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Collecting Family Trees with Automation

Did you know that there are chrome add-ons that can collect pedigree trees from many genealogy sites and DNA testing sites? These tools can collect a tree of ancestors as an ahnentafel list which is a very useful and compact format to scan for common ancestors and locations.

Click here for my post explaining an Ahnentafel list and the tool DNArboretum to create one from a tree at Family Tree DNA.

The pedigree view of a family tree on Ancestry.com or MyHeritage can also be collected into an ahnentafel list with another chrome add-on, a tool called Pedigree Thief (click here to download it).

Saving a new cousin to my tree

When it is just a few new relatives at Ancestry, you don’t need those add-ons. After all, it is easy to use the Tools menu on the Profile Page of the ancestor you want from a tree at Ancestry.com to copy over a few people. In fact, if you copy one person over, you can click back to the original tree and copy them again in order to get their whole family group, just like in an Ancestry hint. I do recommend that you check sources and make sure that this is good information. Even if you are making a Quick & Dirty tree (Q&D) for an adoptee, it is best to check it over, as some trees on Ancestry.com are quite unrealistic with parents born after their children and other such errors.

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Figuring Out An Ancestor’s Actual Birth Year

Records that include your ancestor’s birth year are not necessarily accurate. Most records before the modern computerized era have self-reported ages, from censuses to marriage records, so often show incorrect information.

I remember being asked by a census taker about my neighbors. I really did not know the answers and said so, but in many cases I think people do answer for their neighbors. Also no census taker has ever asked me for an id. This made me realize how inaccurate census records could be for birth years as well as for the spelling of names, which I already knew about.

Dada’s gravestone shows a year of 1853

A fine demonstration of these inaccuracies are the many records for my great grandfather Henry H Lee (born H. Halvorsen Skjold in Norway) known to his family as Dada. I found that he kept getting younger in each document and census. A letter from his daughter written in the early 1900s states he was born in 1849 but most documents in America have 1852. His gravestone, shown above, has a birth year of 1853! Please remember that the birth year reported on your ancestor’s death certificate and gravestone came from the surviving family members, so can easily be incorrect.

So is the birth record reliable? Back then births happened at home so they were reported by the family or midwife. Several of Dada’s children had a mother of Mary Walters listed by the midwife in Brooklyn when her name was actually Maren Wold (proven many times over with DNA!). So birth records can have errors too, especially when your ancestors may have had thick accents while speaking English.

People in the 1800s baptized their children as soon as possible. Thus the baptism date, entered by a churchman, is one date that is surely accurate.

The Norwegians have put many of their country’s church books online. To solve the question of Dada’s birth year, I looked through all the pages of births for Dada’s original home town, Etne, Hordaland from 1849 until nine months after his father died in 1852.

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Will I see you at Jamboree?

Next Thursday is DNA day at the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Jamboree in Burbank, one of my favorite events. I particularly love the outdoor bar restaurant between the hotel and the conference center. Usually the weather is perfect for spending the evening there with friends. If you have been wanting to buy me a glass of wine, here’s your chance!

Thursday also has a series of free events all day long, including a DNA round table at 5:00 pm with a number of DNA experts at tables. You can come to mine to ask questions about 3rd party DNA tools. [UPDATE 28 May 2018: I should also mention that the exhibit hall with all the main DNA vendors is also free on Thursday but parking is $15]

The speakers for the paid DNA day sessions on Thursday, besides myself, include Blaine Bettinger, Leah Larkin, Paul Woodbury, Emily Aulicino, Tim Jantzen, Shannon Christmas, David Nicholson, Daniel Horowitz, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Diahan Southard, Barbara Rae-Venter, David Dowell, and many more. My sessions are “DNA Segment Triangulation” and Using DNA and GWorks for Unknown Parentage Cases.” Click here for the full schedule.

If you can’t get there, you can sign up for live streaming at http://genealogyjamboree.com/live-streaming-2018/ – sadly it is not free this year, but very inexpensive. In previous years you could buy recordings of many of the sessions, hopefully that will happen this year too.

The main genealogy sessions start Friday morning, but there is at least one DNA related session at every time slot including an “Ask the DNA Experts” at 5pm (and yes I am one of them). Saturday also has plenty of DNA sessions.
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Why did my Ancestors Come to America?

My mother arriving in America in 1935

My mother was born in Munich to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother so I know perfectly well why they moved to Boston in 1935. He was “retired” in the early 1930s, from his professorship at the University of Freiburg Faculty of Medicine for being jewish. However he still had an extensive private medical practice and would have stayed in Germany had my Oma not insisted that they leave. Thankfully my Opa was a prominent scientist and had many offers from different universities around the world. Happily for my existence, my Oma chose Boston over Ankara.

But why did my Norwegian ancestors come to this country? I recently started reading a book, Between Rocks and Hard Places (love that title!) by Ann Urness Gesme that answers some of those questions and describes life in Norway in the 1800s in much detail. So I wanted to share this find with all of you other Norwegian Americans and Norwegians. Many of you may have already read the wonderful article Peace, Potatoes and Pox which summarizes the reasons for the population explosion in Norway such that there were too many people on too little land, the main impetus behind emigration. He wrote that article after reading Norway to America A History of the Migration by Ingrid Semmingsen, a detailed and carefully researched book. [n.b. these book titles include my affiliate links]

My paternal grandfather was born in Kristiansand, Norway’s southernmost city, and came here when he was six years old with his family. He later married the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, one from near Drammen and the other from Etne, Hordaland. This gives me the pleasure of three different places in Norway to research for my family history.

I am fortunate to have the letters that grandfather wrote to my Dad during WWII which include a description of leaving Kristiansand in 1884: “… my grandfather brought us out in a row boat to the steamer lying out in the harbor all ready to leave for America” and “What America was I did not know, but I had imbibed enough of family talk to realize it was a land of plenty and an interesting place to go to.” Followed by a description of the crossing: “Well the Atlantic was rough and wild at times during July 1884 and our boat rolled and pitched in the heavy seas. I was tremendously impressed by the huge waves, which seemed like mountains to me.”

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Which Ancestor Do You Look Like?

When my Dad rode up the elevator in our NYC apartment building, he was often asked if he was my father.
I always thought I looked just like him and just like pictures of his mom, except for my nose which came from my mother’s side.

The other day my brother showed me a cool new tool that compares a picture of yourself to pictures of any ancestors whose photos are in the FamilySearch tree. Needless to say I promptly uploaded every ancestor image I could find!

This tool is called Compare-a-Face and is part of the FamilySearch Discovery suite of tools. It is currently featured on the FamilySearch home page when you log in.

I soon discovered that the original photo of me did not get compared to the new ancestor photos that I had just put there, so I uploaded another one. I had to try several different pictures of me to get the result I wanted from the comparison to my Dad’s mom.

Notice that the images are shown in order of how like you they are: the best on the left to least on the right. You click on any little image at the top to get it front and center with a percentage of simularity.

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