A Little Opinion on those Extended FAN Searches

I understand the FAN concept of genealogical research (research the friends, associates, and neighbors of your ancestors–great idea!). But I think that researching the 4th cousin of your 2nd cousin’s great-grandmother (on the other side of the family) is a bit much. The same thing goes for the guy who tells me he “knows everything about my grandma” because she’s his ex-wife’s third step-mother’s tenth cousin.

I have much closer relatives (ancestors, aunts/uncles, first cousins of ancestors) for whom there are original records I have not yet accessed, databases I’ve not mined completely, etc. I’m going to focus on them because their stories need to be researched and told.

And in many cases, researching their FAN network is essential. That’s especially true in areas where there are few records and every clue that one can dig up can help paint a more complete overall picture.


Ellosif Ella Lowry: A Throwitoutlines Suggestion–A Followup

There was a reason why ThruLines at AncestryDNA gave me Ellosif Lowy as a potential mother for Florence Ellen Butler (born in the 1850s, probably in Missouri). Florence Ellen Butler is in my tree as the daughter of a Benjamin Butler.

And a little further digging did indicate that a woman named Ellosif Lowry married a man named Benjamin F. Butler in Vermilion County, Illinois, in 1841. That Benjamin F. Butler was not the same Benjamin Butler who was the father of Florence Ellen Butler. Ellosif (probably a variant of Ella) and Benjamin F. Butler remained in Illinois, settling in McDonough County and living there in at least 1870 when Florence Ellen Butler’s family was living in Union County, Iowa, with a separate family of children. (I’ve made notes in my files on Benjamin why this Ellosif/Benjamin couple is not the one I want).

So ThruLines was making a suggestion of a parentage based upon the name of the father I had in my tree and a match for him in a marriage database–it wasn’t making a suggestion of Ellosif Lowry as an ancestor based on any tree in their files. I was under the impression that ThruLines suggestions of potential ancestors were based upon shared DNA and names in trees.

And the DNA match I have that ThruLines said was suggestive of Ellosif isn’t suggestive of her at all. A comparison of the trees of that DNA match and me shows that the DNA match and I are both descendants of Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter (1874-1939). That’s one of our most common ancestors (the other being her husband George). Any suggestion of an ancestor earlier than Ida is not based on the shared DNA match and is solely based on a tree or other non-DNA genealogical evidence.


Ellosif Ella Lowry: A Throwitoutlines Suggestion

Anecdotal evidence that ThruLines at AncestryDNA is still in the beta stage. It suggests that the mother of my ancestor Florence E. Butler is a woman named Ellosif “Ella” Lowry. Fine.

But then it goes on to tell me that none of the trees linked to my DNA matches have this relationship and that no Ancestry member trees have this relationship.

So where did ThruLines get it?

What sort of algorithm generates this as a suggested mother?

See our follow up to this post.


Interviewing Grandma

[reprinted from June of 2003]
from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 6/4/2003

Interviewing Grandma
Summer, along with family trips and reunions, is quickly approaching. This week we take a short look at obtaining oral information from relatives. While its accuracy is sometimes questionable, for most of us oral history is a great starting point to our family history. Even for those of us who’ve been researching for some time, there still are questions we probably need to ask. All family historians would do well to remember that oral history, when it still exists only in a person’s mind, is the most fragile family history source we have.

An excellent way to preserve the interview (at least for the short term) is to record the interview on audio or videotape. While a transcription should be made, the tape frees the interviewer from taking copious notes during the interview.

Tips for Recording Oral Histories
1. Schedule the oral history session in advance. This gives the person time to reflect, and hopefully to remember more detail. It also gives the person time to locate family materials in their home.

2. Bring an audio or video recorder, and a pen or pencil and paper. If you want to use a recording device, make sure you get permission from the person you’re interviewing before you show up on their doorstep, camera in hand. Take some notes even if you record the interview (you may need to refer to them during the interview if nothing else) and practice using the recorder before the interview.

3. Bring a list of questions in advance and consider sending some of them to the interviewee in advance as well. If you’re taking notes on paper, leave space for the answers or number the questions and then number the answers on a separate sheet. You can also take notes on a laptop computer as long as your typing skills are sufficient.

4. Don’t be afraid to let the interviewee get off the subject. You may get unexpected good stories this way. If necessary, gently steer your interviewee in the right direction if their digression has truly taken them far afield.

5. Don’t push for answers. This may only aggravate the person and cause them to cease answering questions.

6. If it is clear that a question has upset the interviewee, back off. You might have inadvertently brought up a family skeleton. Unless you are trying to solve your great-grandfather’s unsolved murder, remember that you are not conducting a police interrogation.

7. Exact dates can be difficult to remember. Try to have the person put the event in perspective relative to other events in their life—their marriage, the death of a parent, a war, etc. Forcing them to guess at dates is not in your best interest and approximate dates within the context of a chronology can perhaps be pinned down later with other records and historical sources.

8. When contacting the person, ask if they have any old pictures or family mementos. Bring along any you have as well. These may be fodder for additional conversation.

9. Keep the session reasonably short. Three hours at one sitting is probably too much. Send the person a follow-up thank you note, enclosing an SASE in case they care to jot anything else down and send it to you.

10. Consider taking a scanner or a digital camera. This may be an excellent way to make copies of photographs or documents that your interviewee may not wish to leave their house.

Avoid getting overly personal. There are some things a person would like to take to their grave with them.

Suggested Questions—Just to Get You Started


Where and when were you born?
 What do you recall about your childhood?
 Where did you live and go to school?
 How long did you attend school?
 What do you remember best about your parents?
 What did you and your siblings do in your spare time?
 Did the family move around quite a bit?
 What is your favorite childhood memory?
 What styles of clothing did children wear then?

Family Traditions
 Did your family have any special traditions?
 Are there any family recipes that are particularly special?
 Are there any heirlooms that have been passed down from one generation to another?

Growing Up
 When did you leave home?
 Why did you leave and where did you go?
 How long did you attend school?
 Did you have a favorite aunt/uncle?
 How did your life change when you left home? Did you feel grown up? Were you a little scared?
 When did you get married?
 How did you meet your spouse?

Historical Events
 Which significant historical events have taken place during your lifetime?
 Did your parents have strong political feelings?
 Were there wars, natural disasters, or political changes?
 How did these events affect you?
 Who was (is) your favorite president?
 How was your life different after the war?
 For whom did you cast your first vote?

Immigration (if relevant)
 How old were you when you immigrated?
 Who came with you?
 Were you scared? How did you feel as you undertook this journey?
 Were did you come from and where and when did you arrive?
 How did you travel? How did you travel from the coast inland? How long did the trip take?
 What was the biggest change you faced?
 Did you have a difficult time adjusting?
 Why did you or your family immigrate?
 Did you ever wish you had never left?
 What was the biggest adjustment you had to make?

 What did your parents do for a living?
 Did your mother work outside the home?
 Was your family financially comfortable?
 How old were you when you got your first job?
 What jobs have you had during your life?
 Which job was your favorite?

Physical Characteristics
 What physical characteristics do people in your family share?
 Which family member do you resemble?

Earlier family members
 Did you know your grandparents or great-grandparents?
 What were their names?
 Where did they live?
 Why did they move from one location to another?

 What part did religion play in your family?
 What church did the family attend?
 Were you very religious?
 Did you go to religious services on a regular basis?

Other Possible Topics
Education, Politics, Military Service, Recreation, Family Pets, Traveling, Dating, Clothing, Family Recipes, Family Medical History, Marriage and Raising a Family, and just about anything else that is of interest to family members. Remember that the impact of national and regional events on the lives of your family members can bring out excellent information as well.

Some Additional Thoughts:
 If the family moved, ask what caused the family to move?
 If a parent died young, ask how this impacted the family?
 If a sibling or relative was in a war, ask how this impacted the family?
 Don’t just ask for dates, names, and places. Ask for reasons or reactions. The reason or reaction can be more interesting than the specific event itself.
 Ask “why” where appropriate, but avoid being overly personal.

No Leading Questions
Do not suggest the answer to the person answering the question. Questions like “Grandma was born in Ohio wasn’t she?” can easily be answered “yes” when the person is actually not certain. Your goal is to get at an accurate rendering of what the person remembers. Asking for clarification to something you misunderstood is fine, suggesting an answer is not.

Hopefully the courthouse, the library, and the cemetery will be around for a while. Grandma might not be. If she has information in her head you haven’t tried to get out, make an effort. Now I have a few relatives myself I need to interview, including a few first cousins of my parents and grandparents. Don’t forget the “shirttail” kin as well.


Genealogy Is An Art

I was trained as a mathematician, so on one level the title of this post really bothers me.

On the other hand, it is true-at least partially. It is also true that mathematics is an art as well. An art, grounded with rules, laws, theorems, and postulates. But even “art” has rules, rules of color, composition, and form. Rules can be worked with, or worked around, and usually therein lies the “art.”

I’ve been working on an article on a family in Missouri in the 1860s. The family really doesn’t matter. Putting together the material does. I have a conclusion, soundly reasoned, but which could (if new information arises) be shown to be incorrect. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. The logic lies in the validity of my conclusion and the soundness of my argument.
Where is the “art?”

The art is in constructing the argument in a fashion that makes sense to the reader and sense to the writer as well. The art is the very process by which evidence was analyzed, summarized, and synthesized into a conclusion. Genealogists are not boiling chemicals in test tubes, waiting for a specific reaction at a specific temperature. Genealogists are not mathematicians looking to prove a great theorem by induction or some other method. 
Genealogy is an art and it is a science. Some days it is more on than another. 

I’m not certain which day it is today.


Taking Notes as You Research

I know that I’m supposed to do it. I really do. But, like probably everyone else who is honest, I don’t always take notes as I research. That wastes time later.

While at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I worked on the extended family of a woman named Mary Parker who was a resident of Bedford County, Virginia, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Quite a few documents were located on Mary and various members of her family. I made digital copies of records and indicated the original sources from which those images were obtained. I even wasted two hours one morning because I had neglected to put volume numbers on the images of deed books as I made them.

But when I returned home, I realized that there was a part of my process that I had neglected to record. As I located documents (and partially read them as I made digital copies), I made “notes in my head” about the people I was researching, vital events in their lives, who their relatives were, etc. Those notes in my head are no longer in my head. I can sort my images by date and time they were made. That helps me to see the images in the order in which they were located, but that doesn’t always help me to completely reproduce my process.

What I usually do is take pictures of all notes that I write as I research. Those details are usually sufficient for me to refollow my steps when I return home. For those whose handwriting is not worth reproducing, typing your notes (or emailing them to yourself) is a good option as well.

It’s not just your research onsite that you should summarize as soon as possible. If you’ve made notes while interviewing a family member, review those notes as soon as you can and make any annotations while details are fresh in your mind.

You will forget that which you think you will never forget.


The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then the
Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James Beidler is worth approximately 120,000. The book contains approximately 120 historical maps of Germany and environs (particularly to the east of present-day Germany) showing political boundaries, changes in those boundaries, concentrations of various religious denominations, and a few other demographic details.

The maps in the book run from shortly before the start of the Christian Era to 2019 and are helpful in providing a geographic perspective for those with German ancestors. Beidler admits that not every German village appears on a printed page in the book (and they don’t: Wiesens, Holtrop, Wrisse, Wohlmuthausen, and other hamlets where my own forebears hailed from do not appear). That is not the intent of the book. It’s also not practical to include maps for all the time periods covered that include every village and where it appeared. There are plenty of online references where specific villages can be located relative to other locations. Those sites will help the user to get the most benefit from this book. Determining where a village likely fits by actually searching for it will assist the reader in becoming more familiar with local geography–something every genealogist will benefit from. The book’s about giving the user perspective beyond the village level and focuses on larger political and ethnic regions.

Most of the maps are online, which Beidler readily admits in the introduction. However, it is convenient to have them in one printed reference (in color) instead of hopping from website to website or shuffling through individual printouts (citations to the source of each map are included in this reference). Beider provides a broad historical background in the book as well–not an in-depth litany of ruler and boundary changes. That’s not the book’s purpose. Given the length and focus of the book the history must be abbreviated, but it’s enough to give the reader that all important perspective and hopefully send them to more detailed references.

The book’s also very browsable as well and, if I had a coffee table, it would make an excellent coffee table took. Leafing through it can be an education in itself.

To top if off the book is hardbound. It has the feel of a small text book. That’s appropriate as there’s quite a bit to learn in it.


The Missing George Trautvetter: Part III

Compiled military service records should be a lead in to other records and sources–they should not be an end in and of themselves.

That’s particularly true with Illinois resident George Trautvetter who served in the 15th Missouri Infantry in the Civil War. The cover sheet for his compiled military service record indicated a book mark in addition to the 30 cards that comprise his compiled military service record. We’re looking into getting more information about that book mark (A-597-V.S.-64).

Looking at just the cards for “raw genealogical information” can be a mistake as well and cause us to not get a full perspective on our relative’s military service. The other details on the cards can broaden our knowledge about the war in general and about our relative’s military experience in particular. One of George’s cards indicated that he was a part of the “Pontoon Battalion, Pioneer Brigade.” The Brigade provided engineering support to the troops and were called into action if circumstances warranted.

The asterisk provides more detail about that Brigade and also references the same “Book Mark” that is noted on the bottom of Trautvetter’s compiled military service record cover card.

The “Copyist” Adams is the clerk who copied the information from the actual military service records (in this case a Muster Roll) onto the card. These cards served as a finding aid for information about specific veterans as “personnel files” as such were not kept during the war. These cards facilitated documenting military service for veterans who would later file pension claims.

We’ll have an update when we’ve learned more about Trautvetter’s service.


When I Chart Out My Online Search Attempts

Online searches go better when they are organized.

Organized searches increase the chance the the person of interest is found in the database and that, if they are not located, effective alternate search strategies can be conducted and the researcher can more easily problem-solve in an attempt to improve their results. Searching willy-nilly without keeping track of what one is doing is asking to not find the person.

I usually chart out my search attempts and the search combinations that were used–with one major restriction. This is only done if the person is not easily found. If I’ve spent more than ten minutes searching a database for someone, it is time to think about all the search options available to me and make certain that there are not search combinations that I am overlooking.

That is what happens when one does not track the searches that are conducted. Tables and charts can help in organizing the searches. They serve as a research log and can aid in making certain every search combination has been conducted.

It’s not necessary to create this table every time a database is searched. That’s not really a good use of time. Neither is performing the same search over and over. It also allows the researcher to tell someone else:

Here is what I did and I still couldn’t find them.

If the record set is small, searching the records manually is a good suggestion. But if the person lived somewhere in the “general Chicago area” in 1920 a manual search may not be practical–leaving us with only database queries.