Recreating family history one piece at a time.

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Just Because the Answer Was No Yesterday Doesn’t Mean It is Today

My Granny’s brother has always been a big of a mystery.   He has been tied up in family legend that the facts have neither been able to support or refute. The legend about Jimmy Duncan is that he died in Pearl Harbor.    That is the whole story, no more details to be told.

Granny never supplied any additional information no matter how often or how I worded my questions.   I had found him on the 1930 census and from that managed to determine his birth year and gotten a copy of his birth certificate.    Jimmy was one year younger than my Granny, but in all the pictures I saw of Granny as a young girl there was only her mother and her younger sister.    Never the father or the her brother.    When my Granny passed away I got a photo of my Granny when she was been somewhere between age five and ten. In this picture there was also her brother and father!  It is the only images I have of them.  Photos always make people so much more real.

I have been working with this limited information for years.    Jimmy was never showing in the high school year book with his sister, even though they were one year apart.  He was just gone.    Finally I met up with a man who was the son of my Nanny (Granny’s mother) foster brother.    He remembered once when Nanny visited them in that the adults were talking in hushed tones about her visiting someone in prison.   I was again off and running contacting Oklahoma corrections looking for either of the missing men in my family.    That never got any response.  One of the many frustrations of research.   No response to a SASE, not even to say we don’t do this kind of thing.

I had combed all the Pearl Harbor records looking for Jimmy.   I had contacted Veteran’s Affairs, National Personnel Records and the National Archives looking for for a hit with the information I had.   It always came back as not found. When the 1940 census records were made available 2012, I hit a jackpot.   Jimmy was indeed in the military in 1940 and was stationed as a private in Hawaii.   So as in all legends, there was that element of truth in the story I had been told.   I had some more information on James M Duncan, Jr.  and was off and running again.  Once again it was not found. I spent time researching his military group and looking for details online, and confirmed what I already knew, so much of what I want is not online.   You can not get everything via Google contrary to popular belief.

I always watch and read about additional historic records being index or made available to the public.   It is a slow and expensive process.  Not really a priority item, until some news report about archived records being stolen because they are basically just piled up because we don’t have resources to property index and store them.     I had recently read an article about how some of the records damaged in the 1973 fire were being reevaluated for preservation with newer technology to save and access these records.   So I figured what the heck try again and submitted my request again.   I got home from work to discover I had a letter from the National Personnel Records Center and it was asking for money.    The fee was for $70 so there are at least six pages available on Jimmy.

I have written my check and done my mighty expensive happy dance.  Now I wait.   The lesson from this is time does change what is available.   Don’t be afraid to ask again.    It also reminds me of what an expensive hobby this can be.


DNA – The results

I previously blogged about my mixed feelings about doing a DNA test.   Curiosity and a $100 introductory  price tag got the better of me, and I did it.   I have had a fair amount of time to explore  the test results and how I feel about the whole experience.

First and foremost I am glad I did it.  Now  I have put my DNA in the world-wide genetic pool,  privacy fears and all.     May those folks who are making the bucks selling the information however diluted it may be, always remember that any data in the wrong hands can be a dangerous situation.   My genetic history and markers have likely reduced me to an anonymous number that is some genetic researcher’s dream.   I hope that it will contribute to finding the cause of diseases that prevent kids from becoming healthy adults.  Selfishly I could wish to contribute to the cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer;  they would be a sucky way to go, but  I am lucky I have had a great life.   Longer and so much more healthier than many others.   Bottom line  I made peace with that issue  when I sent it in, and there is nothing to undo it so it is, what it is.   No do-overs.  Onward, enough of the philosophical melodrama.

Did I make any new connections?   No, but I never expected to.   I have been researching my family off and on nearly 30 years.   Not some casual researcher, but someone who is looking for evidence to back up what I put down on paper.   I have recorded many legends repeated by Great Uncle, and written by my Great-Great Aunt and Uncle.   I have written to strangers.  I have conversed with others who have made the trip back to the homelands and investigated even more.  I have poured through archives, papers, and photos  looking for answers and hints that might prove those legends, but not afraid when the preponderance of evidence is something far different from the legend.  I have trace much of my family back through the wars of our country WWI and II, Civil War, War of 1812, Spanish American and even the Revolutionary War.   My tree is pretty complete when it comes to names and numbers.

Did I make any ethnic discoveries?   I would have to say yes.

First there is the family legend that every serious researcher on my Virtue family side has heard and/or repeated, that we are descendent of a Count from France.  Yet none of us have found anything to support this.   Serious researchers in our family  have pretty much all discounted this as purely fiction.   My DNA has told me that there were NO  indication of any French blood in my DNA markers.   Though DNA is still an evolving science, my DNA  and all the research of others who are doing evidence-based family history research give me enough to say this one is fiction.   Unless or until someone can bring me a tree with documentation, this is no longer open to debate for me.   That we have a count from France in  our Virtue history, is pure fiction.

Most of my DNA is based on a heritage from  the British Isles.   51%   in fact.   This is not surprising to me in that my most recent immigrants in my family came from Ireland and England.   But also when I trace families who have been here pre-Revolutionary War many of them were also from England, with a few from Scotland sprinkled in.

The remaining  results were somewhat more of a surprise to me.   Not because they contradict my research results, but I have nothing to support anyone coming from those regions.  DNA is different from regular tracing your family roots, it isn’t so much about what country were they from or born in, but also what nations overtook other nations in years gone by.   It requires that one look at world history much more than I have done in the past.   I am now cursing the terrible world history teacher I had in high school who soured me on the subject.   Here are my other DNA roots:

17% Eastern European   – I have some names that I have not traced back to the old country or the country of origin  really doesn’t seem to match the surname.   This puts forth an interesting option to look this direction.   But this genetic factor may be no more than remnants of when Alexander the Great was in power, or an invasion of the Ottoman Empire.

8% Southern European – This is another great mystery, but eight percent in many ways is pretty dilute in my mind.   I suspect that this could be the results of the during the time of the wide-spread  Eastern European influence and invasions.   I have to say that Italy, Spain and Portugal were not even on my radar.  I am not sure if my descendants came from this area or the genes of my ancestors are just mixed up with a few folks who came from this region

8% Finnish/Volga-Ural – In some ways this all plays in the Eastern European conqueror theory.

16% Scandinavian – Another big blank for me.

What wasn’t there was also surprising.   No Germanic heritage.  I had some ancestors who came from that  region.   The interesting part of this is  though the surnames of the  families don’t really seem Germanic.   Were they really Slavic or Scandinavian.   The surnames make it possible.

The analytical side of my brain also wants to know how creditable is this woman DNA stuff.  I am still a little skeptical, and this really hasn’t made it any more or less so.  I have one brother who is genetically the same as me, what would his DNA tell?   Would his be the same as mine, or because he is a man, would his be different, carrying different markers?   I wish I had won the lotto and money was no option.   It would be fun to see what was revealed if siblings both did the test.

My husband whose family for the most part is only a generation or two off of the boat is now interested in seeing what one of these DNA tests would tell about his family.   Ancestry is running another $100 special and he  just ordered one for himself.

Maybe it is time for me  to stop chasing the family stories on this side of the pond for awhile and  go back just plain root chasing.   I have mastered the fine art of finding history in the US, and looking for my history in  the old world countries would give me a whole new set of challenges.

Was it worth it?   I have spent $100  getting less feedback  when tracing my family history.   Skepticism did not cause me to  tell  my husband I thought he should not spend a $100 to do his, nor if money was no option would I not be thinking of asking my brother to do his.   So I suppose yes it was worth it. I suspect as the data pool becomes better, my results may shift or become a little more specific.    Don’t it expect DNA to be some great wall breaker, instead it is another tool that may provide an insight, inspire you to dig more, keep you plugging along when things had gotten stagnant in your research or just information for kicks and giggles.   It is like everything else in the quest for the past, you never know what you will find, if it will be useful today or in the future.  It is only those regrets that we did not check something or ask questions  when we had the chance that bug us years later.  If you can afford to do, I would say do it.

Resources – Ancestry

I recently asked if Ancestry is worth it?   Hmmmm….. How do I answer it?   It is the place with the most wrong stuff and a place with some of the best stuff.   I have paid subscription fees for 12 years this December so I would have to say it is, but like everything else you need to be smart.

Lets start with what I hate about Ancestry.

  • I hate trees build by subscribers and users with NO sources, nothing to substantiate what they post.   Then the next want-to-be family historian comes in and starts their tree and uses those “wonderful” hints and builds their tree again with undocumented family members.   Before long you have a huge tree and you have traced yourself back to the old country.    Unfortunately just like the whisper game you played in grade school where a a message was sent around a circle of children, your tree is as wrong as that classmate who had to say the message out loud.  I have turned these off as hints.    It isn’t to say that I haven’t taken a look at these trees when I was at a dead-end hoping that some one posted something they knew for a fact because their Grandpa told them.   That little item gives me something  to prompt my search in a new direction.  Sometimes helpful, sometimes nothing to be found.   Family trees without any sources is just gossip, nothing to back it up.
  • I hate the cost.   When I divide it out over the year it really isn’t that bad, when I look at what I have spent in 12 years it is appalling.

What I love about Ancestry.

  • Indexing.   The fact that  I can put in a name, a date and place and get potential hits.   It makes lots of sources that used to take hours to search is what I now call low hanging fruit. Easy pickings  I can prove or disprove lots of things in short order because I can see familial relationships once every ten years.
  • Partners for the same price.   My favorite partner is Newspaper Archives.     This is so wonderful in that I can search and read old newspapers that have been scanned in OCR fashion.   What OCR is, is Optical Character Recognition.   What that means is, it recognizes the letters and make words, so you can search on a name and find newspaper articles about your family you would not have known about.  I no longer only look only around birth and death days for significant family events, but now can also learn about when they sang for the church choir-giving me a church name to search, when they attended wedding showers-finding cousins, played sports-learning talents, made the honor roll-giving me school names and won the Halloween window decorating contest.
  • I can do it at home in my jammies.    I will never be able to visit all the places I want to, to dig and find the family history I am in search of, but Ancestry gives me access to enough information that I can always find something new, at home while the snow howls outside.
  • They are constantly adding new information.   Each year when it comes time to renew I think do I or don’t I.   I still do because of the additions they make each year.   The amount of data that they make available online is amazing and a real help to those of us who are researching our family history.   It is those additions that make my family stories better and better.   It is that data that makes me learn more not only about my family but also about my  nation and the road it has traveled.

There are many other things to like, hate and be indifferent about in an Ancestry subscription, but these are a few of my highlights.


I have struggled with the whole DNA thing and tracing your family roots.  Mostly because I am a privacy freak.   The best historical DNA comes from a man and I can’t imagine asking my brother to take a DNA, even if I paid for it.   Besides the privacy it still largely an expensive undertaking to do right.

I on the other hand am somewhat fascinated by my Virtue side of the family.   Mostly because they are in Ireland for one generation and no one, including Ralph who actually got talk to many of the children of James our immigrant never found a prior generation.   Now with all the wonderful historical records being made available, this is still a dead end.   DNA probably isn’t going to answer some great question because by in large I am descendant of people of Northern European origin.   Much of my family has been in the US  for many generations, some prior to the American revolution on both paternal and maternal side, so those folks have likely commingled diverse genetic backgrounds.

On the other hand there may be some ethnic factors that show up that will not make any sense to my 30 years of research.   Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants to discover that there were some significant indicators to show I have Southern European roots.   Nothing in my research indicates that to be the case.   Then again maybe some of my ancestors only were in their Northern European country for a generation before immigrating to the US.

I am blogging about this because Ancestry just recently developed a test that is suppose to work well for even females, and they did an introductory special for $100.   Best of all they do allow you to opt out of pooling your data for research, statistics, etc.   I am not fooling myself that if there is a way to make a buck with my DNA someone will, but the actual ability to opt out will hopefully not let some insurance company find out my stuff that is none of their business in my lifetime.   Nor am I expecting my history to be as good if I asked my brother to do one of the more expensive tests, but that $100 price tag and the ability for them to acknowledge I am opting out threw me over the line.

I have my kit here and am going to gather my specimen and send it off today.   Six to eight weeks from now I will hopefully have something to share that will make for some interesting reading for those of you have wondered about the DNA and family history.

We Did Not Invent Dysfunctional Families

Often times we feel that we have invented dysfunctional families in this generation.   We believe that we are the first generation of divorce, grandparents raising children, mothers or fathers who leave their children and estranged family members.    I am not sure about what others who research family history find but I can tell you that all this craziness did not start in this generation.  So hold on to your hats as I share some stories of family history we haven’t talked about in years.

CCC Records Update

I just received a reply and the CCC records have been transferred from their longstanding location to another archives location.   They are no longer free.  At $20 they are still a bargain, since the likelihood of a trip to get them myself are slim to none.   So I will write my check and watch to see what recorded history will tell me about my Great Uncle Sherm.

Pay It Forward

One of my things I do as part of my family research is pay it forward. I have researched for others.  Another of my favorite things is to transcribe digitized images into a searchable index.   It is fun to be the first person in years to review files.

If you are a genealogy buff I would suggest you sign up and become a transcriber of records, or  go to a cemetery that is not longer being maintained and transcribe the tombstones.  We all need to help make records available and preserve records before they are lost.   We have all tapped into things like this that others have done for us and it is up to us to pay it forward for others.

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