Where in the World: Technical Tools for Locating a Place

Despite an expanding wealth of online resources, genealogists will always need to “hit the road.” In addition to visiting local repositories, court houses, and libraries where unique and “not-yet-online” resources are available, genealogists want to visit old farms, churches, and cemeteries. They want to see the home places of their ancestors. They want to feel the wind on the prairie of Nebraska or see the snow fall on a New Hampshire field.

Through the use of some handy software and hardware tools, the tradition of the genealogy trip is becoming easier to manage and easier to accomplish.

The key to a successful journey, whether it’s a genealogical research trip or a vacation to the islands, is planning. You want to pack the right stuff, get the tickets, and arrange for pet sitting. More specifically for a genealogy trip, in addition to your research plan, you want to know how to find the old homestead, the repositories, and the cemeteries. In other words, you want to place your family history locales on a contemporary map.

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Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: mtDNA

Three Generations of Arnold, Gregg, and Johnson Women
Three Generations of Women

(Clockwise, from top left:
my grandmother
Helen Kjerstine Johnson, her sister
Bethene Blanche Johnson,
their mother, Alice Margaret Gregg,
her mother, Helen Edwina Arnold)

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings has posted his ideas for Saturday night genealogy fun. I’m game!

Randy asks us to think about and respond to the following:

“1. List your matrilineal line – your mother, her mother, etc. back to the first identifiable mother. Note: this line is how your mitochondrial DNA was passed to you!

“2. Tell us if you have had your mitochondrial DNA tested, and if so, which Haplogroup you are in.

“3. Post your responses on your own blog post, in Comments to this blog post, or in a Note or status line on Facebook.”

Here’s my matrilineal line:

a. Jordan D. Jones
b. Alice May Hill (living) m. Carl Lawrence Jones
c. Helen Kjerstine Johnson (1894, Ord, Valley Co., NE – 1976, Simi Valley, Ventura Co., CA) m. Ernest Melvin Hill
d. Alice Margaret Gregg (1870, East Nodaway, Adams Co., IA – 1919, Ord, Valley Co., NE) m. Nels “E” Johnson
e. Helen Edwina Arnold (1847, Wheeling, Ohio Co., VA – 1922, Des Moines Co., IA)
f. Esther Ward (circa 1821, probably near Ohio Co., VA – unknown) m. Paul Arnold
g. [Probably Sarah LNU [possibly Swan] (circa 1796, PA – 1863) m. Joseph Ward]
h. [Unknown, but possibly Elizabeth Bowen (1773, Muddy Creek, Greene Co., PA – 1823, Grave Creek, Marshall Co., VA) m. Henry B. Swan]
i. [Unknown, but possibly Nancy Agnes Crea (1750, Muddy Creek, Greene Co., PA – 1791, Dunkard, Greene Co., PA) m. Thomas Bowen]

What’s exciting about this is that looking at my maternal line again, I picked up the trail of my 3rd great grandmother, Esther Ward.

I had not been searching widely enough for her. Her husband Paul Ward appears in the 1850 Marshall County, Virginia Mortality Schedule, and I had not been able to find her in the census for Marshall County, Virginia, where Paul was listed. She didn’t appear in Virginia at all, in fact, or in other nearby states.

I didn’t find her in Virginia or other local states because she had moved to Danville, Iowa, and she was incorrectly indexed (as “Hester Ansell”).

But tonight, I found her in the 1850 Census in Danville Township, Des Moines Co., Iowa, with what I strongly believe are her parents, as well as her children Elizabeth, Rollin, Joseph, Helen, and Paul. (I had known about Rollin, Helen, and Paul, and their ages are all on target.) On Ancestry.com, this is linked with the extra information, though none of has any sources cited, so it is all conjectural at this point, but something to start with, if only to rule it out when the documents come in.)

All of this led to finding Sarah and her husband Joseph Ward in the transcription of the Blakeway Cemetery, Danville Township, Des Moines County, Iowa on the US Gen Web site for Des Moines County, Iowa.

So, it’s been an interesting night! But back to Randy’s other question.

2. Yes, I have had my mitochondrial DNA done.

I’m in the H haplogroup, along with “about 30% of all mitochondrial lineages in Europe [today]”, according to Charles Kerchner’s MtDNA Haplogroup Descriptions & Information Links. I have had some close matches, but nothing that made any genealogical sense. This is mainly because the granularity of MtDNA haplogroups is such that you can only see deep ancestry, long before genealogical records or even most of what we think of as our national origins.

Now, if you happened to he in the H2a5 subclade of the H haplogroup, you would know that your family probably “originated” in the Basque region of what is now Spain.

Of course, we all know that our origins lie in Africa, even if we have the admixture, I recently mentioned here, with Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, the Neanderthals… who probably also came from Africa.

Even stating all that, though, I still find mtDNA interesting, as one finds out facts such as that the H haplogroup is prominent in Europe, but also by the Caspian Sea. We think of migrations in terms of our recent history, but human migration is a much longer trend, from Africa to the Caspian to Europe to America: we just keep moving.

Diigo.com: “A collaborative research platform”

I came across an interesting website called Diigo.com. It is a combination of a social bookmarking site, such as Delicious.com, and a note taking, web content storage site, such as Evernote.com.

Diigo allows you to store bookmarks from across the web, tag them with multiple tags, and share these links with others. You can also mark bookmarks as private, in case you do not want to share them, or you can post them to particular groups of users in the social network of Diigo.com.

While Delicious.com is a powerful tool, one thing it lacks is a true social component, where users could create interest groups to share links within the group, not simply based on tags. The Evernote desktop application and its companion site Evernote.com are one of the most useful sites for gathering together notes, images, snippets of webpages, and so on. Evernote allows you to collect content in notebooks, and share content on a notebook-by-notebook basis. Notebooks can be shared with individuals or with the world. But there’s no way in Evernote to create groups, join groups, and share with other users who have a common interest.

Where Diigo.com really shines is in its focus on research. As you traverses the web, you can store URLs, save text and files (web pages as well as images and PDFs), and highlight and annotate them. These notes and annotations can be shared with the social network on the Diigo.com site, making it what what the folks at Diigo call “a collaborative research platform.” As opposed to a social network about everything, including games, and so on, like Facebook, the folks at Diigo say their site is a “social information network.” It has been recognized by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) as one of The Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

There are toolbars available for Firefox and Internet Explorer, a one-button extension available for Chrome, and a bookmark button for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. There is some support for the iPhone, but it seems a bit clunky.

I have created an account on Diigo.com and will try it out.

I don’t expect it to replace Evernote.com or Delicious.com, as it’s in a slightly different market than those products. (By the way, there’s an integration with Delicious.com from Diigo.com, allowing you to post the links you create on Diigo.com to your Delicious.com account.). The lack of an offline tool, such as what Evernote has, means that I would not be able to take notes where wi-fi is not available, but I see a lot of value in Diigo.com, especially for the ease of sharing research materials with other members of a research community.

Our Neanderthal Ancestors

The science magazine Nature has published an article that claims to prove that Europeans and Asians have traces of Neanderthal DNA: “European and Asian genomes have traces of Neanderthal.”

Svante Pääbo leads a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig. They have been sequencing the DNA of Neanderthal bones found in Vindija Cave in Croatia. When they completed their initial work on the Neanderthal DNA a year ago, the scientists wanted to compare the Neanderthal DNA to sequenced DNA of modern individuals. Their sample modern DNA came from people in France, Africa, China, and Papua New Guinea.

What they found was that 1-4% of the DNA of Europeans and Asians comes from Neanderthals. This was not true of Africans. Their estimate is that migrating humans in Europe and Asia Minor interbred with Neanderthals 45,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Talk about deep genealogy!

There will be a lot of further research into the implications of this partial ancestry of humans from near cousins in the distant past. Are there any traits or vulnerabilities or survival strengths some of us come to because of this ancestry? There will be much to ponder as the research results are completed.

Kalaupapa, HI Genealogy Resources

I posted a film yesterday about a woman discovering information about her great grandmother who lived in what was called the Kalaupapa (Moloka’i) Leprosy Settlement. Wikipedia has this to say about Kalaupapa:

The county is coextensive with the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and encompasses the Kalaupapa Settlement where the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, the territory, and the state once exiled persons suffering from leprosy (Hansen’s disease) beginning in the 1860s. The quarantine policy was lifted in 1969, after the disease became treatable on an outpatient basis and could be rendered non-contagious. However, many of the resident patients chose to remain, and the state has promised they can stay there for the rest of their lives. No new patients, or other permanent residents, are admitted. Visitors are only permitted as part of officially sanctioned tours. State law prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from visiting or living there. With a population of 147 at the 2000 census, Kalawao County’s population is the second smallest of any county in the United States, ahead of only Loving County, Texas. Ranked by median household income, it is the poorest county in the United States.

(Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalawao : Accessed 5 May 2010)

People who are looking into ancestors who lived in Kalaupapa do not have a lot of resources. If you are doing family history in this locale, here are some places you could try:

  • Hawai‘i State Archives, Genealogy Research Guide (which includes some digitized vital records)
  • Linkpendium > Genealogy > USA > Hawaii and the Pacific > Kalawao County
  • US GenWeb Archives for Kalawao
  • Remembering Kalaupapa
  • Kalawao County HI GenWeb
  • Family History Library Microfilm from the Church of St. Francis of Asissi, one reel, including:

    Baptisms 1927-1964, 1978 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 1)
    Marriages 1896-1909, 1927-1977 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 2-3)
    Confirmations 1927-1975 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 4)
    Church accounts 1889-1891 Deaths 1904-1927 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 5)
    Deaths 1927-1977 (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 6)
    Register 1873-1930 (photocopy of orig.) (baptisms, confirmations, marriages, burials) (FHL US/CAN Film 1025712 Item 7)

Genealogy, Health, and the Native Hawai’ians

I want to talk to you about “Searching for Emma.” It was one of the most affecting of a group of poignant films presented at “A Celebration of Family History” on 29 April presented by FamilySearch at the LDS Conference Center in honor of the 2010 National Genealogical Society conference.

The film depicts the story of Emma Lyons Waimau, exiled at the age of 24 to Kalaupapa, what was then called the colony for lepers (persons with Hansen’s Disease) on the island of Moloka’i. There, she met and married her husband and bore six children none of whom she would be able to keep, according to the laws of the day.

Family history is simply the story of lives as they are lived, with happiness and tragedy delivered as they will be, without a schedule or agenda. What moves is how people react to the lives they live.

The devastation of the Hawai’ian people, the stigmatization of people with a disease, and the whole history of health care, inform this story of Emma Lyons Waimau and infuse it with meaning. Each aspect of the narrative adds the weight of history to a tale that might otherwise be simply a personal one of a woman curious to know about her great grandmother’s struggles.

“Searching for Emma” (Adobe Flash-based video)

Decompressing from NGS 2010, Salt Lake City

I arrived home yesterday afternoon from the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, held this year in Salt Lake City. I’m still decompressing from a great week of presentations, speeches, singing from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and research. I do not this one post will encompass all that I have to say about the event, so here’s the first of a couple of posts on the Conference.

This year there were several items of note:

  • Jay L. Verkler, President of FamilySearch (which includes the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the over 4,600 Family History Centers in more than 80 countries, and the FamilySearch.org website) gave the Wednesday morning keynote address, which included:
    • A presentation of “From the Granite Mountain to the Ends of the World,” a video virtual tour through the LDS Granite Mountain Records Vault, where the master copies of the Church’s 2.4 million microfilm reels are stored.

      I expect this video, entitled  will soon be posted to http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/FamilySearch_Presentations_at_NGS_2010 where the other LDS presentations from the Conference have been posted. The presentation is listed there, but does not have an active link yet.

      Update: The film is up on their website. See the entry “Granite Mountain Records Vault: The Video.”

    • An announcement that the FamilySearch website has posted 300 million new names in indexed genealogical records.
    • An announcement that digitizing the Church’s microfilm (once estimated to take 178 years) will instead be completed in … 10 years, due to technological improvements.Indexing will take additional time, but the fact that all the imaging will be done as soon as 2020 means that these records may be accessible in unindexed digital format (folks, the films are not indexed either!), and the indexing could be done via crowd sourcing, as the FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com websites are already doing.
  • The NGS Conference included a GenTech section, where genealogical software and website companies demonstrated their products. There was an unmanned booth (though sometimes there were people there!) with the proposed Genealogical Data Model (GDM).Here’s one researcher who hopes that the GDM is finally dusted off and used to create a true standard for the storage, maintenance, and sharing of genealogical data that will comply with the Genealogical Proof Standard and the sourcing guidelines of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. This would give us a better way to share and compare genealogical information as well as to take it cleanly from one product to another without the current vagaries of GEDCOM.

Kindle 2 Adds Native PDF Support; New Kindle for Windows

Amazon has added native PDF support to the second-generation Kindle e-reader.

The Kindle DX, which has a larger screen (9.7 inches vs. 6 inches on the Kindle, 2nd gen) and a higher sticker price ($489 vs. $259), has had native PDF support since its launch.

The new support for PDFs on 2nd generation Kindle devices is part of software version 2.3, which does not run on the original Kindle devices. This software will be automatically downloaded over the air, but Kindle owners who are as impatient as I am, can manually download the upgrade software and install it over a USB connection to their Kindle. The software and instructions are available at: Kindle Software Updates.

The PDF reader works well. The PDFs retain all of their design and content. However, there are some limitations. Unlike the Kindle DX, the Kindle 2 does not automatically rotate the screen when you rotate the device. (Some reviewers of the Kindle DX have said that the auto-rotation is sluggish and unpredictable, but it still might be easier to deal with than the clicks required to rotate the screen manually on the DX or on the Kindle 2.) Once you rotate the screen, the image of a portrait-format PDF file fills up approximately two screens worth of scrolling on the Kindle. This works fine, and makes the PDFs readable, but it might be nice if you could zoom in on a PDF the way you can on an image in Kindle-formatted books.

For genealogists, the native PDF support makes the Kindle 2 a much more interesting device. You can now download public domain books from Google Books or take your society’s newsletter along in an instant-on portable device. No wireless access is required while reading, and the radio for WhisperNet, the free cell phone-based access, can be turned off for use on airplanes or where there is no cell phone signal.

Another recent Amazon release is a Kindle for PC, which allows you to read books you’ve bought for the Kindle on your PC. (Kindle for PC runs on Windows XP (Service Pack 2), Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Kindle for PC syncs your reading location between Kindle for PC and your Kindle. You can share Kindle books with up to six Kindle readers or Kindle for PC software packages. A Kindle for the Mac is in the works for Mac OS X users.

This beta release is admittedly not ready for general use. It is missing key features such as the ability to copy or even highlight text, and the ability to … um search! Links also do not appear to work, which is very frustrating. Amazon promises updates to address these and other gaps and requested features. There is no way to purchase books from the Kindle for PC interface. You will need to do that on your hardware Kindle or on Amazon.com using a web browser. For licensing reasons, you cannot use the Kindle for PC software to read newspapers, magazines, or blogs, only books.

Facebook for Genealogists

Facebook, a social networking website, passed a milestone in February: it reached the five-year anniversary of its launch. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore at Harvard University, with the original idea of keeping in touch with his college friends. The site quickly took off, with many Harvard students joining, then students across the country. Five years later, the site has expanded its horizons beyond the youth culture of its beginnings. The company now claims that the Facebook Web site has 175 million active users globally. Zuckerberg wrote in January 2009 that “This includes people in every continent — even Antarctica. If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia, and Nigeria.” Almost half of the active Facebook users use the site every day.

But, beyond the breathy hype of the website’s founder, of what value is Facebook to genealogists? It provides the ability to share notes, photographs, event invitations, and information of specifically genealogical interest, allowing genealogists to connect with each other, and with other family members. For many, this can provide a way to quickly and easily share information about their research with their families, especially with people who think they are “not interested” in genealogy.

Facebook is more than a simple social networking site. In addition to all of its social networking features, it functions as a framework for the creation and dissemination of information. The site has evolved to include not only programs designed by the people at Facebook, but also programs designed by others that run within Facebook and share information with other Facebook applications. This is both the power and the risk of Facebook, as I will discuss later.

People come to Facebook for a number of reasons: to connect with old friends or long-lost family, to share pictures, event invitations, jokes, Web links, and video clips with friends, old and
new; and to talk to one another, and present themselves almost as a kind of brand, sharing in their Facebook profiles their favorite books, movies, and places, their religious outlook, political affiliation, and hobbies. Lately, they are sharing answers to a series of questions about what they did in high school, what their goals are for their lives (and which of them have been achieved), and “twenty-five random things about me” which, of course, seldom seem very random. My wife has an unusual surname, and for her, Facebook has been a place where she has found potential relatives she would not have found any other way.

The fifth most popular application on Facebook is “We’re Related,” a creation of WorldVitalRecords.com. “We’re Related” allows one to see all of one’s family who are on Facebook, along with a description of the relationship with each of them (for example, “sister’s brother-in-law”). It also allows for the creation of a genealogy database (either on the site or via GEDCOM upload) to share with anyone on Facebook. (The GEDCOM import feature — which would allow you to export an entire genealogy database from your favorite soft ware package and import it into “We’re Related” in one fell swoop — has been problematic. It has worked at times, but as of this writing is not working and is under a major re-development effort.)

Many nationally known genealogical researchers, speakers, and writers are on Facebook. In addition, a variety of societies have set up pages there. A random sampling includes the California Genealogical Society and Library, NGS, and the North Carolina Genealogical Society (for which I admit I am the webmaster… one of the twenty-five “random” things about me). You will also find magazines, such as Digital Genealogist. In addition, many blogs and podcasts are represented, including The Genealogy Guys Podcast. Software vendors also make an appearance. Fans of The Master Genealogist have set up a page; the company RootsMagic has one as well. And, in a kind of fun-house mirror sort of duality, there are even Web sites, such as GenealogyToday.com, RootsTelevision.com, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com.

It is important to remember that Facebook is a social, not a personal site. Genealogists should conduct themselves as if any of their Facebook communications could become public, since they could, through a variety of means (i.e., sharing by Facebook friends, system failures, or security holes). So, you don’t want to post your grandmother’s secret fried chicken recipe if you indeed want to make sure it remains a secret, even if you’re only sharing it with your closest friends.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of power in the Facebook site. I have been quite impressed by the work being done there by a group called Unclaimed Persons. (The group also has its own Web site at UnclaimedPersons.org.) It posts information about people whose bodies wait in morgues to be claimed by family members. Members of the group on Facebook do pro
bono research to try to locate the lost families of these persons, and then direct their sourced research through the Unclaimed Persons administrators, who pass the information on to the coroners’ offices. In many cases, Unclaimed Persons research has allowed coroners to contact families who have wondered if they would ever know the fate of a brother or father or sister or mother. The connection between Facebook users and the applications, pages, and groups they have joined, gives them a single Web site to log into to participate in the Unclaimed Persons eff ort, as well as many other activities.

Some might be concerned that Facebook could become a time drain, a place for genealogists to waste time they could be using to further their research. There is definitely a risk that you could end up playing more than your time budget allows. If, for example, you beat my wife at Word Challenge, you and I, and my wife, will all know you’re spending too much time playing games.

As with any tool or the Internet itself, it is up to each individual researcher to manage his or her time and focus on reaping the benefits of that tool. One could easily spend the bulk of a day on Facebook sending out virtual gift s to friends, but one can also fi nd out about events and societies and keep up-to-date with a variety of blogs. One can connect with family members who do not think of themselves as genealogists, and share successes and challenges with one’s research peers and friends.

Probably the biggest concerns voiced about Facebook over the years have been about privacy and security. Among the most serious issues is that Facebook allows applications almost unfettered access to the materials you have posted. At one point, pressing the down arrow key or entering a period in the search box would produce a list of five profiles related to the Facebook user who was currently logged in. People assumed that this was a list of the people who had most frequently visited one’s profile. The list became known as the “Stalker List.” Eventually, Facebook said that the list was only intended to be used by the Facebook soft ware to quickly navigate users to profi les that they were likely to visit. Because there was so much confusion and concern about the list, it was removed.

While many of these issues remain, especially the openness of your profile to Facebook applications that you choose to use, Facebook has made serious gains in terms of making its site more secure and private. They have given users more per-application access to control over what is shared with those applications, and what gets posted to your profi le from interactions by you or others with those applications. As the saying goes: caveat emptor. You should actually read the privacy notice on Facebook, and use the privacy settings available to control security and privacy to the extent that you can. Keep in mind that it is a social, not a strictly private site.

Keeping those issues in mind, I believe that the benefits of Facebook are compelling. Applications such as “We’re Related,” as well as genealogy focused groups and pages, bring a wealth of connections to genealogists. With 175 million users, a lot of your current relatives are on Facebook, and the ones who have been hard to find are probably easier to locate here than elsewhere.

Originally published in the NGS Newsmagazine, Volume 35, Number 1, April–June 2009. Revised and updated. Posted by permission.