Using the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer



Type in the name of a location in the “find a place” box and pull down the appropriate place from the drop-down menu. Your map on the main part of your screen should then be centered on that location.

Click somewhere in the map that just appeared and you will get a timeline of the maps that are available that include the location where you clicked your mouse. You can click on the map’s title to see it highlighted in the background.

You’ll also get an option to download the map as a PDF file. Neat stuff.




How Close to Be a Strong Match at FamilySearch?

Understanding searches is crucial to troubleshooting them.

I’m not always certain I understand how FamilySearch distinguishes strong matches to a search from ones that are not strong. Sometimes I can see the distinction, but others times I cannot.  It would seem to me that the following individuals are fairly similar:

  • Johann Michael Gerlach born in 1834 in Germany
  • Johann Michael Gerlach born on 28 January 1833 in Weil im Dorf, Leonberg, Wurttemburg, Germany

After all, I was searching for a Michael Gerlach born in 1839 as shown in the illustration. None of the “exact” boxes were checked. A little experimentation indicated that when the year of birth was set to 1838 (exact boxes still unchecked), both of the above matches were “strong.”


It seems that strong matches have to be within five years of the event put in the search box.

At least for this search that only included one year of an event.

I’m not certain how far the year of birth could be off for a non-strong matches. It pays to experiment.


DNA Problem-Solving with DNAPainter and GedMatch Webinar Released

Based upon suggestions from readers, we’ve put together this session on DNAPainter and GedMatch combined. Using just one tool is not an effective way to analyze your DNA matches.

Date: This session has been held and recorded.

  • order for immediate download for $17.99–presentation and PDF handout included
  • if you ordered early and did not receive download-email me (tell me the email used for payment) and I’ll send the download link.

From GedMatch, we’ll use:

  • one-to-many matches
  • one-to-one compare
  • matching segment search

DNAPainter’s mapping tool will be also be utilized. DNAPainter tells you when a new painted match has shared DNA with other matches you’ve already painted. We’ll be using that feature of the site.

We will look at:

  • organizing your analysis and process
  • documenting your thought process and conclusions for later review
  • tracking shared matches
  • assigning segments to ancestors and couples
  • specific examples–including one where the grandfather of the testee was unknown

What you should already know or have done:

  • Basics of DNA analysis–accuracy of predicted relationships, centimorgans and segments, why you don’t have DNA from every one of your ancestors, why third cousins may not share DNA, why siblings don’t have the same DNA, why predicted cousin relationships are estimates, etc.
  • Experimented with DNAPainter–at least painted a few matches.
  • Also recommended that you’ve already uploaded you DNA data to GedMatch–we won’t be discussing how to do that in this presentation.
  • Have already looked at your GedMatch results
  • Our previous webinars may be of help.



A Hand Gives Grandpa a Hand with the Mail Route in Ft. Huachuca

The unexpected treasures in military pension files can be worth the time it takes to find them–most times the best finds don’t just jump out at the researcher. Details about family can be buried in what originally seems to be page after page of financial tedium.

That’s what happened in the pension application file for Gardner Ramsey. The Mexican War veteran served in a unit from Illinois, but by the 1880s had moved to the Southwest where for a time he operated a mail route in Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

Ramsey’s application for an increase in his pension was denied and a special examiner was sent to take testimony regarding Ramsey’s financial status and physical condition. In December of 1903 in Los Angeles, Mrs. Quince White made out an affidavit in support of Ramsey’s claim. Apparently Ramsey was not always to operate the mail route in Arizona by himself and two of his grandsons, Charlie McClune/McClure and George Hand, would help him. White incorrectly names the Hand who helped Ramsey. That error, made and corrected in the testimony, initially named John E. Hand as the grandson. White corrected herself and indicated that John E. Hand was George Hand’s father–thus giving the name of Ramsey’s son-in-law.

White goes on to state that Ramsey moved to Putnam County, Tennessee. She’s not certain of the year in her testimony, but believed that it was 1893. Her testimony documented Ramsey’s live in the late 1890s through the date of her testimony in 1903.

But it’s not often that affidavits in a pension file mention names of the veteran’s grandchildren. That was an unexpected find. It suggests that the boys were old enough to help with the route when their grandfather was unable to and that they lived in the same area as their grandfather Ramsey during the unstated time frame.


Another Trick in the GedMatch Toolkit

It sounded like a good idea. It may be a good idea. It just didn’t work for me.

One of the functionalities on is the ability to search submitted GedCOM files for specific names and other identifying information. Search results include several things besides the “matching” information from the relative’s name in the genealogical file. It also includes when the file was uploaded and the email address of the submitter.

The email address of the submitter is also one of the items returned when I view a list of DNA kits that match my submitted kit (under ” ‘One-to-many’ Matches”).

I thought I could take the email addresses of GedCOM submitters located during my searches of those GedCOM files and see if those email addresses appeared on the list of submitted DNA kits that matched my submitted kit. I did this for every entry in a GedCOM file that contained an entry with the last name of Trautvetter. I copied the email address of every GedCOM file submitter and searched for that email address in my list of DNA kits that matched my submitted kit–hoping to find a kit submitter on the list. No such luck.

Even if I had found a submitter on both lists, I would have had more work to do.

There is no guarantee that everyone in the submitted GedCOM file is biologically related to the person whose DNA was submitted. Some GedCOM files contains names of in-laws and extended family who have no biological relationship to the person whose DNA was tested. Email addresses can also submit multiple GedCOM files and DNA kits.

This just seemed like a way to maybe filter out a few matches, potentially connect with some researchers, or make a little headway on those kits whose submitters I cannot figure out and who do not respond.

But so far it’s not worked for me even though the premise seems solid.


Comma On: Valentine’s Not Stated as Being Her Father

A minor typographical error can significantly change the intent of a piece of writing. A transcription error can create confusion as well. All it takes is one little thing.

That’s what I did when reading an article from the 18 August 1906 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as mentioned in The Judge Would Have Shot the Right One and Made a Better Job of It.” In this case it was one little period that my mind saw as a comma.

The girl screamed for her father. Charles Valentine, who was visiting…

That’s what the article says. When I read the article for one reason or another, I saw:

The girl screamed for her father, Charles Valentine, who was visiting…

And that made all the difference. I never got that comma after the word “father” out of my head. But there is not a comma after the word father. There is a period. If it has been a comma, then the newspaper would have been referring to Charles Valentine as the girl’s father. But there is no comma. There is a period and a new sentence with a new subject. The newspaper is not referring to Valentine as the girl’s father. That was my mistake. Valentine is not the girl’s father–at least not in how this newspaper article mentions him.

All it takes is misreading one thing to give an entirely different spin to things. That thing can be small. As small as a comma.

Or in this case what’s not actually a comma.

Thanks to Linda S. for pointing out this error.



Using Matching GedCOMs at GedMatch to Pull Some Low Hanging Fruit

One of the ways to “quickly” try and find the “easiest” of your DNA matches to potentially determine how a DNA kit matches a kit you have tested is to use the “GedCOM + DNA Matches” search functionality at There are no guarantees you’ll solve any problems this way and some trees created from the attached GedCOM files may not go back far enough for you to get a good idea of how you and the person connect.

But it can be a start and it may help you “paint” a few more sections of your DNA that you were not able to paint before. Analyzing your DNA is an ongoing process. The answers won’t come easily or quickly–despite how easy some want to make it appear.

I used it to quickly sort out some matches on a DNA test I did for my children’s great-uncle. I was only able to use the trees to determine the relationship for six people. Not a lot, but it did help me to begin the “sifting process” on his matches. This allowed me to lump about half of his closest thirty matches into “probably related via a certain family.” It’s a start.

Just another tool in your analytical toolbox.

This is one of the free aspects of GedMatch to use. GedMatch does not do any actual testing. You must upload your results from one of the other sites in order to use it.

Join me for “Problem-Solving with DNAPainter and GedMatch” or check out my earlier DNA webinars.


It’s Not My Job to Correct the Errors of the Genealogy World

It really isn’t.

And by “errors,” I’m talking about statements that are clearly incorrect–biological events that violate the laws of space, time, and biology and other details that fly in the face of every single document ever recorded and for which the compiler has offered absolutely no refuting evidence that those documents are incorrect.

My “job” in my genealogical research is to document my ancestors to the best of my ability, accurately citing the sources I find, transcribing documents as accurately as possible, locating as many records as possible, and making an honest effort to accurately document my ancestors’ existence. I should learn as much as I can about the records that I use so that they can be interpreted correctly and that I will know what those records say and what those records do not say.

I should also make a conscious effort to understand the time period in which my ancestors lived so that I can understand the records as correctly as possible.

The summaries I create about my ancestors should be as accurate as I can make them. Where I choose to share and publish that compiled information is my own business. The records that I access I do not own. The compilation that I create is something that I do–although I do not claim ownership to any “fact” or specific statement about an ancestor. Facts are not copyrightable no matter how much money I spend to discover them or how much time I devote to that discovery. I do share my discoveries and compilations–I don’t believe in hiding discoveries that have been made.

If I see errors in someone else’s tree about one of my ancestors, I’m under no obligation to correct them or tell them what they have compiled is wrong. I can do so if I wish, but I don’t feel that I’m compelled to contact every person who has an error in their tree.

I don’t feel that I’m under any obligation to correct every error in public global trees if I encounter them. Just because the trees are there does not mean that I’m responsible for the errors that others have put in these trees. I’m also not under any obligation to correct transcriptions of original records on free or fee-based sites–although I frequently do. It’s not my job to correct the mistakes of others.

That takes time away from correcting my own errors and working on long-neglected ancestors–and I have enough of both to keep me occupied for some time.



Tracking DNA Matches on GedMatch that Have Attached GedCOM files

DNA matches without pedigree information are more difficult to analyze. One of the features of GedMatch (much of which is free to use) is the ability to attach a GedCOM file to a submitted DNA test. That GedCOM file is used to create pedigree and other family based charts that can be viewed by any member of the site.

One way to “pick the easiest” genealogical fruit from the DNA files at GedMatch is to look at those submissions that have attached GedCOM files. This is a limited approach and does not reach all submissions by any stretch, but it can be a way to pick through the results and make some quick conclusions about how certain test kits are actually related to you.

As a reminder:

  • not all matches have trees
  • some trees are minimal
  • some trees contain inaccurate information

See which of kits that match a DNA test have GedCom files.

The ability to view a list of kits that have attached GedCOM files is one of the free features of GedMatch. It’s available under the “Genealogy” section of the site. (Reminder: your results on GedMatch are not immediately available after submission–it takes time for your submission to process and be connected to the other data on the site).

The list contains links to the kits that have attached GedCOM files and those actual GedCOM files. The files can then be browsed. It’s easy to get excited and mindlessly go through whichever ones look most likely to be helpful. It can also be easy to go in circles looking at the same file multiple times and (hopefully) reaching the same conclusion multiple times. This is where it’s advised to track what’s being done instead of repeatedly doing it.


The results screen–kit number and GEDCOM ids have been removed.


I then copied the “data grid” and pasted it into a clean spreadsheet. For me, the “X” DNA columns weren’t going to be helpful, so I eliminated them. I added a column for whether the chart had been viewed, for names in the chart (only including ones that “struck a nerve”), and “Misc.” (for comments). What I need to add is a column for male connecting ancestor and female connecting ancestor as well. This chart is simply for me to keep track of which GedCOM files I have viewed and reduce the amount of repeated work that I do. This chart is not to track all the analytical details and other information–it’s just a research log of sorts.

Kit Num​


Largest cM​


DNA Name​





Misc. ​

Removed-but linked in spreadsheet​



Removed but linked in spreadsheet​



















The problem is that this of DNA matches that have attached GedCOM files is not static. It’s changing as new submissions are added. One way to partially deal with this problem is to use the features that are a part of the Tier 1 membership at The “One to many DNA comparison” screen in the Tier 1 membership allows for a sort by the age of the submission and see if the submission has an attached GedCOM file. If I indicate on my chart of DNA matches with GedCOM files when that chart’s list of entries was last updated, I can add new kit numbers manually to the chart. One limitation with this approach is that the “age” won’t indicate if an older submission of DNA has recently had a GedCOM file attached to it.