Sunday, 27 November 2016

Genealogy--30,000+ Ancestors in One Family Tree, Twelve Trees, What's Next?

After five exciting years of  working on the genealogy of my family, a period of time small in comparison to the work of so many researchers, I had found myself thrilled with discovering more than 30,000 ancestors with connections to the Jamestowne Colony, the Mayflower, the American Revolution and Continental Congress, the Civil War,  presidents, royalty, thieves and police-- yet wondering what might be next?  What else would spark the passion and interest I'd found in discovering ancestors?  Then I took a dna test on Ancestry, and my brother took one on FTDNA (Family Tree DNA), one cousin did both, and then he got four other cousins to participate and test!  I got two other cousins from different branches to test also!  Oh my gracious, a whole new world of genealogical research opened for us!   Only this time, our research was backed up by proof, not just from documents like censuses and marriage records, but from DNA!  

A lot of you know exactly what I have experienced because you have been doing it also!  I know, because in the last year or two , since testing my DNA, I have met something like  200 cousins I never knew I had!  Can you believe it, two hundred people I am actually related to that I never knew before!  I have even discovered that I am related to about half of the people on my street, people who were strangers to me ten years ago, now I know that we share ancestors some as long ago as the 1600’s and 1700’s!  How incredible is that to be talking with someone who is descended from your 9th great  grandparents also!  Can you imagine our ninth great grandchildren meeting and finding out that they are also kin to each other?  Amazing!

Facebook has become an extended family to me.  I have joined groups of people with ancestors in certain areas where mine came from, like the mountains of southwest Virginia.  I’ve joined groups of common surnames, and groups of historical societies, all are full of cousins!  My sense of roots, and my sense of “family” has exploded!  

So what would be next?  What would be as exciting and challenging? Suddenly, there it was--adoption--who am I really?  Who were my birth parents?  What is my true background? Those are the types of questions many adoptees ask, even when happy with their adopted families.  One day this new emphasis in my research was born--it just happened-- one person contacted me and said their dna matched mine, indicating we were fourth cousins.  They then told me that they had been adopted, and had not a single biological surname that they knew!  They found my match, looked at my tree and all the people, and wondered if I might help. “Yes!  Yes, of course! But I am a beginner at DNA myself. The will and passion is there, but not the knowledge.  You might be better off with someone more experienced, but I’ll be glad to help if I can.”  Remember, this person was related to me by DNA, we were already cousins--family!  Here was an adventure like none I’d experienced, a whole new way to be of help, to serve, and to use my genealogical skills as well.  

I started a crash course in at least beginning DNA research, and met some experienced people in the field of adoption.  I knew I was an amateur.  But my heart was all in--into the search and trying to help!  I became immersed in blog posts and journals and personal stories.  
And I worked with my new cousin who was the most highly motivated to find her family!  As it turns out, I felt called to help this person.  And surely enough, very soon a second person reached out with a similar situation, then  another,and before long, two years had passed,and I had helped eight people find their birth parents.  Can you believe it?  From knowing nothing, to knowing their roots!  We found the birth mother of one woman, alive and anxious to reunite just before Mother’s Day last year!  It still warms my heart to think I helped  even a little with that reunion.  

I thought some of you might like to know where to begin to look for birth parents--at least, where and how we began.  In this first case, we were fourth cousins, the first person a lady and I. Fourth cousins share a third great grandparent! Of course, we each have 32 third great grandparents, but that is one of thirty two, when an adoptee had been looking out at the world and thinking that they’d never find their biological family in all those millions! The adoptee had to be willing to share a lot with me, starting with their DNA so that I could have free access to it. Ancestry makes it easy to share DNA.  Then I created a tree for us to connect to their DNA. This would be a research tree, meant for us to use for experiments as we searched for family.(Some call this a mirror tree.)  Therefore, we kept it private on ancestry, because we didn’t want to mislead others when we said this person was a parent, when that might not even be true. We planned to take the tree public when relationships were proved.

If we were lucky, the adoptee had closer cousins with their DNA than me.  Remember, a first cousin is the child of an Aunt or Uncle, the sibling of their mother or father!  First cousins share grandparents. A second cousin shares great grandparents, a third cousin shares 2nd great grandparents, and a 4th cousin as we said, shares 3rd great grandparents.  So, if we had some possible matches, we might make her tree start with her and two “private” or “unknown” parents, even grandparents or great grandparents.  But as soon as we could ,we would put in possible names, right or wrong.  

Taking your DNA raw data to sites like Gedmatch also helps.  Not only do you get matches there, but there are many applications which help you understand just how many generations there might be to your common ancestor with your match.  Also, you get centimorgans there.

“The genetic genealogy testing companies 23andMe, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA use centiMorgans to denote the size of matching DNA segments in autosomal DNA tests. Segments which share a large number of centiMorgans in common are more likely to be of significance and to indicate a common ancestor within a genealogical timeframe.
The centiMorgan was named in honor of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan by his student Alfred Henry Sturtevant. Note that the parent unit of the centiMorgan, the Morgan, is rarely used today.”--Wikipedia,

Armed with the number of cM’s of your match, you can use a chart like the one below to also learn what level of cousin you are, first, second, third or so on, so that you might know what ancestor you share. I love this chart, first shared with me on facebook by a member of the ”DNA Detectives” Group.

As you work, you will find common surnames and grandparents and fill in possible names in the research tree. For example, one of your third great grandparents is a Miller,and your cousin adoptee thinks that might sound familiar. You put your 3rd great grandparent Miller in place in your research tree. Then you search all of your adoptee cousin's dna surname matches for Miller. If you find a line of Millers which is the same as your 3rd great grandparent Miller, then you have got his third great grandparents for sure! The second great grandparents are going to be one of their children,and should be matched by one of their third cousin matches. Soon you will have both second and third great grandparents and even great grandparents if there are second cousin matches!

You also need to keep checking Ancestry DNA for shared matches and or placement in a circle which will confirm that you have indeed found ancestors matching the adoptee’s dna.  Also, once you find a great grandparent possibility, it helps to find an obituary that might name children, who might even be living and won’t be identified elsewhere.  I find sites like and especially helpful in the search for obituaries.

I have been very impressed by the attitude of all of the adoptees with whom I have worked who are trying to find their birth families.  Most of them love their adoptive families and respect them. They are simply trying to find out about their true origin, and perhaps reconnect with biological relatives.  One 40 year old woman told me I was the very first biological relative she had ever spoken with!  Wow, that was incredible to consider.  But she and others say things like, “I don’t want to hurt anyone, or to interrupt their family. I am not angry, I do not need money, I just want information, and a relationship if they also want one.  I have been so impressed with the kindness of the cousin adoptees I’ve met, that I admire them greatly, and think that their families are missing an opportunity to know a very nice person.  This is important.  I am all for reuniting  biological relatives, but only if all are willing and able without harming the other.

Once you have some possible living people names, you can begin looking for them. If they have done DNA testing, write to them on Ancestry or wherever they did their testing, and hope they write back!  Otherwise,  you might find them on facebook, or on LinkedIn, or other social media sites, giving you a chance to send them a message privately  in hopes of contacting family. At this point, some decide to write letters to biological siblings or parents identified, some opt for a phone call.  There is no guarantee as to what will happen upon contact, and already I have seen varied outcomes you must be prepared for psychologically.  First, they may ignore you and refuse to even answer, acknowledge, or respond in any way.  That is their right of course, maybe motivated by fear, shame, or a million other reasons.  The adoptee must be ready to cope with outright rejection, or with no response.  There are also deceased parents, more often the case it seems than finding living ones.  Occasionally there is a half sibling, hard to predict how they might react. But you will get cousins, I can promise you that--there are enough people matching your DNA once you do it that you will have biological family members, maybe not immediate family, but as many as you might like extended!  Fun!

One note, if an adoptee writes to you, please at least respond. You can say you don’t know anything, you don’t want to meet-- anything is better than being ignored and left in  limbo.However, if you can bring yourself, ask what the person wants, and see if you can at least give information if not a relationship.

Another important step, if possible, the adoptee might offer to pay for a DNA test to be sure this is their true parent.  You do so much research, why not be absolutely sure--for you both.

Of my own experiences:

The best result so far--was with an adoptee raised in New York, adopted from Pennsylvania, is living in California.  After finding  distant grandparents, her living family was identified through obituaries, found on facebook, and soon phone calls ensued!  Mom lived in Oregon, and a Mother’s Day reunion went very well.

Other results were not so great-- we found one parent, and got in touch with half-sisters.  They said not to contact the parent who would be too ashamed and hurt!  They blocked all phone calls and kept this individual from knowing the truth of the birth parent’s reaction--acceptance or not.

Some adoptees are still looking--it can be a lengthy process.

One of the worst-- after identifying a probable birth father, deceased, the adoptee requested military records trying to get a picture. With the records, he learned of extensive criminal history including rape convictions, leading to the conclusion that, considering this new information  in conjunction with a story a family member had heard, that his deceased mother had probably been raped by his deceased father, and that he was the child of that rape. OMG, a nightmare for any of us.  He had been smart however, when he first learned he was not the child of the deceased parents he’d been raised by, he sought professional counseling to help him cope, and now he really needed all the support he could get.

This is the human experience-- agony and ecstasy, love and hate, joy and sadness.  Remember, joy can come in a million ways, don’t let the denial of ones who should love you ruin your life, reach out to the ones who will love and support you.  One of the joys of DNA testing and genealogical research, is finding family, especially cousins, friendly, loving, supportive cousins who are dying to meet you and know you. Enjoy the adventure!

Until we meet again, I am wishing you well,  Helen Y. Holshouser

Friday, 25 November 2016

Commemorating Your U.S. World War II Ancestor

On 11 November we in the United States celebrated Veterans Day, which was originally called Armistice Day. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed 11 November 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day when he said, "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with great gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..." The U.S. Congress created Armistice Day as a national holiday on 4 June 1926. The name of the day of commemoration was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

One way to commemorate the service of an ancestor who served in one of the United States military services during World War II is to create entries for them in the World War II Registry maintained by the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.

World War II Memorial in Washington, District of Columbia; courtesy of

The World War II Registry maintained by World War II Memorial seeks to preserve the memory of the service of the men and women who contributed to the war effort at home and abroad. The Registry consists of four databases -- three official and one unofficial:
  1. American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) burials in overseas military cemeteries
  2. Names memorialized on ABMC Tablets of the Missing
  3. Listed on War and Navy Department Killed in Service rosters held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  4. The Registry of Remembrance is a compilation of public acknowledgements honoring those who helped win the war
Entries in the Registry of Remembrance maybe created by anyone. They are not checked for accuracy by any organization and may only be edited by the person who created it.

Registry Entry of Peter Charles Dagutis (1918-1991), my
father-in-law; personal collection

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans was originally founded in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum by the late author and historian, Stephen E. Ambrose, PhD, and has been designated by Congress as the official World War II museum.

National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana; courtesy of the
National World War II Museum

In order to honor your World War II ancestor, you must first become a member of the museum. There are several membership options, beginning at $50. One of the many benefits of membership is the ability to contribute to the name of your World War II ancestor to the Honor Roll of Charter Members.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Apologies and Reporting

I have been absent as of late. Not because I have lost my love and zeal for genealogy and blogging, rather, I have not learned to balance family and genealogy research.  It seems for me it is almost an all or nothing activity. I will share with you the past few months of my life. 
I worked with the Preserve the War of 1812 Pensions campaign for 3 years.  I loved the purpose and the activity of searching the files and finding living descendants.  When the funding was accomplished, my activity there was little needed, and I turned to other projects.
At the same time, my children decided they and their children needed equal time with me and this is a bit of my journey into creating family history with my grandchildren and as I have written about before, bridging the generations.
During the summer, we had our first family reunion.  This was important for those who could go because family had not gathered as a unit since my husband, their father, died in 2008.  All but two of 6 children could make it. The single son who was working and a daughter who was pregnant and expecting her 4th child any minute.  There were 28 plus myself, who made it. Two grandchildren were working and could not attend. Since no one other than myself had ever visited the California family’s home, that was the focus. They planned 4 days of activities for the children and I was excited that they included some time for themselves. 
The trip started with my 20-year-old grandson and I leaving Texas and driving to Salt Lake to meet the Idaho family whose father was flying in. They needed to send one child with me as their car only seated 7 and they had 8 with dad. The connecting 3 different groups at the Salt Lake terminal was a story. The trip from Salt Lake to California and then back to Idaho was an awesome memory for my three grandchildren and me.

In California, we went to the Sequoia Forest, the beach, and learned about railroads going over the mountain grades. The young and new grandchildren were able to create relationships with the older ones. These are a couple of pictures from that family activity.

Once back at home, the two daughters in Texas decided since I had taken time from my genealogy activities for this, I must be up for grabs for activities at home. The Idaho daughter not to be out done scheduled every Monday in September for a Skype class on World War II ending in a lesson and stories about their great grandfather who served and I have written stories about him here.
The classes were successful, and one Texas grandson sat in on a lesson.  At the time I was not sure who was listening, but as the months go by, questions and statement tell me they were. One of the grandson’s chose to be his great grandfather for Halloween, dressed up like a WWII army soldier.  Cool right. History and family stories passed down two generations. I also helped with the Black Watch Costume and made the sporan for that grandchild. One is Pipi Longstocking and one is a Nerd... they LOVE reading. 

I went with another daughter to see the preview for Christmas lights at the Houston Zoo.  We took one of my other daughter’s children with us. There was fun, sharing, and memories made with young and old.

This week I went to a Civil War reenactment at the TexasLiendo plantation that served first as a Confederate headquarters, then when it fell, as a Union prison camp.
My grandson, who is 10, began trying to sort in his mind who and what generation of his family served in the Civil War. We had fun talking about both sides of the war and how he had those that served on both sides and one in the Confederacy that died in Savannah. His 3th great grandfather from Michigan served in the Michigan 3rd Cavalry Regiment from 03 Oct 1861. He was promoted to Full Qtr Master Serg on 19 Jan 1864 and mustered out on 12 Feb 1866 at San Antonio, TX.

We also visited a blacksmith tent and that gave us the opportunity to talk about his great great grandfather who was a blacksmith and we have his anvil.

So there you go, while I am AWOL occasionally, I am keeping the dream alive trying to share with the generations following, so the story is not forgotten.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Discovering Missing or Elusive Ancestors and Siblings with new Indexes

How do I identify missing siblings?

I am sure that by now most of you will be aware of the new indexes made available just over a week ago by HM Passport Office aka General Register Office for England and Wales. 
These now contain important additions.  

  • the age at death for early years 1837 until 1865 is now included  
  • the maiden name of the mother is included on the births 1837-1915, previously the mother's maiden name had only been included in the index from the third quarter 1911. 
This addition will make it easier to find the correct birth and death for those years. I say easier for reasons I shall explain later.

There are no marriages in these new indexes and the Births and Deaths only cover a limited time span.

At the same time as launching the new indexes it was announced that a PDF pilot would start on 9th November 2016. 

This is the information from their website

I like many others have used this as an opportunity to look for members of family who may not have shown up on the census or have remained elusive.

Family legend from a now deceased aunt was that there had been a child who had died. I was uncertain as to whether this was a sibling of my father or paternal grandfather. Looking at the indexes and the years of birth it was more likely to be a missing great aunt or uncle but my great grandfather had several brothers.
However given the new information this is what I found.

I have ordered a copy using the new pdf service and assuming the details match I have also found a likely death in the same quarter of a child without first names recorded.

I have also ordered 3 more birth certificates with different reasons.
One of my 2xgt grandmother's was christened in 1845 in Lyndhurst, Hampshire. This is in the New Forest registration district and I have not been able to find a birth registration for anyone with her first name. 

see second entry Selina daughter of Edward and Ann Grant

The above is a copy of the christening record and she is recorded on the census records as Selina.
Below is the only entry for that same year with the maiden name of her mother. All the other children with this mother's maiden name are her siblings, including another registered as Alice Mary, I am now almost certain I have the correct registration but am awaiting the documentary proof.

The other 2 birth certificates were for children missing from the census that had been highlighted by the 1911 census. (If my first certificate is correct then my gt grandparents had forgotten to include their deceased son when they completed this census form.)
My husband's maternal gt grandparents had said that 2 of their children were deceased on the census but I had not seen them on the 1901 census and they had married on Christmas day 1891. In 1901 they had only had 1 child living with them and by 1911 all the other children were with them having been born in the intervening years. This meant that it was highly likely that the children had been born between 1891 and 1899 when their surviving sibling had been born. I had been trying to find them since I found this in the 1911 census but with a surname of WARD ruling out those still living and cross referencing with the corresponding deaths was slow going.

These are the 2 I have ordered. The one for Lilian arrived in my inbox yesterday and the names of the parents match. It also revealed another address for them.

These few I have been certain are correct but even with the mother's maiden name we may still not discover the correct person for our family.
Only this morning I was looking for possible siblings for an ancestor with the surname SMITH whose mother had the maiden name CHAMBERL(A)IN born in the Lutterworth district. A search with the maiden name included brought up several children I had not seen for the family. I decided to look for one of them born just before the 1871 census. I found her with her parents living in another village in the same registration district.
Don't think this is only true for common surnames. My husband has an ancestor with the surname CROWSON the maiden name of her mother was SPEED she was born in 1872 in the Oakham registration district. Her father had a brother who married her mother's sister both couples stayed in the district and named their daughter born in 1872 with the same first name.

So shall I say this you will find the new indexes helpful but you cannot rely on them alone to determine you have the correct individual. Hopefully others have found some missing or elusive family now that we have more information.

I have others to look for including missing siblings in a family of 22.

Please leave comments I would love to know how others have used the new indexes and the slightly cheaper copies of registrations.