Friday, April 21, 2017

Serendipity in a Box

Glenda U'Ren Clyde photograph of John and Grace Uren childrenOver 40 years ago Glen and Joyce Alt lived in Platteville, Wisconsin where they became friends with Glenda Clyde and her husband. After several years, the two couples moved their separate ways, the Alts to Massachusetts, the Clydes to Washington state, and the couples had no further contact.

Years passed by. One day Glen’s parents were participating in a household auction in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. When they bought a box of stuff for a few dollars, the auctioneer threw in another for free. The Alts found the second box contained a bunch of old photographs and a piece of paper with names, dates, and places. For some reason, Glen’s mother threw them into a drawer instead of throwing them away. Eventually, she passed them on to Glen. Glen felt there must be someone out there who would place great value on the photographs, so he began investing great efforts in finding them. He had a clue. The paper identified the family as the Urens of Blanchardville, Wisconsin.

Glen started looking, but without success. When he went to Wisconsin on vacation three years later, he availed himself of the opportunity to ask around. He asked some old friends in Platteville if they knew any Urens. One remembered that they had a mutual friend whose maiden name was U’Ren: Glenda Clyde.

Twenty-eight years after they had last communicated, Glen found Glenda on social media. She thought the photographs and information might be of her family, so Glen sent the photographs and the paper to her. Glenda discovered that the pictures and paper were of her great-grandfather’s brother’s family. The information gave her seven new families and 31 new names.

“These precious pictures/paper were bought in the Midwest, given to Glen on the East Coast and then sent to me, a family member, on the West Coast,” Glenda wrote. “Considering the incredible preservation and journey of this valuable information, to us, it truly is a miracle.”

 

Retold with the permission of Glenda Clyde. You can also read her story in R. Scott Lloyd, “Family History Moments: Package Deal,” Deseret News (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865675767/Package-deal.html : 16 March 2017). Photograph contributed by Glenda Clyde.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ancestry Offering Irish Heritage Tour

Springfield Castle, Family Home to Lord Muskerry, IrelandAncestry ProGenealogists, in conjunction with Go Ahead Tours, is offering an 11 day tour to the Emerald Isle. “Discover the country’s highlights and enduring heritage with special insight from the expert AncestryProGenealogists team.” This guided tour visits Dublin, County Cork, County Kerry , Galway, and back to Dublin. For an extra cost, “continue your experience by adding an ancestral home visit to the places where your family members once lived, worked, worshipped, and went to school.” The tour runs 22 October through 1 November 2017.

For more information, visit https://ancestry.grouptoursite.com/.

Photograph by Gary Deane, used under license.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Erroneous AncestryDNA Genetic Community

North American Genetic Communities map from AncestryDNAReader Clytee Gold wrote me about an apparently erroneous AncestryDNA Genetic Community assignment. One of her two communities is “Mormon Pioneers in the West.” (First, I am jealous that she has two community assignments.) She is rather positive that none of her ancestors were ever Mormons. She has done extensive research and has never found any connection to the Church. As there are still pockets of prejudice against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this assignment could be highly offensive to some people. Coincidentally—or not—it is not offensive to Clytee. Forty years ago she joined the Church and moved to Utah. She is, literally, the “Mormon Pioneer in the West” of her family.

I’m not qualified to explain how this misassignment occurred, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps experts among my readers can correct me. Clytee gave one possible explanation:

The only thing I can figure out is that is based on OTHERS testing (guess that makes a community - who else took the test to compare to), and that somewhere, 5-6 generations back a sibling of a great-great something of mine joined the church in Denmark in the late 1800's and came to Utah as a "Mormon Pioneer in the west" and populated the west and there are lots of descendants who took the DNA test.

Ancestry has explained that they use an algorithm called community detection to detect groups of individuals with a large number of interconnections. I think of it like large DNA Circles that don’t require common ancestors. The Mormon Pioneers community contains 89,000 testers. Just like a DNA Circle, Ancestry states a confidence level for your membership in the genetic community. My connection to the Mormon Pioneers community is “Very Likely.”

Ancestry says they then examine the Ancestry Member Trees of the genetic community “to learn about the historical forces that may have brought their ancestors together.” Of course, some testers don’t have trees, some don’t include all their ancestors, some have ancestors without complete location information, and some have complete garbage in their trees. I assume Ancestry looks for common locations in 25-year increments. If they find a large number of ancestors who lived in the same place at the same time, they look into the history of that time period and why there was a large number of individuals there. Then they give that community a name.

For example, the sweet spot for one genetic community is centered on Massachusetts in 1725-1750 (shown on the map, below left). Ancestry chose to name that community, “Settlers of Colonial New England.” Another centered on Utah at a much later time period, 1875-1900 (below, right). Ancestry called this one “Mormon Pioneers in the Mountain West.”

AncestryDNA genetic community map for Settlers of Colonial New England, 1725-1750. AncestryDNA genetic community map for Mormon Pioneers in the Mountain West, 1875-1900

I assume Ancestry can follow the group forward and backward in time, up and down the member trees. This provides additional touchpoints to compare against historical sources and decide if they have correctly identified and named the genetic communities. Moving forward in time gives an interesting view on migration that may not be available from other demographic sources. This may truly be groundbreaking demographic tools. For example, look at the 1900-1925 map (below) of the descendants of early residents of Chihuahua and Durango. If I am interpreting the map right, by that time they were as likely to be living in El Paso as Chihuahua. (The large circle over central Texas represents ancestors whose member trees didn’t specify where in Texas they lived.)

AncestryDNA genetic community map for early residents of Chihuahua and Durango, 1900-1925

Moving backwards in time gives an interesting view on where the Mormons who settled in Utah came from. In the period 1825-1850, most were living in England, with a fair number in Denmark. (See map, below.) The surnames associated with the Mormon pioneer genetic community further point to Denmark:

Jensen, Christensen, Larsen, Hansen, Allred, Nielsen, Olsen, Sorensen, Nielson, Rasmussen, Christiansen, Madsen, Peterson, Anderson, Barney, Leavitt, Child, Andersen, Petersen, and Jorgensen

AncestryDNA genetic community map for Mormon Pioneers in the Mountain West, 1825-1850

Once they are sure they have identified the genetic community, Ancestry can take information from history books about that group and display it next to the migration map. However, the information may not apply to your ancestors who didn’t participate in the chain migration. That is how Clytee may have been put in a migratory group that her ancestors didn’t participate in. She told me her ancestry:

My father was half Swiss (4 generations from the immigrant to Missouri) and half German (5 generations from the immigrant to Missouri).  Mother half Norwegian (2nd generation from the immigrant to Iowa) and half Danish (2nd generation from the immigrant to Iowa).

I think the conjunction on Denmark is more than coincidence. Clytee’s Danish ancestors didn’t have to join the Mormon church for her ancestors to share DNA with those that did. I don’t think it had to have been a sibling in genealogic-time, either. I think Ancestry is looking at shared DNA in a closed community with hundreds of years of intermarriages.

There is a possibility that the genetic community Ancestry has identified is actually more specific than “all Mormon pioneers.” Ancestry may have identified DNA of Mormon pioneers of Danish origin. Look back at the dominant surnames for this genetic community. Does it look more English or Danish?

There are other possibilities. Remember the mention of confidence level? Clytee may not belong to the genetic community at all. Her DNA may just be a statistical anomaly. Remember the mention of garbage trees? Ancestry may be running calculations overwhelmed by erroneous information.

GIGO. Garbage in—garbage out.

Thank you, Clytee, for your message.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Mailbox: Browsing Ancestry Database Images

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

The database "Pennsylvania Wills and Probate Records 1683-1993," offers the subscriber a "Browse this collection" window which works perfectly for all Pennsylvania counties except for Philadelphia County. The list of available images for Philadelphia County never shows up anymore—it did when the database was first launched. Perhaps because it is such a huge amount of data, it cannot load properly. Because the list of digitized probate files for Philadelphia County can only be accessed by clicking on a link from this "Browse" function (administrations, etc), it is now not possible to access those files since there is no dropdown menu.

If you know someone at Ancestry who could correct this, I know many researchers would be grateful.

With thanks,

Sandi Hewlett

Dear Sandi,

I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime, there is a workaround. There are two ways to access the browse capability of an Ancestry collection. One is the browse you have identified on the collection page. The other is accessed via the breadcrumb path at the top of the page, underneath the title when viewing an image. If you can find a way to see any image, then you can browse to any other image. You can get to an image via browsing one of the other counties that works, or by searching for a common name. Or do this:

1. Start at https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8802/005871739_00002.

2. Underneath the collection title at the top of the page, click on “Administration Files, 1764.”

3. Select from the available options.

Signed,

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, April 14, 2017

Darned Undertaking

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable. Records say the darnedest things!

Kenneth H. Rich was the undertaker. He was also the decedent. Weird.

Kenneth H. Rich of Kokomo, Indiana was his own undertaker.

After 30 years as an undertaker, Kenneth retired just 7 weeks before his doctor started treating him for interstitial nephritis. Less than 6 weeks later, Kenneth was gone. His son, Robert, took over the family business. Six years after his father’s passing, Robert had his first born son. He named him Kenneth.

Reader Naomi Martineau shared this record with me. Thanks, Naomi!

Image credit: Ancestry.com.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Funny AncestryDNA Commercial Parody

"Have you ever questioned your family’s ancestry?" by 22 Minutes, CBC ComedyA coworker alerted me to this video from the CBC show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. It is titled, “"Have you ever questioned your family’s ancestry?"

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Mailbox: AncestryDNA Genetic Community List of Surnames

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I was playing with this new feature but I did not see the list of Associated Last Names. Would you tell me where to find it please? It is fun to play with but I don't see that it gave me any new information; anything that I have not already researched.

Signed,
Colleen G. Brown Pasquale

Dear Colleen,

Do you see on the third line down in the screen shot, below, where it says “STORY | CONNECTION”? Click on CONNECTION. Scroll to the bottom of the page; it’s on the right hand side.

Signed,
---tai

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ancestry Launches New Genetic Communities

North American Genetic Communities map from AncestryDNAAncestry launched Genetic Communities last week. “Think of the AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates on steroids, and you’ll have a sense of what this is,” Tim Sullivan told RootsTech attendees last February. While ethnicity estimates show your genetic origins from hundreds to thousands of years ago, the Genetic Communities feature shows groups of people you are related to in the last few hundred years. Ancestry defines a Genetic Community as “a group of people who are connected to each other through DNA, most likely because they share a common history or lived in the same places.”

Kendall Hulet said, “Applying rigorous statistics and scientific development, we’ve created a unique experience that can connect you through your DNA to places your ancestors called home and the migration paths they followed to get there.” This doesn’t necessarily pin your particular ancestors to a particular place, since your ancestor may have been an outlier. Chances are good, however, that Ancestry will nail part of your ancestry to a particular region and timeframe.

AncestryDNA has identified over 300 communities with plans to release more in the future. Brad Argent of AncestryUK says that most people are members of at least one Genetic Community, some people are members of two, and, rarely, some are members of three. In my case, I am a member of one.

My ethnicity map now shows my ethnicity estimates on a dark azure map. (Can I just say, I don’t like this new color scheme?) Notice that Ancestry has narrowed (not!) my Native American ancestry to the entire Western hemisphere. Not very helpful in determining my tribal origin (Massachuset).

The Ancestry Insider ethnic origin map from AncestryDNA

But notice the small Orange spot on Utah? That’s my genetic community, “Mormon Pioneers in the Mountain West.”

The Ancestry Insider ethnic origin map from AncestryDNA with a Genetic Community noted

While my genetic community is of no surprise to me (I’m 5th generation Mormon on every single line—my ancestors all being good genealogists—I was born into a completely full, 7-generation pedigree), a Genetic Community could be very interesting to someone vaguely aware of—say—Germanic roots.

Your Genetic Communities are listed beneath your ethnicity pie chart on the left side of the page. The way statistics work, AncestryDNA can’t say with 100% confidence that you are a member of a community.

Ethnicity estimate pie chart and Genetic Communities list

When you click on your community, you are given an overview of the community.

image

Scrolling past the overview reveals migration time periods with commentary.

Migration time periods for an AncestryDNA Genetic Community
Migration time periods for an AncestryDNA Genetic Community
Migration time periods for an AncestryDNA Genetic Community

Selecting a time period shows a migration map, different for each time period. Orange dots show birthplaces from community members’ Ancestry Trees during that time period. Pins show birthplaces from your own tree. Animated lines show the direction of migration.

AncestryDNA Genetic Community time period migration map and commentary

AncestryDNA Genetic Community time period migration map and commentary

Did you notice, I’m aboot one-fourth Canadian, eh?

Beneath the community name, two buttons select between the default Story view, which I’ve shown above, and Connection view. Connection view states that they are 95% confident that I am a member of the Mormon Pioneers Genetic Community, and that it has 89,000 members. Connection view provides a link to see all 737 of the ones that I am related to. It also lists common surnames in the community:

Last names associated with my genetic community

Hmmm. Anything jump out at you?

To see Genetic Communities, you don’t need to have a tree or a paid Ancestry subscription. It is available for free to everyone who has had an AncestryDNA test.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Monday Mailbox: Find A Grave

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Many of you had strong feelings about Ancestry’s new design of Find A Grave. You can see it at www.gravestage.com.

Here are some representative samples:

This new format sucks!!! … So disappointed! … I absolutely HATE IT. … Another website ruined by people who don't use it. … Do.. Not.. Like.. It … New and improved??? It's absolutely horrible, isn't it??? …

From Irene Sheridan:

The new site would not take my email and password. Is it a separate registration to try the test site? I don't want to mess with my "real" login info. :)

Dear Irene,

If I understand correctly, the account systems are currently separate. Your email address and real password won’t work on the staging site and vice versa. You have to register again to try some of the functionality of the staging site.

Angela and others found that the information is messed up:

I just looked at my great grandfather's memorial on the new site. It doesn't have his wife, children and parents attached to him like it does on the old site. It says there are no family members currently associated with this memorial. So that is not right and did not flow over to the new site like it should have. I also now manage his memorial as the lady who originally made his memorial transferred him over to me. It does not list me as being the person managing his memorial. The new site also says that there is no bio information on him but I added his obituary to the old site so it is not on the new site. I also left a flower on his memorial for the old site but he does not have any flowers on the new site. I don't like the new site at all.

I forgot to warn you that the data isn’t always real. Don’t worry about that. It is just test data. A corollary is that any changes you make on this staging site is thrown away! Don’t do any real work on it.

Diane Gould Hall commented that the layout is a step backward:

Everything should still be nicely located on one page, as it is now. Now made so you have to click, click, click to find things. The photos are put into that little box, just like on the new and horrible Ancestry site. I understand updating code. I don't understand a complete new format that makes this beloved website more difficult to navigate and ugly to look at.

Toot echoed that theme:

Just from what I see here, the grey with white text is difficult to read, hard on the eyes. The pleasant colors on the "old" site with black text was very easy on the eyes, and pleasant to look at (why the ugly colors of death needed?). Understand the need for new code, but don't understand the need to change to ugly colors, hard to read text, and reformat of the page. Hopefully, the attached spouse, children, Bio, etc., will flow over in the "new." And hopefully, the name and date will continue to be on the photo's contributed, as well as Flowers contributed. Photo size needs to be large enough to see the text on the Headstones (as it is now,) not some little Thumbnail you can barely see. Name of person (with link) who manages the Memorial is important, unless FaG is going to "manage" all Memorials, which I don't forsee. The current page format is easy to use, easy on the eyes, and does NOT need to be changed. As someone else stated in their comment, it is obvious that the persons coding, and changing the platform/format, are NOT users of FaG!

As did Anna:

The new site is not a pleasant one to use, at least in this beta version. Too much wasted space, too much scrolling, the photos look funny, and too much clicking around to see what used to be one tidy page with everything instantly visible.

It has caused me great wonder that design experts mess up websites when they get involved. Designers think that poorly utilizing screen space and decreasing contract is somehow a good thing. (Do a Google search for [graphic design white space] and [design "never use black"] . After the designers have been paid and move on, websites FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com relent to user demand and switch back to black text on white. Unfortunately, they never seem to fix the “whitespace is good” problem that results in so many extra clicks scrolling or switching tabs.

Michael Dorsey Iams stole my thunder and preached my usual sermon:

I work in the software industry although not for any of the genealogy companies. I thought it would be useful to talk about how users can most effectively provide actionable feedback to software developers.

First of all, I applaud the Find A Grave team for publishing a public beta site. Developers are reluctant to show work they know is not complete, but it is in everyone’s best interest to get direct user feedback early and often during the development process. Second, we all need to acknowledge that user interfaces need to change over time although the benefits of those changes are not often immediately apparent. And finally, recognize their job is to make money. On a free site, that means they need to increase traffic. Concepts such as internationalization and mobile support are significant to them.

1) Generally, don’t focus on colors and fonts. Everyone has difficulty accepting the unfamiliar, and everyone adjusts with time. Although Google is an extreme example (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/05/why-google-engineers-designers), major companies employ experts and detailed processes for deciding these things.

2) One exception to this I believe is handicapped people. Although there are tools and guidelines for accessibility, real-world feedback is still encouraged in this area.

3) Mobile support is about providing a good user experience a variety of resolutions. Try this experiment. Pick up a corner of your browser displaying the Gravestage site. Adjust it bigger and smaller. The elements change to accommodate. A good design finds ways to continue to show the most important information as the screen size drops. This is called responsive design and it takes a lot of effort to do it well. Pick a resolution that matches your mobile screen resolution and provide feedback in this context.

4) Developers aren’t genealogists so it is all too easy for them to make false assumptions. Help them understand with specific, actionable insights into what you want to accomplish and how you go about it. If there are enough people like you, they will surely try to accommodate.

5) It is generally accepted that reducing number of clicks is important, and I think this is a very fair criticism.

6) Provide your feedback with context describing what type of user you are and how you use the site. Even a specialized site such as Find A Grave has dozens of different types of users that use the site in different ways. They need to be able to all these constituencies.

7) It is safe to assume they are familiar with similar sites in the industry, but the internet is a very big place and I find it helpful when someone says "I like to do X with the site, and I find that Y site does this particular function very well".

As they finish the site, they will fix all the bugs like photo cropping and stuff. But, they need help with understanding the many diverse use cases that ultimately affect the broad structure and design of the site.

Mander asked:

Is there a link we can use to send our feedback and suggestions to Find a Grave?

Lisa replied:

Yes, when you are on the page, there is a feedback link in the bottom right corner of the page.

So, good readers, go use it!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Old Find A Grave to Live On?

imageThe specter of a new design for Find A Grave has many a Graver rolling over in his grave photos. As I reported earlier, Ancestry showed the new Find A Grave website design at RootsTech. (See “The New and Improved Find A Grave Shown at #RootsTech.”) Users have provided a variety of responses. I will publish some of them on Monday.

imageAs the feelings continue to rise, rumors have started surfacing of the chance that the old design for the Find A Grave website might live on. A Chinese-language website reports that a student at 愚人节大學 University has created a website that is indistinguishable from the current Find A Grave website. (See “Find A Grave to Live On.” Warning: the article is in Chinese and Google does a terrible job translating it. What follows is a cleaned up version of the Google translation for a portion of the article.)

Student Yu Renjie said, compared to what you imagine, the distinguished website to meet the modern standards, while still maintaining the old appearance, it is easier. The student's website even complies with Ancestry's global intentions and has been available in English or Chinese. While the original "Find Grave" site requires a lot of scrolling on a small smartphone screen, the student site can be seamlessly integrated and automatically slide the view into the view as needed. Students want to sell their work to their ancestors. [I think they meant, “to Ancestry.”]

Ever the skeptic, this development seemed too good to be true. It all became clear, though, when I translated the name of the university into English. So… What do you think? Too good to be true?

imageCredits: Headstone image, public domain from pixabay. Chinese calligraphy and engraving produced by http://www.chinese-tools.com/tools/seal.html. Image manipulation by the author.