The Virtue of Genealogy Patience

Gust Johnson

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.


The Dark Side of DNA

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

A Volunteer Opportunity from your Arm Chair

Want to get help with an overwhelming indexing project or help get records you are desperately seeking online?  You”re in luck! Now available is a crowd sourcing tool for genealogy groups or individual enthusiasts to use to help get those currently unavailable online records indexed for everyone’s benefit.  

Thanks to the Federation of Genealogical Societies Fall Forum 2019 article, check out Crowd Sourced Indexing for more info.  If you’re an individual who’d love to help the genealogy community but want to do that from the comfort of your home – check out the current index projects on the site and pick one that tugs at your heart.  If your a community group that has salvaged old records and wants to get them indexed – on the ribbon, go to About and FAQ to obtain information on how to contact the site administrator to get your project up and running.  

This is a win-win for all and with winter approaching, a perfect time to cuddle up with your laptop, a mug of cider and the knowledge you’re a do-gooder!

DNA Today from Hair of the Past

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

Reformed Dutch Church Records


Photo courtesy of https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org

A few weeks ago, I wrote about free genealogy newsletters I receive.  I failed to mention I also read other genealogy blogs.  Recently I read a wonderful article about New York Reformed Dutch church records.

Both my husband and I have ancestors who resided in New Amsterdam.  Although I haven’t extensively researched those individuals, the blog article gave me new insights.  Here’s what really stands out to add to my knowledge base:

  • Before 1664, the Reformed Dutch was the ONLY denomination permitted so if  your ancestor was not of that religious persuasion and wanted to marry or attend a church service, the records are most likely held by the Reformed Dutch.  Who knew?! 
  • Although the church in Manhattan founded in 1628 is still in existence today, records are only available from 1639.  That’s interesting because the physical church was erected in 1642.  That same year a second church was erected in Albany.  
  • Collegiate churches had 1 minister that traveled between several locations and all the records were maintained by the 1 minister.  I have found that happened in New Jersey in the early 1700’s also.  
  • Many Germans came to New Amsterdam and attended the Dutch church.  Even after the city changed hands and became New York, Germans who immigrated continued to attend the Dutch church so make sure you look over Dutch church records.
  • The two databases on Ancestry.com for Dutch Church Records are NOT the same, even though they appear to be.  There are a few names missing in one database so check both.  As is always a good practice, go beyond using the index and browse the records as the transcription may be in error or the spelling may have been slightly changed from what you are seeking.
  • Check out the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s databases. I neglected to mention in my last blog that I also get their free weekly newsletter.  

Promethease – Limited Time Offer

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

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

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

Old Letters

Yesterday, we had a beautiful fall day and the change in temperature was such a welcome relief from summer’s heat.  I remarked to a passerby how delightfully cool the morning breeze felt and our brief conversation about the weather turned to his place of origin, Trinidad and Tobago.  I mentioned my family was indentured in Barbados in the 1700’s and that I’ve traveled to Grenada several times and love the island.   The gentleman laughed and said his mother was from Grenada and his father from Barbados.  Such a small world!

Then I listened to an interesting podcast, Sarah Gray Cary From Boston to  Grenada that I highly recommend.

Don’t you just love reading old family letters?  I certainly do!  We don’t often think about all the valuable information that an old letter contains.  Primary sources, names, places, dates and events that are recorded can provide us with clues to find other historical records, such as wills, journals, diaries, passenger lists and perhaps, even more letters.

The podcast discusses letters written by Bostonian Sarah Gray Cary who had relocated to Grenada in the Caribbean.  Grenada has had an interesting history as it went from French to British ownership.  The letters were written at the start of the American Revolution as Sarah took the last ship out of Boston after the tea party to join her husband who had taken a job on the island.  She left behind her infant son due to the hardship of the trip thinking they would be reunited soon.  Due to war, however, they did not see each other again for 10 years.   

The letters are Sarah’s only way to connect with her child and other family members.  Not only must she persevere over the unexpected length of her separation, she must learn to embrace three cultures.  

After listening to the podcast, I plan on getting the book to read this fascinating true life story.  Enjoy!

The Changing Norms of Genealogy – Dealing With DNA

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.

Reuniting the Lost and Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy Scams – What You Need to Know

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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