Friday, September 30, 2011

Civil War Lookalikes on Ebay and other websites

You can see it for yourself at the daily beast:
Comparing past and present, there is a new fascination for looking for similarities between people in civil war era photos, probably mostly cabinet portrait photos, and people well-known in the present time. Similarities in facial appearance have been noticed between John Travolta and a civil war era man, and between Nicholas Cage and another civil war era individual. The attention that was drawn to the photos  had an effect on raising the prices on the old photos. Who does your civil war ancestor look like?

In case you haven't been checking out Ebay for cabinet photos and old Bibles (often described in enough detail to add info to your family tree), it might be time to give it a glance.

In any case, what a great way to collapse time through images.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Caring about our ancestors

We care about our ancestors, and we feel attached to them. Well, we are, genetically, and through whatever they have managed to pass down in terms of outlook and philosophy and tradition. But why do we care about the family members who led less than exemplary lives?

Perhaps it is the same phenomenon as we find in our own families--we are attached. Whatever the story is, whatever the path is, that person is ours.

As a friend of mine once said, I love my ancestors as I love my children. They belong to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Revolutionary War Pension applications and where to find them

Where do you find those Revolutionary War Pension applications and what do they hold? They are great sources of information, often providing details of the residences of the applicant, names of members of the family, and the applicant's memories of service. It can be a genealogical gold mine. Most applications appeared in the 1830's, after an act to relieve the financial burdens of Revolutionary Patriots was passed. Some applications are from family members, because the soldier has already passed away. Others are in the words and writing of the patriot himself.
I have found that the American Ancestors website (also known as NEHGS) has summaries of these applications, including indexes of names for each application. That is very appealing, but of course it makes the reader want to see the entire application. The reader wonders, why was so and so mentioned? Let's see it and read it! The indexed applications at American Ancestors are provided by Fold3. The indexes will allow readers to see the pension applications in their entirety for a subscription fee. But it turns out that has many of these pensions scanned as well.
Consequence? For those who have subscriptions, the Fold3 may not be necessary for this particular type of genealogy resource.
It is always uselful to check here and there to see if you can get access to information that you had expected to pay for.
Other great alternatives include free census information available from The USGenWeb Census Project at (, and vital records that are compiled by volunteers for the State GenWeb websites.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gedmatch and the matches of matches...

Now that more people are testing, there is less guesswork and more constructive logic involved in finding common ancestors with Family Finder or Relative Finder matches. When you can see matches for matches on Gedmatach, you can start plugging in possible ancestral names. All you have to do (well yes, it takes some time) is to build the family trees of each match, and see where convergences appear likely. Challenging, but in a fun, doable way. This is where Family Finder and Relative Finder have so much potential for success. They provide the matches, and online websites like provide forums for pushing info on those matches as far as possible. One by one, American ancestors will be found, named, and included in our trees.

Monday, September 19, 2011

War of 1812 Pension Requests

Fold3, formerly called Footnote, has taken on the task of scanning War of 1812 Pension applications. It appears that it is a large project that has barely begun, but the quality of the records, and the information that can be gleaned from them is certainly valuable. I have looked at the indexing of the records and have read over some of the records. My ancestors don't show up yet, but I do look forward to reading about them when they do turn up. The records can be searched by name, and then are sorted by state, which is pretty helpful. The detailed information in the application is very nice to see, and since it has all been scanned, every bit of that detail is available, from the way the signatures were written to the notes here and there on the sides. The information is much more inclusive than the simple abstracts of payment information I have seen to date in free sites. It is offered free to the public so far, and is very timely, as we will soon be ready to recognize the 200th anniversary of that war.
Image source: tao.221.wordpress,.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What offers, and now what sister site has available

Update February 2014: Gedmatch now has a utility which is even more useful than the one described below--see my recent post of 2/21/2014. It is now possible to triangulate chromosome segments. Once you see it, you will see why this is a fantastic advance. has a lot to offer and it can only get better as time goes on. What is it useful for? It is useful for getting more out of the autosomal DNA results (RF and FF)  that you get from FTDNA or 23andme.

People who have tested can sometimes make contact with potential relatives through the company they test with to try to find the common ancestor. But matches don't always respond to requests, and they don't always post a gedcom. By using the utilities on, you can at least see, (through the triangulation utility), who your matches match. Of course they will match many individuals who have nothing to do with you. But you may be able to work with the names that are there to narrow down geography, or even to find matches in common. For example I might see that my match Mary Jones, who doesn't respond to my email requests, matches five people with ancestry that I can at least identify (from their posted gedcoms or from their posts on genealogy forums) as from the southern States.

The triangulation utility is only one of the many options on gedmatch. You can also use the chromosome browser to compare where you match with all of your matches on each chromosome. This can point to common ancestry for some of the matches.

The chromosome painting is an amazing feature. You can see the genetic ancestry as matched with populations for each chromosome. If you find you have unusual matches on 17, for example, you may see on the chromosome painting, that that particular chromosome matches a population that is quite different from the majority of your projected ancestry.

Another utility at is the gedcom comparison. You can upload a gedcom, which requires no genetic testing whatsoever, and have the names and dates compared to those of other gedcoms.

And now there is a sister site: You can sign up for a project and load up your results to see how they compare to others looking for commonalities. Projects include Lost Colony/Melungeon. Roma/Gypsy, Quaker, and Ashkenazi, all very interesting areas of research.

These are only some of the great features at and its sister site.

I have no business affiliation with the website. As a researcher, I think it is just great.

The reliable or unreliable narrator of family history

Researching family history is highly involved with use and understanding of narrative discourse. We often discuss the reliability or unreliability of the narratives (stories, biographies, notes, etc.) that we read as we conduct our research.

I am reminded of Seymour Chatman's communication model, which describes the relationship between narrator and narratee (who is actually a part of the "story" in a sense, and beyond to the implied reader (intended but not necessarily personally known by the teller) and the real reader, as addressed by the real author and the implied author. Without getting into the intricacies of the model, and without trying to aim for perfect application of the concepts, I would like to consider the interesting aspect of reliabilty in the telling of stories.
I  like to be very open-minded about clues, because I know that I will double-check every lead that I find. I can reject anything later, but I'd like to have a good look at it first. And I enjoy finding illogical stories almost as much as I enjoy putting a family tree together step by step, logically.

I recently came across a public family tree online that had some information that looked helpful. I hadn't seen anyone else who had that connection. My first clue that I might be dealing with an unreliable narrator came when I saw that the Revolutionary War service papers were from Virginia, and attached to a man from New England. It wasn't time to reject the information, but time to be a little more cautious. I then saw that the son was born several years after the father died. Then I knew that the tree owner was of the habit of attaching information to a name, without verifying that the information or checking to see if there might be other men of the same name. So I knew that this was an unreliable narrator, as created by the real author of the tree, and that the stories told would not be helpful to me. The owner of this family tree was very eager to prove that the ancestor had served in the war, and was probably a little too eager to do so, missing some truth in the process of writing the tale.

There are many reasons that we have unreliable narrators to inform us about family history. Some are working hard, but are not checking their information; some are attached to what they hope will be the truth. Some are working with good information that seems logical, but it may not be the best information. I think of all of genealogical research as the result of the best work that has been done at the moment, and any of it may be adjusted, improved, or reversed with better information.

There can be unreliable narrators at any time--now and in the past, and the stories of people real and fictional can be told and retold. The burden is on the reader to decide whether to enjoy the story for what it seems to be, or to question the narration and double check the details of the content. If your informer appears to be attached to a narrative rather than to facts, that is lovely, but will not help you build or expand your family tree.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cemetery Visits--you never know what you will find

Cemeteries are places where you find those tiny details that you can't find online. You will see how the family plot is organized, giving clues to family and community relationships. Even better is reading the wording on the tombstones. Not only does it provide a moment of connection with those who walked before us, but it also sometimes provides details no one has reported or transcribed. There may be a birth year, a place of origin, a list of children.

 Find A Grave is rapidly making photos, and thus the information from the wording on tombstones,  more accessible than ever before, but there is no substitute for seeing it yourself.

In some cemeteries  I've visited I have been amazed to see family histories delineated. Leander, son of Henry and Sarah, born in___, brother to_____ and so on. Monuments can have very detailed and intricate wording. One of my ancestors, a naturalist, is the only one in her family to have a rock as a headstone, instead of the traditionally carved headstone. It speaks volumes.

A wonderful news story about a woman's visit to a cemetery in  Pennsylvania, and her discovery of the revolutionary war service of her ancestor is described in the following news story:, under the heading Genealogy buffs tour Tulpehocken region of Berks:  on the website A special gravestone was found there, in Tulpehocken, with an inscription in German, the kind of thing you are not likely to see included in a transcription record. The article explains , " In Christ Lutheran cemetery, they wandered among tombstones that predate the Revolutionary War."

Included was a stone dedicated to Regina Leininger, a child who was taken captive by Indians in 1755. She lived with them for eight years, and was identified by her family because she remembered a hymn her mother taught her.

"Allein und doch nicht, ganz allein," it reads.

Roughly translated, it means: "I am alone, yet not alone, for Thou art near."
(end citation)

Personally, my translation would be more along the lines of  "alone, and yet not completely alone."

For those cemeteries that you can't get to, Find A Grave (  has excellent cemetery and headstone information. It is a good first place to look online for this type of information. I keep checking back, and find more and more photos of gravestones AND information provided by descendants which gives relationships. Just today I learned that my suspicion that Esther, married to Robert Fenner of Fairfield, Herkimer, New York, had the maiden name of Fellows, was indeed correct. So I was able to update that branch of the family tree.
If you have a chance, you can also see if the cemetery you would like to know more about has its own listing of burials, either online or as a written record which can be viewed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gedmatch is now doing admixture...and chromosome "painting!"!

There is a new and wonderful addition to the website. It is an admixture feature, now in beta version. For example, it will show your percentages, as measured in your DNA, of what compares to populations such as West European, South Asian, etc.  For Americans with varied ancestry, it provides a very interesting glimpse into family history.
Just very recently, a feature called "Genetic Admixture Painting" was added. It is amazing. It gives you a lot of bang for your buck when you test your DNA because it expands your options for using the raw data.

 If you have loaded up your autosomal test results onto, you can just put your kit number into the admixture feature, and there it is. Very interesting, and convenient. Whether it is accurate or not, and bear in mind that it is in its beta version, it certainly gives more of a breakdown into different reference populations than the Population Finder at FTDNA.
Click on the image to see the breakdown.
I look at these admixture breakdown results, wherever I can find them, as informative and fun. As admixture testing improves, results will improve. For now, at least in my opinion, it is to be seen as helpful, but not definitive, in identifying the backgrounds of ancestors.
Comments on the FTDNA forum indicated that the results are comparable to results done on the same samples with other analysts--geneticists, testing companies, scientists. It is important to take the time to look at the reference populations to get an idea of what the percentages mean. The reference population for West Asian might not be what you think of as West Asian, for example.

It is very useful to sign up for the blogs of Dienekes Pontikos, and to look at what he has done with his data. For those of us for whom analyzing numbers is not a natch, it is also useful to check out what professionals and amateurs have to say about all that at some of the forums such as Another useful forum is at FTDNA.
Even more fun is the chromosome breakdown, showing the percentage of admixture on each chromosome! Take chromosome 22, for example. It will show say 22 % East European, 40% West European, 10 % East Asian, and so on. Again, not taking it as perfect science, I do plan to use it with the chromosome browser AND match results to see if I can get a better idea of my ancestry, especially as it compares with that of my matches. The image above is a sample of a chromosmome painting result. The image is provided courtesy of John Olson, of

The Genetic Admixture Painting shows your chromosomes, one by one, brought to life with vibrant colors indicating where on each the segments best match the reference populations. It is gorgeous and fun to look at while pondering one's possible ancestry. The picture below is of admixture.

Image from google images, originally from Dienekes Anthropology blog. The  results for admixture on are based on the data and work of Dienekes Pontikos.

The utilities are free, and well worth looking into for anyone who is looking for more ways to analyze autosomal DNA test results.

Update April 7 2012: DNA forums is now gone.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rev. war Pension applications--be sure to read to the end

The Revolutionary War pension applications are either fascinating to read or blah blah blah, depending on whether you want to slog through all the battles and who led them, and the witnesses as to the identity of the applicant. I usually scan for genealogical information.

I heartily recommend that the reader read through, or page through to the last pages. Once in awhile there is a  letter there from the government to a descendant who has inquired about the ancestor.

The letter usually sums up whether the pension was granted or not, what service was held to be valid, and which family members were mentioned in the application. Since it is a typed letter, rather than the longhand of the application, it is easy to read and confirms the names the reader may have seen. But a bonus is that a more recent descendant of the family, namely the person inquiring, has been named.

By putting this person's name into the family tree, the reader may be able to confirm relationships and expand the extended family branches. The letter is, of course, dated, and provides an address for the inquiring descendant's abode. All of this can prove valuable to the modern day descendant or to a researcher of the same family.

Friday, September 2, 2011

DNA fits very well into the rhythms of the ancestor search

I am having so much fun looking at  DNA matching that I have to write about it again. DNA testing fits so well into the genealogy search.

I knew it would be interesting to get some DNA results when I first did the testing. But my fear was that the results would lose their novelty. That is where I had such a pleasant surprise. The testing works incredibly well as an interactive process, and the potential for that type of searching is only going to increase.

Especially with autosomal DNA tests, you can look at gedcoms of matches, and work on matching the paper trail. You can check back against the chromosome matches. The more matches you have who overlap in one area, the  more chances of finding a common ancestor there. It is just fascinating, and  when you run into dead ends, new matches come along (well, honestly, not usually quite that punctually, but still, often enough). You can contact your matches and collaborate with them if they are so inclined., which is free, offers wonderful options for looking at all your chromosome matches visually, to see where there are overlaps (chromosome browser) and the triangulation utility can show you who matches your matches (a great feature, especially for the non-communicative matches). And then there is the comparing on HIRSearch and its companion page on facebook, and then there are all the Y-DNA projects to check out as well. Finding distant cousins is not easy with this method, but it does work, and is extremely rewarding.

I have already identified the common ancestors of several of my distant cousins (as identified by the testing company), and look forward to the fun of tracking down more.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Footnote--going through some changes--a lot of changes

It almost seems like an April Fool's joke, but it isn't April. is going to change its great name and its focus.  Footnote is a great resource. The scanned records have excellent detailed information, and make great reading, even if you stumble upon records that apply to someone you have never heard of. And they can be very helpful if you find records pertaining to the ancestor you look for. Many of the records are free. It is an amazing source for those elusive southern records.I recently learned that is are going to be increasing its number of military records dramatically, and that the company  wishes to highlight this change in focus with a name change. They will now be called Fold3 as a reference to the flag and patriotism. Say what? At first I thought--oh they are going to completely change and they won't have the great material they always provided, but I checked myself and thought--better to hope this is a good move for the company and for researchers. Well, then I read Megan Smolenyak's article for the Huffington Post on the topic, and realized it might be time to get worried about the future of She articulates her concerns about the change very well at: In the same post, she comments on the changes at google news archive, one of my favorite archives. Apparently searching the site is becoming more and more difficult. Ah, and what did I recently hear about collaboration and cooperation being the wave of the future in genealogy. Au contraire--we may have to hone our old library skills.