Friday, April 17, 2015

Hidden Treasures at Ancestry.com (#RootsTech #FGS2015 #RTATEAM)

At RootsTech last month, Crista Cowan and Juliana Szucs presented a session titled “Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.com.” Unfortunately for me, the session was absolutely packed. Every seat was taken in a very large conference hall. Apparently, everyone wanted to attend, including the fire marshal who stood alongside another hundred people lining the walls and jamming the doorways. I was unable to get in.

“Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.com” was packed

Fortunately for you, the session was recorded and is available for viewing on the RootsTech website at http://rootstech.org/video/4055721878001.

Crista Cowan and Juliana Szucs presented "Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.com"

Fortunately for me, I was able to attend most of Michelle Ercanbrack’s FGS session, “Hidden Treasures at Ancestry.com.” Michelle filled in for Loretto Dennis “Lou” Szucs. (Lou! We missed you!) Afterwards she passed out Valentine’s Day chocolates! I’m at the point in my RootsTech/FGS conference reporting where all you’re going to get is pretty much a dump of my notes. Sorry, Michelle. Bribing me with chocolate usually gets you uncommonly good coverage.

Ancestry.com has many databases that are hidden treasures.

Non-population schedules

To get a list of state censuses, Michelle uses Google and searches for [list of state censuses]. (Don’t enter the square brackets.) Check the list for the state and year of interest. Then go to Ancestry.com and see if they have it. Another approach is to search Google for [State Census site:ancestry.com]. Database descriptions are important because some censuses are missing some counties. Michelle showed an Iowa census as an example of a census that contains lots of information.

New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses, 1830-1920

TVA Family Removal case file for Jim Henry DavisU.S., Tennessee Valley, Family Removal and Population Readjustment Case Files, 1934-1953. Dams to control flooding forced some families to move. More than Tennessee families were affected. An example is Jim Henry Davis. The form shows the miles from school and store. It asks for information about employment, religion, expenses of running farm, wages, names and ages of children, and how they feel about moving.

A closely related collection is the Tennessee Valley Cemetery Relocation Files, 1933-1990. Don’t forget to check the back, as some have additional notes.

Some passenger lists are overlooked. Ancestry.com has 133 collections, including border crossings. They have databases for all major U.S. ports.

Naturalization records

Naturalization Indexes. Michelle showed an example from Lou Szuc’s family. They found a William Huggins naturalization record. They are pretty sure it is for their ancestor because the witness, Michael Meehan, was also sponsor for several of his children’s baptisms. The witnesses knew the people well.

U.S Passport Applications, 1795-1925

Military Records

1890 Veterans Schedules – This is an incomplete collection. It contains only parts from Kentucky through Wyoming, and select U.S. vessels. If there is something circled, it means there is additional information elsewhere. (I didn’t catch where.) In some cases, confederates were included, but some will be found crossed out. Widows sometimes reported her husband’s service, even though soldier had died.

U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970. Contains only those applications that were accepted. Basically, an application contains their genealogies. Consider it the equivalent to an online tree. Some included sources, but there could be errors. They didn’t have the wealth of sources we have today.

Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865. Michelle showed an example with a note that had interesting details.

U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938

U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Often took the land and turned it. There are 80,000 application files for pensions for service, disabilities, or widows.

US Records

US City Directories, 1821-1989. Make sure to check city’s year ranges. These have OCR indexes, so sometimes you can get some “funky stuff” (indexing errors). They are basically a phone book, so Michelle accesses them like that. She doesn’t rely on search. Some pages are out of order. Some also have local histories, business directories, church lists, and fraternal society lists.

U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 is another fun collection. Look for your grandparents. Michelle loves those pictures because it is not how she knew them. There are almost 300 million records in this collection.

Quaker collection – This is the largest online collection of Quaker records. There are multiple databases. See http://ancestry.com/cs/us/quakers

U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 – 6.4 million records in this one collection.

On the search page, scroll to the bottom right corner for links to ethnic pages such as African-American Collections. The Jewish Family History Collection is a result of a half-dozen different organizations coming together with lots of volunteers indexing.

International Records

Some people have not noticed the tabs above the map on the search page. These allowing browsing to country pages.

Know the Records: Search for any name, look at a record, and see what is included and what is indexed. Form a search strategy based on that. How are the records organized? Watch for notices, such as the one reminding you that Swedish birth records are in Swedish.

London, England, Clandestine Marriage and Baptism Registers, 1667-1754 – there are some very old, awesome stuff in this database. Spend some time within these databases to see what is available.

Educational Treasures

The Ancestry.com Learning Center – There is a link to it on the top menu bar. Among other resources are research guides for many of the states and 30 guides on reference topics.

Five Minute Finds – These are short, instructional videos. There are links to them on the learning center page. Or you can go directly to YouTube and find them there. There are also hour long videos.

Access Ancestry.com resources on social networks.

  • Facebook is a great place to ask questions.
  • Follow on Twitter for content alerts and education opportunities.
  • Follow the Ancestry Blog for the latest updates.
  • Crista Cowan does bi-weekly half-hour videos that can be viewed on Livestream or later on YouTube.

The Ancestry Wiki is accessible via the Learning Center. It contains the contents of the Red Book and The Source. “This is my Bible,” Michelle said. “Combine this with database descriptions and it is unstoppable.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Contrast AncestryDNA and Oxford Study Maps

Here’s an interesting contrast. A recent study by Oxford University showed regional pockets of DNA in England. A recent article on the Ancestry Blog showed estimated Irish ethnicity throughout the U.K. and Ireland.

I read about the Oxford study on The Telegraph website, in the 18 March 2015 story, “Britons Still Live in Anglo-Saxon Tribal Kingdoms, Oxford University Finds.” Science Editor Sarah Knapton wrote, “Britons are still living in the same 'tribes' that they did in the 7th Century, Oxford University has found after an astonishing study into our genetic make-up. Archaeologists and geneticists were amazed to find that genetically similar individuals inhabit the same areas they did following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, following the fall of the Roman Empire.”

This is a map from the Oxford study:

Map of genetic clusters found in Oxford studySource: Stephen Leslie, et. al, “The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population,” article preview, Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v519/n7543/full/nature14230.html : accessed 21 March 2015), figure 1; preview from Nature 519 (19 March 2015): 309-314.

For St. Patrick’s Day, Mike Mulligan wrote “What does our DNA tell us about being Irish?” on 16 March 2015 in the Ancestry Blog. “As the first results of UK & Ireland tests come through we can start to build up a picture of ethnicity estimates not just for individuals but averaged across all those born in the UK or Ireland. What is particularly fascinating about the map below is that it has been compiled using just AncestryDNA results.”

This map from the AncestryDNA study shows the average amount of estimated Irish ethnicity in regions of the U.K. and Ireland.

Map of estimated Irish ethnicity from AncestryDNA studySource: Mike Mulligan, “What does our DNA tell us about being Irish?” 16 March 2015 (http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/03/16/what-does-our-dna-tell-us-about-being-irish/ : accessed 21 March 2016), first figure.

Without seeing the point map from the AncestryDNA study, it is a little bit simplistic to make many conclusions. This map merely shows averages. But I thought it interesting that the multiple counties with red dots in the Oxford study corresponded with multiple counties in the AncestryDNA study having the same amount of Irish DNA.

Cool.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Big AncestryDNA Announcement

New Ancestor DiscoveriesI confess. What you’ve been reading the past two weeks and what you will read next week were written back in March. I’m on the road at the moment with no time to write. So of course Ancestry.com picks this time frame to make a big announcement. They’ve announced a new feature called “New Ancestor Discoveries.” They pre-announced the feature at RootsTech during their luncheon. You can read about it here: Ooops. I guess I never got my notes of that presentation written up for an article.

Well, as I say, I don’t have time to write, so I’ll just point you in the direction of the official AncestryDNA marketing stuff:

I haven’t had time to look at much of this. I assume the basic marketing message is repeated in every one of these, but I would expect a little different new information in each.

In generic AncestryDNA news, see

Meanwhile, I’m running out of the articles I pre-wrote before I got busy. So if you don’t hear much from me, you’ll know why…

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Short Lesson on Research Reports

An article on the Ancestry blog makes a good lesson on research reports.I recently read “Branch Out Contest Winner: Alison Marcoff” on the Ancestry Blog. It is basically a research report created by a professional genealogist. It provides great insight into how a very experienced genealogist works. Understanding its form and parts would be a good lesson for product designers at FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, or any other company wishing to help their customers solve difficult genealogical problems. For that matter, it’s a good lesson for all of us non-professional genealogists.

Why create a research report? Isn’t that overkill? Imagine you work a difficult problem for several months, then set it aside and work on something else. You come back to it in a couple of years later when more records are online or you can visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake, or you receive answers back from inquiries sent to record custodians

Begin your research—and your research report—with a question. Look at this article and find the research question.

Next, write down what you know. Look at the next paragraph of this article. The research question is followed by a paragraph of what you know at the start of the research project.

Reference or include information gathered from previous research. In the article, notice what records Alison provided.

Although it was too lengthy for Ancestry.com to include in a blog article, keep a log of the sources searched and what was learned from each. Don’t forget to make your citations complete enough that when you come back to this thorny problem in the future, you can pick up the source again, or at least see from the citation what the quality of the source was.

What is the purpose of the two bulleted items in the article? You should do the same at the conclusion of your research report.

There is another lesson we can learn from this article: cluster research. Elizabeth Shown Mills uses the acronym FAN club, meaning Family, Associates, and Neighbors.1 After hitting a brick wall in records about James himself, the researchers in this example branched out to records about other people.

Thank you, Ancestry.com, for this nice little tutorial on how to tackle a difficult genealogical problem.


Sources

     1.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : accessed 7 March 2015).