Friday, September 27, 2013

Famous and ...Notorious Relatives

Are you related to anyone famous? How about notorious? Got a black sheep in the family? A mystery? Maybe there is a story somewhere in the family history that is just a little bigger than life, worth repeating, sharing, and savoring.

Maybe you've found it, and maybe you've found many such figures and their stories.

And maybe that story is out there waiting to be found.

Think about where, when, why, and how to find them.

First you find out who is in your tree, and then you find out what has been left to learn about that person.

 The more you use search engines on their names, the better your chance at finding their interesting bios.

Great stuff to add to the notes in the family tree and to pass along to relatives, both close and distant.

You may have some of those early American ancestors linked to or themselves  the early members of local or federal governments. Many of those early Americans were involved in some way, whether in the formation of early militias, or serving on town or county juries, or as town clerks, or perhaps as governing officials, even on the federal level. In that case, you will find that the digging for historical gems is relatively simple. Finding more and more details may take more dedicated attention,  and possibly the expertise of  a genealogist, but the surface details can easily be found by anyone . maybe that the story is not so much about fame or infamy, but rather about the nuances of settling in a new area and encountering the challenges of the frontier.

Examples can easily be found--for starters, if you've got any ancestors from the wild west, there you go... and the east was not that much less wild at times.

Search for the ancestor's name with any combination of the following--locations where he/she settled,  dates of birth or death, occupation (pony express) or name of company or town....and keep going!

Just found some great info on distant relative William Augustus Brown, myself. For years I only had the information of his name and a note that he had been murdered in 1853 (California was a baby in the nation at that time)  in Stockton. But things are different now, and the story of his life is easily expanded. Search engines now provide so much info in various forms that I know he ran a pony express (and I can see examples of the stamp he put on the letters). He's neither notorious nor particularly famous, but he was a victim of a wild west shooting. The story is good, and remains contemporary, as even the auction house Christie's offers some of his stamped envelopes for auction.

Photo from Western Cover Society:

Update 2015: the name of the murderer and the entire narrative of the murder have been uncovered in old newspaper articles.

Find those great stories about the family history, and make sure to keep looking for the best details and the tie-ins to the growth of the country or the current culture and economy.

See an example of  Pony express covers for sale at Western Cover Society. Use search engines to see more examples of covers and stamps. They are all interesting.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reenactments are a great source of historical information

The re-enactors of historical battles are a sort of mise-en-abime resource for researchers to learn from. Initially, as you stroll the battlefield and see the men and women in period dress, you take in the visual sense of what once existed in history.

You may have a chance to speak to one or more of the re-enactors, and learn about the authenticity of the clothes he or she wears, the food he or she is eating, and so on. You might meet a British spy, or an officer's wife, as I did. They all have stories, and the character they represent informs their appearance in the re-enactment. If the officer happens to die on the battlefield, I learned, his wife has to find another officer to marry, or she will not be traveling to the next battle re-enactment, as only a certain number can go along.

You might learn that the buttons on a jacket might be authentic, while the cloth they are attached to is a reasonable reproduction. The swords of some of the re-enactors may be authentic, owned by those who fought in battle while those of others are not. In any case, they must have been produced, or represent what was produced, from a time either preceding or of the time of the battle in question. They can't be later models.

If you have a chance to speak and listen to the stories of how the re-enactors got their materials, that alone will be informative. What was the original color of the metal in the sword? How did that change over time? How long did it take to load the guns? Who were the fighters--trained military or local residents? What were some of the strategies and how did they lead to failure or success?

Attending a battle re-enactment is not only informative, but also stimulating. You might end up with more questions than answers, both about how re-enactments are created, and and also about how they reflect historical events.

They are an excellent resource for learning about the history of a place and time from the viewpoint of the individual. The images below are from the bicentennial re-enactment of the Battle of Sackets Harbor in the war of 1812, a re-enactment that was of major historical value and which took place in a beautiful, serene location. The re-enactment could have attracted more interest but seems to have been a pearl viewed by a small and fortunate audience. See the description of the economic and political issues here (NY Times article) :
Images of War of 1812 Sackets Harbor Battle Re-enactment

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Digitized marriage records, county histories and more at HathiTrust

The HathiTrust Digital Library is an excellent repository of information on books, many of which are digitized and readable on the website, while others, under copyright restrictions, cannot be read but can be searched for terms and names. The website is a result of a partnership between a number of institutions and organizations working together to preserve cultural information.

I found many easily accessed records of marriages and births for New York and for other States as well. There are also county histories and interesting records of jail censuses, agricultural reports, and political actions.

This is an excellent resource to check into when you are looking for that one more place to find your ancestors and their histories.

There is no charge to readers.

See HathiTrust to learn more and to begin the search there!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Gedmatch --subjective view--June 2013

Many of the hits on my blog are looking for information on Gedmatch.

Here is my brief subjective review of how things are at Gedmatch--many of the wonderful utilities, including triangulation and chromosome browser are on hold--but they should be back at some time, and will be amazingly helpful to researchers of all levels and abilities.

Of the utilities currently available, I find the one-to- many matches utility to be the most helpful, especially since there are at least three companies from which people can upload their results.
I have to say, that although this is great, and allows  us to see comparisons between FTDNA, 23andme, and, this is often just a lead to nowhere.

The frustrating aspect is that the aliases used by those tested are often very effective in hiding who has been tested. If an email has been provided it can be a clue, or it can be used to try to contact the person tested, but often this effort is futile. It is understandable that every tester wants to protect their privacy--but the result of the protection is that comparison is impossible or very difficult. As I have said before, what researchers want is information about the ancestors. Perhaps Gedmatch could provide a way for testers to give that information, as does Ftdna, which allows gedcoms, but only starting at least 100 years out from the present.

The person being tested is not, or should not be, of interest, unless living cousin connections are desired.

Main point--I'm sure Gedmatch will recover all of the utilities--just a matter of time and it will be working again. Like many dna-related websites, keeping it up and running well can be a challenge for many reasons, so if you find something working--use it--strike while the iron is hot!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Australian Descendants of Jefferson County, New York settlers

One narrative of the research  links between DNA results, the Patriot War, and New York ancestry.

Sometimes one thing leads to another in genealogy research, usually seemingly with reason, at least for awhile. Then it turns out that the connections weren't the ones we were looking for, or maybe they are, but we can't prove it yet. But...we always get a good story, and therein lies much satisfaction.

This story started with a speculation on a chromosome match spotted on Gedmatch. It appeared that there would be a Northern New York connection worth defining. Long story short, through pursuing the ancestry of the match, I found the name of  Ira Polley, born about 1816 in Lyme, Jefferson, New York.

All names connected to the DNA match were from an area of Tasmania. All of the names, not just some.  Considering that I was looking for a connection to  Northern New York ancestry, how could that be? Well, the Patriot War resulted in Northern New Yorkers being sent to Tasmania--"Van Diemen's Land." When I looked up the names of those transported to Tasmania,  I found that only one name matched--the very same last name of the person for whom I had found an online tree--Polley. The man "transported" (taken as war captive) was named Ira Polley.

Now the big question was whether Ira Polley had met a fate of death at sea or elsewhere, as did many who were transported, whether he was pardoned and returned to New York (again, like many others), or if by chance he had stayed in Australia.

Strangely enough (or not so strangely, given the DNA matching), he is  one of the very few who stayed--one of four--he was actually eventually pardoned, and got as far as Hawaii before returning to Australia. There is no explanation as to why he chose to stay, but stay he did, and he married twice and had many children. His descendants are now numerous.

Before the brief war waged against England in Canada, he had been living in Lyme, Jefferson County, New York. Although many researchers say that his father was John Polley, who also lived in Jefferson County, his death information in Australia names his father as William Polley. Other documents show that Ira Polley of Australia was born in New York, while the son of John Polley named Ira was born in Connecticut. It does appear that William Polley, also of Connecticut, but who moved early to New York, is indeed father of Ira. William Polley died in 1852 in Russia, Herkimer County, New York, not far from Lyme. He does not mention Ira in his will, however, and I cannot be sure he is the father without more documentation.

Sir George Arthur, of Upper Canada at the time of the Patriot War ordered the transportation of captives to Australia. Ira Polley named one of his sons George Arthur Polley. See the following website for details on this and on various captives  in the online article "American Patriots  Political Prisoners in Van Diemen's Land": leatherwoodonline

The story that I was able to piece together (beginning with a DNA clue) gave me more knowledge of, and interest in, the Patriot War of the late 1830's, and of the lives of those who begin as captives and continue as citizens of a different land and culture. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Digitized Newspapers for Wales

Here it is  --digitized newspapers for Welsh hstory. In beta form now, we can only expect the website to improve. See what your Welsh ancestors may have done--in the courts, in the mines, in business, in the Eisteddfodd. It's all very interesting!
See Welsh Newspapers Online beta

Friday, April 19, 2013

Digital Newspapers free 1800s-1900s

The Library of Congress has digitized many U.S. newspapers. The access is free and the search engine is excellent. Check it out and find some ancestors in the news!
See: Library of Congress.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why is Gedmatch not Working?

I checked my stats today and found this question had been posed in a search leading to my blog.

It is a good question. Today Gedmatch has posted that there have been malfunctions that have affected two of the servers it uses. It will take awhile to get the service back up and running, and it may be that some data will have been lost in the process.

Gedmatch is a wonderful website with amazing utilities for those of us looking at DNA to use. It isn't a business at this point, but rather a free service, and those who track the DNA companies know that some of them have had their big IT kafuffles as well.

Everything is new and dynamic, and technology can cause as many problems as it can deliver answers.

My suggestion is that we consumers must be patient--we have no other choice when the websites are down anyway--and to strike when the iron is hot! If and when the site is working, upload your data, make comparisons, check out all the possible utilities and print out some results to contemplate.

Five years ago the DNA landscape was much more bland.  Now we have glitches--and the luxury of complaining about sites being down now and then.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

New York Census 1875 searchable has recently made the New York census for 1875 available. It is searchable, and very useful. One of the benefits of this census is that it lists the county of birth for the inhabitants. It is also helpful in showing where people were between the 1870 and 1880 censuses. A lot can change in a decade, so these five-year breakdowns of residency are great for research.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Find your ethnic ancestry

Or my preferred title: Admix Utilities are so Interesting!

It is no longer terribly expensive to get your autosomal DNA tested. Using it to find your cousin matches and thus, at least you hope, your distant ancestor (who has been hiding behind a brick wall) is still a big challenge. Sometimes the clues will get you closer, but often they won't, at least so far. There just isn't enough information. But there will be. Eventually there will be a much larger database and the connections will be easy to make.

But what is easy, and rewarding right now is the admix!
While the testing company might not provide much in the way of ethnic ancestry, once you download your raw data (simple and quick) and load it up to (a free website) and enter it into the multitude of admix utilities you will see beautiful pie charts or bar charts with your ancestry broken down into ethnic components. It is really a kick to see, and there are more options all the time.

The most recent Eurogenes breakdown (Eurogenes K36) includes such classifications as Iberian, Basque, Arabian, Eastern European, Italian, Armenian, and more (ultimately 36 reference populations).

Did your British Ancestors eat better than you do today?

How did your ancestors in England eat in decades and centuries past?

Surprising results of a study of the diet of mid-Victorian residents of England show that they had an excellent diet and as a result, good health. In the early to mid-1800's, people ate very well in terms of eating food that contributed to good health. That, then and now, seems to be nutrient-dense food.

For various reasons, the mid-Victorians consumed many calories in comparison to the number consumed by present-day Americans, but their calories came from sources that were very rich in nutrients, including many fruits and vegetables. They didn't consume "empty" calories the way they are consumed today. The Victorian diet is said to resemble the Mediterranean diet, which has recently received recognition for its value in maintaining health.

Some of the hallmarks of the Victorian diet which would be easy to emulate are beans, vegetables, fruits, meat and fish, and few sweets.

An excellent overview of the study results can be found at NCBI

Take a look at how it appears your British ancestors fared. Where did they live? How long did they live?  And take a very close look at those who lived in the early to mid-1800s. They may have had a diet that will be a model to follow in the 21st century.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Now available: 1855 New York Census online has now put the 1855 census records for New York State online. The database is searchable by name, and you can see the scanned records.  It is helpful for tracking families between the 1850 and 1860 censuses, and has the added bonus that individuals recorded in the census have provided the county of their birth.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Joshua Barton of Liberty, Sullivan, New York: who was his wife?

Joshua Barton of Sullivan County, New York, and his wife Sarah conveyed land to Robert M. Weasmer, Alonzo Weasmer, and to W. L. Martin in 1859 as recorded in the county deed records. These records are referred to in later newspaper accounts. W.L Martin and his wife Eliza Jane later conveyed the land to John Young. The deed transfers are documented in the Monticello, New York Republican in 1912 (viewable in digital form on Old Fulton Postcards).

Sarah, wife of Joshua Barton, is identified as Sarah Acker by Adolph Law Voge in his records of the Barton family. Joshua Barton was born in about 1792 and Sarah was born in about 1796 in Westchester. Sarah has been identified as a sister of Alonzo and Robert Weasmer in some research of the Barton family, but this appears to be erroneous. A genealogist who viewed the land records indicated that this was the relationship. The interpretation has been passed on, as often happens.

Alonzo Weasmer was born in about 1830, and can be traced through the census. His siblings were born within the same decade, with a younger brother born in 1840. Alonzo and Robert Weasmer's father, Walter, was born in 1805. Sarah cannot possibly be the sister of the Weasmer sons. She would be older than her father (and this cannot be) and too much older than her brothers to be their sister.

Robert Weasmer did marry a Lora Martin in Sullivan County in 1858 (see transcription of Windham Journal records as transcribed on rootsweb), which may be where the idea of a sister relationship came from.

If Sarah is an Acker, as identified by Voge, who are her parents? There seem to be some Barton/Acker connections identified by Voge but not completely spelled out. Understanding the connections could illuminate and inform research on both the Barton and the Acker lines.

Small picture: The hope here is that someone will add some information or ideas on these people of the past.
Big picture: The main point is that the researcher needs to look at all clues, and to get as close to the actual source records as possible.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Civil War Carte de Visite id'd!

A Carte de Visite in a family photo album shows a man in Civil War uniform.The name on the back is W. Pyle, and the photograph was taken in Cincinnati, all good clues.

I was fortunate to find that a similar Carte de Visite of the same individual was for sale online, with the additional information that this was a Lieutenant General in the Union Army, and that the picture was taken in July of 1868, about six months before he died. I tried to find a Lieutenant General with a first name beginning with W, and last name of Pyle, who lived in Ohio. I was unsuccessful.

It is always good to let tough challenges in genealogy take a rest, and then go back to them with an open mind. Today I thought--his name might be George Washington Pyle, and he might have gone by Washington. George Washington was a very common first name.

Bingo! --George Washington Pyle, born in 1846, attended a military academy and was a second lieutenant in the Union Army of the Civil War. He died in December of 1868 of consumption, a common affliction. His service is documented in the National Parks Soldiers and Sailors System, and his biography appears online on other websites.

I don't yet know why my family would have had his picture, but biographies of his mother reveal that she was involved in the Underground Railroad, which was an important interest of my ancestors. The Pyle family appears to be of Quaker origins in Pennsylvania, and W. Pyle's mother's heritage is of New Hampshire.