Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 11
This year our WAGS annual winter Show & Tell had nine contributors! Prompted by the newsletter headline asking “What is your latest family history discovery?” our members and friends engaged us with tales of genealogical puzzles that were solved, fruitful DNA connections made, brick walls that came tumbling down and enriching stories about family migrations and remembrances. This was our second virtual holiday gathering for Show & Tell, and I want to thank everyone who participated in making it such a success.
First up was Trish Stumpf-Garcia who told us about her Englehart family mystery and how she used both United States and German resources to find and document the correct branch of her Engleharts. Way to go, Trish.
Next, we heard from Marisa Reyes who read her mother’s story titled “The Ides of March.” The story painted a picture of life during World War II through the eyes of a young woman. Thank you for sharing, Marisa.
I told the story of how the brick wall on the Irish side of my family tree was finally overcome when the 1808 baptismal record for my third great-grandmother, Catherine Cleary, was digitized and posted on line by www.irishgenealogy.ie. Catherine’s baptismal record led me to her parent’s marriage record and pushed back my research another generation.
Rick Frohling showed us his detailed Murphy Family history he had written and distributed to his various cousins both here and abroad. His thoroughly researched paper included photographs and maps—along with genealogical data—to keep the reader engaged to the end. Wouldn’t we all want to receive such a wonderful trove of family lore?
Next up was a guest from Illinois, Kevin Schilt, who has been doing genealogy for forty-plus years, and recently corrected information passed down from his mother which ultimately lead him to finding a great-great grandfather in Switzerland. Congratulations, Kevin.
Owen Newcomer used Find-A-Grave to locate a distant cousin, Brigadier General Francis Kosier Newcomer, who graduated from West Point in 1913 and was Governor of the Panama Canal Zone from 1948-1952.
Finding out exactly where her great-grandmother was buried was the subject of Judy Kraft’s talk. There is a grave marker with her grandmother’s name on it in New York, but Judy proved that she is actually buried in Monrovia, California. Great detective work, Judy.
Donna Aguirre told us about her great-grandparents and their decision to travel from the east coast to Utah by wagon train and how her great-grandfather froze to death after helping other members of the group cross a dangerous river.
We wrapped up with Deborah Miller from Ventura, California who is the family genealogist and told us about connecting with a cousin who helped with her research and shared both family photographs and friendship. What a great combination.
I am looking forward to next year’s Show & Tell when we will hear new stories from the world of genealogy.
Jean Wilcox Hibben’s educational and definitive presentation about pandemics and epidemics, triggered a memory
of Reinhold Karl “Charles” Anacker, my third great-grandfather who perished at Jefferson Barracks Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri from typhoid fever contracted while in a weakened state after being wounded in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Jean showed us how medical records can be extremely helpful in genealogy. In my own genealogical research, I discovered an affidavit signed by Dr. Ignatius Petri and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior Pension Office. He believed that “said sickness [typhoid fever] was resulted from said wound, and that said Anacker had been sick and in bad health ever since he was wounded.” Charles was mustered in on May 31, 1861 as a Private in Company F, 1st Regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Infantry, and was wounded on August 10, 1861. He was discharged on March 2, 1862 due to disability and lingered in hospital until his death on February 10, 1865. Charles Anacker was only 37 years old and left behind a widow and seven year old son whom he had last seen when Charles Jr. was three years old.
Encouraged by Jean’s informative talk, I found an article on the National Museum of Civil War Medicine website that states the “death toll for the Civil War to be upwards of 700,000, roughly two thirds of which died from disease. One such disease that widely afflicted these soldiers was typhoid fever.” There were over 75,000 documented cases of typhoid fever with a mortality rate of 36% within the Union Army alone, and there was no effective treatment available. Along with a general lack of knowledge of bacteria and germ theory, conditions both in the military camps and hospitals were ideal for the spread of deadly diseases. Military and civilian surgeons would use whatever was available to alleviate the symptoms such as “opiates, turpentine, quinine, ammonia, whiskey, brandy and leeches.” One Civil War surgeon, Daniel Holt, wrote in his diary that “when I order one [soldier] to hospital, it seems almost equivalent to ordering his grave dug.”
This historical description helped me to comprehend the conditions leading to so much death and misery.
Sadly, there is no grave marker for my third great-grandfather as he was probably buried in a mass grave on or near the grounds of the barracks hospital along with the vast majority of other disease victims.
November’s presentation by Jean Wilcox Hibben about the various issues surrounding the research, treatment, and prevention of pandemics and epidemics of the past is also relevant in today’s political, economic and religious climate with regard to the various approaches to our current situation with Covid 19. At least with today’s advanced knowledge of diagnosis, virology and prevention, we are better able to contain an epidemic before it spreads to become a pandemic, and, better able to protect our children so they won’t be searching medical websites to learn about our fates.
DNA tests are all the rage these days. Even individuals who aren’t deeply invested in genealogical research are rushing to purchase tests to discover their ethnicity, confirm what they believe, or just assuage their curiosity. We, who have spent countless hours, days, months, and years delving into our genealogical past by finding, recording, and sourcing our “paper” research, are now at the point in our pursuit of knowledge where DNA results can confuse, enlighten, or just plan leave us scratching our heads. Especially now, with all the recent advancements in genetic technology that continually refines, expands or narrows our DNA results quicker than we can say the words ‘computer algorithm.’
Sara Cochran’s very informative presentation ‘DNA brought Me to the Forest, but where are all the Trees?’ focused on Ancestry.com’s various DNA matching tools, with her step-by-step instructions on what to do once we’ve received our autosomal DNA results, how to understand the ethnicity breakdown, what shared DNA relationships are and how they are calculated, and what to do once we’ve been notified about our close DNA matches. Sara’s talk took most of the mystery and a lot of the confusion out of the subject.
But, what do we do with all those ‘matches’ that have private, unlinked or no trees for us to see? How are we to know who is actually a potential relative? According to Sara, there are ways to approach these conundrums; we do the research, use caution, and trust but verify. Start with your known cousins, look for that elusive common ancestor, if found, add the information to your notes, then “lather, rinse, repeat” until you’ve confirmed your various connections. One of Sara’s suggestions was to set up a ‘skeleton tree’ of four to six generations with only the direct lineage from the tested individual. When DNA matches start appearing online, use all the new tools available on the Ancestry site to filter, group, and narrow your results to confirm or refute the relationship to the most recent common ancestor (MRCA).
Remember, in order for Ancestry to give you the best results possible, you need to have a well-researched tree of your own and link it to your DNA test results. Remember to use strategy and caution when viewing those shared matches – not everyone may be as thorough as you are when it comes to the genealogical proof standard. Review your notes on confirmed matches, check the profiles of the people on your match list, fill out your collateral lines to find links, don’t be afraid to contact potential matches through Ancestry, and remember that ‘paper matches’ may not have genetic matches due to pedigree collapse or endogamy.
On a final note, when exploring that ‘forest,’ dense with potential DNA matches, be sure to utilize Sara’s helpful steps to weed out the weaker ‘saplings’ and focus on the trees with the healthiest branches to achieve your goal of solving the genealogical ‘Match Game!’
I would venture to guess that many of us have heard family stories claiming to have famous or infamous individuals nestled among the branches of our family trees. In my own family, we had two legends that connected William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody – Civil War soldier, bison hunter and showman – and Edward Thurlow Weed – War of 1812 veteran, newspaper publisher and politician – to my paternal and maternal lines respectively. Long before I had fleshed out my genealogical family history, these two names had become entwined in our family folklore and it took many years and a great deal of sleuthing to uncover the truth behind the legends.
As our keynote speaker Gena Philibert-Ortega noted, the key to proving or disproving these family stories, is to approach the subject as if you were solving a mystery, using methods that should be commonplace to genealogists. First, you want to research the ancestor who is thought to be the connection to the family story, gathering details and creating a timeline to help locate them in the proper time and place. Second, repeat this process with the famous or infamous person to see if you might link them to your family research. Third, research the event and time period to see whether it is plausible that these individuals link up.
To help with your research you need to think like a detective, dig for clues, and answer the following questions: Who told you the story? How did they come to know it? What evidence have you found to support or refute the connection? Could the stories be true? By answering these questions you can determine whether the stories about the rogues, bluebloods, or celebrities flirting around the edges of your family tree are the real thing. Using Gena’s methodological approach, you will be able to confirm if those family legends are fact or fiction.
In the case of my father’s family legend about Buffalo Bill Cody, in depth research confirmed that there is an extremely tenuous connection to my great-grandaunt Clara Mae (Doerges) Bowen through Martha and Hannah Cody, second cousins twice removed from Buffalo Bill. Both women married Bowen brothers who are third cousins four times removed from Clara’s husband, Frank Stewart Bowen. So, no, my family is not directly related to Buffalo Bill. Sorry, dad.
As for Edward Thurlow Weed, his link to my mother’s family is extremely tempting, but cannot be confirmed or denied. Thurlow was born in 1797 in Cairo, Greene County, New York to Joel and Mary (Ellis) Weed and my third great-grandfather, Jesse Weed, was born in 1791 in Cairo, Greene County, New York, the son of John and Susanna (Mason) Weed. Could they be cousins? I’ll never know for sure, because although I have traced my Weed line all the way back to the first Weed to arrive in Massachusetts Bay in 1630, Jonas Weed, I can not find any trace of Thurlow’s ancestry. His line stops at his father. However, there is a tantalizing clue found in the middle name of his last-born child, Emily Peck Weed. Martha Peck married Caleb Weed, my fifth great-grandfather, in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1742 and I have documented the Peck line back to William Peck born in Cambridge, England circa 1580. Does this mean that Thurlow is somehow connected to the Peck family? Until his ancestry can be documented, it will remain a mystery.
As genealogists, we have all become familiar with the axioms that ‘spelling is fluid’ and that handwritten documents from the past can be ‘extremely challenging’ – if not impossible – to decipher. With the help of Pam Vestal’s informative presentation about overcoming difficult handwriting – and in my case, the purchase of two recommended books – we can now employ her thirteen strategies to help us successfully overcome the unreadable-writing dilemma.
The birth record of my eighth great-grandfather is below. Thomas Lippincott was born to Freedom and Mary Lippincott on the 28th of the tenth month in the year one thousand six hundred eighty and six. The document also included a list of the various witnesses consisting of family members and members of their Friends Meeting. Obviously, there is a discrepancy in the spelling of the surname (remember axiom #1), the extra ‘e’ on year and born, the double ‘t’ in witnesses, the use of superscript, and the flourish of the capital T in Thomas. As Ms. Vestal instructed us at our August meeting, this is an excellent example of ‘secretary hand’ penmanship that was in common use in colonial America. And, it illustrates why we need to become familiar with various forms of writing. Otherwise, we may misinterpret vital clues in our ancestral research, leaving us with more questions than answers.
Pam explained that knowing the difference between today’s alphabet and what we see in very old documents is crucial when we begin transcribing what appear to be chicken scratches into understandable text. Using her step-by-step strategies combined with her list of historical handwriting resources, websites and manuals along with persistence and patience, you may be delighted with what you can achieve.
How many times have we all hoped to find that one elusive document to fill the gaping hole in our family research? In the past we wrote letters, drove long distances, and planned trips around the need to break through those obstinate genealogical brick walls. Today—thanks to digitization—much of how we research can be accomplished at home or at a library on a computer. Which leads me to thank Tamara Hallo for her in-depth presentation about the incredible quantity of resources available at FamilySearch.org. I hope to put her excellent tips to work very soon on my own stubborn brick wall ancestors.
For me, the key takeaway from Saturday’s program was that we’re all underusing this valuable collection of historical records. Tamara walked us through, step by step, on the various ways we can dig deep for those digitized gems scattered throughout the millions of records in the FamilySearch holdings. Whether we search by name, collection, location or catalog, we have at our fingertips (literally), access to historical records, indexes, family trees, family history and genealogy books, research guides to help us become better researchers, and expert help from the FamilySearch community. And, the best part is that it is FREE! Yes, FREE!
Over the years, FamilySearch.org has become one of my go-to genealogy research websites. Although I have memberships in Ancestry and MyHeritage, FamilySearch is still one of my favorites for two reasons: it has extensive (and continually growing) digital records and it’s FREE. (Is there an echo in here?) FamilySearch.org is where I found the birth, marriage, and death records for my father’s German ancestors all the way back to Johann Martin Weis Sr. my seventh great-grandfather from Steinbach, Baden-Württemberg. It’s also where I found my Swedish great-grandfather, Jonas Ivar Östman’s naturalization papers. These are just two examples of the information I’ve found that has given me not only a deeper sense of my relationship to my historical family but has encouraged me to learn about the historical context in which they lived.
FamilySearch.org is a hidden gem; an underutilized resource, and many genealogists (especially beginners) don’t realize what a genealogical gold-mine of records await them. You never know where your genealogy research journey will take you or whom you’ll discover; FamilySearch.org is a great place to start your journey. If you have genealogical questions, find the answers you are looking for by using the tips and insights demonstrated by Ms. Hallo. If you find yourself needing a bit more direction, contact Tamara at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you ever wonder about your life and how different it might have turned out if you had been given a different name? Would you have been more personable and confident, or more shy and nerdy? Do our first, middle, or nicknames place us among the “in crowd” or make us the last to be chosen for the team? Do our names, both given and inherited, form and influence us or do we fashion ourselves regardless of the monikers we were given?
The focus of Rick Frohling’s talk about the WHERE, WHY, and HOW of names, the importance of understanding the story behind our and our ancestor’s first, middle and nicknames, gave us an important tool to use when exploring our family history. Names can link the past to the present, represent trends, popular culture, historical events or people, family traditions, or just be a means of connecting a person to their origins.
In my family we have some fairly obvious naming practices, especially on my paternal Weis and Doerges branches. My nephew, Walter Charles Weis is the fourth to bear that name. In order to know who you are referencing, my grandfather was called Walter, my father was Walt, my brother is called Chuck by family and friends but Charles by colleagues, and Charlie is my nephew’s identifier. If Charlie has a son and he names him Walter Charles Weis V, how will we identify him?
As an example of confusing naming precedents, I had only to look at the Doerges side of my family tree and how, for several generations it was common practice to name every first-born son Robert. I have a great-grandfather, step great-grandfather, uncle and numerous cousins all with the exact same name! At last count, I had eight Robert Doergeses in my family tree.
Middle names can help to untangle repetitive naming practices like those above, but they can also change, as in the case when a married woman uses her maiden name as a middle name or initial. My mother-in-law uses the first initial of her maiden name as her middle name because she dislikes her actual middle name. Besides, everyone knows that the sole purpose of a child’s middle name is so they can tell when they’re really in trouble! I always knew I was in hot water when my mother called me Kristina Jean instead of my nickname, Kristy, which I outgrew by first grade. Speaking of nicknames—which can be diminutives or descriptives—my grandfather, father and brother all bore the same nickname, Boots, a term referring to a rookie fireman.
How can focusing on names and their various spellings, history, and meaning help us from a genealogical point of view? Rick’s point is that you need to use every aspect of an individual’s name, including given, middle and nickname, to be sure that you find all the available information in your ancestor’s paper trail.
So, what is the story behind your name? What does your name mean? How many variations in spelling can you find? Is your name found in previous generations or are you the first to carry your name? Check out some of the websites listed in Rick’s handout to play the “name game” and learn about the evolution of names, and how that can help you in researching your family history.
I would hazard to guess that almost 99.9 % of the time, after completing my beginning genealogy presentation, I am invariably asked, “Where is the best place to put my genealogy research? Ancestry or FamilySearch?” At this point in my presentation, I discuss the differences between an online genealogical tree and personal genealogical software and the benefits derived from a combination of the two. Many of the attendees at beginning genealogy presentations have heard of Ancestry, but few if any have heard of RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, or Legacy Family Tree, let alone any of the other four desktop genealogy software programs available today. At this point in my talk, I show screen shots of the big three software programs and follow up with examples of online trees at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch. Sometimes the visuals clarify things, and sometimes I see glazed-over eyes. This is where Rick Crume’s presentation about the strengths and weaknesses of the various genealogical research organizational methods will come in handy at future beginner classes.
Rick Crume’s informative talk about Tree Keeping: Software vs. Online Trees posed the question, “Should you store your family history research in genealogy software, an online family tree or some combo of the two?” The easy answer is that software offers the best tools for recording information, documenting sources and creating various charts, and online trees encourage collaboration, allow for easier researching, organizing and sharing of your family history. Ideally, a combination of the two systems provides the greatest flexibility. Additionally, with the increased interest in DNA research, having an online tree can help in finding matches to confirm or expand your lineage. One of the best developments in the field of high-tech genealogy is the ability of Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic to work with Ancestry Trees and FamilySearch Family Tree, allowing us to take advantage of hints from other databases and connect with others doing similar research.
When I started to work on my family history in earnest, I realized that trying to keep everything organized in three-ring binders was labor intensive and difficult to organize and update. That’s when I decided to buy a computer program for collecting, collating and processing new information as it was found. Bruce Buzbee’s 1992 Family Origins from Parsons Technology was my entrance into the world of computerized genealogy software. Then came RootsMagic3 in 2003 and now RootsMagic7. I have my tree on Ancestry and MyHeritage, and take advantage of the hints from FindMyPast, Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. By combining software and online trees, I’ve got the best of all worlds! And, if you are serious about your genealogy research, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the best tools available for successful tree keeping.
Christine Cohen’s presentation about what can be found in will and probate records reminded me of when my husband and I traveled east in 2005 to see the “Big Apple” and to visit the town of Cairo (pronounced like the syrup, not like the city in Egypt), Greene County, New York where my Weed ancestors settled in 1790 after leaving Connecticut. After minimal success in locating records in Cairo, the town clerk suggested that we visit the Vedder Research Library at the Greene County Historical Society building in Coxsackie about ten miles northeast of Cairo and, although we never located any Weed family documents, we were fortunate to find a multi-paged, handwritten, last will and testament for Charles Sisson.
Charles, a lifelong bachelor who passed away in 1895, was the younger brother of my second great-grandmother, Rhoda Henrietta (Sisson) Weed, and his will provided information that proved to be extremely beneficial in researching my Weed, Sisson, Coleman, Adams, Winans, DeForges, and Lake family branches. At the time of the will’s discovery, I had no knowledge of five of these family names, and while it took several years of searching, I finally was able to make the connections and confirm my earlier assumptions about how we were all connected. The detailed accounting in Charles’s will of siblings, their children, and locations of residence linked me to census records, birth, death, and marriage records and, in some cases, military pension records. Charles’s will contained a treasure-trove of clues.
Saturday’s talk by Christine Cohen on “Probate: Where There’s a Will or Not” got me thinking about finding other will and probate records for the various twigs and branches of my family tree, especially those where records are scarce. There was one of my family lines with the somewhat common surname of Franklin, and this has led to frustration and confusion about which Franklin branch was mine. At the conclusion of Christine’s presentation on how to find and use will and probate records, I immediately went online to FamilySearch.org and did a deep dive into North Carolina Wills from 1792-1827 and found my ancestor, James Franklin’s will dated the 31st of October 1818. Although he never names his “dearly beloved wife,” he does list all of his children, including my fourth great-grandfather, Sherrod Franklin, who he calls “my well beloved son,” and lists his eldest son, William, as his executor. The witnesses were Thomas Nixon and John Marsh. They are next on my list to investigate to see how they might be connected to the Franklin family.
Christine’s well-organized presentation has opened up a valuable avenue of research. I can’t wait to see what I will discover in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
(Thanks to our Past President, Christine Cohen, for filling in for our current President, Kristina Newcomer, in completing the “President’s Pen” for April 2021.)
WAGS had the honor of welcoming back Dr. Penny Walters, via Zoom, for our March meeting. Her topic was “Mixing DNA results with Your Paper Trail.” Penny used wonderful visuals to explain how DNA and your traditional paper research can be combined to come to a logical conclusion with DNA matches, consanguinity, relationship predictors, GEDMatch, triangulation, and ethnicity. Her website is https://www.searchmypast.co.uk/.
Penny explained how to visualize your DNA results using a “Victorian Sponge Cake.” You are made up of the ingredients in the cake recipe and all your ancestors contribute these ingredients to blend together to make you. Therefore, your DNA matches get your shared ingredients but in mixed and various amounts. She suggested this site for more details about recombination:
Penny expanded on the many useful tools on www.GEDMatch.com such as the chromosome browser to see for what specific chromosome there is a match, the “Gen” feature to determine how many generations back you and your match overlap, and the “One-To-One Autosomal DNA Comparison” tool. These are all FREE to use.
Keep in mind that the ethnicity results are going to vary from company to company. Each one has their own reference panels. Penny shared her ethnicity results that varied greatly over the years as these companies get more test takers and fine tune their scientific methods. Penny went from 94% to 58% Irish in a span of five years. In addition, these DNA testing companies are now able to narrow down to the county level for many countries. So, keep this in mind when you review your results.
Plus, when you get those possible relationships reports, be open minded. The centimorgans number fall into a range. Therefore, a 4th to 6th cousin could be a 3rd cousin once removed. Penny mentioned one of the best resources for genetic genealogy is the Blaine Bettinger website https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/.
I am so excited to be nominated as the new Program Chair for WAGS for 2021-2023. I have many ideas on engaging speakers to expand your genealogy knowledge.
Please be safe and well. I truly hope we can meet again in person soon.