Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cartes de Visite at

You may have some Cartes de Visite (often called cabinet photos) at home, saved in old photo albums, and you may have seen them on Ebay--if you haven't it is well worth a trip through the antiquities section of the offerings. has a set of civil war Cartes de Visite from New York, and most are identified. You could check out the database and make an educated guess as to who your unidentified ancestor might be, or you could just admire the great images of the men from decades past.

The cabinet photos above are mine, and are not from
The people in them are not yet identified. If you recognize  them, please let me know!

Update July 20: I think the first photo may be of Lieutenant General W. Pyle. I looked up the name of the photographer, L. H. Bonsall, and found a similar photo (identified) for sale at this website:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NPR Podcast on Melungeon DNA study: direct lineage African?

Update 2016: Research into the origins of Melungeons continues.
There are heritage websites, conferences, and ongoing DNA testing. Updates from those familiar with the research progress are welcome here and useful resources and news items will be linked.

NPR has provided a podcast online which explores the topic of DNA research of Melungeon ancestry. The podcast itself includes an interview with Roberta Estes, lead researcher of the recent study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, and with Wayne Winkler, whose family is identified as of Melungeon heritage. Both Winkler and Estes explain in the interview that the research into the ancestry of the Melungeons has a long way to go, and that more families will ideally be included in future research. The results may eventually show a more mixed heritage than has been identified in the recently published paper.

I think it is a good sign that the research to date is not considered, at least in the words of the NPR interviewees, to be the definitive description of the ethnic heritage of the Melungeons. Winkler says, referring to the long published article: "But I think, as people understand what this is, they see it as, really, a foundation for future research and not the last word."

The interview was balanced and the discussion logical.See the transcript and hear the podcast at: NPR podcast on Melungeon DNA research.

In contrast, unfortunately, the written summary above the online podcast describes the research results in a more sensationalistic way: For Some People of Appalachia, Complicated Roots reads the header. That sounds interesting and believable. But the rest is a bit extreme. The summary states that the "Melungeon people of Appalachia believed they were of Portuguese descent. Turns out, their direct lineage is more African than anything else." Since only Y-DNA and MTDNA, were tested, this statement makes no sense.

For those who were tested, and it is a small group, results for Y-DNA as African did turn up. But Y-DNA is very limited in describing anyone's heritage. It can only keep track of the line of the father's father's father's father and so on. All the women  who married into the line, and all of their ancestry, is invisible with this type of testing. The MTDNA, which tests for the matrilineal ancestry, is similarly limited, and as I understand from the study, it was more European than African. It is not possible to extrapolate the results of this study to determine the heritage of the Melungeons. Some of the heritage has been identified, but the evidence is not enough to support a statement that the main heritage is African.

I can recommend listening to the podcast and reading the study (link provided in comments to previous post).


"For Some People of Appalachia, Complicated Roots." NPR Public Radio. N.p., 11 July 2012. Web. 12 July 2012.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What genealogy software to buy?

If you are considering purchasing family tree or genealogy software, you need to find the package that will work with your computer abilities, your computer platform, and your goals. And cost is also a factor. You may want to check out this website to see the excellent comparison between software package options.

I found a great side-by-side comparison of such packages at at

I use Family Tree Maker and find it very efficient and pleasant to use. I like the interface with the information on, and I am constantly finding new features that amaze me. I particularly like the feature that allows the information from to be added to a person on a family tree with the documentation included. Talk about time-saving!! The forum at Family Tree DNA currently is running a poll which shows that for those who have responded, this is the software of choice.

Update December 2015: has announced that it is dropping its interface with Family Tree maker. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rare SNP search at

Update 7/20/2012: The Rare SNP feature has been moved from Gedmatch to another website. I think we can expect that there will soon be information on about how to access the new website.

Using your autosomal DNA results, which are easy to load up to, you can search for rare SNPs you have in common with one other person (whose kit number you know). You could compare yourself to a close or distant relative. I tried it and found it pretty easy to do and the results are fascinating to read. What is an SNP? you may ask. An SNP is just short for SNiP, a snip, or section of DNA that can be compared to the same sections of DNA for another individual. Working with SNPs, we can find commonalities which point to how related or unrelated we are to another person, or we can look at decoding the messages in the SNPs.

The utility works very quickly. Enter the kit numbers, click to compare, and boom! It is there before you.

Then you can see what scientific abstracts have to say regarding these SNPs and their correlation to health issues. I wish I could understand those abstracts better, but at least I can see what the headings are and know that the SNPs are (possibly) relevant to certain health matters, whether in a positive or negative way.  For example: you may see that a certain SNP has been researched in regard to certain addiction issues or cancers. Your particular mutations are relevant, and the way in which they are relevant is explained. You can see the information and the source of the research.Very intriguing, and for those scientifically-inclined, it should be quite interesting to ponder.

Again, we have a new and useful feature from
This is the websites's description of the feature, and they say it better than I can:
"This utility finds rare SNPs that are shared by more than one person.
It may be useful for identifying SNPs from deep common ancestry,
or SNPs related to shared characteristics."

image from Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Browse scanned records at added to the collection of images that can be browsed at are many probate records from Pennsylvania. To find them, just go to the Familysearch website and then, instead of searching for a name, scroll down below the name boxes to the locations that have images to browse. The header is "Browse by location." Click on any location that interests you, and you will be into the data set. Most of these images are not indexed, but there are some indexes for some of the locations.

For the most part, the indexes are not connected to the data sets you will want to look at, so you can take notes of what to look for when you find the index. There may be a box or file number. Again, you have to browse for that number. Many of the images are in chronological order, which is helpful. Sometimes they load slowly.

There should be some good finds here, although it takes a bit of work to get to results that are relevant to a particular family tree.

There are images for many other locations, too. New York has many records included. I found the Cornwall records to be excellent. You can see birth, marriage, and burial records for specific locations. I found a marriage record that I have not seen before anywhere. It helps connect a family relationship.

It is wonderful to see scanned records from so many far-flung locations. Instead of traveling or ordering microfilms, you can just browse at your computer.

The information takes a bit of time to wade through, but it can be rewarding, and perhaps in the future these records will all be indexed and searchable.