2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?

EVERYTHING

Literally.

A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.

23andMe

Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.

Ancestry

Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.

Genealogy

The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.

Adoptees

Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.

Health

Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me. Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • DNAGedcom.com and Genetic.Families, affiliated with DNAAdoption.org – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Liv Tyler – Who Do You Think You Are – “Drummer Boy”

On Monday’s season finale of Who Do You Think You Are? (airing Monday, April 24 at 8/7c on TLC), actress Liv Tyler unravels the mystery of her father Steven Tyler’s maternal family line, uncovering ancestors who took part in famous American battles. She also learns truths that change the way she will see herself and her family, forever.

Please note that this, the last episode for this season, airs on MONDAY, not Sunday, this week.

This episode will especially appeal to Civil War buffs.

Liv focuses on her father’s family line. Her father is Steve Tyler of Aerosmith. Liv’s family has been immersed in music as far back as she knows.

Liv begins her journey with a genealogist who was able to extend her family back several generations, to her great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Elliott who they found on the 1860 census in New York as a shoemaker.

Coming forward another decade to the 1870 census, Liv discovered something in the race column of the 1870 census that did not match the 1860 census – spawning questions that many of us have experienced as well.

Genealogy isn’t so much about whether you will find surprises, but when and what those surprises will be.

Liv travels to Clinton County, NY to discover more.

Liv discovers that Robert served in the War of 1812, as a drummer boy.

I had absolutely no idea about the role that drummers played in early wars, the War of 1812 as well as the Civil War.

Drummers apparently served a much more important function than I ever imagined, especially since many were in essence children, too young to really serve as a soldier. They drummed commands, a language that all the soldiers understood and apparently could hear over the din of warfare. The drum rat-a-tat-tat” was a specific set of instructions relative to how to advance, or retreat, or whatever they were supposed to do.

I always learn something interested in each of these episodes. In addition to this tidbit, I learned that the state of New York outlawed slavery in 1799 and mandated that males that had been held in slavery serve as indentured servants until they were 28 years of age.

Robert’s son, George Washington Elliott served in the Civil War, at both Antietam and Gettysburg. He did survive, to have 17 children, but not unscathed. Liv traveled to the National Archives to find George’s service records and the records of his unit.

I really enjoyed the special treat that they had in store for Liv at the National Archives!

From there, Liv visited Gettysburg with a historian that explained the troop movements of that fateful day.

I have visited the Gettysburg Battlefield, and just being in that place where so many fought and died is a sobering event. Somber doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling there.

The peace and tranquility of the fields today belie the events that took place there in July of 1863 where someplace between 46,000 and 51,000 men were killed, injured or captured. More than 12,000 died.

Liv discovered that George eventually applied for a pension, listing Schuylerville, Saratoga County, NY as his place of residence in 1889.

Liv wanted to learn about George’s life after the Civil War, so she traveled to Schuylerville and met with a historian there.

Liv desperately wanted to see what George looked like, and not only was she able to do that, she also discovered that he was a Mason.

Unusual for these episodes, Liv’s father, Steve, joined her in Schuylerville where she told him of her discoveries and how connected their family had been to these men that they previously knew nothing about.

The family resemblance between Steve and his ancestor, above, is remarkable.

Together, Liv and her father visited George Washington Elliott and his wife.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s episodes of Who Do You Think You Are.  I have and look forward to next season. In the mean time, I hope you make discoveries of your own!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

John Stamos – Who Do You Think You Are – “Honor and Family”

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, actor John Stamos explores his Greek heritage for the first time and learns more about his grandfather’s sad childhood. He also meets a relative he never knew and hears firsthand about his family’s enduring strength. In a suiting coincidence and homage to John’s heritage, the episode premieres on Greek Easter, which is usually celebrated on a different date but this year coincides with the Western calendar’s Easter Sunday.

Warning – get the box of Kleenex.  Yep, this is one of those – in a good way.

John begins by explaining that he never wanted to go to college, and how supportive his parents were of his decision to pursue acting.  John’s parents and grandparents were all very family focused.

His parents are gone now, and of course, he and his sisters wish they had asked many more questions while they could have. 

He said, “I always thought Mom and Dad would be around.”  Yea, John, you and so many others, right up until they aren’t anymore.

As it turns out, for John, the information he was able to glean from a trip to Greece wasn’t anything that his parents were likely to have known.

John’s grandfather, for whom John’s father and John himself are both named, certainly did know, and perhaps intentionally left that part of the family story back in Greece.

John and his sisters think they remember the village name in Greece, but they have different memories, so John will need help figuring out where his family is from.  He thinks they were from someplace near Tripoli. Turns out that he was close – about 40 miles or so distant. And of course, the family name was changed in America.

John heads to the Greek National Archives to begin unraveling his own personal Greek tragedy.

Courtesy TLC

At the National Archives, John works with a historian who has put together as much as she can from what is in essence a Greek census document and school records that show John’s grandfather as a 13 year old boy and have him marked as an orphan.

John never knew this about his grandfather, and wants to know more, but of course, he must return to the county where his grandfather was raised.

The Greek countryside is stunningly beautiful, but be prepared…for snow.  I had no idea it snowed in Greece, and John is driving on those mountain roads in the snow, with the flocks of sheep.

John’s next stop is the notarial archives which have records of things like land sales.  Indeed, John’s grandfather’s mother sold land in 1916.  The historian explained to John that this was her dower land, near and dear to her heart because it was given to her when she married.  To sell it would have probably meant she was in some kind of trouble.

As John said, “a desperate act of a desperate woman.”

But to find out why, John had to go on to the actual village, Kakouri, to discover what was actually going on, and why. John is now in the part of the world where villages hang on mountainsides, roads are one lane and addresses are given by description.  “Look for the house with the green gate.”

John discovers that he is literally related to half the village, and probably the other half too, if he went back more than a couple generations or did some DNA testing.  I couldn’t help but think how much fun it would have been to do a village genealogy and DNA test everyone, but I digress.

John discovers the secret that his grandfather very clearly knew, and left behind.  He meets a most amazing woman and finds a photo of his grandfather’s mother, hanging on the wall and learns the story of this amazingly strong woman from someone who knew her.  She sacrificed her dower land for honor and family. 

John’s reunion in the village and his discoveries there are nothing short of amazing, and heartwarming, and heart-wrenching too.

Courtesy TLC

I’m so glad John made this journey and took all of us along. The views of Greece and the cemetery, especially if you are a cemetery buff, are worth watching alone. I love learning about the cultures and records of other countries.

But for John, it truly was a journey home in ways he could never have imagined.  It’s amazing how much “distance’ is created in just two generations, and how much can be recovered when you physically visit the location where your ancestor lived.  There is just something about standing where they stood and seeing what they saw that gives you roots.

Don’t forget the Kleenex, and enjoy!  It’s wonderful way to spend Easter evening.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Smokey Robinson – Who Do You Think You Are – “Overcome with Joy”

Courtesy TLC

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, Motown legend and icon Smokey Robinson dives into his late mother’s family history. He searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives, and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy. Then Smokey uncovers the story of his great-grandfather, and comes face to face with an unbelievable history.

Anyone in my generation is familiar with Smokey Robinson, nicknamed “Smokey Joe,” from his days with The Miracles beginning in the mid-1950s through his more recent continuing performances even though he’s no youngster anymore.

You can hear his infamous “Agony and “Ecstasy” here.

One of the aspects of this episode that I really enjoyed was that Smokey seems so “real.” He’s not an actor, and you can tell that what he says is absolutely sincere and often, the same exact emotions we feel as genealogists. It’s so easy to relate to him. In fact, I checked the We’re Related app, just to see, with no luck.

Smokey’s music is iconic, as is the man himself. Someone many can identify with, struggling through and triumphing over poverty, infidelity, drugs and many other stumbling blocks that life has to offer.

As it turns out, his ancestors, and probably many of ours as well, struggled with the same temptations in one form or another.

I have one thing to say to Smokey Robinson – “I feel you!”

Many people whose ancestry reaches back into the times of slavery find pursuing their genealogy somewhat difficult, but they aren’t the only people with this problem. I have the exact same issues with one of my family members who just seems to “disappear” from time to time, and in both cases, Smokey’s and mine, it has nothing to do with slavery at all. It has to do with human choices!

Smokey’s Parents

Smokey begins by telling us the story of his parents. His mother, Flossie Mae Smith, born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1907, died when Smokey was 10, and as he said, “the world stopped.” She was his closest friend. Such a sad moment. Even more than half a century later, these early painful memories are so close to the surface.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey’s parents were divorced when he was 3, so he didn’t know much about either side of his family. He did know that the Warr surname was one he had heard on his mother’s side, but he didn’t know how it connected and was anxious to find out. Smokey said he knows that his mother is going with him on this journey.

Yes, Smokey, I’m sure she did.

Smokey met with a genealogist at the LA Public Library to review what he did know, finding census records showing his mother as a child in the 1910 census. However, that record proved to be confusing, because while his mother was age 2, and his grandmother’s marital status was married, her husband was not listed with the family.

Who was the grandfather and where was he? Why was he not with the family in the census? Why had Smokey never heard one thing about the man?

I swear, I think Smokey and I must be related, because my father’s side of the family is full of this kind of intrigue. It’s fun when it’s someone else’s story, but it’s not one bit fun when it’s your story AND you can’t find the next step.

Thankfully, Smokey had help.

Memphis, Tennessee

Smokey was off to Memphis, Tennessee where he met with both an archivist and a professional genealogist at a restaurant in old town that I thought sure had something to do with the show, but apparently did not.  I kept waiting for the genealogist to say, “And this is the building he owned” or “where he worked,” but it didn’t happen. I would have loved to have vicariously sampled some southern food.

Smokey found his grandfather, Ella Smith’s husband, Benjamin J. Smith, in various records in Memphis, including a 1914 divorce record. That does explain why Smokey had never heard of him, but it doesn’t explain where he was on the 1910 census.

Smokey says, “I want to know where he was.” Can I ever understand that feeling. How DARE our ancestors be missing in a census!

Smokey knows that his uncle, Dewey, was born in 1901, so by inference he knows that his grandmother was married to Benjamin Smith since at least 1900 until their divorce in 1914.

Or does he?

Enter Euzelia – the other woman. Except no, maybe she wasn’t the other woman. Maybe his grandmother was.

GRANDMA??? The other woman?? Nooooooo

No one wants to think of grandma as the other woman. Surely, there is some mistake here.

Looking at the 1900 census, sure enough, Benjamin was married to Euzelia. Ok, so maybe they got divorced.

They did, in 1902.

Uh, Ok.

But Uncle Dewey was born in 1901?????

Smokey said, “I am very confused.”

Like I said Smokey, I feel you.

But then, but then….they found Benjamin in 1910.

In Birmingham, Alabama.

Doing the last, and I mean the VERY last thing you would have expected him to be doing.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you will be…let’s just say…shocked.

Smokey got it right when he said that his grandfather was “A Player” and he didn’t mean in musical terms.

Warr

Having reached the end of the Smith line with Benjamin, Smokey shifted to his grandmother’s side of the family to see if he could discover where the Warr surname came from – which involved a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Unlike grandfather Benjamin’s death certificate which listed his parents as “unknown,” his grandmother Ella’s death certificate listed her parents as Adam Warr and Sarah, surname unknown.

Ella was born in 1889, in Fayette County, near Memphis, so Smokey has already gone back quite some time using her death certificate information. Once again, using the census, they found Adam Warr in 1870, living with his family. With a lot of digging, they discovered one document where Adam Warr gave a deposition, in his own words. That was an amazing discovery, actually, given the circumstances…and something we all hope for. Those are the only words from Adam’s mouth that Smokey will ever hear.

Since they were looking at original documents, the “X” where his grandfather signed was also by his own hand.

The genealogist told Smokey that she had found the location where Adam Warr lived, in Fayette County, Tennessee. So back Smokey went, to Fayette County, outside Memphis.

Roots in the Land

Smokey is a man after my own heart. He had to go back to his ancestor’s land. He was drawn there. He wondered if his grandmother, Ella, visited there often. That’s probably where she was born. This is the field where the grandmother he knew and loved would have played as a child. She walked here, and so did her parents, Adam and Sarah.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey needed to stand where Adam stood. Where Adam lived, where he worked, and probably, where he breathed his last.

Courtesy TLC

Adam’s bones as well as Sarah’s may even rest on this land.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey is simply “overcome with joy.”

This is such a positive, uplifting story. I was sorry to see it end. But isn’t that the best way to feel at the end of anything. I hope you enjoy it on Sunday evening as much as I did during the screening.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Noah Wyle – Who Do You Think You Are? – “Shaken to the Core”

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, actor Noah Wyle unravels the mystery of his mother’s family line, searching for answers to a lifelong question about his family’s participation in the Civil War.

Battle of Shiloh Military Park

One of the things I really like about this series is that often, they open by showing the individual talking to their older relatives about their ancestry. I hope this example encourages others to do the same, because often, so much slips away with our older relatives.

Courtesy TLC

Many times they can identify people in photos, tell us where and when the photos were taken, and stories about the people. Noah’s mother points to her grandfather. This photo was taken in Lexington, Kentucky, but the next generation earlier was from much further north (New York) and much further south (Mississippi), both. Tantalizing tidbits.

Another thing I like about this series is that there is so much “on location” history. In some cases, they visit locations where my ancestors lived too. In other cases, like this week, places I’ve never visited and enjoy seeing from a historical perspective. And then there are snippets from episodes that can connect with just about everyone.

Courtesy TLC

Can’t you almost see your ancestor sitting in this old schoolhouse? I can. A portal to the past.

History Buff

Noah tells us that he has always been a history buff and fascinated with the Civil War. He asked his now-deceased Uncle Sandy about his own family’s participation in the Civil War and Uncle Sandy told him that more well-to-do families hired replacements to fight for them, in their place, and their family had probably done the same. Noah was disappointed with that answer. Knowing his relatives lived in Kentucky, a state clearly deeply involved in the Civil War with regiments who fought for both sides, Noah was more disappointed that his ancestor had not stood up and fought for what he believed, regardless of which side of the conflict.

Noah’s mother was able to help him track their family back through several generations to John Henry Mills, born in New York in 1843 but found in 1860 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Noah’s mother had no idea they had relatives in or from Louisiana.

Noah wants to go further, find an objective truth about his ancestors, beyond just a photo and a third generation anecdote, to put meat on their bones.

Noah looks at his mother and asks, “Where do we go from here?’ Well, of course, we know the answer to that!!!

Louisiana

Noah began his journey of discovery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the Louisiana State Archives, hoping to discover more about his ancestor John Henry Mills who married in Mississippi in 1863, right in the middle of the Civil War.

Noah discovers that indeed, John Henry Mills did serve in the Civil War, joining for a 90 day enlistment, which was typical for the timeframe. Almost exactly 30 days later, John fought in the Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the war in which 23,000 men were killed on April 6th and 7th of 1862.

I had to ask myself how a person with literally no military experience, “an amateur” as Noah said, would feel about finding themselves in that situation.

I so wanted to tell Noah to search for John’s compiled service record at www.fold3.com or to order his compiled service record from NARA, but so far, TV is a one way communications!

Noah already knew that John survived the battle, because his mother had told him that John married Mary Emily Brown in 1863 in Summit, Mississippi, which was Noah’s next destination.

Mississippi

Noah discovered in Mississippi that his 3X great-grandfather retired in 1899 after 24 years as a public servant, much loved, as the local Treasurer, a career he began in 1875.

However, nine years later, by 1904, John’s life had spiraled out of control. Surprisingly so, so much that I gasped when I saw the headline. So did Noah.

I’m not going to give it away, but I will say that John’s tragic end and the very unusual circumstances really gave Noah pause to reflect and reconsider.

The entire town closed on the day of John’s funeral and the church’s bells were tolled for the man “whose love for his family was as beautiful as it was great.”

After discovering the shocking news about John, and the selfless lengths that he went to in order to attempt to save his family, Noah wanted to know what happened to John’s wife, Mary Emily.

Mary Emily

The historian had found Mary Emily Mills on a 1913 list of Mississippi Confederate widows who had applied for a pension. This pension was state funded, not like the federal pensions for the Union widows, and was restricted to those impoverished. The message here, sadly, was that John’s attempt to save his family had failed and his death had been both tragic and pointless.

Mary was on the pensioner’s role until 1927, when she disappeared. Being a genealogist, I, of course, assumed that she died at that point, but that’s not the only reason one was removed from the rolls. Remarriage or a move out of state would also cause removal.

It was suggested that Noah visit the Beauvoir Soldiers Home in Biloxi, Mississippi and his response was a surprised, “there’s more?” As irony would have it, Beauvoir was the original home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the failed Confederacy.

The Beauvoir home for the aged in the early 1900s was for those pensioners or their widows who were destitute. Mary was admitted in 1926 under emergency circumstances, where she lived out her final days.

The photo below shows Noah sitting in the rocker on the porch of the buildings that were built for the residents.

Courtesy TLC

Noah went in search of his ancestors, and he certainly found more than he bargained for.  John Mills was described as a “gentleman of the old school,” his wife, an educated lady who was caught up in a tragic spiral in a turbulent time in our Nation’s history.

I hope you enjoy the episode. Remember, if you can’t tune in, episodes are available online within a day or so of airing. You can also watch back episodes.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Jennifer Grey – Who Do You Think You Are – “Her Name Was Shendyl”

I have such fond memories of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in their Academy Award Winning timeless love story, Dirty Dancing.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11428295

My friend and I used to have Dirty Dancing stitch-a-thons, watching and stitching, both of us being cross-stitchers at the time. It’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago now. That friend moved away long ago, Patrick, sadly, passed away, but Jennifer is the same lovely lady – matured a bit.

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, Jennifer is the star once again, uncovering the truth about the emigrant grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community. Jennifer also uncovers the devastating tragedy that stopped her great-grandmother from ever making it to America.

Jennifer says that “beyond my parents’ story, I knew so little.” I think that’s true for many, especially today with the hustle and bustle of our hectic lifestyles. By the time we realize we want to know, it’s too late.

Jennifer knew her grandparents, but didn’t know the name of her grandfather’s mother. That struck her as very odd, that her mother, still living, didn’t know her own grandmother’s name. How could they not know her name?

As a child, Jennifer’s grandfather, Izzy, below, struck her as beaten down and sad.

Photo courtesy TLC

Izzy’s real name was Israel Brower. He was a Jewish immigrant at the age of 16, in 1907, from Russia. He and his siblings traveled alone to American onboard a ship to join their father, already here. The family story was that Izzy had immigrated with the family silver sewn into the lining of his coat.

If that’s true, that’s probably all they had.

It’s worth noting that even in the 1900s, surname spellings can differ dramatically. Brower here, Braver on the ship’s manifest and Browerman in Russia.

Izzy, even as a young person, exhibited a great deal of drive and ambition. Many job postings of that time included phrases such as “Jews need not apply,” which motivated many Jewish people to enter the professional world, where they were not beholden to anyone for a job. Izzy went from being a printer, his occupation upon arrival, looking for work, to a pharmacist, owning his own drugstore by 1910. For some people, including Izzy, deprivation, anti-Semitism and challenges translate into the development of tenacity.

Jennifer visited the pharmacy school that Izzy attended and was able to view original documents. No white gloves needed this time!

Photo courtesy TLC

It’s interesting to see how different the pharmacy profession was then and now. Drug stores were an integral part of every community and neighborhood, with the druggist dispensing medical information as well. The line between practicing medicine and filling prescriptions was much greyer then.

Jennifer goes on to discover more about Izzy, bringing the story of his life to light in ways she certainly didn’t expect.

Still, pieces were missing. She had found Izzy’s siblings and father, but what about his mother? Where was she? What was her name?

Jennifer wondered why she didn’t know. Why her mother didn’t know. Why no one spoke of life before America in her Jewish family. Why?

As the Jewish historian told Jennifer, “Immigration is a rupture.” The stories get left behind. As someone else said, which is so true, “What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember.” What we view today as interesting heritage, they viewed as bad memories that needed to by confined to the past.

Many immigrants didn’t immigrate because they simply wanted to. In the case of Jewish families, they immigrated for survival. Their memories of the homeland weren’t good ones, and they wished to put the bad, whatever it was and however awful it had been, behind them forever. They only looked to the future. Sometimes that future didn’t hold everyone from the past…

Her name was Shendyl. Shendyl. And as for what happened to Shendyl, you’ll need to tune in or watch online after the episode airs.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Julie Bowen – Who Do You Think You Are – “Pride and Forgiveness”

I just love the Who Do You Think You Are? series. Each episode is like a genealogy “who done it,” chocked full of history and sleuthing, travel and of course, good guys and bad guys. Try to ignore the unfortunately huge commercial load. The mute button works miracles and you’ll have plenty of time for a BR break or to pop some popcorn or even to go online and check your DNA results if you haven’t done that yet for the day.

On this upcoming Sunday, March 12th, the new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs at 10/9c on TLC.  Actress Julie Bowen uncovers fascinating stories of her ancestors on both sides of her family.

First, Julie travels to Chicago to learn about her mother’s side of the family. She knew that her ancestor, “Big Charlie” was the artist in the family. Born the son of a plumber in Denver, Big Charlie headed east, instead of west, to Chicago, the land of opportunity for an up and coming artist.

Big Charlie’s art was fresh and new and even by today’s standards, looks quite contemporary. Still in his early 20s, he founded his own company and was the “big bright light of advertising illustration.”

Charlie was the poster boy for the American dream, ambitious and talented, but then…the rest of the story. You knew there had to be a “rest of the story,” right?

The next revelation pulls Julie down a dark hole…one that affected my ancestors too, but that I had never heard of before this episode. A dark chapter in American history that is oh so relevant once again today and is guaranteed to make you think.

You’ll have to watch this one for yourself. All I can say is that you’ll never, ever guess this plot twist…and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Big Charlie wasn’t exactly what he seemed, nor quite how he was remembered by the family.

Next, Julie looks to discover more about her father’s ancestor, a man rumored to have been a doctor associated with the underground railroad. Is this story too good to be true? Julie said she had never looked into this family lore because she loved the legend so much just the way it was. She didn’t want to risk finding out that maybe it wasn’t accurate, that maybe her ancestor had been a slave-owner instead. I think, in one way or another, we can all identify with that sentiment.

Julie travels to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and you know it’s going to be a good story when your ancestor’s home is now the local historical society. How often has that ever happened to me? Exactly none!

Julie learns that her 3 times great-grandfather, Francis Julius LeMoyne, was a highly sought after speaker and a radical abolitionist who risked his life and the lives of his family repeatedly, for years, decades actually, to help free fugitive slaves. Francis’s activism began long before the movement to free the slaves became a reality. Francis signed on early, before 1837, as a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. All of this was at incredible personal risk to Francis and his family who clearly supported his efforts.

Francis’s lectures and meetings didn’t always go well, even in the North where he lived. At one event, when a group was meeting at his house in the garden, an unhappy crowd gathered outside. Standing on the balcony, surveying the unruly crowd, Francis’s father, also a physician, suggested that if the crowd became threatening, that he kept bee hives underneath the porch roof. I’ll let you guess what happened next!

The revelations that Julie experienced in Washington County are as heart-warming as the ones in Chicago were bone-chilling.

Julie, in the end, can’t help but notice the parallels between the acts of her ancestors with what’s going on in today’s world. She reflects that it’s nice to have heroes and that your ancestors, for bad or good, make you ask yourself “who you want to stand up for.” It’s certainly “not the easy choice to fight for people who had no choice.”

It’s difficult to discover ancestors whose actions and sentiments chafe at everything we believe. It’s emotionally unsettling, and for Julie to find both a hero and a villain in such a short time must have been akin to an ancestral emotional roller-coaster ride. Her perspective is both encouraging and enlightening. She closes by saying that we must “love them, hear their story, and find a better way.”

A great episode that will keep you on your toes all the way to the end.

Seventh Season “Who Do You Think You Are?” Airing March 5th

I received a very welcome e-mail this week about the 7th season of my favorite genealogy program, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (WDYTYA). I can hardly wait!

These programs are inspiring to everyone, novices to experienced genealogists. They embody the search and the discoveries we all seek. Not only are the shows just plain fun and interesting, we can pick up valuable research tips and historical information relevant to our own family.  We all seek those AHA moments that the featured celebrities often find – and you just never know where your AHA-producing tidbit will be found.

I mean, let’s face it (pardon the pun), who among us DOESN’T want this expression on our face relative to a genealogy discovery?

wdytya-season-7

From the press release:

TLC’s Emmy Award-winning series, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? returns this spring with a new group of celebrities ready to delve into their lineage and get answers to the questions they’ve wondered about their entire lives. Eight new one-hour episodes bring more unexpected turns and surprising discoveries of great historical significance. Executive Produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky, the new season premieres on Sunday, March 5th at 10/9c.

This season’s celebrity contributors include:

  • Jessica Biel makes surprising discoveries that change what she thought knew about her heritage.
  • Julie Bowen uncovers the story of two relatives whose moral codes are from opposite ends of the spectrum.
  • Courteney Cox traces her maternal line back seven centuries to the Medieval times to discover royalty in her lineage and an unbelievable tale of family drama.
  • Jennifer Grey uncovers new information about the grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community.
  • Smokey Robinson searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy.
  • John Stamos digs into the mystery of how his grandfather became an orphan, and learns of tensions between families that led to a horrible crime.
  • Liv Tyler learns that her family is tied into the complicated racial narrative of America.
  • Noah Wyle unravels the mystery of his maternal line, uncovering an ancestor who survived one of America’s bloodiest battles.

For a sneak peek, take a look at this link.

I’ll be writing about each episode and I hope many will include DNA. If not, we’ll discuss how DNA might aid and abet the search!

Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family

riddell

Jim Brewster (FTDNA), Gail Riddell (New Zealand), me with Linda Magellan peeking over Jim’s shoulder at the ISOGG reception at the 2016 FTDNA conference. Photo courtesy Gail Riddell.

What do you call an event where you’ve seen the same folks for a dozen years? An event that brings people from the far corners of the earth, literally? A conference that feels far more like a family reunion.

What do you call those people?

Family.

New family.  Old family.  Family of heart.  Sisters or brothers by another mother maybe.  Friends you just haven’t met yet.  And sometimes…real, honest to blood cousins.

The 12th annual international family reunion, er, I mean International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA occurred this past weekend in Houston.  I’m still on the road, typing on a tiny keyboard, and I really can’t do it justice just yet but I want to take this opportunity to send you a couple teasers and just to say how wonderful it was to see everyone again.

Sadly, some were missing.  Hopefully we’ll see them next year.  Unfortunately, a few have passed over to where genealogists get to meet all of their ancestors, so we have to cherish their memories and hope they will help out by sending us answers from their current location.

It’s hard to believe it has been a dozen years now.  The first conference was in 2004 – a one day event in Houston.  Little could we know or dream what the next decade+ would bring.

Another thing I find amazing is just how many people in this group of 230 or so people I am related to in one way or another.  All of these, bar none, were discovered via DNA testing.  Whoever would guess that in a room of 230 random people you would find several cousins? Certainly makes you wonder looking around the bus, at the people at work or in a restaurant.  How many share your ancestors?

I’m still on the road and will be for a few days, so you’ll get an article to do the conference justice when I get home.  In the mean time, I encourage you to read Jennifer Zinck’s wonderful summary articles on her blog, Ancestor Central.  Jen can type much faster than I ever could and she is able to listen at the same time too. The bad news is that there were several breakout sessions that ran concurrently and Jen can only be in one place at a time.  We have not yet defied the laws of physics.

Jen and I discovered that we have Mayflower ancestors in common, in addition to being friends – having met at this same conference years ago.  There just might be another ancestor trip in the planning stages….just saying.

Speaking of Jen, she contributed the photo below.  Many thanks, Jen.

We had a once-in-a-lifetime special event at the conference this year. Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan were presented with rather unique Lifetime Achievement Awards by the genetic genealogy community.  Max and Bennett were both very grateful, not to mention….nearly speechless, a second once-in-a-lifetime event!

img_7231

Left to right: Linda Magellan, Roberta Estes (talking), Max Blankfeld, Bennett Greenspan, Nora Probasco and Katherine Borges. Photo courtesy Jennifer Zinck.

As many of you may know, I’m a quilter and yes, I made the double helix quilts.  I asked Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help me with the presentation process since I could not hold up 4 corners of two quilts by myself….and these ladies have attended all 12 conferences as well.  Not to mention, they are quilters – so they were glad to be co-conspirators.

We were all very honored to present these awards and want to thank Janine Cloud at FTDNA for clandestinely working us into the schedule without raising suspicion!  While that sounds easy, believe me, it wasn’t.

I will be writing an article about Max, Bennett and the awards shortly, and a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Until then, I’m still basking in the glow of two days of hugs, meals with friends, collaboration, and newly discovered information and opportunities. I encourage each of you to find a reunion or conference to attend so you can have the same wonderful experience.  There is just nothing better than family, regardless of which kind of family you have – of blood or of heart – or maybe yet-to-be-met!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Molly Ringwald – Who Do You Think You Are – “The Swede”

Molly Ringwald wearing a white sweater while sitting in her dad's house.

If you have Swedish ancestors, you’ll enjoy this episode immensely. There is a great deal of historical content in addition to lots of records available in Sweden.

Additionally, I learned something about the Homestead Act of 1862 here in the US I didn’t know before as well, so this episode might be helpful if you’ve ever wondered how the heck your ancestors picked some location west of the Mississippi to settle.

Film star Molly Ringwald was born in Roseville, California to Robert “Bob” Ringwald and Adele Fremd. She knows a considerable amount about her Ringwald line, but knows next to nothing about her father’s maternal family. Molly thinks she has Swedish origins because of rumors her father’s grandfather was called “The Swede.”

Extremely close to her family, Molly is interested in learning about her paternal grandparents’ ancestors and sharing the information with her parents and children. Molly thinks her dad, Bob, might have additional information about The Swede, so she meets with him in Brooklyn. Bob recalls that “The Swede’s” real name was Edwin Jenson and believes he came to the US when he was about three years old, but that’s about all knows.

Molly heads to a local library to meet with genealogist Brian Schellenberg to learn more about her great-grandfather Edwin Jenson. Molly reviews Edwin’s death record which shows that he was indeed born in Sweden – in 1885. Molly continues to scan the record and sees that Edwin’s parents, Gustaf Jenson and Carolina Grip, were also born in Sweden.

This is the first time Molly hears the names of her two-times great-grandparents and wants to know more about them. She searches for clues on a 1900 US census and finds an entry showing Gustaf and Carolina Jenson living in Nebraska with their six children, including their son Edwin. She wonders where the family came from in Sweden and why they would have left for America. Brian suggests Molly visit an archive in Sweden to dig deeper into her family.

Molly travels to the regional archive in Lund, southern Sweden, where she meets with archivist Petra Nyberg. There, Molly discovers that her two-times great-grandparents Carolina and Gustaf were from a nearby coal-mining town called Höganäs, and that Gustaf was a laborer in the mines.

Reaching farther back, she uncovers the names of Carolina’s parents and Molly’s three-times great grandparents: Carl and Kjersti. Molly heads to Höganäs to visit with a historian well versed in mining communities.

Together with historian Erik Thomson, Molly experiences a coal mine first hand, encountering the narrow, dark, and dangerous conditions both her ancestors endured. I have to tell you, it was all I could do to watch this – even though my own family worked the mines – just not in Sweden.  (Yes, I’m a bit claustrophobic.  So it Molly, but she perseveres anyway.)

But that’s not all, there is more to this story. But I can’t tell you without ruining the story line.  I have to say, I don’t know how this woman endured…but she did…and her daughter Caroline succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Molly marvels at how Kjersti’s daughter Carolina – Molly’s great-great-grandmother – escaped with her miner husband Gustaf and wonders what life was like for them in Nebraska.

Molly heads back to America and meets with historian Tonia Compton in Nebraska. Molly reads a warranty deed and discovers that Carolina personally purchased land for her family in 1905, an incredible feat for a married, immigrant woman! Molly locates the land on a 1908 Plat Map, which shows that the acreage is only about 15 miles from where she stands. Before Molly leaves to visit the land, Tonia hands her an obituary notice, which highlights Carolina’s incredible reputation in the community and the love felt for her by her family.

Molly arrives at the property and takes in the landscape as she walks in her ancestors’ footsteps. She regards with deference the life that Carolina made for herself and marvels that her 2x great-grandmother changed the narrative of her family.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research