Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cousin April's Family History Month project

Every year, Cousin April does a project to commemorate Family History Month, which is October. Last year, she started her genealogy blog Digging up the Dirt on My Dead People, and this year, she asked her cousins to contribute a guest post.

In case you're not familiar, Cousin April and I are sixth cousins once removed. That's right - our common ancestors, Jacob and Rebecca Raynor, were alive shortly after the American Revolution. In fact, the quest to discover the as-yet-unknown-parentage of Jacob Raynor is what brought us together. Cousin April has been both a wonderful genealogy teacher and collaborator, a great support system for when the going gets tough, which is always does, and someone to spitball and brainstorm ideas and strategies with - she has shared invaluable research with me that she conducted on her own, and I think we've made some interesting discoveries and had some fun genealogical adventures together. So it was an honor for me to be included in her cousin-round-up and asked to contribute a post for her blog. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with for a Family History Month project next year!

You can read my guest post on her blog here, and make sure to check out the rest of her blog while you're over there!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's here, it's here! AncestryDNA updates finally available!

In case you couldn't tell, I've been like a little kid anxiously awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning. I've been checking every day, even though I really thought I'd have to wait another couple of months to get my updated results. Then today I checked and, bam, there they were...Christmas morning had finally arrived! Ha ha. My poor daughter was in my lap as I looked it over. She may be traumatized for life from me squeezing her and repeating over and over again, "This is so cool. This is SO COOL!"

So what, exactly, is so cool? Okay, if you took an AncestryDNA test in the past, you had gotten results - mine, if you recall, were extremely surprising to me, a girl of English, Irish, German, and Danish descent - 88 percent Scandinavian, 11 percent Eastern European. Now, everyone has much more detailed results, particularly in regard to region and ethnicity - DNA results, as you probably know, link you more to a people and sometimes a region than too a particular country, since people tend to be migratory, and oftentimes these results reflect deep ancestry, as opposed to just a few generations back. Since the results just came online today and the site actually crashed for awhile, I haven't had a whole lot of time to digest and explore the new data, so I'm not entirely sure how these more detailed results came to be - whether or not the testing itself has become more accurate over the last year or so, whether or not the control population gene pool has become more numerous and more varied, or a combination of those two or other reasons. There are a video and written explanation on the website, but to be honest, I was so excited, I barely paid attention.

So, my new results actually reflect much more accurately what my own genealogical research has turned up - my top 4 results are Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Western Europe. Now take for example my Great Britain results, which come in at 32 percent. That's the average of the 40 tests Ancestry did on random bits of my DNA sample, with a range of 1-59 percent for the 40 tests. The results tell me that Great Britain DNA is found in England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as Ireland, France, and Germany, due to migration. It then compares my results to those of a native of Great Britain, and gives you a run down of the history of the region. Okay, so of those 4 results I got, none was a surprise, though I was surprised that my largest percentage was Great Britain, since I'm half Irish and a third German, but I assume that at some point, some of my Great Britain DNA traveled over to Ireland (now I'm picturing a double helix strand sitting in a boat in the water...)

Now, for the exciting part - I actually have 10 percent trace regions - I think that means any DNA results that are less than 10 percent in and of themselves. There's only a trace amount there, but even though it's miniscule, it still counts. So, Eastern Europe again pops up. I can only assume that at some point, some of my ancestors from Eastern Germany were themselves descended from people who emigrated from Eastern Europe. And then two shockers - I am 3 percent Iberian Peninsula, which is primarily Spain and Portugal, and also found in France, Morocco, Algeria, and Italy. Since I am none of these, not even close, I never expected to see that result. I can only assume from THIS result that someone from that area somehow found his or her way to either Germany or the British Isles. Lastly, my results show 2 percent European Jewish, which is found primarily in Eastern Europe but could be basically from anywhere on the continent. I would assume that my results are Ashkenazi Jewish as opposed to Sephardic Jewish, due to my German ancestry, but as far as I have traced, I don't have any Jewish families in my tree, but apparently, somewhere down the line, one of my Christian ancestors had a child with a Jew. I assume somewhere in my German lines, but who knows.

Now, the European Jewish result was surprising, but at the same time, not, because when my dad took the mtDNA test a few years ago, tracing his maternal line (which is 100 percent German as far back as I can go), his haplogroup was K, and a line in the description always caught my eye, that this haplogroup is found at a notable rate among Ashkenazi Jews. So, there you go. That matches up.

So there you have it. Very cool, right? And since just because it doesn't show up genetically doesn't mean it's not there genealogically, and because every person inherits a different set of DNA meaning your sister's DNA could show only partially matching or even completely different results, it makes me want to get all my siblings and my dad a DNA test for Christmas, even though that's more a gift for myself than for them! :)

Have you taken the AncestryDNA test yet? Did you get any surprises in your new detailed results? Do your results support what you already know or suspect about your family tree?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(Somewhat) Wordless Wednesday: newspaper article about John & Celena Casey

I love newspaper articles. These are how you find out who your relatives really were. I often stumble upon the most interesting things just by typing in random family names. This is an article from the Sept. 13, 1905 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle about my great-great grand uncle John Casey and his apparently very easy-going relationship with his wife, Celena.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Revisiting the Italian Genealogy Group website - facelift and updates!

As you might recall, the Italian Genealogy Group's website is one of my top go-to sites for genealogy research, and I'm not even Italian! If you have any New York City family from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, Italian or not, their website is a must-visit. Their indexes (indeces?) have been invaluable in helping me locate vital records located at the city's Municipal Archives.

For the most part, the content of the site is the same - mostly birth, marriage, and death record indexes for the five boroughs of New York, though I believe their records, like most other genealogy sites, are constantly being updated and added-to. The site, however, has a fresh, new look - more modern, and definitely more user-friendly. But probably my most favorite part of the update is the addition of an index for records from the Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village in Queens. That's where my great-great grandfather Rudolph Stutzmann was cremated in 1946 and though he's one of my most well-rounded ancestors, research-wise, any additional records are only a plus. "No thank you, I already have too many records on that ancestor," is something I would never, ever say. In addition to vital statistics such as age, marital status, last residence, birthplace, date of birth, date of death, information on the next of kin, and funeral home, some files apparently contain obits and correspondence, so that's awesome. As it turns out, my great-grandmother, Helen Meta Haas Stutzmann, was also cremated there in 1968, as was what appears to be a previously unknown, at least to me, stillborn child of hers. Though my father has stories about his grandmother, I know very little about her life and death. So I'm very excited by this new find, and having a new course of research action to pursue. To be honest, there may be even more new features but I got so excited by the crematory addition I haven't gotten past that yet!

And just FYI, the IGG works closely with the German Genealogy Group - if you check out the latter's website, their databases have also been updated with the same information. So if you've used either website before, and if you have NYC ancestry I hope you have, it's probably worth your while to check them out again and see if you can find out anything new. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the volunteers from these groups who have given much of their time to provide us all this invaluable info for free.

You can visit the Italian Genealogy Group website here. The German Genealogy Group website can be found here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thoughts on Genealogy Roadshow: Indian Village, Detroit episode

A week late, but what the hey...

  • On connecting to a famous person as a distant cousin in your family tree - if you have to go back to 1630 in order to find that common great-grandparent, it's really not much to brag about. Yes, Abraham Lincoln is your distant cousin. He's also the distant cousin of about a bazillion other people alive today. Okay, his relatives are probably not as prolific as, say, Charlemagne's, but the point is, if everyone you know can claim that same distant cousin, it doesn't make it all that special.
  • That was the cynic in me. The exception to that, I would say, is something like the woman who discovered she was a direct descendant of Ponce de Leon. Direct descendancy is a little more exciting and a little more obscure than the famous distant cousins we can all claim. Plus, descendancy from a famous explorer rather than a European royal is also a little more obscure and exciting, at least in my opinion. That, I thought, was very cool.
  • As much as the famous distant cousin discovery is boring to me, I do find interesting the questions like the guy who wanted to know if Blackman was the name his Eastern European ancestors originally had or if it evolved from something else. Anybody who has a non-English last name can probably relate to some extent - whether it was the guy at Ellis Island who wrote down the last name phonetically or didn't hear it properly in the first place, or the second generation American who changed the spelling/pronunciation of a name to blend in more, it is good to remember that not only can the spelling of a name change in our research, but we might end up looking for another name altogether!
  • The Polish woman who worked for Ford - very interesting that her grandparents were from America! But they went back to Poland, and so that's where she was born. Unfortunate time to return to Europe, though, right before World War II. 
  • I've realized that the reason this show really doesn't grip me or draw me in the way other genealogy shows do is because we don't get to see any of the steps leading us from Point A to Point B to Point C in the research. I don't like just being handed information. I want to know the steps you took to acquire it - first you found this photo, then you looked at this document, then you visited this cemetery, etc. It's the detective work that's half the fun, and even if I'm not doing the actual discovery, I like you to tell me your research journey, for my own curiosity AND for verification purposes.