Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The never finished tree: DNA proving otherwise

Weekly, someone will contact me because we match on either AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Mostly, we can find the common ancestor and a time or two we've found more than one shared ancestor. That's nice too because we're doubly connected.

I'm lucky because I got a big head start from all the genealogy work Mom did. She worked on the family tree from the early 1970 and when she had to stop due to eye problems she had almost 70,000 folks on the tree. Sure, many are way out there on limbs connected to other limbs, and so on, but she got more right than not.

Truth be told and because she's a great genealogist, she still worries about the accuracy of it all. When someone contacts me because they see their ancestor in this blog or because of a DNA connection, it's rare for them to tell me that I have it wrong. She's that good and I've been rechecking her work as I go along, finding new records not available to her.

There are exceptions to this and one of them has to do with a particularly confusing bunch of Workman chromosomes. I match people I shouldn't. And because DNA doesn't lie, if you do it right, my suspicion is that the confusion has to do with a man named John Workman.

Their John Workman on the confusing match trees, is John the Mormon. He was born in Cumberland, MD and went "out west" as part of that great Mormon migration. Here's the Find A Grave listing for John the Mormon and there's so much incorrect about it I hardly know where to start! Let me just say that, yes, there were early Workman in Maryland in the 1600s but they have nothing to do with the Workman family who came to Western Maryland in the late 1700s who were Dutch and came to New Amsterdam in 1647, then New Jersey about 1700.

I'm certain about who my John Workman is and that he was the son of Isaac Workman, one of many by this name, who moved on to Ohio about 1820. I have that paper trail nailed!

Thing is, these other John the Mormon people are showing up on my DNA match radar. And a couple are adamant that I'm wrong. One is quite offensive about it too. Never mind.

So here's the interesting part. I know who my John Workman is and who his parents were and children too. Have it all documented. So when these other folks came at me with the DNA thing and their John Workman and insisted that I am incorrect, at first I got defensive. Then I just sat back and thought, guess we just disagree.

Imagine this situation, if you will. By the 1780s, maybe as many as 100 Workman people were in Allegany County living in very close proximity to each other, all ultimately descended from a couple who came to New Amsterdam in 1647. They migrated in clutches - Brooklyn to New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, and on to Allegany County MD - then split up and moved on in small groups.

Have been collecting names and ancestors and keeping a chromosome spreadsheet when I can get the information. But there's a number of projects on my To Do list. I'll get on this one in a while. It needs to be done. Back before 1800 all of these Workman were moving around and naming all of their children John, Isaac, Nimrod, Cuthbert, William, Samuel and Stephen, and all in the same place. Good grief! DNA might be the only way to sort it out.

As a side note, John the Mormon is a very big deal and to say that you descend from him is rather  important. Of course you see what I'm getting at here. Not saying that's what's going on but simply suggesting a possible motivation to be connected to John the Mormon rather than my humble John the farmer out in Western Maryland.

We all know our trees are never finished and that they all contain mistakes. It can hardly be any other way. Once you get past a certain point, going back in time, records are hard to find. Maybe DNA is the only way to sort it all out. Maybe.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Started another blog: The Rooted Tree

For a while now I've been thinking that the blog needed a facelift. It's been going on for over 550 posts since 20 May 2011. I've connected with cousins who are new to me and that was a major objective. I've learned so much from them! And I've learned about what works and doesn't for me in a blog. And maybe my writing has improved, if marginally.

I wasn't sure about what I was looking for in a blog facelift. I had a name for it, The Rooted Tree, and felt that it embodied the spirit of the thing, the concept that one's tree is best when it's rooted in research and proper documentation. While this blog was very much about my personal family history journey, The Rooted Tree would be about the process of research and documentation of one's lineage, in all it's guts and glory.

So far, as of today, there are just six posts to The Rooted Tree. Each one of them takes time for the concept to develop, rough it out, build in details and then write it. Finally, and this is the most difficult part for me, I go back and examine each and every element closely, cite the sources, and test for logic. I'll not get it 100% right each time, that's a given.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to post here but in a less formal and structured way. Just a couple of friends chatting. I'm not going for quantity as I did here. I'm hoping that The Rooted Tree will be a rooted blog. Come on over and see what's going on.

Genealogy Project Wins Christmas!

That's my niece there, reading one of the books about our ancestry. (See stories below.) There were two books, one with the charts and tables, and the other contained stories of all the major lines on my Dad's side going back as far as we can now trace.

She's interested and that's what I'd hoped for. Maybe, some day down the line, she'll have the time and want to pick up the search. Time will tell. If that time does come, and even if I'm gone, she'll have a head start.

My sister got the printed version and my niece and nephew both received thumb drives with all of the documents.

Finally, I feel that the work will not disappear.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What to do with your genealogy files: update: Our Fascinating Family!

If you take a look at the past post right there, below, you'll see that I'm busy writing my Christmas present to my siblings. Shh, don't tell them, but it's a report from our family tree!

After the chart and report had been generated in Family Tree Maker and printed, it looked, well, seriously boring! There was not one little trace of the excitement I felt when working on my tree! How could anyone be expected to get thrilled about our fascinating family looking at this document?

I wanted a document that equaled my own excitement at the discoveries that had hooked me from the start, and had kept Mom's attention starting in the 1970s and going hard at it until just a couple of years ago. But, how was that going to happen? Tell you what! I think I just stumbled into a way to get closer to what we all want: a document that your descendants will pick up, read, and get to know more about their family's heritage. I never thought I could write an easy 45 pages about just one family line, but once I started it was easy, relatively speaking. I simply stumbled into the answer about how to get this done and here's the story.

I started with the Workman line because I've been spending time on a project documenting who owned which lots in Western Maryland just before 1800 so that line seemed like the natural place to begin.  I had a lot of charts identifying who was where and owned what, and when. But I knew from experience that the only person it was going to excite was me... and definitely not even the husband;)

Started by opening a document and save it, of course. Took a moment to write down on the first page a couple of distinctive things about the ancestors in this line. Our Workman ancestors came from Holland to New Amsterdam in the 1600s so I began there. The immigrant ancestor owned the Brooklyn Ferry and much land in the area. His son Peter was one of the first settlers in New Jersey so I had to mention that. Then his son Isaac had a son Cornelius and they both ventured into the vast wilderness trapping furs. Others followed and that's how we come to those lots I mentioned up top, owned by the Workmen family. With that outlined, I began compiling the long story of the immigrant from Holland, his English father, and what happened after they landed in Manhattan and then moved to Brooklyn, some over 350 years ago.

Then I pulled in all of the interesting documents and photos resting in my files placing them in order. I was careful to cite sources in short form as I went along.

Next I opened my Ancestry tree and had both the document and the tree visible on the screen. In that way I was able to easily copy names, dates and locations for all individuals in each generation. And before moving on I checked each of the offspring (those not in our direct line) for fascinating facts or interesting documents, maps or photos. The generations practically built themselves.

Last I added anything I could remember from my childhood or told to me by Grandma. The icing on the cake was all of the photos Mom has been saving all of these years.

At this point I had a decent but very rough draft and after a fresh cup of coffee, I started editing it and building in smooth transitions from generation to generation. As a treat to myself I added a little speculation and personal conclusions with explanations by saying things like, "it might be concluded," or "perhaps."

Before I knew it, all 45 pages were finished. The very last page listed all of the things that still might be researched plus questions or doubts I had concerning this ancestral line. I wanted to leave clues for any family member who comes after.

Oh sure, there are other better more scholarly ways to approach this type of project. I could have made notes for years, use a fancy program to put the notes in order or whatever. But that's not what happened. What did happen is a Christmas present.

I had been feeling, especially after my last milestone birthday, that I better get going and start preparing all of the collected research and family biographies in such a way so as to tempt a future generation to jump in again. And we all know that I'll be long gone when that happens! All along I've been keeping things organized and tidy as well as backed up. Made sure the appropriate people have certain passwords and account info. Have scanned a lot and there are still some of Mom's binders that could be scanned too, but that's filler work for a rainy day. Now I feel that these family histories are just the thing I've wanted so that I can be sure the work is carried on.

These are the families.

I know the story about when Grandpa Kelly went to Florida and came back and announced to grandma that he was selling the house and moving to Florida. That's when she told him that the house was in her name! Too good not to pass on!

I know the story.

I know the story.

I know the story.
And now, so will they.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What to do with your genealogy files and research?

So, what do we do? Leave it to a library or archive? Find a family member who wants to carry on? All of those have their benefits and flaws. Ugh.

Recently I was thinking about how to share Mom and my genealogy research with my brother. He's curious but not an avid user. And my sister too. She's interested but hasn't the time to delve in. So of course as a first step I synced my Ancestry member tree with my Family Tree Maker and the printed out some reports. Was going to have that bound but it looked boring, even to me and I love this stuff. So, how could I make it look spiffy and interesting? If it looked sexy then there was a chance that my sibs or some family member might pick it up and give a look, maybe read some of it and get further interested.

One of the things I did here on the blog a while back was the Surname Saturday blogging prompt. Did it for the major surnames on the tree back about four generations. Click here to see one about the Workman family. I posted them dutifully for a while them other things caught my attention. You know how it goes. But those Surname Saturday posts were the closest thing I had to a write-up on the various lines, so I started there and drug one out to see if it would work as a base for something interesting.

Workman was the first up. I had a lot of info on that line and jumped right in editing the Surname Saturday post. It went pretty well and moved along seemingly under it's own steam. Added some old photos, then stories from childhood about relatives on this line, especially those about Grandma Kelly whose line this is. Added wills, land deeds and court documents because brother and sister are both lawyers. I grabbed up anything that explored the story of the Workmans going back as far as I knew and had researched and that takes us back to about 1600.

Of course, there was special attention paid to calling out family stories and conjecture versus facts and documents. I am still conflicted about footnotes and if they should be included. Seems too counterproductive to keeping up interest in the document if the pages look bogged down with sources. But I do want to include them. End of chapter? End of book? Feeling like there's no 'right' answer.

The approach here is for it to read like a personal conversation with my sibs, having a chat about the ancestors, telling what was exciting about them. Sharing the mysteries still to be uncovered, the evidence that's not enough to draw a conclusion, yet. And pictures and old documents, maps. Visual salt and pepper.

Even though the Surname Saturday posts gave me a start, this has become so much more! I started with just three pages and I'm up to 35 and no where near finished. I'm excited because this isn't just a lineage chart, it's the saga of one American family that's emblematic of so many others. As I go, I come to understand much more about the long arc of our family's story in America. It helps me see the elements that makes us, us.

Not yet finished but I have until the holidays. What I can say is that it's coming along better than I envisioned and at this point, it practically writing itself.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tombstone Found: JOHN COMBS and PERCY CEMETARY and the DAR!

Have no passion for all CAPS, but just had to use them because I'm that excited to share this story:) While at mom's back in May, in Frostburg in Western Maryland, went to see Percy Cemetery. Percy dates from about 1830, with some burials earlier. It was first the major burial place for the Methodist Church in town but then expanded to receive many of the town's prominent citizens until the more contemporary Frostburg Cemetery opened. But first, some background.

I put in a DAR Supplemental Application (supplemental to my original application for Patriot Nehemiah Newan) for John Trimble a while back and received an AIR which is DAR-ese for Additional Information Required. They pointed out that Margaret Trimble Combs, daughter of Patriot John Trimble and wife of John Combs, was lacking a precise death date. When I looked at what I submitted, sure enough, they were right and I could do better!

I narrowed down Margaret's death date by following John and Margaret's participation in the Methodist Church and then Margaret's disappearance from their list of congregants. 1849. That's when she died. And she was missing in the 1850 census too, which was the source document I originally submitted. So her death date was between October 1849 and February 1850.

But where was she buried? John, her husband, was buried in Percy Cemetery and a nice stone was still there stating his death date. Margaret was probably buried there too, but there was reportedly no stone.

John Combs was wealthy and prominent in the Methodist Church giving land for it and presumably supported it with donations. It would be reasonable to suggests that Margaret was buried in the plot adjacent John and that there had been at one time a nice big stone like his. Yet no photo of it was in Mom's tombstone file or on Find A grave.

So off Mom and I went to see if we could locate John Combs' stone and see if Margaret was there but had been overlooked.

John Combs stone.
That's John's stone there on the right and see that small stone leaning against the tree? Check this out, below!
Right, it says Margaret!!
Here's the line-up with Margaret's stone in the foreground and John's off in the back, left.

Here's the photos of what I found. You can see John Combs' stone and then look! There's the top of a stone within five feet of his, leaning against a tree that says "MARGARET". I'm willing to bet the farm that it's her stone!
Of course that's not going to satisfy the DAR genies but it satisfies me.
And here's the wild and crazy part. In the wide view photo up top, you'll see a house right in back of John's stone. That's my Grandma Kelly's house and they were grandma's 3rd great grandparents. WOW! John and Margaret were within 100 feet of me as I played on Grandma's lawn as a kid!
Margaret, you were there all the time, dear girl.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The season for bashing Ancestry Member Trees? Take a second look!

Really, it's been going on for a long time and I don't mean to infer otherwise, but of late it seems to me that it's open season on Ancestry Member Trees. A recent email conversation by a probable new-to-me cousin, a blog post or two by the usual experts, and even more Facebook posts that hold AMTs, or Ancestry Member Trees, up to scrutiny and even ridicule, float by as I comb such trees carefully looking for hints and evidence. And I've found hints and evidence all over the place! Treasures! The Good Stuff!

If you're new to all of this genealogy stuff you might not be familiar with the term AMT and why someone would want to bash them. As you probably know because of their TV commercials you can build a tree on Ancestry by following those shaking green leaves. Enter a name, click on a leaf to find records, photos, stories and all manner of info about your ancestor. It looks so easy!

One of the hints is usually a grouping of Ancestry Member Trees built by other Ancestry members, like yourself. You can choose to add what they've posted in whole or in part, and thereby build out your tree really fast, if you don't take time to question and evaluate what you're adding. In this way - by not carefully evaluating what someone else has put on their tree - you can easily build what some call a "garbage tree" with no real records or sources. You can tell which trees are the garbage trees because the only source you find is a reference to someone else's member tree. It's easy to see why AMTs have a bad reputation!

But, look. It's not the trees themselves or the shaking green leaves or hints that's a problem. It's the way members choose to build out their trees: without records. But there are other, better trees out there, and plenty of them. You just have to look.

Is it just me who is finding gems right there on AMTs? I doubt it! Just last week I was working as a volunteer Genealogy Consultant for our DAR chapter and helping a chapter member with a supplemental application. A supplemental application happens when a woman who is a DAR member and has already submitted an application proving her lineal descendancy from a Patriot Ancestor, then wants to submit another - or supplemental to her original application - proving her lineal descent from another Patriot Ancestor.

We DAR members who are crazy about genealogy simply love preparing supplementals. But those chapter members who might find the application and their research a challenge can request help for one of the chapter's Genealogy Consultants. That's when I arrive on the scene!

So there I was working on a supplemental for a chapter member. It all seemed fine except for one very important aspect of the application and that's the proof connecting generations. What I really wanted was a will but I knew that this guy, the father, died intestate. It was back in the 1760s and civil records of birth were not kept in that time and place. They didn't attend a church with good record keeping habits, so that was out. Land records were also an option but this was a father / daughter connection and so based on previous experience, I know not to get my hopes up. Had checked Ancestry will and probate files and came up empty. I was just about to turn to FamilySearch and getting ready to spend hours and hours "browsing" the probate records when I though to check Ancestry Member Trees for any tasty tid-bits. And there it was! The will of the father naming the daughter and her husband!

Of course I needed a source citation, but now that I had the probate file with will and other papers that some wonderfully thoughtful and caring Ancestry Member had posted to his Individual page, I carefully looked at every one of them checking for hints of where these documents might have come from. Finally, three-quarters of the way down the stack of pages, I saw a tiny pencil handwritten notation at the top. Vol I, pg 408. Gold!!

In no time, I navigated my way through the probate files on FamilySearch and found what I needed. I knew the volume number and page number for one of the images and the will was about four pages before that. Nice!!

Quite recently I've found more and more treasures like this which is interesting. I remember not too long ago when Ancestry users would keep the good goods away from their trees. "I got mine, you work to get yours" was the attitude. But why, what's the point in that? Where's the harm in sharing the best stuff we have? I just paid $40 for three death certificates and believe me when I say that I can't wait to get them scanned and posted to my Ancestry Member Tree.

I have a bunch of stuff I've ordered and received from archives. There's that time I called the courthouse and a kind clerk went and got the document I asked for and emailed it to me! I want to share that too. Share it all. What good does it do to sit in my files here while I hold on to it with my stingy hands? I use it but it would be far better shared and helping others. The individual page on Ancestry is the very best place for me to leave it. 

Oh, yes, I'm aware of the potential to violate copyright in doing this so I do check carefully to see if the location where the document was found has limitations. If so, then I'll post a PDF page stating what was found and where, giving as much info as possible that helps someone else find it as easily as possible.

Wouldn't it be great if we all did this? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all shared our best stuff? Trees would get better and better. Let's do that!

Let's share that good stuff!