Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Genealogy Twofer

   Two family history articles for the price of one (still free).

   Florence Jane Ovens was born in the London Borough of Wandsworth in 1872.  Along with her father, step-mother and brother, she emigrated to the United States around 1880.  She graduated from the Hyannis State Normal School (later the Hyannis State Teachers College) in Hyannis, Massachusetts.  By 1900, she was teaching in the Falmouth school system.  She also taught in the Somerset, MA, Clinton, MA, Chester, NH, and York, ME schools between 1900 and 1920.

Florence Jane Ovens (1872-1955)

   In the 1920s, Florence moved to New York City and in 1923 filed for naturalization.  By 1928, she had met Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Locke.  Until the time of Bessie’s death in 1952, they were constant companions.  Bessie Locke was the Founder and Director of the National Kindergarten Association and Florence became the Executive Secretary and Editor.  Their goal was to bring public kindergarten to all the nation’s children at a time when only 1 in 10 children received pre-elementary education.

   At the invitation of President Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Education, Bessie and Florence wrote The Kindergarten in the United States in 1937.  They were never able to get their kindergarten bill through Congress.  Instead, they focused their energy at the state level.  In their lifetime, they personally helped create over 3,000 kindergartens.

   I’m writing about Florence because she is my wife’s great aunt. Florence was also instrumental in helping me figure out how my wife’s great-grandfather arrived here from England.

   We all hit various size brick walls when we research.  No amount of research experience can ever eliminate running into a brick wall.  I will usually turn to other genealogists and ask how they might have gotten around my particular type of roadblock.

   I was able to find my wife’s great-grandfather, William J Ovens, in England in the 1871 census and then again in the 1885 Dedham, MA city directory.  I could find nothing in between.  William did become a citizen, but his naturalization papers shed no light on his arrival.  Like a physical brick wall, if you follow it sideways far enough you can usually get around it.  Whenever possible, I start searching sideways, widening my research by looking at sibling, cousins and children.

   While looking at William’s daughter, Florence Jane Ovens, I found an amazing woman dedicated to education and I found her naturalization papers.  Her papers told a much more illuminating story than her father’s did.  The family had crossed from Canada after living in Montreal for nearly a year.

   I use Ancestry.com.  The have a very large collection of records and even the best database query never returned a result for a Canadian border crossing.   Like many companies with an international presence, Ancestry will help narrow the volume of data presented to you by giving you the localized information first.  If you are on the US site, you get US records first.  If you are on the UK site, you get the UK records first.  Depending on your subscription, you may not even see beyond the local data.  I have the international version, which should allow me to see the Canadian records.  From the US site, those Canadian records weren’t rising to the top.  I logged into the Canadian site – www.Ancestry.ca.  Did you know you could do that?  There are eight international versions, including US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, France and Sweden.  By logging into the alternate site, the records I was looking for rose to the top.  After changing my point of view, I now had passenger records and border crossings for the Ovens family.  Thank you Florence.

   Ancestry is not the only company that has different sites.  Google has a unique site for nearly every country.  Like Ancestry, Google will push the local results to the top of a search.  If you are doing any kind of foreign genealogy research, you need to try this.  Create a search on Google.com, then do the exact same search on Google.it or Google.de or Google.co.jp.  Naturally, it helps to know the language or to use the Google Chrome browser and let it translate for you.

   Sometimes you need to change your point of view.  Get a fresh perspective.  Clear a new path.  [Insert your metaphor here]

   Remember to research sideways when you hit a brick wall.  There are many great stories from our extended family members.  One of those folk may hold the key to what you are looking for.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's Happening: IDG & MGC

I have two great things to announce today.

My first column about DNA was published today in The In-Depth Genealogist.  You can subscribe to the newsletter here - In-Depth.  You can read my column here - The Library of You.

The 2012 Massachusetts Genealogical Council Annual Meeting & Seminar registration is now available here - MGC.  I will be presenting the topic - Armenian Americans: Diaspora, Migration & Genealogy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Autosomal Match Game

   Don’t get me wrong.  Autosomal DNA testing is a very valuable tool.  A match has the possibility of breaking through some very significant genealogical brick walls.  It’s important to understand what a match means or doesn’t mean.

   In a nutshell, we all have 46 chromosomes, 23 from mom and 23 from dad.  Two of those chromosomes are the sexy kind, X and Y.  We’ll ignore those for now.  In an autosomal test, the DNA sequences in your chromosomes are compared against everyone in the testing company’s database.  The goal is to find long matching sequences.  Depending on how long the sequences are and the total number of matching sequences, a calculation predicts the cousin relationship.

   Now here is where things get dicey…

   Take two full siblings (not twins).  At first glance, you might think that genetically they are a 100% match.  Dad gives these two siblings 23 chromosomes each, half of his DNA.  It’s not necessarily the same 23 chromosomes.  Mom does the same.    Let’s look at the two extremes.

   Imagine mom’s DNA as two chunks of 23 chromosomes each – A & B.  Dad has two chunks also – C & D.  Mom gives each child chunk A and dad gives each chunk D.  Both children will have A & D and will be exact genetic matches.

   What if mom gave one child A and one child B.  Then dad gave one child C and one child D.  The full siblings would be A & C and B & D, showing no match at all.  The truth is that a full sibling match will exist on a continuum somewhere in between.

   The probability that a sibling match would be 0% or 100% is extremely low.  Cousin matches are a different story.  In a perfect world, two 1st cousins could share 25% of their DNA.  Two 2nd cousins might have 1/8, 3rd cousins – 1/16, 4th – 1/32 and 5th cousins – 1/64 – a little more than 1% shared DNA.  The possibility of two cousins not sharing DNA or not sharing a long enough sequence to make a match gets higher.

   In my family, two Scottish brothers married two German cousins.  I am the grandson from one of these unions.  I have a cousin who is the grandson from the other marriage.  We are both 2nd cousins and 3rd cousins.  It is possible that we share 1/8 plus 1/16 for a total of 3/16th.  That much shared DNA could be reported on a test as being 1st cousins.

   The autosomal match game is not a perfect world.  If you don’t get a match and you think you should have, then test different cousins.   Adding more DNA samples could give a new set of results.  If you do get matches, the degree of the relationship can help set a starting point in looking for that common ancestor.

   DNA is just one of many tools we have as genealogists.  In the case of autosomal testing, DNA is just the beginning.  It will take traditional genealogy to get you to the prize.