Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow: St. Louis - Central Library (S2E2)

This episode of Genealogy Roadshow aired on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 on PBS. I viewed it online at http://video.pbs.org/video/2365401745/ and it will be available at that URL until February 17, 2015.

For this episode, they were in downtown St. Louis at the Central Library. There the show's genealogists met with a woman interested in learning more about her great-grandmother's immigration from Italy to America to marry a cowboy, a woman seeking a connection to the pirate Blackbeard, a young man with Asperger's Syndrome looking for his genetic origin in Africa, and a mystery writer who's mother had a hidden secret that she can final explore.

As fascinating as that all sounds, honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by this episode. Regardless, I do like to watch the guests' reactions to the family history reveals. Sometimes there is shock, sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is elation. In this episode, I especially loved the reaction of the young man who wanted to know about his African ancestry. 

If you know any children who are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum you may often observe what seems to be a disconnection from the world around them. Often they lack the ability to communicate verbally or demonstrate empathy. In general, someone with Asperger's typically does not react the in the way one would expect. Sometimes they don't react at all; not even to things that should make they joyful, like receiving a birthday present. 

One aspect of the condition that I find most fascinating is that often the person will an intense interest in one specific, narrow topic. They somehow can connect with one topic. They are able to collect volumes upon volumes of detailed information relative to one narrow - granted, they don't necessarily having a genuine understanding of the broader topic but still.

This young man was very interested in genealogy. And when Josh Taylor revealed to him that his DNA absolutely confirmed this young man's suspicion, that his African ancestors did indeed come from the Mali Empire, the boy's face lit up.

Genealogy research absolutely provides emotional connections for researchers. Sometimes a genealogy find will make me feel like that on the inside but his expression was priceless. If you watch the episode for no other reason than that, it will be well worth it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oops! Genealogy Roadshow: New Orleans - Cabildo (S2E1)

Did I review the wrong online episode of Genealogy Roadshow last week? Yes, I did.

The Austin, Texas episode I wrote about last week aired on October 14, 2013; it was from last season. So I'm a little behind the times. That happened because I watch them online.

The episode that aired on Tuesday, January 13 on was centered in New Orleans. This too was a good episode but honestly, I liked the Austin, Texas one better. Maybe that is in part due to the fact that I know New Orleans has a much richer culture than the episode showed. See, in addition to the presentation of about a half dozen family history stories of everyday people, the program gives a little background on the city the show has traveled to. I would have liked to see a little more about the history of ethnic diversity in New Orleans. Nonetheless, this episode wasn't bad. What I enjoyed was the variety of resources presented.

I really loved the first guest's story. She was interested in finding out the about her family's house in the 7th Ward of the City of New Orleans. Josh Taylor presented the findings. Before revealing what he found he said to her, "We talk a lot about documents in family history, but sometimes its those physical assets, like the house, that is our link to the past." Ain't that the truth!

Now enrolled in a course of the History of Material Culture I am thinking about the story objects tell. But back to this reveal...

Josh showed the guest entries in city directories, census records (including surviving 1890 census schedules of civil war union veterans), birth certificates, and a civil war pension file.

That pension record revealed a first-hand account of this guest's racial background. Her 3rd great grandmother, who was born a free black woman, was the daughter of a freed slave woman and a white man. Additionally, the pension file revealed that the 3rd great grandmother did indeed receive her deceased husband's pension for his service in the Union Army. That pension helped to buy that home that the family has lived in for generation. 

"A single mother of six bought that house." 

And Josh is quick to point out that it was the Civil War and the ancestor's participation in it that changed the course of history, not only for the country, but also for that family as evidenced by that house.

I also love Josh's statement that pension files leave incredible first-hand accounts and "...if our ancestors were to write a blog, wouldn't we love to read the words?" Let's hope that blogs prove of interest to future generations of family historians.

The other presentation that really stood out to me was the one in which the guest wanted to find out more about the murder of her great uncle.

For this reveal, Josh presented a little about the value of headstones in one's genealogical research. Frankly, I don't have much first-hand experience with this because, um, my poor dead relatives hardly ever have headstones but this guest's relative did.

Her great uncle's headstone reads, "Neil Sessions. Born Nov. 28, 1872. Died Dec, 24, 1905. He was murdered and robbed. In life beloved, in death lamented." 

Josh then presents newspaper articles which he wisely points out are the best resources for anything sensational. From the information gleaned from the article Josh presents census records which establish the residents in the neighborhood and proximity of the murder victims home to that of the suspect. He then continues to search census records for what became of the suspect. By the 1910 census the suspect's mother indicates that only one of her four children are living; concluding that the suspect has died. Now is that true? Was the mother honest with the census taker or just hiding her son's whereabouts? The guest may never know for sure but she certainly got a more complete story.

There are a variety of resources available that can inform a researcher about his or her ancestor's life. This episode underscored the importance of exhausting them all.

And I must say before closing that the new genealogist they have added to the program, Mary Tedesco, was really a wonderful addition. I hope that in future reviews I'll feel inclined to recap her presentations. For now though, this episode will be available to view online until February 10, 2015 at http://video.pbs.org/video/2365401726/

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Uncle Allen Gives a Spit

I bought my Uncle Allen an Ancestry.com DNA kit for his birthday in mid-December. It took exactly a month for his results to come in. Yesterday I had the opportunity to look at the results with him.

Yet again I was dismayed to see how different his ethnic profile was from that of my father's. We know that siblings are not identical twins, that their DNA differs from one another yet when these profiles come back everyone is shocked that their profile isn't exactly the same as their siblings'.

My dad's results say 42% of his DNA is rooted in Great Britain. Uncle Allen's DNA is 54% Great Britain. That's a big difference. How can that be?

Well, it is the recombinant nature of DNA. Yes they each got exactly 50% from each of their parents but they didn't get the same 50%. DNA mixes itself all up each time it forms a sex cell. And that is the only answer to it.

This also means that my uncle had some different matches than my dad. But because they come from the same set of parents, all the matches that my dad has and all the matches that my uncle has are my relatives too. It doesn't matter that my dad didn't match to the same person as my uncle. My uncle could have only gotten that match from one of his parents, who are the same parents of my father, and my grandparents. All of Uncle Allen's matches are my relatives. By taking the test he has widened my research circle.

And widening the circle he has. Ancestry.com DNA has this new feature called DNA circles and as soon as I linked my uncle to my family tree, two of these circles popped up - one for James Goodyear and one for Suzanna French-Goodyear; a set of my 4th great grandparents.

What these circles do is group together people who genetically match to the same identified family tree members. Each group currently contain 6 people, 4 of which I administered the test to; me, dad, my sister, and my uncle. One of the other 2 people in the circles is a woman who genetically matches my dad, uncle and sister. The second person is a woman who genetically only matches my uncle. But all of us have this couple, James and Suzanna Goodyear, as direct ancestors.

I reached out to the woman my uncle matches to. I wrote her and said, "Hi, you have a DNA match with my uncle which has put us in the same DNA Circle for James Goodyear and Suzanna French. That makes us 3rd cousins even though we don't genetically match to each other" And she wrote back, "I don't understand how we are third cousins, but don't genetically match."

Again, recombinant nature of DNA. .

James and Suzanna Goodyear lived in Newfoundland. Their daughter, Sophia Goodyear married Elias Earle in 1828. They had a son, Abraham Earle, who is my great-great grandfather. For a while I wasn't sure if Abraham was the son of Elias. I couldn't find any documentation about Abraham's parents. All I had was a handwritten scrap of paper from Abraham's daughter, nothing official.

Without official documentation, I was leery and hesitant about putting Elias in my tree as the father of Abraham but this past summer when I went to Newfoundland I saw that Elias and Abraham's headstones were in the same cemetery.
Cenotaph for Abraham Earle. He died at sea but his wife and some children are buried here.
Headstone for Elias Earle and his wife Sophia Goodyear-Earle. She was the daughter of James Goodyear and Suzanna French-Goodyear.

And not only are Abraham and Elias' families buried in the same small cemetery but they are only 6 feet away from each other.


These images were taken at Hart's Cove Cemetery in Twillingate, Newfoundland; the town where my great grandfather, Abram Earle was born. You can see many Earles are buried there including Elias and Sophia. Sophia being the daughter of  James and Suzanna Goodyear.

Stronger than juxtaposition of grave sites though is genetic matches to other known descendants. As more and more genetic matches appear, the more confident one can be regardless of official documentation.

If Elias were here to spit into a tube we'd know without question that I am a direct descendant but since he is not we can only depend on genetic matches to the living who have put the same people in their family tree. So thank you, Uncle Allen, for giving a spit.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review: Austin, TX (S2E1)

I had seen season 1 of Genealogy Roadshow and quite frankly, I was not that impressed. It had confirmed for me - at least back then - that people are only interested in their connections to famous people or significant events. That kind of turned me off but now the second season of Genealogy Roadshow is showing on PBS and I thought, "Well, I'll give it a second chance." I am glad I did. I really enjoyed the first episode which premiered on PBS this past Tuesday (January 13, 2015) at 8 p.m.

Unlike Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, Genealogy Roadshow's guests are ordinary everyday people, not celebrities. The show goes from city to city around the U.S. presenting snippets of family history of local residents.

What I appreciate most, perhaps, is the individuals' phrasing of their research question. Several years ago Ancestry.com ran a commercial that stated that you didn't need to know what you were looking for, you just needed to start looking. 


That is not at all how good research is begun at any level. You must state your research goal!! One answer will lead to many more questions, trust me, but you must be able to clarify for yourself what you're looking for. A person's date of birth, if they participated in a war, where they lived - whatever it is, get a question!

This first episode of season 2 of Genealogy Roadshow took place in Austin, TX. The show provided some information about the history of Texas, Austin, and specifically the hotel in which these genealogy reveals were taking place, The Driskill Hotel.

In addition to absorbing some of Austin, Texas's local color, the genealogists,  D. Joshua Taylor, President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the Director of Family History at findmypast.com and Kenyatta Berry, past President of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and on the Council of the Corporation for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston, presented 6 people with glimpses into their family histories.

These guests' ancestry covered events including the War for Mexican Independence, D-Day, the U.S. Civil War, and the settlement of Rhode Island to name a few. Some of the guests connected to famous Americans such as Sam Houston, the first President and Governor of Texas, and early American theologian Roger Williams as well as lesser known figures such as Mormon bishop, Anson Perry Winsor

Josh and Kenyatta took turns revealing research. One reveal that stands out the most to me was presented by Kenyatta to a woman who was inquiring about a murder that may have taken place in her family's history as well as the speculation as to her connection to Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.

Kenyatta confirmed for the woman that yes indeed she was descended from not just one but four of the passengers on the Mayflower. Although that ship only carried 102 passengers, 45 of which died in the first winter, there are nearly 35 million people who claim to have descended from those Pilgrims. 

The guest was presented  with a book about the early settlers and informed that she could join the lineage organization, the Mayflower Society. This was not the only lineage organization that was mentioned in the program; the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were a subject in the first reveal. I've written about lineage organizations before and the benefits of belonging to them; first, and foremost being validation of the quality of one's genealogical research and documentation - - but I digress.

The most moving part of Kenyatta's reveal to this specific woman was the story of that murder in her family. The root of that horrible family tragedy may have been the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

We hear so much about PTSD now with soldiers returning from current wars but it is not new in any way. It has had many different names over the cause of history but the Civil War was really the first time the psychological effects of war were studied on such a grand scale. We think of PTSD as effecting the soldier but as this guest points out, PTSD effects the whole family. 

In this specific case the veteran who had fought in many notable Civil War battles had also been hospitalized at Gettysburg. He survived the war and went on to marry. About a decade after the marriage, he abruptly shot and killed his wife. 

A newspaper article - the most valuable type of genealogical resource if you ask me - revealed no "real" cause for the incident but noted that the man claimed to have no recollection of the event. Sadly, this veteran went on to be hospitalized in an insane asylum where I can only assume he did not get the help he needed because ultimately he ended his own life after several suicide attempts.

It is a very sad, sad story that no one really wants to learn about their ancestor but that many people would not want to share with the world. But as you know, here at Digging up the Dirt on My Dead People, there is no shame in sharing the darker, dirtier side of family history.

Before I depart, I'd also like to share my favorite quote from one of the guests on this week's episode, which wholeheartedly made me giggle. "Dead relatives can be a whole lot easier to deal with than the living ones." Hee, hee, hee.

I look forward to next week's episode of Genealogy Roadshow which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. It will air on Tuesday, January 20 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS. In the meantime, you can catch this past episode online at PBS.org.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Family History in the Classroom

This past weekend I attended the American Historical Association (AHA) Conference in New York City. The focus of my recent studies has been on the development of oral history collections so I tried to get to as many presentations on that topic as possible but I did also get to see a session on Sunday, January 4, 2015 entitled "Connection and Community: Teaching Family History in the Classroom."

I suppose I should state that I am not a K-12 teacher; I am an academic librarian who from time-to-time has volunteered to speak to K-12 groups on local and family history as well as on how to conduct various types of research. I attended this session to see how educators are using the power of genealogical research to connect their students to history and I was not disappointed.

In addition to a representative from AncestryK12.com, an arm of Ancestry.com that is free for school/classroom use, the presenters included three teachers from North Carolina; Kristen Ziller and Laura Richardson both from Wake County Schools, and Elizabeth Wiggs from Lee Early College.

The three of them worked with an organization called LEARN NC which is a program through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Education. LEARN NC "provides lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina."

These educators were great advocated for the use of family history in the classroom because, like myself and I suspect most genealogists, they too realized the incredible potential genealogy research has to connect individuals with the past. Through the interaction with primary resources about one's ancestors a researcher can develop a real relationship and understanding of who those people were and what they endured. It makes history - the events we read about in text books (immigration, wars, epidemics, etc. - it makes history personal. It makes history part of our family.

Although impressed by the full presentation, I was most moved by Ms. Wiggs discussion of her paper At-Risk Adolescents: Using the Past to Help Find the Future. That subtitle embodies exactly the way I feel about my own family history research. The more I have come to learn about my ancestors the more I understand myself and the world in which I live.

For those of you who do not know what "at-risk" really means, the term is often used to describe students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing or dropping out of school. These students often face circumstances such as homelessness, foster-care, incarceration, health issues, or other conditions, or it may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect their educational performance. 

Ms. Wiggs shared one case study of a middle school, At-Risk, African-American girl who through reading the book, Help Me Find My People by Heather Williams and using sources such as North American Slave Narratives website, AncestryK12.com, Newspapers.com and Fold3.com, this student researched her own family history and formally presented to her family. We were shown that once given the opportunity to explore her own family history this girl became engaged with reading, writing, and research for, really, the first time in her whole education. It doesn't get better than that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Eve Tragedy Befalls Carillions

FultonHistory.com is a wonderful, free source for digitized New York State newspaper articles.

Many years ago, on a hunch, I researched the Carillion family of Queens, NY. I suspected that my 3rd great grandmother, Mary Henry, was related to the Carillions. And in recent posts you can see that indeed Mary Henry's maiden name was Carillion.

In my research into the Carillions I stumbled upon some newspaper articles about a drunk driving accident that took the life of Anna and Edward Carillion. For those of you who can follow such statements, Edward would be my 2nd cousin 3 times removed.

New Year's Eve, 1932:

Joseph Carillion and his family spent the day shopping in Jamaica, Queens, NY; not terribly far from their home at 90-06 202nd St., Hollis (part of which was called Belaire), Queens. At about 8 pm, laden with packages, the family of 5 disembarked from the trolley car which ran along Jamaica Avenue. Moments later a car driven by a drunk driver, Charles Neu, age 32, of Williston Park, NY, struck four of the Carillions; the mother Anna, age 40;  Robert, 15; Bessie, 7; and Edward, 3. Both Anna and Edward succumbed to their injuries while Robert and Bessie were taken to a near by Mary Immaculate Hospital to recover from their head injuries. Only the father, Joseph escaped injury. 

Two other sons, Joseph Jr. and Harold were not at the scene. Joseph Jr. was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii at the time.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Tuesday, January 3, 1933

A trial soon ensued.  Prior to the trial though, the newspapers were flooded with articles about the incident and filled with photos of the Carillion family which to me seems to be the media's attempt to endorse what I think is a blatant case of vehicular manslaughter committed while intoxicated. Mr. Neu, however,  was acquitted by a jury of his peers.

I wish the newspaper photos were clearer so I could really see if there is a family resemblance between my Henrys and these Carillion cousins.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What Should I Research this Recess?

The semester has ended. I have off from work between Christmas and New Year's Day. Thus, I am staring at my family tree pondering which brick-wall I would like to beat my head against for a few wintery days.

I have a pretty full tree. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself. 

I can name all 32 of my 3rd great grandparents. Their dates of birth range in time from 1782 to 1855. And of those 32 there are only 7 of them for whom I do not know either parents' names. Some of those will remain brick-walls, I know, but man would I love to be able to name all 64 of my 4th great grandparents. I really only have 15 unknowns.

For me though, my research is not about gathering names and dates so much as it is about gathering stories. There is no better resource for stories of your ancestors than newspapers. Hmm. Newspapers.

I think I will let brick-walls stand for this recess and use my time to glean what stories I can from the digitized newspapers I can access for free online. Watch out Brooklyn Daily Eagle! I'm coming for you!!