Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No Father for Rita

   This sounds like a title for an afterschool TV special.  Rita was my grandmother and she was illegitimate.  As in many cases, her McCarthy grandparents adopted her and raised her as their daughter.  I can imagine that her life was in some ways like those old afterschool specials.

   By the time Rita was 5, both of her ‘parents’ were dead and she was now being raised by her ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.  I’m relying on anecdotal evidence from my cousins that ‘sister’Helen is really Rita’s mother.   The task of raising Rita fell to Helen’s sister Mary.  Everyone else in the family was out working jobs like – electrician, carpenter, machinist or telephone operator.  The bond between Rita and Mary was tight and lasted until their deaths.  Perhaps I just didn’t see other tight family bonds because the rest of her side of the family passed away before I was born.

Rita (McCarthy) Maglio & Mary (McCarthy) Murphy

   One by one, the McCarthy siblings married and moved away.  By 1930, Rita was living with her mother, Helen, and her new family.  Helen’s husband John listed Rita as a boarder on the census.  As a minimum, Rita should have been listed as a sister-in-law.  My interpretation of this is that John knew exactly who and what Rita was and wanted to distance himself from the fact.  He had no intention of being a father figure.

   Rita was shuffled around to two other families before she married my grandfather in 1938.  Yet, through all that turmoil in her life, she turned out to be the sweetest and most caring of women.

   Whether you are a genealogist or not, you have to wonder who Rita’s real father was.  I do.

   Autosomal testing is one way of determining who he was.  Now I could rely on matching someone randomly in the databases or I could shift the odds in my favor.  I started researching every male in a two-block radius from where Helen was living in 1913.  The research turned up a number of good suspects.  Autosomal testing is not inexpensive.  I needed narrow my field by using any additional evidence I could find no matter how circumstantial.

   One of the single men (not that it had to be an unmarried individual) that I found was just a bit older than Helen was.  Based on my evidence, they probably grew up together and had known each other since they were kids.  When Ed did get married, he named his daughter Rita.  As far as I can tell, Rita was not a common name at the time.  Other folks who were researching Ed posted his photo in their tree.  I thought that there was a bit a family resemblance there.

   I contacted Ed’s descendants and explained what I was trying to do.  They agreed to the testing and then the waiting began.  I expected at least a two-month wait for the results.

   When the results came in, first mine then theirs, I was disappointed to see that against the database I only had potential fourth and fifth cousin matches.  Considering that most folks that are getting an autosomal test are doing it because they are missing big chunks of their genealogy makes finding a common ancestor with a fifth cousin a daunting task.

   Also disappointing was the lack of a match with Ed’s family.  The matching is all done automatically and the results will only show for the close matches.  I even contacted the testing company and asked them to intentionally run a comparison and send me the results.  They did and still no go.  Not even close.

   Still no father for Rita.

   All is not lost.   I have my autosomal results and I have sent out my introductions to all my fourth and fifth cousins looking for a very narrow set of conditions.  They had to have had family at one time in Dorchester.

   The hunt continues.

For more on this family see my posts here & here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Y-DNA?

   I talk about using DNA for genealogy often.  My favorite is the Y-DNA test.  It has the largest number of benefits for the researcher.  I also get quite a few discouraging comments about Y-DNA.

   Recently I was told that Y-DNA marker mutation rates were too unstable.  The comment might give the impression that Y-DNA testing was unreliable or unusable.  This is far from the truth.  The marker mutation rates are exactly what makes Y-DNA so valuable.  Without the mutations, we would all be one big happy/unhappy haplogroup.

   Another comment I hear is that Y-DNA only tests your paternal line and that is just a small fraction of your genealogy.  This is true.  But...

   My genealogy is more than just my paternal line.  I’m sure many of us can’t help but to associate deeply with our paternal line, our surname.  That deep association makes getting the Y-DNA test so important.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped with my DNA.  I’ve also collected my father-in-law’s DNA.  I am planning to collect DNA from my mother’s male line and my mother-in-law’s male line, etc., etc.  It’s very possible to collect samples for hundreds of your surnames.  See the second half of my post on NPEs.

Here is a short list of reasons to get your Y-DNA tested:

   Cultural origins:  We focus a lot of our time on nationalities.  I’m Italian or I’m Irish.  Your nationality will only take you so many years into the past, depending on how old your nation is.  DNA testing (y-dna and mitochondrial) allows you to go further back in time to a cultural heritage – celtic, norse, phoenician or native American as examples.  Between my Y-DNA and my autosomal tests, I can tell you which Caucasus Mountain culture that I relate to.

   Traditional research validation:  You can have a great paper trail and have a bad genealogy.  There will be non-paternal events.  When you compare your Y-DNA test for your surname Brown and all the other matches, across a half dozen databases, come back with the surname Brown you will feel confident about your research.  If your matches come back with the surname Green, then you will have some work to do.

   Traditional research to find Y-DNA:  You will need to use traditional research to find all those cousins you need to get samples from.  You can also use your existing research to find the Y-DNA of your ancestors.  Typically every DNA database asks for the most distant paternal ancestor (Y-DNA) or maternal ancestor (mito).  If you search for your ancestors among these records you will then have the results of a test someone else has already completed.  I will be posting a mini-webinar on this subject to walk you through the process.

   Adoption research:  In the case of adoption, you are hoping to get that surprise surname.  In my research, I ran across a person by the name of Tom Doty.  In his profile, he stated that he had been adopted.  What made him stand out was that his DNA matched so closely with a very large Dodge surname study.  I contacted him and pointed him in the right direction.

   Discover living relatives:  Every match is a connection to a living cousin.  Odds are pretty good that one of you can help the other connect the dots on your common ancestry.

   Mapping your tribe:  As I mentioned earlier, it is the mutations in Y-DNA that give it the most value.  Using those mutations, you can trace your ancestors across time.  Using readily available tools, you can calculate that you and a group of individuals have a common ancestor 1000 years ago or 2000 years.  Map the ancestral locations of that group and look for patterns to emerge.  I will be giving a talk on this subject in March.

   All DNA tests have their pros and cons.  With a good understanding of the possibilities and the limitations, we can develop some new tricks that the DNA companies have never thought of.  If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that genealogists are very resourceful.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Origin Hunters is now on YouTube

I have posted my last two presentations on YouTube.  Some of the genealogy topics that I would like to cover need to be shown and demonstrated rather than just talked about.  With that said, I hope to be producing a variety of how-tos, recorded presentations and maybe some videos.

You can find Mastering Search & Hidden Treasures here - Origin Hunters on YouTube

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hidden Treasures: The Webinar

The 66 minute recorded webinar of Hidden Treasures is available at this link  - YouTube  WEBINAR


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Your Family Tree Broken?

   Non-paternal events (NPE).  There, I’ve said it.  Just how often has it happened in your ancestry?

   Who’s your daddy?  Non-paternal events include – illegitimate births, cuckoldry, sperm donations, hidden adoptions and the use of an alias or intentional name changes.

   The average percentage of non-paternal events if often quoted as 10%.  If you search on the topic, you will find that studies show that 10% is too high.  Keep searching and you will find that in some cultures that number is too low.  Let’s consider the fact that these studies are current day populations and may not represent our ancestors of the last 10 to 20 generations.  These studies also focus on illegitimate or adulterous births.  If we add the events that include adoptions and intentional name changes then 10% is probably safe to use for this illustration.

   Let’s look at your ancestry (or mine) for the last 10 generations.  That is a group of 2046 people, all of them are your direct ancestors.  1023 couples that then gave birth to the next generation.  If we use 10% for NPE, then 102 of those children are not related to those fathers or don’t carry the same surname as their paternal grandfather.   102 of your gggg…grandparents are not genetically connected to their surname.

   If you have done a terrific job of researching your family tree and have the documented birth records for everyone then 10% of the time all you have is a piece of paper.  Your beautiful family tree could just be a pile of fragmented twigs and branches with no relation.  Even if we use an ultra-conservative number like 1% we would still have 10 breaks.  Print out your tree and randomly cut it into 10 pieces.  The piece with your name on it is probably still valid.

   I can hear you now, at least those of you who have stopped crying.  You’re saying, “Ok, I get it, I get it. So, what do I do now?”

   The sands of time have erased everything except your DNA.

   Only through DNA testing, can we ever know for certain that our genealogies are real and not a piece of fiction.  We need to use all the available test types – y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA.
If you are male, you are in luck.  You can get all three tests.  If you are female, you can get the mitochondrial and autosomal tests.  Ladies, don’t stop there.  Get your father’s or your brother’s y-DNA.

   To do this right you will need DNA samples for every surname in your tree.  That will not be physically possible.

   Here is a method that will get you many of the surnames.  Naturally, start with your own surname.   Most of us focus on our own immediate surname.  Get dad’s y-DNA and check it against the half dozen DNA databases available and the first thing that you will hopefully find is other folk with the same surname.  Bingo, we have a winner.  My wife’s surname, Clark, has a solid genetic (and paper) line back to 1621.  If I checked the databases and consistently got the surname Brown, then I’d know for certain that I have a break and I would start the process of figuring at which generation the break occurred.

   Let’s assume dad’s DNA went well.  Next get mom’s dad’s DNA and repeat the process.  If that’s not possible, no fear, get mom’s brother’s DNA or mom’s brother’s son or mom’s dad’s brother’s son.  You get the picture.  Here is the added instruction – don’t only get their y-DNA.  Get their autosomal DNA as well.  First, compare your autosomal with their autosomal.   Double check that cousin Bob is really genetically related.  You can’t be too safe with all those NPEs flying around.  Now cousin Bob’s y-DNA can be used to validate that surname.

   While the y-DNA is great for the surname check, don’t forget to use the mitochondrial to test against hidden adoptions.  Every woman in a maternal line should have nearly identical mt-DNA.  Find cousin Sue (you share a gg-grandma Polly) and check that you are related by both autosomal and mt-DNA.  Move out a generation and find cousin Berta (you share a ggg-grandma Molly [Polly’s mother]).  If the autosomal and mt-DNA don’t match then maybe Polly was adopted.

   You should be able to continue these methods with anyone you share a 5th or 6th great grandparent with.  That is 7 or 8 generations out of the 10 we started with (or about 254 surnames) that you could verify with DNA.  The limiting factors at this point are how far back in time the autosomal test will take you and the cost of each test needed.  DNA contributions of a distant ancestor are diluted with each generation.  The current autosomal tests will not get us any further.

   What the past will tell us about the future is that there will be newer DNA tests developed and the costs of existing tests will decrease.

   Start collecting DNA now.  It will only get easier.  Let’s work together to rebuild our broken family trees.

   Happy origin hunting.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Genealogical Lemons

   Have you ever gone down the wrong research path or followed a family line only to find out that there is no relationship?  I have.  I do it on purpose.

   In my research I see a lot of family trees that just stop.  They don’t stop because of a brick wall. They stop because the researcher probably didn’t see the value in continuing that line.  In their defense, these discontinued lines are usually ancillary and not the focus of their research.

   I will argue that every line should be followed as far as possible.  Every time I find a new maternal link, that link is another new surname with a potential to dovetail back into my main lines.  For me it is all about the connections, which is why my genealogy database has over 500,000 people.

   I’ve been reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  Last month I posted about Herman Mudgett.  I’m never going to get through the book because I keep putting it down to research another new name.

   If you are not familiar with the book, it tells two intertwined historical stories.  Larson weaves the history and the people who created the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago with the account of America’s first known serial killer.  The creation of the 1893 World’s Fair was America’s way of outdoing France’s 1889 Exposition Universelle.  One of France’s greatest attractions created for their Exposition was the Eiffel Tower.  At completion in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure for the next 41 years.
For the World’s Fair in Chicago, they needed something better than the Eiffel Tower.  They got the very first Ferris wheel.  Not just any Ferris wheel, this one could carry over 2000 people at a time.  The inventor’s name was George Washington Gale Ferris.

   So, I put down the book because George Washington Gale Ferris sounded like a great name to research.  The Gale name is what attracted me the most.  The Gale family has a lot of ties to Worcester Co. Massachusetts.  How was Ferris related?  Long story short – he wasn’t.  Even though Ferris’ Gale roots didn’t lead where I hoped, I didn’t stop researching.  I looked at every path and another name jumped out – Olmstead.

   Another major name from Larson’s book is Frederick Law Olmstead.  Olmstead was the landscape architect for the 1893 World’s Fair and is also known as the designer of New York’s Central Park.
Were Ferris and Olmstead related?  You betcha.

James Olmstead (1551-1595) & Jane Bristow (1554-1582)
Richard Olmstead & Frances Slany
Richard Olmstead
John Olmstead & Mary Benedict
Daniel Olmstead & Hannah Ketchum
Nathan Olmstead & Millicent Goodrich
Hezekiah Olmstead & Sarah Gale
Sarah Olmstead & Sylvanus Ferris
George Ferris & Martha Hyde
George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896)

James Olmstead (1551-1595) & Jane Bristow (1554-1582)
James Olmstead & Joyce Cornish
Nicholas Olmstead & Sarah Loomis
Joseph Olmstead & Elizabeth Butler
Joseph Olmstead & Hannah Marsh
Jonathan Olmstead & Hannah Meakins
Benjamin Olmstead & Content Pitkin
John Olmstead & Charlotte Hull
Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903)

That makes George and Frederick 7th cousins once removed.  While not a close connection, it is a fun connection.  If you are out today, look at the nearest stranger.  What is the probability that you are related?  Higher than you think.

Whenever possible, I turn genealogical lemons into lemonade.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mastering Search: The Webinar

The 73 minute recorded webinar of Mastering Search is available at this link  - WEBINAR

It will be available for the next month.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dickens visits Worcester

Sketch of Dickens - 1842

Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens (1812-1870).

In 1842, during his first visit the United States, Dickens was the guest of Massachusetts Governor John Davis at his Worcester mansion.

Dickens wrote about Worcester in his book American Notes - "All the buildings looked as if they had been built and painted that morning, and could be taken down on Monday with very little trouble."

Gov. John Davis was born in Northborough, MA, the son of Isaac Davis and Anna Brigham.

John Davis has a lot of great New England names in his ancestry - like Brigham, Howe, Clapp and Gates

Rumor has it that Dickens may have stayed at the Davis House on Davis Street in Northborough.  I haven't found any evidence to support that yet.