thegenealogygirl


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Happy New Year! 2017 Review & 2018 Goals

Eleanor Brownn Quote

Happy New Year!

 

2017 was packed with amazing genealogy experiences, milestones of both the personal and genealogical kind, the sorrow of loss, and the joys of life.  When I reflect back over the year, these are some of the biggest moments:

 

Digging into the story of Rosey, my 2nd great-grandaunt, has been a fascinating adventure.  I’m still finding tidbits scattered across the world.  Just last week I found a big one I wasn’t expecting.  The story that is unfolding is so enthralling that I think it is worthy of its own book.  Here are the 2017 posts about Rosey:

 

John Costello continues to elude me.  He is my great-grandfather and my most challenging brick wall.  Despite his continued brick wall status, I have had some major breakthroughs this year.  I discovered seven seconds of color video of him with my great grandma and my mom as a baby!  I added to my collection of photos of him including the first one of him looking at the camera and smiling!!  I learned that he was ethnically Jewish.  He is still a brick wall, but I feel like I am making some meaningful progress for my own sense of connection to him, and preserving details for future generations to know something about him.

 

I finished organizing and filing all of the letters my grandparents wrote to each other during WWII and their LDS missions.  TEN Hollinger boxes worth.  I have also begun the process of digitizing and transcribing those precious letters.

 

I made enough progress in my Young surname study of Renfrew, Renfrew, Scotland to untangle my 5th great-grandparents James Young and Janet Robertson in the Family Tree on FamilySearch.

 

In my DNA efforts to learn about John Costello, I discovered a first cousin who was adopted at birth.  Together we went on an amazing journey to identify his father and mother.  I still can’t get over what a cool experience that was!  You can read about that journey here:

 

Still on a DNA high, I watched a Legacy Family Tree webinar on DNA and heard a tip from Diahan Southard that led me to solve my Priority 2 brick wall!!!

 

In September, I rushed to the bedside of my grandmother to be with her in her final days.  She was diagnosed with leukemia on a Thursday and passed away on Sunday.  I deeply miss her and the genealogy experiences we shared.  But I am so grateful that I started my genealogy adventures in my very early twenties.  That meant I got 20 precious years of asking her questions.

 

In October I finally held in my hands a long sought after, precious, and very rare book because of a cousin connection I made on Ancestry.com.  It confirmed my previous research efforts and added a richness of story to a family line that had been lost to time and young deaths.

 

I ended the year with a bang! when I helped my friend end her 50 year-long search for her paternal grandparents using her DNA results.  What a joyful experience!

 

As I consider 2018, I am struggling to put my finger on my top three goals.  I know that I want to continue to learn, research, digitize, archive, solve, teach, share, help, write, and answer questions I have.  But those are the things I do all of the time.  The one thing that often eludes me is a very important word – FINISH.

So I am pondering on what three things I want to FINISH this year.

The list of projects I am considering is long enough for a lifetime of effort.  I’m never short on projects.  But which three are the most important, the most pressing, the most meaningful?

I’m still pondering that and will be for a bit.

For now, I am grateful for the progress and experiences of 2017.  I hope 2018 will be just as richly rewarding.

 

How about you?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?

 

 

ps – The moment I am looking forward to the most in 2018 is standing in the baggage claim area of the Salt Lake Airport in August and wrapping my arms around my precious first-born, missionary son for the first time in two years and 5 days.  That will be a big milestone moment right there!  ❤️

 

 


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Spreading Genealogy JOY! one Brick Wall at a Time

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GUYS!

 

I am literally bursting with joy as I type.

Several years ago I met a sweet, elderly, cheerful woman who also volunteers at my local Family History Center.  I was shocked when she told me that her father is her brick wall.

I don’t know why I was shocked.  It’s a story I hear a lot.  I suppose it might be because she is an elderly Mormon lady and we Mormons tend to know a lot about our family trees…?

We talked for a bit and honestly, she didn’t say anything that gave me ideas on how to figure it all out.

Time passed.

I hadn’t seen her.

A few months ago I prepared a class on DNA Basics to teach at my local FHC and I started thinking about my friend.  Had she solved it yet?  If not, had she DNA tested yet?

It wasn’t long after that she happened to walk into the center during my shift to talk to someone else.  I asked – had she solved it, had she tested?

The answers were no and yes.  But the DNA results hadn’t helped her.

My inner genealogist/detective/puzzle-solver started doing this:

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And it was all I could do to calmly ask if she would be willing to let me take a peek at her DNA results.

I was ANYTHING but calm on the inside.  I was full on Hermione raising my hand as high as possible wanting to shout, “Let me try!  Let me try!!!”

She told me about a granddaughter who has been working on it and some theories she has and she told me about some new discoveries they have made that they are hoping will help.

Like, as in one document.

(But I suppose when you have literally been searching for 50 years, even one new document that leads you nowhere feels like an accomplishment).

There I sat, with a kind smile, understanding eyes, gentle head nods all masking my internal jumping up and down yelling, “Pick me, pick me!  I reeeeeeeeeally want to try to help you!!!!!”

She agreed to give me access to her Ancestry DNA.  But it was totally in a, “Do you know how many people have tried to help me over the years?” kind of way.

One thing led to another, and a few weeks later I was sitting on my cozy couch with my laptop going through her DNA matches.

I could see notes made by her granddaughter.  I found her tree.  I found a blog her granddaughter put together outlining every bit of detail they had.  Which was almost nothing.

I started sorting.  I took every scrap of a lead in each record and dug deeper than they had ever considered going.  I created a tree for the person her father listed as someone who would always know how to find him.

I compared that tree to her DNA matches trees.  I started grouping her matches into clusters.  Those clusters started lumping together into two groups.  Even her matches without trees were matching other matches in just two groups.

The woman who was listed as the person who would always know where her father was?  That woman’s parents had the same first and middle names that my friend had been told might be her father’s parents’ names.  Those potential parents had a son born at the right time in the right place to be my friend’s father.  He just had a different name.  That son, the firstborn son, completely disappears at about the time my friend believes her father became estranged from his parents.

Oh boy.

The stars were aligning.

Did I just begin the end of a 50-year journey for my friend?

(Insert clapping, dancing, shouting for joy – all loud enough for our entire small town to hear!)

And then I reined it in.  There was more work to do.

But my hypothesis was looking pretty fantastic, so I emailed my friend and told her I had found some interesting things and would she have time to come see me so that I could show her what I had discovered?  In fact, I suggested that she could come to my DNA Basics class in a few days and I could show her after or we could meet the following Thursday.

Sure enough, she came to my class.

After class, I pulled out my laptop and began the slow build.

I showed her the US Consular record that she already had.  I showed her that woman who her father listed as someone who would always know where he was.  I showed her that woman’s family, including her siblings and the parents whose first and middle names matched what she believed her grandparent’s first and middle names might be.

She stopped and said, “But their last name is Key, not Campbell.”

Yes, yes it is.

I gently suggested that when a young man becomes estranged from his family – so estranged that he never goes home again – it is not uncommon for that young man to change his name.

I explained that while I wouldn’t call my hypothesis solid yet, so far, there was not another possible set of parents emerging from her DNA matches or from any documents.

I offered a research plan that we could follow to work through the process of trying to prove or disprove my theory.

It really didn’t take her long to go from, “But their last name is Key, not Campbell.” to “My whole life I thought I was a Campbell, but I’m really a Key!”

I gently refocused her and suggested that while it was looking like that was true, we better spend some more time to be certain.

My sweet, elderly, cheerful friend was headed out of town for several weeks.  She would be back to work on everything some more.

And last Thursday was the day she showed back up at the center.

She was literally bursting with joy – just like me – as she told me that this is all she can talk about with every person she comes across.  She wanted to keep working.

So work we did.

I showed her my spreadsheet of her matches.  I showed her how I was working through some of the nitty-gritty.  We dug in and started researching and connecting more of her matches to this family.  We dug and read and compared and analyzed and updated and attached and discarded and worked and worked and worked.

We only found more connections and further proof that my theory was correct.

I wouldn’t say we are done.

But I also can’t offer you any other hypothesis.  So far, every match is easily connected to her mother’s side, or it’s connected to the possible grandparents I discovered.  Parents of a father whose life was cut short.  A father who was only around for her first six years of life.  A man for whom my friend has only one picture.

There is no third cluster to consider.

We have two clusters.

We have ONLY two clusters.

I think we are nearly there.

And that, my friends, is filling my entire heart and soul with joy.

 

 

Happy Monday, do you have a brick wall?  Have you tried using DNA to smash it?  I highly recommend that you do.

 

 


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Save the Date!

2018FairPoster

I work one shift each week at my local Family History Center.  Every year, that center puts together a fantastic – and FREE – Family History Fair during the winter months.  We always draw a large crowd of people from our small town and the surrounding cities.  In fact, the last few years, we have filled the church almost to capacity.  This year I am teaching four classes.  It will be a busy day!

I know that most of my readers live far away from me and can’t possibly attend, but some of you live close by, so please, feel free to join us.  All are welcome.  The entire day is free and lunch is served.  It’s usually pizza, fresh veggies, cookies, and water.  Nothing too fancy, but it means you can stay all day without starving.  😉

2018Flyer

The classes I am teaching are the following:

DNA Basics – Have you wondered about using DNA in your research?  Come and learn about the different types of DNA tests, the different companies you can test with, what genealogy problems can be addressed with DNA, and a few examples of what DNA can do to knock down those brick walls.

Finding Hidden Records on FamilySearch – Did you know that FamilySearch has several different types of record collections? Come and learn how to find them all as we explore indexed collections with images, indexed collections with no images attached (but they might still be on FamilySearch), partially indexed collections with additional browse images, browse only collections, digitized microfilm found in the catalog that can be accessed from home, and digitized microfilm that can only be viewed at a Family History Center.

Making the Most of Ancestry.com – Come and learn how to supercharge your research on Ancestry.com by understanding the website and collections better and learning some fantastic smart search strategies that will help you find the records you are looking for more quickly.

Making the Most of Ancestry.com Trees – Why have a tree on Ancestry.com?  Is public or private better?  Learn how to create and use Ancestry.com Trees from scratch, by uploading a gedcom file, or by importing from FamilySearch.  Give your research a boost by adding the power of an Ancestry Tree.

I have been teaching the two Ancestry classes for a few years now, but they are a hit and draw a large crowd so I will just keep on teaching them as long as I am asked to do so.  😉  The DNA Basics class and the Finding Hidden Records on FamilySearch class are both new classes that I created this fall.  I LOVED teaching them and look forward to teaching them again.

Please feel free to join us and invite your friends!

 

Happy Tuesday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery today!

 

 

 

ps – We have had an unseasonably warm fall.  I think it was 60 degrees on Saturday.  FINALLY, it snowed on Sunday night.  My little fella has had his snow gear all gathered and ready for weeks now.  Well, not really his gear, a collection of items from the coat closet that he decided were the coolest.  😉  He was sooooo delighted to put it all on for school today.

 

pps – Su, in September I mentioned that we had snow on the mountains and everything was still in full bloom.  Here you go – three pictures taken on the same day, at about the same time, from about the same spot.  The mountain as seen from the front of my neighborhood, the flowers on my porch.  Utah weather is crazy!

 


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DNA Happy Dance & A New-To-Me Resource

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Guys!

 

This DNA stuff is awesome.  And I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

When I set out to test myself and several family members, my main goal was to find something, anything, about John Costello’s family.  That has not happened.  Yet.

But my second goal was to solve my next closest brick wall.  My third great grandfather.  He was born in France and came to the US as a child.  Until last week, everything we knew about his life was post marriage.  My sister started working on this portion of our tree about 15 years ago.  We have records, photos, and some anecdotal evidence from family members.  But all of it is post marriage.

Children didn’t just immigrate from France in the 1850s alone, but we couldn’t find any travel records.  We couldn’t find him on the census.  He seemed to have just beamed himself over from France, Star Trek style.

To complicate things, the only people in the entire US with his same surname, spelled the same way, are all his descendants.  So… made up last name?  Did his parents die when he was young, after immigrating, leaving him an orphan?  What was going on?

I hoped DNA would help with this brick wall.

And oh boy, did it ever deliver!

 

Last week I was combing through my matches that are in this general area of my tree.  I remembered something Diahan Southard said in a recent webinar.  She said that your best matches are the ones that you have no surnames in common with.  Those trees just might point you to the surname you are missing.

Well, I have two matches in this general area of my tree that have no surnames in common with me.  They are fairly close cousin matches.  I looked at their trees and while we didn’t share any surnames, those two trees did have one surname in common with each other.  It looked like their end of line people with this name were one generation apart.  I did a little digging and figured out how their two end of line folks connected to each other.

That still didn’t tell me how that surname connected to me though.  So I did some more digging.  I pushed their trees back another generation and I’ll be darned if I didn’t just find the sister of my brick wall!

I kept going.

Using the information about my 3rd great grandpa and his sister, I FINALLY found a ship manifest for the whole family coming over from France.  That led me to the state and federal census records that followed their arrival.

No wonder I couldn’t find them!

The spelling of their surname makes phonetic sense, but it is a variant I’ve never seen before and one I hadn’t thought to try.  Add to that that my 3rd gg’s first name is wrong on one record and recorded as simply an initial on the other, and it makes total sense that he seemed to be hiding.  He kinda was.

I found several more records – a second marriage for my 4th great grandpa (which lists his parents names! squeal of delight here), a land record for that same 4th great grandfather, records about both sisters of my previous brick wall 3rd great grandpa.  It was exciting!

I couldn’t find some important records I was hoping would help me jump the pond, so I dove deep into the FamilySearch catalog and exhausted everything I could find there.  Luckily for me, most of the relevant microfilm are already digitized and available to view from home.

I have more to do.  Lots more to do.  Which is why I intentionally left out names, and other specifics here.  For now.

All of this exciting searching led me to a brand-new-to-me website and a whole different set of discoveries.  This part of my tree is in Illinois.  My sister has done most of this research.  I’ve only helped with the pre-Illinois part in Québec.  This means I really haven’t spent much time with Illinois records or Illinois research in general.  All of my exciting, new discoveries sent me searching for Illinois newspapers.  I tried all of my usual stuff.  One of the “list” websites pointed me to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.  What an awesome, free resource!

While I didn’t find what I was hoping to find, I did find a whole bunch of goodies about other members of my family in this general branch of my tree.  In fact, I found so much that I had a genealogy first.  I actually got bored processing all of my newspaper finds and had to take a break.  The searching and finding wasn’t boring, but the downloading, saving, and cropping got boring after dozens of cool articles.  😉  Here are two articles that were particularly interesting.

MAFFIT, Orrin, 1906 burial article - crop

This article comes from the St. Anne Record, 30 March 1906.  Mr. and Mrs. Seth Moffit are my 2nd great grandparents.  This article details their travel from Chicago to Saint Anne, and the funeral and burial of their son, Orrin Seth Maffit.

BROUILLETTE, Nelson, 1919 Car accident article - crop

This article also comes from the St. Anne Record, 10 July 1919.  It describes a minor car accident involving Nelson Brouillette, my 3rd great granduncle.  What I love is all of the other names and connections this article describes.  One that isn’t obvious is that Dr. Benjamin is Nelson’s son-in-law.

 

So.  What is the point here?

 

First, DNA results are amazingly helpful to genealogy research.  I LOVE genetic genealogy!  If you haven’t dipped your toe in yet, join us.  The water is fine.  Mighty fine.

 

Second, if you have any Illinois ancestors, check out the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.  A fabulous – and FREE – resource.

 

 

Happy Tuesday, I hope you make a fantastic brick wall breakthrough very soon!  It feels awesome.

 

 


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The Mess That Just Keeps on Growing

Whiteley - Hyde

Once upon a time, I drew that colorful – {both literally and figuratively} – flowchart.  I wrote about the matrimonial messiness in this part of my tree.  I followed that up with a post about Arthur Hyde who seemed to have left a family in England and then married his widowed sister-in-law while still being married to his wife back home.  That was followed by a post about the incestuous relationship between uncle and niece – Robert & Rosey Hyde.  Then there was the follow-up post reminding readers that we need to always click to the next image because I found even more details about that crazy mess up there on page 50 of a record.

This fascinating series of discoveries was capped off by a post all about Rosey’s Girls.  I had learned so much since I drew that first flowchart that I had to update it.

marrying mess

The crazy, twisty, utterly shocking journey did not end there.

DNA connected me with two of Rosey’s living granddaughters.  My finding-living-people-stalking skills led me to a direct descendant of Rose Elvera Hyde.  And my cousin bait – namely this blog – brought a living descendant of Arthur Hyde to my digital door.

GUESS WHAT THAT ALL MEANS?!

 

That super colorful flowchart needs another update.  A major update.  So major in fact that I have to start from scratch.  I thought that last post about Rosey’s Girls was hard to write.  Ummm…these next ones are going to be even more complicated if you can believe that.

I just wanted to share a few tid-bit teasers and two BIG, FAT REMINDERS as a PSA to all my fellow genealogists.

 

Tid-bit Teaser #1

I wrote this about the men in Rosey’s life: “There are details that come from the nuances of the records that lead me to believe that Harry was the great love of her life, that Neil was a loving old age companion, and that Robert, well, Robert seems to be the villain.  I don’t know if that’s fair, but that is who he is becoming in my mind.”

Well.  I got that completely wrong.  It turns out Harry is definitely the villain.  So much so that Robert is starting to seem not so bad.  How’s that for a turn of events?

 

Tid-bit Teaser #2

A very long time ago I wrote about my Grandma’s adopted first cousin Sherry Hunter.  At the time I wrote about Sherry, I still didn’t know Rosey had any children.  But it turns out that Sherry is a descendant of Rosey, adopted by her biological 1st cousin once removed.  Sherry belongs to that crazy mess up there.  I did not see that coming.

 

Tid-bit Teaser #3

Muriel Grace Groome nee Hyde - cleaned up

This lovely photo made it’s way to me.  That is Rosey’s daughter Muriel Grace.  Isn’t she beautiful?

 

Now for the PSAs.

 

Big Fat Reminder/PSA #1

If you have not DNA tested – PLEASE DO IT!  I cannot believe the wealth of information that has come my way as a result of DNA testing and transferring my results to two additional companies.  Followed up by contacting my matches.  In fact, I’ve gotten so caught up in the deluge, that I have lots of matches I haven’t had time to contact yet.  What other goodies are waiting for me?

 

Big Fat Reminder/PSA #2

When you have a mystery, brick wall, dead end – write about it.  Leave plenty of cousin bait.  If you are a regular reader you have probably noticed that I mostly write about my questions and unsolved mysteries.  In fact, if you aren’t paying close attention you might think I never solve anything.  😉  I am putting out massive amounts of cousin bait.  And it works.  People email me after finding something I wrote about a family member we have in common and they fill in details that ONLY THEY can share.  Details that exist in photo albums or memories.  Details that answer some of my most unanswerable questions.  Like what the heck happened to Arthur Hyde and his first wife Mary?  Did he really just leave her and the children behind in England and marry Alice?  Why yes, yes he did.

Cousin bait is your friend.  Make sure you are leaving it out to attract the cousins you need to find.  Your beautifully researched, perfectly reasoned, tidy little genealogy stories will attract cousins too, but usually not the cousins who bring more toys to the party.  You solved those ones.  Go ahead and write them up, but don’t let your mysteries languish in a stack of notes.  Those glittery little bits attract the distant cousins who just might answer some of your burning questions.  You may not like the answers – after all, there is a reason you haven’t been able to solve it with traditional research – but they are usually very fascinating answers.

 

Are you excited for my new flowchart?

 

I am!  Now, I just have to figure out how to fit all of the crazy connections on one page.

 

Maybe I need to go buy a posterboard…

 

 


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My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Conclusion and Tips

DNA Discovery

Finding Bob’s* birth mother and father was such a privilege.  I learned a lot, and felt like I was on a rollercoaster.  Because we were successful, I thought I would reemphasize the biggest lessons and tips that I gathered along the way.

 

DNA tester's warning

First – Please go into the DNA world with your eyes wide open.  There will be surprises.  Possibly, surprises that are upsetting.  Like, it turns out your favorite Grandpa isn’t your Grandpa after all – at least not biologically.  Or, you have a half-sibling you never knew about.  Or, one whole brach of your tree is completely wrong, genetically speaking.

For me, the surprises were not unwelcome.  That is not always the case.  So please, if you choose to DNA test, or ask someone else to DNA test, be open to surprises.  (People have been having babies outside of marriage for like, ever.  It bears repeating: There will be surprises.)

 

DNA Discovery, lesson one

Luckily for us, Bob had already tested with FamilyTree DNA and 23 and Me – three total tests.  Additionally, my uncle had Y-DNA tested with FTDNA and autosomal tested with Ancestry.  Having multiple tests in multiple places was really the key to finding Bob’s parents so quickly.

Most people can’t afford to test with every company.  As the person working with Bob’s matches, I can tell you that each one of those 5 tests played a crucial role in the process.  If even one of them hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have gotten our answer.  Well, at least not so quickly and easily.

So what do you do if you are an adoptee and can’t afford multiple tests?  Learn about autosomal transfers so you get the most bang for your buck.

 

DNA Discovery, lesson two

I know this one is easier said than done in many cases.  For adoptees, they have a whole bunch of matches that they can’t differentiate.  They have nothing to work with.  There are plenty of cool science-y things you can do.  If that speaks to your soul, and you have the time – by all means, learn the cool science-y DNA tricks that barely register in my pianist/dreamer/reader/artistic brain.  If that is not you, pull up a chair and let me give you a few of my sneaky detective tricks.

Study your closest matches – up to third cousin.  Look to see if they have a tree.  If you are looking at matches in Ancestry, please note that just because there is not a tree attached to someone’s DNA results, does not mean they don’t have a tree.  Here is an example from my matches:

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 3.13.43 PM copy

This is a match I have been working with over the last few weeks to help solve some long standing mysteries.  She has not linked a tree to her DNA results.  But if you look at the very bottom left, I have the option to “Select a tree to preview” with a drop-down arrow.  After clicking the arrow I see the tree she does have.  If she had more than one tree, they would all be listed here.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 3.13.52 PM

Her tree is quite small, because she had a dead-end she was trying to solve.  I have been able to help her, and she has been able to help me.  Win-win!

Okay, let’s get back to the point here.  Compare the trees of your matches and look for the closest common ancestors.  Everyone will fall into two camps – maternal and paternal matches.  If you can group them based on common ancestors you will be in better shape.  Try to connect your matches.  There are connections – find them.  Pay attention to names, but be careful, they could be maiden or married surnames.  Pay attention to dates and places.  You are looking for patterns.

Use the tools in the DNA service you are using to look at matches you share with your matches.  This tool can help you separate your matches into two groups.

Look for a match who is really into genealogy, they love to help!  Even if they are a little bit more distantly related, a 3rd cousin say, they probably know a lot about their tree and can help you narrow things down.

In my case, it was easy.  I already knew which of Bob’s matches belong to my side of his tree.  I was just looking for common ancestors of the remaining matches.  All of these matches were from his birth mother’s side.  Each of them added a clue or two that helped me identify Bob’s 2nd great grandparents as the common ancestors of his closest matches.  From there I had to switch to descendancy research.

 

DNA Discovery, lesson three

What is descendancy research?  I’m glad you asked.  I happen to have an info graphic handy that answers that very question.

gg defined- descendancy research

I know that is super tiny and not the least bit reader friendly.  Just click on the image and it will take you to the original post.

Completing descendancy research on the common ancestors of your matches, will help you build a tree filled with your family members.  You may not know how you are related, but you do know that you are related.  Building that tree will lead you to living family members who may be able to help.

Remember – you can switch any trees in Ancestry and FT DNA to descendancy view.  This will help.  Don’t overlook those living people who are marked private.  They still show gender.  I actually looked at Lucy in someone’s descendancy view, I just couldn’t see any data other than her gender.  She and her siblings gave me a pattern to look for – a family with a certain number of sons and daughters.  That key obituary for her brother, backed up the pattern I had already discovered.

By the way, there is a delightful bit of serendipity I left out of my previous posts.  Lucy’s brother who died?  He has the exact same first name as Bob, spelled the same way.  I know there is only one way to spell Bob, but there are several ways to spell Bob’s actual name.  Bob’s given name was chosen by his adoptive mother, who did not know that Lucy’s brother had that name.  I hope that was a tender and helpful thing for Lucy in her journey.  ❤

 

DNA Discovery, lesson four

Once you have built the descendancy tree of your common ancestors, start adding living family members by searching for obituaries.  Recent obituaries can often be found by simply googling someone.  Learn how to do targeted google searches to help with this.  My favorite tricks are putting quotation marks around a name, like this, “Ronald Skeen Peterson”.  If I search google with that phrase, I’ve just said to google, please bring me things about a person with this EXACT name.  Be careful though, not everything uses a full name.  So I should also try, “Ronald S Peterson”, “Ronald Peterson”, and “R S Peterson”.

Ronald Peterson is a super common name, so I can make my search even more targeted by adding additional facts.  Use operators like OR, AND, NOT, etc.  So if I wanted to find an obituary for my Grandpa I could try something like this: “Ronald Skeen Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).  I’ve just told google to only bring me results that include the exact name Ronald Skeen Peterson, and the year 1997, and one of these three words: death, funeral, or obituary.

These google tricks can help you find LOTS of goodies.  Of course, remember to use variants.  In fact, if I want to get reeeeeaaaaally fancy I would do this: “Ronald (Skeen OR S OR ?) Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).

If you can’t find obituaries using google, consider trying GenealogyBank or another newspaper website.  Many libraries or Family History Centers have subscriptions to such websites that you can utilize in their facility for free.

Once you find an obituary, update your tree with all of the people mentioned.  Even if you only know their first name.  Get everyone linked together and make good notes so you remember which obit added which people.

 

DNA Discovery, lesson five

Now if you are thinking to yourself you just did that when you found some obits, you are correct.  But what I mean here is you need to learn how to find contact information for living people.  This is where we get into creepy stalker territory.  This is where my particular skill set goes into the danger zone – that area where some people may use the skills for good, like me, or for not so good.  So I will be a bit on the vague side here.  If you know me and need personal pointers, and I know you will be using your powers for good, shoot me an email.  If not, well – shape up creepy stalker!  😉

I will just point you to my three main websites for finding living people: Facebook, the White Pages, and Family Tree Now.

If you don’t have luck finding people on Facebook, spend a little more time learning how to search it effectively.  Use a name but also add a city or state.  And so on…

The White Pages are good for people who still have a landline.  However, they are constantly tweaking their website hoping to make money off of you, so there is less info here now than there used to be.

Family Tree Now is a hackers dream come true.  I urge you to go there and get you and all of you family members off of their website by “opting out”.  However, you can track down those living people you found in the obits on this website because hardly anyone has opted out yet.  This website is free, but scary!  It definitely could be used for evil.

I know I said I was only going to mention three websites, but I should also mention that High School yearbooks helped me identify Lucy.  You can find many at Classmates.com.  But, you can often find them in local libraries online.  I found them in both places and found Lucy in them.

 

DNA Discovery, lesson six

I know it doesn’t always feel this way, but people are good.  There are always helpers in every family.  If your first, second, third interactions are discouraging – keep trying!  Don’t you quit.  You will find someone one day who will be happy to help.

Look for the helpers, there are always helpers.

 

Here are a few last tips:

Contact your matches.  Remember that people like reciprocal relationships.  They love messages that say things like, “Hey cousin, I see that we are a DNA match, I have some family photos I would be happy to share.”  Now.  An adoptee can’t say things like that.  So come up with something that invites that same type of reciprocity.  Be creative!  Maybe you are willing to help fund other family members DNA testing or something like that.

If your matches don’t respond, try again.  Be nice.  VERY nice, low-key, low-pressure.  Keep your messages short and open.  Try to deal with only one question or issue at a time.  Think like you would if you were texting someone who you know is really busy.  Once you get a feel for the other person’s interest level and time, adjust your message length and content accordingly.

Learn about DNA.  I barely know anything about DNA research, all the crazy cool, ultra-smart and nerdy charting and phasing and segmenting and so on, but it would have been the next step if my genealogy skills weren’t so robust.  Find ways to learn, watch Legacy Family Tree webinars, find Facebook groups for adoptees and DNA research, read one of Blaine Bettinger’s books, attend classes at your local Family History Center/Archive/Library, attend a genealogy conference and go to DNA classes etc.

 

A few closing thoughts:

I began my journey with a very clear goal – find matches that would help me learn more about my great grandfather John Costello.  I did not set out expecting to find a first cousin who was adopted at birth.  That wasn’t anywhere on my radar at all.  And yet, that is what I found.

The journey we took together was overwhelming, emotional, exhilarating, surprising, and of course had a few hiccups.

I will forever be grateful and humbled that I was able to help Bob find his birth parents.  That is a distinct honor and privilege that will hold a special place in my heart all of my days.  I hope to do it again one day.  Although… hopefully not for the same uncle.  😉

I imagine that John Costello is smiling down on all of us, a bit like a puppet master who somehow managed to keep his pre-marriage life a secret so that I would go looking at our DNA and find his long lost great grandson.

Well played Grandpa John, well played.

 

 

Isn’t genealogy cool?!  Isn’t DNA cool?!  But the combo – WOW, that is a powerhouse combo!

 

 

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  A lot of you have been reading along.  In fact, a lot more than normally click on over to my little corner of the genealogy blogosphere.  Thank you for sharing your own stories both here and through email, text, and FB messages.  I am inspired by how many of you have a personal connection to Bob because of your own experiences or the experiences of your loved ones.  You are awesome!

 

 

*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts have been changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part OnePart TwoPart Three, Part Four, and Part Five.


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My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part Five

DNA Discovery

Thankfully that email arrived very late and I was really tired.  I replied that I would be delighted to help.  Bob* immediately emailed me his usernames and passwords to his FTDNA and 23 and Me DNA accounts.  I drifted off to sleep wondering if it was even possible to track down Bob’s birth mother.

Let’s review what information I had to work with:

  • Bob’s birth date.
  • Bob’s possible birth state.
  • Bob’s possible adoption city.
  • Bob’s birth mom’s possible age at the time of Bob’s birth.
  • Bob’s birth mom’s possible first name – we’ll use Lucy*.

That is not a lot to go on.

But the other very important, absolutely essential, data we had to work with were Bob’s DNA matches with two different companies.

I logged in to each account and took a cursory look at his matches.  Right away I could set aside several that I knew belonged to my side of Bob’s family.

I looked at his close cousin matches – 1st through 3rd cousins.  There was a small handful of people to try to connect.  On the surface there was no obvious connection.  Several of those matches had absolutely no information to work with aside from their name.

Luckily, one of his close cousin matches had a rather extensive tree including descendants.  After comparing the scant clues between all of these people, I was fairly certain that I knew exactly who Bob’s 2nd great grandparents were.  They seemed to be the common ancestors for all of Bob’s close cousin matches that weren’t part of my family.

One important thing to note here is that the only clue connecting some of them to the common ancestors was their surname – not the surname of the common ancestors, but surnames that matched some of their other descendants.  This isn’t a perfect indicator, but a good possible clue.

So I had a family to comb through.  I was looking for descendants of this specific couple who lived in the right place at the right time and that had a family member named Lucy.

Luckily for me, this couple, the common ancestors, were immigrants.  They settled in one state and their children lived in that state and the neighboring state.  But still not the state Bob was possibly born in.

I moved down the tree to the grandchildren of the common ancestors.  This is where it gets sticky.  Some of these folks are still alive and not viewable in any online trees.  That doesn’t mean I couldn’t find them, I did, but it took some of my genealogy street smarts.

I wish I could show you the steps that I took.  But out of respect for Lucy, her privacy, and being sensitive to her experience in all of this – we will have to keep this all theoretical.

Her father is a grandson of the common ancestor couple.  The only grandson to live in the state of Bob’s birth.  He raised his children in the city Bob was possibly adopted from.  He died in that city.  His wife, children, and grandchildren still live in that city.

All, except for his one son who died a few years ago.  That young death generated an obituary.  In that obituary I found the name I was hoping to find – Lucy.  She was listed as his sister, along with her husband and children’s names.

I found Lucy in old High School Yearbooks.  I found her and the nexus of her family on Facebook.  She was the right age, in the right place, at the right time.  All told, I found Bob’s mom in about 40 minutes.

It happened so fast that I wasn’t sure what to think.  Did I really find her?

Did I just find the birth mother of my newly discovered first cousin?

He is in his early 40s and has been searching for years.  Did I just solve his life-long mystery?  In 40 minutes?!

I retraced my steps again and again.  I thought about something Tom Jones always says about puzzle pieces only fitting together one way even if there are a bunch of missing pieces.  My puzzle pieces were only fitting together one way.

I had found her.

What followed will, again, remain private out of respect for Lucy.  But needless to say, I was able to confirm my work.  Lucy is Bob’s birth mother.

And once again, in less than a week’s time, I was able to do something I never expected to be able to do in my entire life.  I was able to tell Bob who his birth mother is.  Let’s take a moment and let that sink in.

Wow, wow, wow!  Seriously, WOW!

 

 

I felt like some strange and fantastic genealogy combination of Santa Claus and Wonder Woman, and I loved it.  I love it.  There is really nothing like it.  I totally want to do it again.

I was able to give someone the gift of knowing where they come from.  In this crazy and delightful world of genealogy, I am constantly searching and learning more about who I am.  But the core of who I am – who my parents are, my grandparents – I’ve always known.  I have no earthly idea what it feels like to wonder who you are.  To have a completely blank slate.  No understanding of your family’s history.  At all.  No knowledge of your ethnic, religious, and cultural background.  No idea if your family is filled with recent or long ago immigrants.  I, who constantly seek more understanding of my past with a real hunger, have no idea what it feels like to be an adoptee with no knowledge of my past.  I was able to use a very tiny list of possible facts, DNA, and my super-hero like genealogy skills and find someone’s mother and father.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over how cool it has been.

 

So, so, so, so cool.

 

 

Seriously.

 

Coming Monday, one last post to wrap it all up with a few more lessons learned, as well as some tips.  I hope you will join me and share with anyone who is searching for their family.  Maybe this story will help them make their own amazing discoveries.  I hope so!

 

 

*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part OnePart Two, Part Three, and Part Four.