Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How or Why I Choose Some BYU Family History Library Webinar Topics

Beginning Danish Research: Sorting out the Places - James Tanner

I often get comments about the topics selected for inclusion in the Brigham Young University Family History Library Webinar project. The comments usually focus on the process of coming up with new topics. Some of the selections (here I am speaking entirely for my own presentations) seem to be generally of interest to genealogists and some, like the webinar above, seem to be aimed a very narrow audience.

The webinar on Beginning Danish Research focuses on the issue of identifying the exact place where an event occurs in an ancestor's (or relative's) life. This is a basic principle of genealogical research. Failure to properly identify the location of an event and then assuming that the information found is applicable to your ancestor is the basis for the very common "the same name = the same person" errors that are rampant in online family trees. It will be somewhat rare when one of my videos, even those that are seemingly of limited interest does not involve a topic of general application.

The entire theme of my webinar presentations is fostering an increased accuracy in genealogical research. The secondary theme is expanding the focus of that same research from names, dates, and places to placing the individual and family in the greater historical context.

Many of the shorter videos from the BYU Family History Library are directed at teaching the missionaries (volunteers) who work in the Library. They may seem to have limited focus, but the idea is to increase the general knowledge and competence of the volunteer missionaries. This is a good goal for anyone involved in genealogical research and especially applicable to those who are helping others.

Personally, I will never run out of topics. There is way too much to say and there is always something to talk about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Find Data Problems with the The Family Nexus iPhone App

One of my recurring themes is the importance of determining the exact location of events in our ancestors' lives. I have also previously mentioned The Family Nexus, an iPhone app for mapping. This very useful app has an additional use way beyond simply finding ancestral events as we are traveling around. Here is a description from The Family Nexus Blog post entitled, "Visualizing Tree Data Problems."
Open Google Maps and search for “PA.” Although a common abbreviation for “Pennsylvania,” without context Google Maps shows you Panama! The Family Nexus iPhone app automatically maps birth, marriage, death, and burial locations of 6+ generations of your FamilySearch family tree. It uses the “standardized” place associated with locations of life events stored in FamilySearch. Seeing these locations instantly plotted on a map is awesome. It can also be a very convenient way to spot data problems in your Tree. Let’s review 2 ways you can find data problems using The Family Nexus App.
The post goes on to explain a lot about how the Family Tree utilizes dates and places. Here is an example.
FamilySearch stores each date and each place for each event in two different locations. First, it stores it in the white box where you enter the information (the “display” value). Second, it stores a “standard” date or place in the green (or yellow) bar below that. This “standard” is what helps you and others find matching records and individuals. It is a “behind-the-scenes” value the computer uses to match to a specific date in history and a specific location on the globe.
I am not going to reproduce the entire post, but I suggest that even if you do not own an iPhone, you will find the information about the way the Family Tree stores and uses geographic information informative and interesting.

One of the data points for my maternal grandmother from the Family Tree keeps coming up in Japan. Since she never traveled outside of the United States, I have often been puzzled by this. So far, I haven't been able to identify the reason for the erratic location. My strange Japanese connection didn't show up, but I did find a cousin who died in Korea during the Korean War.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Adoption Challenge to Genealogical Research - Part Two: Early History of Adoption

It is almost impossible for someone who was raised in the United States today to understand current adoption procedures without a significant dose of history. The worst possible perspective is to project today's arcane adoption practices very far into the past. The first "modern" law concerning adoption was enacted in 1851 in Massachusetts. The 1851 statute was the first to consider the welfare of the child as part of the adoption process. Up until that time, adoption was unregulated and treated the adopted child as chattel. Before going any further, it is important as a genealogist dealing with potential and actual adoption issues, to have at least a beginning understanding of the history. A fairly good summary of the history of adoption is contained in a Wikipedia article entitled "Adoption." I strongly suggest reading the entire article.

From a genealogical standpoint, this date of 1851 marks the point at which a researcher could expect to find consistent court records reflecting adoption. My own experience in this working through adoption issues relating to genealogy is that they are focused on the first one or two generations of a person's pedigree. In cases where the birth record of the adopted child was altered to show the adoptive parents as the birth parents, there is seldom a way to detect the existence of an adoption unless family records somehow indicate the possibility. For example, in 1917 a Minnesota law, for the first time,  required that all placements be investigated and began the process of limiting access to the court's adoption records. Our present focus on adoption assumes the present legal and social environment and all of the concerns and conditions imposed by these laws. There are also significant efforts in the United States to radically change adoption laws and make the process more transparent.

Prior to the enactment of the adoption laws, most orphans were cared for in orphanages or orphan asylums. The orphanages originated in Europe were cared for by the churches, if at all. Before orphanages became common, orphans almost always became homeless, slaves or indentured servants. In England and to some extent in the United States, one response to orphans and other dependent people was the creation of Poor Houses. This movement was well developed in England during the 1800s and became the dominant method of dealing with the poor and orphans.

As I mentioned above, currently the genealogical issues raised by adoption are confined to individuals attempting to identify their birth parents and as I pointed out in the first installment of this subject, one avenue open to those individuals is to take a DNA test and post the results in one or more of the online programs.

If you are familiar with the history, you will realize that there are several results that become manifest in doing genealogical research beginning with the present.

1. During the time from the present back to the early 1900s, genealogical research into adoption must deal with the reality of sealed court records and "faked" birth records. There are methods that have evolved to both locate adoption records and obtain information on birth parents. See the Research Wiki article, "United States Adoption Research."

2. During the 1800s, records concerning adoption may be difficult to obtain. Research focus is on orphanages, indentured servants, and poor houses. An adopted child may appear in a census or other record as a "farm laborer" or "servant."

3. Prior to the 1800s, an orphan would likely show up as an individual servant or laborer but there would be no way to connect the individual to his or her parents. For example, one of my great-great-grandfathers was from Denmark and family tradition implies that he was "adopted." He may have been the son of one of the daughters in the family, but if this was not the case and he was "adopted" from a relative or third party, but in either case, no records exist showing his actual parentage. In this particular case, a DNA test would not help since my only connection to this "adopted" grandparent is through maternal lines. Even with a DNA test associated with extensive online family trees, the relationship is such that isolating those relatives who may have a DNA test that would apply is very complex and as yet, few of the matches reported are for people who have family trees in the program.

To be continued.

Posts in this series:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Long Live the Genealogy Blogs!

I recently wrote a dystopian post about the future of blogs and blogging, especially genealogy blogs. Although blogging has changed considerably, it is far from dead. There will always be those of us who think and write more than a sentence or paragraph at a time and we will keep writing. Where else can I go to write? Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Give me a break. These websites and others like them are the junk food of the internet. They are children standing on the playground yelling, "Look at me, Look at me."

Technology has certainly impacted communication and there are those of us who have taken full advantage of the new venues. Yes, I post on Facebook and all the other options so I do spend my time yelling on the playground. But I also spend some time in class writing my assignments. There may come a time in my life when the words stop pouring out of my brain, but I don't look forward to that time at all. Meanwhile, whether they are read or not, the words will spill out and cover virtual pages with virtual text. If I miss a day or so, it is probably because life or travel has become too complicated. But I will always return. When the day does come when the words stop, I will never gracefully retire, but I will fight to the end.

Meanwhile, genealogy goes on and on and on. Since genealogy deals with history, we are always making more of it and it will never run out.

Fly to Your Ancestral Home on the Newly Updated Google Earth

Google has enhanced the online version of Google Earth to add a huge number of interesting features. You can now view the entire earth in 3D and fly instantly to anywhere you would like to go. The interface has added a card with information supplied by Wikipedia and by clicking on a card, you obtain even more information.

There are additional links and maps of the area. I chose Ramsey, England. One of the places where my ancestors lived.

Here is the 3D view.

You can zoom into a closer look almost anywhere you choose.

When you get tired, you can fly home again in a second. No long lines, No cramped airline seats.

Just go to the Chrome version of Google Earth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Adoption Challenge to Genealogical Research - Part One: DNA

Any genealogist who does research back a few years will very likely encounter someone who was adopted. In fact, whole families of children could be adopted and in some cases into different families. For the researcher, this possibility often constitutes a "dead end" or as genealogists usually refer to the event; a "brick wall." The adoption issue can be further complicated when the adopted child is a "foundling" or a child who is abandoned on the doorstep of a church or other institution. There are also genealogists who begin their interested in investigating their family heritage because of their own adoption.

If adoption is a part of your family's history, it can produce some of the most challenging and difficult research issues you may face. This series will focus on the history of adoption in America and the methodology for researching this issue. Before I get into the history and other concerns of researching an adopted relative or ancestor, I need to emphasize the importance of DNA testing for resolving lineage issues including those very personal relationships between birth parents and their children.  DNA testing first gained traction in the courts where there were identity issues in both criminal law and paternity cases.

The first criminal prosecution that involved a conviction based on DNA evidence took place in Leicestershire, England. It was the case of Colin Pitchfork, the first murder conviction based on DNA profiling. DNA profiling for forensic uses was first developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys in the 1980s. Here is a short account of his discoveries from the University of Leicester, Biography of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys.
Professor Jeffreys’ research at Leicester focuses on exploring human DNA diversity and the mutation processes that create this diversity. He was one of the first to discover inherited variation in human DNA, then went on to invent DNA fingerprinting, showing how it can be used to resolve issues of identity and kinship and creating the field of forensic DNA. The subsequent impact of DNA on solving paternity and immigration cases, catching criminals and freeing the innocent has been extraordinary, directly affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide. 
His current work is aimed at trying to understand how variation is generated in human DNA, by developing new and very powerful techniques to detect spontaneous changes in the genetic information as it is transmitted from parent to child.
The conviction came as a result of a mass DNA testing. Here is an excerpt from Explore Forensics, a website from Great Britain entitled, "Forensic Cases: Colin Pitchfork, First Exoneration Through DNA." The exoneration referred to in the title involved a suspect arrested during the investigation of the murder of two girls who was exonerated due to the DNA evidence. Colin Pitchfork was later convicted after an extensive DNA testing survey. Here is the quote:
In 1987, in the first ever mass DNA screen, the police and forensic scientists screened blood and saliva samples from 4,000 men aged between 17 and 34 who lived in the villages of Enderby, Narborough and nearby Littlethorpe and did not have an alibi for murders. The turn out rate was 98%, but the screen did not find any matches to the semen samples. The police and scientists expanded the screen to men with an alibi, but still did not find a match.

In August 1987, a woman overheard a colleague, Ian Kelly, boasting that he had given a sample posing as a friend of his, Colin Pitchfork. Pitchfork had persuaded Kelly to take the test as he claimed he had already given a sample for a friend who had a flashing conviction. The police arrested Colin Pitchfork in September 1987, and scientists found that his DNA profile matched that of the murderer.
The first forensic DNA conviction in the United States was in the case of The People v. George Wesley. Here is the full citation to the case.

The People etc. v. George Wesley, 83 N.Y.2d 417, 633 N.E.2d 451, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97 (1994).March 29, 1994

Acceptance of DNA testing as a standard tool of forensic science move slowly across the United States and has since become so well established that DNA testing is used routinely in criminal investigations and leads to the conviction and exoneration in a huge number of arrests. DNA testing also became common in cases involving alleged family relationships, particularly paternity cases. 

Genealogists began picking up on DNA testing as a possible tool in resolving family relationships only quite recently. DNA testing is quite useful in establishing family relationships in the first four generations. It quickly becomes less useful as the number of generations increase. The key to using genealogical DNA testing for this purpose is the existence of large online collections of family trees. If enough people have taken a genealogical DNA test, the chance of finding a relative or close family member increases. 

In my next installment, I will start discussing the history of adoption in America. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Am I a "professional" genealogist?

What is a professional genealogist?

Some time ago I acquired the following book and studied it all the way through.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001.

I do fall into a couple of these categories. I certainly do a lot of research for myself and many other people. I do a lot of writing. I lecture a lot in classes, presentations, and webinars. For example, in the last week or so, I have averaged one a day if you count webinars, classes, and presentations. I have also worked for many years in libraries as a bibliographer and reference librarian. So when did I suddenly become a "professional?"

To become a professional lawyer, I went to law school for about 2 1/2 years (I finished early) and got a degree (there were a lot of other requirements, but I won't go into that). But even with that degree, I couldn't "practice law." I had to pass a three-day long examination and be admitted to the Arizona State Bar association before I could charge money for representing people in the Courts of Arizona. Since I have now retired from the Arizona State Bar Association and moved to Utah, I cannot "practice law" in either state. But I didn't suddenly forget all of my 39 years of experience as an attorney. So am I now a "professional lawyer?"

Is being a professional a certain degree of experience and education or does being a professional have something to do with certification and recognition? Hmm. I do not have a degree in library science, so it is unlikely that I could get a job working in a library especially at my advanced age. But I likely know about as much about libraries as any recent university graduate with a degree in library science or maybe more. If I wanted to join the American Library Association, I could pay my dues and I would likely fall under one of the many categories of membership especially as a library volunteer for almost 15 years and based on my previous work experience.

But what about genealogy? I have 35+ years experience doing genealogical research. I spent about five years taking genealogy classes from Brigham Young University. I have attended and taught at untold numbers of genealogy conferences and attended and taught hundreds of classes on at least that many genealogy subjects. I have read a pretty good percentage of all the books published about genealogy as a profession. I have authored or co-authored over 25 published books on genealogical research subjects and that is just the beginning. So when did I become a professional, if I did?

Oh, I get it. You have to charge money for your services, then you get to be a professional. I have been paid, off and on, some money for my genealogical efforts, so does that fact make me a professional? I could put a bunch of letters after my name and call myself a professional. Is that what does the trick?

As I have written about previously, there is really no specific criteria for becoming a "professional" genealogist. There are, of course, those, as is the case in all areas of activity, that set themselves up as authorities, experts and professionals. But there are very few opportunities in genealogy to obtain a degree or work as a full-time genealogist. There is an Association of Professional Genealogists, to which I belonged for a number of years, but essentially all that is required for membership is to agree to its Code of Ethics and pay your dues.

The dictionary definition of a "professional" is extremely vague and for that reason, almost anyone who is working in any capacity in our society can claim to be a professional. I know quite a few people who quietly work in Family History Centers and libraries who would not consider themselves to be "professionals" who are really more professional than most of those who do.

I am really a lot more interested in doing my own research and helping others do theirs than worrying about whether or not I receive any money, recognition or whatever for doing what I love to do. I am more interested in results and competence than any certification by any "professional organization." I have known a lot of incompetent attorneys over the years who had passed all the requirements for practicing law and I also know a lot of people who are doing genealogy that really have no clue how to do research, but that is always the case. What I think is most important is to do a good job and to keep learning how to do a better one and I really don't care a lot about whether or not anyone considers me to be a professional or not. Of course, I will keep writing and teaching and talking because that is what I do.