DNA Webinars Offered Again

Due to popular demand we are offering live sessions of these two presentations I gave earlier this year. (view our list of recorded presentations)

Sifting Through Your AncestryDNA Matches–Followup to “Working with AncestryDNA Matches”

This session assumes listeners/attendees have a basic understanding of what AncestryDNA offers, how to navigate their AncestryDNA matches, how to track working with their matches, what shared matches are and are not, and have already done some work with with their AncestryDNA matches–at least having worked through their first/second cousins matches at least once to determine connections where possible. If you have not yet played with your matches, this session is not for you. The basics of the system are not covered in this session. This is a session focused on research methodology and more advanced working through the matches.

In this session we will work through several extended examples based on Michael’s own research. This will include a relatively straightforward example,  families that have multiple relationships, and families from areas where “they’ve lived there for hundreds of years” and the shared relationships are distant and unknown. The importance of sifting out (where possible) and tracking will be emphasized. Our focus is on process and analysis–not in making you a geneticist. 

Can’t attend live? Purchase an immediate download of this presentation for $16.


Preparing for Your Autosomal DNA Results-Webinar

This hour-long presentation will present a brief overview of what autosomal DNA results are and are not. These are the tests that are done at AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe. Effective use of your results is easiest to do if pre-planning is done beforehand. This presentation will also help those who have not really delved into their results or feel they need to regroup their analytical process.  Discussion will include determining what problems your results can potentially answer, goal-setting, preparing for sifting through your results, generalized sifting strategies, locating as many ancestral descendants as possible, reasons why you have to work on the people who aren’t your problem people, and more as time allows.

Can’t attend live? Order now for immediate download.


FHL Cards: Here a Courthouse, There a Courthouse, Everywhere a Courthouse

Knowing what you are looking at is crucial to evaluating genealogical information.

Campbell County, Kentucky, has two courthouses. Many of the county’s records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available on microfilm at the Family History Library or online digitally. Some of the card catalog descriptions of microfilmed materials do not make it clear the courthouse where the originals were located.

But those title cards.

Those title cards do.

These marriage bonds (which actually aren’t all marriage bonds as mentioned in an earlier post) were microfilmed at Campbell County’s Alexandria, Kentucky, courthouse.

Now I know which courthouse.

And know you know why those title cards matter.


A Random Marriage

It took me forever to find it and it just about took me forever to cite it as well.

My citation format for this 1852 marriage record from Campbell County, Kentucky, is not in proper  Evidence Explained format. But the essentials are there:

  • the original creator of the record
  • the names of the principle individuals on the record
  • the date of the record (presumed to be the date of the marriage since no other date is given)
  • the type of the record (while this is not really a bond, it is filed with marriage-type records that are generically called “bonds”)
  • the format in which the record was obtained
  • the “publication” information for that format
  • the “title” of that publication
  • “page” information

There really is no page number.

These items were apparently organized by year and that organization did not go any further. The “title card” on the microfilm indicates that this is a “marriage bond” from 1852. It’s not a marriage bond. It is a certification that the marriage place. The titles used in my citation information were the titles used on the microfilm (actually digital images). That’s not something I correct as part of my citation’s goal is to know exactly where this image was obtained. I did make a comment about the organization of the record.

These items were apparently filed loosely in a file box of some sort. There are no page numbers. The items are not numbered as some marriage records are. There are no image numbers on the microfilm. There is an image number to separate one digital image from the next. Those numbers were used as a part of the citation. They will only apply to the digital images. Citing the Family History Library as the “publisher” serves to tell me that these were not accessed at the courthouse.

Now I need to make certain that this is the only record that was created by Kraft and Zenf getting married in Campbell County.

It certainly is not the license and it certainly is not the bond.

There may be more records.

But I don’t want my excitement in making a discovery or my desire to locate more information cause me to bypass citing what I’ve discovered.

Otherwise I have a random image from a marriage on my computer.

Genealogical Standards are Specific and Vague

from 13 March 2014 on our old blog site

I’m still reading Genealogy Standards. Reading it again is perhaps a more accurate word.

It is important for those who purchase the book, either as a part of their certification process or just as a part of their own genealogical education, that they remember what the Genealogy Standards is not. It is not a complete how-to book. It is not a list of sources. The Genealogy Standards is a list of benchmarks against which genealogical research is to be measured and compared.

It is not a specific how-to guide, but standards guidelines in any profession are not usually how-to guides. That’s what classes and other trainings are for. It’s short and to the point, more in the sense of reminders for what a researcher should be doing instead of a specific list of sources to check.

I don’t read Genealogy Standards with the intent of seeing a list of suggestions that will help me with my Rufus D. Stephens, my Benjamin Butler, or my Hinrich Mueller. However, as I read the standards, particularly the ones in regards to documentation and research, I should be asking myself:

  • have I done that when I researched?
  • have I analyzed each piece of information that I already have?
  • was I thinking about those writing suggestions when I put together a summary of my research?
There’s more to the standards than that, but it’s a start.
The writing standards are helpful even if the only person for whom you are writing is yourself.
If there is something in the Genealogy Standards that you do not understand, ask or post the question to a mailing list or a genealogical research group. There may even be a definition for a term with which you do not agree entirely (I personally don’t view evidence as the “answer,” tentative or otherwise [p. 67 Genealogy Standardsto a question, but that’s a subject for another post). It is ok if you don’t agree with everything. Your genealogical world will not end. Standards are standards, not edicts. My personal view point of the Genealogy Standards is that reading them can enhance your research.
It’s also my personal view point that concern about standards, research accuracy, and documentation does not make one an “elitist genealogist.” Elitist genealogists are ones who do not want to admit their conclusions may be incorrect and who refuse to listen to others. That attitude has absolutely nothing to do with reading the Genealogy Standards.

When Shared Matches Do Not Help–Again

Depending upon migration patterns, analyzing shared matches you have with a DNA match (especially one without a tree) may only add to your confusion.

A new match on AncestryDNA descends from a sister to my great-grandmother Tjode (Goldenstein) Habben. I clicked on our shared matches only to be reminded that when your family lived in the same area for generations (and migrated to that area from pretty much the same place as their immediate neighbors did) that shared matches may have nothing to do with your biological connection to that match.

This new cousin:

  • was also related to my first cousin once removed (who is not a Goldenstein descendant). This is because this first cousin once removed’s mother (my aunt by marriage) and my new AncestryDNA match’s grandfather (not my relative) were brother and sister.
  • was also related to a fourth cousin (who is not a Goldenstein descendant). This fourth cousin (on another side of the family) and my new AncestryDNA  cousin share a connection to the Weerts family in Adams County, Illinois–one that I do not share.
  • was related to another fourth cousin (not a Goldenstein descendant). This fourth cousin and my new DNA match share a Golden, Illinois, family with each other that they do not share with me.

My new DNA match and I currently have 31 shared matches. Three of them are not Goldenstein descendants but share ancestral heritage with me that is separate from the ancestral heritage they share with my DNA match. My sample is anecdotal, but reminds me that when a relative and I share a larger cultural/ethnic heritage analyzing our matches might not be as easy as I would like.

Unpaid Fines, Alcohol Sales, and the County Jail

There are more entries in the Warsaw, Illinois, newspapers for the name of Trautvetter than I will ever be able to read through.

Fortunately this is one that I did not miss.

January of 1900 apparently found John M. Trautvetter in the Hancock County, Illinois, jail for failing to pay nearly $300 in fines related to illegal sale of alcohol. These fines may have stemmed from a criminal case discovered for him in the late 1890s. The newspaper article does not indicated when the original sale of alcohol took place.

I need to take a more detailed look at the local newspapers during the time period in question. The Warsaw, Illinois, newspapers are available online in searchable format, but the images in some cases are hard to read and it is very possible that the OCR process used to index the images has missed references to this last name.

It is also possible that one of the county seat newspapers (in Carthage) make a reference to this case as well. Those newspapers are unindexed and not available digitally. A search of those newspapers will wait until the court materials have been more thoroughly searched and newspaper searches can focus on dates of various court actions. A manual search of the Warsaw newspapers will wait as well. While I’m interested in the case, I’m not certain I am interested enough to read through three years of newspapers to learn more about it.

Newspaper references may give details or opinions that do not appear as a part of the court record. That’s always the upside in finding newspaper references to court actions. The drawback is that newspapers are not always unbiased and Trautvetter could be viewed as another German who liked his beer.

The Warsaw Bulletin indicated that Trautvetter’s time in the county lockup might prevent sales of alcohol to minors and drunkards. I’m not certain if that was a reference to the Trautvetter incident or a separate one. Newspapers don’t always make some things as clear as we would like.

And I’m going to have to look at the county court records in late 1899 to see what reference there is to Trautvetter failing to pay his fines.

Now I’m wondering if he was really home when the census enumerator came around to answer questions in the spring of 1900.



Selling Liquor in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1899

I copied the entire file several years ago when I was in Salt Lake City at the Family History–The People of the State of Illinois vs. John M. Trautvetter. The intention was to perform more research on the case after I got home. I realized today that further research into the case never happened. It got put on the back burner.
There are not many details in the case file which was based on events that took place in 1898-1899. The case was heard by a Hancock County, Illinois, County Court in 1899.
In my haste to make digital copies, I broke one of my major rules of digital scanning from LDS microfilm–scanning the “title page” of the materials being used on the reel. I wish I had done that here. At least I did scan the cover sheet from the packet of papers. That’s the image included in this post.
There may be some mention of this case in local newspapers which may augment the information contained in the court packet.

These Ancestors Cannot Be Displayed


These Ancestors cannot be displayed

The ancestors you are looking for are currently unavailable. They may be hiding in offline resources which will require you to contact repositories via more archaic methods. If they are dead, rest assured they are not creating more descendants.
Please try the following:

  • Click the surname change button, or try again later.
  • If you are listed in the Social Security Death Index, please check your pulse and confer with a doctor.
  • If you descend from one of three brothers who landed on the East Coast in a barrel with 2 cents to his name contact banks in the region where he landed to collect the inheritance.
  • It may be possible to contact your ancestors via a psychic. Digital cameras will not typically record pictures of ancestral visions so a tape recorder will be necessary to record your interpretations.
  • If your ancestor was involved in covert operations you may wish to contact the CIA or FBI in order to locate them.
  • Some ancestors were deposited on Earth by UFOs. Please check passenger lists for UFOs which are not housed anywhere on Earth.
  • If you are trying to prove descent from Adam and Eve , please consult appropriate bibliographic references and make certain you have your fig leaf in the right place.
  • Descent from Charlemagne can be proven by having all your crowns in a row. Prince Charles may be able to assist you.
  • If you descend from an Indian Princess, keep looking for your Prince (or the ancestor formerly known as Prince, take your pick)
  • Your family tree may have tree rot. Check with your local nursery for appropriate treatment.


Undocumented Chaos

There’s still quite a bit of truth to this…

from the Ancestry Daily News Michael John Neill – 10/16/2002

As genealogists looking to the past, we are forced to focus on paper records left behind by our forebears. We also use historical records and information about larger historical movements and cultural trends to reasonably infer things about our ancestor’s lives. For many of us, there are times when neither of these sources or approaches is particularly helpful. Sometimes things just do not make any logical sense. There are times when our confusion stems from a misconception or ignorance we have about records, history, or cultural practices. But there are times when we’ve tried to learn as much as we can about the situation and perhaps have asked others more knowledgeable about the area to help us out. At times even the experts are stumped.

And so I occasionally wonder: Did some event in my ancestor’s life throw the entire family into chaos?

Some of these events may be easily documented. There generally are records of epidemics, natural disasters, or the closing of a major employer (the main exception being when these first two events took place on the extremely raw frontier). The impact may have been very direct and very immediate. County historical societies, newspapers, county histories, or other sources may provide at least some information on an outside event in our ancestor’s life. The loss of employment by the father, the death of three family members due to an epidemic, or a massive flood might have easily thrown a family into turmoil. The more difficult situation is where the causal event left no record.

The connection may not always be easy to make.

Maybe . . .

    • A marriage was hastened in an attempt to avoid the draft?
    • An emigration took place to avoid compulsory military service?
    • A sudden move took place because the father lost a job?
    • A move took place because of a significant economic opportunity?
    • A child left home because of a difficult step-parent?
    • A son left for California to pan for gold?In these cases the causes are partially discernable. Rash generalizations should not be made. When the outside factor is something large and something relatively well known it is easier to logically connect it to events that took place within the family. It is important though not to grasp at straws and create convoluted soap operas to fit scant ancestral records.

Where’s The P?

In logic classes, students study implication, cause, and effect. If p happens then q happens as a result. The problem in some family history situations is that we have the q, but have no idea what the p was that preceded it.

There are many explanations for the p above, but we’ll focus now on events within the family that might have caused other family members to react. They might have responded in ways that do not always make sense when analyzed two hundred years later without the perspective of living within the actual family itself as it endures the turmoil.

Did Some Event Throw Your Ancestor’s Life Into Chaos?

Did one parent die at a young age? The death of the father (typically the breadwinner) might have been a major challenge for the family. The death of the mother (typically the housekeeper and minder of the children) would have been equally difficult, especially if the older children were not of an age to take care of the younger ones. If your ancestral family was living in an area outside their kin network, the death of one young parent might have hit them especially hard.

Hubby Dead . . . Mouths To Feed

One ancestor died in the 1850s while in his early thirties. His widow Barbara was left with two small children in a town several hundred miles from where they had married and had family. As a German immigrant, Barbara likely spoke little English and had few marketable skills. The small river town where she lived offered few employment opportunities. Her options were extremely limited, she did not have some of the options her great-great-great-grandchildren may have today. Within six months of her husband’s death she married a man who left her two months later. The records only point towards the recorded facts, they provide little idea of the likely situation in Barbara’s home. And while we cannot find a tombstone, the breadwinner of her family was buried in the local cemetery and she was left with two young children to care for. She did the only thing she could: she ran her husband’s tavern for several years until she married for the third time. And from newspaper records, that tavern was quite a place.

I had another ancestor die and leave a widow with children in Kentucky in 1814. The children were old enough to help out and the husband left the wife with a few hundred acres of property. Records are scant, but it appears this forty-something widow was not in quite the same situation as my German immigrant in the 1850s. Still, the road after her husband’s death was likely not easy.

In some cases, children may have scattered after the father’s death as a necessity. Some may have gone to live with other family members or even strangers. Some may have been apprenticed to learn a marketable skill, potentially leaving records. These apprenticeship records (if available) are typically found at the county level. In some cases, there may be records of guardianships as well. But if the family was particularly poor, records of guardianships may be non-existent.

Wife Dead . . . Mouths To Feed

A young widower with small children was in a similar situation, especiallyif there were no nearby family members to provide childcare. Widowers who had older female children may have enlisted them to help care for younger siblings. One of my own ancestors married three times, wives one and two likely dying in childbirth and leaving behind several small children. This ancestor waited a year, at most, to remarry.

My own great-great-grandmother “disappears” ca. 1882 and her two young daughters live with other families for several years, apparently while the father gets things “together.” I am not exactly certain what happened in this family. All I know is that the mother “left” (or so I’ve been told) and was never heard from again.

Unknown Chaos?

Some of the cases already discussed leave records that hint at the problems. Some situations can reasonably be explained by other historical records. Not all chaotic situations leave behind records delineating the problem. And the records that do document the results rarely focus on the past. There may be no record indicating a family member was mentally unstable or had an alcohol problem. Yet these situations may have impacted the family significantly, perhaps for generations.

The family of the sibling of one of my great-great-grandparents had particular difficulties. The mother apparently became mentally unstable in the 1880s while the children were young. She died a few years later. The father never remarried and knew two things: “how to acquire land and drink whiskey.” A doctor who visited the family at about the same time said he never knew a family who lived in such squalor. One of the children was classified as “simple” and intentionally injured himself on at least one occasion. It is not difficult to see how the family lost contact with other family members, particularly the mother’s family. Nor is it difficult to see
why some family members show little interest in their family’s past.

This family’s home life is partially documented only because upon the father’s death there was legal trouble and court records provide a scant paragraph on the family’s past. Had there been no money worth going to court about, this family’s lifestyle would not have been documented.

Was there chaos in your ancestor’s life? There might have been, but the problem will be in proving it. The real problem is that the chaos frequently creates records that make no sense without a rough knowledge of the underlying issues.

Shared DNA and Same Name Makes It a Shared “Hint”

The name’s the same does not mean the ancestor is the same, even if descendants of those “same name” people share DNA.

The way AncestryDNA‘s shared “hints” work is that if you share DNA, have posted your online tree, and you and the person with whom you share DNA has posted their tree and your trees “share a name without dates,” that person is your “shared hint.”

The problem is that many people assume they are more than hints.

They are not.

Sometimes are not even good hints at that if one looks at the supposed children of the hint–sometimes they are born nearly 100 years apart. Difficult for a man to do (even if he’s really precocious and remains in excellent health his entire life) and impossible for a woman. And the hints, by their very nature, cannot look at the parts of your trees that are incomplete.

As we’ve mentioned before these hints are suggestions. Even if they are correct, you and that person may share additional people in your pedigree and the “hint” may not even be the family through whom the actual DNA is shared.

Remember that the “hints” are “hints,” not fact.