Archive for the ‘genealogy’ Category

Social Networking for Genealogists? Sure.

June 7, 2010
  • social networking (noun): a way of using online resources and services to create and maintain a community of individuals who share a common interest.

Social networking seems to be one of those ideas that people love or hate. When I was first encouraged to join Facebook, I resisted. All I knew about social networking is that young people used it to post pictures and messages that they probably should keep to themselves. Reluctantly, I opened a Facebook account. I was surprised at all the groups with related interests, including history and genealogy.

My own experience using Facebook has allowed me to learn from other genealogists, share information, stay in contact with family members in other geographic areas, and share old photos and memories. I wish I would have tried social networking sooner – it’s a blast!

Social networking on the World Wide Web is kind of like being part of a ‘virtual organization’. You can collaborate with other researchers and share information at the touch of a button. If you are brave and technically savvy enough, you can become a member of a virtual world called “Second Life”, where avatars (digital representations of real people) get together and discuss relevant topics. Yes, there are even genealogists and librarians in Second Life.

Other types of social networking include: message boards and mailing lists, RSS (real simple syndication), blogs, wikis, podcasts, and sharing photos and personal libraries. The possibilities are endless, as are the types of results you can get from the various sources online. Online collaboration is available for help in getting over those troublesome ancestral “brick walls”.

Not sure if you want to consider being a part of social networking? You should – I was reluctant at first. It opens up a whole new world of resources for genealogical research and for making contact with other people involved in genealogy (including some of your “relatives”). Read the book titled “Social Networking for Genealogists” by Drew Smith (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009) for explanation of the myriad versions of social networking and how to use them for family history research. He puts it into language that even some computer neophytes can understand.

Try it, you’ll like it. Refer to the following blog for further motivation:


My thoughts on DNA testing, genetic genealogy

June 5, 2010

I have been a member of the Genealogy DNA email group on RootsWeb for several months, and have been monitoring the postings by other members. What I have learned so far is this – the world of DNA testing for family history purposes has advanced considerably, but has yet a long way to go.

Keep in mind this is different from the DNA testing done for purposes of forensic science. What you see on an episode of “CSI” is not quite the same as what happens at a typical genealogical DNA testing lab.

I believe the realm of DNA testing and genetic genealogy has come a long way in a relatively short time and can be a very positive experience for anyone who wants the test done to compare with other potential family members, but also can have consequences for those who don’t understand the test results.

The companies that do DNA testing for genealogy offer many different types of tests offered to anyone wanting to do so, but for a price. The more markers you want tested, the more expensive the test procedure. The testing companies offer both mtDNA and Y-DNA tests, but most people don’t understand the difference and what relevance they provide. Plus, the testing companies are operated by humans, and like most people, they are apt to make mistakes that can lead to confusion and frustration on the part of the customers.

Those tests with fewer than 24 markers may be the least expensive, but are somewhat difficult to compare to other results for family connections. The more markers tested, the better. But be prepared to put out some major bucks for these expanded tests. Often you can save money by joining a surname or ethnic research group who will provide testing discounts to members. Plus, you will have a ready group of others you can share results with.

There are many testing firms, some more reliable than others. Personally, I have not taken any DNA tests, but have read comments of the other members of the RootsWeb DNA group, and am inclined to believe that there is still room for improvement in the quality of the tests, and reliability of the test results. Most of the testing labs provide websites with databases for comparing your DNA test results with others. Most labs also provide educational sites, allowing members to understand what their test results mean.

My conclusion is this: it may be OK to do the testing if you are able to afford it, but don’t put too much faith in the results. The more markers you have tested, the better the results may be, and the chances for a match to someone else’s results are greater as well. And do yourself a favor and get educated BEFORE you get your results back. After all, this is new and advanced science we are talking about. Not quite rocket science, but almost. The “experts” are debating it still.

That’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

Family History Research – my beginnings

March 30, 2010

I never cared much for history in grade school or high school – to me it was just a bunch of irrelevant events, names and dates. That changed when I started to research my family history. All of a sudden, it was relevant and interesting. I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My interest in genealogy began in 1998, when I scanned a few pages from our family Bible. It contained names and dates of many ancestors, some I knew of and others were unknown. Mom had often talked about her family, and the various places that her ancestors came from, and what a group of “Heinz 57” people we are. Dad’s family came from Italy and Germany, and he knew about only some of his ancestors.

I attended a few seminars to learn how to do more thorough research. Beginning with the names in the family Bible, I did my first searches on the internet, and through “beginners luck” ran across a website belonging to a woman who had researched these ancestors already. The information I found there allowed me to fill in several gaps that existed in my own research. I am indebted to her for getting me started with such a huge amount of information on one branch of my family tree.

Since I was a professional graphic designer when I began my research, I had access to computers and some good digital scanners and printers. My family had several boxes of old family photos that I took to scan and digitize (and I am still in the process of doing so). Problem was, very few of the photos were labeled with names and dates. Some of the faces I recognized, others were a mystery.

My frustration got the better of me, and I wondered how to solve this family history “puzzle” with some of the pieces missing. Through trial and error I learned how to create web pages, and put together a personal genealogy website. And thanks to RootsWeb and their free site hosting, I uploaded the site and began my “fishing expedition.” My dad once asked me what I hoped to accomplish with an incomplete website. I told him I was “fishing for relatives,” and they would help me fill in the blanks. Over the years I have “caught” more than my limit of relatives and friends.

I uploaded some of the digitized images to the website as well, and asked if anyone recognized the mysterious folks in the photos. I also created a searchable family tree and uploaded it as well, and if anyone was looking at it, asked if they recognized any names, places, dates (and errors if they found any).

Twelve years later, I am still learning about genealogy. DNA research has opened a new door to finding relatives and proving relationships (or not). My family tree website has grown, but I still have a long way to go (genealogy is never really finished). I have a lot of people to thank for random acts of kindness, and only hope I can return the favor.

Genealogy Comes Full Circle

March 6, 2010

I just finished watching a new series on television called “Who Do Think You Are?” It is similar to another series on PBS titled “Faces of America.” Both are about people doing family history research for the first time, with some amazing results.

The people in the shows are famous, but the premise can apply to anyone. If you do enough research and know where to look, you can come up with interesting ancestors with some remarkable stories.

I think the point of these “reality” TV shows was to get more people interested in genealogy, especially those who don’t know where to start or don’t care who their ancestors were. For people like me, it is just “preaching to the choir.”

When I was in school, I could care less about history. I felt it wasn’t relevant to me, as I did not know much about my ancestors or what role they may have played in history in general. Then, I discovered genealogy, and my whole attitude towards history took a different direction. I was hooked.

So now it seems that family history research has become more popular than ever, probably having to do with the enormous amount of family and history information online. I can’t imagine doing research when there was no internet – all the hours spent in libraries, courthouses and cemeteries, writing letters to supposed relatives, sometimes with nothing to show for it. Wasted time and energy. But no more. There are many family history researchers such as myself who put the bulk of their research online for everyone to share. I call it paying it forward. After all, much of my research is due to the generous effort of many researchers (relatives or not) who have put their knowledge online to share with me.

Here are links to the TV shows:

Faces of America (PBS)

Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC)

and a link to my genealogy website:

That’s it for now.


The Twelve Days of Christmas (Genealogy Style)

November 21, 2009

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:

Twelve census searches
Eleven family bibles
Ten e-mail contacts
Nine headstone rubbings
Eight wills and admins
Seven miners mining
Six second cousins
Five coats of arms
Four GEDCOM files
Three old wills
And a branch in my family tree.

– Author Unknown

Another folk tale

October 23, 2009

A local weather meteorologist has been talking lately about the woolly bear caterpillar and the old folk tale about it being used to predict the severity of the coming winter. I have seen a couple of these caterpillars in my backyard and I am not sure what to make of it – one was solid black and the other was half-brown and black. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the woolly bear:

“Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a woolly bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a woolly bear caterpillar’s brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown stripes are narrow, the winter will be severe. In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the aphorism, it is minimal.”
Wikipedia link:

Makes for interesting conversation, anyway.


Clearing up a misunderstanding

October 21, 2009

I just finished reading a book titled Delaware’s Forgotten Folk; the Story of the Moors and Nanticokes by C. A. Weslager, written in 1943. It helped clear up a misunderstanding about one of my ancestors, Sarah Nisa Hansor. Since she was listed in birth records as being mulatto, I assumed she might be of either African-American or Native American descent, or both. Turns out the term mulatto was applied to everyone who did not appear white.

So now she appears to be of Native American descent, probably either from the Nanticoke or Lenni Lanape tribes of the DelMarVa Peninsula.

It was interesting to read about the customs of the the locals in Delaware, some of whom are considered part of a group of people known as the Delaware Moors. They are not sure of their ancestry, and keep pretty much to themselves. Another interesting group of folks are members of the Nanticoke Indians, whose tribe was recognized by the State of Delaware. According to some local history, all the Native Americans had been run out of the DelMarVa Peninsula area, but it turns out that some remained and acclimated to life among the whites.

The book lists a few medicinal/herbal remedies that were part of the Nanticoke tribal history, some of which are still in use today. And several folk tales that were interesting to say the least. Some of them sounded pretty scary.

Fascinating history – thank goodness for interlibrary loans. And thank you Kenny Brown, who suggested I read the book.