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5 Ways to Demolish a Brick Wall

December 19th, 2014

E. Doucett 11-4-2014It’s Genealogy Friday and this week’s blog is being written by me, Liz Doucett, your local library director.

A quick reminder – on Fridays from 10am-noon at Curtis Library you can generally find a volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room.  These wonderful folks are there to help beginner genealogists start their research and to assist more advanced genealogists in answering specific questions.  They love having specific projects to sink their teeth into so please stop by.

thumbnail - 03 - bricked doorway in vintage stone wallToday’s subject – brick walls in your genealogy research.  Anyone who has done genealogy for any length of time has run into the frustrating situation of finding one ancestor that you just can’t get past in your research.

I’ve decided to make 2015 the year that I finally get past the brick wall in my family research so I’m in the process of collecting as many ways of doing that as possible.  I thought I would share the five tools that have proved most helpful to me so far – I hope they work for you.

1.  Be willing to research the “old way”.  The “old way” means turning off your computer and instead walk through a cemetery to find dates on tombstones.   It means going through dusty old records to find a will.  It’s how genealogists did most of their research before computers and if you are willing to do this, it’s amazing what you can find.  People who put information into computers make mistakes.  Sometimes, the only way you can work through those mistakes is by looking at an original historical record yourself.

2.  Try cluster genealogy research.  When you hit a brick wall with a specific family or individual, try researching the “cluster” of people around your mystery individual.  That means digging into the lives of siblings, cousins, neighbors, or other community members.  Often, what you learn about them can lead you to more information about your mystery person.

3.  Go through all of the information you do have one more time.  This idea seems pretty simple but it does work.  Pull out every single piece of information that you have collected about your mystery person and re-read it.  You’ve probably learned a lot since you started your research and it is possible that a fact that made no sense when you started suddenly enlightens you in a whole new way.  Or, you may discover a piece of information that you totally missed the first time around.

4.  Apply Occam’s Razor.  Occam’s Razor (or the principle of parsimony) is a problem-solving principle.  Basically, it says that the simplest answer is usually correct.  When you find yourself creating elaborate stories about why you can’t find an ancestor in the census where you are pretty sure he should be, apply Occam’s Razor.  Is it more likely that your ancestor moved to Tahiti during a census year and that’s why you can’t find him, or that his named just got misspelled by the census taker?

5. Ask for help.  Genealogists are a very friendly, helpful bunch.  Some of them have been doing genealogy for years and are happy to get a new problem to research.  Find websites or Facebook pages focused on your area of interest and then post questions.  A wonderful genealogist in Ontario researched one whole branch of my family for me because she had books in her personal library with the information I needed.  Just jump in and ask your questions and when you have the chance to do the same for someone else, pay it forward!

That’s it for this week.  I’ll let you know how I do this year in taking down that brick wall.  I can feel it in my bones (that’s a little genealogy joke…) that this is my year for finding my g-g-g-grandfather!  Wish me luck!

 

Guest Genealogy Blog by Lynne Holland

December 12th, 2014

DNA – A New Alphabet Soup for Winter Research

Letters and numbers, today we are coded and categorized everywhere we go.

DNAAlthough this seems like a recent phenomenon it has actually been happening for eons.

Our DNA is the expression of our unique genetic code.

Although this code is 99% identical from person to person it is that 1% that makes each person unique and that is what is revealed in DNA testing.

DNA is often represented as a spiraling ladder with four colors (red yellow blue and green) and four letters (CTGA).

Each part of that spiral is considered a MARKER which is a term you will see often in DNA testing for Genealogy purposes.

Markers are coded and categorized to create information that is then compared to other people DNA.

But before we open the can of genetic alphabet soup let’s consider why you are testing and what it will tell you.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test

There are three tests most commonly used for genealogical purposes.

dna graphicUnlike the DNA tests seen on CSI the goal is not necessarily to find an exact match but rather a match that is close enough to prove a connection.

Each of these tests only gives a certain kind of information so it is important to understand what these tests are and what they can tell you.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) This test can be used to determine recent genealogical connections or ethnic ancestry.

It is a test for the DNA that all people share and can be analyzed two different ways.

Recent Genealogical Connections – The test looks for repeated patterns (STR markers) in the DNA sequence.

Since half of each parent’s DNA is given to a child, that sequence of DNA or marker will be represented in the child’s DNA.

A child carries the markers of all of its ancestors with the most recent ancestors in the highest frequencies.

This is haploblock matching; a process that counts the number and size of matching runs of DNA from one point to another.

It then computes the likely number of generations between two people.

If there is a match at this point in testing you will know someone is related and you might even be able to determine how many generations back but it may or may not tell you who that common ancestor is.

For a more visual representation of this see this article. http://www.genebase.com/learning/article/30

Ethnic Genealogical Connections – This uses SNP which are single-nucleotide polymorphisms to look at bio-geographical analysis as these SNP’s are then compared to known frequencies in certain populations.

This is a good way to find out if there really is an Indian princess or Spanish Pirate in your heritage.

dnaMitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) This test is used to look at the DNA passed from mother to child.

It – both mother and mitochondrial start with the letter “M” so that makes it a little easier to remember.

This type of DNA changes very infrequently and the results are shown as a series of numbers and letters that then are categorized into a Haplogroup.

Exact matches can point to recent shared ancestors.

Less than exact matches (due to generational distance and mutation) can give a specific reference to a geographic region.

In theory, a line can be traced back many generations to a specific woman (ie. Eve) however the lack of lineage information for women (surname changes in each generation) make specific identification difficult.

This was the type of DNA test used to identify the remains of King Richard III found under a parking lot in Leicester England.

The match was found to a known descendant alive today which proved that those were royal bones—although it brought up many questions also.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/02/richard-iii-s-dna-shows-tudors-may-have-no-claim-to-the-throne.html.

Y chromosome (Y-DNA) This is the DNA passed on from father to son on the Y chromosome and is often referred to as patrilineal or male line DNA.

Since only men have Y chromosomes this test can only be done on men.

The Y chromosome DNA changes only through mutation so two people who share the same sequence on their Y chromosome exactly share a common male ancestor.

Since this relationship passes from father to son it is the genetic equivalent of a last name or lineage. When Y-DNA is tested those results can become part of a Surname project.

Analysis of the common features of the Y-DNA can show if two lines of a family that share a surname are actually related. Minor differences in the Y-DNA can show how far back the common ancestor is likely to have lived.

Tina-Fey-and-Skip-Gates-3519-RTIn the recent PBS series “Finding your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr., this test was often used to determine the most likely candidate for the father of an otherwise “fatherless” slave.

It was also handy in determining the source of the European component of many African American’s heritage.

If this cursory explanation of DNA and how it can be used for genealogical research intrigues you, I suggest you view the 10th episode of “Season 2 of Finding Your Roots.”

The principles outlined above are discussed in detail through three case studies and an interesting and informative way.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/blog/season-wrap-finally-dna-takes-center-stage/

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/decoding-past-dna-full-episode/12882/.

DNA tests and results are one way to enhance your genealogical search or even begin to break down a brick wall.

It is only through the combination of the genealogical research of written records and the analysis of the DNA test results that more information will be gained.

It is a research path that can take some surprising twists and turns so approach it with an open mind-your DNA may reveal a different lineage then you anticipated.

Getting Out from Under that Pile of Paper

December 5th, 2014

piles-of-files_large-e1340941474342

Genealogy Friday! My favorite day of the week…I get to search out ideas and sources of information for the local genealogy community!

One of the inquiries I frequently get asked when I teach beginning genealogy classes is, “how do I organize all of the information I am collecting?” It is a great question so I decided to research ideas to help the beginning genealogist get control of their piles of research and information.

My first discovery was on the Family Tree Magazine website. Family Tree offers a free downloadable article titled “23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy”. You provide Family Tree with your email and you get the article for free. Here is the link to the article: http://tinyurl.com/orjt34x (you’ll see tinyurl for all of my links – it is a way of providing a link in a shortened format so your URLs aren’t taking up all your space).

The article is basic but I liked the tip about color-coding files, using the same color system across all of my files, digital and hard copy. I’ve always thought of these files as different so this idea was an eye-opener for me and made a lot of sense.

You can find another good article about organizing paper files at http://tinyurl.com/ndnqsqr. The article was written in 2007 but the systems are still relevant. The article recommends a combination of a) file folders, b) binders, and c) computer storage. This article is particularly helpful because it gives you specific details about how to color code in an organized fashion. The following summarizes that information and comes directly from the article:

Print a copy of your own 5-generation pedigree chart, starting with yourself as # 1. You are the first generation; your 16 great-great grandparents are the 5th generation.
Color-code the lines as follows:
•BLUE: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s father in blue.
•GREEN: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s mother in green.
•RED: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s father in red.
•YELLOW: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s mother in yellow
Files about each family will then follow the same color code.

Finally, here is a link to the blog “Genealogy Star” http://tinyurl.com/kmx4vpx. The author recommends digitizing everything (paper, articles, photographs, etc.) and attaching supporting documentation directly to the appropriate person in your genealogy database. This is system that I use but if you aren’t a computer lover, I would recommend a combination of color coding with file folders…simple but effective.

My most important recommendation for beginning genealogists? Figure a system (any system!) and start using it immediately. The longer you wait, the bigger your pile of paper will get! Genealogy is a research oriented hobby and with that comes paper, and photographs, and newspapers, and more paper…you get the idea! Have fun!

Friday is genealogy day at Curtis!

November 21st, 2014

genealogyDon’t forget that on Friday mornings you can usually find a volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room who is happy to provide help with your genealogy research.  If you are a complete beginner, stop by on Fridays and learn how to start this wonderful hobby.

In the meantime check out the following article posted in geneabloggers.com about a resource that you might find helpful in your genealogy research (click on the link below if you would like to read the entire article – just the key points are included below):

 

 

This past August, during the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio, I stopped by the booth of a new vendor: and discovered a wonderful new product called JPASS. I’ve known about JSTOR for some time now and have used the research service at libraries and archives.

There are over 2,000 academic journals on the JSTOR database covering many different topics, many which will interest genealogists and family historians. Currently, JSTOR is available for free in over 9,200 institutions worldwide.

Will you find genealogy records on JSTOR? No, but you will find articles and materials that provide you with background information and can assist your research. An example, using my own research: articles on the Huguenots that settled in New Paltz, New York. I wanted to know why they arrived in New Paltz and why they left France (migration push and pull causes) and other information about their daily life.

JPASS is a product from JSTOR that allows for personal access to approximately 1,500 journals in the JSTOR database. This means not having to trek down to the library to pull that article that I need. Or, if a research question pops into my head, I don’t need to write it down and wait for my next visit to the library.

JPASS is available in one-month and one-year plans and with the one-month plan (which I was given access to for this review), you get unlimited online reading access and you can download up to 10 articles a month (120 articles with the one-year plan). You also can create a MyJSTOR account so you can access JSTOR 24/7 from any device. What I like most about the MyJSTOR feature is the ability to set up alerts for specific search terms and I can save citations as well.

 

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