Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding Your Roots: We Come From People (S2E6)

Ugh. Mid-term. It's that time of semester when my whole life becomes about homework. This semester it really isn't that bad. The course I am taking is really well designed and not as overwhelming as last semester BUT, I still don't have time to watch all that much TV and I certainly don't have time to write about it. I am very behind on reviewing this episode which initially aired on October 28, 2014


Episode 6: We Come From People featuring musician NAS, actor Angela Bassett, and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

This episode traces the very prominent African-American guests’ ancestry into the institution of slavery in the U.S. Like most African-Americans, the guest knew very little about their ancestors of the 1800s. Tracing an African-American family back into slavery is often impossible so these guests' finds are pretty incredible. 

NAS, is a hip-hop artist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY but his roots are very southern. The researchers discovered that on his mother's line there were generations who married individuals with the same last name.

I don't want any comments about southern inbreeding, this happened among my very northern ancestors too. In small communities there aren't a lot of mates to choose from. In NAS's case, though, he has five generations of Littles marrying Littles from the same community.

One census record showed his black grandmother, Fannie Little-Little, living right next door to a white Fannie Little. As it turns out, the black Littles derived their last name from the white slave owners. Not all that unusual really; however, it does mean that not all those black Littles were biologically related. They had lost their names in slavery and took their slave owners name as their own last name. That is the irony of African-American genealogy; that we have to use the records and names of the white owners to learn about slave ancestors

Angela Bassett fully expected to find slaves in her lineage but expressed that it was overwhelming to imagine what it must have been to go through what they experienced.

Again, her ancestors white neighbor's name helped to unlock the family history. The neighbor, Elizabeth Ingram, was the daughter-in-law of the man who owned Angela's great-great grandparents. Their child, her great grandfather, was separated from his parents by sale to the white Bassett family. The researchers brought her face to face with the white slave-owning Bassetts. Quite a breathtaking moment. 

Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser to President Barack Obama, has a history of high achieving African-Americans. Her great grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first black person to graduate from MIT and was the first professionally trained black American architect. Another of her ancestors was Victor Rochon, a pre-Civil War free man of color was also an elected state representative in Louisianan who railed against the notion of separate but equal.it was interesting to see how she had lines of both free and enslaved African-Americans.

These lineages showed that finding the records of a slave ancestor can be bittersweet but the relationships between white slave owners and black slaves is often much more complex than one would expect. The episode underscored the fact that it is difficult if not impossible to extricate whites from the research of African-American genealogy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: The Melting Pot (S2E5)

This episode of Finding Your Roots originally aired on Tuesday October 21, 2014. It featured three of America's celebrated chefs; Aaron Sanchez, Ming Tsai and Tom Colicchio. Each chef is noted for exploring the cuisine of his immigrant ancestors; Mexican, Chinese, and Italian respectively. 

You can watch it online at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/melting-pot-full-episode/12093/ 

I found this episode incredibly fascinating because I personally do not feel ties to any specific ethnicity. I identify myself as American. If pressed I might tell you that I'm mostly Irish-American; a people not highly noted for their delicious dishes.

I had a few great-great grandparents who were born in Ireland and came to the U.S. In their childhood whereas Aaron, Ming, and Tom are descended of recent immigrants.  

Aaron's mother was raised in Sonora, Mexico and came to New York to open a restaurant when Aaron was a child. But that was not Aaron's family member to come to the United States. His great-grandfather, Rafael Gabilondo was one of more than 890,000 Mexicans who fled to the U.S. during the Mexican Revolution. At the height of the Revolution, he persuaded the U.S. to allow him to bring 2,000 head of cattle from his ranch in Mexico to the U.S. In 1931, two decades after fleeing Mexico, Gabilondo bought a new ranch in Mexico where his descendants would live for generations.

Tom Colicchio's research took Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Ellis Island - which is a little misleading because one does not have to go Ellis Island to research their immigrant ancestor. Ellis Island's records are available online through Ancestry.com and for free at  http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger

Tom's grandfather was born in Italy in 1903 but Tom's great-grandfather arrived in the U.S. in 1901. Similar to Aaron's story, we learn Tom's ancestors traveled back and forth between the U.S. and their native homeland multiple times at a time when travel was an arduous task.

As for Ming, he knew his immigrant ancestors well. His grandparents came from China later in their lives after having endured many atrocities during the Communist Revolution. 

I think the most exciting revelation was the one object Ming's grandfather took with him when he left China. That was a book tracing Ming's genealogy back to 891 A.D. The researchers for this program were able to confirm the contents of the book with the one remaining stele, or stone table, that exists in Ming's family's hometown. These records revealed the identity of Ming's 36th great grandfather; 36th!! The stele led the researchers to records in the Shanghai Library that stretched the family history back even further to ninety generations. Ming is a direct descendant of one of the first five emperors of China, Huang Di; his 116th great-grandfather is often cited as the father of the Chinese Language.

I think this episode really presented the fact that immigrants find their way to the United States not because of a lack of love for their homeland but rather because in many instances the living conditions are difficult to endure due to war, natural disasters, and/or poverty. However proud of their ancestors' cultures, I do believe these guests would include the "hyphen American" when identifying their ethnicities.

Tonight's episode features actor Angela Bassett, rapper NAS, and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: Roots of Freedom (S2E4)

This week's episode featured guests Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, and Benjamin Jealous. All three guests had ancestors in the American Revolution. Hey, I have ancestors who served in the American Revolution. And my niece, Sofie, has patriots on both sides of her family tree. I suspect this is not as unusual as most Americans think.

The message that was really underscored in this episode is that the American Revolution which was fought for independence from Great Britain on the basis that all men were created equal did not create a country that treated all men equally. Once independent, the infant nation of the United States continued to uphold the institution of slavery for nearly another century.

Actor Ben Affleck learned that his sixth great-grandfather served in the Revolution during the summer of 1776 when he was just 18 years old. Actor/dancer Khandi Alexander, knew nothing of her family history. She learned that her second great-grandfather was a slave who was fathered by the white slave-owner. It was through that man that Khandi is descended from a patriot soldier. That patriot owned 85 slaves who worked his large Southern plantation. Some patriot, right? But the truth is that most of our founding fathers owned slaves.

Khandi spoke a bit about identifying herself as "black" as opposed to "African-American." She said she didn't feel connected to Africa. Her DNA test showed that she was 74% African and was able to point to the specific regions in African from which her slave ancestors originated. These results obviously moved her to the point of stating that she guessed she was African-American after all.

 I didn't know of Benjamin Jealous until this program. He is a civil rights activist and former president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Jealous is biracial; his mother is black and his father is white. His black lineage showed that he is descended from an man named Peter G. Morgan who was born a slave but in his lifetime worked and earned money enough to purchase his own freedom right before the Civil War. Once freed, he purchased the ownership of his wife and daughters. Then he freed them as well with a beautifully written, very moving, manumission statement written in 1864.

I loved that the document brought Jealous to tears. And loved that Jealous expressed his love for the document.

Additionally, the research revealed that Jealous had 8 ancestors who served in the Revolution including a man who served as a fife player at the battles of Lexington and Concord. That man lived to be 100 years old and the researchers were able to find a photograph of him; not the most attractive photo but still a very impressive find.

He identified himself as African-American yet his DNA test revealed that he is 80% European and only 18% African which Gates commented on to the effect of Jealous was the whitest leader of the NAACP. Sometimes I feel Gates comments too much on race, really. We're only of one race, Dr. Gates; human. And personally, I think it's much more important who we identify with as individuals than what DNA says we are or are not.

All in all I really enjoyed this episode and I really loved how the guests were moved by the stories Gates revealed to them. You can what this episode online at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/roots-freedom-full-episode/11903/  

Next Tuesday's episode will explore the ancestry of three celebrity chefs; Tom Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez and Ming Tsai.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Certificate has Arrived!

Tuesday evening I returned home from my late shift to discover that my certificate of membership had arrived from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). It is official!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: Our American Storytellers (S2E3)

The third episode of this second season of  Finding Your Roots focused on the impact the Civil War had on the ancestors of journalist Anderson Cooper, documentarian Ken Burns, and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. If you missed it you can watch it online at
http://video.pbs.org/video/2365335848/ .

Anderson Cooper is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt of the New York Vanderbilts. Alluding to the profound and noteworthy role the Vanderbilts played in the history of New York, Anderson stated that when he was a child he thought that when grandparents died they became statues. Very cute, Anderson, very cute. The program did discuss his wealthy high-society Vanderbilts a bit but mostly it focused on his father's side and his deep Southern roots.

Cooper's father, Wyatt Emory Cooper, died of a heart attack when Anderson was just 11 years old and so Anderson knew little of his Southern family history although he did express that he connected more with that side of his family tree than with that of the Vanderbilts.

Several of his Cooper ancestors fought for the Confederate Army and like the average Confederates were merely small farm owners who did not own slaves. However, we learned that his third great-grandfather did own a plantation, though, and in a shocking discovery learned that he was murdered by one of his own slaves.

Ken Burns, who produced the acclaimed documentary The Civil War in 1990, learned that he had relatives on the Conferedate side as well. Disappointed to learn of ancestors on that side of the battle, Ken stated, "I'm not sure defend is the right word, you just have to accept your family." That is the message I hope I send through my blog.

Burns also expressed disappointment in learning that he had ancestors who owned slaves. He stated it's not a guilt that he felt but a sadness which is exactly how I felt when I learned of my slave owning ancestors. His family, of course, was in the South, mine were not.

But not all of Burns's discovers were disappointing. He also learned that he is related to his hero, Abraham Lincoln; a 5th cousin four times removed. Also, his DNA supported the family legend that he is indeed related to the Scottish poet Robert Burns; not directly descended from him but nonetheless related. 

I think the most interesting story of the three celebrities was that of Anna Deavere Smith's great-great grandfather, Basil Biggs. His family farmland in Gettysburg was used as a Confederate filed hospital during the Civil War. After the War, Basil was put in charge of re-interring the hastily buried Union soldiers into the neat orderly graves that would come to be known as the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Finally we learn through Basil's obituary that he was an active conductor in the Underground Railroad, helping Southern slaves escape to the North.


Tomorrow's episode will feature actor Ben Affleck, dancer/actor Khandi Alexander, and civic leader Ben Jealous.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Searching Google for Genealogy Information

Someone recently asked me if I use Google to search for genealogy information. Well, yes, I do.

In my role as an academic librarian I tend to discourage my students from starting their research at Google. I don't want them to rely too heavily on their ability to discern quality resources from misinformation when they are starting out especially when they have access to quality databases right at their fingertips through my library's website.

But when I hit a roadblock in my genealogy research, yes, yes indeed I hit up "The Google." Sometimes it leads me to new information that can be helpful. Sometimes...

The problems with using a search engine for genealogy research is that one tends to get thousands of results that do not apply to your family history.

For example, many surnames are very common and I'm not talking about just the Smiths. Try a search for Harrison genealogy and you will get over 2 million hits. Put it in quotes, "Harrison genealogy" and you will still get over 38,000 hits. Good luck sifting through all of that.

Secondly, many last names have other meanings. I have been helping a friend research his Tax family history - - um, not this history of his family's taxes. Oy vey.

And then there are times when you're just not searching the way the engine is indexing the web. For example, you might look for "Harrison genealogy" but there are lots of words and phrases similar in meaning to the word genealogy like family history and ancestry.

A long time ago someone recommended this website to me, http://www.googleguide.com. That offers all sorts of advice on constructing better Google searches.

When I search Google for genealogy information, I use what are called search operators; like those quotation marks I alluded to earlier. Commonly, I search the name of my ancestor, often in quotes, and then the word genealogy. Be mindful though that a webpage might contain your ancestor's name in directory fashion; as "Losee, Cornelius" rather than "Cornelius Losee."

When the quotes don't limit my search results to what I consider a manageable amount of hits, I sometimes preface my search with the operator allintitle: which tells Google to search for those terms just in the title of the webpage.

As you can see below sometimes the use of allintitle: combine with the use of quotes can be a little overkill and result in too few hits.

Here is a list to show you how using these operators alter my search results:
Cornelius Losee =  439,000        
allintitle: Cornelius Losee = 373
"Cornelius Losee"= 2,360
allintitle: "Cornelius Losee" = 299
"Losee, Cornelius"= 897         
allintitle: "Losee, Cornelius" = 8
Cornelius Losee genealogy = 26,700         
allintitle: Cornelius Losee genealogy = 7
"Cornelius Losee" genealogy = 1,110        
allintitle: "Cornelius Losee" genealogy = 7
"Cornelius Losee genealogy"= 4 
allintitle: "Cornelius Losee genealogy" = 1










Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: Born Champions (S2 E2)


The second episode of the second season of Finding Your Roots ran on Tuesday, September 30. Again, I didn't get to watch it until the evening of Wednesday, October 1 online. Season 2 Episode 2 (S2E2) is available at http://video.pbs.org/video/2365327450/.

This episode, Born Champions, like the last, explored the ancestry of three celebrities. On this episode the celebrities were tennis star Billie Jean King, recently retired New York Yankee Derek Jeter, and basketball player Rebecca Lobo. 

The title of the episode led me to believe that we might see some evidence in their family trees that contributed to these individuals' great athleticism. That was not the case though. No one's ancestors seemed to be star athletes. Nonetheless, it was another fascinating episode.

The surprising thing to me is how the researchers for this program discover family heirlooms and photos. We are given the impression that these celebrities have some interest in the family history which makes me wonder how they do not know on their own that such treasures exist. For example, in Billie Jean King's "Book of Life" they revealed a page from a family bible. Billie did not know the bible existed. How does that happen?

In the instance of Derek Jeter, Louis Henry Gates, Jr. presented him with a photo of his great-great grandfather, Green Jeter. Now that I could understand finding a photo of him. Green was a minister. The church he built, which still stands, could have an archive of images unknown to the family; obviously the case. But for Rebecca Lobo, where did they find a photo of her great grandmother? Her great grandmother was not a prominent member of a community whose image was stored in some historical collection. Where did they get that?  And the diary of Lobo's other great grandmother, what relative was hiding that away? 

The inclusion of such family heirlooms amazed me. 

Each guest also had their DNA tested which is always the case on this program and is always so fascinating to me. The DNA results for King, whose real last name is Moffitt, refuted her family lore that she had Native American ancestry. Her ancestry is 100% European.

Lobo's test revealed that she has approximately 10% of her DNA derived from someone of Jewish origin. She had never heard of any Jewish ancestors but such a significant percentage suggests it could be inherited from an unknown great-grandfather. I think Gates was a little too convinced of that possibility. Autosomal DNA cannot exact the ancestor from which you derive a segment of your DNA. Only Y-DNA and mitochondrial-DNA testing is that specific. Y-DNA, which only men have, can only determine the most paternal line. And mitochondrial-DNA can only determine one's most maternal line. So Lobo's 10% Ashkenazi Jewish DNA coming from that unknown great-grandfather is good guess and very likely but still just a guess. 

Gates estimated that we get 12.5% of our DNA from each of our great-grandparents but the truth is we do not inherit out DNA equally for each of our ancestors. DNA its only equally inherited from our parents. In theory we get 25% from each grandparent which means in theory we get 12.5% from each great-grandparent - - In theory. Given the recombinant nature of DNA though, those percentages are only approximations. In the 50% I got from my dad, I did not necessarily get equal potions from each of his parents. DNA mixes itself up before it devised into the sex cells. So that 10% Jewish DNA probably, PROBABLY, is in part inherited from Lobo's unknown great-grandparent.

In the case of Derek Jeter's DNA testing, Y-DNA testing suggested that the slave owner also fathered Derek's great-great grandfather. Y-DNA is more exacting than autosomal testing but still not 100% proof. Comparing the Y-chromosome of a known direct male descendant to a possible direct male descendent can suggest who fathered a child. Direct male descendant means a pure male line; father to son to son to son... And this program was able to do that for Derek but brothers have the same Y-chromosome. [Insert shoulder shrug here.]

Tomorrow’s episode will feature journalist Anderson Cooper, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and actress/playwright/professor Anna Deavere Smith.