Genealogy Reminders from Coco


If you haven’t seen the Disney movie that came out last fall, Coco, then you must do it soon. I’m not the kind of person that watches the same shows again and again but I have seen Coco 3 times. Here’s why I think Coco is important to genealogy and will help you with your research:

Customs – the story takes place in Mexico on the eve of Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Even though my family never celebrated that holiday, we sure celebrated many others. Think back to your own childhood and identify customs that your family practiced. Did Aunt Marge always bring a special dish? If so, ask why before it’s too late. I regret not writing down the words in Croatian that my grandparents said before Christmas Eve dinner. I know it was brought with them from the Old Country but unfortunately, that custom is now lost to me.

Photo clues – One of my favorite parts of Coco is the altar of photos. I don’t have that layout but I do have a family tree of photos on the wall in my office. Those photos are of couples going back 5 generations. Around the tree I’ve placed pictures of large family gatherings to include more of the extended family. I also received as a Christmas gift a metal tree that holds smaller photos. I’ve placed pictures of many of those couples as infants on this stand alone tree. By seeing the “big picture” you can often identify people in other photos that were considered unknown.

In Coco, the main character, Miguel, accidentally discovers a displayed photo had been altered and the missing person is critical to his story. That part of the film made me laugh as my family does the same thing Miguel’s family did! I inherited some photos from a deceased second cousin and one of them was torn vertically to remove someone. I’ve never been able to find a copy of the intact photo but from the dress of the remaining individual, it appears that it was taken before a cantakerous divorce. There’s a story behind every missing person in a photo and it pays to try to uncover it.

Making Wrong Assumptions – Like Miguel, I’ve been down the wrong trail of who I thought was family. Aided by spirits, he was able to uncover the truth. You don’t have to hire a medium to find the answer – simply take a DNA test. One of my husband’s cousins is doing a Lazarus project on a line through Gedmatch. I’ll be writing about it soon but in the meantime, if you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s trying to “raise the dead” by comparing the living’s DNA. The results can help you insure you’re researching your direct family lines.

FAN Club – Miguel learns all about a neighbor of his great grandfather and that connection with his family is a key to the story. What I especially like about this genealogy tip is that the connection isn’t an immediate neighbor or made through a religious organization, such as being a baptism sponsor. This connection is career related and sometimes we overlook that. Checking out union records, membership in business associations and even competitors in an industry could provide you with a wealth of information about an ancestor’s life.

Family Stories – We all have our legends and just like Miguel’s, they get convoluted in the retelling. To separate the facts from fiction in yours, first write down the story as you remember hearing it. If possible, ask another family member to tell you what they remember of the story. There will be some differences and note those. Next, research to see if there were records for the event mentioned. Newspapers, court documents, and even almanacs can help you determine the factual basis of the story. Getting the correct story may help you find that missing marriage record or place of death so this approach is well worth the effort.

Uncovering Buried Memories – The most poignant part of the movie for me was when Abuelita identifies her father, Miguel’s great grandfather. Miguel is so gentle when talking with his senile grandmother and to get information before it’s too late can’t be stressed enough. I interviewed my maternal grandmother and mother before their memories became difficult to access. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded it instead of taking notes. If you haven’t interviewed your older relatives plan on doing that soon.

Our Gifts – Miguel loved music while the rest of his living family did not. His genealogical journey helped him understand where his talent came from. By looking deeper into your family’s history, you’ll uncover much more than just birth-marriage-death info – you’ll discover people you wish you’d met and others who you’d love to understand why they made the choices they did. Some people we can closely identify with, others, not so much. They’re all a part of us and we’re all connected. Like Miguel’s family, we need to make peace with the past so the future can be brighter.

Helix Results Have Arrived


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome Genealogy Resources I’ve Recently Discovered


Brrr, it’s been freezing in Florida! I’m spending most of my free time curled up on the sofa in front of a fire with a cup of cocoa and my laptop and Kindle catching up on reading I put off during the holidays. I want to share some of my amazing finds that could benefit your research:

Do You Understand Family Relationships? Trying to explain to a non-genealogist how someone is related can be difficult. I’ve discovered a wonderful pdf and a fantastic article recently published by Genealogy in Time. Check out The Key to Understanding Family Relationships and become an expert!

Burned courthouses, wars and vermin aren’t, unfortunately, a thing of the past that impedes our needed record research. What Would You Take?, an article on Genealogy Bank, focuses on the sometimes split second decision of what to do about your research when disaster is only minutes away. We don’t like to think about it, but this article is a must read for everyone.

So, your DNA results are being returned and your family is scratching their heads in confusion. Maybe this article will help – How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage that I found on Gizmodo is thought provoking.

The Field of DNA Just Lost a Founding Father


If you’ve had the pleasure to swipe or spit to collect your DNA for evaluation, you most likely anxiously awaited the results. Perhaps you were trying to discover your birth parents or you were hoping the findings would put to rest the family tale of someone having an affair and therefore, the rest of that line really wasn’t blood related.

More and more individuals, however, are also using the results to get a better picture of their possible medical issues in the future so they can make positive lifestyle changes now. I never stopped to think about the tireless unnamed individuals who have diligently persevered over the years for us to benefit from their work.

Sure, you’ve heard of Watson and Crick and perhaps unacknowledged, Rosalind Franklin. You might also think about the names of Nobel Prize winners in the field of genetics. There are so many others, though, who made significant contributions and one has just passed.

Dr. Arno Motulsky was a genetic pioneer who died this week at the age of 94. His story is amazing; as a German Jewish child trying to flee the impending Holocaust to his eventual landing in the United States, he pressed onward living a long and productive life.

As someone interested in both family history and the science of DNA, I found his obituary of interest. You can read it here.

Thank you, Dr. Motulsky, and rest in peace.

Ancestry.com DNA Kit Purchase Follow Up

Just received the following email from Ancestry.com regarding their Black Friday-Cyber Monday DNA Kit Sale:

There is NO COUPON CODE, as I blogged about on Sunday. Want to purchase? Click BUY NOW, look at the top of the page and reclick Buy Now.
Please note: I have NO business connection with the organization and get NO percentage of sale. This info is a follow up to my last blog about attempting to purchase the product a few days ago.
Genealogy is all about patience and this purchase definitely reinforces that!

Holiday DNA Deals? Read Before Purchasing

It’s that wonderful time of the year when the DNA companies promote their products with big savings knowing that the family get togethers will turn to great grandma’s emigration story and the question everyone wants answered – Where did we really come from?
I’ve received several emails this week notifying me of “special” offers so I decided to take advantage of the one below:

When I go to process the order I get this screen (with my personal info not showing):

The problem is that when I hit “submit order” the lock moves over the words but doesn’t process. I hit the button twice and then, fearing I ordered 4 kits instead of 2, called Ancestry.com at 1-800-Ancestry.
I spoke with Brittany who told me they had no record of the order. That was good in that I didn’t over order but since I wanted 2 kits, I still needed the order processed. I asked if they were having trouble with their website and she said no. Brittany tried and couldn’t get it to go through, either. She placed me on hold and sought out a supervisor.
I must say I was pleased that she returned to the phone after some wait time to tell me she was still checking. Nice customer service, Ancestry.com, major improvement over the years. Then it went downhill…
Brittany said that the system couldn’t calculate two discounts, meaning it could not take $10.00 off the second kit AND take off free shipping on Kit 1. I asked if this was because I was a returning customer and the offer was good for new customers only. She said no. I asked if there was an override. She said no and that the coupon code I was using had expired. I mentioned I had received the notice from several sources in the past few days and that the expiration date hadn’t occurred yet. I also told her exactly where I received the info but since I’m not trying to drag other organizations into this, I’m sure you’re understanding of why I’m not blogging my sources.
Brittany told me the amount would be $162.00 but couldn’t explain how that amount was determined. If I ordered two kits at $79.00 with free shipping the amount would be $158.00; with $10.00 shipping on both kits it would be $178.00. If it was free shipping on the first kit and half on the second it would be $163.00.
Maybe I should have just shut my mouth and taken the $162.00 offer but I don’t like paying for something when the price isn’t clear so I mentioned that there were competitors that were offering kits for less than the quoted amount. Now I know that the customer service person has no say in the price set and I’m sure she was rolling her eyes at this cheap customer but I figure if enough people speak out then maybe the powers to be will get the website working correctly to accept the offer. If the offer isn’t valid, then they need to just say that the other organizations made up the deal but I really don’t think that was the case since I got it from several sources.
We hung up without my placing an order.
I then went on a hunt to see if there was other valid coupon codes but didn’t find one. Next I tried
signing into my Ancestry.com account, clicking “Buy Now,” re-ordering and omitting the “expired” coupon code. Guess what? It shows this:

But it, too, doesn’t allow me to purchase.
I then went to Amazon.com where I purchased a kit in July during Prime Days. Since I’m a member, I get free shipping so I figure that would eliminate the need for the expired coupon code. Here’s what I get:

The promotion at Amazon is $79.00 for each kit. Better than the Ancestry.com offer but not as good as I wanted.
I’ll let you know next week what I decide to do – I’ve wasted way too much time on this today! My Turkey Day shopping is waiting for me. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Genealogy Is Not For The Faint of Heart

Yesterday was our local genealogy group’s Family History Support Day. We had a wonderful turnout – larger than ever! The free event matches people with no genealogy experience with a researcher who can help them get started or provide ideas to overcome a family mystery.
A few of the folks I helped were stunned by the results. The DNA testing companies now include a warning but I’m thinking all genealogists might want to do so. Uncovering family secrets is often hard to deal with.
Here’s the 5 pieces of info I uncovered that I had to share with visitors that left them rattled:

1. Cherokee Princess – Her question – What was the name of my great grandma that was a Cherokee princess? A great uncle told the woman that because they were of Native American royalty, they escaped the Trail of Tears and remained in South Carolina. First problem with the legend is that South Carolina wasn’t one of the 9 states that fell under the Removal Act. Most of that region’s Native Americans relocated to Florida and formed the Seminole Tribe. Second problem is the law didn’t exclude any group so even if she was related to a Native American leader, aka “royalty,’ her family wouldn’t have been permitted to remain. Third problem is the Trail of Tears was in the early 1800’s so the family member involved would have been more generations back then a great grandmother. I identified on her maternal line her great grandparents; they were all born and died in South Carolina and were all identified as Black. I recommended DNA to verify if she has Native American ancestry.
2. Only Child – Her question – “My parents divorced when I was small and my mom and I moved from Florida where I was born to New York where I grew up. I think we stayed with a relative in New York but I was small and don’t remember. How can I find out who we stayed with as my mom is deceased and I’m an only child.” Lucky for the woman, this wasn’t difficult to find as she’s in her 80’s so she was in the 1940 US Federal census. What she initially failed to tell me was that she had changed her birth name under which she was enumerated. I first looked for her in New York but didn’t find her. I then looked for her in Florida but she weren’t there. I then did a search without a location and still couldn’t find her. I then looked using her mother’s name and voila – found them in South Carolina (yes, there was a lot of people from South Carolina and Georgia yesterday which isn’t surprising since that’s all the same temperate zones and farmers migrated between those areas). When I showed her the record I thought that the enumerator had mistakenly put her father’s name as hers; that’s when she told me that was her birth name but she had changed it to a more feminine name. I asked about the 11 month old sibling enumerated after her. She was stunned. The sibling had been named after her grandmother who she thought might be the family member they had been living with. I found the grandmother living in the same district with an uncle and his family. I wasn’t able in the short time period to figure out what happened to her sister. She may have died or is still out there having been adopted. It was hard for her to move forward with her initial question since the discovery was made. I found her mother in the 1930 US Federal census living with a family in Florida. The name was familiar to her; it was her great aunt’s family. The cousin had gotten married and divorced and relocated to New York in 1940. Although she wasn’t living with her on enumeration day, it’s likely that was the New York connection. I recommended she get in touch with the woman’s grandchildren as she and her only son are deceased, to see if they have further information.
3. The Reason Grandpa Left Grandma – Her question – “I’d like to find out why my grandfather took my mom away from my grandmother and gave her to my aunt to raise.” This is a tricky question because a family might not have left guardianship records that could tell us what was happening. The grandmother could have been ill – physically or mentally, incarcerated or dead. I didn’t find a death date so I turned to census records to discover where the family was located. Grandma had been born in 1915 in South Carolina. She had told her daughter she remembered living with her parents until right before she started school. That means, she would have been 5-7 years old. The great grandparents and grandma were not found in the 1920 US Federal census anywhere. That’s explainable as supposedly great grandpa was a traveling salesman. The family probably missed being enumerated in their travels. Their circuit was the entire southeast region. I found that great grandpa died in 1922 in South Carolina. I also found that great grandma had another child but it wasn’t with great grandpa – the father’s name was recorded as “DK” (don’t know). That child died soon after he was born in 1921. Although unconfirmed, it’s likely that the great grandparents split up due to great grandmother’s pregnancy from another man. Great grandpa, in poor health and traveling, placed his daughter with his sister’s family to give her stability. The great grandma died in the 1930’s and had resumed using her maiden name. Everyone from that generation are deceased so the real reason may never be uncovered.
4. Darn Those Genes! – Her question – “I’d like to find out about my dad’s side because my parents were divorced and all I know was that he was mean like his dad.” So the counselor in me kicked in to ask her to elaborate on what she meant by the word, “mean.” She said she didn’t remember him but he supposedly was abusive after drinking which he did all the time. I had just begun to try to identify vitals on her father when her cell rang. It was her son calling and by the time she got it out of her purse, she had missed the call. She became quite upset because her son was incarcerated from selling drugs and they could only speak weekly. I asked her if her son was also an alcoholic but that hadn’t been his drug of choice. She mentioned her daughter and adult grandchildren who had no drug issues. She couldn’t understand her son’s life choices. I recommended that when he’s released, the family get their DNA done and upload it to promethease.com. For $5.00 an analysis, the family will be able to identify their health indicators, addiction being one of them. Although genetics alone does not preclude one to make a life choice, it does explain why some have more difficulty then others. She was very appreciative. She had never thought about her father’s influence continuing in his absence. My new genetic slogan – Gone but not forgotten.
5. That’s Not How You Spell It – Her question – “Should I go to Salt Lake City or a library in Minneapolis to find out who my great grandparents were because I can’t find them online? Someone has my family in their tree online but it’s not my people.” The simple answer is – maybe. This woman had a huge binder full of family info which is awesome but the problem was that it was in no order whatsoever. We wasted a lot of time as she tried to find simple information, such as her parent’s vitals. She guessed her mom died in 2011 but it was 2001. She thought her mom had died in one Florida county but it turned out she was in a neighboring county where she had been taken to a specialized hospital. It took us about an hour to get to her grandparents as she shuffled through her binder and would get sidetracked when she came to a picture. Her question then changed to “How can I identify these people?” My advice to her, which I wrote down, was to first organize the binder by generation. Make it into a timeline beginning with birth and going through death of her parents. Buying dividers that were oversized so that she could label the generations for quick info retrieval. I made by hand, a skeletal pedigree chart and explained how to use a group sheet so she could place the group sheet in the front of each section. She had more info, such as death certificates, in her safety deposit box. I recommended she make a copy and include those, too. She was quite upset about the wrong info online. It turns out it wasn’t wrong. She was adamant the surname spelling ended in “son” but the online tree had “sen.” I told her that spelling was optional prior to the last century. Census records showed that her great grandparents did not read or write. Enumerators wrote names phonetically. So, should she go to Salt Lake or Minneapolis? No need to for an answer to the question she had but of course, if she needs to once she organizes what she has.

In five hours, five ah ha moments that shook folks’ core beliefs. Genealogy is definitely not for the faint of heart.

It’s Family History Month


Since 2001 in the U.S., Congress deemed October as Family History Month. If you’re new to genealogy it’s the perfect time to get acquainted with your local society as many offer free events that will help you get on the fast track. Next Saturday, my county group is hosting a get started event at a mid county library. A neighboring county has provided free scanning of heirloom photos and documents, overcoming brick wall help and youth activities to get the next generation involved. How to find these events? Check your local library and historical museums, the newspaper and Facebook.
If you are a well seasoned genealogist then it’s your turn to step up and assist at one of the offered events. Sharing your expertise, I’ve found, is rewarding on so many levels. You’ve exercised your brain muscles and experienced the joy that comes with helping someone solve a mystery. You may even find a connection to your own family!
If you’re unable to attend an upcoming event, you can celebrate in a variety of ways. This year, by posting my husbands, adult child and my dna on several sites, I’ve connected with many 2nd and 3rd cousins I would never have been able to do locally. In just the past 2 weeks, I’ve had 3 photos of my dad from World War II mailed to me. I’d never seen these photos before and would never have viewed them if I hadn’t posted my dna results. Last October, a family member of my mother’s closest friend found me online and sent me a copy of my wedding announcement. Sure, I had one, but it was special to know that someone besides family had treasured it for over 40 years. Over the summer, a cousin on my husband’s side was preparing to renovate and discovered letters that had been sent to her grandmother that were written by my husband’s grandmother. She mailed them to us. I highly recommend having your dna done and posting it but be forewarned – if you aren’t able to emotionally handle the horror that might result in finding out you aren’t who you thought you were then skip the test! Ironic, isn’t it, that Family History Month starts with warm autumn days and ends with Halloween night.
Another celebration idea is to pull out your old photo albums and using a stickee, tab the pages with 12 of your favorite photos. I’ve used them in a rotating frame in my office as they make me smile and put me in the right mood to research that particular line. If you are a paper calendar type, then use the photos to replace the ones that came with it or have a company make one professionally for you. Sometimes you can get bulk pricing with the extras being given as family gifts for the upcoming holidays.
Last week I wrote about heirloom cookbooks. If you checked any you own, make a dish this month that your family had enjoyed. You’d be surprised how the smell and texture of food can bring back an old memory and just might provide the hint you need to move forward with your research.
Three simple ideas for the three weeks left in this month (where is the time going?!) Enjoy!

Unexpected Results of Having My DNA Done


Just read a wonderful article from NPR on dealing with DNA’s unexpected results that I highly recommend – read it here.

I’m still receiving emails from my matches. Yesterday I got an email at 10 AM from a descendant of Samuel Samuelson and as I was responding, I got another email from a descendant of Samuel’s wife, Maria Swanson. I happily connected the two folks who kindly responded to my initial query. I just love those kinds of coincidences! Think about this, both send me a response within minutes of each other and after 150+ years, reconnect. Very weird!

What was even more awesome was that one of the emailers mentioned that his 100+ year old great aunt is still alive. I strongly urged that they share the info I sent. Hopefully, the photo of that woman’s grandfather will spark some memory that can be recorded before it’s too late. That was certainly an unexpected result of having my DNA done. I never thought I’d find someone who was still alive who had personal knowledge of those living in the 1800’s.

Here’s another result that I never anticipated – I’ve connected with a great grandson of one of my husband’s aunts who didn’t know his great grandmother. We have wonderful memories from when we were teens of this lovely lady and I shared via email some of the kind things she did. I’m sure he’ll pass the information to his own children someday and I just love that the connection will go forward. Happy Hunting!

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.