Wednesday, November 1, 2017

With Reservations and Reluctance

So many people are so excited about researching their family history through these newfangled online websites that often we forget that some come to genealogy research with reservations and reluctance.

I am working with a gentleman now who I will call "Mr. S" who is only doing his genealogical research for his daughter. She desperately wants to know more about her ethnic origin and lineage; in part because her husband has a long well-research family history that stretches back to the 12th century. With all these 30-60 minute long television shows that make this all look so quick and easy, it's challenging to impress upon people that research takes much much longer than that. Sometimes it takes years to find information about even one's own grandparents. And Mr. S's circumstances have left him little information to work with. Mr. S grew up in foster care, separated from his siblings, and apparently lied to about the details of his parents' lives.

Together he and I came across a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for a man who had the same name as Mr. S's birth father but the dates just did not seem correct. The date of birth was much further back that either of us expected and the date of death was nearly 20 years after the year he was told his father had committed suicide. Additionally the SSDI record indicated this man obtained his SS# in Georgia; a detail Mr. S had never heard before.

Unsettled by the record, I went home and investigated further. I was unable to find this man, who may be Mr. S's father, in a 1940 census record on Ancestry. On a whim I tried looking for him in the 1940 census using instead. Sure enough, I found a record. In 1940 this man was living in a boarding house in New York City. Upon closer examination, another man with the same last name was also living in the house, presumably his brother,  his first name was Sidney. Now Sidney is not a bizarre first name but it certainly is not common. AND Mr. S had a brother of his own named Sidney. At that point, I was pretty convinced that these men were Mr. S's father and uncle and that the SSDI record was for his father.

Further confirmation came when I looked more closely at a death record Mr. S & I found together for his older brother who died at birth in 1941. That death record taken from the NYC Municipal Death Record Index through FamilySearch stated that the child died at the same address of the boarding house.

Mr. S's father wasn't born in the 1920s as we estimated, he was born in 1907 in Georgia. And he didn't die in the 1950s, he died in 1976.

I think these are painful truths for anyone in Mr. S's situation to have to face. It's hard enough to have had a difficult childhood, to have to rehash the details of it can be incredibly painful and frustrating.

I am not certain Mr. S's daughter will appreciate how much of a success this find is given how little detail we had. Sometimes adding just 1 more generation to the tree is as much as one can get.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Earth Shattering Family History for Fred Armisen

Did you know October is Family History Month? 

Yeah, I knew too but I've been so crazy busy that I haven't planned anything special. Typically, I try to do some project to enhance my personal family history research. In the past I have turned my blog over to guest cousin writers, written biographies on each of my direct ancestors, traveled to far flung cemeteries on a weekly basis, etc. etc. etc. 

This year I didn't plan anything but this morning I realized I am watching Finding Your Roots every week with my dad. He mostly uses it to fall asleep to but since I too am apparently half-assing Family History Month, I find this acceptable.

Have you been watching Finding Your Roots?

I loved Fred Armisen's family story which was in last night's episode (October 10, 2017). He is the grandson of a thought-to-be Japanese famous dancer turned WWII spy. As my almost 5 year-old niece Sofie would say in a sharp, short, voice, "What?!" It was absolutely mind blowing. 

Armisen barely knew his grandfather so certainly there would be surprising revelations. He had only met his grandfather a handful of times in his life. He knew he was a Japanese dancer and choreographer; at least he thought he was. Not only did he did not know of his grandfather's role as a spy, he also did not know his true ethnic origin, original name, and the fact that there is a museum in Japan dedicated to his art. What the what?!?!

Now I have learned some surprising facts about my ancestors but nothing quite as Earth shattering as a museum about them. Jeez-Louise.

Additionally, the researchers were able to find a chokbo which is a Korean book of genealogy that traced Armisen's family back to the 1600's. For a man who knew so little when he started the episode he certainly left with a tremendous amount of information; more than most people find in a lifetime of research.

At the end of the episode they showed clips of Armisen visiting the museum and seeing images of his grandfather's works and costumes. Just amazing!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Remembering Ben and Reflecting on Cremation

On Saturday, August 5, 2017, I received an Earth shattering call from Cousin Peter that his cousin Ben had passed away. Since that day I have burst into tears at least once per day.

Ben was like a cousin to me. I didn't see him often but then again, I did see him more frequently then some of my own first cousins. I think of him as family. He was. And there was a time when we were close; a brief period when we called one another just to chat.

Ben was my age...or just about. I was born in June of 1974, Ben in November. However, I will always be 28. And well, now I suppose Ben will always be 42.

He and I seemed to have very similar emotional responses to the circumstances and situations around us. Ben, however, like so many I have loved, struggled with addiction. Recently, it had seemed he had gotten a handle on his demons; that he was sober and finally in a good place. Sadly, though, it was  indeed an overdose that took him from us.

His funeral was like no other that I have experienced. I thought my grandfather's wake had a huge turn out; the procession from the mass to the cemetery comprised about 75 cars of family and friends. Ben's wake, though, was so crowded that you couldn't move. People were packed into the double room shoulder to shoulder, out the door, filled the foyer, out the building, and down the block. And I had never been to a service where I had seen more people visibly shaken and unable to compose themselves; including me.

That is because Ben was awesome; funny beyond measure, generous beyond belief. He taunted everyone equally and no one was spared.

When I read his obituary I learned that his remains would be cremated and it made me a little sad. I shouldn't have been surprised and I really wasn't. Cousin Peter's family had chosen cremation for both of his grandparents on his mother's side. Of course Ben would be cremated. However, it made me flash back to when I was working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook.

I was about a semester into working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook, my capstone project for my Masters in Public History, when I finally obtained Mr. Boller's obituary which stated that he too had been cremated. It made me sad then that I had no place to go to pay my respects to Mr. Boller whom I had never met. Ben I at least knew and can sense around me since his passing.

However, Cousin Peter has assured me that Ben's cremains will be interred in a columbarium or outdoor memorial wall of some sort so I will indeed have a place to visit Ben. For researchers, however, who read such obituaries, one does not know if those person's ashes are interred somewhere or simply scattered about the deceased's favorite park or body of water or ballfield, what-have-you.  I hate obituaries like that. However, Ben's obituary is really quite beautiful, informative about familial connections (like all genealogist want to see), and very fitting.

If you have someone close to your heart who has struggled with and succumbed to the pain of addiction, or even if they are presently struggling, I encourage you to consider making a donation to Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson, NY ( They are an organization that ministers to individuals and families in crisis and a place that has provided much love and support to Ben's family. Once you click on the "Submit Information" button on this page (, whether you fill in any information or not, you will be brought to a paypal site through which you can make an online contribution.

Friday, August 4, 2017

More Moors

Several years ago, late June of 2012 to be more precise, some of my very best friends, Andrea and Laszlo, were visiting Laszlo's mother in New Hampshire. It was at that time that I discovered my connection to an American Revolution Patriot; two in fact, my 5th great grandfathers, Colonel Daniel Moor and his brother, Robert Moor. Yeah, one set of my 4th great grandparents were 1st cousins. Daniel's daughter, Eleanor, married Robert's son, William.

It just so happened that Daniel and Robert were buried in Derry, NH right where my friends were vacationing. At my request, their family went trampling around Forest Hills Cemetery looking for headstones of my ancestors. 

Forest Hills Cemetery is where Robert Moor is interred as well as his parents, my 6th great grandparents, John Moor and Janet Grey-Moor.

On my recent road trip to Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia with Cousin Kelly and Cousin Peter, we made our way home through New Hampshire and stopped at the cemetery where Colonel Daniel Moor is interred; Old Bedford Cemetery on Back River Road.

This here is an aerial shot of the cemetery. My Moors are located at the top of the diamond here:

Early settlers of Londonderry, NH, now known as Derry, NH, were buried here. This includes many Moor family members.

To give you an idea how the size of these headstone that appear as little black dots above, here is a photo of Cousin Kelly standing in front of Colonel Daniel's stone:

I am much shorter than Cousin Kelly. Basically, the large stone here is my height; 4' 10".

It is a little hard to read but here is the face of the stone:

A more curious stone to me was this one below. It was tucked off in the corner but right near this family's section. It was that of Peter Moor, a "Negro Servant of William Moor, Elder. He died July 9th, 1790 In the 39th year of his age.":

I do believe William Moor Elder, the term they used then to mean Sr., was the brother of Colonel Daniel but I have to put a little more research into sorting out the mesh of Moors in my family tree and Derry.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Genealogical Sources & Services 101 in Review

It has been awhile since I have posted. It's been a very busy spring and summer. If you have read my blog in the past, you may know that this past June I taught my very first online graduate course on genealogical sources and services through St. John's University's Division of Library and Information Science.

It was a great experience. I really really enjoyed it and my students seemed to as well. I received really positive feedback from the 14 students I had.

They were from very diverse backgrounds which made their final papers fun to read. The focus of the 4 1/2 week online course was for each of them to write a brief biography on a relative who passed away before the student was born. In order to do so they had to conduct their own family history research. This included conducting a family history interview, building a family tree, using online databases through &, and developing research strategies to fill in the gaps in their findings. Additionally, we covered topics more specific to librarianship in the field of genealogy; topics like ethics, empathy, referrals, and public perception. 

Some of the feedback from my students verbalized thoughts and feelings I myself have experienced but was never able to put into words like this:

"While I did not uncover anything earth-shattering about my ancestors, seeing their signatures on documents, photos on naturalization papers, and handwriting on forms (ie: WWI and WWII draft registrations) was enough to bring a smile to my face."

"Going back through my family history made me appreciate where I am today even more."

"I really enjoyed ... how my project brought my family closer."

I look forward to teaching the course again next summer and I'm already thinking about what changes I would like to make to the course. I think I am going to cut out a portion about interviewing professionals and just post some interviews I conduct by myself with genealogy librarians. Also, I think I might add in some brain storming activity about creating potential library programs one could design related to genealogy.

Have you attended any genealogy related programs at your public library that you really enjoyed and/or learned a lot from? 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Now Mrs. G's Grandpa and the U.S. Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates

My last visit to my job at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community Library has had some dazzling results. I had another return patron sit down with me for a one-on-one research session during which time she told me all about the story surrounding her grandfather's murder; well, at least what she had heard. 

It happened long before she was born so Mrs. G never knew her granddad. As she began to tell the story I immediately went to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online at; a free resource. There we found several articles revealing many of the details Mrs. G already knew.

From the date of death, we found the death record for her grandpa. He had a very common name. Without that date I fear I would have never been able to narrow down which man he was - his name is so common; William Walsh. Using The New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949 database ( with in, though, I found it right away.

From there we learned his parents names. When I got home, I did sort of a back-end search this time in the New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909 ( I searched for children born to a couple with the same names as Mrs. G's great grandparents names. This revealed not only her grandfather's date of birth but also several of his siblings and their birthdates.

Armed with the names of some of the members of this family group I was able to find census records for the family. I then moved beyond the censuses to vital records and military records. When all of sudden, what do my eyes behold but three records; two for William and one for his brother (with a much more unusual name) in the U.S. Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates in

I have run across these Protection Certificates before. According to the National Archives catalog, "A typical application contains the seaman's name, the date and place of his birth, his address, signature, thumb print, a photograph, his present or prospective rating, and the name of the vessel on which he served or was expected to join. As evidence of citizenship, birth certificates, affidavits by relatives or friends, or citations to naturalization proceedings were frequently appended." That's right, like naturalization records, these records often have photographs and sure enough staring back at me were images of William; young with eyes full of hopes and dreams. A man his granddaughter has never laid eyes on.

Additionally, these men's birth certificates were appended to the applications which confirmed their parents' names.

I immediately called Mrs. G who was so excited and looks forward to gathering the copies of the images of the documents that I will leave for her at the reference desk when next I visit the library.

During our session together, Mrs. G had burst into tears at one point, so overcome with excitement but saddened by the notion that she had no family members who remembered these people; no one to share her grandfather's story with. 

I expressed to her that it isn't necessary that these stories be shared with people acquainted with the deceased. I assured her that there would be many people who would want to hear his story. Many. I told her it isn't always this easy; especially with ancestors who have common names. Sometimes it's very near impossible to discern one common named individual from another. But, some relatives just want to be found. They just want their story known. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mr. H's Grandpa & The New York City Catholic Protectory

This summer I will be teaching an online course through St. John's University about Genealogical Sources & Services. Some time ago I determined the culminating project for the course to be an ancestor's biography. My students will write a 1500-3000 work biography on an relative; it doesn't really have to be a direct ancestor just someone who passed before they were born and that they are able to find records about. 

As a teacher you can write all sorts of checklists and rubrics conveying to the students your expectations and how they will be graded but in some instances I believe it is best to also supply them an example they can model. Some worry themselves that the students will just copy the example and not really learn the concepts involved. I disagree, especially in this instance. There is no way they can really copy the biography I wrote on my great grandfather, Albert.

Albert was quite a character. According to newspaper articles he had quite a few brushes with the law as a youth. At one point he was sentenced to the New York City Catholic Protectory. This institution was sort of an orphanage / juvenile delinquency program run by the Catholic Church in an effort to instill morality and ethics in children. Hmm. 

According to a New York Times article from July of 1865 this institution received children who were:

  1. Children under the age of 14 years, who, by consent in writing of their parents or guardians, may be intrusted to it for protection or reformation.
  2. Children between 7 and 14 years of age, who may be committed to the care of such corporation as idle, truant, vicious, or homeless, by order of any magistrate in the City of New-York, empowered by law to make committal of children for any such cause.
  3. Children of the like age who may be transferred, at the option of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New-York, to such corporation.

For my biography on Albert, I researched the history of the Protectory as well as discovered records available about the young residents in

As my regular readers know, I also work at a public library once (sometimes twice) per month doing one-on-one consultations with individuals interested in researching their family history. 

This past month I worked with a patron we'll call Mr. H. He has come to see me once before. At that time we worked on his father's side of the family. At this visit we focused on his mother's side. After finding a few records he began to tell me a story about his grandfather. He had heard his grandfather and his brothers were put in some type of orphanage after his mother died. "But it wasn't an orphanage really because they eventually went back to their father," Mr. H said. "He went there when he got in trouble with the law too one time. It was run by the Catholic church which is why he didn't want to have anything to do with the church."

I became silent. I waited for him to say the word protectory. I waited. I could see him struggling to recall the word. And then I asked. "Was it the New York City Catholic Protectory?"


I immediately switched over to and found the un-indexed database. The struggle to find this particular database was due to the fact that is it titled Residents' Identification Cards, ca. 1880-1938 and authored by The Society for the Protection of Destitute Roman Catholic Children of New York City. Lot of words to remember. However, it is indeed the records for what was part of the New York City Catholic Protectory

Because it is not indexed, we had to scroll through the alphabetically organized images. And there we found it, Mr. H's grandpa 12 index cards worth of information about the circumstances surrounding his residency there at what was then called The Lincoln Hall School in Lincolndale, New York.

The cards told of his brush with the law at a very young age, about the health conditions of his parents which landed him there at his first visit, it gave his mother's maiden name, and helped us to narrow down her date of death to sometime between 1905 and 1907.

Albert was just 2 1/2 years older than Mr. H's grandpa. And although I can't find Albert in those digitized records, not all of them are digitized mind you, I can't help but wonder if the two resided there at the same time and if so, did they know each other. Either way, I like to think that my great grandpa Albert helped me help Mr. H add a little more detail and color to his own family history.

Friday, February 24, 2017

FutureLearn Genealogy MOOC: The Second Half

Well, I have completed the Massive Open Online Course I was taking through the University of Strathclyde via FutureLearn called "Genealogy : Researching Your Family Tree." What an experience! 

I came to learn that there were over 12,000 people enrolled in the course. Yes - 12,000! Three zeros. 

That being said there wasn't much interaction with peers or professors. The information that was disseminated was fabulous but honestly, it wasn't much different than reading a book on the topic. Yes, there were some videos and suggested activities but it wasn't really like taking a college course. I wasn't graded, there were no due dates, etc. I just went at my own pace reading through or watching the materials presented for the week. It really took no more than 2 hours each week. And in all honesty, that is what I wanted.

The first half of the course I wrote about week by week. The second half was really the type of instruction I was really looking to see presented online; it focused on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), really reading documents, filling in family tree forms, placing your genealogical finding into historical context, local history resources, and DNA testing as a genealogical tool, just to mention a few of the topics covered.

For my next genealogy learning experience, I have signed up to participate in some webinars through The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) called  "Mastering New York Genealogy." It is being offered exclusively to NEHGS members for $125 and is a series of five presentations that can be viewed online either in real time or after the recording. They are taught by expert genealogists employed by NEHGS. They include: Christopher C. Child, Lindsay Fulton, Henry B. Hoff, David Allen Lambert, and Rhonda R. McClure. Most of whom I have seen speak before at genealogy conferences and presentations.

I will keep you posted on how that experience goes but anyone who is looking to get just a little more insight on how to do genealogy research, I highly recommend taking  "Genealogy : Researching Your Family Tree" by the University of Strathclyde through FutureLearn.

The Lead Educator, Tahitia McCabe was wonderful. I sincerely loved Graham Holton's information DNA. I also loved watching Chris Atkins family research story unfold. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Week 3 of the FutureLearn Genealogy MOOC

This week of the class is exactly what I have been waiting for. We covered the major types of genealogical resources; both civil and religions. A big focus was placed on census records. I've been waiting to see how someone breaks down the overwhelming number of resources available into digestible lessons.

I really enjoyed the discussion of giving proper consideration as to WHY the record was created. You have no idea how many times I've showed a client a census record and they ask me, "Does it say when they died?" Um, not unless the census taker was an assassin or a psychic. One needs to realize why a particular resources is telling you what it is telling you and why it's not going to give you other bits of information you might be looking for.

My absolute favorite part of this week, though, was a video which demonstrated exactly how to use documents to fill in your family tree. After the instructor showed a document and discussed the recorded information, the video transitioned to a blank family tree form and showed exactly how to fill in the facts we just learned through the documentation.

The most important part of that video was the instruction to use pencil. We haven't gotten up to learning about the genealogical proof standard, or GPS, just yet. If you have done any family history research of your own, though, you have learned that not just one piece of documentation alone constitutes a fact. You kind of have to built up a collection of resources and boil them down to the facts.

The final component of this week's lessons focused on evaluating databases. In our very digital age we expect everything to be online in one place. Let me tell you, is not the end-all-be-all of genealogy research. It does indeed provide one access to a large array of resources but there are all sorts of online resources available for this type of research and even more that has not been made digital.

In any case, I wonder what this week has in store...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week 2 of the FutureLearn Genealogy MOOC

This week the genealogy course I am taking online through FutureLearn focused issues with the spelling of names and wildcard searching. Both are topics I didn't consider focusing on much in the course I am preparing to teach online this summer. Of course I would have mentioned these aspects of genealogy research but I didn't consider spending much time on them at all. 

When I work with patrons at my part-time job as a genealogy librarian I always say that spelling never counts. There are many reasons why the spelling of a name might appear wrong in a record. I suppose sometimes the individual is lying to the government or hiding who they are but I think that is the least likely reason on them all. I think more often it is a human error in the indexing caused by poor penmanship of the past. For example, I just worked with a woman whose grandfather was indexed as "Mchlose" in the 1920 census. "Ooo, what kind of name is that?," she asked. When you open the image you can clearly see the swirly handwriting of the census taker and that grandpa's name was Nicholas, just as she always thought it was.

The course suggested that one way to combat spelling issues is to use wildcard searching. Wildcard searching is when a character, such as a * or !, replaces a letter or string of letters in a word.  That work sometimes. For example, I help my friend Ken with his family tree from time to time. He has the surname Caponetti in his family tree. I have seen some records show up as Capinetti, Caponelli, Caponeti. So I could do a search, depending on the database, for Cap* and pull back all sorts of records I might not otherwise have seen. That also pulls back every other name that starts with "Cap" though. So, eh, sometimes wildcard searches help, sometimes they are just as overwhelming. I still only plan to mention wildcard searching in my course though. 

This aspect of this week's course did shine light on the fact I was making the assumption that Library Science graduate students know how to do this type of searching and know when it is an appropriate time to do so. Maybe they don't/ I'll definitely mention it but I have no intention of spending that much time on it.

Now complete surname changes, though, can cause real issues for genealogists. In my own family history my great grandfather went from using the surname DesJardins to Gardner. If my grandpa hadn't told me that I might never have seen a record documenting that change. 

This past month I worked with another patron who came in with a nice Irish last name. However, his original family name wasn't even close to what his present surname is. It was very Russian...with a nice strong lankowicz at the end of it. This was revealed through his great grandfather's naturalization papers. 

It was very common for immigrants to Anglicize their last names. Very common. It wasn't the officials at Ellis Island that changed it either but we'll leave that myth for another day.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Week 1 of the FutureLearn Genealogy MOOC & Crowdsourcing Projects

This past Monday, January 16, 2017, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I am  taking through began. The course is called "Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree" and it is being taught by the University of Stathclyde in Strathclyde, Scotland. 

Week 1 was subtitled "Analyzing Documents" and it covered the very basics of genealogy such as what is genealogy vs. family history, and terms such as abstracting, indexing, and transcribing.

How it works is that the "week" consisted of 21 parts. Each part was there was a page of reading or a short video. When you completed the reading you checked it as complete and it moved to the next part. In total, the 21 parts took me about an hour and 20 minutes. Not a lot of work really. At the end of some parts there were discussion questions that you had to respond to in order to move to the next part. At the end of the whole unit there was a quiz that consisted of 5 multiple choice questions. You weren't really being graded on this quiz. It was more like a self-test to see if you absorbed the information given in the previous parts. If you answered a question wrong you could try again as many times as necessary.

The final reflection question inquired as to if my existing views on the topics covered had been confirmed or contradicted and if anything presented in the course surprised me. Thus far, no, nothing has surprised me really. I commented on the fact that they didn't introduce the term "crowdsourcing" even though they did cover the concept. In part 15 they covered how transcripts, abstracts and indexes are created by discussing how the company Scottish Indexes works. One of the ways they accomplish large indexing and transcription projects are through the use of volunteers.

Merriam-Webster defines crowdsourcing as the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees.

This is how the 1940 U.S. Federal Census was indexed; through the use of volunteers online. In about 4 months approximately 200,000 volunteers transcribe the over 132 million names included on the 1940 census. Powerful stuff. People wanted to be part of the project. And there are lots of crowdsourcing projects you could be involved in too. For example, New York Public Library (NYPL) has several on-going projects you can get involved with online such as Emigrant City, Building Inspector, Community Oral History Project, Direct Me: NYC 1940, Ensemble, and my personal favorite, What's on the Menu. They are all crowdsourcing projects being managed by the NYPL Labs.

  • Emigrant City: Created by the Milstein Division of  US History, Local History, & Genealogy this project invited the public to help transcribe 19th and early 20th century real estate records from the Emigrant Savings Bank.
  • Building Inspector: Created with the Map Division is improving data presented in New York City Insurance maps. The public can help to do some quality control or data created by computers reading these maps. You can go in and inspect to make sure building shaped and other key information on the original maps has been property recorded. It is way more addictive then my description suggest.
  • Community Oral History Project: The NYPL Labs presents audio from interviews recorded in areas such as Greenwich Village and Harlem and you can help to transcribe the local stories.
  • Direct Me NYC: 1940: This was a project done to support the 2012 release of the 1940 census. The Milstein Division digitized five New York City phone directories which helped to convert New York City street addresses into census Enumeration Districts (ED) which are the smallest units of organization in the census.
  • Ensemble: Is another transcription project. This time focused on a massive collection of theatrical playbills held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division on NYPL. This project aims to produce a linked data set of historical performances, characters, actors, and writers. 
  • What's on the Menu?: In this project you can help to transcribe part of the world's largest collection of restaurant menus. It has been difficult to extract this data using just computers due to handwriting, fancy typography, and idiosyncratic layouts. Here you transcribe the names and prices of all sort of fancy dishes served up at a huge variety of restaurants that no longer exist. You can see how the tastes and appetites of your ancestors differs from your own by seeing what they might have ordered off the menu of their local watering hole.

You can get involved in anyone of these projects and more just check out the NYPL's Labs at to find out more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

If You Are Going to Have Your AncestryDNA Done, Put Up A Tree!

Yesterday I read an article on Yahoo News,, about how AncestryDNA now has more than 3 million users. Yes, 3 million. During the 2016 Thanksgiving weekend alone they sold more than 560,000 test kits. That's a lot of spit, people!

I thought it was time for me to revisit my AncestryDNA matches. They are the people who, like myself, took the DNA test and we match; meaning we have some common ancestor. At present I have about 7,950 people who I match with to varying degrees. Yes, close to 8,000. And yes, we really are related. Yes, that is what a DNA match means. 

115 of my matches are 4th cousins or closer. 50 of them I have shared hints with. That means I have someone in the family tree I built that is also in the family tree they built. Likely, that person is our common ancestor. That feature only works, though, if you build a family tree and link it to your DNA results. It is overwhelming how few people both to put up a tree. Of those 115 close cousins, 45 do not have their DNA linked to a family tree. I suppose they just are curious about their ethnic profile but it doesn't help researchers if you don't put up at least a partial family tree. And quite honestly, you don't have to put up an extensive tree if you want to figure out how you match to a 4th cousin. Fourth cousins have great-great-great grandparents in common. To give you an idea of how far back that is, my 3rd great grandparents were mostly all born in the first half of the 1800s.

AncestryDNA kindly marks new matches. Thus when I went into my bank of matches I was able to see who among my 4th cousins or higher whose trees I had not looked at before. 

One new cousin had a tree up that showed back to her great grandparents. Her most paternal great grandfather had a surname that I recognized as a brother-in-law to my most paternal great grandfather. She didn't have a maiden name listed for her great grandmother, just Elizabeth. I knew right away though that Elizabeth had to be Elizabeth Earle; the sister to my great grandfather Abram Earle. Abram and Elizabeth were two of seven children born to Abraham Earle and Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley of Twillingate, Newfoundland. 

Two years ago I went to Newfoundland and visited where my great grandfather was born. I visited the grave of his mother Sarah. I also ventured across the province to Norris Point to see where Sarah was raised and lived before she married Abraham in May of 1875 and moved to Twillingate.

I immediately emailed this cousin through Ancestry to let her know that I could share so much about the Earle family history. Cousin Sherrie emailed back to let me know that she had been adopted and this was "super cool" to connect with biological cousins. 

If she had just taken the test and never put up a tree I would not have been able to see how we are connected and I would never have reached out to her. She might have known her ethnic make up but she might not ever have figured out she was an Earle; just like me.

If you have taken an AncestryDNA test and haven't put up a tree, contact me. I'll help you. If you don't put up a tree I'm just going to shake my head in disgrace at you. Link your DNA to a tree!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Review of "The Stranger in My Genes" by Bill Griffeth

For Christmas I received a new book from my Godmother Jody. It was a title I requested; one that made my inner adolescent giggle. "Hee hee hee. A Stranger in my Jeans? Hee hee hee." But really it's a quite serious topic and one that I have sort of encountered in working with others researching their family history.

Bill Griffeth is a news anchor on CNBC's financial news program, Closing Bell. In his personal life, Griffeth is a genealogy enthusiast. He has seriously researched his family history for a long time. As many of you know, DNA testing is a new tool in the genealogist's toolkit. It helps to restore lost connections between other cousins researching family history.

In the past I have blogged about how my DNA test helped me to learn the maiden name of my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Carillion-Henry. You can read that post called Spelling and Genetic here

In recent months, though, I have been working with a woman who is now in her 70s and just learned through a dying aunt that who she thought was her biological father was not. That is enough of a revelation to deal with but in Bill Griffeth's case he learn through a standard genealogy DNA test that who the man he knew as his biological father could not have been.

Griffeth never saw it coming. He had invested years in researching his Griffeth family history. Was this his family anymore? That question results in an entire exploration of how one defines family and the difference between genealogy and family history but I digress...

When Bill's cousin contacted him with the jarring news, the first reaction of everyone he shared the news with was complete disbelief. The first conclusion was that it had to be an error in the testing. His saintly mother could have never strayed from the man that Bill had never questioned was his father. Had his family been hiding this secret from him his whole life? How was he going to confront his elderly mother about this?

Griffeth explores all these questions and all the associated emotions that come with such a discovery.

I have gifted close to a dozen DNA testing kits to friends and cousins in the last few years and never have I every thought that perhaps I should prepare myself to confront such an issue but obviously it happens. In the 100 or so clients I have worked with through my part-time job as a genealogy librarian, many have come to me without any knowledge of their father, or mother for that matter. Several have been adoptees, orphans, or raised by a single parent. In one instance a client burst into tears when I found her uncle's Social Security Death Index record. I was taken aback by the emotional reaction. Despite that fact the man would have been close to 115 if he were alive, it hurt this 80 year old woman to hear her favorite uncle had died. Could you imagine if she had learned he wasn't her uncle?

If you are interested in the impact DNA testing could have one you or someone you love, read The Stranger in My Genes. I loved! I finished it in one day. And it brought to me an awareness of the emotional trials one might face in exploring their own genealogical truth.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Genealogy Goals for 2017

Happy New Year! 

Yes, beginning a new year brings a sense of renewal and hopefulness with all things possibly laid before us. Doesn't it?

Although, working in academia results in a strange sense of time. Life is lived in semesters. And to me, the year really begins in late August. So it is kind of like I have two new year's days every year; only one of which do I resign myself to pajamas though.

This past semester had me much busier than I had anticipated. Even though it was the first semester in a long time that I wasn't a student myself. I thought I would have more time to write but alas...

I took on more hours at my part-time job. Instead of doing just one 5-hour day doing one-on-one genealogy research with library patrons I tried doing two 4-hour days per month. I think it was quite successful and instead of just reaching 5 researchers I was able to meet with 8 people. I also took on several private clients which exposed me to a much wider variety of resources than I used in researching my own family history.

I would like to continue both my part-time gig and serving new private clients in the coming year. Additionally though, I am looking forward to teaching a genealogy course through my alma mater; that starts in June. 

Before then I have signed up to take a 6-week online course in genealogy through FutureLearn; an online service that offers a diverse selection of courses from universities from around the world. The courses they offer are free and often referred to as MOOCs; Massive Open Online Courses. This form of education has be a hot topic in academia for quite some time. So I am looking forward to giving it a try.

The class I am taking is called Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree. It starts January 16, 2017. It's asynchronous which means you don't have to be online at a specific time. The materials are delivered one step at a time. This particular course is being taught through the University of Strathclyde in Glascow, Scotland.

I'm taking it for two reasons really. One, I want to see how others teach this topic online and, two, I'm hoping it will teach me more about UK resources. 

If you are interested in joining me there is still time to register - - And again, it is FREE.

In any case, it is my hope that this year I can spread my love for genealogy research to even more people whether they are relatives of mine or just other researchers. Whether you are just getting started in genealogy research or have been at it awhile, I hope this is the year you dig up some dirt on your own ancestors.

Happy New Year!!