Last November, I participated in an online panel discussion – Discussing DNA: Finding Unexpected Results – with authors Libby Copeland and Bill Griffeth, talking about some of the ramifications of genetic surprises that have come about from commercial DNA testing. I probably learn about these more than others, given my profession, and my own family is no exception. However, your autosomal DNA matches also have the ability to find genealogical connections when someone’s recent family history has been lost, perhaps owing to family members dying young and later generations not learning of certain details to help find their ancestors in available records. These tests can sometimes be a time-saving genealogical shortcut in such cases. Continue reading Evaluating DNA matches: Part One
When I started researching family history more than twenty years ago, I was eager to find out about my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated from Italy to America. Where did he come from? When did he emigrate? Did other members of his family come too? I hoped immigration records would answer these questions. Unfortunately, before the twentieth century, passenger lists did not provide much information, but at least one could glean a passenger’s age, occupation, marital status, native country, destination, whether he or she was in transit or intending to stay in the U.S., what compartment they stayed in, and how much baggage accompanied them. Genealogists likely pay close attention to most of these details, but why care about baggage?! Amazingly, in Gerardo’s case, such trivial information was to prove decisive in determining when he immigrated to America. Continue reading No detail too small
With the new start of a new year (and decade), I always make genealogical resolutions. Often these renewed exercises in persistence focus on long-standing unsolved puzzles. At the top of my list, my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Jane Durin. Inspired by several articles in Nexus almost twenty years ago that outlined various contributors’ matrilineal ascents, I worked out my own matrilineal line that hit the brick wall with Jane’s marriage in 1667. My documentation for each successive generation looked reliable, especially since most of the marriages were recorded in town vital or church records: Continue reading Mitochondrial prospects
As we reach the end of this extraordinary year – one marked by titanic public stresses and private losses – it is time to review a few of the blog posts that appeared in Vita Brevis in 2020. Most posts, of course, concerned genealogical pointers and results, but some addressed the current moment, when so much of our time was spent solitary and in front of a computer screen.
Of course, at the start of 2020 the blog – and NEHGS – focused on twin anniversaries: the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, in 1620, and the 175th birthday of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, in 1845. Continue reading 2020: the year in review
As my final 2020 post relating to this year’s anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, I’ll reminisce about how I found my own Mayflower line, somewhat accidentally, after nearly two decades of genealogical research. The families of my paternal grandfather, whose ancestors never left New England, actually had a tradition that they did not have any Mayflower ancestors. Early on in my researches, my aunt and I briefly thought we identified a descent from Stephen Hopkins, but we quickly realized it was a collection of mistaken connections. Over the years, I found a descent from brothers of Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow and John Howland, and from a cousin of Henry Samson. All close, but no direct ancestors on Plymouth’s first English ship. Continue reading Billingtons three
This year promises to be one unlike any other for the holidays. Many families will get together virtually this season, an unfamiliar way to gather for many of us. Despite the different circumstances, this season can still be a time to share stories of family history. Here are ten questions to ask relatives during this year’s Zoom holiday. Continue reading Ten questions for your Zoom holiday
In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns
“Paternity Concealed & Revealed: The Case of Julia Smith of Rutland, Vermont,” published in American Ancestors, recounts one of my wildest rides in Vermont research.[i] Why did Julia Smith of Rutland hide her true identity? My investigation proved that Julia was the daughter of English convict Emanuel Abrahams, a London Jew, who spent two decades in Queen Victoria’s prisons. After emigrating to Vermont in the late 1870s, Emanuel assumed the name John Smith and married Mary Dougherty, an Irish Catholic, twenty-five years his junior—theirs an unlikely union for that time, with disparities of culture, religion, and age. Continue reading ‘Struggle with a vixen’
Researching someone with a common name can be challenging. Sometimes you will find too many records, and without more identifying information it can be almost impossible to determine which is the correct record. Or, if you do find a promising record, how do you know if it is for the person being researched or someone else with the same name? To overcome these problems, you need to find enough information to come to a solid conclusion.
I had this problem recently while researching Charles McDermott, who lived in New York City. I found a possible naturalization record for Charles in 1896. The record showed this Charles was about the right age and had immigrated around the right year. Continue reading Finding confirming information
If A is the son of B, and C is the grandson of B, and C’s father is D and mother is E, then how is E related to A…?
In addition to the main allied families in the Livingston project — Douglas of Dalkeith, Fleming of Wigtown, Hepburn of Bothwell, Menteith of Kerse, and Bruce of Airth — there are others that recur, either as ancestors of Livingston spouses or kin of kin in some way. One of the most prevalent is the Forrester family of Corstorphine, Torwood, Garden/Carden, and Nyddrie/Nidrie/Nithrie. Without even including the later Lords Forrester, I can easily count eight instances of Forresters in concert with other families to be covered in the Livingston book. Continue reading Logic problems