Friday, April 30, 2010

Season Finale of WDYTYA?

Tonight at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City I attended a Finale Party for the first season of Who Do You Think You Are? hosted by principal sponsor If you saw it you know it featured Spike Lee. So, until next fall there will be no new episodes.

Representatives of told us that they have received reports from many parts of the country that family history researcher traffic is up from both seasoned genealogists and neophytes.

In order to get ready for this season's seven episodes their research team spent over 6,000 hours. They originally explored 20 lives. The ones they abandoned were not because they were not interesting but because of scheduling conflicts with the stars. An average of 460 hours of researcher time were spent on each of the 7 episodes that made it on the air. Tonight's final episode required more than that average.

Wow, what could we have done in class on "Who Do You Think You Are Deb Festa?" if we could have invested 460 hours on researching her life? As Sarah Jessica Parker would say, "Unbelievable!"

[Note to those who were not in my class this Spring: I did a take off on WDYTYA? in the last class session when we were studying Italy and France. I traced the grandfather of Deb Festa, one of the students, from Italy to PA to CA and then the grandmother from England to PA to CA where they were married. Then I traced the grandmother's trip back to England to take Deb's father and aunt back to England to visit the Grandmother's prior home in Cornwell to meet her English family when the children were about 8 or 9. This was a few days after Sarah Jessica's episode had first aired and so Deb's role in class was to exclaim, "Unbelievable! after each new revelation. We had great fun with this format.]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mormon church to add 300 million names this week to online genealogy pool

Yesterday at a meeting I attended as part of the NGS Conference 2010 in Salt Lake City, FamilySearch President Jay Verkler announced that 300 million names are being added online for your researching pleasure. Judy Fillerup, a distant cousin of mine sent me a link to the local newspaper coverage of this story. Hope some of these names help you in your research.

To go directly to the search page, click on the following link or type in search box of your browser.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Library of Congress Resources for Genealogists

At Librarians' Day @ National Genealogical Society Conference in Salt Lake City I got a refresher course on the resources available to genealogists at the Library of Congress. I will share a few of them with you.

1. Library of Congress Online Catalog provides access to 12 million books, serials, manuscripts, maps and more.

2. American Memory is a gateway to more than a 9 million digitized items that document U.S. history and culture of which a few of the sub-collections are:
a. "Born in Slavery": Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938;
b. "California as I Saw It" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900;
c. Panoramic Maps; and
d. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, about 1820-1910.

Check out these links and see where they lead.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

NGS Conference in Salt Lake City

Dr D arrived in Salt Lake City this morning where he will be for the next week. The good news is that he will be learning a lot of new things at the National Genealogical Society 2010 Family History Conference and getting to do some genealogy research in the Family History Library when he is not attending the conference sessions. Fortunately, the conference is only two blocks from the Library. The bad news is that he may not have time to share the things he is learning because he is so busy having fun! So click on the two above links and take a peep at what he his experiencing.

If you search the Family History Library Catalog, you might even find some microforms in the library catalog you would like to order for viewing at a Family History Center near your home.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Autosomal DNA Testing, DNA Part 5

Although Y-DNA and mtDNA are potentially powerful tools in breaking through barriers that documents research is unable to dissolve, these tools only address a very small part of one’s total family tree. As researchers focus on earlier generations of their ancestors, the fraction of the preceeding generation these tools can help with plummets precipitously. While they can give a male information about both his parents, they return inform on half of his grandparents, one-fourth of his great-grandparents, one eight of his great-great-grandparents. You will recall from our discussion above that DNA samples provided by women yield information on only half that many ancestors.

To help find information on all the grayed-out ancestors in the middle of the pedigree chart below, testing of autosomal DNA is being introduced to the public in 2010.

Autosomal DNA certainly does not replace traditional methods of genealogical research. In fact quite the opposite is true. Those who have been involved in the beta tests of autosomal testing as it has been preparing for public launch have been motivate to renew their efforts at traditional genealogy in order to take advantage of the information uncovered in autosomal testing.

If an autosomal match is found, additional information is needed to understand where this match connects to you in your family tree. The match itself just tells you that you likely share some common ancestor with the other individual. The magnitude of the match will give you some idea how many generations back the match occurred. However, unless BOTH you and your matched relative have extensive documentation of your family histories, you are not likely to discover how you are related.

At present two US companies, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer such testing to the general public. Family Tree DNA calls it's product "Family Finder" and 23andMe calls it's product "Relative Finder". More on autosomal DNA will be posted soon. [To review previous posts on DNA in this series, click on the Label: "DNA Testing" at the bottom of this post and then scroll down through the series.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WDYTYR? Returns With Two New Episodes

Who Do You Think You Are? returns this Friday evening on NBC. This week and next will be the last two new original episodes for this season. Featured this week will be Susan Sarandon. I have it from a librarian colleague who makes a cameo appearance that Susan will start her quest by visiting the New York Public Library as she sets out to learn more about her grandmother Anita, who led a life shrouded with mystery and who disappeared out of Susan’s mother’s life when her mother was just a child. And then where will she go? For a clue check out the small print below: or click here

This season's last new original episode will air on April 30th featuring Spike Lee; and for that unveiling Dr D will be in Salt Lake City at a viewing party hosted by principal sponsor as he attends the National Genealogical Society Annual Conference.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why Family Tree Projects Should Not Be Assigned In School

Ten days ago I posted a link to a warning about surprises that might befall the unsuspecting in family history research. Today, I refer you a hilariously told example of a Nobel Prize winning geneticist who found several surprises in his own ancestry that led to a rebuff from Homeland Security when he applied for a Green Card: "Paul Nurse: Discussing Family Trees in School.."
Click on the above link and be entertained by this twelve minute tale.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Testing Family Members As Surrogates, DNA Part 4

It is quite common for women to recruit a brother, father, male cousin or nephew to act as a surrogate donor of y-chromosome DNA for testing to establish paternal lineages. Other ingenious uses of surrogates can be made to test specific hypotheses. For example, surname DNA projects often test a carefully selected sample of the present day male descendants of a family patriarch many generations back. This can lead to information that is very helpful in grouping his descendants and separating out non-descendants.

In like manner, surrogate donors can be useful for mitochondrial testing. For example, my paper research trail indicated that a sixth-great-grandfather had taken as his third wife a woman reportedly named Marjory Owens. So far I have only found her surname in one marriage document. Generally, Owens is considered to be a surname of Welsh origin. There are known to have been Owens from Wales in nearby Maryland around that time--early 1700s. However, Henry and Marjory lived in an area that had been settled as New Sweden and now is part of present day Delaware. Henry's father had come from Sweden along with his family. So I was left to wrestle with the question of whether Marjory was of Swedish or Welsh ancestry.

Marjory was a direct maternal ancestress of my grandmother. Unfortunately, it was the wrong grandmother. I could not use my mitochondrial DNA sample to test for a relationship because Marjory was an ancestor of my father through his mother and my father was deceased. To explore this relationship I recruited a first-cousin who was the daughter of my father's sister. My cousin was a descendant back to Marjory in an unbroken female line of eight generations. My cousin's mitochondrial sample was subjected to a Full Genome Sequencing (FGS) test. This test is still pricey; but lower level tests are not precise enough to return genealogical results that would have been useful in addressing my research question. Since mitochondrial tests for the FGS level are just coming on the market the databases of tested individuals are still very small. However, I was fortunate to have my cousin match exactly two individuals in the database of Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). One of these two matches lives in Finland and the other is believed to be of Finish-American descent.

Now it was time to go back to more traditional family history research. I leaned that at the time of the colonization of New Sweden in the 17th Century, Sweden included most of what is now Finland. In addition there was an enclave of ethnic Finns in central Finland. There was even a settlement in New Sweden at one time which was called Finland. By combining traditional family history research with targeted DNA testing, I learned something about my family that I had previously been unable to unravel. I am still exploring how a surname like Owens got to the colony of New Sweden. My theory for now is that it was originally something slightly different that got anglicized into Owens on this side of the Atlantic. So many genealogical hypotheses can be tested by ingeniously choosing the right relative or relatives to swab their cheeks or spit into sample tubes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Full Genome Segment (FGS) Mitochondiral Testing, DNA Part 3

The precision of mitochondrial testing for the consumer genealogy market changed radically in 2009. This was brought about by the introduction of Full Genome Spectrum (FGS) testing to the masses at an almost affordable price. Here-to-fore, only small strips of the mitochondria had been tested—generally a sequence at the beginning and a sequence at the end. The FGS test is billed as the last mitochondrial test one would ever have to test because it tested the entire mitochondria.

Most of the previous limitations remained. Only the direct maternal line could be traced backward in time. However, more mutations could be detected because they had previously been outside the area being examined. Therefore, more branching of the human tree could be identified. As a result, the haplogroups could be divided into smaller and more homogeneously useful subgroups.

The downside for the short term is that relatively few individuals have tested at the FGS level. It will take time—perhaps a few years--for the databases of tested individuals to grow large enough so that most of those who have tested to this level can expect to find meaningful matches to aid their genealogical research. It is too early to know if this level of exploration will ever be as useful as a 67 marker y-chromosome test now is for tracing paternal lines. Only a few more years of accumulated experience will tell.

Next time we will start to explore testing for other than direct paternal and direct maternal lines.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Genealogy: DNA Part 2

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from the mother to each of her children whether they are male or female. Both genders can be tested for mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is more stable than y-chromosome DNA. That means there are an even lower percentage of mutations, copying errors, between generations. Therefore, up until 2010, mitochondrial DNA has been more useful for tracing deep ancestry back hundreds or even tens of thousands of years than it has been for differentiating among different family lines in genealogical time. In this sense, genealogical time means the last few centuries when most families have had surnames. For example, a mitochondrial match at the lowest testing level may only indicate that there is a 50% chance of a common female ancestress within the last 52 generations or so. That is much too far back to have meaning in most family trees. Higher levels of testing might raise that precision up to a 50% chance of a common female ancestor within the last 20 generations; but that still is not too helpful. Until mid 2009, I was actively discouraging students and clients from testing their mitochondria unless they had a specific situation in which it could be useful. For example, it might eliminate the possibility of a close match or it might indicate some deep ethnic origin; but it would not have been useful in identifying ancestors.

At the risk of being redundant, women cannot be tested for y-chromosome DNA. On the other hand men can be tested for both mitochondrial and y-chromosome DNA. Therefore, a male, if he is tested for both, can find information about both of his parents, half of his grandparents but only two of his eight great-great-grandparents, etc. This gender difference may not seem fair but there really is a difference between girls and boys.

The precision of mitochondrial testing for the consumer genealogy market changed radically in 2009. More about that in the next installment.

Be An Intelligent Consumer of Genealogical Information

Some of you may have seen Dick Eastman and/or read his genealogy newsletter. Dick is particularly knowledgeable about gadgets and technology that may be useful to genealogists. However, he covers all kinds of genealogical issues. In his newsletter today he includes an article that is a timely reminder to all of us that we need to critically examine each source of information where we find potentially useful sources of information. I encourage you to read the article that is linked from his post today and then also read some to the thoughtful comments posted on Dick's site: "Mormon Web site handy, but be sure to examine details" by Sharon Tate Moody which was published in Sunday's Tampa Tribune.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Noah and "Papa"

The past 3 days Dave concentrated on the other end of his family tree---grandson Noah Dowell who was visiting from Nashville, TN. Noah is scheduled to become a big brother in about two months.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Family Researchers BEWARE! --New Study Warns

According to new research just published in the UK, one in eight of you may dig up something traumatic or at least embarrassing if you investigate your family history. "Genealogy can open 'Pandora's box'" of family secrets" published in the Daily Telegraph These results reflect the remnants of a Victorian and class conscious culture.

Wonder what the results would have been if it had been conducted on this side of the Atlantic? Perhaps; but personally, I've never found found the horse thief I was promised when I started researching my family four decades ago. However, I have found convicted forgers, murderers, suicides, witches and bastards -- some with official bastardy bonds. I've also found connections to inventors, authors, Presidents and more traditional Royalty. I guess if you dig up enough ancestors, you will get the whole range of characters who make up humankind. For me, that's what keeps me researching. But I guess if one has a carefully constructed conception of one's self, maybe one should tread lightly.