Volunteer at a Family History Day


Yesterday was a beautiful crisp fall day (okay, that would be by Florida standards) and our county genealogy society’s semi-annual community help day. Ten of us volunteered to assist and we were busy for 6 hours with no break. That’s awesome! Clearly there is a growing interest in genealogy and I met several people who shared delightful stories of their family and had burning questions needing answers.

If you contemplated becoming a volunteer at a genealogical event but feared you couldn’t because you weren’t a professional genealogist you’re sadly mistaken. That old saying “Two heads are better than one” is a classic example of why you would be helpful. Here’s some tips for first time volunteers:

Be prepared as time is limited. I always arrive early so my work area is ready. My society furnishes plenty of extension cords but yours may not. I bring my research baggie (see Research Tips), laptop with power cord, Kindle, and pad of paper. Make sure an empty chair is set up next to yours for the visitor. As soon as I’ve brought my computer up, I set up tabs with various sites (Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Fold3, NewYorkFamilyHistory, AmericanAncestors, FindMyPast, Findagrave, BillionGraves, Google) and login so I can go from one to the other quickly. As soon as one visitor is done I just need to clear the search engine and I’m ready for the next.
Connections are everywhere! The first two people who came for assistance didn’t know each other but their families evidently did back in Martinsville, West Virginia as they lived there at the same time in the late 1800’s. Strange that they were researching the same place and both came in within minutes of each other. If you overhear similarities play matchmaker! It’s an especially good technique for newbies to meet someone researching the same region even if it isn’t the same family. Think the “N” in FAN Club.
Patience is key. Many of the folks seeking help have no understanding that genealogy is a painstaking process. All they know is what they see on TV – instant family and travel across the pond. After introductions, I immediately say, “I hope I’m able to get you started on answering your family question. In real life, genealogy isn’t done in a one hour time slot. If we aren’t able to find the information online, I’ll give you additional resources where you can follow up.” Sometimes I have to remind them again when the online clues are scant.
Don’t take their disappointment as a personal failure. Yesterday, I spoke with two community people that had been referred to me because the prior genealogist couldn’t find the information they sought. After giving them my Patience is Key disclaimer, I asked what sources the prior researcher had checked and both said, “I don’t know. Just look again because they didn’t see it online.” This may sound silly but it really isn’t as it’s coming from people whose internet experience is limited. We’ve all used the refresh button and discovered an updated page. Of course, that isn’t going to happen on Chronicling America but they wouldn’t know that. I explain that I trust the prior researcher didn’t miss the obituary or emigration information minutes ago as not all info we seek is online. I then ask the prior researcher where he/she looked. I then check other places and make a list for the person to follow up on in the future. Because she didn’t get the obituary she wanted, one person stated she was done with genealogy forever. Okay, that’s her choice as this isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t make you feel your skills are inadequate.
Skill levels will vary. Be prepared to meet people that may have had more experience than you and folks that have never done any research. After introductions and my disclaimer, I ask what information they are seeking. The advanced will have a specific question, research logs and copies of documents. Several club members told me they paled when they saw other long term club members coming in for assistance as the volunteers felt they couldn’t possibly be of help to someone who had more experience then they did. Hogwash! Genealogy is not a spectator sport. All you need to do is listen to what the person wants to discover and where they’ve looked. Sure, sometimes the answer isn’t going to be found but there’s often an overlooked place just waiting to be discovered. For the individual seeking emigration information I recommended checking newspapers for Philadelphia for the late 1700’s bringing in indentured servants from Great Britain. Will it have her several times great grandfather’s name included? Probably not but it will give her more places to check as the immigration list for that particular ship may not have been digitized yet and she very well could find her ancestor listed on the original filed in an archive somewhere. She was quite happy with being pointed in a new direction.

These five simple tips can help you help others. I find it rewarding to share the genealogy bug and learn something from every person I meet. Give it a try!

Gedmatch How To

Since I last blogged I explored Gedmatch. It was simple (and free!) to use and I highly recommend it. Here’s how:
First watch the Youtube video Gedmatch Basics. There is no handout but you really don’t need one.
I had already created an account on the site but if you haven’t, you can make one as you’re watching the video.
Once you’ve logged in to Gedmatch, look on the right side where you’ll upload your DNA files. I had one 23andMe and one Ancestry to upload and compare.
If you’re not sure how to get your DNA files, don’t worry! The video and the Gedmatch site will direct you to the provider and step you through downloading it to your computer and then uploading it to Gedmatch.
Now you’re ready to analyze what you’ve uploaded. Not all features are available immediately but that’s okay, what you’ll be most interested in is the 1 to Many which compared shared DNA to everyone who’s uploaded on the site and the 1 to 1 which compares two people. I was interested in 1 to 1 as I uploaded my son and my results.
Your options to view the results are position, graph or position with graph. I chose position with graph. I like seeing the color comparison; my son preferred the position table only. See the picture at the top as that shows what you’ll see for position with graph. The yellow denotes the match from person 1 to person 2 is half, the green are full matches. There’s a lot of green looking at all 22 chromosomes and the rest yellow as our relationship is mother-son.
Check the bottom of the data to see the estimated relationship, how many segments matched and the largest matching segment.
There are other analysis tools available which I haven’t checked out. I plan on doing that when I get my daughter tested as I’d like to compare her to my son.
DNA offers continue this week – Ancestry and FTDNA both have promotions for $69.00.

We’re still waiting for hubby’s results to be returned from 23andMe.

And More Results…

Last time I blogged about my son’s autosomal dna results being returned so quickly from Ancestry. Minutes after I finished that blog, 23andMe sent me an email that my results were back. We’re still waiting for hubby’s results from 23andMe. All three kits were mailed at the exact same time. I’m not complaining about 23andMe, my results were returned 2 weeks to the day they received them and the original information said results would be back in 4-6 weeks.

Like me son, there was no startling surprises. Instead, it confirmed that I have quite a bit of neanderthal dna which my mom swore we did. I gasped when I saw the numbers. Don’t you hate it when your parents were right?! I wish my mom was alive to see those findings. When I told hubby he was stunned. “How did your mom know that?” he asked. She was always fascinated with them and read anything she could. Back in the day, the thought was there was none of their dna surviving. I would tell my mom that and she would counter that science will find out the truth. Geez! I always thought my mom was interested because most of the excavated sites were in northern Croatia where her parents had been born. She also swore her slightly extended jaw was a carry over from them. Now I have a cave visit on my bucket list.

The rest of the results were exactly as I had expected. Lots of French/German and Eastern European. Those early Persian-Greek roots show up supporting my grandmother’s stories and my grandfather’s gypsy heritage also is visible. I’m so glad I listened when they told those tales. I admit I didn’t believe them 100% in my youth. Seriously, how many families could pass down stories from 2000 years ago but they proved to be correct.

Since I’m an only child and there are no males that could test on my father’s line for 3 generations back, I never had any results on his side. The autosomal gave me that. It’s a no brainer to figure out from where my Great Britain, Scandinavian and French/German was received.

I’m not greatly impressed with 23andMe’s connections to other test takers. I preferred Ancestry’s which shows clearly if another tester had uploaded a tree, how many were in the tree, if the tree was private or public and if a match from my uploaded tree to another tester was found via a shaky leaf. I discovered that most of 23andMe’s matches to myself were recorded as Anonymous and were so old that they don’t even use the site any longer. There was really no one to share a tree with as all were 3-4 or more cousins apart from me. Since I tested my son through Ancestry I could use that feature to make connections which I did.

I created a database in Excel and made the following headings:
Message to
Common Ancestor
Descended Through (this is where the other person was descended and not me)
Date (I sent the email)
Relationship Estimate (such as 3-4 cousin)
Comments (if no tree, how I deduced where the relationship was)

I sent out 50 brief emails to relatives and recorded who I sent a message to on the database. Within 12 hours I’d heard from 25%. I’ve heard complaints that Ancestry’s system is useless since many people do not upload a tree or have a minimal one, at best. I didn’t find this to be a problem for me as I have a very large tree and recognized many unique surnames. Of the first 50 cousins given, only 3 do I not find a connection. Two of the 3 wrote back immediately and we’re exploring relationships now. I could see how this would be a problem if someone was adopted and had no parental knowledge. On a side note, I attended a training in the past week where the presenter made a catty remark about large trees. The trainer felt it was a “waste of time accumulating people.” I agree just trying to collect names isn’t productive but if a surname study was done with citations to prove relationship then accumulating the data is beneficial to making connections.

The coolest thing about my results was reconnecting with people who have emailed me over the last 22 years since I first posted a public tree online. My 4th cousin on the Bollenbacher line and my 3rd cousin on the Leininger side had tested and sure enough, we’re related exactly how we thought. They made those predictions 10 years ago. It’s nice to know that the paper trail matched the science.

The 23andMe result interpretation again mentions Marie Antoinette as my old Ancestry mtDNA had mentioned years ago. Not relevant to me but does correlate with the other test. The new results added Copernicus in the same haplogroup. My son liked that. Since I’m now working in a STEM school I thought that was appropriate.

Now we wait for hubby’s results. In the meantime, I uploaded my raw data to FTDNA and MyHeritage. I’m going to upload my sons and my results to gedmatch, too. Stay tuned.

The Results Are In!


On Amazon Prime Day, I purchased 3 autosomal DNA kits – two from 23andMe and 1 from Ancestry. Seven years ago, hubby and I tested through Ancestry. He completed mt and y; obviously I just could do mt. Ancestry has long since stopped supporting those test results although they are still available to view on their site. Back in those days, I never connected with anyone. My “closest” match was Marie Antoinette of “let them eat cake” fame. I was so unimpressed I decided not to upgrade when autosomal became available.

A second cousin of mine reconnected with me via Find-A-Grave and in our back and forth emails, had tested with National Geographic. We compared maternal Hapogroup and not surprisingly, were the same.

The more I read about dna, which was my genealogy goal this year, and since I am an only child I thought I could gain some additional info on my paternal side by taking an autosomal test. I also was interested in comparing my husband and his sister and then to our children. My plan was to purchase 5 autosomal kits. Sales had come and gone earlier this year – DNA Day in April, Mothers Day in May, Fathers Day in June. Due to our major remodel I figured I’d wait til November and give the kits as Christmas presents, thinking they’d be on sale. You can just imagine the excitement of my family members when I told them this was my plan. (I’m being facetious).

When I saw the price for 23andMe on Amazon Prime Day I decided I’d buy 2 kits for hubby and me since I had read it’s a good practice to compare results from different companies. I had wanted to do the full health tests but they were sold out. Later that day, Ancestry’s kits went on sale with a limit of 1 so I purchased it and offered it to my kids. My son lost the rock-paper-scissors (I am not making this up) so he took the test.

Two days after purchasing, the Ancestry kit arrived and son completed it the following day. The 23andMe kits arrived three days after purchase and my husband and I completed them immediately. Hubby took them all off to be mailed at the same time.

All of these kits were spit kits; our older tests had been cheek swabs. Personally, I like the cheek swabs more as they were quicker to complete.

On Thursday, Ancestry emailed that our son’s results were ready. Although the instructions said it could take as long as 6 weeks, the results were back in less than 2 weeks. I was quite impressed!

The results were interesting but not startling. Now I always knew he was our biological child so I didn’t anticipate any conflicts there. He had a unique look at birth so I knew he hadn’t been switched by the hospital. I just didn’t know if our ancestors had been faithful. I know that sounds awful but I always had a funny feeling that something was not quite right with a family member’s tale. One of my direct line ancestors had gone out west for 6 months. I personally felt that there was a child born out of wedlock but no one would ever confess to knowing more. Reading so many books and journal and newspaper articles lately about DNA surprises I thought I may have one of my own. If my hunch is correct the test results didn’t reveal it, possibly because no one has yet taken a test.

What we found interesting in the results was that it made our son eager to learn about his heritage. My kids grew up visiting cemeteries and old houses that ancestors had lived in long ago. We have many customs and foods that have been handed down, along with things that belonged to those long gone. None of that interests either one of my kids. What hit him was the DNA Matches. The closest match stating it was a 1st or 2nd cousin was his godfather’s brother. He recognized the name immediately and said, “Wow, now I know why you picked such a close family member.” The results were accurate – the individual was his 2nd cousin and we’ve always said our son favors that side of the family more than any other. It’s not just how he looks, it’s what he like and how he acts. He grew up far away from anyone on that side and only knows about them from occasional holiday notes. He is more open to learning about that line now that he has the results. Why? Because he’s the kind of person who is logical, analytical and very scientific oriented and the results proved what I’ve said for years.

The next closest matches were for two other second cousins on his dad’s side. Surnames of third cousin matches were also familiar and a mix of both my sides and his dads. He recognized the names and just kept saying, “Wow.”

The only Community Circle that he had was Pennsylvania which would be his dad’s side. You know I’ve blogged extensively about the Harbaughs and that would be them. Those lines came in the mid-1700’s and intermarried for several generations. It wasn’t until 1869 that they relocated from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

I should have expected the percentages of ancestry to be what they were – predominately Great Britain with lesser amounts of Scandinavia and Eastern European. Back in the day my husband’s results on his y included Chad but our son’s results did not. My husband’s old mt also showed Asian ethnicity and again, this didn’t show up in our son. We’re thinking that was the reference groups that had been used that are more refined now. Also, my husband’s haplogroups did have lines going from those areas.

Yesterday I uploaded the results to FTDNA and MyHeritage. It takes 24-48 hours to get matches there so I’ll write more if anything exciting is discovered.

Was spending $49 worth it? You bet! I’m looking forward to receiving my results soon.