Images on FamilySearch Webinar Released

We’ve released the recording and handout for my “Images on FamilySearch” webinar. More details have been posted on our announcement page.

The introductory rate will work through 4 October 2021–despite what it says on our announcement page.

If you pre-ordered and have not received your materials, contact me at the email address on your receipt.


DNA Account Usernames Contain Clues

DNA matches that have no trees or whose submitters fail to respond can be a challenge to those working through their genealogy DNA matches. Sometimes there’s a clue in that username that may help you to determine who that match likely is.

These approaches are best done after you’ve worked on matches that you can determine. That work usually allows a researcher to have an idea of what general part of your tree a match is from. Two treeless matches with submitters who did not respond were likely determined using their username. Unfortunately those usernames did not appear to be the actual name of the submitter.

In both cases, the shared matches that I had with the match in question allowed me to know which portion of DNA testee’s tree the match was related through. That helped.

The MySpacer

This match was known to connect to the test kit submitter through the submitter’s maternal grandmother. The connection to the kit submitter was in the second-third cousin range and not someone who could easily be identified as closer matches were. This match had no tree and did not respond to a couple of contact attempts. A Google search was conducted for their username that was used for their DNA results. It turned out an old MySpace account had the same user name. Looking at the public information on that page (including their actual name) provided enough identifying information that the match’s identity and relationship to the DNA kit I managed could be determined.

Named for my parents

This match was known to connect to my DNA results through one of my paternal great-grandfathers George Trautvetter. The username, which I have changed, was of the form “bobandesmerelda.” There was no attached tree and no response to communication. In reviewing all the descendants of George Trautvetter’s grandfather (also a George Trautvetter), I located a deceased great-granddaughter named Esmerelda who I had not researched any further. Information on her indicated her husband was named Robert. While I’m not certain exactly who the match is, it seems possible that the submitter named the account for their parents–Bob and Esmerelda. The genealogical cousinship I have with Esmerelda is consistent with the predicted relationship range based upon the shared DNA. Not 100% proof, but suggestive enough for me to classify the match as determined.

In both cases, my analysis is in my DNA match notes so that I remember later exactly how these matches were determined and can re-evaluate later if necessary.


FamilySearch Completes Digitization Project

There is more information on the completion of the FamilySearch digitization of microfilm project on their website.

The one thing that always concerns me is whether or not the images I get online from FamilySearch as as high of a quality as the high quality scans I made directly from microfilm myself at the Family History Library years ago. In most cases, really high quality scans don’t impact the legibility of the text, but there are times where they do.


Webinar on Getting Most from FamilySearch

Getting the Most from FamilySearch 7:30 pm. central 28 Sept 2021 (note date/time change). Attend live (handout included) or pre-order recording and handout–registration information below.

The FamilySearch site contains images of records from around the world—most available right from your internet connection. This presentation will focus on the actual records that are on FamilySearch and the finding aids that have been created to some of those records. We will not be discussing the online trees in this session and will concentrate on the “digital microfilm” and how that information can be navigated and used for your research. We will break the material down into two large categories: indexed and unindexed digital records. Presentation will be made by Michael John Neill and will include:

Generalized search strategyIt is easy to become overwhelmed with what is on FamilySearch. We will start with a generalized organizational strategy to effectively and efficiently navigate what is on the site.

Searching indexed digital record sets: determining what records are in the database, determining what names from the records are in the index, creating effective search queries, and organizing and tracking conducted searches.

Searching the catalog for non-indexed record images: making certain all political jurisdictions covering a specific location have been searched, determining if locally created indexes were created to records, and tracking manual searches of unindexed digital images.

Requesting copies of records will also be discussed.

Live presentation—via GotoWebinar—on 28 September 2021 at 7:30 pm. US Central Time.

Register for live attendance—$16.

Pre-order recording and handout from session–$12.


Relationships, DNA Problem Solving and Marrying Within the Group

AncestryDNA recently released a significant update in matches to individual tests. It was time for me to review my matches–just not all of them.

One reason I had a DNA test done was to try and make some connections to my Irish immigrant ancestors, Samuel and Annie (Murphy) Neill. These Irish immigrants married in New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1860s and migrated to Illinois with Samuel’s brother Joseph before the 1870 census enumeration. Samuel’s origins (born in the 1830s) in NewtonLimavady, County Derry, Ireland, were known before I took the DNA test. My matches did confirm one suspected brother of Samuel, Alex–who remained in Ireland. A suspected sister based upon vital records in the area (Roseanne [Neill] Scott) has not been confirmed with any DNA matches and cannot be located after birth records for her children in the 1880s. Annie’s Irish origins are unknown with any specificity.

There are approximately twenty descendants of Samuel and Annie whose DNA test results are in AncestryDNA.

It was hoped that DNA matches to other known descendants of Samuel and Annie would be more distantly related to me that the descendants of Samuel and Annie are and that those more distant matches would either be descendants of one of Samuel’s ancestors or one of Annie’s ancestors–but not descendants of Samuel and Annie. I’ve made significant headway on tying matches to descendants of Samuel’s brother Alex. The thought is that some of those shared DNA matches with other descendants of Samuel and Annie are related to me through Annie’s family and not through Samuel’s.


There’s always a but. In this case there are two. The first is that the relationships predicted by AncestryDNA are just predictions based on amounts of shared DNA. Genealogically I am more closely related to descendants of Samuel than I am of Alex–because Samuel is my great-great-grandfather and Alex is his brother. There are some descendants of Alex with whom I share more DNA than I do with descendants of Samuel (based on what I currently know it does not look like we are related in more than one way). The amount is not huge, but serves as a reminder that the amount of shared DNA with one match may be slightly greater than the amount of shared DNA with someone who is related to you one generation closer. That’s the first but: relationships are not known precisedly based on an autosomal DNA test.

The second but is a bigger one and requires me to stay on my toes.

Three children of Samuel and Annie married grandchildren of their neighbors James and Elizabeth Rampley, including my great-grandfather Charlie Neill. This means that many descendants of Samuel and Annie Neill (including me) are also Rampley descendants. Descendants of the Neill-Rampley marriage share more matches with me than other children of Samuel and Annie Neill.

So to not create additional confusion and skew my analysis with multiple relationships, my attempts to locate more distant Neill-Murphy relatives focuses on shared matches that I have with descendants of Samuel and Annie Neill who are not also descendants of James and Elizabeth Rampley. That leaves me with DNA matches of Neill descendants who did not marry into the Rampley family.

Fortunately several of those descendants have done DNA tests. Unfortunately a few of them are related to me yet other ways or have shared relatives with other families of mine. This is what happens when your family has lived in the same small area for generations with some families migrating to that area from other shared small areas.

Fortunately for me one son of Samuel and Annie married outside my genetic tree and that son moved to Montana where he married and had several children. The descendants of that grandson–several of whom have done DNA tests are where I have focused my searches because they do not have overlap with my families.


  • Relationships based on the autosomal DNA test at AncestryDNA are predictions.
  • Always consider multiple relationships to individuals–especially if your family remained in the same area for generations.
  • Look for more distantly related matches to known descendants of your problem person.
  • Begin your search for those more distantly related matches with a family member whose migration pattern took them away from where your family lived.

Responsible Use of DNA Results

Don’t concern yourself with the ethnicity results unless a significant portion of your ethnic heritage is direct conflict with your ancestral tree. Even if there is direct conflict, it means that you should:

  • Review and critique your paper trail for errors.
  • Look at your shared matches. Are there individuals you cannot figure out? Are there close relatives you have no idea who they are?

Determine the exact genealogical relationship with as many of your first and second cousin matches as possible. Continue this work on third cousin matches.

Reach out to known cousins (whether they are “into” genealogy or not) to see if they have done a DNA test at the same location you have. Is it possible that they’ve tested you and that you are not DNA match with them? That’s a bigger genealogical problem than the 2% Russian you have in your tree. Don’t assume that if you cousins tested that they would be on your list of matches. They won’t be if for some reason they are not actually biologically related to you.

Generally speaking, work on making your tree as complete as you can and on determining the relationship to as many DNA matches as you can.

That’s better time spent than trying to “reverse engineer” your ethnicity at AncestryDNA to figure out “where they got it.”


Is It Worth It?

Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. Genealogical curiosity can kill your budget and bank account.

An earlier post discussed Soundex cards to Baltimore passenger lists in the 19th century. The cards located were for several members of my family. I’ve seen the actual passenger lists for this family so locating the cards for me was an academic exercise.

As mentioned in the blog post, the cards referenced the back of the card in the location where “other family members” were to be listed. The back of the cards were not filmed. Because of how the  cards were created, I decided it wasn’t going to be worth it to obtain a copy of the back of the card.

And then I got emails saying that I should see the back of the cards.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what it would cost to get the copy of the back of the card. And while I realize curiosity is a good thing for the genealogist, curiosity must be balanced with practicality and reality. As mentioned in the blog post, the cards were a finding aid to the actual manifest. Information on the card was simply taken from the manifest decades later in the creation of the index.

Here is where thinking about how the records were created and why they were created is important. The cards were a finding aid for someone who needed to locate his date and place of entry into the United States. The names of others who were travelling with the person on the manifest were added to assist the searcher in locating the desired name. This way if the “right name” could not be found by searching for it directly (because it was written incorrectly on the actual manifest and hence indexed in the same way), a searcher could search for others that the immigrant remembered traveled with and if their name was located on an index card, the name of the person of interest should show up as someone in the “traveling with” section of the card. It’s worth remembering that these cards were created before computerized database searches and searching for other family members was a good technique. The cards were not created as a genealogical source.

While it may be desirable to obtain a copy of every record created on your relative, there are some things to consider:

  • What is the cost of obtaining the record?
  • Was this “record” really a new record or was it created from information on another record (ie. an abstract)?
  • Is the probable informant on this record an informant whose “opinion” or “information” I don’t already have?
  • What information is typically on this record?
  • How reliable do I perceive the information to be on this record?
  • How was this record created and what was its purpose? 
  • Do I already have this information from reliable sources? 
  • Is this record likely to provide really new information?

Of course, sometimes it interesting to have any record on an ancestor and any record can contain new information. But sometimes some thinking and reflection may make you decide if obtaining the record is actually worth it–especially if the cost is significant. 
Because we can’t always afford everything.