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.
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.
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.
Shopping for holiday DNA kits? I want to caution you about your upcoming purchase. In the ever changing world of DNA, the results you receive won’t be the same a year from now and I’m not talking about mutations to your chromosomes.
The more people that test, the larger the database (duh) and that increase results in a refinement of the ethnicities listed. I’ve lost count of how many times Ancestry.com has emailed me that my results have been altered. Make sure that you or whoever you purchased the test for, understands that the results are fluid.
Once you’ve wrapped your head around that concept, you need to be cognizant of the bigger picture – that your DNA results might just disappear. Yes, you paid for them but that doesn’t mean they will be available forever.
I was one of the early testers on Ancestry.com; a few years after I had my X tested they moved to autosomal and no longer supported my original results. The only way I could access DNA match was to be retested.
Now the granddaddy of DNA testing has announced that they will be ceasing operation in June 2020 – National Geographic’s Genographic Project. That project, launched in 2005, was an anthropological study to identify historical migration patterns. Geno2 was unveiled in 2016 and now that is coming to an end. Although the purpose of that project was not genealogical, families often were interested in the long term historical findings hiding in their DNA.
At it’s inception the project was voluntary but I missed my local test date. When the company decided to expand for a cost, it was pricey for my family’s pocketbook so I didn’t participate. A colleague did and I was intrigued by the colorful interpretive guide that she received – just what you’d expect from National Geographic. Eventually, when the price dropped, I did purchase a kit.
If you have results, you must download and save or you won’t be able to access after May 2020.
Two weeks ago I wrote about genealogy patience. This is a follow up that I’m having difficulty writing because I’m so overwhelmed with joy at the moment I can hardly contain myself! Now this story is also just plain weird and I think proves that the universe has a wicked sense of humor so I hope you enjoy what I’m about to relate.
I have searched for a picture of my husband’s maternal Great Grandmother Lovisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson for years (pictured above with her three daughters). When a DNA match was discovered two years ago in August I sent an email asking if the match had a picture. He responded this year on Halloween that he didn’t think so but would check with another family member who had a box of unlabeled photos and would get back to me. I put it out of my mind as I wish I had a buck for every time a family member said, “I’ll check and get back with you.” My people procrastinate and they never seem to followup up unless I keep bothering them. I figured, with the holidays approaching and people getting busy, I’d wait til after Thanksgiving and send a gentle reminder.
I went about my business and was volunteering two weeks ago at a local genealogy library event assisting interested patrons in finding their roots. I had helped 2 wonderful retired teachers when things got really slow. I considered leaving but the event was supposed to continue for one more hour and I don’t like to cut out early when I’ve committed so I decided to bring up Arkidigital.com, a Swedish genealogy site, that is awesome. I used to belong but found most of my husband’s Swedish records so I didn’t renew. Since it was free for the weekend I decided I’d revisit and see if they had added any new records. I was still bringing it up when a new patron stopped by. So, you can probably guess that the woman had deep Swedish roots. What a coincidence, I thought, and told her I just happened to open up the free site. She was interested in discovering information about her great grandfather who settled in Minnesota. She thought he had changed his name at Ellis Island so she wasn’t sure how to verify the story.
I didn’t need Arkivdigital for that so I went in search of naturalization records and World War I and II draft records to see if we could find a clue. There it was – he hadn’t changed his name at all. What she had thought was a last name appeared to be a Confirmation name that he had stopped using between 1917 and 1942. He had emigrated under the name he had arrived with in the U.S. and continued using it; it is on his tombstone.
By the time we had found the evidence, the event was ending so I showed her how to go to Arkivdigital to search for his birth record in Sweden. Turns out, she was also a former educator and she told me a funny story of her attending a conference in Wales several years ago. I replied I wanted to go there, to Croatia and to Sweden to see family’s old haunts but I couldn’t find a tour that went where my husband and my people lived. She told me she had gone on a fantastic trip to Sweden through a group out of Minnesota and gave me their website. I told her I’d check it out when I got home.
On the way home I stopped in a store to pick up a few items and yes, they were already playing holiday muzak. What was on was Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. Geez, I thought, what a dumb song. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I got home and told my husband I’d love to go to Sweden next summer and was going to check out a tour group. Sure enough, the tour went exactly where we needed to visit. Wow, I thought, that’s coincidence number 2 for the day – the last lady just happens to give me the info that I’ve been looking for. I sent the company an email.
After dinner I decided I’d bring Arkivdigital back up and search for a bit. I had my tree up on one screen and the website I’d be searching on the other when an Ancestry little leaf appeared. As I’ve written several times, I typically just ignore the hints but this time something told me to check it out. It was for my husband’s paternal great grandfather, Samuel Samuelson, who had died in 1908. It was a link to Find-A-Grave. I already had that info but clicked to go to Find-A-Grave anyway. I’m so glad I did because a man interested in history had recently posted a newspaper story from a Chesterton, Indiana paper that is not available anywhere online regarding the circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death. The information hadn’t been there the last time I looked (so you have to go back and look over sites again or you might miss something important). I had the death certificate which noted accident – skull crushed but I assumed that was the result of a farming accident of some sort. Nope, the accident explained that Samuel and a neighbor were crossing a train track when the sleigh they were in was hit by the train. Both men and horse died. Okay, so here’s the weird, twisted part – I couldn’t get the reindeer song out of my head. I was humming it when I read this. I got a sick feeling – I’m humming a song that’s supposed to be funny but I just discovered someone’s gruesome death in a related accident. That was the 3rd coincidence that day. The individual who posted the article had also posted the obituary which said, “…his youthful looks and manner, his good nature, and never failing sense of humor made him a delightful companion…”. Somehow, I thought he would be amused by this twisted occurrence. And learning about his personality, the man sounds just like my husband.
By this point I was just done with genealogy for the day so I thought I’d check my email and then call it a night. There was an email and it was from the DNA match who said he’s get back with me – he had found a few pictures that were labeled and they were of my husband’s maternal great grandma! It must have been Sweden Day as the photos he sent me were of different stages in the woman’s life. He promised to send me a thumb drive with all the photos of other relatives he had but warned me that most weren’t labeled.
I just got the thumb drive – my, oh, my, what a wonderful early Christmas present! There was my husband’s maternal grandparents wedding photo which was also the earliest photo of his grandfather I had ever seen.
There were photos, labeled, that had stepchildren of his great great grandfather. There were church records! Someone had gone to a long closed church and photographed the handwritten membership list. There is so many genealogical gems that I haven’t even gone through everything yet.
Oddly, he had even sent photos of my husband’s paternal side of the family who isn’t even his relation. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but in 1917, they all had attended a wedding for one of his relatives. Living in the small farming community, it shouldn’t have been surprising a wedding would have brought neighbors together. I just never expected to find so many of my husband’s great and grandparents in these photos.
But that’s not all! I had a grainy photo of the Harbaugh family reunion but I could never make out most of the individuals because someone had moved the camera as the photo was taken. It was also a far shot and the people were so tiny. Enlarging the photo only made it more blurry. Turns out I had the first photo and the photographer decided to take a second shot. I can tell as the man in the front row far left has turned to walk away from the group. Unbelievably, the photo I just received has names attached and is clear as can be:
Check out the man in row 2, third from left that looks like Abe Lincoln. That would be my husband’s maternal great grandfather. It is the only photo known to be in existence of him! His wife is right in front of him. I had a grainy photo of her from a church group shot taken about 10 years before this one. All of my husband’s great aunts and uncles are also pictured and we never had any of their photos, either! The mysterious Louisa, who I had originally contacted the DNA match for a photo, is also shown.
So my patience really paid off and I highly encourage you, this upcoming holiday season, to ask for the stories – photos – documents – DNA tests – that will enhance what you’ve already discovered and give you a more complete story of your ancestors. Happy Hunting!
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?
You know that Bible verse Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you, knock and you shall find?” I believe it was really written for genealogists. I would add to it – “though not immediately.”
In August, 2017, I sent an email query to a DNA cousin on Ancestry. I recognized the surname, Chellburg, and knew immediately the relationship. I was hoping to find a picture of my husband’s great grandmother, Louvisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson. Louise had lived in the house my husband grew up in and when my husband’s parents were relocating, I claimed all the photos and letters that had been stored in a suitcase in the basement. Of course they weren’t labeled. We were able to identify just about everyone, however, and no photo was ever found to be of Louise. Maybe she was camera shy or perhaps, when she moved in with another daughter the last year of her life, the pictures went with her. I was really hoping the last scenario was the case.
Over the years, I’ve checked with all the closer relatives for a photo and no one had one so when the DNA match came up I immediately sent off a message. Hey, I followed the Biblical directions – I asked and the email served as an electronic knock and then, well, I guess no one was home because I didn’t get a response.
Two years, two and a half months later I get an email back with the answer (paraphrased) – Sorry, I haven’t been on in a while. I don’t have a picture of Louise but I have one of her husband, Gust Johnson. I think another cousin, who’s 92, has the photos. He’s got a lot but none our labeled.
Big surprise there – another box of unlabeled photos. My husband had actually reached out to the older relative a few years ago but he didn’t respond. Now I’m hoping that the DNA match can connect with him to find a photo.
I am many things but patient is not in my makeup so the waiting really is the hardest part of genealogy for me.