Tag Archives: genealogy research tools

Obituaries matter when it comes to genealogy research

I am blessed to have a small army of genealogy foot soldiers when it comes to researching my Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestry. This army of researchers are all cousins spanning the melanin range. I’m grateful to have their enthusiasm and expertise. Edgefield is the Mount Everest of genealogy.  Hands down, it has given me the most challenges and barriers.  Oh yeah, it’s given me plenty of grey hairs and headaches over the years. It’s also made me grow and develop my working practice as a genealogist.

Edgefield is challenging for quite a few reasons. The first reason is everyone in Edgefield and the Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina are related.  Cousins married cousins over and over again down the generations. The second reason is the use of family names. Pretty much every branch of these big, inter-connected families, had a fondness for the same handful of family names when it came to naming their children.  Take the name Willie, for example. It was (and is) widely used for both males and females in my Edgefield family. I’m not kidding when I say I can easily come across dozens of Willie Petersons or dozens of Willie Holloways when I’m trying to find details for a specific individual by that name.

When it comes to the African American branches of my Edgefield family, we can add 3 big pulses of migration out of Edgefield to the mix.  The first pulse came at the close of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  The second pulse was the between 1920 and 1930 as the Jim Crow laws really bit down hard. The third was between the 1940s and 1950s – partly due to Jim Crow and partly due to new job opportunities in the northern states during, and immediately after, World War II

These migration pulses provide some of the most challenging barriers when it comes to researching the descendants of Edgefield.  For instance, if I’m researching a Willie Mae Peterson, born in Blocker, Edgefield, South Carolina in 1919…is this the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Gilchrist who was born around 1920 and living in Greenwood, South Carolina? Or is she the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Blocker who was born about 1917 and living in North Augusta, Georgia?  Or the same Willie Mae Peterson, born about 1919, living in Washington, DC. Or the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Settles, born around 1916, living in Baltimore, Maryland?  Or one of a dozen other Willie Mae Petersons living in Boston, Newark, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, Dayton, or a dozen other places where southern migrants settled?

Add to the mix that all of these women will more than likely be part of the same extended family.  However, in and amongst this myriad of Willie Mae Petersons, I’m trying to research a single individual.

Enter obituaries. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that reading through hundreds of obituaries is more than a little morbid.  But hey, we’re researching people who are no longer among us.  So it’s part and parcel of the research that genealogists do. Believe it or not, obituaries are also a goldmine of information.

When it comes to my Edgefield ancestors and kin born after 1870, it’s become my practice to start researching and finding obituaries for the males in a family first.  I do this simply because their surname doesn’t change.  Well, not usually, at any rate. It’s easier for me to find obituaries for them.  From there, I can find crucial information – the names of parents, where they born and raised, details about their spouses and children….and details about their siblings. This leads me to other obituaries which plug further information gaps.

Let’s take a look at this in practice with the obituary below.

susie-anna-holloway-obit

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Susie is my second cousin, three times removed.  Her husband, A P Scott, is also my cousin. Her parents are my cousins.  Both of A P Holloway’s parents are also my cousins. That’s classic Edgefield.

I found Susie (Holloway) Scott’s obituary via an obituary for her father.  In his obituary, she appeared with her married name. Using Newspapers.com, and searching for her under her married name, I found her.

From there I could update my tree with information about her children and her surviving sibling.

Obituaries have some pretty basic information which is sometimes overlooked:

Death dates

An obituary provides a date of death – or at least a month and a year – and town and/or county of death. Plugging this information into Susie’s page on my Ancestry.com tree resulted in finding the correct death certificate for her, as well as relevant census, social security, and other records.

Last known place of residence

The places where her children were residing at the time of her death. I’d spent an age trying to research her son, Lawrence.  I’d been searching for him in Edgefield, Greenwood, Abbeville, and Newberry in South Carolina.  I couldn’t find him.  And there was a very simple reason why.  He wasn’t in South Carolina.  He was in the Bronx in New York City. When I added his residence as the Bronx in 2008, I found him and information about him (notably New York City directory listings).

Married names for daughters, sisters, and mothers

When it came to her daughters, I found their married names – enabling me to research them and their families.

It’s not unusual for me to discover that the women in the family married more than once due to the premature death of a husband. Which explains why I struggled to find them in additional records after a certain date. There was an additional  marriage to the one I already knew about.  I had no reason to suspect that she had re-married. This meant I was looking for these women under the wrong name. In just about every case, I found the additional records for them that I was seeking once I had a new married name.

Clearing up how people wanted their names spelt

Last, but by no means least, I can confirm how my kin preferred to spell their name. For instance, that Ocie Peterson used ‘Ocie’ and not Ossie or Osie. It may seem like a small, seemingly insignificant thing.  I like to honor the ancestors by using the form of their name they preferred and used.

Turning names into people

I can also learn a little something about them: what their interests or hobbies were or their various occupations and achievements. This lifts their story above the usual dates of residence, birth, marriage, or death. It makes them 3 dimension people. In Susie’s case, that she was a member of the Springfield Baptist Church, which is a church founded by the ancestors. I’ve heard quite a bit about this church and its community from various Edgefield cousins.  That she was a member of one of the committees of this church tells me a little something about her standing in the community.  And, of course, her picture is priceless. Her features reminds me of people from my immediate family with roots in Edgefield. It’s a connection to a person I’d never met nor heard of until I began researching the family.

Thankfully, I have 3 Edgefield cousins who are super sleuths when it comes to finding obituaries for our very extensive and complicated family.  If I ever become stuck, I know I can call on them to find an obituary when I struggle to do so.  They do so, and we all share them on Facebook when we find them, because we all know just how important they are in our research.

So if you’re not using obituaries as part of your own family research…I heartily recommend that you do. They are worth the effort it takes to find them.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, ancestry, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, South Carolina

Facebook: A powerful & fun free genealogy tool

logo-facebook-genealogyLove it or loathe it, Facebook can be a powerful family history and genealogy research tool. Yes, that virtual space with images and video clips of animals doing impossibly cute things, sunsets, sunrises and sketchy social and political memes can be a treasure trove of ancestry information.

So where can all of this invaluable research information be found? Facebook groups. There are hundreds of family-specific and county-level specific genealogy groups. Most are closed and require the permission of a group administrator to join them. Which is a good thing. After all, not everyone wants their family genealogy publicly accessible by just anyone.

I belong to around 3 dozen very active family research groups. These groups have provided key information that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else online. Just like I have in-depth information about my direct lines of descent, cousins from other branches of the families I’m related to hold vital information about their own direct ancestors. This could be as simple as providing a maiden name for 7x great grandma Hannah. Even better, they have family stories, pictures and documents to share.

It’s pretty easy to find them, as the video below shows. This video covers how to find genealogy groups based on a location. You can easily adapt it to search for specific family genealogy groups. For instance, if you were looking for information about Holloway family ancestors, you would search for something along the lines of: “Holloway family genealogy”, “Holloway Family”, “Holloway family ancestry”, etc.

If there isn’t a group that covers one of the families in your tree, it’s pretty easy to create one. I plan to start one for SW Virginia counties, which will cover Wythe, Smyth, Pulaski and Augusta Counties in Virginia.

The video below walks you through how to set up your own closed/private family genealogy group.

Like anything, there’s an etiquette for joining these kinds of groups:

  • It’s polite to thank the group administrators for adding you. This can be your first post.  In this post, you can introduce yourself and provide a short explanation to the other group members of how you’re related to this family.
  • When referencing a specific ancestor, or ancestors, provide as much key information as you can: dates of birth & death, the county(ies) where your ancestor lived (and when they lived there), and the names of their parents.  This helps differentiate your ancestors from others within the larger family who have the same name.For instance, I have a multitude of Hannah Harlans in my tree. Seriously. I must have around 50 of them. If I want to know about Hannah Harlan (born in 1779 in Chester, PA and died in 1850 in Rich Square, North Carolina) – daughter of Aaron Harlan (1743-1790) and Elizabeth Bailey (1750 – 1805) of Chester, PA, and the wife of Josiah Mendenhall …I’d add this information to my group post. I’d also probably add the names of the children Hannah Harlan and Josiah Mendenhall had to just to be absolutely clear about the person I need more information about.
  • If someone posts a picture of a distant relation, always ask if you can use it – and be sure to cite he person who provided it.
  • Thank people for the information they share- especially if its a key that unlocks a brick wall in your own research (you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this).
  • Don’t be that person…the one who takes without giving. Or that other kind of person – the silent lurker.
  • Be respectful. There are ways to politely disagree or challenge something that someone has posted. If possible, use Facebook’s instant messaging function or email … and then share the corrected information with the group.

Hand on heart, I have to say that connecting with newly found cousins on Facebook has been a pretty cool experience. Like anything, there is a caveat. Be prepared to contribute. This can be as simple as answering questions (which is only fair if you’re asking questions) and sharing what you know.

Last but not least – it’s fun!

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FamilySearch’s Free Online Research Courses

familysearchcourses

FamilySearch.org, the free online genealogy service, has a staggering library of free online genealogy courses. The courses are in the form of videos.

There doesn’t seem to be a topic that these videos don’t cover. From understanding Swedish and German birth records, to interpreting the information on Scottish, Irish and English census records to how to organize your research…there are very, very few topics that haven’t been covered.

It’s a goldmine of information for seasoned and newbie genealogy researchers.

You can access the videos here: https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/home.html

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Finding the right DNA testing company for your requirements

This post is a follow on from yesterday’s post Can you really pinpoint DNA Ancestry in Africa to one tribe? and an earlier post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question.

I took my first DNA test to answer one basic question: who in the world am I genetically connected to? I knew the question I wanted to have answered. This, in turn, helped me research a mind-bewildering option of DNA testing facilities to find one that I felt could best deliver the right answer.

Researching DNA testing facilities and companies took me around 6 months. When it comes to spending money, I am exceedingly cautious. I can’t tell you how many online reviews I read through. That’s all kind of a blur now. I wanted a service that was respected in the DNA/genetics community, scientifically robust and would stand up to close scrutiny. This was partly for personal reasons – I wanted to know that the information I was paying for would be accurate. It was also for professional reasons. After all, I planned to turn this adventure into a television series. That second point was (and remains) an important consideration.

When I had a shortlist of 5 companies, I asked DNA specialists for their thoughts and opinions. In the end, the list was narrowed down to two companies. To be honest, there wasn’t that much difference between them in terms of price, service, reputation and perceived quality. And I’ll admit it, in the end, the final choice came down to me flipping a 50 pence coin. It came up heads…so that’s the company I chose.

I am in no way plugging here, but the winner was a company called Genebase. This isn’t an advertorial. I don’t get a commission. I’m citing it and providing examples to illustrate my understanding of my own DNA results specifically. As well as how I gained an understanding of human genetics, admixtures and the human journey out of Africa and around the globe in general.

Genebase, as I’ve said previously, was an excellent choice for me. It’s not suitable for everyone. It doesn’t offer handy little pie charts or percentage breakdown overviews. You have to work those out for yourself. But what it did give me was the science behind the results it provided, which was (and remains) invaluable to me.

So let’s have a gander at how this particular service works using my YDNA test results.

So here we have my YDNA test result broken down into segments.

genebase1

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Users can analyse each segment in turn. So let’s look at my Option 12. In this option, my results are going to be compared to data sets for 19 specific populations. Here are the 19 populations this segment is being compared to and the number of YDNA samples each population contains:

  1. US African American 253 samples
  2. US Hispanic 139 samples
  3. US Caucasian 242 samples
  4. Jordan, Middle East 221 samples
  5. Iran, Middle East 80 samples
  6. Egypt, Middle East 84 samples
  7. Smyrna, Greece 45 samples
  8. Abkhaz, Caucasus 51 samples
  9. Avar, Caucasus 114 samples
  10. Chechen – Chechnya, Caucasus 108 samples
  11. Chechen – Dagestan, Caucasus 98 samples
  12. Chechen – Ingushetia, Caucasus 108 samples
  13. Dargins, Caucasus 100 samples
  14. Kaitak, Caucasus 33 samples
  15. Kubachi, Caucasus 65 samples
  16. Lezghins, Caucasus 80 samples
  17. Ossets-Digor, Caucasus 125 samples
  18. Ossets-Iron, Caucasus 226 samples
  19. Shapsug, Caucasus 97 samples

Running my analysis, these are the results. With a possibility of 19 matches, I match 14 of the populations in the list. The degrees of the matches vary wildly:

 

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The report also generates various appendices, which provide additional information. I still marvel that there is an appendix which shows the number of genetic matches for this segment within the data sets used. You can see these appendices below (this is a series of images, click on each on to see the larger image).

genebase2-2genebase2-3genebase3genebase4-1genebase4-2

Last, but not least, are the peer-reviewed journal articles that analyze the various populations. These articles are scientific/academic…which is a polite way of saying very, very, very dry. Nonetheless, they have helped shape my understanding of DNA transference among various populations, the migration patters out of Africa and, in some cases, illustrate how seemingly unconnected tribes are actually offshoots of an “umbrella” tribe which reached a migration crossroads – with different groups within that tribe going off in different directions.

These were the accompanying papers for the results within this analysis. They’re freely available online, if you’d like to have a look:

US African American , US Hispanic & US Caucasian (the same paper covers all 3 populations): http://www.cstl.nist.gov/biotech/strbase/pub_pres/Schoske2004.pdf

Egypt, Jordan & Iran (the same paper covers all 3 populations):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312577/?tool=pubmed

Smyrna (Greece) results:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068964/?tool=pubmed

Ossets-Iron , Ossets-Digor, Lezghins, Abkhaz, Chechen – Ingushetia, Avar & Shapsug populations in the Caucasus region: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21571925

With all of the different segments with their own analysis reports and reading, for my YDNA and mtDNA tests…you can imagine the level of reading that I’ve done. Which, in turn, led me to other journals and papers.

What I have is a better understanding of some of the more ‘out of the blue’ results I’ve had in my YDNA and mtDNA tests. As I’ve mentioned previously, this kind of test, the test that I was quite clear about wanting, stretches back millennia. I have a good grounding on how certain populations came to be present in these two forms of DNA. And, in some cases, some fairly sound hypothesis on when certain admixtures became part of my DNA (this will more than a little help from geneticists).

I will be the first to raise my hand and state that gaining this level of insight and understanding into my YDA and mtDNA wasn’t cheap. I didn’t want a quick fix answer and blimey, I didn’t get one. Yet, I’m thankful for the experience. It’s given me a glimpse and an understanding into the most intrinsic part of who I am. I’ve loved sharing what I’ve uncovered and discovered with my family. And, at the end of the day, it sent me down a remarkable road of discovery.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll sign off saying it again with some pointers about DNA testing.

  1. Before taking a DNA test (either autosomal or YDNA/mtDNA) – be ruthlessly clear in your own mind about what question you want to have answered. This will determine the best type of DNA test for you .
  2. Do your research on DNA testing companies and facilities. Read every comment and review. Ask family and friends or Facebook family history/genealogy groups for their opinions.
  3. Read the fine print. Find out all of the limitations for each and every DNA testing company you research. What information, exactly, can they provide. Don’t be afraid to email a company and ask for confirmation of this in writing.
  4. Understand that DNA testing is still in its relative infancy. This is a nice way of saying manage your expectations. DNA is still a relatively unknown country. If you approach your results as being indicative/relative – and not absolute truths – you won’t go too far wrong. Always be skeptical about ‘big’ claims.
  5. Keep an open mind about what you will discover. If you’ve ever been whisked away on a surprise magical mystery jaunt – think of DNA testing like that. Just sit back, buckle up and enjoy the journey without thinking too much about what the final destination is. Just know it’s going to be good/interesting.

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Genetics

Google Books: a great genealogy & family history resource

Google Books logoI thought I’d throw Google Books a little kudos today – not that this online publishing giant needs it.

Google Books has been a solid genealogy research tool for me. I found the meat to put on the bones of the Rachel Findley saga through it. Through Google Books, I discovered that my great grandfather Daniel Henry Sheffey was a Civil War hero when he helped to defend the town of Wytheville, VA. I found out, much to my amazement, that I had a connection with the slave rebel Nat Turner through one of his daughters. I could read about the careers of various Sheffey and Roane US Congressmen and Virginia State Representatives – and see how they voted on issues and read transcripts of their actual speeches. It allowed me access to the full court papers, including affidavits and witness depositions, for the infamous early 19th Century Virginia Newman Brockenbrough Roane – Evelina Gregory divorce case.    I also found some really quite interesting information about my ancient English Roane ancestors…and a myriad of other titbits about ancestors in my maternal and paternal lineages.

Google Books 1

Google Books levels the historical playing field. It’s as simple as that. People who otherwise wouldn’t have even achieved a footnote in history can be found within this service. The stories of small-town America and its people figures side by side with the towering colossi of history can be found there. That’s a pretty cool thing in my estimation. The provision of this information has to do with the efforts of local historians/antiquarians as well as self-published or vanity published family history books penned by that oh-so-stereotypical amateur historian: the gentleman historian of a certain age who had the time, finances and inclination to delve into their family’s history…or indulge their interest in a particular historical subject from the confines of their libraries or studies (ok, yes, this is the image I have of them!). While their wives lunched, they researched and wrote.

No, not everything they confined to paper was entirely accurate. And for that, tradition academic historians have disparaged these authors and their works. So yes, what you come across in these self-published or vanity-published tomes will need to be corroborated and verified by other established sources. All the same, these men (and more than a few women) have written about people, places and events which have traditionally been overlooked by the historical, academic and research establishment.

I, for one, thank the cosmos that they did. Through their words, I’ve been able to construct entire branches in my family trees which I couldn’t have done through any other means. They’ve thrown up names I hadn’t (and still haven’t) found in the official records but have verified through popular cemetery records sites. The tales they tell have transformed some of my ancestors – like Daniel Henry Sheffey – from mere names and dry data into real people who lived and breathed and, well, did things.

The absolute bonus is you can typically read entire pages from the books provided by the service for free. Yes, it’s true, Google Books is pretty generous in its use of free book previews.

So have a gander. Type in a family surname, like I did in the image below, and see what comes up for members in your extended family.

Google Books 2Google Books 3

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