African American Research Online

Without a doubt, researching African American genealogy in the U.S. has never been easy, even though Alex Haley made it look like it was in Roots.  Sure, you can go back to the 1870 census but it often takes hours of Boots on the Ground to determine lineage before the Civil War.

Perhaps that’s about to change!  Coming soon, an online database thanks to the University of Michigan’s Enslaved:  Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade study that is partnering with organizations to link databases and attempt to match individuals as they moved from place to place.  I first read about this amazing work in the January-February 2020 Smithsonian article, Tracing the Enslaved by Amy Crawford.  Although the database combining multiple records held in archives around the globe is not yet available, it’s scheduled to be open soon.

In the meantime, try researching the Slave Societies Digital Archive, the brainchild of Jane Landers of Vanderbilt University.  Begun in 2003, over 700,000 pages of documents have been digitized from Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Angola and Florida (which was then Spanish).  Many of the documents are religious because these once Spanish held territories had a different view of Africans; they were thought to be more souls to save for Catholicism, thus they recorded Baptisms and other vitals.  

You May Have Missed This – Another Genealogy Organization Change

While you were partying away the holidays, you might have missed the announcement from Curtis Rogers, founder of GEDMatch, that he has sold his business to Verogen, Inc.

What does this mean to you?  Well, stay tuned as for now, not much but in the ever changing world of genealogy it could be something later. 

I’m not surprised by the sale; GEDMatch was having a difficult time moving the company forward (ie. the website was early millenium when they started) and with policy, such as what constituted adherence to their guidelines ethically regarding privacy and usage by 3rd party sources.  I’ve blogged about last year (The Dark Side of DNA) if you’d like details. 

Personally, I’ve left my DNA open to view.  This may be a naive decision but I think it’s the most ethical for the moment.  I don’t care if I’m contacted by the police searching for a relative.  No one is going to steal the limited DNA available and clone me (I have heard that claim from a few clients). On the contrary, I may connect with others who hold the answers to which I seek.  And maybe not!

Like every decision we make daily, there are pros and cons.  I’m taking a wait and see attitude with this sale and will keep you informed of any new developments.

Dealing With Document Disappointments – My Duers Do It Again!

I have blogged extensively about my mysterious Duer family that I connect with DNAwise but can’t prove a firm document relationship between son Thomas, who died in 1829 and his purported father, John, who died in 1831.  Thomas’ family lived next to John in Trumbull County, Ohio but none of Thomas’ children were mentioned in John’s will.  John’s will only mentioned 1 grandchild and named all of his other living children.  The 1 grandchild was the son of his deceased daughter and was easily recognizable by his last name, Hazen.

I’ve theorized that none of Thomas’ children were named because Thomas had already been given an “inheritance” of land adjoining John’s.  I also thought John might have been slightly put off by Thomas’ widow, Hannah, quickly remarrying another neighbor who was a widower, James Preston.  That marriage didn’t seem to last as both Hannah and James can be found in 1840 living with their adult children.

The land that Thomas lived on remained with one of his son’s until the mid-1800’s when he sold it to what I believe would have been a cousin who had come to own John’s property.  Of course, there was nothing to show the connection between the two listed in the deed transaction so I can’t prove that relationship, either.

I’ve been told repeatedly to give up the search but I will admit I’m obsessed with this line.  So, every few months, I recheck to see if any new records are uploaded, a new DNA match can be found that might hold the key in their basement or attic, or a donation is made to an archive in the areas the family lived where someone drops off records that will be the proof I need.

Yes, I already have DNA proof.  There have been several descendants of John’s children who have tested and we all relate but I want a document!  Or do I?

Last month, I found 2 documents online that gave me promise.  I was hoping they would lead me to the smoking gun record; this is what I discovered posted on Ancestry with no citation:

Although I found this posting just two days after it was done, when I reached out to the poster, her response was she couldn’t remember where she found it and would get back with me.  I love her dearly because she wrote back the next day and said she found it from another Ancestry poster named John Shivers.  She though it came from Revolutionary War Patriots from Ohio.  She gave me a link to an archive in Ohio but they didn’t have it.

I found a John Shivers on Ancestry and emailed him but he hadn’t been online in over a year so I wasn’t hopeful I would get a response.  I wasn’t even sure he was the John Shivers that originally posted it as I couldn’t access the private tree.  

Then I reached out to a colleague in my locale who is a member of the Trumbull County Genealogical Society to see if he could check the membership roster and give me contact info for John Shivers.  There was no info but he sent me a new member who was interested in the Duers.  I emailed them but the email address wasn’t working.

I then searched Worldcat and Google for the title but only found a SAR pdf that wouldn’t open.  

Going to the national SAR website, I found no new info; the Ancestor # 150827 is the number assigned by that organization so I decided to reach out to the Mahoning County, Ohio Chapter hoping that they might have a file with the relationship I was seeking that wasn’t submitted to national.  

The local chapter’s website is under construction.  Their Facebook page has no contact info.  I reached out to a Trumbull County local who had given me info several years ago – she had tripped over Thomas’ fallen gravestone when she was conducting a cemetery clean up and loves to kid me that he almost killed her.  She found two email addresses for local SAR members.

I emailed both.  One never responded.  The other said he’s no longer in that area so isn’t a member but he kindly forwarded my query to the current president.  The president said the chapter reactivated 4 years ago and has no old files in their possession (who knows what happened to that stuff!?)  so he forwarded my email to the organization’s state genealogist.  That gentleman gave me the heartbreaking news – the real citation is from Roster of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Ohio. Wilbur R. Branthoover, compiler. Veterans Affairs, Ohio. Reprinted by OHSDAR. 1929.

The SAR doesn’t even use it any longer because the info has been found to be incorrect.  That is true – my John Duer who is buried in Ohio served in New Jersey and not Pennsylvania, that was my John’s cousin also named John.  

So, another dead end here.  Then I found another posting that stated that Thomas had been in the War of 1812.  That was news to me as I had checked online and in the National Archives and could never find him involved in that conflict.  The posting had a citation (hurray!) and when I followed up this is what I found:

It was a John Duer and not Thomas that served.  Someone had misindexed and then hadn’t checked the original source.  And the John named to have served in the War of 1812 was my John’s grandson but not descended from Thomas.  You have to laugh at this – I discovered the mistake on November 2, 2019, 107 years to the day that this cousin John left the service.  

Yes, I’m deeply disappointed that the newly found leads led to nothing but I’m not giving up.  Several people have told me that I’m never going to find what I’m looking for but I don’t agree.  I’m thinking boots on the ground might be my next action.  Unfortunately, that will have to wait a while.  

In the meantime, I’m moving on to other lines.  Oh, Duers, why doth disappoint me so?

DNA Today from Hair of the Past

Short blog this week as I’m slammed with work.  I just read something I think is super interesting – Hair DNA Advance Hailed as Forensic Game Changer.  A family member knows I’m interested in DNA and genealogy and passed the article along to me.  Personally I think it’s going to be a boon to family genealogy once the new technology gets simplified.  Imagine being able to take in grandpa’s hair brush or that Victorian hair ring you inherited but have no idea who it originally belonged to!  Better yet, think of mummies that still have clumps of hair or even woolly mammoths.  I can’t even imagine all the new information that will result from these DNA samples.

Promethease – Limited Time Offer

Ahhh, the constantly changing world of genealogy changes!  If you’ve been thinking about uploading your DNA results to Promethease you need to get a move on it.  Recently, MyHeritage announced that they were acquiring Promethease and after the end of this year, the site will no longer be free.  Anyone who had an account with Promethease will continue to have it unless you opt out.  If you are living in Europe, you must do so by November 1st – click here for that link.  If you’d like to read the full story, check out MyHeritage’s blog article.

If you aren’t sure what Promethease is – I found the best definition from Google that explains “Promethease is a computer program developed by the SNPedia team which allows users to compare personal genomics results against the SNPedia database, generating a report with information about a person’s attributes, such as propensity to diseases, based on the presence of specific single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).”

I have used it and discussed the results with my physician and have compared my close family’s DNA results.  Although Promethease has been free for awhile, I had to pay a nominal fee, I think it was a few dollars, back in the day when I first did it.  I intend to go back on the site and update my results to see if there is any new developments.  Since I’m a member of MyHeritage I will still have access but my family is not so I want to be able to get them an updated report. 

Reuniting the Lost and Found

A few weeks ago I blogged about the very worthy Field of Honor database project in the Netherlands that memorializes fallen World War 2 soldiers. Strangely, as I was writing that article, I was contacted by an Ancestry.com member who I first connected with last spring about her DNA.

One of her parents was adopted and she was trying to see if we were related as I had placed information from the same geographical area she was researching on my Ancestry.com tree for the same surnamed individual. There were other coincidences – they had the same occupation, religion, place where they immigrated from and where they immigrated to about the same time (early 1900’s). We were thinking they were related but after comparing our DNA results, they weren’t blood relations.

The Ancestry member had received an email from another member who was contacted by someone in the Netherlands who found World War 2 dog tags using a metal detector and wanted to send them to family. I was contacted since we had the same surname – Koss – as the found tags who once belonged to Joseph E. Koss who died in 1944 in Holland.

I reached out to the memorial owner at Findagrave.com but he was not a relative. If you are a family member of a Joseph Koss please email me (see contact me page) and I will happily connect you so you can get the tags.

I’ve blogged in the past about scammers and I’ve read about fake dog tags being sold in Viet Nam but this does not smell like a scam to me but to keep my readers safe – I’ll play middleman for you. Using a metal detector and finding a lost object is typical in my world as that’s one of my husband’s hobbies and he has found and returned lost articles for people for years.

Funny how I’ve been contacted by folks living in the Netherlands twice in the past few weeks – maybe that’s where I should go visit next!

Genealogy Scams – What You Need to Know

A few weeks ago I received an email from a “well meaning” individual I did not know.  He was writing to inform me that based on my DNA results, I am in the “same tribe” as a wealthy man who went missing in Saudia Arabia about 10 years ago and the bank is ready to close his accounts and  disburse the vast amounts of stock he earned from oil revenue. 

Wow, I’m so lucky that this person found my DNA and linked me to a wealthy relative I didn’t know existed, NOT!  This letter was clearly a take on the old Nigerian banking scam that still circulates today. 

Another genealogy scam making the rounds that I never receive is one I found on Wikipedia. The “Death Certificate Scam: Person will get an obituary off Internet. Find out relatives related. Get their emails. Contact them with fake story of another family member near death, which of course, is only told in ambiguous language. It originates out of Ethiopia with the “makelawi” tag in the email, but it can have de (German free email tag) along with it.”

I’m not sure how many people fall for these poorly worded (in English) emails.  I know several of my colleagues weren’t happy to get the DNA scam as they felt that it will make more people hesitant to have their DNA tested.  Although that may make someone pause before spitting, being able to make your results private would lessen the likelihood of fraudulent people contacting you because of your test results, if that is your concern.  (I’ve had people tell me they were hesitant to take a DNA test because they didn’t want the insurance company to get the results and deny them coverage which would be illegal but we all know how that goes.)


My concern is different then my colleagues; as I blogged a few weeks ago, I have been volunteering with an organization trying to obtain photos of American service people who were killed in Europe during World War II.  In contacting a small public library in rural Indiana for assistance, I was surprised to hear back that the family of the killed in action serviceman was found but they were hesitant to provide a photo because they had several questions about the reasons the photo was needed.  


I, too, check out organizations before I affiliate with them so the inquiry was probably a wise course of action.  I forwarded the email to the person I had been working with and the library staff received a detailed explanation, an offer to provide the name and contact information of the local individual who had been maintaining the grave for the past several years, an invitation to attend the upcoming memorial service and the organization’s goal as the 75th anniversary of the deaths approaches.  


I was impressed with the response less than 24 hours after the questions were received but disappointed that the family decided to ignore the information.  This reminds me of a distant cousin I have who absolutely refuses to share photos of our shared ancestor because, well, there is no reason. 

Not every query is a scam.   If you are concerned that you received a possible nefarious email, check out the FTC’s recommended ways to recognize and avoid scams.  If you are contacted for a picture of your great great grandma by someone who writing a history of the town she lived in, most likely it’s a legitimate request.  Check it out and after making a decision, respond to the inquirer with your answer.  It’s the right thing to do.

Beta Testing Ancestry.com’s New Hint Features

Notice the new Hints feature on Ancestry?  It appears at the top of the Hints page in the middle below the ribbon:

To become a part of the Beta test group, simply toggle the button “BETA OFF” to the right to become “BETA ON.”

If you aren’t into Beta testing, here’s what changes you would see – after the two pictures of Joseph Reid, notice there is a “Quick Compare” toggle on the right side of the screen.  I have the feature disabled below so all you see in the last column for the Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 is Different and New:

What was different and new?  Joseph was misspelled on the Texas Death Certificate as Joshph which is why it is noted as different from what I have in my tree, Joseph.  I did not have Joseph’s spouse and children so that information would be “New” to me.    Other options are Same (for the named individual) and Match (for a spouse or child).

When you toggle from right to left the Quick Compare button, you see the following:

So now I see what exactly is the difference from my tree and the record (which was what I figured – Joseph was spelled differently, duh!).  It also provides the birth date and place I had in my tree.  I had Ohio but the death record stated Pennsylvania, USA.

Compare is a nice feature as you can see the differences between the new record and what’s already saved in your tree without having to leave the Hints page.  I don’t use Hints often, though, so it’s not likely I’ll be toggling for Quick Compares frequently. 

This is how I use Hints – If I have Hints on, I always click Ignore.  I do this because the Hint never goes away, it simply disables the waving leaf.  If I ever want to see the Hint I ignored, all I need to do is go to the Hints section of an individual as seen below (Click on Hints, it’s in the same line with LifeStory):

Clicking on Ignored will allow me to look at those Ignored Hints again.

If you are looking at Hints for everyone in your tree (by clicking the leaf on the upper right hand corner and selecting your tree) in the Beta option, when you click Ignore you get the following:

I would click “I already have this information.” as I don’t need the same picture saved twice. 

If you’d like to offer your input in making Ancestry.com’s Hints better, give the Beta test a try.

Next week, I’m going to blog about why I have Joseph Reid, the father-in-law of my husband’s 5th cousin twice removed.  Stay tuned.

Photo Hints You Might Find Hiding in Your Home

I just read an article that I think you might find interesting – Lost Rolls America  is about those rolls of film you have hanging around the house that you never take to get developed. 

A few years ago I had developed all of the rolls and disposable cameras (remember those?!) that were in my home.  Most of the photos were field trips my children went on and the pictures weren’t all that exciting.  My family still laughs, though, at the weird occurrence that happened when I took the films in to be developed. 

I was next in line at the camera counter at my neighborhood Walgreens when a woman came in and sighed loudly behind me.  Turning, I saw she was clearly in a hurry.  I smiled and said something about the line was moving quickly.  She said she was late and hoped it did.  Then she saw all the film and disposable cameras I had in a gallon size baggie.  I told her she could go ahead of me.

Just at that moment the customer who was being waited on finished.  The hurried woman needed to buy batteries but the kind she needed they didn’t have.  She said something like, “That’s just great, now what am I gonna do?”  I suggested she run to the Battery Store a few miles away as they seem to have every kind imaginable.  I added, “Just be careful driving;” as she did seem to be in such a hurry.  She said “Thanks,” walked away and as I started dumping the contents of the baggie on the counter she came back.  “Excuse me,” she said.  Both the clerk and I looked up.  “I know this will sound strange, but you have a lot of dead people following you.”  The clerk looked at her like she was out of her mind.  I just laughed and said, “I’m sure I do.  I’m a genealogist and it’s probably family.”  Turns out she was a fortune teller.  She gave me her card and told me she’d give me a free reading for my kindness.  I never took her up on it. 

Maybe I should have; those dead people following me sure didn’t answer my genealogical questions!  Perhaps you’ll get lucky and those rolls of film will help you answer yours.  Happy Hunting!

Genealogy Cleaning Hints

Since returning home from vacation, I have been on a genealogy cleaning spree.  Although I hadn’t planned for this, I discovered a few days before I left that I really had to make it my priority when I returned.  While packing, I was frantically looking for items in the closet when I got hit in the head by falling journals. Ouch!  If that wasn’t a wake up call I don’t what would be.

Cleaning is not fun but the results are wonderful!  I have also been fortunate that the heat index has been in the extreme and when the temperature drops, it’s pouring.  With both of those curtailing my outside activities, I hit the office closet first for a redo.  Because I live in an area prone to hurricanes, I keep records in either plastic tubs that I can quickly transport to the car when we evacuate, or in binders high up on a shelf.  The binders contain vitals by surname and though they would be a loss, the original exists safely elsewhere with a scanned copy I placed online, on my computer and backed up on a portable device. I’ve tried various organizational methods but found this one works best for me.

Recently, I switched my journal and magazine preferences to online only; no point in killing trees when I can access and read the articles anywhere.  I decided to donate my saved hard copies to my library.  That helped clear the shelf and gave me more space to acquire more vitals!  (Family eye rolls here). 

I also keep office supplies in this closet so it was a great time to take an inventory.  I made a list of items I’m getting low on, such as labels, that I can acquire at sale prices hits.

Once the closet was done, I tackled a file cabinet I use for business projects.  I updated my portfolio of work samples to include recent projects and replenished forms.  I don’t keep many copies of forms but I like to have a few available in case the printer is down or electricity out.  (In my area, the electricity goes out frequently – 3 times in the last 5 days due to severe electrical storms.)

I then tackled the electronics which was the least favorite part and took the longest of this process.  I started with thumb drives.  I have a lot of them and I decided I really needed to go through and make sure that I had saved to the appropriate place.  After checking that I had, I deleted the files from the thumb drive so I have a clean one to use on my next research trip. 

Actually, looking through the drives was a wonderful walk down memory lane.  I discovered several drives that held a probate record from colonial New Jersey that is the only record that shows two generations of Duers connected.  The reason I had the document on different drives was because of unusual events at the time I discovered the document’s existence.  I had been researching at a local library a different ancestor when I struck up a conversation with another researcher who was working on DAR lineage paperwork.  I mentioned my desire to prove the Duers and she brought up the document – she had remembered the name as she was working on a different New Jersey family from the same area.  It was the first time I had known of this document’s existence and I copied her copy to a thumb drive but she did not have the complete document.  I then began my search for the original which wasn’t on FamilySearch.org but was available at LDS sites.  Of course, the nearest LDS Family History Center to where I was would close in a few minutes so there was no way I would get there in time.  The next day, I grabbed a different thumb drive and drove to the site, found the record and thought I had saved it all but when I returned home discovered one page was missing and oddly, it was the page she had missed.  That meant I had to return and save again.  A few days later I was back and again resaved.  I was so paranoid I brought the page up twice from the thumb drive before I left to make sure it was saved correctly. Even though it appeared at the LDS library, it disappeared by the time I got home.  This happened before clouds so thumb drives were the best option for saving. Hubby suggested that maybe something was wrong with the thumb drive so I grabbed two others and we headed out, in a violent thunderstorm, to another LDS site much further from our home as that was the only one open.  The volunteer said he was about to close as he didn’t think anyone would have ventured out in the inclement weather.  I again located the document and this time, saved it to two different drives.  For whatever reason, it saved correctly and I was able to open it when I returned home.  Now on this cleaning spree, I deleted them off four different drives.

Next, I cleaned my download file on my computers, then cleaned the desktop.  Next, I went on my three clouds and placed documents I had saved over the past year into folders.  I then logged on to various organization to which I belong and downloaded and saved syllabuses for workshops that interested me but I hadn’t had time to attend.  I plan to review them and watch the saved webinars if I needed more information.

This was followed by cleaning up my email account.  I sent some follow up emails regarding projects that I haven’t gotten responses from in the past month and put mail I was done with in the appropriate folder.

I was feeling quite proud of myself so I went on to perform updates, which I hate doing because I’m inpatient of the time spent and the possible problems that result; for some reason, updates to our printer sometimes freezes the computer.  While doing the updates, I realized I had neglected updating several of my tree software programs as new versions were available.  All was well until I remembered that Roots Magic was linked to Ancestry and I hadn’t bothered to update changes I made to Ancestry in the past year.  I almost had a heart attack when I clicked “Only show changed people” on Roots Magic.  On a positive note, I was able to see how much progress I’ve made in my family tree but on a negative note, my goodness did I have a lot of work ahead of me to get the files saved to my personal computer.  I seriously considered just redownloading my entire Ancestry tree but I knew with all the media I had, it would take at least a week as it had the first time I did it.  I worried that the program would crash, especially with the electrical outages so I opted to painstakingly go through every individual and update.  The majority of my cleaning time was completing this project. but I think it was worth it as I’d be crushed if something happened to my online tree at Ancestry.  Having a backup, with all the media, is vitally important to me.  Having it saved in numerous places is also worth the effort.

I am happy to report that I am ready to return to researching, my true love.  I can’t wait!