DNA: Taking the Plunge!

For years, I’ve been hearing about the continuing advances in DNA testing. I’ve participated in DNA chats at #genchat and watched as my co-workers got their DNA tested. People always asked me, “Why don’t you get your DNA tested?” For a long time, I really didn’t feel the need for it. After all, the paper trail has kept me pretty busy!

Still I’ve been keeping my eye on the testing companies, seeing what they may have to offer and what is unique about each company. And now MyHeritage has entered the DNA game. I’ve had my family tree on MyHeritage for years and have been impressed with the improvements they’ve continued to make. Would they, as DNA newbies, be able to build a significant base of testers? It seems that they are certainly getting there; not only that, but where their testers are located kind of sets them apart. MyHeritage has always been a highly used program in the non-US community, and that is proving to be the case with DNA as well. And from what I’ve seen around the internet, the ethnicity breakdown appears to be more detailed too.

For these reasons, I’m hoping that testing with MyHeritage might help me with my Polish & Lithuanian roots. At the very least, I will at least become more conversant about DNA as I add “centimorgans” and “segments” to my genea-vocabulary! Finally, the long-standing sale price for MyHeritage DNA testing will be going up after tomorrow, so I figure that it’s now or never. Let’s see where this leads!

Woman Scientist. , None. [Between 1909 and 1923] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2007018584/. (Accessed July 23, 2017.)

How to Create a Find-a-Grave Virtual Cemetery

On Memorial Day, I tweeted a link to a virtual cemetery I created on Find-a-Grave to honor my military family members. Twitter friend Melanie McComb of The Shamrock Genealogist asked how I did this and I answered over the course of a few tweets. Then I realized that this would make a really good blog post. After all, others may want to create virtual cemeteries as well!

A virtual cemetery is simply a collection of Find-a-Grave memorials that you put together. It can be any theme you want (not just genealogy) and can include any memorials that are anywhere on Find-a-Grave. Some of my virtual cemeteries include: Direct Ancestors, Descendants of George & Emma Pleau, and Military Family.

All you need to create a virtual cemetery is a Find-a-Grave login. If you don’t have one, click here and follow the instructions on the screen.

Once you are signed in, click on your name in the upper right corner of the screen. This will bring you to a screen like this (the Contributor Tools tab):

Screenshot, findagrave.com

To start a new virtual cemetery, look at the “Customize” list in the lower left and click the “Edit” button after “My Virtual Cemeteries”. This will bring you to your personal Virtual Cemeteries page. (Once you’ve created a cemetery, you can get here from any Virtual Cemeteries link on the Contributor Tools and Profile tabs.)

 

Screenshot, findagrave.com

Click on the “Add New” link in the upper left of the screen. Give your cemetery a name and, if you want, a description. You can also choose to make this public or not (the default is public). Then click on the “Add This Virtual Cemetery” button on the bottom.

Screenshot, findagrave.com

Now the fun begins – adding the memorials! Go to a memorial you want to add to your cemetery. On the lower left side of the memorial, you’ll see a link that says “Edit Virtual Cemetery info”.

Screenshot, findagrave.com

Click on that, and you’ll see a page similar to this:

Screenshot, findagrave.com

Put a checkmark in the box of the virtual cemetery you want, click the “Save Changes” button, and you’re ready to add another memorial!

To log out of Find-a-Grave, just click on the “Log Out” link at the bottom of the actions column on the left.

Here is a link to the cemetery we’ve created today. I hope you enjoy creating your own virtual cemeteries!

Impressions from Ellis Island

I originally planned on writing more about my Randalls, but I was moved to write the following, while it was still fresh in my mind!

This past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my second cousin and I made a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis island. We were hoping to learn more about our common great-grandparents, whether specifically or experientially.

The Trip

Though it was mid-January, we were fortunate that the weather was sunny and somewhat mild. We had pre-purchased our ferry tickets, so all we had to do was go through security and get on board. It was a really quick trip to both places – you can see your destinations easily from the dock – so we were soon at Liberty Island.

Since we hadn’t bought tickets to tour inside the statue, we just walked the perimeter of the island itself. With the sunny skies, it was worth it! The statue was beautiful, especially with the sunlight shining on her face.

Lady Liberty, always welcoming!  Author's collection

Lady Liberty, always welcoming! Author’s collection

We boarded the next ferry for Ellis Island, which was just a few minutes up the harbor. We had a quick lunch at the cafeteria (which probably had way better food than our ancestors experienced!) and were ready to explore. There was a research room, which we contemplated visiting, but I said, let’s look at the exhibits first. (More about the research room later.)

Exploring Ellis Island

Author's collection.

Author’s collection.

Close-up of the building built in 1900.  Author's collection.

Close-up of the building built in 1900. Author’s collection.

 

Let me say that you would never know that there was any previous storm damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. So although many items are in storage and/or are being restored, still there are many exhibits in the main building (listed here), and we didn’t even see all of them. Basically, the exhibits covered different eras of immigration throughout American history, not just immigration through Ellis Island. There are audio components: one through listening to headsets at various stations, and others that activated by either standing near the audio station or by picking up a landline-style phone. Since I’m more of a visual person, I did more reading than listening; my cousin went for the complete experience!

I was really impressed by the breadth of what the exhibits covered. We went to the pre-Ellis Island immigration exhibit first. This covered everything from early European immigration to existing Native populations to the slave trade. And it wasn’t just your standard schoolbook Anglo-only immigration, but that of other countries as well (Sweden, Denmark and the West Indies, for example) and immigration into different parts of what would be the United States (like the Southwest, Alaska and Hawaii).

The biggest exhibit was for the Ellis Island era. Not only did it cover Ellis Island, but other ports of entry as well (like San Francisco). There were photographs, film clips and other media of the immigrants in their homeland, during their trips and what happened to them upon arrival in the US. One room was filled with “treasures from home”, which was ephemera from different family collections. This also included some family papers (not mine, though)! My cousin and I pondered what the immigrants must have thought of the panorama of different peoples and cultures that suddenly surrounded them.

Statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island.  Author's collection.

Statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island. Author’s collection.

There were also various rooms where immigrants were processed, medically examined or slept for the night. The most famous, which you often see in photographs, is the Registration Room, which is a large hall on the second floor. As I stood there, I thought of my other great-grandfather who arrived in 1907 (after the current building was built in 1900). I imagined him standing in line, perhaps talking to his brother. I wondered if he, like I was just then, looked at the sunshine streaming through the large windows.

Ellis Island Registration Room.  Author's collection.

Ellis Island Registration Room. Author’s collection.

Probably the most powerful impression, however, was present throughout most of the exhibits: the pro-immigrant vs. anti-immigrant sentiments. On the one hand, some Americans were proud of the fact that the country welcomed and provided opportunity to people from all over the world. On the other hand, some felt intruded upon and threatened by the arrival of so many strangers. It didn’t seem to matter at what point in history it was; both attitudes prevailed. I remarked to my cousin that things really haven’t changed over the years, have they?

As we rested our weary feet for a while, we talked one of the earlier exhibits about immigrant influences on music, particularly the banjo from Africa and how it made its way into blackface minstrel shows (which my great-great uncle Albert Pleau took part in). My cousin wondered why such a thing would be so popular. One of the things we came up with was that perhaps people who had been there for a while felt “smarter” and found it funny when they saw others were not so “smart” as themselves. Perhaps categorizing others as “dumber” gave one group a feeling of superiority. My cousin grew up in an area that had many French-Canadians, and the other citizens kind of looked down on them as well. This sentiment was (and is) prevalent all over the country with many different ethnic groups.

The Research Room

Because the museum was so big and there was so much to see, we never got the research room. There were signs there that stated a half-hour consultation was $7 (I didn’t know there were consultations!), and I like to get the biggest bang for my buck, so I felt I needed to be better prepared to use this service most effectively. Later on, I tried finding out more information online about this service, and I found nothing. What I really want to do is write to them for an explanation of their offerings and what to expect from a visit there, so I intend to email them for just that. I will be sure to write up their answer for all our benefit!

* * *

All in all, if you want to research any immigrant experience, regardless of time and place, Ellis Island is the place to go. You can opt to skip the Statue of Liberty, but it is right there anyway and it is something so many of our ancestors saw upon their arrival, so I say: go!

Back From Vacation! (And a Tip)

Yes, I took a little time off of everything, though I couldn’t totally get away from genealogy. As we visited my husband’s hometown and planned on seeing some of his ancestors’ graves, I got a little carried away on Find-a-Grave then proceeded to map out some good chunks of his own ancestry!

We also visited the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY, where we were able to enter the research room (my favorite part, of course). This reminded me of my recent trip to Guilford, CT when we visited the Henry Whitfield House. They, too, had a research room, available by appointment. I have to wonder how many museums out there have research rooms or something similar. These rooms most likely will not be featured prominently on the museum website, if at all. So my tip is: ask! Find out if there is such a room, how it can be accessed and what its holdings might be. Who knows? You may find something you’ve been looking for.

Find out the research rooms in your local museum!  Picture courtesy New York Public Library.

Find out the research rooms in your local museum! Picture courtesy New York Public Library.

Next week, we’ll return to exploring my ancestors; I’ll be much more refreshed by then!

A Trip to the New York Public Library

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a genealogy stay-cation, particularly to do those “little things” I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. One of those things was to visit the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library, which houses their amazing US History, Local History and Genealogy resources (in other words, “paradise”). The NYPL has a ton of stuff online, but I wanted to see what offline resources they have. I had the perfect opportunity when I found out that they held some books that I couldn’t access elsewhere.

Preparing to Go

I originally found my books via Google Books, which sometimes shows a snippet view, just to tease you! (Actually, it is very helpful, or else I wouldn’t know if the book is relevant or not.) Clicking on the “Find in a Library” link brings you to WorldCat.org, which lists the libraries where the books are available. And did you know that you can sign up for a free WordCat account, where you can create your own lists that are annotatable? That’s exactly what I did — I made a “NYPL” list to capture each book. Then I looked up the call number in the NYPL (just by clicking the book’s NYPL link in WorldCat) and noted it under each book on my list. I just printed the list to take with me; I suppose I could have saved the list as a pdf into Evernote as well.

Another way I prepared for the trip was obtain a temporary NYPL card, which is necessary for any pull requests. If you are not a New York City resident, then you can get a temporary card that is good for three months. First I registered on the website, which set me up with a patron account. When I arrived at the NYPL, I had to go to a room on the second floor (Customer Service? Customer Relations?) to finish the process. If you’ve already started the process, all the staff has to do is look you up and issue your card!

A Few Words About the Library

First, the library is so convenient to get to — just two blocks from Grand Central Station! And there is a Starbucks right between the two, which I hit afterwards.

I’ve walked past the library before, but I’ve never stopped just to look. It is gorgeous! Too many architectural details to take in at once, inside and out; I probably could have spent days doing so. (In fact, there are tours of the library.)

Welcome to the New York Public Library!  Author's collection.

Welcome to the New York Public Library! Author’s collection.

After going through a well-moving security line, I was in! After finding out where to complete my library card process and taking care of that, I checked the big map in the lobby and found out where the Milstein Division was — Room 121. (Meanwhile, I was still ogling over all the beautiful details inside the building…)

The Best Room

You are about to enter the Genealogy Zone... Author's collection.

You are about to enter the Genealogy Zone… Author’s collection.

First let me describe just what is here. This room holds books and boxed papers. Some of the papers seem to be donated collections, which probably need to go through the request process (I just skimmed through the box titles). The variety of books amazed me. There are years’ worth of publications from NEHGS, NYG&B and more. There are directories, ship manifests and civil war indexes. There are sections on African-American, Latino and other ethnic genealogies. And of course, there are books on history.

What interested me most, however, were the surname books, which were on my list. Unlike the other books mentioned above, they needed to be requested to be pulled by a librarian. For each book, I had to fill out a little faux-carbon form with the book information and call number (thank you, WorldCat list!), and the librarian gave me the yellow copy as she pulled the books.

I soon had all the books I wanted and identified what I wanted to copy from them. You need to ask permission to copy each book; basically the librarian just assesses the age and condition of the book. (Mine were all good to go.)

The Worst Part

If I were to win Powerball, I would buy the NYPL Milstein Division a brand-new copier with a new credit card reader. Although the copier made fine copies, the cover was almost falling off and the card reader kept timing out on me so often that my credit card stopped working. (It’s supposed to make up to $5 worth of copies, but I never got that far.) Fortunately my debit card worked and the librarian helped me out a little (with plenty of empathy…and by the way, the library staff was SO helpful at every juncture in the process). Once I hit my stride, I stopped timing out so often.

There is a note on the copier that says it does take USBs and digital copies are free (I didn’t think to bring a USB beforehand), but it doesn’t accept all USBs. Either way, I’m glad I made hardcopies so I could write notations for myself.

Other Parts of the Library

There is actually a very nice book store on-site that sells all kinds of books and gift-type things like mugs and tote bags. And there happened to be an exhibit about Alexander Hamilton that included original documents in his own handwriting; I figured since I was there, I’d take advantage of the opportunity.

There are so many other departments at the NYPL: the Microform Room, the Manuscript and Archives Division, the Rare Book Division and the Map Division, to name a few. Someday I may get to visit these as well!

A Visit to the Family History Center

I recently had a neat break-through totally by accident and came across a new-to-me second cousin! The best part was that she lives only an hour away from me in New York City. Since she is relatively new to family research, she wanted to visit with her local Family History Center, so did I want to come? I never went to an FHC before, so I figured why not? I’d get to check one out and meet my cousin at the same time.

The FHC we were to meet at was on the west side of the city, and Google Maps showed a nice big building there: Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Yes, most of the building was for the Mormon’s church, but the FHC was there as well. I’d done a little homework and found the number for a roll of microfilm that might give us clues about our Polish great-grandfather’s naturalization; that should be a good start, right? I had visions of genealogy books and rows of microfilm readers and computers!

Outside the FHC (which was conveniently across the street from the subway stop), I met my cousin with a hug, as well as a good friend of hers who was researching his family as well. We were ready for our field trip! We went inside, followed some signs for the FHC within the building…and came to a room no bigger than my living room with a bunch of computers (all occupied) inside. I briefly felt uncertain and could sense my cousin and her friend felt the same way.

Right away, a worker from the FHC saw us and welcomed us. She asked if we wanted to see the “other room” with the microfilm readers and a couple more computers. “Sure!” we said, eager to see if there was anything else. We were brought to the room, which had a couple of readers, a microfilm scanner (cool!), and a few more computers. (I could also see it doubled as a Sunday School room for little ones! They must have had a lot of self-control not to touch the interesting machines…) We were happy that, for the most part, we could have this room to ourselves. My cousin and I had a LOT of talking to do, as well as research.

We’d found a bunch of things online while we were there, and I showed her how to use the FamilySearch wiki as I explained how to find out what vital records might be searchable online vs. needing to be purchased. Meanwhile, our host tried looking for the microfilm I wanted to see. Sadly (so, so sadly), she could not locate it, even though their system said it was there. The host even let me look in the microfilm room, to no avail.

Nope, not in here! Microfilm at the Family History Center in NYC. Author's collection.

Nope, not in here! Microfilm at the Family History Center in NYC. Author’s collection.

In spite of not making any huge finds, it was still a good visit. We had enough space to ourselves to be able to tell family stories, ask each other questions, and do some on-line exploring together. There was even wifi, which enabled me to pull up my cloud-stored records on my iPad to show my cousin. My cousin’s friend even found some records he was not expecting. The host was very, very accommodating (she even let us use her own laptop while the computer we’d been using was needed for the microfilm scanner). She promised to email me if they found the missing microfilm.

As we were leaving, our host asked if we could please sign their guest book. The more people they showed as visiting the FHC, the more money and resources (including space) they could have. You bet we’d sign!

So although I was kind of let down by the size of the “center”, it was still a good visit. After all, I was with family and we were doing genealogy!

What’s In Your GEDCOM?

In December, when Ancestry announced that they would no longer be selling Family Tree Maker, it seemed to shake up much of the genealogy world. People wondered what would they do, where would they go with their data?

Although I was not an FTM user, I watched the fallout and the reaction with interest. I guess part of me wondered, if this could happen to FTM, could it happen to Legacy (what I use)? Or any other genealogy software for that matter? I didn’t want to be caught unawares, like the FTM users seemed to be. I wanted to be ready for whatever changes the future of genealogy might bring. On December 14, The Genealogy Guys had a very timely themed podcast on genealogy software. In it, they touched on GEDCOMs and how they worked. I realized that there was a lot that I did not know!

As you know, I participate in the bi-weekly #genchat on Twitter. On January 15, the topic was “What to do with…Changing Technology?” and circumstances arose that enabled me to host the chat for the evening. We talked about how we handled change, how we backed up digital and non-digital data, understanding what was in our backups (in particular, GEDCOMs), petitioning our software companies for futures changes, and the future as we saw it. Because I know I needed a greater understanding, I gave a homework assignment of just taking a look at one of those GEDCOMs that we’ve backed up, just to see what it looked like and what was in there.

Little did I know that I was in for a bigger learning experience than I bargained for! (But that’s a good thing!) Below are some of my “lessons learned” and my thoughts on them:

  • despite how Legacy’s zip file backup is named, it is not a GEDCOM nor is a GEDCOM file in there!
  • what is in the zip file is Legacy’s database back-up. So if I were to transfer to another genealogy program, I would not be able to load that back up into it.
  • I learned how to export a GEDCOM from Legacy (File/Export/GEDCOM file) and have opened it up in Notepad. As everyone promised, it does look messy, but I recognize a lot of what is there.
  • I need a much better understanding of the contents and structure of a GEDCOM. I’ve learned from the Genealogy Guys that some event types do not transfer over exactly, and I know that media and documents typically are not included. This means I need to know what other files — besides a GEDCOM — needs to be backed up.

Thanks to the Legacy Family Tree Users Facebook group, I picked up a couple of handy tips:

  • A link to the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Standard document. I’ve found it myself on the internet to share with all of you. Yes, it looks dry, but it’s the go-to document about GEDCOM today!
  • There is a freeware program called GedPad that allows you to look at your GEDCOM in a more visually friendly way, as well as perform any edits (which I have no desire to do at this time).

Below is just a little excerpt of the beginning of my GEDCOM, so you can see it too:

GEDCOM sample

Next week, I’ll go back to our “regularly scheduled program” of blogging about my Strong family, but I just wanted to let everyone know my latest thoughts on this topic. As I learn more, I’ll be sure to pass it on!