Monday, May 25, 2015

A Day For Remembering

By the time you read this post, an army of flag-bearers will have blanketed every national cemetery in the country—and a number of grave sites in other cemeteries as well—with the Red, White and Blue in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend remembrances. True, the honorees of this weekend are specifically those who have made their supreme sacrifice in service to their country, and many of us haven’t had to bear the burden of that empty place at our dinner tables, or growing up without the dad or sibling who will never be coming home again.

In our family, it takes a bit of searching through our family tree before we find anyone who would rightfully be remembered on this national holiday. There are some—like my husband’s first cousin once removed, Joseph Edward McGonagle, Staff Sergeant of the 563rd Bomber Squadron 388th Bomber Group, shot down in Europe on March 8, 1944—whom our living relatives personally remember. There are others—such as the Civil War soldiers I’ve uncovered in my most recent project to research my maternal family lines—who have been commemorated since the inception of Decoration Day traditions.

Though today isn’t their day, those surviving family members who have served in the military and those who are veterans of past wars still have my gratitude, as well. Though they may have escaped death during their service, it seems as if many of them returned home with Death strapped to their backpacks. Even those who survived carried the internal scars of what they bore “over there.” As I follow the research trail through the various extended lines of both my husband’s and my own family trees, I can’t help but notice the life spans of many of those veterans, shortened by ten to twenty years from that of their own siblings. No matter which way they returned home, they paid a price for what they endured.

If you have a family member whose sacrifice is being commemorated today, you have my highest gratitude. There are no words that could adequately express what that service represents—only a perpetual call to demonstrate our debt through our humble gestures of remembrance.

Above: "The March of Time," 1896 oil on canvas by Henry Sandham, depicting a parade of veterans of the U.S. Civil War during Decoration Day. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Splat on the Proverbial Brick Wall

Is there any wiggle room, pressed hard up against the genealogical brick wall? That’s what I’m about to find out. Hopefully, this inquiry will deliver me to the felicitous date when the National Library of Ireland releases its digitized version of Irish Catholic Church records to the virtual world, supplying me with a fresh supply of potential documentation to build my case about my husband's Irish ancestry.

I’m not so sure, though. The current promised release date for the digitization project is July 8. And we haven’t yet escaped the clutches of May. That would make for a pretty long wiggle.

When I last left researching my husband’s Irish family lines, we had concluded a wonderful—yet exhausting—research trip to counties Cork, Tipperary, and Kerry leading up to a week at the books in Dublin. Once home, I had transcribed and muddled over my nearly-illegible notes, taken in utter haste during that three week trip. (Three weeks may seem like a lot for time on the road, but when it comes to searching for genealogical records, it never seems to be enough time.)

That I was bumping into a brick wall of time-restricted availability of records was not lost on me. Not only were we limited by our time in Ireland—those precious few days in that three week period—but we were also confined by the limitations of what was available on Catholic families living in that former realm of the United Kingdom.

It did, indeed, feel as if I had gone “splat” on that brick wall.

It is amazing how one phone call can resurrect hopes. And just one week ago, that is exactly what happened. Now, I’m re-entering the sharing stage with a distant cousin, eager to compare notes on our mutual family’s history. All we have to go on, really, are a few hand-written notes stowed in keepsake boxes passed down through the generations. We may have some of the very few written remembrances of those family members. The wonder is that they corroborate each other.

The person on the other end of the phone last week is the sister of the third cousin who shared baptismal records for Johanna Tully Ryan. Those, if you recall from this old post, aligned with the baptismal note we subsequently found for my husband’s great-grandfather, John Tully. Of course, there are more items to compare, which is what our upcoming project will likely entail.

That is what launched me on a new course of inspection: wondering just how my progress has been going on the autosomal DNA testing for my husband’s family.

Yes (groan), more number crunching in our future. Consider today’s post a baseline report.

When I subscribed to, I decided that, rather than recreate the same family tree I have resident on my desktop program, I would separate out each of our parents’ surnames. Thus, I now have four separate family trees on Ancestry, one representing the family tree of each of our four parents. Comparing them to my husband’s DNA results will be somewhat of a problem, as I don’t have any handy devices—like my half-brother’s DNA results on my side—to separate out the maternal from the paternal. So, while I can track my progress on each tree—Stevens or Flowers on my husband’s side—I can’t separate the count through his DNA results.

With that caveat, here is where we stand at this re-beginning. The Stevens tree, itself, now holds 768 individuals, mostly within the last five generations—including, as I’ve discovered to be helpful when examining autosomal DNA results, as many of the siblings of each generation as possible plus their descendants.

In contrast, my husband’s maternal tree includes 967 people. Perhaps that difference is owing to the fact that, though she assumed her family had “just gotten off the boat” a few generations back, my mother-in-law’s family came to the United States before the beginning of the 1800s. Often, the longer an immigrant was resident in this country, the easier it is to press backward through the generations with viable documentation.

That, perhaps, is why, of my husband’s 462 autosomal DNA test matches, the only two confirmed relationships belong to descendants on his maternal side.

While it will be tempting, now that I’m re-opening the possibilities of revisiting past progress on my husband’s lines, to go back and add more names on that easy-sailing maternal side, I need to maintain my focus on the Stevens side. While the going will be fraught with struggle—after all, I’m no better off, right now, than a bug splat on my windshield after a drive on the freeway—this is what needs to be pursued right now. Who knows what a cooperative cousin may bring to this adventure.

Above: Print of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, Ireland, originally published in 1820 in "Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy is a Kind of Stress, Too

It’s been a wonderful month—in everything, that is, except genealogy.

At our home, we’ve had loads of company, visits from out-of-state family members, celebrations and graduation and end-of-school-year and c’mon-summer-vacation highs. What more could we ask?

When I look at all the good times, good food and good company, I guess I can’t complain too much about my lack of progress in research statistics. Besides, I did get something done. In the past two weeks, I nudged my maternal family tree head count up from 3,444 to 3,727. The rate of progress is slowing, admittedly, but I’m still pressing on. I know “slow and steady” is an admirable goal; perhaps slowing but steady could count, too.

Things seem to be slowing down at Family Tree DNA, as well, for I only received an additional four autosomal DNA matches in the last two weeks, bringing my total to 833. As FTDNA tends to offer sale pricing for their tests around Father’s Day, here’s hoping that will bring on another surge of matches.

I did, however, manage to send one contact email to a distant match, so we are mutually muddling over how, exactly, we might be fifth cousins—a discussion unlikely to bring us to any resolution in the foreseeable future, but at least we are trying. This DNA testing does spur us on to hone our researching skills, if nothing else.

On the mtDNA front, however, the good news is that the “computer glitch” which told my exact match mystery cousin that he had an exact match—but failed to record the same for me—has been amended. All is now right with the world again; the “a” that equals the “b” that equals the “c” now reciprocates nicely to demonstrate that “c” will also equal “a.” I now have two exact matches—and both of them were adopted. Nothing is ever easy.

With the abrupt conclusion to my new attempt at unraveling my paternal line’s mystery, numbers there were stunningly unimpressive, as well. Actually, that is putting it optimistically; in reality, I accomplished absolutely nothing in that line. I’m still hovering at 148 names in my paternal tree, with twenty two matches through my autosomal DNA results.

Since last week brought a renewed connection with a distant cousin in my husband’s Tully line, it may be time to begin keeping stats on his DNA results, as well. Because some of my husband’s lines were also in this country for a couple centuries, it has been relatively easy to document connections back through several generations. This is the type of fertile field where genetic genealogists must like to frolic when they need encouragement—which, at this juncture, might not be a bad idea.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Genealogy Societies:
What Are They Good For?

It’s that long drive home from our local genealogical society meeting, the third Thursday of the month, that gets me thinking. Sometimes, we have great speakers and the presentations—or something mentioned by a fellow member, afterward—spark ideas. My brain starts spinning off those ideas, careening into other thoughts, and I come away from the drive home, energized.

Then I log in to my email, or check my feed to see what’s been posted lately in genealogy blogs, and I see the feeling is not always mutual. From reading some of those posts, one would gather that genealogical societies are a dying breed. That their time has come—and gone. That they’re wearing out their welcome mat in this bright new age of instant access to digitized records.

That may be true, but.

Since when are we not social creatures? I like what one of our local board members once observed: genealogical societies are where we fanatics can gather together to tell each other about our latest research conquests without every eye in our audience beginning to roll. When we’re with people who understand, it makes all the difference. After all, every story needs an audience. And boy, are we the ones who find the stories.

Have those stories lost their pertinence? After all, who cares about grand-uncle Harry? Nobody even knows what “grand-uncle” means, anymore.

Or is it just that we’ve lost our ability to connect—not with our past, but with our present? That we are no longer able to encourage each other in the processes of our pursuit, here and now, among our peers experiencing the same research issues we stumble upon.

I’m wondering if there is any aspect to the “chemistry” that happens when people with this mutual interest in genealogy come together as a group. I’m one of those people who has just got to have faith in the process—that people excited about an exciting pursuit will resonate with excitement when they achieve their pursuit’s goals. And that excitement will attract more excitement—and more to get excited about.

If that explanation sounds redundant to you, I want it to appear as the obvious statement it is. How can we not generate some excitement about our mutually-chosen passion? Yeah, some people in some genealogical societies might not like some aspects of their organization. But you’ve got to find what works for the people in your group—what inspires them, what draws them back for more.

Our local society had entered a slump, years ago. Perhaps some thought it was a signal that we had come to the beginning of our end. A wise number-cruncher observed, from our group’s statistics, that our membership and meeting attendance began its downward spiral at the advent of online genealogy powerhouses. Why join a society, when you could pay a company to deliver all the research documents you needed, right to your own door?

The assumption underlying that conclusion, of course, was that people joined genealogical societies because they wanted a local source to help them access the material that improved their research results. While that may, indeed, be a worthy goal for such organizations, that is not the only reason researchers seek out fellow researchers. But even that doesn’t touch the crux of the matter.

Everyone knows that genealogical societies are two-headed monsters. We join together with lofty organizational goals such as “preserve local records of genealogical value”—and that does become a service of benefit to our home community. Yet, what is the focus of our members’ own genealogical research? Usually, every place but the one we currently call home. The uneasy truce between these diametrically opposed goals is to fill our events with generic educational programs that can cross-apply to anyone researching anything almost anywhere.

And when we water something down that far, anything can lose its zing. Even something we are as passionate about as genealogy.

While we admittedly can champion our enthusiasm about genealogy, the goal must not only be to generate excitement about our content. We also need to make peace with our process—how we build the organization that best delivers that content to our constituency. That there are people out there who want to share what they’re discovering during their genealogical pursuits, there is no question. How to build the infrastructure to accommodate that process may very well be the bigger question.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yes, In Fact, I Did Write That

Apparently, it was high time I googled myself again.

Perhaps you remember my rant about “scraping,” back at the close of last year. Silly me: at that point, I had innocently remarked,
So what if they copy my stuff; I have enough internal links to lead readers back to my own site.

Apparently, that is not only incorrect, but I have a new “scraper” to contend with—one astute enough to remove my internal links and replace them with the appropriate new (and newly stolen) pages, as well.

Ah, live and learn. Now, time to go back and review all those links about combating scrapers that I wrote about, five months ago.

Never thought I’d be reviewing for another test quite so soon…

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

D N A: Not as Easy as A B C

As we’ll be discussing in a few more days, I’ve been diligently chipping away at my genetic genealogy test results. I’ve been pursuing outcomes in two tracks: one is on my matrilineal line, where my only mtDNA exact match is with an adoptee for whom I can find no nexus in my to-date two hundred year long paper trail; the other is awash in my well-over-eight-hundred matches from my autosomal DNA test.

I’ve been doing this since midway through last December. I suppose five months of steady work on this project does not bring me anywhere near expert status. But it does grant me a modicum of knowledge—just enough to jack up the frustration level when things that seem like they ought to work one way stubbornly resist cooperating with the expected.

The most recent problem is this: my one and only exact match through my mtDNA test results recently received news that he has another exact match. He kindly passed along the word to me, thinking I would have received that news as well.

I hadn’t.

This, of course, was puzzling, because if someone is an exact match to a person who is an exact match to someone else, well…

It brings to mind such previously disdained elementary-grade math class rules as “The Transitive Property of Equality.” You know:

If a = b and b = c, then a = c



Yeah, I know: I wasn’t always a cherub in math class. But I did remember that rule—even if I had to go back and look up what it was officially called.

So, here I am: stuck at the part that says, “then a = c.” In other words, if I equal my mystery cousin, and my mystery cousin equals this other guy, then why don’t I?

Never one to wait for an answer to come to him, my mystery cousin went straight to the source: a project administrator for Family Tree DNA, where we took our DNA tests.

The answer? “Never seen anything like it.”

This will take some “looking into.”

Now, on the cusp of realizing a second exact match, I’m having to sit back and wait. Hold my breath.

This is near impossible for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. After all, according to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, an “exact match”—at least at the level of the full mitochondrial sequence, as we’ve taken—means it “usually indicates a shared common ancestor within a genealogical timeframe.”

But…are we a match? Or aren’t we?

That is the question that’s awaiting an answer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Passing Through Mudville

Did any of your ancestors fall for the lure of quick riches and respond to the call of the California gold rush? While very few of my ancestors did—I believe one distant Broyles cousin fell into that camp—there were thousands who passed through my current hometown on their way to seek fame and fortune in the foothills east of this inland port city.

Some of them—though only a wise few—eventually realized they stood a better chance at financial gain by profiting off the supplies or services they could render to those many other gold miners streaming through town on their way east to strike it rich. Those were the ones who settled around the port, becoming merchants or inn keepers or livery men or bankers to that throng of fortune seekers.

The town those “Forty Niners” passed through was known by various monikers during its early history. In addition to Mudville, it had been called Fat City and also Tuleburg—after the tule, a type of large bulrushes growing in the marshy lowlands surrounding the port and meandering rivers leading from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay. But by July 23, 1850, when the city was incorporated, the name chosen became the one it is known by today: Stockton.

Stockton was designated as the county seat for one of California’s original counties, San Joaquin, created in 1850 as California attained statehood. At its formation, the entire county boasted a population of 3,647 people. By the time of the 1860 census, the city of Stockton, alone, held that many people; the county’s population had more than doubled to 9,435 people.

Fast forward to present times, and blend that time warp with a large population of people having an avid interest in genealogy and local history. Do you ever wonder what became of those first pioneers and families who chose to settle in Fat City and the surrounding areas, rather than head to those hills to strike it rich?

Our local genealogical society—of which I’m honored to be a part—has partnered with the county’s Historical Society to delve into that very question. We won’t be able to do it alone, though, so we’ve decided to take the crowdsourcing approach: invite direct descendants of those early settlers to share their families’ stories with us.

The San Joaquin Genealogical Society has launched its First Families Certificate Program, and is seeking applicants who can document their relationship to an ancestor living within San Joaquin County in any of three periods of county history:

·       Founding Families in the county before 1860
·       Pioneer Families settling here between 1860 and 1880
·       Century Families resident in the county at least one hundred years ago.

In addition to the documentation required—similar to many lineage societies—we are inviting applicants to share photographs, stories and other memorabilia of their direct ancestors who once lived in San Joaquin County. Material submitted will form part of a collection housed at the San Joaquin County Historical Society which will be available to future researchers interested in the heritage of our earliest settlers.

As readers of A Family Tapestry, you have shared my research journeys and virtual quest to detail my own micro-history, set in the far-flung reaches of this country and beyond. Though I can’t claim any heritage vested in this county’s development, perhaps you can—or perhaps you know of someone else to whom you can pass along this brief announcement. You know our Society will appreciate any help you can provide in spreading the word as we launch this new certificate program.

For those interested, the Society has posted application forms and instructions on their blog here. While they have already had much interest in the program expressed locally, you know how it is with researching ancestors: those people who once lived in Stockton, California—or nearby cities of Lodi, Manteca, Tracy, Escalon, Lathrop and Ripon—may now have descendants whose homes are far, far away from the place once known as Mudville.

Perhaps you, too, once had a direct ancestor living in this inland California county. If so, consider yourself invited to share your ancestor’s story by applying for recognition as a descendant of one of the First Families of San Joaquin County.

Above: Drawing of a man panning for gold on the Mokelumne River in northern California, published as part of an 1860 article in Harper's Weekly, "How We Got Gold in California." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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