Thursday, November 30, 2017

Never Say Never

With well over a thousand matches for each of the family's DNA kits I manage, I had long ago promised myself I'd limit my frustration by only pursuing those matches whose relationship was likely to be fourth cousin or closer. After all, it would have to be a dedicated researcher who could come up with a reliable, documented tree stretching back to the fourth great grandparent which would be necessary to go beyond that point of relationship. Granted, there are plenty of serious genealogists out there with trees numbering in the tens of thousands of relatives, but the great majority of my matches who don't have the dreaded "No family tree" label have trees with less than one thousand members—often, less than one hundred. Not much of a potential for locating most recent common ancestors among those sparse familial branches.

In this season of reconsideration, when I'm revisiting my protocols for sorting through this haystack of disparate matches, I'm beginning to see my way around that dictum. At Ancestry DNA, at least, segmenting my results by using their "Shared Ancestor Hints" filter has demonstrated the value of including the more distant cousins in my viewfinder.

In fact, using this approach has led to a few observations. Easiest to see, among those new insights, is that quite a few of my distant matches actually share their own surname with a surname prominent in my family tree. Of course I'm going to check out the results for a distant cousin who himself bears the surname Broyles or McClellan, for instance, since those names are part of my own genealogical heritage. While that approach might seem naive for someone searching their Jones or Smith heritage, it is a gimme for people researching hard-to-find names like Taliaferro or Aktabowski. Not too many of those around, you know.

Two other observations popped up, now that I've shifted from my old policy of never going beyond fourth cousin, but they seem to contradict each other. The one thing I had long ago noticed was that, at least at Ancestry DNA, the estimated level of relatedness usually seemed spot on—and when giving a range (say, "third to fourth cousin"), the end result usually settled with the closer relationship.

However, these two observations broke from that pattern. In the one, my kit would be estimated to compare with a match at a certain level, and then fall short of that. In the other, my kit would turn out to match the other person at a more distant level than predicted.

Several of my husband's matches were predicted to be more distant relationships than they actually turned out to be. For instance, one match slated to be within the range of fifth to eighth cousin turned out to be a third cousin, once removed. Another "distant cousin" proved to be his fourth cousin, rather than the fifth to eighth cousin it was predicted to be.

Granted, some of those were near-misses. But in exploring this new world of distant cousins—which, previous to this point, had been off limits by my own policy—I observed something. In these lines, which all happened to be related to my husband's mother, looking at the details of the matches' trees confirmed that they, like my husband, had more than one route to relatedness. Yes, that means they were their own cousins. But it also means that there is something in their genetics which foils the algorithms for deducting which level of relatedness the two parties should be.

On the flip side, my own mother's lines have inter-relatedness, solely by virtue of being early colonists in a vast—and vastly empty—new continent. Repeated inter-marriages among extended family members over the generations should predictably produce results similar to those of my husband's family. But in some cases, I see the opposite result.

Particularly in the lines involving my Lewis, Meriwether, Gilmer and Taliaferro iterations, the relationship turned out to be more distant. One match, for instance, was predicted to be of a fourth cousin level, but turned out to be fifth cousins, once removed. Another supposed fourth cousin turned out to be a seventh cousin.

I'm sure we'll all see surprises in this new world of genetic genealogy. Some will come with scientific explanations in hand to help us understand the dynamics behind the aberrations. Other situations may end up, hanging around on the street corner, waiting for someone to come up with the reasons why it turned out that way.

One thing is sure, though: if I had never bothered to explore these far distant relationships, I probably wouldn't have noticed such anomalies hiding in my genetic outliers. With the more finely-honed tools, though, there needn't be any reason to shy away from exploring these even more remote relationship possibilities. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Difference Four Days can Make

Just as I am agonizing over the thousands of DNA matches I can't fathom in my own family's lists, AncestryDNA issues a press release with the astounding news: in the four days from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, they "more than tripled the number of kits sold during the same period in 2016."

While that is indeed news, it doesn't present the entire picture. We need to have a number to help us get our heads around this nugget of information, and The DNA Geek was just the one to do the math. In her own blog post, she estimated that, since Ancestry sold about 560,000 DNA kits last Thanksgiving weekend, "more than tripled" would mean sales exceeding 1.7 million kits for the 2017 Thanksgiving weekend.

There is a corollary to that news, of course. According to Ancestry's press release, this turn of events marks the first time the year-to-date number of kits sold exceeds the entire count of Ancestry subscribers.

That's right: that means even more of those mystery cousins sans family trees. And we're just the ones to help them out.

While you and I—and the genealogical societies we belong to—may not have foreseen that turn of events, we may find ourselves standing in the exact path of a tsunami of interest (or at least questions) regarding what to do with all this "stuff." Now that nearly two million more DNA customers will be opening their pretty packages—and eventually taking their first peek at those colorful ethnicity reports—they may begin wondering, "What's next?"

You and I already know that "what's next" may include a learning curve whose arc rivals that of the tsunami of interest we're already eyeing with caution. While I can easily see that such circumstances may evolve to insert genealogical societies straight into a love-hate relationship with facts like these, we need to focus on the up side to the situation.

For one thing, more test kits out there eventually will translate into more matches for all of us. That is a good thing, especially for those of us still struggling just to pinpoint our immigrant origins. It's the enormity of the possibility, though, that astounds me: if the Ancestry DNA database already crested six million as of last October, this past weekend's sales nudge the eight million mark.

Will any of those eight million customers be interested in a personalized, hands-on approach to learning more about their DNA results?

For the first time, this past fall, our genealogical society experimented with offering a beginner's workshop in using DNA testing to augment family history research. We offered the workshop at two different library settings, and were pleased with the response. Indeed, a third library requested us to get our show on the road and bring it to their city.

Perhaps because DNA testing seems relatively new and unknown, I am still surprised when the first thing strangers ask me is, "Does that test really work?" The new normal, in the world of family history, may turn out to be a scenario in which, when people think the word "genealogy," they automatically connect it with "genetic." This is what is happening, I'd like to note, not with brainiac academics, but with man-on-the-street genealogical novices.

The opportunity to step up and provide hands-on, personalized training to people who are brand new to the world of genealogy is right at our doorstep now. The chance to meet a community need may well be the shot in the arm so needed by flagging societies worried that online databases had sounded the death knell for genealogical organizations. When those online services are running sales reports like this, boots-on-the-ground genealogical societies like ours certainly can remain alive and well.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Revisiting the DNA Maze

In the past five years, I've been testing family members to help figure out our family's mutual ancestors and their immigrant stories. It seemed like the ideal solution to genealogical quandaries like my paternal grandfather's origins—a secret seemingly taken to the grave with him—or my orphaned second great grandmother's parentage.

Five years and thousands of unconfirmed DNA matches later, it doesn't seem like the ideal solution any more. In fact, I feel swamped with the amount of data I still need to sift through, and especially the endless maze of unrecognized surnames. Last week, I decided to revamp my approach to gain a sense of direction about those many matches linked to each of the test kits I oversee.

Thankfully, fellow genealogy bloggers jarred me into deciding that, with their posts last week.

The first post came from the consummate researcher Randy Seaver, who never seems to run out of genea-blogging material to discuss. A week ago Monday, Randy posted a "Genea-Pourri" of observations, including a statement about his DNA test results. He mentioned,
My AncestryDNA Shared Ancestors increased from 231 to 237, but all of them are really distant relatives - 5th to 8th cousins. 

I was surprised to read a number that low. Only 237 matches? How could that be? After all, Randy has well documented colonial roots, as well as ancestors back in England sporting dates far earlier than I could even begin to imagine finding in my own family.

But then, I looked closer at what he said. This wasn't merely a count of all his DNA matches; it was specific to one category: AncestryDNA Shared Ancestors. Even then, I had to assume he meant those shaky-leaf "Shared Ancestor Hints," that handy section which shows how the customer's tree matches with the DNA match's own tree.

Alright, then: 237 is a pretty respectable number, after all. I only have sixty eight for my results.

That, however, opened my mind to explore something else. If I just went through this specific list, methodically, and reviewed which of these matches still need to be added to my own tree, would that help flesh out enough hooks upon which to hang some other, errant, DNA match names? I decided to add that to my DNA to-do list, to see what would happen.

While I'm still in the process of working through that list, I have noticed a few things. For one, I previously shied away from any matches more distant than fourth cousin. Genetic material sometimes drops off the radar, once you step beyond that level of relationship (and sometimes that happens with relationships as close as third cousins). But having distant cousins from connections to American colonial families, I experienced two divergent surprises when I took a look at these more distant relationships: one, in which cousins turned out to be much closer than predicted, and another, in which cousins turned out to be more distant than predicted. In any event, the exercise is showing me the profitability in pursuing those more distant matches, as long as both parties have robust, well documented family trees.

About that same time, another blogger's post provided some useful reminders. In this case, it was Donna Moughty's post, "Making Sense of Your Matches on Ancestry." Among her many practical tips, she shared a useful chart she had found on the ISOGG wiki, the "Cousinship Chart."

Another item with AncestryDNA suggestions came to me via Gail Dever's "Crème de la crème" week in review: a post by mother-daughter research team Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer, "Ancestry DNA: Three Tools you may not be Using." Although I've already been employing their advice on exploring shared matches with those who don't have a tree posted online, it was their last tip that earned a place on my new DNA to-do list: instead of ignoring the treeless, search for "unlinked" family trees in the entries for my matches tagged with "no family tree" on my results page.

That pretty much was the same suggestion provided by another genetic genealogy blogger, Kitty Cooper, who observed that some trees are "just not linked" to the DNA match's results. Kitty goes beyond that with more suggestions on "How to get your Ancestry match to respond." Yet more items to add to my weekly DNA routine.

While there are several tasks I routinely do to keep up with the regular addition of yet more DNA matches at the three companies where my family has tested, I think these additional suggestions will help me target processes that will bring more rapid results. It's great to know, in theory, the names of all these distant cousins; what I really want to do is see them accurately placed in my family tree. Hopefully, doing so will unlock some research doors and lead me through the maze to some answers to those brick wall questions.

Above: Carceri Plate VII, from etchings by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why DNA?

With the holiday sales upon us—Black Friday thankfully behind us, but Cyber Monday unfolding before us right now—it probably has not been lost upon you that you can give the gift of family heritage with the present of a simple DNA test. Not only are the prices right, no matter which company you choose, but the airwaves are saturated with ads boasting promises even the least genealogically astute can grasp.

I, for one, am glad for this heightened awareness of the quest for family history. Anyone who has already participated in DNA testing can welcome the addition of yet more matches with the holiday sales influx. But as many questions as I field from strangers who discover I teach genealogy classes, the great majority of them focus on DNA testing—and reveal the average customer's viewpoint on the process. Hint: that viewpoint is often far afield from a thorough knowledge of what genetic genealogy can offer a customer.

Especially since those holiday sales are prompting heightened interest, it may be time for us to bone up on the reasons why a person might want to buy a DNA test, and what can be expected from such an experience.

While the question I get often seeks a bipolar response—should I or shouldn't I?—I like to reframe the issue and redirect it to the potential customer: just why does that person wish to pursue DNA testing? What does such a customer hope to receive for their effort?

There are a number of divergent reasons why people have pursued the avenue of genetic genealogy. An obvious example of a reason that might not be shared by other customers is that of the adoptee wishing to discover his or her true roots. A similar situation might be that of an African-American, who, despite even knowing his or her parentage and family history for the past one hundred fifty years, then encounters a brick wall almost as unyielding as that of the adopted person.

There are other reasons as well. Some people may have remembered whisperings from their childhood indicating an unsuspected parentage or unusual heritage somewhere in their ancestry, and want to confirm or rule out family stories. Less clandestine yet more commonplace is the reason many people test: they want to see what science can tell them about their ethnicity.

Of course, with five distinct testing companies vying for the average customer's business, it seems bewildering to ascertain which one is the best choice. But fingering the explanation for your own reasons for testing, ahead of making the purchase, will help avoid misplaced expectations—and possibly insure that you spend no more money on the process than is necessary.

For instance, people who are testing to find matches who can team up with them on their genealogical research—sharing the effort to locate a mystery ancestor, for instance—would do best to seek out the company with the largest database of DNA customers (currently Ancestry DNA). It would also be important to select a company which shares information on matches in the first place—something to consider, at least for the moment, if you are toying with the special claims of Living DNA, which is not yet prepared to provide match information to its customers. And, if this were your DNA testing goal, it would also be smart to select a company whose customers have already identified themselves as willing to be in the game—the ancestor-comparing routine in which the health-report customers at 23andMe aren't necessarily interested in participating.

While holiday sales are always welcome, some DNA customers can find themselves financially involved, more than they intended, and it's good to understand that up front. Adoptees who are really earnest about finding their birth parents understand that they will need to test at each of the current DNA companies—even at sale prices, a price tag that adds up to a significant investment. And those with the goal of knowing the most they can about their deep ancestry, or the roots of their surname, may become involved in the specialized tests for Y-DNA for their patriline, or mitochondrial DNA for their matriline—tests only available at one company, Family Tree DNA.

Since DNA testing prices are at their best right now, I'm thinking it's a good time to review my own reasons for testing, determine whom to test further in my family, and how to go about streamlining the process of sifting through the results. After all, the question of "Why DNA?" may be applicable for first time customers, but it is also a helpful guide when we go back, after the fact, to sort through all the matches that resulted from our initial decision to buy.

After seeing several other bloggers' posts on the subject in the past week (and why not, with all the great sales going on right now?), I've been revamping my own approach in maintaining my match lists, and rethinking some ideas which may seem basic—so basic that we've all forgotten their usefulness as we wade deeper into the process of sorting out all this information. In honor of all these fabulous buying opportunities, I'm taking the week to revisit the issue of expectations and exasperations in the face of my own thousands of unconnected DNA matches.

Above: Crying boy at midday meal at the farmhouse; oil on canvas by German artist August Heyn (1837 - 1920); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

It's Time for Holiday Nostalgia

We never put up our Christmas tree this early in the season, but yep, it's up now. Probably a taller one than we've ever had before; I think the Christmas tree lot mislabeled the height. Thankfully, we have a living room ceiling to go with it.

Last night, Christmas carols infused the atmosphere while we breathed in the pine scent of the fresh-cut tree, just as we have for countless Decembers in the past. The lights were up, the angel and star in place, and the branches just awaiting their customary decorations. Only problem was: it's not even December yet. Christmas, as of last night, was still a month away. As for putting up our tree, at least in our family, we were getting it done about two weeks early.

Our family has never been one for the tradition (at least around here, where Thanksgiving temperatures hover around seventy degrees Fahrenheit) of setting up the tree the minute the turkey leftovers are packed away in the fridge. Unlike our California neighbors, our family has usually gone for a more sedate timetable. Sometimes, we've erred on the opposite side of the spectrum, including the time my mother rushed out to the store in a panic the day before Christmas because she hadn't yet found time to buy a live tree before company was coming over. (Now you know where I get my procrastinator's tendencies; my DNA comes by them honestly.)

There's a reason why we've reversed course around here this year: once again, my husband is off for another teaching assignment in the Middle East, but this time, he won't arrive home until just before Christmas. If he is going to get his chance to soak in the holiday cheer, it will have to be A.S.A.P.

So even though it's still November, we listen to the same songs we've heard recycled each holiday season, and remember the mood that surrounded us the last time we heard each tune. Some of those songs reach back farther in our memories than others—some to the earliest glimpses of childhood, other more recent arrivals coming fresh with newer scenes.

My daughter, having spent a fall semester at college in Ireland, used to mention that, in Europe, the stores rolled out the Christmas ambience more gradually—a trinket here, in early November, additional hints of seasonal color a week later, then the usual lights and decor throughout the month of December. I am thinking, besides our uncustomary earlier start, our household will follow suit this year. We've got the early start now, so why rush it? Adding a bit each week will seem so leisurely, after our customary last-minute-rushing style of past years.

I remember years when we baked enough cookies to fill a dozen tins or more for gifts, or assembled gift baskets to distribute for our annual caroling event at church. Not so much, any more. It seems the less we do, the more busy we feel. I'm not sure how we managed that kind of schedule downsizing, but it makes me yearn for a simple season. One filled with carols, quiet visits with good friends, and heartfelt moments with family.

It seems so strange to think the magic of Christmas could change so much over the years, but I think it has. I wonder how much our celebrations are like those our grandparents remembered as children. The singular image of the children receiving their one gift—an orange—in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series imprinted itself on my mind long ago, and though I've never experienced the simplicity of a Christmas like that, I wonder how it would feel to have that suffice as a holiday blessing. Is our life so different today that we can't even relate to the context of that lifestyle?

Above: "La Famiglia," circa 1894 by Italian artist Cesare Vianello; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wondering Why

Have you ever questioned why a person might want to do genealogical research? I mean, why do we do this? Is there a basic human need to know something more about our roots?

While I realize some people pursue the details of their family history because it facilitates a religious objective, that is certainly not why all people are curious about their family origins. I'm not even sure it's on account of the American penchant for ferreting out the sources of their "Heinz 57" heritage; obviously, there are people around the world who would like to know more about their family's story.

This type of question can turn into something of a dialog with our inner five year old. After all, the reason I want to know about my roots is because my father's paternal line is an absolute mystery, a blank slate taunting me to fill in the lines. But my inner five year old insists: "Why?"

Why do I need to fill in those empty lines on the pedigree chart, indeed? Because I'm hoping it will draw me closer to the answer to the question about my paternal grandfather's origin.

But that inner five year old persists: "Why?"

Yes, why do I need to know where the man came from? I suppose I could go on and play the game, dredging up yet another answer to rationalize just why I do this crazy chase, seeking hints the past has hidden in oblivion—but I know I'll only be faced with another question: "Why?"

I guess I'm not really sure why I feel so compelled to find and document my family's past. Perhaps if you were to play the "why" game with your own inner five year old, you might arrive at a more solid conclusion. But perhaps you wouldn't. The spooky thing might be that there is no rational answer, other than "I just do."

Perhaps in the grand, cosmic sense of things, there is a motivating factor inducing some of us to serve as our own family's historian. Who knows. Perhaps knowing the answer people are likely to give might help guide organizations like local genealogical societies to more successfully plan programs to attract a larger audience. Or could that be a bit too pragmatic a viewpoint for something with an answer as ethereal as this?

Above: Untitled painting by Italian artist Francesco Peluso, born 1836, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Holiday Afterglow

I'm not sure I'm ready for this yet...but cue up the Christmas tunes, grab a peppermint mocha and a box of Christmas cards, and let the season officially begin.

I'll let the holidays officially evolve in that more traditional and mellow mode, rather than jostling with the crowds to scramble for a bargain. My shopping style is more incisive, anyhow: dash in, grab, pay and go. Easy. It'll save for a Monday morning early in December.

As much as I struggle with Thanksgiving Day, itself, I'm quite at home with the fact that it ushers in such a pleasant season. I hope yours was a memorable Thanksgiving Day, and that you have bright plans for this holiday season, as well. Whether your traditions have you firmly tied to the twentieth century, or suited up to do battle on this Black Friday, may this bring the peace and fellowship you are hoping for in the upcoming holiday season.

Above: Charles Auguste Romain Lobbedez, "Family Time," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks, No Matter What

It may seem like today is a day all Americans are occupied with preparations for the traditional turkey dinner of our national heritage—flanked, of course, with the cultural mandates of football and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Yet the day has a softer side that often gets hidden in the rush to attend to all the details of the big event: the opportunity to pause and reflect on our blessings.

Being thankful for what we've been given can be a touchy subject. Just this past week, my daughter had been reflecting on how odd it seems that, among those of her friends who come from families relatively well off, it is not unusual to hear the complaint slip from the lips of these favored sons and daughters about how they are so "poor"—when that is hardly the case. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've heard the observation from some people who grew up in a truly deprived setting that they thought life was like that for everyone; to them, poverty seemed to be the norm.

Perhaps it is hard for us to see our true condition—a merciful handicap, to be sure, for those less fortunate, but a mockery when it becomes the complaint of the favored. And yet, no matter what our condition at the moment, if we take the time to consider it, we can think of something from which we've benefited at the hand of others.

Being able to see—or at least sense—our blessings in the midst of hardship can bring a feeling of peace, a thought that "it's going to be alright" to those in the midst of struggles.

Whether your family's story shared a lot in common with the pilgrim narrative we celebrate today, or whether your ancestors' arrival on these shores came long after that 1620s event—or long before it—the members of your family do share a detail of that history in common with America's Thanksgiving narrative.

You, for instance, likely had ancestors who faced hardships in their homeland and made the painful decision to leave all that was familiar to them. You came from a hardy stock of people who endured trials and deprivation to make a long and risky journey. Those people had to spend a long stretch of time facing strangers on a daily basis—neighbors and bosses and others who spoke a strange language and whose lifestyle and customs were so different from those back at home. It's likely that, if there weren't compassionate people in this strange new land to lend a helping hand at the right time, things would have turned out much worse for your family.

Whether talking about the Pilgrims or subsequent immigrants, that journey narrative has become part of the national story. If you descend from ancestors who came to this continent we now call North America, you realize we all echo that narrative in our own family history. It doesn't take long to realize that story line includes not only hardships but blessings.

There is something about the ability to see blessings—especially in the midst of hardships—that can lift a person up from the negativity of those surroundings. Seeing blessings can actually become a way of life. Being able to do so bestows a strength and resilience, but in some way it also provides a sense of peace.

Whether you are in the midst of a day full of the activities of preparing a sumptuous feast or far from the America you call home, my wish for you is that you find a momentary haven to rest and contemplate how you've been blessed. That momentary recharging can be just the boost you need if your life is still in the midst of replaying your own American drama.

Above: "The Peale Family," portrait by American artist Charles Willson Peale, circa 1772; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. Though time and customs have changed, the family "portrait" during holiday gatherings appears to be still much the same.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Weaving Community Partnerships

It's now official: as of January, next year, I'm in as the new president of our local genealogical society. As much as I hate to see my predecessor step down—and to follow in the shadow of the sparkling Sheri Fenley—rules are rules and bylaws are bylaws. Ours said the third time was a charm; after four times, an officer is termed out.

Naturally, I've had plenty of time to contemplate my fate. On one hand, I'm stepping into a position which has been filled, for the past four years, by a go-getter. Our society has made great strides during her tenure. On the other hand, there is so much yet to accomplish. As Sheri herself has often said, there are more family history enthusiasts in our local area than attend our monthly meetings. The challenge is to nurture an organization compelling enough to entice them to join us.

The challenge is to meet the needs of the local genealogical community before the members of that "community" even realize they are part of the group—or admit that they have needs which can be met collectively. I've already mentioned my hunch that the linchpin of organization-building will likely be the ability to form partnerships. But these partnerships—and the impetus behind their formation—cannot simply be a repeat of the old, tired techniques organizations of the past have used.

I think that concept—seeking innovative answers to organizational issues—already resonates with others in the genealogy community. The other day, I could just hear the frustration in the sigh that must have accompanied Gail Dever's entry in her Genealogy à la carte Facebook group: "I am so over 1985." What she meant was that more than the usual-for-1985 needs to be done if we are to draw in others to our society events in 2018.

What prompted Gail's Facebook comment was elaborated in a recent post on her blog. In explaining the drawback to the approach taken by the Quebec, Canada, federation of genealogical societies—the Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie—in promoting their annual National Genealogy Week, Gail observed,
Right now, the activities are similar to what people likely held in the 1980s. Open houses, presentations, and book launches are good events, but these activities need to be supplemented with more modern-day initiatives to help shake off the image of genealogy being a hobby for old folks.

Suggestions Gail made in her blog post included the advice to "start looking at how the big genealogy companies promote their products" to take cues on how to advance the positioning of genealogical societies.

This, likely, is sound advice. And there is likely more such quality input out there for us to draw on, should we be willing to enter into dialog on this quandary. After all, though we love history, we don't want to become it; we will not fulfill our mission by accelerating its extinction. On the contrary, those of us for whom such thoughts resonate should join in the conversation about how we as societies can become more pertinent to twenty first century researchers.

I've always taken the approach of thinking outside the box—or at least getting the bigger picture. While there are plenty of articles—such as those made available on the Federation of Genealogical Societies website—designed to guide boards of directors in running a genealogical society, I also expand my horizons to the wider realm of leadership in nonprofit organizations.

I follow blogs on that wider arena—such as Beth Kanter's blog, subtitled, "How Connected Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change." Though Kanter's most recent book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, doesn't speak to an organization of our size, her previous book, The Networked Nonprofit, can open our eyes to our brave new technological world of possibilities.

While I don't see genealogical societies engaged in social change, per se, the techniques used in that arena certainly can be adapted to further our own mission and goals. We, too, are nonprofit organizations, engaged in education, outreach, and universal access. It's just that our social "change" encourages people to awaken to the value of preserving our heritage.

Though our mission may focus on history, that doesn't mean our mode must follow outdated dictates. In our own group's experience, we are awakening to the possibilities of how much more we can accomplish as an organization through the power of partnerships. Our communities are full of micro-organizations like our own, peopled by members whose wish to make a difference is outstripped by their lack of resources. Finding like-minded others with whom to partner on joint ventures is often the key to actually accomplishing what we dream of achieving. By carefully crafting a win-win partnership with like-minded groups, we can expand our organizational horizons.

I'd love to see us enter into dialog about how to go about such endeavors, whether through comments on our respective blogs, or on our Facebook pages, or even live at conferences or face to face in small meetups. I am positive there are ways for us, as genealogical societies of all sizes, to become a thriving and pertinent part of the social fabric of our communities in the decades ahead. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Surviving "Shopping"

No, not the dreaded Black Friday kind of shopping. Just shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I thought I'd play it smart and slip into the grocery store early on Monday. Surely that was a recipe for avoiding the crowds.

Did I ever get that wrong. Adding to the mix was the fact that, just a few weeks ago, our local supermarket decided it would be a great idea to scramble the locations for all the usual staples of the season's big feast. The store actually had to station extra employees out on the floor to personally escort lost shoppers to the new location for flour for their pie crust, or cream for their coffee. The only constant in the layout was the place where we picked up our turkey; thankfully, the meat department was tethered to a part of the building built specifically for the butcher's duties, making it near-impossible to acquiesce to any redecorating whims.

I understand the psychology behind mixing things up in such familiar territory as a food market. After all, we eat something every day, and likely go to the store to pick up such essential items at least once a week (more frequently, if you are like our family). We probably don't even give it much thought that we have actually memorized the location of every item we purchase regularly. The store's layout seems to make sense to us, only because of the repeated patterns we've worn in the floor, zooming in and out as quickly as possible with our routine purchases. The store manager's hope is, by shifting locations, to induce those programmed shoppers, in their sudden confusion, to take a look around and realize what else is there to buy, as well. A sort of forced browsing. A way to put on the brakes, and in the meantime, reap a bit more profit from impulse buys.

I don't suppose anyone has ever considered the practice of working on a pedigree chart to be roughly akin to shopping for ancestors. And yet, we have developed a routine of rushing in to all our accustomed best places where we can, most predictably, snag a census enumeration, or a marriage record, or a will, and quickly be on our genealogical way. We know where to look for all the best family history bargains, and which documents will give us the most bang for our research buck. When we encounter an ancestor whose personal circumstances don't yield us any trace in all our favorite searching places, we are tempted to put up a howl of protest.

And yet, the manager's device to scramble all the go-to sources can pay off. It does, after all, make us take a look around—in confusion at first, yes, but perhaps that, too, can awaken the long-forgotten skill of opening our eyes and taking a look around.

Not that there is a "manager" trying to redecorate the family history resources we've come to rely upon the most. But occasionally, we encounter the same effect when we bump up against a "brick wall" ancestor. Take the immigrant family who arrived on American shores just after the 1880 census—and settled in a place where no state census was taken in the interim between that last available federal census of the 1800s and the first one of the 1900s. A lot can happen in a family in twenty years; those howls of protest over that missing 1890 census can be real for some researchers.

I'm going through those same howls in trying to track down my Rinehart family from Greene County, Pennsylvania. Perhaps owing to Simon Rinehart's penchant for moving to other states—first to Kentucky, then back to Pennsylvania before heading west to Ohio—he skipped town just when the usual documentation was being created for the benefit of us family historians two hundred years later. No store manager orchestrated that scrambled personal history, but I'm feeling that same sense of frustration, nonetheless.

The frustration, thankfully, prompts me to learn where else to look for all the usual traces of this family. If everything progressed exactly according to routine, I wouldn't have felt the need to learn how to look elsewhere.

If ever I've seen an excellent example of such resourcefulness, it would be among those researching their Irish ancestry. It is well known that the "store manager" exercising influence over the genealogical records layout of that nation had an unseen hand in destroying many of the most genealogically pertinent records of the early 1900s and half of the preceding century. What to do in a case like that?

Thankfully, the innate compulsion to know where we came from has superseded any external circumstances blocking research progress for those with Irish roots. The Irish have become wonderfully inventive in finding alternate resources for piecing together their family history. Though I first learned about such resourcefulness years ago, I still marvel at discovering that our Irish counterparts have learned to glean significant information, for example, from dog license applications. Could this really be true that a snippet from this document combined with a snatch from another could eventually add up to an accurate snapshot of an ancestor's place in history? That is how resourceful researchers learn to look around and combine the substitute records they've found when the customary sources aren't where they were accustomed to finding them.

It's true that we sometimes need a "store employee" to guide us directly to the new location for information we seek, and in this online era, we have assistants in abundance. Besides the blogs of major genealogy corporations, we have hundreds of volunteer genea-bloggers (and a few professionals who offer their commentary as a public service). We have digitizing services which post hundred-year-old genealogy books online for us to not only consult, but search with the convenience of a mouse click or touch screen. We have the crowdsourcing prowess of experienced peers who can be found at thousands of online forums, mailing lists, and even Facebook groups. Local genealogical societies are pondering ways to get into the act by adding digitized local resources to their own websites, either behind firewalls for members only, or on their main site for public access.

As it turns out, what was immediately inconvenient—whether at the grocery store yesterday or in my family history research last week—eventually gives way to the eye-opening experience of realizing there are other ways to achieve our purposes, whether in purchasing all the right ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast, or in locating records that will lead to the right answers about our ancestors. It's all there—somewhere—just not where we thought we'd find it.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Easing Into the Week

It may sound strange to hear that I consider this upcoming week to be an easy one. ("What?! This week?") You may be thinking of the endless shopping list, the multi-day preparations ahead, the hordes of company about to descend on your altogether-too-small humble abode—or the many miles you will be driving (in the snow, uphill both ways). After the schedule our family has been through in the past few weeks, though, this week will seem like a vacation. And it will be.

You have to remember: I've had a rocky relationship with this holiday called Thanksgiving. Not that I'm ungrateful; on the contrary, my family and I have been overwhelmingly blessed over the years. It's just that, ever since I was a child, Thanksgiving was a lonely holiday for me. In later years, it also marked the time of sad memories of family members lost. Yet, even approaching one Thanksgiving season, there was the surprise of some particularly welcome genealogical news, when a fellow researcher pointed out my relationship to a line reaching back to the landing of the Mayflower.

Putting my Thanksgiving angst in more recent context, this has been a hectic month. Our family owns a small training company and several times in this past year, my husband has been privileged to speak internationally. The only down side is when he is gone for long periods of time to locations which are not exactly politically stable.

Let's just say it was good to pick him up at the airport this past weekend.

For just this small while—this upcoming week leading up to Thanksgiving—it will be nice to set aside all the classes that need to be taught, all the scheduling obligations, all the papers needing to be reviewed, and all those incessant meetings. While we love what we do, it's nice to have a break. Just cooking a turkey and "all the fixin's" will be a welcome reprieve.

As for our visits here at A Family Tapestry, it will be a time to sit back and relax, as well. Those frustrating Rineharts aren't yielding me anything further of interest—it is almost looking like I will have to go wrestle the truth out of that family in person, either in Ohio or Pennsylvania at a later date. Meanwhile, nothing exciting has appeared on the research horizon, as far as other family stories are concerned.

That doesn't mean I'll be doing a disappearing act, though. With the change of responsibilities at our local genealogical society, I've been doing a bit of thinking, and perhaps the fireside-chat mood this holiday week evokes will be the perfect setting to just sit back and start a conversation on the note of those thoughts.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ahead of the Holidays

It's almost time for that dreaded event: Black Friday. Yes, I know, it would be nice to actually celebrate a holiday (Thanksgiving, in case you—like commercial America—hadn't noticed) instead of sweeping it out of the way so a more "profitable" season could be ushered in, but that is how our culture currently works.

Despite the caricature that the gift-giving season has become, I've noticed some backlash. For one thing, the stores themselves are devising ways to encourage people to get their holiday shopping done early—ostensibly so the impact of frenzied shoppers won't hit the front doors all at once next Friday. After all, this American rite of passage can't be easy on the employees, who sometimes even have to leave their own Thanksgiving dinners early to appease the "demand" for early shopping.

The other trend is that shoppers are looking for ways to escape the crush, themselves. This is, after all, an insane way to go about purchasing well-thought-out gifts for cherished family and friends.

At the same time, for a culture in which many have more than they could possibly need—or use—it makes sense to divert the gift-giving urge to items other than commodities. It's been an interesting trend to observe: that of replacing the gift of gadgets with presents providing experiences or non-consumable entities.

Perhaps that is what is behind the groundswell of people gifting each other with subscriptions to services like or "unique" items like the ethnicity reports that come with DNA test results. It's no surprise to see many genealogy-related companies join the clamor with pre-holiday sales; one of my best DNA matches from last year only tested because her husband gave her a DNA test just for fun the previous Christmas—he liked the holiday commercial. She had no tree posted online, but when responding to my email (one of the rare non-tree customers who actually did respond), told me she was willing to work with me on figuring out our impossible mutual ancestry. If it weren't for the lark of giving something "different" for the holiday season, I would have lost that opportunity.

Already, my count of DNA matches has leapt almost double the usual biweekly amount at one company—Family Tree DNA. It couldn't possibly be on account of the holiday sales; that company only announced their flash sale last Sunday night. What went into that forty six person jump to give me 2,531 matches at FTDNA for today's tally? My husband's FTDNA count only went up by twenty five to total 1,613. I'm holding steady with that biweekly rate of eight new matches at AncestryDNA, as is my husband; where I currently have 769 matches, he now has 383. (I won't even go into the issue with my shrinking results at 23andMe, where once again, I lost eleven matches to drop to 1,138 matches; at least my husband only lost two this time.)

No matter how many matches I might have at a DNA company, one thing is sure: after the holiday bulge hits the lab at these respective companies, there will be a lot more matches than we've seen in the past several weeks. Sales certainly make it more interesting to explore those matches, mainly because in the increased number comes a greater possibility of finding a close family member whose tree actually parallels some of my family surnames.

In preparation for that—as well as a result of the research I've been tackling for projects on current branches of interest—I've been expanding the number of descendants' lines I can add to my database. Since I've been focused on my mother-in-law's Pennsylvania Rinehart line and its related Gordons, you'll find it no surprise to learn her tree was the recipient of most of my research attention this time. Right now, I've got 13,395 in her tree, up 186 from two weeks ago.

In comparison, my own mother's line went up a measly thirty eight to total 11,682. And absolutely nothing happened over on my father's line and my father-in-law's line. The problem with that is: if I'm hoping to find a link to help resolve those lines where I'm stalled, I'm going to need a more robust tree to start with.

In a way, right now, we are getting ready to "harvest" the holidays. Eventually, those anticipated DNA test sales will materialize as matches for all of us. The trouble is, unless we're prepared with records and tools to determine how those mystery test-takers match us, all we're left with are guesses. And I've spent a few years struggling with DNA guesses. From experience, I can tell you there's nothing more frustrating in genealogy than getting close enough to a breakthrough answer, knowing you have a DNA match but not being able to figure out why that person matches. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Partnering to Augment Our Reach

In the midst of the rainy weather that blew through my stretch of the west coast last Thursday, our genealogical society happened to have the privilege of hosting probably the most important speaker ever to appear in our local lineup: Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for

Of course, we bemoaned our fate of having our biggest day turn into our soggiest day, to date, of this season. Everything we had planned so meticulously to insure we were ready for the crowd that was sure to materialize for this learning opportunity seemed futile. There's no competing with yukky weather.

Things did not bode well for us from the minute, in mid-morning, that my power went out. A weather-related outage, it was an unscheduled annoyance which wouldn't be resolved, according to the utilities company, until after I had to leave my home to set up for the evening's meeting.

On the other side of the equation, our fearless speaker, traveling to us from her last engagement hundreds of miles away, had to scramble when her flight was diverted to another airport on account of the weather—and then landed later than anticipated. Hello, Bay area rush hour traffic. This was not in the itinerary.

Still, everything worked out, and we can now safely declare the event a success. In retrospect, I'm realizing this was an occasion which could not possibly have happened without one element—and facing the uncooperative weather has reminded me of the true support which bolstered our efforts. That key element was partnership.

Here's the thing: we are a small society—less than one hundred members. We may be situated in a city of three hundred thousand, but we have a lot of growing to do. More to the point, the facility which hosts our membership meetings provides a room which holds about thirty five people. A room that size would never do for a guest speaker of that magnitude. Nor would the facility's less than adequate technological capabilities; there is no way the wifi in that building would be up to handling a live demonstration of the Ancestry website.

What to do? The answer to that question—and likely to many challenges genealogical societies will face in upcoming years—is to seek innovative answers through partnerships. I'm not talking about formal, long-term arrangements, but simply the teamwork to put together an event that meets the needs of multiple organizations.

In our case, the answer to our quandary came quickly. We are a city which celebrates its ethnic diversity, and one such group had approached our society almost a year ago, asking us to help teach their members how to preserve their ethnic heritage through the skills inherent in family history research. Now that their native-language-speaking ancestors were all but gone, this association wanted to pass their heritage down to subsequent generations before it was forgotten entirely.

Once we had shared that educational opportunity with this other organization, we got to know them better—well enough to feel comfortable asking them if they were interested in partnering with us in other educational outreaches. Can anything make more sense than blending groups which seek to preserve their heritage with genealogical societies mandated to preserve local family history?

It was thanks to this ongoing partnership that we were, months later, able to bring in a well-known speaker and host her presentation in a top-notch facility (a lecture hall at a university in our city).

Every group is different, of course, and the potential for partnership must be viewed on a case by case basis. But it is as clear to me as the next day's sparkling sunshine against the raging storm of our event's evening that the only way our event could have been a success was if we were able to pool our resources and talents with another group sharing mutual goals.

Friday, November 17, 2017

If You Can't Find One Family,
Look for Another

Granted, I'm chasing myself in circles, trying to piece together the story of Sarah Rinehart Gordon, my mother-in-law's second great grandmother. Sarah's father, Simon, supposedly came from Greene County, Pennsylvania, but Sarah herself was born in Kentucky—and we found the tax records to confirm her father Simon (or at least someone with that exact name) was in Bracken County there. By the time I found Sarah in Perry County, Ohio, the home of my mother-in-law's family, she was married with several children.

So how did that Kentucky girl find a Greene County Gordon to marry? And what brought them all to Perry County, Ohio?

All of Sarah's first seven children were born in Pennsylvania—Greene County, specifically, was listed as the birthplace for some of them. Only with daughter Sarah, born in 1832, did the rest of Sarah's children report their birth as happening in Ohio.

It's obvious that, despite a birth in Kentucky, Sarah and her parents returned to Greene County. That was, after all, where she met her future husband, James Gordon.

In fact, Gordons were there aplenty to chase in that county in Pennsylvania, and the same book in which we searched in vain to discover Simon Rinehart's place in the Rinehart lineage in Greene County just happens to have plenty of Gordons to talk about, too. At the bottom of page 436 of Howard Leckey's The Tenmile Country and its Pioneers, we can easily spot James Gordon, firstborn son of William Gordon and Mary Carroll. As for James' marriage, the book simply reports that he "married Sarah Rinehart."

It would have been a nice gesture, in the midst of all that genealogical detail, if he had chosen to extrapolate on that entry just a little bit more. After all, in a county full of Rineharts—not to mention, full of women named Sarah Rinehart—one would think it would help to differentiate between two people claiming the same name in the same place.

Perhaps that's what makes this chase called genealogy so challenging—and yet so compelling. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Scoring a Triple D

If I can't find any further documentation about the Simon Rinehart I'm seeking—no, not the one ambushed by Native Americans back in Greene County, Pennsylvania, but the one who moved from there to Perry County, Ohio—I'll try a different approach. I'll look for any records which can verify that at least two of his children had his name and his wife's name mentioned in their own death records.

Of course, I'm still trying to make this second approach work. Despite finding Simon's daughter's death record, it contained a name for her mother which did not agree with a published report of that daughter's brother's parental names. And then, I couldn't even find the actual death record for that same brother, leaving me to wonder about editorial inaccuracies in published works.

Thankfully, though, Simon had more than two children. In his later years—like, those years when the census enumeration actually included the names of all family members, not just the head of household—Simon's census record included the name of three younger Rinehart women: Hannah, Lucinda, and Charlotte.

The difficulty was that these three thirty-something spinsters had some marks against them. For one thing, in the 1850 census, the blot on Charlotte's name was that she was listed as "idiotic." Likewise, that same label persisted in the 1860 census. While I can't yet locate the three sisters in the 1870 census, the one sister I can find in the 1880 census, Lucinda, was labeled as "insane."

Realizing that family members of an ancestor were seen in a less than sterling way can be a deflating discovery. Of course, the wide variety of diagnoses that could have been lumped into such labels in that time period don't necessarily constitute our understanding of those labels today. In addition, options left open to family members for dealing with such health issues in that century were drastically limited and often not adequate to address the individual's treatment needs.

A timely blog post by professional genealogist Amy Johnson Crow, "Do You Have a Defective Ancestor?" addresses such issues from both a historical and genealogical perspective. One suggestion was to look for the special census schedule that expanded upon that category focused on health issues. That schedule was known as the "Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes"—handily shrunken down to the abbreviation, the DDD Schedule.

Though poor Charlotte, the "idiotic" daughter of Simon and Ann Rinehart, was nowhere to be found by the time of the 1880 census, her sister Lucinda was listed that year, so I thought I'd check out her entry in the DDD Schedule.

Unfortunately, as I found out, not all states provided the federal government with their records from the extra schedules taken along with the regular enumeration. Still, I gave it a try since includes a copy of the 1880 DDD Schedule in their holdings. Yet, in browsing the collection's holdings, after selecting the state of Ohio, the listing of available counties that popped up did not include Perry County.

It would have been interesting to see what additional information could have been found for Lucinda in the DDD Schedule, but I have to remember my original reason for pursuing additional documentation: I wanted to find a record of her parents' names. Of course, I'd also like to find an entry for either Hannah or Charlotte, as well—though finding the right Hannah will be a challenge, since that was one of the favorite names in the extended Rinehart family.

Even if Lucinda was the last of the remaining Rinehart siblings, it was difficult to locate a death record for her. My first clue was an entry at Find A Grave—without the customary headstone photograph—but for dates it included only years and one of them seemed wrong. However, the entry also indicated the burial was in Perry County, in a section of the cemetery reserved for charity or "infirmary lots." The dates given were a birth in 1820 and a death in 1900.

Remembering the death records in the holdings at FamilySearch, I went back there to see if I could find an entry for Lucinda Rinehart. Under the spelling for Lucinda "Rhinhart," the entry contained the same year of birth (1820) but a full date of death: June 2, 1900. Her place of death was given simply as "infirmary." No marital status was indicated, so I didn't even have that hint to help determine if I had the right Lucinda Rinehart. And her place of birth was listed as "U.S.A." Clearly, there was no close relative available to provide the details of this abandoned woman's connections to family life.

Appreciative, at least, for the exactness of the full date of death, I followed the line for Lucinda's entry to the point on the second page where her parents' names would be listed. Sadly—and I had noticed that trend when I was searching for her brother Jesse's entry in the 1880s—it had been a habit in that county to omit collection of this information, despite a heading on the form clearly provided for that purpose.

So, was this the right Lucinda? Or not? Once again, history's record-keepers have cheated me out of an answer to my family history questions. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

About Those Old Genealogies

What is it about things that are claimed to be "old" and therefore more valuable than the same item from our own time period? Perhaps that makes sense to value an antique piece of furniture or artwork from a prior period of history. But family trees? Though some people get excited to find an old genealogy about their family, I've learned it is quite possible for diligent genealogists of prior centuries to make just as many mistakes as those of our current century.

The only difference, in finding an "old" genealogy of a family I'm researching, is that I can check out what my fellow researchers of a hundred years ago might have heard about their roots. But those grandmothers of the early eighteen hundreds, say, who passed along the family lore to their younger generations certainly didn't have the opportunity to check out those family legends against the proof in the digitized documents we can so easily call up today.

Your eyes may have lit up when you saw me mention discovering an old history book about the families living in western Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. After all, the Rinehart family which still keeps me in the dark about their origins were once from Greene County, Pennsylvania. And other researchers have also felt sure that my Perry County, Ohio, Rineharts were indeed once residents of Greene County.

Taking a look at the entry about the Rinehart family in this book—The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families—does show us one useful detail, at least. Looking over the Rinehart genealogy detailed in those pages, beginning at page 322, gives us a clue that that family liked to re-use the same names, generation after generation. They nearly wore out the use of names like Simon and Jesse. Cassa, Sarah, and Hannah were winners in the name-after contest, too.

The difficulty was how hard it made it to sort out which Rinehart family might be the correct line for this Simon Rinehart I've been seeking. Yet, if I kept my bearings by insuring that other details about our man were also represented, it would still be possible to not be led astray by all those same names in the Rinehart extended family.

The trouble with all those Simons, however, was not in how many of them there were, but in how nobody among the whole of them shared the same details our man would have to have. For instance, there is no Simon listed with a wife named Ann. Furthermore, if this Simon was father of our Sarah Rinehart Gordon, he would have to be a man born at least twenty years before Sarah's arrival in the late 1790s. As far as I can tell, no Simon mentioned in The Tenmile Country contained the full complement of those requirements.

What complicates matters is that this same Greene County is the one in which I found several of our family's Gordon relatives, too. It is obvious the Gordons from Greene and the Rineharts from Greene lived close enough to each other to know each other well. In addition, despite the distance between the two counties—Greene, where the families once lived, and Perry County, Ohio, where some of the Gordons and Rineharts eventually settled—I am able to find a cluster of those same families in Perry who once were neighbors back in Greene.

There are so many names, it almost makes me want to sketch out this Rinehart family line, as detailed in The Tenmile Country. Better yet, to enter it all into a test tree database in my account. I've got to come up with a way to examine the narrative for gaps. After all, Bruce Anderson found some missing segments, as I mentioned yesterday. There may be more.

The most glaring false start is the Simon Rinehart reported in Tenmile who lost his life during an ambush out on his frontier property. Obviously, he couldn't be the one who ended up in Perry County. None of the other Simons mentioned in the book would match the age and dates, though. Could there be other branches of this family who were not included in the genealogy in this book? Or does our Simon Rinehart coincidentally come from the same county, but not the same Rinehart family at all?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Never Try to Reinvent the Wheel

The beauty of those old online genealogical forums was that they became a gathering place for like minded researchers to puzzle over the same challenges. There, we could hash things out together and find out who had already tried an approach without gaining any answers. Eliminating those failed attempts before repeating them, we could collectively spend our time focusing on solving the problem through newer—or at least untried—approaches.

The best of those ideas lay, harvested, in my old file folder for Rinehart. After having that resource tucked away for nearly twenty years, it was time to stop spinning my wheels and review how others had already attempted to solve the problem—and failed—and avoid those paths, while checking out the ideas rendered on possible better approaches.

Although the collection of ideas I had stashed in that folder presented a mishmash of several researchers' notes, the review was worth it. Among other things, one man pointed out what he felt were some glaring errors about our Rineharts in those published histories of the late 1880s.

In a 1981 paper which the author, an Ohio man named Bruce Anderson, entitled "The Rineharts of Perry County, Ohio," the comparison was made between what was known about those Perry County Rineharts and the Rineharts back in Greene County, Pennsylvania. The author prefaced his observation with this explanation,
I was tracing my family tree and had come to a dead end on Thomas Rinehart. I noticed that there were only four Rineharts in Perry County in 1840 and none in 1830.

The conclusion the author came to was that those hard-to-find Perry County Rineharts were back in Greene County in 1830. Granted, the material Bruce Anderson was able to access at that time probably didn't afford him as many varied resources as the documents we can now find online, so he didn't provide a completely satisfying argument. But he did reintroduce one resource I had forgotten about: Howard L. Leckey's The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families.

While it is true that Anderson compared several details similar in the families of both locations—Ohio and Pennsylvania—he still didn't point out exactly where he would have placed Simon on the Pennsylvania Rinehart pedigree. However, what notes he did provide helped me get inside another researcher's head and explore his insights into our common research problem.

In some ways, I do miss the camaraderie and exchange of ideas between researchers during that earlier phase of online research. Those emails we exchanged allowed us to bounce research ideas off each other. While I may not have any research partners for this current Rinehart quandary, just having that thick file folder in which I saved all those twenty year old comments may help me figure out how to resolve my research question on how my Ohio Rinehart family connected with the ones in Greene County, Pennsylvania. At least it will keep me from being tempted to try reinventing the research wheel on this problem. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

In puzzling over possible misreporting of a mother's maiden name on an ancestor's death record, there is always the option of cross-checking by looking up the answer on a sibling's certificate. Thus, I thought it would be an easy matter of finding Sarah Rinehart Gordon's brother Jesse listed in the not-yet-indexed Perry County, Ohio, records. After all, I already had the date of death for Jesse—March 1, 1880—and even the township in which he lived, thanks to a report in the 1883 publication, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio.

Looking up the death entry in the microfilmed collection, "Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001" would be a snap. Yes, the collection has not yet been indexed, but it is logically laid out. First, I clicked on the county and the volume I wished to peruse. Then, since it was arranged in date order, I made an educated guess and plunged in.

I noticed the pages were set approximately by date, and—thankfully—also in alphabetical order, separated by townships. I went to the section for 1880 deaths, found the entries for Pike Township, where the Jesse Rinehart property was situated, and let my eyes scan the entries for "R" along the left hand column.


I went back and noticed a few further details. For one thing, I discovered that most of the entries were in alphabetical order. Not all. To complicate matters, occasionally the clerk would get mixed up and, instead of using the last name, first name format, would reverse the order, so I had to go back and search for any misplaced entries in the J section.

Still no Jesse Rinehart.

Next, I noticed that the date entered in the far left column of some pages was not the date of death, itself, but just the date in which the Assessor of the township had made his entry. And each set of entries could span nearly six months or more of deaths for that locality. In fact, there were several pages I discovered in which the range of dates spanned two years—say, 1880 and 1881. I went back and checked an even farther date range, just in case.

After still no sign of my Rinehart man, I began to wonder whether the history book had made a misprint of Jesse's date of death. Perhaps he didn't die in 1880, but maybe in 1881. Or, what if that "fact" was gleaned, mistakenly, from that left column, which was really the date of the assessor's entry, not the date of the event itself? I extended my search backwards in time, too, in case it was merely the entry that occurred in March, 1880.

This Jesse Rinehart was not cooperating.

"Forget this," I told myself. "Go look up his will."

If you think that provided me any relief from my frustration, think again. Nothing is ever easy.

Perhaps our Jesse died, not only in a different township—and believe me, I checked the whole of Perry County—but in a different county altogether. And I'm not game for a search of Licking and Muskingum and Fairfield and Athens and Morgan counties. There's got to be another way.

It's just that I haven't exactly come up with it yet. But I will. Meanwhile, back to the drawing board. There are a good number of other notes in my twenty-year-old Rinehart file still to review. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Getting Back to the Paper Trail

If I couldn't figure out what family stories—even published ones—might have been thinking of when talking about those once-upon-a-time "three brothers" (or four), my best bet was not to try and crash the genealogy party, but insure that dull and dreary due diligence in locating some solid governmental records. So, in seeking what I could find about my puzzling Simon Rinehart of Pennsylvania—no, Kentucky, no, maybe back in Pennsylvania, no, now it's Ohio—was to see what else was stored in the records in Perry County, Ohio, the place of his death.

What I did know for sure—at least if I even had the right Simon Rinehart—was that, upon his death sometime in either 1852 or 1853, he appointed his son as executor of his will. That son's name, we've learned, is specifically Jesse Rinehart. (Thankfully, he rated much more of a mention than merely "my beloved son"—although the insertion of the words "my son" almost appeared to be an afterthought by his aging father.)

So what can be found about this Jesse Rinehart of Perry County, Ohio? Quite a bit from census records, thankfully, but there was another source I had forgotten to consult. There it was in my file folder from the 1990s, though, finally uncovered from its file-cabinet exile after all these years.

That source was one of those county history books which had been so prevalent in the late 1800s. We had already looked up the Rinehart family in the history book for Greene County, Pennsylvania, the place from which the family had emigrated earlier in that century. I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me to consult the same sort of resource for any mention of the family in the county where they eventually settled.

There it was, though, in the biographical sketches included in History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, the 1883 publication compiled by A. A. Graham: an entry regarding Jesse Rinehart. In that report—if the information provided there was correct—that Jesse was born November 26, 1806, in Greene County, Pennsylvania. We also receive confirmation that his father was, indeed, Simon Rinehart, although his mother's maiden name was listed as Ann Wise, a variation on the name Wiley we had seen in Jesse's sister Sarah's death certificate.

Of course, discrepancies like that tamper with my sense of security that I've finally accessed the confirming documentation I crave. Do I believe an Ohio governmental death record? Or prefer the biographical sketch memorializing a man who had passed away barely three years before a book's publication? I'd say the next step would be to locate Jesse's own death record first, then pursue any other records I can find on Jesse and his sister Sarah Rinehart Gordon, and records of any other siblings I can locate in the meantime.

Above: Excerpt from biographical sketch of Jesse Rinehart, found on page 523 of the Perry County surnames within the 1883 book, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, compiled by A. A. Graham and published by W. H. Beers and Company of Chicago.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

About Those Brothers

There is a reason I hesitate when I run across family "histories" which include reference to the proverbial three brothers who were immigrants to this country. In some cases, that very scenario could not be corroborated with documentation at all, though in other cases, there wasn't any way the details could be proven. Usually, this involved a narrative in which one or two of the brothers either disappeared, or had some grave misfortune befall them at the beginning of the story.

In the case of the enigmatic Simon Rinehart, that migrating farmer who showed up in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio in the early 1800s, his might well have been part of the family history I mentioned yesterday about three brothers. But when I look back at my notes and pull up another story from a different source, starting out vaguely the same, I start to see caution signs flash before my eyes.

A four page collection of notes sent in 1999 to a Rinehart researcher with whom I had been collaborating bore the heading, "Reinhart Genealogy; the John Reinhart/Rinehart Line." The originator of the note explained,
From a handtyped document, stamped "from the collection of Rev. Fred Cochran," a copy of which was obtained from Cornerstone Genealogical Library, Waynesburg PA on July 9, 1996.
All well and good to this point. But not for long. The next section began with the sentence of which I have an objection:
It has been legend that four brothers left their home in the farming region of the Rhine River Valley in Germany because of wars there.

Four brothers? What happened to three?

I know, I know: when it comes to family "legends," details can be strewn all over the place. Perhaps I shouldn't be so insistent on getting things right. But there might just be another dynamic to consider in this situation.

Yesterday, on my way to Houston to attend Family Tree DNA's conference for their volunteer group project managers, I did my customary travel routine: wait for my flight to take off, then pull out a book to make the time fly.

For yesterday's book, I pulled out a volume I've been trying to finish for the last two months: The Invisible Gorilla. (I can hear you snickering about my yet again not finishing a book I said I was going to read, but hey, I got a bit overzealous with my Fall Cleanup Project and didn't get around to finishing the book.)

In the second chapter—after authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons finish their explanation on what gorillas have to do with anything in modern American life—they discussed something they call "the illusion of memory." They gave several examples of the phenomenon—from two eyewitnesses of the same crime having wildly divergent recollections of the facts only fifteen minutes after seeing it take place, to several people in the same office remembering, quite differently, what happened when they all, together, first heard the news about the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

That, it turns out, is not only the case for what cognitive psychologists refer to as "flashbulb memories" of high-stress situations, but also for the more mundane experiences we endure on a daily basis.

By the end of the chapter, the reader comes away with a sense of marvel that any two companions sharing the same experience could remember it the same.

And then we genealogists blithely try to replicate the lives of people who lived one hundred years ago or more. What repercussions of the "illusion of memory" might there be when the recollections are distorted over the iterations of several generations?

Friday, November 10, 2017

There Were Three Brothers . . .

You may have thought I was kidding when I mentioned the reason why I'm struggling to specifically identify this Simon Rinehart of Perry County, Ohio, as father of Sarah Rinehart Gordon, my mother-in-law's second great grandmother. As you will see, I'm not.

It is only conjecture at this point, of course, that the Simon Rinehart who died in Perry County was one and the same as the Simon Rinehart who paid taxes in Bracken County, Kentucky, and who might have hailed from Greene County, Pennsylvania. At least, the part about his origin in Greene County may have some validity, if only because Simon's daughter had to meet up with her future husband at some point. Sarah's beau, as it turns out, was part of the extensive Gordon family from Greene County.

Along with the Gordons, the Rineharts also maintained a presence in that same county, thus adding yet another reason for why I need to get my Simons right. There were, over time, several Simon Rineharts in the vicinity—along with several Rineharts named Thomas and John. There may have been good reason for this duplication of names: with three supposed progenitors bearing those same given names, not to mention the propensity to name children of the next generation after their revered ancestors, there were eventually a lot of Simon, Thomas and John Rineharts living in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

The explanation may have been captured in Samuel P. Bates' 1888 History of Greene County, Pennsylvania. In a chapter on the history of that county's Franklin Township, stuck right in the midst of the narrative, the author inserts a quote of four paragraph's length. There was no explanation for the source of the quote, though it was clearly set apart from the rest of the chapter by the encapsulating quote marks.

Still, the proverbial phrasing at the start of the entry makes me wonder not only about its source, but its veracity. There is something about those "three brothers" legends that prompts me to hold them suspect.

At any rate, the tale provides an explanation for the ensuing multitudes of Simons, Thomases and Johns in the Rinehart pedigree. See for yourself whether this entry is once-upon-a-time worthy:
Three brothers, Simon, Thomas and John Rinehart, Germans, fresh from the Rhine Valley of Faderland, occupied the Coal Lick Run region, and held it by priority of right.
As it turned out, both John and Simon were subsequently killed in clashes with the native population in the sparsely-populated (and disputed) borderlands of early Pennsylvania. Though the narrative provides no time frame, it does reveal a glimpse of how many subsequent generations bore those names of John and Simon Rinehart in honor of those young parents who had lost their lives.

My task now is to set aside any legend-building and see if I can reconstruct the family line to explain what place, if any, our Simon may have held in the bigger picture.

Above: Excerpt from the 1880 book, History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, providing an account of three Rinehart brothers who may—or may not—have been part of an earlier generation of the Rinehart family which included the Simon Rinehart who died in Perry County, Ohio. Image courtesy Internet Archive.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

About That Son Jesse

Perhaps I sounded a bit too petulant when I groused about the 1852 will of Simon Rinehart, the man I hope was the third great grandfather of my mother-in-law. I certainly am grateful for all the kindly-offered help. Still, it's not that I don't know the name of Simon's wife; I've already found that in both a census record for Simon and his beloved, and in the death record for his supposed daughter, Sarah Rinehart Gordon.

The reason I wanted that beloved wife named in the will was that I believe in collecting evidence. And not just a little bit of evidence; I want a lot of proof. Especially when it comes to high-stress scenarios like reporting hard-to-remember details like mother's maiden name on the heels of a loved one's death. So, you see, I really wanted that will to gush on a wee bit more and say, "my beloved wife, Ann."

But let's set aside the issue of Ann and the will for a moment, and shift our attention to one other detail in that same document: the mention of an executor with not only the same surname as Simon's, but a descriptor, thankfully revealing the man's relationship to Simon. The will mentions the man as "my son, Jesse."

The reason I was particularly gratified to see that name mentioned in Simon's will was that I had, last week, noticed a strange entry just above Simon's in the 1840 census enumeration. The surname was the same as Simon's—Rinehart—but I couldn't quite make out what the first name was. At first, looking at it with twenty-first century eyes, I thought it looked like "Lebec," but what proud American father would name his child something like that?

Though the image wasn't very clear, I had to approach it with a nineteenth-century mindset. Remembering that, back in yet an earlier century than that, when writing the letter "s" twice, the first letter—at least to our modern thinking—would be rendered by a letter that looks like an "f." Checking that 1840 census image, I noticed there was a faint line descending from what I had originally thought was a "b." If that were the case, then the name, other than that first sloppy letter, could possibly be spelled e-s-s-e-c.

To guess at what that first letter might have been, I had to survey the rest of the page. Though there wasn't anything that looked exactly like that capital letter at the beginning of the mystery Rinehart's name, I thought the "J" in Jacob Ashbaugh's entry looked vaguely the same. At least the descending portion of the "J" didn't reach below the line. Checking another James and then a Joshua still further above on that page, it was obvious that this enumerator didn't have a standardized style of handwriting for rendering that letter "J."

If that then left me with a spelling that began J-e-s-s-e, it would make sense to conclude that this enumerator—whose handwriting already appeared to be facing some challenges—may have struggled with a blob in his ink delivery system, and that last "c" might actually have been a second "e."

At any rate, the name in the 1840 census appearing just above Simon Rinehart's would likely be that of the son he named, thirteen years later, as the executor to his will. Notice, too, how the name just above Jesse's turned out to be exactly the same as that of one of the Rinehart will's witnesses, Matthew Brown.

Though the 1840 census didn't specify which township in Perry County contained the two Rinehart households, both Simon and Jesse appeared in the 1850 census in Pike township, though not on contiguous properties. And, after both Simon and his wife Ann were gone, in the 1860 census, Jesse's household was enumerated right before the household which names the three Rinehart women who had appeared in the continuation page under Simon's household, back in 1850.

While it's gratifying to locate material actually linking these members of the Rinehart family, I'm still missing one more detail: any record or records which can demonstrate that this Simon Rinehart and his son, Jesse, are related to the focus of my search, my mother-in-law's second great grandmother, Sarah Rinehart Gordon. Because there wasn't any mention given in Simon's will of other children, we'll trace what we can find about this one identified son, Jesse, and see if later records provide any clues.

Above: As it turns out, the original copy of Simon Rinehart's will included that exact style of handwriting, in regard to the double "s" for Jesse's name, showing that at least in Perry County, Ohio, that style was still in current use at the time in which Simon drew up his will in 1853. Image courtesy, from "Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996," images, FamilySearch ( : 1 July 2014), Perry, Probate case files 1820-1885 no 1-299, image 1907 of 3089; county courthouses, Ohio.
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