Growing Your Genealogy with Living Family Member Interaction

Zen needed

Sometimes, you just have to practice self control when you’re around your family.  (‘m referring to the living ones and not the death ones who left no documents or photos behind.)  I bet, as the family historian, you’ve encountered some of the following situations:

  • They just make one excuse after another for not going into (Fill in the blank – attic, basement, closet, storage facility, garage) to retrieve the (Fill in the blank – birth certificate, Bible, photo)  that you desperately need yet…
  • You receive a frantic call at an inopportune time wanting to know if your family is related to a celebrity
  • Your family expects you to help them for FREE join a lineage society
  • Even though you’ve shared all the discoveries you’ve found and ignored the glassy eyed bored looks you’ve gotten in return, they want some arcane piece of info on some distant ancestor because someone at work or some show on TV made them think about that story you told, only you have no knowledge of what they’re talking about because they’ve jumbled different people and events together in their minds
  • You’ve bought the DNA kit, helped them follow the simple instructions, mailed it back for them and monitor it and they don’t believe the results (even though your DNA and theirs is a close match)

Those are my top 5 pet peeves and over the past holiday season, each of them raised their ugly heads.  Two of the above became the most problematic.  

The first situation was the result of Ancestry’s recent upgrade of their DNA results.  With the old results, one family member showed more Swedish than anyone else in the family.  As a genealogist, my take on it is “So what” as we all know that the percentages are fluid since they’re based on the pool tested.  As the pool grows, so the results change.  I have explained this in the past but I guess somehow I’m not doing a good job.  In my family’s case, the updated stats shifted the percent slightly making the former number 1 in second place and the the former second place in first.  No big deal, right?  Evidently it was.  Instead of just asking for my take on the change, the newly placed number 1 decided that the results were questionable and so purchased a test from a competitor.  Of course, the competitor’s pool was different and the results varied but in this individual’s head, those results were more valid (because they hadn’t been updated yet).  Since the percents of test two were even less than the first test results, the individual became upset at all the ‘misleading info and the waste of money.”

It was time to take a deep breath.  I ignored the waste of money part since I had paid for the first test and the individual had gotten a deep discount on the second test.  I brought up my own results from several companies and showed how the results vary and again explained why.  I don’t think it got through any better than the previous times I’ve explained but it did end the conversation on a positive note.  

The second situation was a family member who asked me to write down the birth and death dates for two ancestors.  When I did, I was informed that I was wrong.  I had to bite my tongue to not respond, “If you know the information why are you asking me?”  Instead, after a pause, I asked if the individual wanted a copy of the birth and death certificates.  The response was no.  I then asked why the information was being questioned.  The answer was it didn’t seem like it had been that long ago when the individuals died.  Sure, as we age, time seems to go much quicker.  In this situation, I owned the problem as I jumped to the conclusion that the asker doubted my research when that wasn’t the case at all.  

Family can be a help in our genealogy quest – not just with gaining names and dates of ancestors but in showing us character areas where we need to grow.  

Valentine Gift Idea – a Family Tree Poster

Valentine’s is around the corner and here’s a quick gift idea for family – a poster of your family tree.  I discovered that Geneanet has some free templates that make awesome (inexpensive) gifts.  I did this last minute before Christmas and the results were beautiful.

If you have a Geneanet tree you can follow the instructions below.  If not, first you need to create an account a thttps://en.geneanet.org/  Although they have a premium service, which is a nice option, you don’t have to pay to become a member and upload a tree.

Download wherever you’ve saved your family tree and then upload to Geneanet on the ribbon under Family Tree – Import/Export a Family Tree.  Depending on the size of your tree, this may take a few minutes.

Once your tree is uploaded, open up the individual (or yourself) that you want to start as the base of your chart.  Then click on Charts & Lists – Ancestry – Printable Family Tree.  There are several templates from which you can select.  I chose a fan design and used a tree in the background on one and a lion on another.  You can also select up to 10 generations to include.  I saved it to a thumb drive and then took it to my closest big box office supply store.  They quickly printed it for me on poster paper and the cost was $3.17 ($1.08 a piece with tax).  Make sure you tell the sales person to leave a border around the poster if you intend to get it framed.  I didn’t which I should have.

The only downside is that GENEANET is printed in large letters at the bottom right but for the price, I believe it’s worth the advertising.

Now just think – you’re family will stop asking you how so and so is related and when great grandpa died.  Well, maybe if your family is like mine they’ll continue to ask but that’s okay, you can redirect them to the chart.  I call it baby steps in training them to be interested in genealogy.

A Winning Genealogy Formula

Frances and Peter Landfair


Happy New Year!  I took a few weeks off from blogging and am delighted to be back.  My blogging break, however, didn’t include a break from genealogy so in the next few weeks I’ll be writing about my recent discoveries, insights and well, dumb luck, which I’ll explain below.

I have always loved the holidays and it seems every year I get a genealogy gift from the universe.  This year, I got an extra special one.

I’m not talking about the unexpected adorable t-shirt my sister-in-law bought me that says “Genealogist because Freakin Miracle Worker is not a Job Title” or the archival pens I found in my stocking (thanks, hubby).  It’s those Santa gifts that I cherish because they come when I least expect it and make me scratch my head trying to figure out how in the world they even came about.

Trying to bring logic to the situation, I came up with a formula  P1 + P2 = P3 whereas P1 is persistence, P2 is patience and together they equal P3 which is prosperity.  Perhaps there is no logic involved and as I said earlier, this was just dumb luck. 

This year, a few days after Thanksgiving, I saw a comment posted on Ancestry.com about one of the 10,000 plus pictures I’ve uploaded.  Yes, I know that those pictures I uploaded give Ancestry rights.  I understand I own the photos but these long dead people I do not own so I believe in sharing their lives.  Legally, they lost their rights when they died so I have taken responsibility to track who is taking those shared photos.  I figure it’s the least I can do to honor them.

The Ancestry comment was from an individual I did not know;  he had identified the people in the photo above I had attached to my grandmother Lola Landfair Leininger.  Most of the photos I inherited were not labeled so I placed all the photos under my grandmother’s tab as I assumed they had meaning to her since she had passed them to my father.  I did not get the photos until long after both of them died and there was no family members left to identify them. 

Around 2005, after a series of hurricanes had hit our area and being tired of lugging them around as we evacuated, I decided to scan and save the photos to CD.  I titled them Leininger Family Photos but that turned out to be a mistake.  Leininger was my grandmother’s married name; I realized that many of these undated photos had clues that showed they predated her marriage and if she was the care taker of them, then the older ones would be Landfair and Kuhn (my great grandmother’s line) photos.  At the time I saved to CD, I uploaded to Ancestry but I didn’t realize that saving them as Leininger wasn’t helpful to any other surnames related to that family as they wouldn’t have shown up in an Ancestry search for those other lines. 

Over the years, I have received a number of inquiries from Leiningers who asked for more details about a photo or two.  I always persistently made a copy of the CD and mailed it off asking only that the receiver notify me of anyone they identify but none were ever able to help.

On Christmas Eve day I received an email that he had identified several more individuals that were closely related to him – his grandfather as a child and his great-grandfather.  He had never seen those photos and was so excited he was going to take the photos with him to share with his family to see if they could identify others.  Nine of the photos were eventually claimed as his closer family. 

So, you can imagine my surprise and delight after patiently waiting 13 years to receive a comment identifying the Landfair children.  How did this poster know that these were Landfair children?  He had inherited the same photo that was clearly marked with their names.  I mailed off the CD to him but with the busyness of the season, didn’t give it much thought. 

In speaking with his older relatives, one who is in her 90’s, he learned that our shared great-great grandfather, Peter Landfair, had only one photo ever taken of himself.  He did it because his family was insistent he be photographed and I know that I don’t own that one photo because family lore says he was photographed with his back to the camera.  I would never know this story if I hadn’t shared the CD with this distant cousin. 

On a side note, while sharing the photos he learned that a stash of them is residing in an unheated barn in the midwest.  (Yep, that would be my family; mine were found in an unheated damp basement).  He hadn’t been aware of that and plans to rescue them this month.  I’m hoping that he finds that backside photo.  Even if he doesn’t, I feel that the photos will lead to genealogy prosperity with lines we currently have no photos for and perhaps, we’ll be able to connect with others and gain even more goodies. 

My New Year’s resolution is to continue blogging, sharing and connecting.  I’m also wishing you and yours Genealogy Prosperity in 2019.

Interesting News on Life Span


I read 2 articles this week (Thanks to the NEGHS Newsletter) that at first look appeared to be unrelated but as I processed the information, realized that they were indeed related. The first, Life span has little to do with genes, analysis of large ancestry database shows by Sharon Begley clearly surprised me. Not having a medical background, I assumed, wrongly it appears, that genes were a much stronger indicator to longevity. The article is also interesting in that the data analyzed most likely included my people and yours, if you are an Ancestry.com member. I have no problem with my tree info being shared for research purposes but if you do, and you didn’t take the time to read the disclaimers when you were signing up, you need to be aware that your information is being used by third parties.
The second article, ‘She was like a second mother’: the German woman who saved our Jewish family history by Simon Finch drove home to me how fortunate my family has been in leaving areas of unrest in the nick of time. Those that bravely fought for freedom, from Jacob Wilson Parrot,the First Congressional Medal of Honor awardee from the Civil War and my first cousin three times removed, to two Purple Heart recipients (WW I and II), George Bryant and George Willard Harbaugh, my husband’s grandfather and uncle, all made it home safely.
Family mortality has always interested me. Aside from the occasional accident, such as my great grandfather Frank Landfair falling off a train platform, to my Great Uncle Francis Earl Landfair, being struck my lightening while standing outside talking with friends, I attempted to deduce longevity by averaging the prior three generations of family members, taking into account gender, and adding two years for men and three for women to account for medical advancements. This seemed to work for both my maternal and paternal sides. I guess my data set was too small to make an inference.
I’d be interested to hear if you’ve looked at your ancestor’s longevity and drawn any conclusions. Let me know if you have!

Be Mindful of Address Changes


On the plane returning home from New Mexico, I sat next to a woman who had traced her paternal grandfather’s side back to the 1200’s in a Spanish village thanks to the church records and her ability to decipher old handwriting. She mentioned that she had found several deeds belonging to her great grandparents but could not locate the residences as the numbering system had changed in the past 100 years. Lucky for her, she met an elderly man who remembered the family and understood the new address system so she was able to identify where her grandfather and great grandfather were born. Taking into account address changes is an important point to remember as what you’re looking at might not be what you think it was.

There are two websites available to help with situations like this. Whatwasthere.com is a site using Google Street View with uploaded photos of what the area looked like from previous time periods. You can assist this project by uploading old photos you may have that show the area in the past.

Historypin.com is another site where you can place a pin on a Google map and upload a photo of what the area formerly looked like. Your old homestead just might be waiting for you to discover!

Deciphering Directions and Finding Places from the Past


Last week when I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had a dickens of a time locating the Oldest House that I blogged about on Tuesday. According to the map and online guides, the Oldest House was said to be NEXT TO the Church. All I saw next to the Church was a pizza restaurant.

The church was locked so I tried to follow the sign on the government building next door that said “Visitor Info.” The sign had an arrow directing visitors to enter on the east or south entrance. I walked down the street in the direction the sign had pointed. There was no entrance on the street side so I suppose it was the north or west side. I turned at the intersection and again saw no entrance. Okay, I was certain to find the way in when I reached the back. I walked the entire length of the back side and still found no entrance. Turning left, I finally located the door. So what the sign meant was that there was one entrance and it was on the south east side.

I asked the attendant for directions to the Oldest Home. She said, “It’s BETWEEN the church and the restaurant.” I mentioned that a street was between the restaurant and the church. She insisted the home was BETWEEN and told me to look again.

I walked back to the church and again saw the restaurant in front of me as the church sits back from the street. I turned right to walk down the street BETWEEN the restaurant and the church and lo and behold, there was the Oldest House.

If I was to describe where the house was located, I would say it was BEHIND the restaurant and ACROSS the street from the church. This reminds me how careful we must be when we’re reading old deeds.

My people are famous for recording deeds noting boundaries of big rocks and tree stumps. I now wonder how many noted BETWEEN when I would have considered it BEHIND or south and east as southeast?

To Your Health – Genealogywise!


I’ve blogged previously about by attempt to analyze my ancestor’s health records to make lifestyle choices to keep me well (See Using Your Genealogical Info to Make You Healthy). This past week, MyHeritage.com has added a new feature that you can use to include your family’s medical history. It is purportedly private and secure, allowing you to keep all of the health records of the living and deceased in one place so you can download and print a checklist of the entered information to share with your physician.

To begin, you must first click that you have read the most lengthy Terms and Conditions I’ve ever seen. The next page asks you if your siblings, parents, aunts/uncles and grandparents had any of 10 medical conditions, such as stroke, heart and various cancers. For any condition selected, possible names from your tree are then provided for you to mark. Warning: If you have a big family in the past 3 generations, you’re going to have a lot of clicking to do! I clicked yes for heart attack as one of my husband’s relatives had that condition. To identify who had the heart attack, the program listed my husband, his siblings, aunts/uncles and grandparents for a total of 18 people. Only one of them had ever had a heart attack but the program will not allow you to move forward unless you click no for all of those who never had one. Of the 4 health conditions I selected, only 3 individuals needed a yes so this process was slow and could have been really lengthy if there had been additional medical conditions selected.

Next you can add allergies, other health conditions to include the age at onset, and other characteristics, such as height, weight and eye color. I found it interesting that height is entered in inches – I would have expected centimeters.

One of the options is hair color. In our family, that changes with age so I wasn’t sure if I should put blonde (from someone’s youth) or brown (in adulthood).

Sleep, smoking and exercise can also be added. No option existed for someone who never smoked but was raised in a household of smokers which I think is important.

Once you’ve entered the info, various icons appear under the individual that had been selected. This way, you can readily see patterns, if any, for a family condition.

Errors can be corrected quickly. I wrongly entered a stroke for my father-in-law. Simply click on the icon, a panel appears with the conditions identified. Clicking on the 3 dots (…) a choice to delete appears to remove the mistake.

Once you’re done adding the information for all of your relatives, you can click on the LIST button on the upper right ribbon to obtain the names of the individuals that had conditions entered. Besides the individual’s name and medical condition, birth, death, onset age and relationship is included.

The problem I see is that many of the initial conditions listed are due to lifestyle. I’m not sure it is helpful to your physician to know that a grandparent had diabetes if no one else in the family did and you follow a good diet and exercise regime.

Under the Nutrition category, there are several choices – omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, paleo and other – but those options alone do not tell a complete picture of nutrition. (I’m thinking about one of my former roommates who was a vegetarian. Her diet consisted of skipping breakfast, potato chips for a late morning snack, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, pretzels for an afternoon snack and a salad saturated in a mayo based dressing for dinner.)

A bigger concern I have is with entering misinformation. Unless the medical condition was definitely known, including wrong information could be a serious problem. Like with all genealogy, records should be consulted before including data going by memory alone.

I asked two medical providers in my family what they thought of the program. One is a physician and the other works as a chemical engineer for a medical lab. Both laughed and said this was a serious waste of time. Most of the medical conditions listed are due to lifestyle. Additionally, living conditions of someone 75 years ago will not be the same as our lives today and that greatly impacts health.

They both recommended, if there is a pattern of a medical condition in a family, a consultation with a geneticist would be more beneficial than taking the time to input the data on MyHeritage and presenting a list to your health care provider. An added caution here is not to think that the DNA test you purchased for genealogy purposes is going to provide the specialists with the information they need. Geneticists would provide a DNA test that is analyzed far differently than what is given by a genealogy company. If you have concerns about your family’s health, the new MyHeritage program is not going to be beneficial to your medical provider.

Food for Thought – A Good Read


I wanted to share a recent article in the New York Times, “The Historians vs The Genealogists” by John Sedgwick, who is a historian. I was trained in the social sciences so I know that my genealogy work is influenced by my background, particularly in psychology, sociology and education. I think that’s one of the greatest benefits of genealogy as a second career; your past influences your analysis of your present research. Collaborating with others makes the analysis even more powerful, especially if the background of the collaborators is diverse.

DNA Has Changed My Habits…and not for the good, I’m afraid!


I just came to the realization that DNA has made me a lazy genealogist. Here’s why…

I have made public several trees that are quite large. The reason for their size is because I once did surname studies – I tried to link all of the Leiningers, Harbaughs, Duers, Kos[s]s, Landfairs and Kuhns in the U.S. from an identified gateway ancestor. I want contact from far flung relatives as I don’t know these folks personally and needing closer relatives input, I made the trees public.

Due to the many places I’ve placed the trees online, their size, and my weekly blog posts, I get over 500 comments weekly. Granted, many are spam, but quite a few are serious inquiries.

Before DNA, I would go to the tree mentioned, search for the name provided in the inquiry, review what citations I had and then respond.

Since DNA, I find myself instead responding with my own query – Have you had your DNA analyzed and if so, what provider did you use and what is your profile name?

Last evening, after sending the same question repeatedly, it hit me that this is a seriously lazy response to well meaning folks who’ve taken the time to contact me.

My intentions were never to be rude but I’m afraid that’s how it’s appearing. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was the recipient and wasn’t into DNA. I queried colleagues in my local genealogical society and they think my response is acceptable but I’m not so sure. What do you think, readers?! Would you be offended if you emailed someone for more information and received a question in response?

Helix Results Have Arrived


I got the results of my Helix-National Geographic DNA test back this week. I had sent it off the day after Christmas at the same time two family members mailed their samples to Ancestry.com. Ancestry had the results back 3 weeks ago so I patiently waited my Helix analysis.

If you’re planning to test with Helix, please know that you will not discover any matches – these results take you back thousands of years instead of the past few generations. I purposely wanted to see if the findings were similar to the mitDNA Haplogroup results I got about 8 years ago from Ancestry and more recently, from 23andMe. They were basically the same and also confirmed my Neandertal ancestry that 23andMe had found last summer.

Alas, I had no Denisovian which I suspected I might have since they were known to be in the Siberian/Mongolian/China regions. My thinking was my eastern European genes might have come from way east in the distant past but I was wrong.

My favorite part of the results was the interactive web timeline. It’s a nice touch to have pictures of all ages of people and the countryside pop up with the description of when your ancestor resided in the region. Think National Geo Magazine and you get the idea of how well done this is. The migration pattern is also clearly shown and as I’ve blogged about many times, follows the family lore that’s been passed down to me. (If I could only figure out why my family can’t get the stories of the last 100 years right but can remember things from thousands of years ago I will never know!)

You do not get to download your chromosomes to upload anywhere else. I didn’t need that as I’ve already tested with companies that provide that result but that may be important to you so keep it in mind.

My family thought the link to genius was the most interesting result. Personally, I thought it was meaningless as the connections are far removed. Hubby thought it was just phenomenal so, shhh, I bought him a kit for Valentine’s Day. It was on sale and even less expensive than what I paid for it at Thanksgiving. I figure he’ll get the results back by his birthday so he can gloat over his genius cousins. My prediction is that we’re going to have similar findings since our lines have crossed several times in the last 300 years in various parts of the world.

One of those “geniuses” and they qualify how they came to define the word, was of course, Marie Antoinette who shows up in every DNA test I’ve ever taken. I’m thinking I should probably investigate exactly where that connection is so this summer, I’ll be heavily researching my Croatians which, at the time my ancestor’s resided there, was Austria-Hungary. Marie was born in Vienna, Austria. My maternal lines were in the military for generations so I suspect they traveled throughout the region. For displaying valor on the battlefield, they were titled and that’s where I’m going to start my research.

Funny, for years I’ve had the stories and tried to validate them by uncovering the facts. Now I have the DNA facts and I’m trying to find the story. Genealogy upside down!