Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter
November 15, 2007
By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
Wow, another busy month! I can't believe the way genealogy is popping up all over the place! If you don't know what I mean, read on and see all the arenas where it's bubbled up recently. Here's wishing us all another month of high activity -- especially the kind that knocks down those stubborn brick walls!
In this newsletter. . .
Everyone knows that the past few years have been rough ones for genealogists in terms of access to vital records, but the good news is that things have actually stayed about even. For every resource that's been taken away, a new one seems to emerge. And this has perhaps been most evident in the realm on online, digitized images.
In his latest blog posting, Joe has done a succinct and handy job of summarizing what's available online in terms of death certificates -- and I mean the actual certificates, not just indexes. Check it out here -- especially if you have any ancestry in AZ, MO, OH, KY, TX, UT, WV or Chicago.
I like 60 Minutes. I genuinely do. But I found their segment on genetic genealogy last night predictable.
Blaine Bettinger of the Genetic Genealogist has already blogged about this, and done a great job of rounding up what others have already said -- including links to pieces I've written on the topic in the past.
Among Blaine's links was one to an article of mine that was published by Ancestry.com back in June 2006. The topic? Is Genetic Genealogy Being Oversold?.
In that article, I quote a passage from page 100 of Trace Your Roots with DNA -- a few sentences I put together back in early 2004:
Forgive me if this posting seems to be accompanied with a resigned sigh, but I suppose I'm just tired of this familiar pattern -- the media "revealing" that genetic genealogy has limitations (tell me -- how many of you were mentally reciting 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 . . . while Ms. Stahl was seemingly being started by this standard genealogical math?) and then bringing in an expert who's concerned for the poor customers who are allegedly too ignorant to grasp these basics. Since I've been watching this same formula repeat itself since 2001, I've developed a pet peeve about the built-in, patronizing assumption that genealogists are too dense to understand the fundamentals of what DNA can and can't do -- rather than the reality that we're pioneers delighted with the prospect of learning what had previously been unknowable and well aware of the limitations.
In this case, I was glad to see the selected expert, Hank Greely, hesitate and carefully formulate his response before answering the question about whether genetic genealogy was being oversold. He did what was expected of him -- which was to seemingly support the notion that it's the testing companies that are guilty of the overselling. But I like to think I saw in that brief hesitation his intent to not vilify the companies -- and an awareness that whatever overselling has occurred has largely come from other quarters.
Once again, I refer back to the article I wrote in June 2006:
The very fact that I can recycle bits and pieces that I wrote between 2004 and 2006 to respond to a segment that first aired on October 7, 2007 shows why it's "deja vu all over again" to me. I'll take my consolation as I always do in these cases -- in the knowledge that millions of people were exposed to genetic genealogy. Better still, that viewers of a show like 60 Minutes may well be the curious type who will investigate for themselves and learn just how much can be accomplished through genetic genealogy!
Thanks to Sharon Elliott for alerting me to this article about Warren Orr, a Vietnam soldier who was recently identified and interred. It was one of the cases I worked on, and given that my dad served in Vietnam and I lost a cousin there, is especially meaningful to me:
Yay, Maureen! Check out this terrific article in a recent Wall Street Journal about her amazing sleuthing skills!
Press Release for immediate publication: The Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference Blog
For more information, please contact the 2008 FGS Conference Blog editor, Paula Stuart-Warren, at PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com or 651-503-4803
Breaking News about the 2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference Blog
The next FGS Conference will take place from September 3-6, 2008 in historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This four day "Footprints of Family History" educational conference honors the host city as the place where the ancestors of millions of Americans first set foot on the continent. Family historians like to keep up with additional news and details about the annual FGS Conferences. The 2008 conference committee has a blog to provide that.
It is easy to join in on the knowledge -- just go to www.FGS.org, click on Conferences, then on 2008 Conference, and on that page click on Blog. Direct access to the blog can be reached via http://www.fgsconference.org/blog/index.php. Check back often to see the frequent news, updates, program announcements, vendor details, and more that will be provided by the dedicated volunteers of the conference committee and others in the genealogical, archival, and historical communities. Why not add the site to your Favorites or Bookmark it for easy access!
Integration of DNA, Historical Records and Online Community of 15 Million Users Creates Ultimate Social Network for Family History
PROVO, UTAH -- October 16, 2007 -- Ancestry.com, the world's largest online resource for family history, today launched DNA Ancestry -- a new service combining the precision of DNA testing with Ancestry.com's unrivaled collection of 5 billion names in historical records and the site's unmatched online family history community.
This DNA testing service, online at http://dna.ancestry.com, provides Ancestry.com's growing network of more than 15 million users a tool that helps solve family-tree mysteries through science. By taking a simple cheek-swab test and comparing DNA test results in DNA Ancestry's expanding results database, individuals may be able to extend the branches of their family trees, prove (or disprove) family legends, discover living relatives they never knew existed and find new leads where traditional paper trails dead end.
"DNA testing in family history is reaching critical mass," said Megan Smolenyak, Chief Family Historian for Ancestry.com and co-author of the no. 1 selling book on genetic genealogy, Tracing Your Roots with DNA. "As more people add their results, the DNA Ancestry database becomes a powerful asset for users to make connections and discover their family tree. Already, many people have taken a simple DNA test to uncover genetic cousins and tap into their research, gathering names, dates, places and stories for their own family tree."
DNA Ancestry offers Y-DNA and mtDNA tests -- the two types of DNA tests most useful in family history, ranging in price from $149 to $199. The Y-DNA test analyzes the DNA in the Y chromosome, which is passed virtually unchanged from father to son. Test results can help users identify living individuals who share Y-DNA as well as predict ancient ancestors' origins. Women can benefit from Y-DNA by having their father or other related male take the test. The mtDNA test analyzes DNA in an individual's mitochondrial DNA, which passes from a mother to her children. Test results predict ancient ancestors' origins and migration route from Africa and can aid in identifying living cousins.
In the coming months, DNA results will integrate with online Ancestry.com family trees. Users DNA results can be added to their family trees, which already contain uploaded family photographs, stories and other media files, historical documents found on Ancestry.com and life timelines of their ancestors. Adding DNA results to a family tree multiplies a user's chances to find and make connections with genetic cousins -- and extend their family tree's branches.
By year's end, DNA Ancestry users will be able to create and join DNA Groups -- organized social networks that let users work together to discover genetic connections. For example, people with the last name "Washington" could use their DNA tests results to determine how they are all related.
"Ultimately, we are combining three major pillars of family history research -- DNA, historical records and social networking -- to offer users an unmatched, revolutionary family history resource," said Tim Sullivan, CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry.com. "DNA can be a powerful family-tree building catalyst, regardless of whether you are just beginning to find your roots or a seasoned genealogist experiencing research barriers."
DNA Ancestry uses the state-of-the-art DNA laboratories of Sorenson Genomics, the world's first laboratory accredited for genealogy testing services, to analyze users' DNA samples. A pioneer in the relatively new science of genetic genealogy, Sorenson Genomics has provided genetic testing solutions to help genealogists extend branches of family trees since 2001.
With 24,000 searchable databases and titles and more than 800,000 paying subscribers, Ancestry.com is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, Ancestry.com has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. The site is home to the only complete online U.S. Federal Census collection, 1790-1930, as well as the world's largest online collection of U.S. ship passenger list records featuring more than 100 million names, 1820-1960. Ancestry.com is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a leading network of family-focused interactive properties, including MyFamily.com, Rootsweb.com, Genealogy.com and Family Tree Maker. In total, The Generations Network properties receive 8.2 million unique visitors worldwide and over 429 million page views a month (© comScore Media Metrix, August 2007).
Chris Haley Joins the DNA Revolution
But better yet, you can watch him take his test by clicking on the photo below. I never knew DNA testing could be so entertaining!
NPR: All Those Famous Cousins
A Bit More on Ancestry.com
Hmmm . . . this piece seems to be blending two of the main genealogical stories of the past week -- genetic genealogy and the Obama-Cheney connection:
I'm not sure I can remember the last time when genealogy was so darn newsworthy -- the WSJ article on Maureen Taylor, the DNA Ancestry launch, the TGN buy-out, the Obama-Cheney link, the latest round of genetic genealogy challenges. . . what's next??
I would react to the latest round of genetic genealogy "bashing" (probably too strong a word in this instance, but you get the idea), but Blaine Bettinger, aka the Genetic Genealogist, has already done it for me. I've heard all of this so many times, I'm about ready to put it to music!
Apparently, this round was meant to be softened somewhat by the authors' acknowledgment that some genetic genealogists have a clue, but those remarks were edited out -- as does happen. I've been there myself. And I have to say that what was said was considerably more balanced than many of the negatively slanted headlines would lead you to believe.
Still, it's tempting to pick the Dixie Chicks' I'm Not Ready to Make Nice as that musical response!
If you haven't caught it yet, Ann Turner has a terrific article (title above) on her experience with full sequence mtDNA testing in the Fall 2007 issue of New England Ancestors (pages 49-51). If you're not a NEHGS member, do whatever you have to to get a copy!
And based on the recent chit-chat on the lists, she's not the only one to have found a meaningful match already. Looks as if mtDNA is starting to come into its own!
I did. I couldn't sleep one night recently, and didn't really want to work-work for fear of getting the old brain cells spinning, so I puttered around the Internet for a bit. After a while, I decided to check out Google Books since I hadn't been there in some time. I experimented with some combinations of locations and surnames from my family history and was astonished -- upon searching for "Jersey City" and Nelligan -- to come upon this entry:
There's a particular 2nd great-granduncle I've always had affection for. His name was Daniel Nelligan and I learned of him from his great-niece, my nana, who knew him as a youngster. He was a colorful fellow, so I know more of him than many other relatives, but what struck me most is what I learned when I researched him -- that he had outlived two wives and all seven of his children. How heartbreaking would that be?
Well, this unexpected entry -- who knew that Google Books would have annual railroad reports complete with accident summaries from the 1800s? -- is for one of his sons. I knew he had lost a son named David, but I never knew how. With his father, Daniel, affectionately know as the "grand old man of the Erie," David must have grown up around trains and gotten too comfortable with them for his own good. Poor Daniel's story is even sadder than I had thought.
But still, I'm glad for this unexpected little insight that helps me know the lives of David and Daniel that much better. If you haven't played with Google Books for a while, it's time for another visit.
I recently read a terrific article by Alice Luckhardt in the November 2007 issue of Internet Genealogy. It centers on her godmother and cousin, Alice Louise Walters, and a wartime romance. So it's a great story, but also features an impressive display of genealogical sleuthing!
In fact, I enjoyed the article so much that I've just gone and ordered the book from which it was excerpted: The Invincible Alice. The site includees a free preview, so if you think you might be interested, go take a look for yourself!
A couple of months ago, I taped a segment for Hallmark Channel's New Morning, and it recently aired. It focused on one of my orphan heirloom rescues -- specifically, a case concerning a photo album that was lost on the streets of Jerusalem. With a little sleuthing, I tracked its original owner practically to my backyard in New Jersey.
You can read more about it here if you like. But you can also watch the video online. If you're especially observant, you'll catch a few ways I honor my ancestors -- from the names wrapped around the top of my dining room to my bowl of matrioshkas.
For your browsing pleasure (photos and comments alike), I offer this posting on strange gravestones. Enjoy!
If you plan to be near any of the events where I'll be speaking, I would love to meet you. It's always a kick for me when folks mention that they read this newsletter, my blog, Ancestry Daily News or whatever, so don't be shy about introducing yourself!
Please forward this newsletter to your family and friends who are interested in genealogy -- thank you!
Wishing you an abundance of genealogical serendipity!
Note: You are receiving this because you have demonstrated an interest (e.g., you have a story in one of my books, applied for a grant, attended previous events, etc.) or subscribed via my website, but please let me know if you do not want to receive any further emails, and I will promptly remove you from my list. And rest assured, this is my personal list and not shared with anyone else! Thanks, Megan