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.