organization, the Mayflower Society. This was not the only lineage organization that was mentioned in the program; the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were a subject in the first reveal. I've written about lineage organizations before and the benefits of belonging to them; first, and foremost being validation of the quality of one's genealogical research and documentation - - but I digress.

The most moving part of Kenyatta's reveal to this specific woman was the story of that murder in her family. The root of that horrible family tragedy may have been the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

We hear so much about PTSD now with soldiers returning from current wars but it is not new in any way. It has had many different names over the cause of history but the Civil War was really the first time the psychological effects of war were studied on such a grand scale. We think of PTSD as effecting the soldier but as this guest points out, PTSD effects the whole family. 

In this specific case the veteran who had fought in many notable Civil War battles had also been hospitalized at Gettysburg. He survived the war and went on to marry. About a decade after the marriage, he abruptly shot and killed his wife. 

A newspaper article - the most valuable type of genealogical resource if you ask me - revealed no "real" cause for the incident but noted that the man claimed to have no recollection of the event. Sadly, this veteran went on to be hospitalized in an insane asylum where I can only assume he did not get the help he needed because ultimately he ended his own life after several suicide attempts.

It is a very sad, sad story that no one really wants to learn about their ancestor but that many people would not want to share with the world. But as you know, here at Digging up the Dirt on My Dead People, there is no shame in sharing the darker, dirtier side of family history.

Before I depart, I'd also like to share my favorite quote from one of the guests on this week's episode, which wholeheartedly made me giggle. "Dead relatives can be a whole lot easier to deal with than the living ones." Hee, hee, hee.

I look forward to next week's episode of Genealogy Roadshow which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. It will air on Tuesday, January 20 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS. In the meantime, you can catch this past episode online at

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Family History in the Classroom

This past weekend I attended the American Historical Association (AHA) Conference in New York City. The focus of my recent studies has been on the development of oral history collections so I tried to get to as many presentations on that topic as possible but I did also get to see a session on Sunday, January 4, 2015 entitled "Connection and Community: Teaching Family History in the Classroom."

I suppose I should state that I am not a K-12 teacher; I am an academic librarian who from time-to-time has volunteered to speak to K-12 groups on local and family history as well as on how to conduct various types of research. I attended this session to see how educators are using the power of genealogical research to connect their students to history and I was not disappointed.

In addition to a representative from, an arm of that is free for school/classroom use, the presenters included three teachers from North Carolina; Kristen Ziller and Laura Richardson both from Wake County Schools, and Elizabeth Wiggs from Lee Early College.

The three of them worked with an organization called LEARN NC which is a program through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Education. LEARN NC "provides lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina."

These educators were great advocated for the use of family history in the classroom because, like myself and I suspect most genealogists, they too realized the incredible potential genealogy research has to connect individuals with the past. Through the interaction with primary resources about one's ancestors a researcher can develop a real relationship and understanding of who those people were and what they endured. It makes history - the events we read about in text books (immigration, wars, epidemics, etc. - it makes history personal. It makes history part of our family.

Although impressed by the full presentation, I was most moved by Ms. Wiggs discussion of her paper At-Risk Adolescents: Using the Past to Help Find the Future. That subtitle embodies exactly the way I feel about my own family history research. The more I have come to learn about my ancestors the more I understand myself and the world in which I live.

For those of you who do not know what "at-risk" really means, the term is often used to describe students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing or dropping out of school. These students often face circumstances such as homelessness, foster-care, incarceration, health issues, or other conditions, or it may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect their educational performance. 

Ms. Wiggs shared one case study of a middle school, At-Risk, African-American girl who through reading the book, Help Me Find My People by Heather Williams and using sources such as North American Slave Narratives website,, and, this student researched her own family history and formally presented to her family. We were shown that once given the opportunity to explore her own family history this girl became engaged with reading, writing, and research for, really, the first time in her whole education. It doesn't get better than that.