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.