New Year! December was a busy month for genealogy so I’ll be trying to
catch up with all the changes each week. I ended the decade watching
the last Star Wars movie which was bittersweet to me. The franchise
started while I was in college, saw one of the films when I was first
pregnant with my oldest who became a lifelong fan, and the remaining
movies I can remember by associating with various stages of my life.
Wars is an epic in science fiction genealogy. Do you recall being
shocked to discover that Darth Vader was Luke’s father? That Luke and
Leia were twins? If you haven’t seen the movie yet I’ll not spoil it
but I’ll give you a hint – Mill’s FAN Club. Yes, there is another
connection nicely tying up all the movies.
keep the movie in mind as you search for your elusive ancestors. Wonder
why know one talked about Great Uncle Bob? I say check out his
relationships. His business buddies might just be holding the key to
his separation from the family. Also look for his political views;
perhaps the rest of the family didn’t share his outlook for the future.
find the parents of your maternal great grandma? Check out death
records, obits, cemeteries and family Bibles to see if great grandma’s
parents died shortly after her birth. Like Luke and Leia finding each
other, you just might discover a whole new side of the family that had
been separated due to the unexpected loss.
your teenage several times great grandpa left Merry Ole England for the
Caribbean? Like Rey, he may have been sheltered by his parents for his
safety. Although Rey was sold, many families indentured their loved
ones. I found my Duer family did so as their Quaker beliefs were
causing them to be arrested. Leaving the country was one of their only
I’ll miss Star Wars but on the bright
side, I’ll remember those shocking movie moments and know I’ll get to
experience similar emotions as I continue to work on my own family
I know you’re busy with preparing for the holidays, visiting family and friends, cooking up grandma’s passed down recipes, spitting into those DNA test tubes and standing in lines (or trying to figure out where your package got delivered because it wasn’t at your door as expected). You’ve got to put this on your TO – DO before December 30th list, though, because it effects everyone interested in family history in the U.S.
I’ve received several emails from various organizations regarding the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service’s 500% proposed fee increase. That is outrageous on so many levels! My first complaint is that they just raised the fee 300% less than 3 years ago. The second complaint is that it TAKES FOREVER to get the documents and sometimes, you don’t get them at all and you don’t get your money back.
I don’t know about you, but I think paying $685.00, waiting up to a year and then getting an email with no individual to respond to stating the USCIS couldn’t find the information you sought is ridiculous.
Personally, I don’t need to request any documents as I was fortunate to obtain my maternal grandparent’s citizenship paperwork before the fees were increased. Was there startling revelations I uncovered from obtaining the documents? Well, it was for me but probably most people wouldn’t find it extraordinary. I got two awesome photos of my grandparents taken during the Depression when they had cut back so much to keep the house that they had NO spare change to have family photos taken. I have them from their marriage in the Teens, their growing family in the 1920’s and the war years of the 40’s and their retirement in the 50’s but zilch in the 30’s.
I also discovered that their long time next door neighbor, Mr. Bauer, served as a character witness. To me, he was a nice widower who let me pet his dog and gave me $1.00 instead of candy on Halloween. It also explained why another family would sometimes visit and grandma would break out the good china and silverware – they had once lived behind my family and had also served as a character witness. Mills is so right – Family/Friends, Associates and Neighbors hold the clue and show the interconnectedness of us all.
So, personally, the proposed increased doesn’t effect me but it certainly does professionally and as a citizen, for those who want to get a better insight into the immigrant experience.
Yeah, I know, you’re going to say they already made up their mind and they aren’t going to care that you have a differing opinion. My response is your opinion matters and I will hold it against my representatives if they fail to respond which they haven’t yet and I filled out my paperwork last week.
3. Don’t let all that political jargon exasperate you! Just click “Comment” on the right side of the screen at the top
4. You don’t have to write a dissertation – just a few words will do.
5. I also emailed my Senators and Representative. If you don’t know how to email yours – click here to identify your Senators and Representative. To save time, you can do a Ctr C to copy what you write to the USCIS and enter the same by doing a Ctr P for your Senators and Representative.
Last week, I wrote about another assault on genealogy. Thank you for all your comments. Clearly, this is a time for all of us to make noise and express our opinion. I’m sure, like me, you want your descendants to one day discover you took a stand for the right reasons during these difficult times.
I promise it will take you less than 10 minutes to send the emails to those who will make the final decision. Don’t delay – do this TODAY!
The blog I write today was not the one I planned and I want to make clear this is my OPINION.
I blog about genealogy because it is my passion and I have found that it pairs wonderfully with my first interest, psychology. I often start the day reading the news and today was no different. Having just about finished my second cup of coffee, I was flipping through the stories on The Washington Post when I came across an article published yesterday, “The Dark Side of our Genealogy Craze” by Honor Sachs, an assistant history professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder.
I beg to differ with the author’s main premise. In paragraph 1, “…But the rise of genealogy may also, paradoxically, exacerbate the virulently anti-immigration fervor propelling President Trump’s policies and increase racial inequality…” As the thesis statement, the article continues to present the author’s justification of her views that researching one’s family history is dangerous for the future and the interest in learning this information is short-lived, per her word choice in the title. I strongly disagree.
To prove her point, the author cites the beginning of the growing interest in finding one’s lineage to Alex Haley’s Roots. The book and television series without a doubt, gave rise to genealogy in the late 20th century. Yes, the story was about an African American whose ancestors were enslaved and those of European ancestry did use the methods Haley outlined to begin their own research. I am one of them with two of my European lines entering through Ellis Island. I am also a Boomer.
How the author connected Roots, Boomers and Ellis Island to this statement, “The exploration of this heritage provided a language through which the baby boomer generation could safely distance themselves from the mandates of the Civil Rights era without sounding explicitly racist.” is unclear.
As a historian, I would think the author would know that the Boomers were deeply affected by the Civil Rights era since we were born in the 1950-60’s and were the product of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Boomers are of all races with many of us attending integrated schools as a result of the Supreme Court decision. While some of us are racist, most of us are not. Racism is not tied to a generation; it permeates all ages and races. Many Americans of European descent supported (and still do) Civil Rights. Some even died because of their involvement. Many Boomers raised children to be global citizens in integrated schools.
Racism today is not the result of the Boomers or any other generation of Americans with European ancestry interested in genealogy. Unfortunately, racism will not die with the Boomers but will continue to grow as youths buy into the propaganda they are reading online.
Here’s another problem I have with the Post’s article; the author states “While European immigrants faced significant historic struggles, their descendants mobilized such hardships to dilute the claims of historically persecuted groups that remained marginalized with their own narratives of past immigrant oppression.” She then goes on to cite Richard Nixon and his “coded language.” While I agree that Nixon’s word choice were coded for his base, so are every politician of every party in every nation. Generalizing that all descendants of Europeans who researched their heritage resulted in marginalizing persecuted groups and “resonates with our modern-day genealogical revival” is just wrong. Show me the data!
The author continues that although genealogy can benefit those members of historically persecuted groups, it can also “empower those who seek to divide, deny and disenfranchise.” DNA with the Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” debacle is mentioned, along with others of primarily European descent attempting to gain access to programs for underrepresented people. Let me be clear – it is wrong to try to gain entry to a privilege that was not established for you. In my genealogical experience, people who have taken DNA tests typically do not take them for the purpose of undermining the system. Most take them because they want to know who their birth parents were for health reasons, where their immigrant ancestor originated, or to compare their results with family members to determine which got what genetic material from each parent.
Knowing that information does not make me want to hold an indigenous group today responsible. It was wrong to steal children then, just as it’s wrong to separate children from their immigrant parents today. Learning this occurred in my family’s past makes me even more vehemently opposed to what is happening at our border. Understanding what my immigrant family members were fleeing in the old country makes me more empathetic with today’s people who are seeking asylum. Remembering that my grandparents were targeted by the KKK and my father’s WWII Army placementwas made due to his German sounding last name (DNA now shows more French then German but who knew back them because there was no DNA tests!) allows me to listen to the message from historically disenfranchised groups to gain their perspective.
Historian George Santayana got it right, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Correlating genealogy with racism is wrong. I know my family’s past because I am a genealogist. My ancestors made mistakes just like every human does every day. I strive to learn from their mistakes and follow their examples for what they did correctly.
No one inherited a racism gene. Racism’s root is fear of not being in power, of losing privilege status and therefore, of becoming indigent. My definition of poor has nothing to do with money; I define poor as those who lack a moral compass. I’ve met poor wealthy people and rich poor people, as I bet you have. Interesting that the fear of having no money sometimes results in those who have it in become overly controlling at the expense of others to keep it and those that don’t have it, trying to differentiate from another group to make themselves feel superior. Those kinds of people unite in their shared biased worldview and make it bad for all the rest of us. It leads to a closed mindset and a regression to what we see happening with leaders across the world – derogatory name calling, ostracizing, categorizing, and segregating. Communication ceases which only separates us further.
Please, let’s stop dividing ourselves by age, race, gender, place of origin, religion, sexual orientation, education level and career choice. The Human Genome Project showed that we all share humanness, we are all one. Our search for our ancestors isn’t the problem. Finding your family’s story and relating it to the world today to make for a better tomorrow is imperative.
Happy Dia Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This year, for Halloween, one of my family members created two glow in the dark pumpkins and a skull and dressed a skeleton to look like Disney’s Coco’s grandpa, Hector. Sneaky way to get little ones to learn about genealogy relationships! It was quite lifelike, or should I write, really dead looking? Two little girls burst into tears which was not my intention and I felt awful but the mom’s said they loved the movie. I had to show the girls that it wasn’t real. One little boy was so enamored he said he had questions for Hector and could he come inside. I told him Hector wasn’t talking tonight and would want the boy to enjoy his candy collecting. Ahh, children and genealogy, what an interesting mix. Their reaction is just like adults – some run when you start asking about family history and others want all the details.
Two weeks ago I wrote about DNA now being available from hair follicles. Right after reading that article, I found another story that I suspect relates to it though the articles purpose is to bring up a controversial side of DNA and genealogy. The Messy Consequences of the Golden State Killer Case by Sarah Zhang published in The Atlantic 1 October 2019 will give you a better understanding of why GedMatch and Family Tree Genealogy recently changed their policies.
As technology evolves, past policies must be rethought. I’ve blogged in the past about clients and colleagues mentioning that their returned DNA results were just plain wrong. We all understand that DNA is a Pandora’s box of family secrets but it never crossed my mind that medical procedures acquired as an adult could skew the results. When I read A Woman Found Her AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret also written by Sarah Zhang and published in The Atlantic on 13 September 2019, I was shocked by the findings. I’m not going to give you a spoiler alert – you must read this article if you have DNA results that seem skewed. Who would have thought this?! Clearly not the specialists who first heard their patient’s stories.
Both articles are thought provoking whether you are a donor or are making the decision of sharing your DNA results.
The last DNA related article I’d like to share is a topic I’ve also blogged about in the past. Accepting the foibles of your family history can be difficult. Although the author, Ken Bradford, used DNA to build his tree, the old fashion research methods also provide the same results – acquiring the knowledge of the past sins of our forefathers. Look What the DNA Brought In published in Notre Dame Magazine Autumn 2019 can be helpful if your wrestling with the dark side of your family findings.
All of this is quite spooky, don’t you think? Happy Day of the Dead
Twice a year, my local genealogy society holds a free Meet a Genealogist Day at a regional library. The well attended event allows the general public with little knowledge of genealogy to meet with a professional to kick start their research. Over the years that I’ve participated, the trend has been more and more questions about DNA.
The genealogy society does provide free classes on a variety of topics during the year but unfortunately, most are held during the day which working people can’t attend. I think that’s one of the reasons the Meet a Genealogist Day is so widely attended as it’s held on a Saturday.
I just received an email with the new date and a new format. The event will be held in two rooms – one for general research (which I call old school methods) and the other for those interested only in DNA research.
I’m not sure where I’ll be placed as I’m fine with either group but I am looking forward to the “data” that shows the interest level of the two groups. One part of me says that it’s all the same – that you need to use both historical record research and DNA results. The other part of me, from my participating in past events, understands why there is a new division. People are getting DNA results and not understanding what they mean or how to move forward with their findings.
I’m not criticizing the companies who are providing the results. Most have done an amazing job with giving lots of helpful information on their sites. Even so, it is overwhelming to many and unfortunately, sometimes the results are disappointing.
We all know real life is not T.V., however, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone came to me saying they thought they’d find a family connection with an entire tree done once they had their DNA results back. Then there’s the smaller number of people who insist that the DNA lab messed up their results and that they aren’t the ethnicity that was stated. A few have insisted that the results were just plain wrong when the results show they aren’t related to a known relative. I know of one local genealogist who insists that happened. Interestingly, the individual did not get retested. Personally, if this happened to me I would contact the company AND I would test with another company to compare results. Mistakes happen but I’ve never ever heard that the mistake was made by the lab.
So, the underlying issue is having difficulty accepting the DNA results. Like with all of life’s disappointments, that healing takes time.
I am trying hard not to make this a rant so I’ll let you know up front that I’m very frustrated with many of the lineage societies’ directions and interpretations of what they consider acceptable.
In the past year, I’ve completed a number of society applications for clients and myself. It seems each time there is something a society had a problem with that I couldn’t see was an issue. In the past month alone, I’ve had to have lengthy discussions with their genealogist over several sticking points.
I could certainly understand if the problem was lack of a record for proof of relationship. I could also understand if it was because the person could not have been in two places at the same time; in other words, analysis of existing records couldn’t determine which John Smith was the John Smith who would be a qualifying ancestor. If the application directions were completely disregarded, I could also understand a rejection. I cannot understand the following:
Applying for membership that says “send proof of [military] service” and when more than one proof is sent, such as the enrollment application, pension application, 1890 veteran’s census, newspaper clippings, and family letters to two different organizations for two different U.S. wars and being told in one situation that the sources were “a little thin” and in the other, that a record that was housed at the National Personnel Records center were necessary. So, they never heard about the 1973 fire that destroyed the records they wanted? Makes you think twice of the level of genealogical understanding of the organization. How can a pension application, enlistment paperwork and veteran’s census be considered “a little thin?
Applying for a designated individual and then being told that the ancestor doesn’t qualify because he was a nobleman and not royalty. Had to initially laugh at that one because one of the sources for this disputed ancestor was titled, “The Interim King.” I was able to obtain qualification based on the nobleman’s wife’s father but for the life of me, I don’t understand the difference between a nobleman serving as king and someone who inherited it from his father. The individual who inherited the title came from a line that at one point had the first ruler. What made that person royal? I just don’t understand. The organization has yet to explain it to me.
Being told the application was being rejected because the year for sources was omitted. When I asked the application number that purportedly occurred I didn’t get a response. I always keep a copy and I couldn’t find anywhere where I missed a date. A week later I received an email that no further information was required. I understand people make mistakes but own up to it.
Being told that your application was accepted and two weeks later receiving an email stating that your application wasn’t accepted. Huh? In that situation, the membership chair had obtained a list from the genealogist and assumed that names placed on the list had all been verified but evidently that wasn’t the case; the list was for everyone who had submitted an application. I understand errors happen but you’d think that the board would all be on the same page.
I’m not knocking lineage societies. I think they serve a tremendous purpose. Not only is there fraternity and hopefully, camaraderie, the ideals and promotion of the area of history they represent is important. They are also a wonderful place to save genealogical information and honor our ancestors. That said, I really wish they would get their act together.
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.
Recently on a beautiful spring (in Florida – the robins just returned so hang in there northerners) afternoon, family members invited me to go to lunch at a local cafe in our downtown area. Because this was a spur of the moment invitation, I hadn’t changed from my casual Saturday morning attire. I was wearing my recent Christmas gift from my sister-in-law pictured above and a pair of jeans.
When our waitress, Melissa, who has given me permission to identify her and share this story, handed us the menus, I found her staring at my t-shirt. She immediately asked, “Are you a gynecologist?” My family burst out laughing. “No,” I replied, “I’m a genealogist.” Obviously, the way I was seated at the table Melissa could not clearly read my t-shirt.
Melissa asked what a genealogist did and I explained that I was like a family historian. A family member added that I help people find their past. I added, “For people who are adopted and want to know about their birth parents, I’d work with their DNA. For everyone, I would search for old records and photos to help them prove a family story.” Melissa shook her head yes, she understood.
As we dined, Melissa returned to check on us several times; each time she had another genealogical question.
The word genealogy is derived from Greek meaning the study of generations. It surprises me that in a study done in December 2018 in the U.S., 34% of the respondents could not name their grandparents. I’m never bothered by people asking how to get information to help them discover their past so I wasn’t bothered by Melissa’s questions. Research shows that genealogy is one of the largest hobbies and I’m happy to add more people who are interested.
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!
Although my family lore claimed I had Native American blood, DNA has proven that the legend was not true. I seldom (well, have never) written about current political issues as that is not the point of my blog. That changes today.
If you reside in the United States, you have an ancestor who once emigrated here. You’re probably also a mutt like me – that great melting pot permitting people to marry due to love and not by ethnicity alone has created a wonderful mix of blended cultures, customs and genetics.
I’m blessed that my family has been here awhile. My most recent immigrants were my maternal grandparents, John and Mary Kos[s] who naturalized in the 1940’s. My grandmother visited the Old Country nearly 50 years after she had emigrated here with her parents and was so thankful they had made the difficult journey in her childhood, she promptly kissed the soil when she arrived back in the states. My grandfather had no desire to return, even for a short visit.
Because of my Great Grandparents dream for a better life, they left behind family, friends and belongings to start over. Learning a new language, back breaking work where ever they could find it and facing discrimination because of their ethnicity, religion and acceptance of diversity, my ancestors looked at the positive this country had to offer and steadfastly remained so that their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren could have a better life.
I understand why people from all over the world still attempt to come here. Think back to your family and I’m sure you’ll agree, your forefather’s efforts were worth it.
Due to the present government stance new arrivals have experienced not just a perilous crossing but a breakdown in family structure. I applaud MyHeritage.com for stepping up to help reunify children with their separated families. To my knowledge, no other company has come forward to assist. MyHeritage is providing up to 5,000 free DNA kits to insure that the correct child is returned to the right family. You can read more about their efforts here. Kudos, MyHeritage.com!