Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ancestry Provides Free Immigration Records for Week

Ancestry categorizes these free records as follows:

To give you an idea of what’s included, here are a few numbers.
We divide our travel and immigration databases into six categories:
Category                                                           Number of Databases
Passenger Lists                                                             166
Crew Lists                                                                       65
Border Crossings & Passports                                           15
Citizenship & Naturalization Records                                   62
Immigration & Emigration Books                                       187
Ship Pictures and Descriptions                                             2

And here’s a rough estimate of records available by country:
Country/Region             # Databases          Approximate # of Records
Australia                                     22                                          15+ million
Canada                                       31                                         13.5+ million
Europe                                       99                                         32.5+ million
Germany                                    28                                           9.4+ million
United States                            246                                          33+ million
UK                                              40                                         18.7+ million

New Overview of DNA Testing from Richard Hill

Richard Hill has published a short, 12 page, guide about how to add DNA testing to your genealogical research tool kit. You can download it free from his website:

Dick has developed a great site, DNA Testing Adviser. This site provides rich and authoritative information about DNA testing and adoption searches--the twin passions of Dick's life. His own quest to find his biological parents, using DNA testing and traditional search tools, was documented on the first page of the Wall Street Journal.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Family Tree DNA Announces Program to Facilitate Comparison of Y-chromosome Testing Results From Other Labs

DNA testing can validate or disprove relationships that have been painstakingly constructed using documents and family traditions. It also can suggest relationships previously unknown. To take best advantage of DNA testing results, your results must be compared with the widest possible number of results of other individuals who are potential relatives.

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) has just announced a new initiative for all those who have tested at other labs to have their Y-chromosome results added to the FTDNA database. As you may know the results of DNA tests for genealogical purposes are essentially meaningless when viewed in isolation. They take on meaning as they are compared with the results of others. The more results with which they can be compared, the more likely matches (or exclusions) can be established.

In the latest issue of Facts & Genes (Volume 9, Issue 3, Summer 2011) released yesterday, FTDNA rolled out the new initiative:

Family Tree DNA announces Third-Party Labs Y-DNA acceptance

We are pleased to inform you about the launch of a new feature "Third Party" uploads. This will allow for the upload of 33 and 46-marker Y-DNA test results from Ancestry, GeneTree or Sorensen's SMGF. This was a natural development since the necessary tools were created to import the DNA Heritage database after they ceased operations. While the DNA Heritage transfer is free of charge as a result of that acquisition, we will be charging a nominal fee of $19/person to import third party results into Family Tree DNA.

For an additional $39, customers who transfer their third party results will also have the option of testing with Family Tree DNA so that they can receive genetic matches, ancestral origins, and other features that Family Tree DNA customers receive.

Why transfer to Family Tree DNA?

    Family Tree DNA is the world leader in DNA testing for genealogy. As of August 23, 2011, the Family Tree DNA database has 212,000 Y-DNA records including over 104,000 distinct surnames. Comparing your results against the world’s largest database gives you the greatest chance of finding relevant matches and provides more refined information about your results.
    Over 90% of genealogists choose to test with Family Tree DNA, creating the largest community of active genealogists in the industry.
    Transferring will allow you to join projects, communicate with experts, and network with people who share your interests and your heritage. 

What do you get when you transfer third party results?

    The $19 fee will provide customers with an FTDNA personal page which will allow them to join FTDNA projects. This means results will be available to the administrator and included on the project’s public page for comparison with other project members.
    The $58 fee ($19 transfer plus $39 for testing additional markers to make results compatible for matching) will include the same features provided to FTDNA customers:
    Matches: Genetic cousins who share the same paternal line. You will have full access to your matches’ names and e-mail addresses and any genealogical information they have provided. You can immediately begin networking and exchanging information freely.
    Ancestral Origins: Your matches’ paternal origins, listed by country, provide clues about your own recent geographic and ethnic ancestry.
    Haplogroup: The deep ancestral origin your direct paternal line defined by your specific genetic signature.
    Migration Map & Frequency Map: Interactive maps detail the ancient migrations of your paternal ancestors and the distribution of your haplogroup from more recent times.
    Y-DNA Certificate: A printable certificate which includes your name and marker (STR) values.
    Unlimited Updates: As our database grows, you will receive notifications about new matches we find for you. There are no subscription fees for this service.

If you have Y-chromosome results from a lab other than FTDNA, this is an offer you should consider. 

Dr D is an unpaid volunteer coordinator of two surname DNA projects at FTDNA.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fall Genealogy Class Starts on Tuesday September 6th

My fall genealogy research class starts on Tuesday, September 6th. The course is offered on the Cuesta College San Luis Obispo campus so that we can have access to a computer lab. The intent is that all students will have a computer workstation and will transport their family history to and from class on a flash drive as they add new information. Bruce Busbee, president of RootsMagic, has generously donated 25 site licenses for the full version of RootsMagic4 for use in class. RootsMagic Essentials is available for free download and allows most of the features a researcher would need to record and organize information. 
RootsMagic Essentials

The paid for version allows more complex reports and "books" to be created and automatically indexed by surname and location. Other advanced features are available only in the paid for version. However, Essentials is robust enough for one to get a good feel for the power and ease of use of the program.

I have been using RootsMagic as my primary genealogy software since its inception and had previously used several versions of its ancestor, Family Origins. The software is one of the easiest Windows based genealogy programs to learn. It also continues to support the more complex needs of serious genealogists/computer users.

In the class this fall, I will introduce genealogy basics the first week. Then we will move systematically backward through US history a century at a time. The final week we will consider whether DNA testing would be useful and discuss some ethical issues related to genealogy research. 

This is the first time I will have an ethics component. I don't know what took me so long. I teach a credit class called "Ethics in the Information Age" each fall. It doesn't start until mid October but it is usually full by July. I am realizing that the topics of "the right to know", "the right to privacy", the right to own and benefit from intellectual property" and "the right to protect children/general public" are very relevant to genealogy research.

Although the online "Ethics" course is already full, workstations are still available for the face-to-face "Genealogy Research" class through Community Education.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Are you practicing Genealogy Ethically?

Can one malpractice genealogy? Are there ethical issues about which genealogists should be concerned? I teach a course entitled “Ethics in the Information Age”. It is designed for students preparing for careers in libraries and in web designing. Recently, it occurred to me that some of the questions upon which this course is predicated might have application to genealogy—particularly genetic genealogy.

The trigger for this line of thought was Lennard Davis’ 2009 memoir, Go Ask Your Father: One Man’s Obsession with Finding His Origins Through DNA Testing. After both of his parents were dead Davis was told by an uncle that the uncle was his biological father through artificial insemination. Davis was in denial for two decades. Then, after the uncle has also died, Davis became “obsessed” with finding the truth. During that quest, he had to deal with some legal and many more ethical issues concerning the right to know and the right to privacy of both living and dead individuals.

We tend to think of ethical questions being struggles between “right” and “wrong”. However, the really interesting ones are between competing “rights”. Two paradigms, around which my course revolves, may be useful in helping us sort out our genealogical ethics. The first is based on my assumption that one’s position on such ethical issues will be shaped by the “right” upon which that person rides into the conversation. Was it:

 The right to access information;
 The right to keep information private;
 The right to own and benefit from information; or
 The right to security by controlling information.

The competition among these rights is played out in an arena occupied by players with vested interests. For the sake of simplicity I will lump these players into three categories—individuals, governments and corporations. Among these three opposing entities a zero-sum game is played. No player can gain rights without one or both of the other players losing some.

Are you practicing genealogy ethically? Perhaps the more important questions are these.

What ethics drive your genealogical endeavors?

Do you respect those who may have chosen to emphasize other "rights"?

Dr D offers no "correct" answer--only more questions.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Should we DNA Test the "Older Generation"?

I am frequently asked, "What DNA test should I take?" Recently my answer has been, "What genealogical question are you trying to answer?" As often as not the inquirer has not thought about that question. However, if one tests and then tries to figure out what to do with the results, frustration is likely to result. The test chosen may not be appropriate and the right family member(s) may not have been tested.

Within our bodies we have a rich source of information about our family history. Sometimes it can provide answers when oral traditions and written documents fail us. However, DNA testing must be used intelligently in order to tap into this abundant source of information. DNA can help confirm or refute what we think we know about our pedigree chart. It also has the potential to connect us with relatives that were previously unknown to us.

As most of you know there are three types of commercially available DNA tests designed for furthering family history research. Two of the three, Y-chromosome and mitochondrial, are available at different levels and different costs. Only males have Y-chromosomes. Everyone has a mitochondria but men do not share theirs with their children. These two tests have the power to give us information about our ancestors going back a few hundred years. However, each only gives us information about one direct line on our pedigree chart. The Y-chromosome test gives us information about the top (paternal) person in each generation of our chart. The mitochondrial test gives us information about the bottom (maternal) person in each generation of our chart. Even if one's chart only goes back four generations, there are beginning to be a lot of ancestors about whom we are getting no information.

The third type of DNA being tested for genealogical research, autosomal DNA, has the potential to give us information about all the lines of our pedigree chart. The trade off is that it cannot provide this information on everybody to whom we are are related for more than a few generations back in time. Below is a chart from page 163 of my new book Crash Course in Genealogy:

As I am sure you noticed, the probability of finding all your potential cousins drops off considerably beyond the third cousin level. The above probabilities are a combination of the experiences of FTDNA and 23and Me in their first few months of testing in 2010. One experienced researcher claims more recent experience shows the probability of finding second cousins is higher than 99%. My main point is that when it comes to autosomal testing the generation of the person being tested does matter. For example, if your grandfather could be tested, he should have a much higher probability of matching with your fifth cousins who are his third cousins (or third cousins-twice removed) than you  would.

I have now decided that there are two times one should order a DNA test kit. The first remains when you have a genealogical question that it might help answer. The second is when you can capture the DNA pattern of someone in the older generation while they are still with us.

“Digital Microfilm” @ the National Archives of the UK

Many of us who have ancestors from the British Isles don’t have the opportunity to pop in to the National Archives in Kew as often as we might like--if at all. Now we can scan through some of the collections from the comfort of our computers.

Digital Microfilm allows you to search and download some of The National Archives' most popular records, which were previously available on microfilm. The National Archives has a large collection of microfilmed records, and we hope that making these available online will increase their accessibility. This will ultimately allow the microfilm readers used at The National Archives, Kew to be retired. Many of the records are indexes and we hope that these will be helpful in locating other relevant records.
The Digital Microfilm method of delivery is by using very large pdfs. Each download contains a whole piece, which could be up to 800 pages long. This means that Digital Microfilm is only available to online users with a broadband connection, and to users in the Research and Enquiries Room at The National Archives.
These records have not been indexed and so you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm. However, we would be more than happy for users to transcribe any of the Digital Microfilm content and post it on Your Archives, The National Archives' online community of records users.
These documents are currently free of charge to download.
While I was there examining this new service I got sidetracked to exploring “Wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury made between 1384 and 1858” to search for wills of Dowells who could possibly be ancestors of my Philip Dowell who died in Maryland in 1733---my longest standing and most frustrating brick wall. I was able to identify 22 such wills probated prior to 1700. My Philip was in Maryland as an established tobacco planter by the 1690s. The download cost me £3.50 about $5.71 US. It was quite a bit less than a round trip airfare from LAX to Heathrow; and the pdf file downloaded immediately. Now all I have to do is transcribe the Old English script. That process is guaranteed to take longer than securing the document.

What do you want to find today?

Monday, August 1, 2011

How do you spell Gene*logy?

Do you use an "a" when you spell the "G" word? Martha Grenzeback who is the genealogy librarian at the Omaha Public Library and a 3rd cousin of my wife thinks one should. She was the first one to use her eagle editorial eye to notice that there is a problem with the spine title of my new book:

I'll take responsibility for not catching the unintentional sex change administered to the great-great grandparent on the chart on page 161. I should have caught that when I reviewed the page proofs of the art work. However, I claim no responsibility for the "oops" on the spine title or for the truly beautiful artwork on the cover. The publisher says the book will be reprinted. However, I was born in Missouri, the "Show Me" state and I am a slow learner. Therefore, I'll believe it two weeks after I see the results!

Kidding aside, I have been gratified by some of the early responses. It's too early for the formal reviews; but I was very pleased to see the blog post from the Genealogy Journey: FPLD's Genealogy & Research Blog of the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, IL. I even was featured in the first paragraph of that same blog the following week. Wow!