Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Names and how they change!

One of those caveats of which we often need to be reminded, is that last names were not always spelled consistently, and they often morphed a bit into new names. Even just two generations back, I have ancestors whose last names varied (as written by family members themselves) with the ending of an "e" or no "e," and a "ch" or a "k." And this was done in a family full of schoolteachers.
While recently looking at some potential matches with autosomal DNA, I came across the name "Gonsalis" or "Gonsales." That didn't seem to be a name that would fit with what I was looking for in terms of a typical Northern New York surnme, so I discounted it. Later, I looked into it, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. Well, "Gonsalis" went through some interesting mutations, one of which is "Consaulus,"and a variation on that--"Consauls. " That puts a whole new spin on the search process.
"Consauls" and its variations are common in Northern New York, and make a good fit for a DNA match. Those bearing that surname may well be unaware of the Spanish origins it suggests.
It is important to treat historical names as flexible in their orthography, and to think about what permutations there might be out there. I certainly doubt that the census informant for each household checked with the census-taker that the names were spelled correctly. So I often look at a whole page or two of census names to see what kind of speller I am dealing with. Is it particular, or phonetic, or rather hastily recorded? Flexibility allows the researcher to catch opportunities for finding what might be missed with a rigid approach to spelling. We can't apply our expectations of browsing through today's phone book to searching yesterday's census and property records.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Moses Van Campen: a colonial with Native American learning

In his own words and quaint spelling, Moses Van Campen, who was taken captive by Native Americans during the Revolutionary war, said that “I was nurtured in the school of the rifle and the tomahawk.” Van Campen lived from 1757 to 1849. He was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but grew up  in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  As a child he spent a good deal of time interacting with Native Americans, as was natural in that place and time.  However, as was also commonplace, his family was attacked by Native Americans in 1780. He was taken prisoner, but escaped within a week that first time. He was taken prisoner a second time by Seneca Indians in 1782 at Bald Eagle Creek in Pennsylvania.  After running the gauntlet, he was treated very well, and when he returned to his own community, he did not forget the Native American ways that he had learned as a child and as a captive. He remained friends with the Native Americans, and integrated their ways into his own life knowledge and experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Melungeon Conference this summer

If you know about the Melungeons, you are a bit ahead in understanding one of the interesting unresolved questions in American history. If you don't know about the Melungeons, you will. They are a very interesting (from a genetic, cultural, and historical point of view) group of people with ancestry in the Appalachians. They have a variety of genetic traits that have been interpreted by themselves and by others in a variety of ways. They are variously termed descendants of an ancient Portuguese colony, Native American, African-American, Jewish, Arabic, South Asian, or a mixture of some of the above. There are unusual diseases that are more common to their group than to the general public. They know there is something just a little different, and they have been trying to identify what that something is. When I came across the topic of the Melungeons for the first time I thought that it would be genetics that would provide the answer. It seems that the Melungeon researchers have looked in that direction, and are beginning to see some results. The results should become clearer and clearer as more and more take DNA tests to see what Melungeon heritage holds, and eventually we will all have a rich story of just who these settlers of Appalachia were. It is important to bear in mind that there are now three important ways to test DNA ancestry relationships: Mtdna, Patrilinial DNA, and autosomal DNA, which will be very helpful because it extends over more breadth.  A recent conference of Melungeon heritage was held in Swannanoa, North Carolina. It is becoming a hot topic, so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Name Index for New York Quaker meetings

Swarthmore College has an excellent website for Quaker records. It is just this kind of information that is valuable and accessible that needs to be used and publicized. While it can be kind of fun to order microfilms of Quaker meetings and to pore through the meeting minutes, learning about the people who were "mou" (married out of unity) and/or dismissed, it is certainly time-consuming and is not guaranteed to yield the precise names you are looking for. Swarthmore College has an excellent index of many such microfilms for New York Quakers, but even better, James E. Hazard has indexed all records of New York meetings by the names of the people mentioned at them.Just by looking at these detailed indexes, you may be able to find the vital (or other) records you are looking for.
I can see, for example, when I look at the index for Galway Monthly Meeting,  that Mary Ann Close is "dec"." in 1861. I can also see that she is daughter of Nathaniel and Cynthia Brown, and that she was of Mayfield. By checking abbreviations against a glossary on the website, I see that "dec" means "deceased." The year and month of the record are also listed. So without ordering or reading a single microfilm, I can get some good information for a family tree. If you know you had Quaker ancestors in New York, you will want to take a look at this index. The indexes can be found at the Hazard Project: http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/friends/hazard/index.html.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Adoptions and DNA

Even when records are sealed, and birth parents don't reveal a thing, adoptees have one good way to track down their biological origins. So far, this generally means narrowing down the field of possibilities so that distant cousins can be identified through autosomal DNA matching. For one man, it meant actually locating his sister and mother. Both he, an adoptee with no information, and his sister, who had remained with her birth mother, had no idea that each had a sibling. But both had chosen, quite independently, of course, to sign up for autosomal DNA testing through 23andme. He wanted to locate family, and she had an interest in genealogy. She could tell by the degree of matching that she had a sibling, and contacted him. Their mother confirmed that she had given a son up for adoption. The story has just been reported by CTV News of Canada at http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20110819/sibling-reunited-110819/.
As more and more people sign up for autosomal testing, adoptees will have better and better chances to uncover their biological families, something that was never forseen at the time that adoptions were designated sealed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Those three brothers who came to America--probably not a myth and not just hogwash

Don’t discard the baby with the bathwater. Family narratives are valuable. Bits of information and great stories will not determine who your ancestors are. But they truly are a great place to start the search, and should never be discarded. Even if you decide all your ancestors’ stories were hoaxes, you have not proven and learned everything. You still need to find out why the story was created, or how it originated. And the stories just might be true, in some way or another. You might get lucky with a story that is easily verified, or you might have to be very creative in exploring options for where its germ of a narrative came from.

I keep seeing examples of how the three brothers myth is proven through paper trails and/or DNA.
Stories that are handed down might be made up of whole cloth, but I always look to see if there is a grain of truth, or even more.  Stories were retold over generations, not because they were fascinating fiction, but because something about them made sense to the narrator and the listener. Stories do change over time.  Those of us who hear the stories don’t accept them the way we might a newspaper article.  We are intrigued, drawn in, and we want to know what about the story is true, and what it tells us about our ancestors.
A story with no immediately clear supporting evidence is not a platform for building information on an ancestor. But it is a prompt to look for 1) supporting evidence, 2) the reasons the story was told and that it persisted, and 3) what about the story might be true.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Matrilineal Descent: Finding the ancestry of the mother of your mother of your mother, etc.

The DNA studies on surnames seem to be taking center stage. The testing and results do provide a great deal of information, and both are useful to all of us who research.

But matrilineal testing is just as doable, and just as valuable. Mtdna testing does not have the advantage of following a surname, and it is therefore more challenging to follow a line. However, as more and more people test, there will be more lines to follow, and the changing names (with each generation) will be very revealing for family histories. The best test, FGS, for the distinct matrilineal line, the mother of one's mother of one's mother, etc. will provide excellent clues both to heritage and to possible ancestors. If you get a perfect match, it isn't possible to know just where the common ancestor lies along the chain. It could be in recent generations or in ancient generations.

However, checking paper trails against those of the match can help to narrow that down. As more people test, results will show more obvious connections. The tests for HVR are also useful, and will show general history of heritage. None of these tests, of course, will show the genetic contributions of those who married into the matrilineal line.

Important to watch for in publicly posted family trees is  a name that doesn't belong--i.e. a name that has been assumed to it into the matrilineal line but is actually a name from a male who married into the line. I see it all the time, and it is an understandable mistake, as tracing a matrilineal line perfectly takes a lot of dedicated effort.

We hear a lot about the surname studies and the surname matches. I hope that mtdna testing (which can be done on males and on females) will catch a wave of interest, and will begin to attract the kind of interest that has been accorded the patrilineal testing.
Image: archnet.asu.edu

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Native American Baptismal records at Fort Hunter, New York

If you enjoy looking at Native American  records (often difficult to find) , or if you may have Mohawk ancestors from the Fort Hunter area  in northern New York,  you might like to look at a transcription of a few of the baptismal, marriage, and funeral records from  Queen Anne’s  Chapel at Fort Hunter. Fortunately, many of these records have been preserved from the Register Book, and can be seen free online. The Register book begins in 1734. Many names are Native American, and some are not. It is an excellent record, although you must watch out for variations in spellings. “Surties, “ for example, means “sureties,” the people who guarantee the marriage contract or who stand with the parents at a baptism.
The website with the transcription can be found at: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nytryon/hunter.html. It is part of a very good site on local history  for the Three Rivers area hosted by rootsweb.

Other selections from the original record can be found elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fraktur online: family history details

German Fraktur are beautiful old images with family history information (actually Fraktur is a type of script, but it is also this type of art/family history).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

California is Gold: see the excellent birth and death indexes

I love starting a search in California. Every since ancestry.com loaded up the California Birth Index and the California Death Index, it is just the best place to begin. Both indexes often list the maiden name of the person listed, and that is just pure gold in terms of confirming family relationships or beginning to look for maternal ancestors. Let's say I look for the birth of  (fictional name) Jacob Green. I see that his mother's maiden name is Pettigrew. So I'm off to the census and marriage records to find Pettigrews married to Greens who lived in California. It leads to a good success rate.

It is perhaps a bit intrusive, as the listings do cover many living persons, but let's hope for ethical searching. 

The searches are very easy. Just go to the birth/marriage/death records search, and either put in the name, or call up one of the indexes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hidden census records

The census records you find on ancestry.com for the U.S. census are a useful, and  the scanned records cover every decade from 1790 to 1930 (except some early records and  1890-with some exceptions, and a few other omissions due to lack of records).

It is useful to be aware that there may be a few more census records that will be useful to you out there, including State or county census records. Parts of these may have been transcribed and are available, if you know where to look. In New York, for example,

New Horizons Genealogy has free searchable census records by county. See http://www.newhorizonsgenealogicalservices.com/ny-census.htm. There are records for many years in years not covered by the U.S. census.

State census records on microfilm are indexed online by the New York State Library. You can see which records are available by county and year You should be able to order them from LDS centers. For the index, see http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/genealogy/nyscens.htm.

And for Jefferson County I have a favorite site: Alice Corbett's, which has some towns for the 1855 census. See: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~aliecor/. She has many other interesting and searchable items on the website--all involving Jefferson County history. The 1850 census is also there.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guiltless Greed

I won't go into all the rewards of searching at once.
One of the great benefits of ancestor searching is the opportunity to feel guiltless greed.

We aren't looking for real gold, nor are we taking away from others. We aren't even neglecting to be helpful. The greed is productive. And we get to feel sheer greed.

We get an ancestor's name and what do we want? His or her parents--two more ancestors and the opportunity to trace those two lines back.  And no harm done. Nothing has been taken, and if we share the research, we have felt the OPPOSITE of greed.

Not bad.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why do people research family history?

I took a look at the reasons people give for researching family history. I looked at the writings of Alex Haley, and posts on forums at genealogy.com and rootsweb.com boards. I synthesized the answers I found, and although I think there is much more to be said on the topic, here are some of the reasons given.

To make history more personal
To leave a mark
To have an important topic to discuss with older family members
Unanswered questions about one's heritage
Looking for a sense of fulfillment
Fascinating to read and learn
The moment of serendipity, and then to experience that again, and again finding more and more nuggets of gold
A sense of belonging