DNA Testing for Genealogy — To Do or Not to Do?

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Recently you may have heard on television how for $99 ancestry.com will test your DNA for family history information. Ever since I have heard about this, I have to admit it has peaked my interest.

However, it can bring up a whole level of complications and even conundrums. What if I find out that I am not really that Russian on my mother’s side or mainly English on my father’s side?

I am happy with what I have found thus far in my family history and I am not sure I want to take the chance of bursting that bubble.

Not that I really think there is something out there that I am not aware of. It’s just that probability head game. Do you do this?

You know it is very unlikely that something will happen, but you just know even with a slight probability, this situation will be the one time it occurs or happens to you.

You know…. the same odds as winning the multi-million dollar lottery — you know you will never be lucky enough to win. But when it comes to something unlucky with the same odds you know that is when you will be the “winner”!

Well, regardless of my head problems, I found some good research information on DNA testing for genealogy I want to pass on for your reference.

1. dna.ancestry.com/

On the ancestry.com website link above… page down to the section, “Get the most comprehensive family history experience”.

They list the genealogy info available with their DNA testing results:

  •  your unique ethnic origins with interactive map, pie charts, graphs and explanations
  •  DNA member matches with real-time updates, leading to new relatives, ancestors and answers to your family history
  •  Continued updating of results with current ancestryDNA family history data
  •  Integration with ancestry.com tools
  • Supported with latest findings, research and science using advanced analytical techniques and powerful algorithms
  •  Private and securely stored with passwords and encrypted database settings
  •  Ran by a team of experts: population geneticists, statisticians, data scientists, engineers and molecular biologists

2. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test

In a Wikipedia entry, “Genealogical DNA Test”, information is provided for these areas:

  • procedure
  • types of tests
  • audience
  • benefits
  • drawbacks
  • medical information
  • DNA in genealogy software

NOTE: A key quote I found in this entry is interesting, “Some users have recommended that there be government or other regulation of ancestry testing to ensure more standardization.” This implies that ancestry DNA testing should always be taken with a grain of salt. It is not a standardized process at this point and can yield varied results as tested over time.

3. ://genealogy.about.com/cs/geneticgenealogy/a/dna_tests.htm

About.com genealogy has an on-line article, “DNA Testing 101”. They state, “As DNA is passed down from one generation to the next, some parts remain almost unchanged, while other parts change greatly. This creates an unbreakable link between generations and it can be of great help in reconstructing our family histories.”

They offer this additional info as well in the article:

DNA testing alone can:

  • Determine if two people are related
  • Determine if two people descend from the same ancestor
  • Find out if you are related to others with the same surname
  • Prove or disprove your family tree research
  • Provide clues about your ethnic origin

DNA testing alone will not:

  • Provide you with your entire family tree
  • Tell you who your ancestors are

In Closing…

I hope this helps a little if any of you are thinking about doing family history DNA testing.

And regardless of the results, we have to remember we are each our own individuals with our own freedoms and decisions for our future. Nothing in the past can ever change that.

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Genealogy: Inexpensive and Beneficial

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Many of you may already have interests and hobbies that you do regularly or follow. As you may have picked up from my blogs, one of mine is genealogy.

It is a great interest to have. Overall it is very inexpensive and meaningful,  as well as, reaps many benefits.

Inexpensive and Meaningful

I have and had many hobbies over my four decades of life. Starting with rock collecting and stamp collecting in youth and moving into crocheting, cross-stitching and scrapbooking in my 20s and 30s. All of these interests were great in keeping me busy, teaching me something and providing a collection or finished product I could share or keep. However, after so long, I am not too sure anyone wants another cross-stitch picture, crocheted scarf or pet rock. Let alone, storing all those stamps and scrapbook materials do take up room and get in the way. And many had material costs involved that can add up.

When doing genealogy my costs have been minimal. The only real costs have been:

  1. on-line software (which I only purchase for 3 months at a time when I know I am going to focus on family history searching),
  2. purchasing of a few books,
  3. printing paper
  4. and ink.

Everything else I have done has been with existing computer connections, existing library cards and existing prime amazon links for free e-books.

And the product from the family history work is priceless and very meaningful. It is something I can pass on to future generations.

Reaps Many Benefits

But probably the most important aspect of family history as a hobby has been the many benefits I have realized. These benefits have enhanced my life in the many ways. Here are a few:

  •  Great conversation topics with family members – they are always interested in the latest info you have found out. And during those conversations, I almost always find out something new as well about my family.
  • Great conversation topics with friends and those you are getting to know – people overall seem to be interested in the topic and want to know more, especially of how to get started
  •  Brings with it a sense of self-worth through knowing more about your family background: where they came from, what they went through to get where they are now, how they lived their lives, how all the things they all did in the past led to you being born…what are the odds? It makes you want to ensure your life is worth all they did in the past and shines on for others in the future.
  • Promotes expanded learning – through genealogy I have learned more about:
  • american history,
  • european history,
  • internet searches,
  • document requests,
  •  researching on-line and via books for a focus topic,
  • importance of accuracy,
  •  attention to details
  • communicating a clear story / message
  •  organizing notes for clarity
  •  saving information in useable and understandable format,
  •  finding distant relatives
  •  and overall having a more interesting and rounded life.

So, if you have been thinking about starting some family history work and picking up a new interest. I highly recommended genealogy it is one of the best hobbies I have ever tried. I have stuck with it now for about 20 years and it has been very rewarding.

Maps: Visually Representing your Family History

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Maps can add a new dimension to helping you find out more about your family history. According to historicmapworks.com,

“No other source of information will be as helpful as maps when building your family’s history.”

I have ancestors that settled in what is now West Virginia in the 1800s. For those of you that are not history buffs (which I am not), West Virginia was originally just the western part of the state of Virginia. During the Civil War, Virginia was a confederate state, western Virginia succeeded from Virginia, became their own state of West Virginia and joined the Union side. This example illustrates how family history research will force you to learn more about history to understand your ancestors lives. I will discuss that fact in a later blog. Because of this change in boundaries and state names, it makes it difficult to always know what geographical setup goes with the timeframe you are researching. For example, your relatives may have been born in Acme County, Virginia in 1850, but today that same physical location is in Acme County, West Virginia. So, when requesting your ancestors records you would need to write to Acme County, West Virginia not Acme County, Virginia. And in some cases the new State changed the original county name and/or boundaries, so it can get a little frustrating. Goods news though, there are many on-line resources available to help with your family history map work. Below I discuss a couple. A. At archives.com a section is dedicated to maps and their ties with family history researching:

“…maps allow you to make sense of the lineage of your family members. This tool is a great asset to help you to see the “big picture” when it comes to your family tree.”

This site lists 19 helpful links for further map and map related research as related to genealogy (NOTE: goto this archives.com link to the 19 individual links): http://www.archives.com/genealogy/free-maps-geography.html

  1. U.S. Geological Surveys
  2.  Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
  3.  Maps Can Help You Trace Your Family Tree
  4.  Odden’s Bookmarks: the Fascinating World of Maps and Mapping
  5.  The Perry-Castade Library Map Collection
  6.  U.S. Gazetter
  7.  British Columbia Archives and Records Service
  8.  Cartographic Records Pilot Project
  9.  Direct Line Software
  10.  Land Resource Reference
  11.  Research Directory
  12.  Deed Data Pool
  13.  City Gallery
  14.  Heritage Map Museum
  15.  Your Past Connections
  16.  Genmaps Home Page
  17.  Dead Fred
  18.  Family History Collections
  19.  RetouchPRO

B. Another excellent resource and article is at mapofus.org, “Historical Atlases and Maps of U.S. and States”. http://www.mapofus.org/ Below is an excerpt of some of their main points:

“When it comes to researching your family tree, maps are just pieces of the puzzle. However, they are a significant piece, and focused study can reveal fascinating information.” Map Comparison as A Genealogy Source Comparing older maps to newer maps of the same area can often yield information about changes in names of different towns and places over time. Such comparisons can also show changes in borders between countries, counties, towns, and other political borders. However, landowners are not often listed on maps. In the United States, property records, death records, and birth records are usually maintained by county officials. Therefore, researchers will need to be able to locate the proper county offices to find information on their ancestors. This is why it helps to determine exactly where the ancestor lived according to the political borders of the time.”

Finally with these searches you can also find cool interactive maps such as this one below that shows overtime how the U.S. was formed with territories, boundaries and states. It includes the historical aspect to help ground yourself in the formation timeline. http://www.mapofus.org/united-states/ So, when researching your family history do not overlook maps. Afterall, if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’; a map could cover millions.

Genealogy Tools: How to Pick what is Right for You

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There are many software genealogy packages out there. It can be daunting and expensive if you do not pick one that is right for you.

To help you with your search for the right genealogy tools, I have found two good and recent on-line resources:

1. toptenreviews.com has an article “2014 Best Genealogy Software Review Product Comparisons”

http://genealogy-software-review.toptenreviews.com/index.html

This article compares 12 of the family history tools available  today. They are ranked OVERALL by the article as follows–

  1. Legacy Family Tree
  2. Family Tree Maker
  3. Rootsmagic
  4. The Master Genealogist
  5. Ancestral Quest
  6. Family Historian
  7. Herdis
  8. Win Family
  9. Genbox Family History
  10. Agelong Tree
  11. Doro Tree
  12. Famtree

The on-line information includes scoring and info on each software package by reporting & publishing, feature set, citation & organization and help & support.

Also at the very end of the article they discuss why genealogy software is a good idea and discuss the importance of knowing what to look for in family history software packages.

2. wikipedia.com has an entry “Comparison of Genealogy Software”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_genealogy_software

This entry compares 36 of the family history tools available (includes most of those listed above in the first article; as well an additional 24 that are either further versions of those above or other unique software packages).

The article then compares every software package on these areas–

  • general features [individual view, family view, pedigree view, chronological view, ancestor charts, ancestors reports, descendent charts, descendent reports, fan charts, research manager, dna charts, research guidance and mapping],

 

  • genealogical features [unicode support, single parent family, same-sex marriage, witness to events, name variance, conflicting evidence, source surety, adoption & foster parent and non-standard calendar in date fields]

 

  • and languages. [English, Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Swedish]

Each software package comparison item is highlighted in green or red if they are fitting or contrary to the feature comparison. It is a quick and easy way to look at an individual software package’s comparison overall to many other packages.

Finally, I have two more pieces of advice:

A. In the on-line family history forums that I discussed in the blog “Finding Treasure and Junk” there are message boards / bulletin boards / forums on the specific topic of “genealogy software”. You can review those discussions as well to see what people are saying about the various software packages that are available.

B. Although I am a big proponent of using a computer based software package for keeping and tracking family history; always keep a paper copy of your family history. Save so much info in the package and then print it out. It is just smart as computers get corrupted, fail and get damaged every day. And you do not want to lose all your hard work.

 

 

Famous Versus Memorable Family Members

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Being famous. Is that not something we all want? Or at least have one famous person in our family?

When researching your family history, you will most likely find a tie to someone famous or prominent. They did something that the majority of the population knows about or at least has heard of in passing.

I have those people in my family line and it can be fun to think you are related to them, but after a while you recognize their accomplishments are not yours. And after all you never even knew them in person; they have passed away long ago.

Over time you will realize, it is the more recent relatives that you will find are the most inspiring and memorable to you. You have real memories of being with them  and perhaps you are even lucky enough to be able to spend time with them now.

Cherish those relatives and be sure to capture their history and stories for future generations to read. Then future generations can learn about those ancestors they were never lucky enough to have known in person as you did. Are not those ancestors the real ‘famous’ people in our family tree?

 

 

When? What? Keeping Track of Your Family Finds

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As you search for your family history you will often become overwhelmed with all the data coming at you. You will dig and dig and search and search to the point of gathering more information that you can keep track of in your memory.

You will come back to your genealogy work at various times in your life and you will not know when you did your previous searching (a month ago? 1/2 year ago? two years?). As well as not remember all of the data (what) you had found originally (did I already search for my maternal g-g-g-grandfather’s family line? If so, what did I find? Weren’t they from Ireland? Or was that my fraternal g-g-g-g-grandmother’s family line?)

So, make sure to stop and take notes during your searching for future reference. In the long run this will save hours of rework. Previously I discussed the idea of opening a Word document and cutting and pasting key info found on-line into the document for saving. As well as printing out that documents and paper filing.

And that alone will benefit you greatly. However, there are some forms and formats you can use for keeping track of this type of data that help organize it more effectively and efficiently.

Please note: These options can be done electronically within the forms. Or the form printed out and written into manually with your found data.

1. Simple research table format

Make a table in an Excel or Word document with many rows and these column headings:

  • Date Info Found (put the day/month/year…so years later you know how old the data found was)
  • Surname Researched
  • Source Searched
  • Source Location
  • What Found
  • Next Steps?

2. Family Tree Maker Tracking Forms

Family Tree Maker is a software you can purchase on-line for inputting and tracking your family tree. They have forms you can print and use for research tracking. However, you can make your own documents with the same types of tracking info:

  • Search Objective
  • Family Member / Line Researching
  • Date
  • Repository Researched
  • Description of Source
  • Condition (if found in microfilm, old book)
  • Time Period / Names Searched
  • Type of Info Researched

B=birth / christening

M=marriage

D=Death/burial

W=Will

MIL=Military

F=Family (children)

A=Ancestral

L=Land

O=Obituary

OTH=Other

Finally, I did something in the year 1999 that turned out to be a “goto” document now for me for all my latest family history work.

It was my parents 35th wedding anniversary in 1999, so I put together a bound report of all the latest family history information I had for each of their family lines:

  • family tree group sheet
  •  family photos
  •  book excerpts
  •  family tree diagram
  •  family stories / articles

These bound documents have become my main place to go when I had not picked up my family history for months or even years at a time. It has kept me from repeating work and kept me grounded in a baseline.

Remember your time is precious, use it wisely and keep track of your work. Your future descendants will thank you.

Researching Regular and/or Repeating Names

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Previously I posted a blog “Thanks Heavens for Unorthodox Names”. It discussed the benefits an ancestor’s unusual name can give to your family history researching.

But of course, not everyone in your family tree will have irregular names. Most will have regular and common names that are sometimes repeating generation after generation.

Searching those parts of your family can be more difficult. However there are some keys I have found to helping with these ‘regular’ family names:

1. It is always important to keep all main info known with each of the family members names. But even more important with regular and/ or repeating names:

  • birth date (year at the least, but day and month is best)
  • middle name or at least middle initial
  • birth place (state and country is good, but city as well is best)
  • death date and place (with details as noted above for birth)
  • marriage date and place (w/ details as noted above for birth)
  • spouse name (first name good, but maiden name best)

2. When searching on-line put in all the main info known with the name, including the middle name or initial, key places and dates.

Most search engines on-line with genealogy sites are smart enough to then show you their best finds first – based on the name with all key date and then next finding and giving listings without some of the key data.

3. Having a regular name repeated generation to generation can be a sign of a bigger family connection and something to be proud of about your family genealogy.

For example on my mother’s side they are all of Russian Mennonite descent. And my family tree has about 15 ‘Paul Tschetters’ in it. In fact when I was young I remember people calling my maternal grandfather ‘Paul P’. and I did not understand why they did not just call him Paul.

I found out later that my g-grandfather was named Paul J. Tschetter and other great uncles and distant cousins were named: Paul A. Tschetter and Paul K. Tschetter and Paul S. Tschetter and. Paul J.P. Tschetter and so on…

It was little annoying as most of them were born, lived and died in the same part of eastern South Dakota.

I really had to focus on their middle initial AND their key birth, marriage and death dates. To keep them all straight.

It was years later when researching the migration of the Tschetters to the U.S. that I discovered the name Paul Tschetter was key to their family history.

This excerpt is from the “Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia On-line”:

Paul Tschetter (1842-1919) – In 1873 he was a member of the delegation sent to St. Petersburg Russian to meet with Alexander II in the matter of continued exemption from military service.

Because the answer was not entirely satisfactory a delegation of twelve Mennonites and Hutterites visited the American frontier later in 1873 to investigate the possibilities of emigration. Among the twelve were Paul Tschetter. Tschetter appeared before President Grant to plead for exemption from military service for his people who were to settle in America. In 1874 Paul Tschetter brought his family to America and settled in South Dakota.

Ok, so that is why they named so many generations Paul. It is a name with a lot of family history to be proud of!

Good luck in your family search. It is very likely you will find something as well to be proud of in your family tree when you shake it up.