Monday, April 30, 2018

Yes, We Have a Keeper

I'm not sure why I was surprised to find a postcard inscribed in French at that northern California antique shop where I rescue abandoned family photographs. After all, people from around the world flocked to Gold Country after the California gold rush made international newsand quite a few of them settled there afterwards. Still, it somehow seemed a novelty to me, so I bought the picture postcard, intending to find a way to send it home to family, one hundred years later.

Now that I'm actually trying to figure out just who that family might be, I'm getting concerned that I won't be able to make it to mission accomplished. After all that self-talk last Fridaya pep talk designed to convince me to keep going on this projectI realized the first step needed to be to take that handwritten surname out for a test drive on the genealogical websites at my disposal.

My first step was to put "Hallee" through its paces at Thankfully, it did turn out that there is such a name in Quebec, Canada, the geographic area I'm guessing was home for the family at that time. Correct that: the name was likely written as "Halleé," possibly explaining that slight dot (or dash) above the double "e" in the postcard, which had at first made me think the handwriting was signifying "Hallie" rather than "Hallee."

With that good news confirming that I am on the right track to assume the word Hallee affixed to the bottom of the postcard was the surname for the children posing for their photograph, I then proceeded to test the waters further. Next question: could there be a Lucien Hallee? How about a P. Emile Hallee?

There were, indeed, such hits to my searches. In fact, I found more than one instance of each name. The problem was: I couldn't find any one family in Quebec province that included both children's names. I could find a Hallee family with a Lucien. Or an Emile.

Worse, once I took a good look at the actual document, I discovered one census record transcribed as Hallee was likely for a Vallee family. Another disappointment was that I found a Lucien Hallee in Find A Grave memorialsborn in May, 1915, the poor baby was gone in just one brief year.

I did find a Paul Emile Hallee in the Find A Grave memorials, but his date of birth was slightly beyond what we had determined would be a latest possible date of birththis one was born in 1920.

I even found a family tree on which included both a Paul Emile and a Lucien Halleebut Lucien was uncle to Paul Emile. That would never do, of course, because the postcard had signified that Lucien was the younger of the two children, certainly not the case here.

Of course, I can take my search to, as well as to FindMyPast and MyHeritage, since I hold a subscription to each of these sites. And I have other thoughts about getting creative in this unusual search.

In the meantime, though, something else came up over the weekend, which requires us to shift our attention to some unfinished business from previous photograph rescue missions for tomorrow's post.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Genealogical "Tragedy of the Commons"

Who would have thought that the quiet pursuit of family history undertaken by such retiring wallflowers as we genealogists are would one day become the buzz vibrating off the front page of newspapers across the countryno, make that around the world. I had already accessed at least a dozen reports as the news broke about the arrest of the murderer known in the 1970s and 1980s as the Golden State Killer—from news sources as notable as The New York Times and the Washington Post, and more local publications like those in Sacramento and San Jose, here in California. The courthouse where the drama came to a head is itself less than an hour's drive from my home.

Techniques which I have put to use for what I considered to be of private, personal interest are suddenly the talk of every news reporter, it seems. The procedures of genealogical research, and in particular the pursuit of genetic genealogy, are not concepts I'd expect the average person to want to read up on in the local newspaper.

But suddenly, this has become our new reality.

People had begun realizing that law enforcement had discovered what a trove of information could be obtained through genealogical websiteswitness Debbie Kennett's warnings on Twitter after the Buckskin Girl's identity was uncoveredand now, it seems genealogy is not just for genealogists.

There's a lot to digest in what's been happening in the past half month. On one hand, more people are now interested in just what can be accomplished through genealogical research. Many of those people are curious for the simpleand commonly shareddesire to know more about their roots. Those are the people who thrive on shows like the upcoming return of the series Who Do You Think You Are?

But there are others. And those others aren't here rubbing elbows with us researchers because they want to figure out what grandma's maiden name really was. Some of them may have come to our table because they had altruistic intentions: finally discovering the identity of the family of a deceased John Doe to bring closure to the wearying wondering about whatever happened to a missing relative. Others feel their actions will be perceived by the general public as heroic: apprehending a viciousand elusivecriminal and bringing him to justice.

When we realize that all problemsjust like the people we study in our pedigreesweave a well-connected web, we can see that the solution hailed by some can precipitate unintended consequences shunned by others as detrimental. The intricate connections require a delicate balance to meet needs without shattering rights.

Yet, if we don't take action to preserve this delicate balanceseeking solutions without detracting from necessary counterbalanceswe run the problem of destroying the very tools we've created for our benefit.

In a way, the drama unfolding this past week with the hoped-for arraignment of a long-sought violent criminal may be just the trigger to instigate a downward spiral and perpetrate genealogy's own Tragedy of the Commons. Genealogists realize that, to advance their own individual research goals, it is best to pool their resources. This we have done, for instance, through supporting organizations which digitize the huge volumes of documentation we require for our research. We have also achieved the same utility through our ability to compare genetic data with each other. This, we do in search of unknown relatives who might hold the key to answering the genealogical questions which stump us. But when others slip in unawares to use that same community of support for different reasons, they detract from the common pool of resources set up for sharing by a community with a mutual goal.

The chill factor of realizing how the techniques we use have suddenly turned against our communityin that sharing is no longer seen as favorably as an option in mutually-beneficial research protocolsis not unlike that old tale of the Tragedy of the Commons. Our shared resourcein this case, GEDmatch.comhas now been freely used by individuals for their own, non-genealogical, purposes simply because they could be used that way.

Whether we see an exodus from the service on account of this week's news developments or not, we will surely see an impact. My hope is that the leaders in our own field will be insightful enough to implement mitigating solutions to prevent our shared genetic genealogy systems from deteriorating to the point that led to the tragedy of that original tale.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Chill Factor of a Hot Case

When the news broke on Thursday that a suspect in one of our state's most puzzling cold cases had been apprehended, we found ourselves reading, in the nation's newspapers, terms quite familiar to genealogists. One would hardly have expected news outlets to bandy about phrases like "genetic triangulation," but with Thursday's BuzzFeedNews article on the arrest of suspected Golden State Killer, such specialized terms became mainstreamed.

Arrested this week for crimes committed back in an era when investigators called in their reports from pay phones and wrote them up on a typewriter, the suspect in question had eluded authorities for decades. Had it not been for technological advances developed in the past decade, the man quite likely could have brought his secret with him to the grave.

The game changer was DNA testing. Apparently, investigators associated with a multi-county task force took DNA samples collected from several linked crime sites and uploaded the raw data to a website commonly used by genetic genealogy enthusiasts. From that point, they pinpointed matching relatives, built out family trees, and examined the resultant family members for possible suspects.

Just like we do, when seeking that elusive "brick wall" ancestor. Only this time, the researchers were seeking a rapist and murderer known for vicious attacks across the state of California in the 1970s and 1980s.

There are some problems with this scenario. Early news reports made mention of genealogical websitessignifying use of more than oneas being used in their investigation. Yet, 23andMe, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA were quick to announce that they had not been approached formally by law enforcement agencies. Eventually, the news came out that one of the websites that were used was, at which time their management posted a statement to that effect on their site.

Even if that was the case, there are still some unanswered questions about the protocol. Those of us who routinely use the DNA testing sites, as well as, are quite familiar with how the process works while, admittedly, a journalist might not be as knowledgeable. But one by one, the questions did start trickling through on reports. As a 23andMe representative mentioned in a report by the San Jose, California, Mercury News, "Detectives could not have simply taken the East Area Rapist DNA profile they had from crime scenes...signed up for a service and entered that profile."

In an excellent analysis of the situation, Leah Larkin observed in her blog post at The DNA Geek that it would have been necessary for investigators to "create a mock genealogy DNA test that could be uploaded." Indeed, since commercial companies like and 23andMe extract genetic profiles from samples sent directly to them by their customers, rather than permitting transfers of raw data to their databases, it would "not be easy for law enforcement to upload a profile to one of those sites," as The New York Times observed. (The only glitch in that assertion, of course, is 23andMe's ironic DNA Day reversal of this policy to allow limited raw data uploads.)

That, of course, would not preclude use of the websites at Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage, which both allow uploads of raw data. Each of these companies, however, has publicly announced that they were not formally approached by law enforcement for such a use.

Essentially, beyond all of the major DNA testing companies providing cousin matches, that leaves GEDmatch. A free, publicly-accessible database, GEDmatch allows uploading of raw DNA data and the subsequent capability of viewing genetic matches from willing others who are also participating in the service.

There were some observations about this use. Besides the question of just how the law enforcement personnel were able to generate the raw data in a format acceptable by GEDmatch (generally, occasional post-update incompatibility with other companies' chips has caused uploading problems for some customers of the main DNA companies), investigators would have had to create a fake user name and profile to gain entrance at GEDmatch. While this is not uncommon—many users try to provide anonymity for the DNA accounts they administer for relativesthe investigators would also have had to check a box on GEDmatch's website certifying that the DNA data they were uploading was either their own or that they had obtained authorization from the person from whom the DNA was obtained. How could they have obtained "authorization" from a person they didn't even know yet?

However it was done, the basic process apparently used by investigators was to upload DNA data to the GEDmatch service, look for family matches, build out a solid family tree for those matches, examine the likelihood of any family members' connection to the crimes (by such parameters as age and geographic proximity), and then zero in on the likeliest suspect.

Once that suspect was identified by DNA data and family tree, there was one more step: find the person in real life, now. Investigators located that one man, set up surveillance, and watched for an opportunity to snag some DNA from him. Within days, they had located an unnamed item the suspect had used and discarded in public. They checked that item for a viable DNA sample and compared the results with DNA gathered from those old crime scenes.

They had a match, initiating the arrest.

The entire scenario has generated an uproar, not only among genealogists but among ethicists and civil liberties proponents. On Friday, a New York Times reporter asked permission to query members of the "Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques" Facebook group about their current concerns regarding participation in the GEDmatch website, which generated a lively discussion and resulted in an article published online that same evening.

While some GEDmatch users were quite pleased to learn that techniques they use every day were applied to solving a notorious cold case, many others voiced concerns about the potential for misuse of what has been clearly designated as a set of tools for genealogists, not criminologists. Perhaps instigated by the general angst of our era, an overall sense of mistrust of intrusion by governmental agencies seeped through many of the comments on that discussion thread at Facebook.

One issue in particular seemed the obvious next question: now that we've seen how law enforcement officials can use such databases, what chill factor will reverberate through the future of genetic genealogy? It's hard to say in the heat of the moment, but over the long term, it will likely make its impact known in the aggregate through the individual choices of those who don't care to have their privately-submitted data co-opted by those who are not part of the intended users of this community.         

Friday, April 27, 2018

First, the Obvious

Finding the origin of this latest of the abandoned family photographs will be a challenge. Can you tell I'm having trouble latching on to a solid clue? When in doubt, I find it helpful to talk things out. So today will be my self-talk on the obvious details about the picture of P. Emile and Lucien.

To start with, we've already determined the Azo postcard which featured this picture of the two darling children had to have been printed between the years of 1904 and 1918. We also learned that, at whatever time the photo was taken, P. Emile was three years of age, and Lucien was one. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine that the date range possible for P. Emile's birth would probably be no earlier than 1900 or 1901 (given the wiggle room of how many months over three years that date might have landed). Likewise, Lucien would have been born about 1902 or 1903, at the earliest.

On the opposite side of the range, the latest year of birth for P. Emile would be 1915, and for Lucien, 1917.

Another obvious detail from the back of the postcard is the handy phrase, "Made in Canada." Not that the note itself wasn't clue enoughit was, after all, written in Frenchbut this at least eliminates the possibility that we were trying to draw conclusions on children living in France.

That, however, is where the obvious stuff ends. We could, possibly, conclude that, since this was a photograph of French-speaking Canadians, that this was a family living in the province of Quebec. The fact that the rest of the postcard was printed in English, however, leads me to realize that Quebec would be a first step in research, but not necessarily an only step.

Another point to reckon with is whether we can assume these were siblings. We can presume both children were called by the same surname, Hallee, but they could also be cousins.

An even stickier point would be to determine just what the "P" in "P. Emile" might represent. It could be Paul Emile. But it could also stand for Pierre. Or Philippe. However, in searching wikipedia for how many entries there are for each name combination, Paul Emile seems by far the more popular combination, especially in Canada—at least for famous people.

But the prime question is not whether there are any Paul Emiles to be found in Quebecor anywhere else in Canada, for that matter. What we need to do first is see if the name Hallee is a viable surname. If there is no such surname as Hallee, it is a trivial pursuit to decide whether Emile's first name is Paul or Philippe or anything else, at all.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Not Enough Pieces to Solve this Puzzle

When I first found the photograph I showed you in yesterday's post, I thought there was enough information to figure out how to send it home. That was then, in the excitement of the moment, sifting through dozens of photographs with my genealogy angel and good friend, Sheri Fenley.

Now, I'm not so sure I can do itdeliver that photograph back home to family members, that is. Some of the information can be interpreted in more than one way. There's a lot of wiggle room on another piece of the puzzle. And a slight problem with the handwriting.

Still, it's worth the try. So, today, I'll show you what we have to work with, and some of my misgivings about what I'm seeing on the reverse of the photograph. Tomorrow, we'll dig in and see if any of the details can actually lead us to some solid data.

The first detail that had convinced me that it was possible to successfully complete the mission was the fact that the two children were named and given ages. There were a couple problems, though. One was that the person writing the names was not writing in English, but Frenchbut hey, a little high school French should be sufficient to tackle this part of the equation. The second detailadmittedly, a small onewas that the word I presume the writer meant to signify the English word "and" looked more like "el" than "et."

More than either of those trifling annoyances, though, were two other issues. One was that the postcard stamp boxa detail hobbyists often use to help narrow the date rangewas the Azo design assumed to have been used any time from 1904 to 1918. That, as you'll see, takes away from the small victory of realizing that the two children's ages had been given on that same postcard detail.

The biggest doubt, though, is the very last word written on the postcard. At first, I thought it might be Hallie, which was part of the reason I bought the card in the first place. If you remember the photo of Baby Fay, you may recall that Fay's mother's name was Hallie. But once I researched the full story on Hallie Randall, mother of Baby Fay, I realized her story wouldn't match up with a photograph of other childrenespecially one written in French.

On second review, I thought better of my snap judgment, and realized the name was likely Hallee. My next task, therefore, will be to find anything I can with either of the children's names plus the surname Hallee. We'll get to that, tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is what we were left with, most likely written en français by a proud mama some time between 1904 and 1918:

P. Emile [et] 3 ans
Lucien       1 ans

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

When the Last Trip Home Doesn't Happen

It's been an interesting experiment, this project to rescue abandoned photographs from antique stores and return them to family members. There have been some interestingand unexpecteddiscoveries along the way, supporting my theory that Gold Country did indeed attract people from all over the world who eventually chose to remain in the region long after gold fever had passed.

I've learned something else in the process, something I'm not sure I'm ready to accept yet: that not everyone is interested in receiving photographs of their ancestors. In fact, not everyone is even interested in learning about their ancestors at all.

Let all the genealogists in the room express shock and dismay. Okay, moment's over.

I still have, as examples of homeless family photographs, several pictures of Alta Barnes and her siblingsphotos which surely could head back to Kansas or Oklahoma, if only I could locate an interested descendant. Add to that stack the photograph of baby Louise, and possibly her ancestors, Timothy and Carolyn Browne, the ones who stopped by a photography studio in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to capture their likeness back in the 1870s.

There are even more yet to come. In that same trip up to Gold Country antique shops to rescue those photographs, I found several others. More, incidentally, which turned out to lack sufficient clues to lead me to a possible family.

What to do with those? Well, you know I can't pass up posting them here. Some of them are actually sweet pictures. If they can't go home, at least they can enjoy a visit with folks who will appreciate their moment in time, a hundred years or so in the past. And who knows? Perhaps someone else will realize a clue that I've missed entirely. Hearing about that would indeed be a great help.

Having shared that concern of mine, now that I'm mired in the mess of mission not accomplished, let me introduce you to two adorable siblings, P. Emile and Lucien. Tomorrow, we'll discuss brieflybelieve me, it will be brief as there are few details to go by in this searchwhat can be found about these two cherubs.

Above: Undated photograph labeled with the names P. Emile and Lucien; currently in possession of the author.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thirza's Hospital

Thirza's photograph from the 1920s has made its journey home. Cole family researcher Karen told me she received it, and then sent me something you'll surely be interested in knowing about, as well.

Remember how we discovered that Thirza Browne Cole ended up actually owning and running a hospital? What Karen sent was a copy of a local newspaper article on Thirza's presentation to the ladies' auxiliary of a current-day hospital in the same city where she lived in Lodi, California.

The newspaper clipping itself is unfortunately undated, but I suspect it was an article which ran in the Lodi News Sentinel. Since Thirza passed away in 1979, judging from her picture which accompanied the article, the report was likely written in either the 1960s or early 1970s. Unfortunately, there are no online newspaper archives carrying an extensive collection of that publication, and those dates were not included in the scanty collection of Lodi issues in the Google News archives. As for dates, we'll have to remain blissfully ignorant.

What was useful was the detail Thirza shared with the (unnamed) reporter, especially about her years after first arriving in Lodi. According to the article, "Hospitals: Past and Future discussed at Branch meeting," Thirza's medical career spanned almost forty years.

Thirza got her start in a practical way: after graduation in 1911 from the Red Cross Hospital nursing school in Salida, Colorado, in 1915, she and her husband, William Cole, moved to Lodi. At the time, Thirza had been taking care of her mother-in-law, who had recently suffered a stroke. In the course of providing that care, Thirza became acquainted with several local doctors, who then asked her to take on some of their own cases of patients needing extended care.

By the time the 1918 influenza epidemic hit Lodi, several local doctors fell ill along with their patients. This left two main doctors, operating one small hospital facility, to serve the stricken population of Lodiat that time, a city of just over four thousand residentsand a makeshift emergency facility was set up on the upper floor of a local bank. Several "practical nurses" bore the load of caring for those smitten with the disease, and Thirza Cole was asked to take charge of the emergency center.

Not long after thatJuly of 1921Thirza and her sister, Nellie Yates, together bought a nearby hospital called the Mason Hospital. This was the former home of one of Lodi's popular doctors, Wilton M. Mason, which he had converted into a hospital. Thirza and Nellie did extensive work to the facility over the years, but the building certainly wasn't anything of the magnitude of the type we think of today when we consider hospitals. There were several rooms for patients, plus a room for surgery and a room for "sterilizing." That was it.

Nor were the services at the facility as specialized as those we'd expect from a hospital today. It was not unusual, for someone undergoing surgery, to have Thirza administering the anestheticusually ether. Then, if X-rays were required, they might "occasionally" be done by Thirza, as well, since she had been "taught X-ray" in Colorado. As the newspaper article explained, "Nursing in those days embraced many facets usually associated today only with specialization."

If the building needed painting, the two sisters would be there, doing the work themselves. Of course, any equipment updates were a cost Thirza attended to, as well. Nellie stayed with her sister to launch the business and oversee it in its formative season, but after seven years, she returned to Colorado. Thirza operated the hospital for twenty nine years, selling it in 1949.

The building once known as the Mason Hospital is still standing today, though it certainly is no longer a hospital. In its current re-iteration, it serves as a board and care home for seniors, a much sleepier ambience than in its heyday. The old Mason Hospital sits just north of the downtown area on the same main street which traverses the entire downtown shopping district, today a tony collection of bistros, wine tasting stops and antique shops.

It was a treat to find an old photograph of the Mason home on a Facebook page called "Historic Lodi," a picture taken from the time long before its establishment as a hospital. Dr. Mason, it turns out, was one of the first residents in town to own an automobile, as documented in a photograph preserving the memory of not only his home but his horseless carriage. Click through the embedded photo from a year ago to view the actual page on Facebook and explanation of the photograph from long before Thirza Cole and her sister bought the place as one of Lodi's hospitals.

Posted by Historic Lodi CA on Thursday, May 25, 2017

Monday, April 23, 2018

Photo Updates

The verdict is in: yes! Ralph is going home, too. Well, I mean his photo, that is. I heard from the Pollock descendant who gave me all that fascinating detail about Ralph's life after he left his childhood home in Colorado, so now I have directions on where to send young Ralph's photograph.

Out of all the photographs marked "Thirza," I have yet to track down a Van Noate descendant for the hundred year old picture of baby Louise. I mentioned the other day about posting baby Louise's photograph on our local genealogical society's Facebook group, and I did get a few general suggestions, and one member sent me a rather complete copy of the family's tree. But as for how to contact a living descendant, well, the best suggestion was to try poking around on Facebook.

So I did. And found someone. The problem is, no matter where I look, I can only find rather distant relatives. The same went for the trees on There were about six different Ancestry subscribers who had Louise in their family tree, but every one of those trees was posted by someone who must be much like mea little bit too enthusiastic about their genealogy. And what I'm seeking is a close relative, not a seventh cousin twice removed. But, using another tactic, I found that possibility.

The nexus is a grandchild of Louise's husband's brother. At least, I think that's the connectionand, trusting that the trees where I found the family line are actually accurate, it looks like that's the closest I'll get to contacting someone who might know how to get in touch with Louise's grandchildren.

Of course, that leaves the squishy part of contacting a stranger, out of the blue. It is definitely so much easier to research dead people. Even sending an email to a living descendant of a dead person isn't too difficult. But going straight to a relative of a relative of a relativewho doesn't even show the slightest interest in genealogywell, that's a challenge I'm not sure I'm up to. Yet.

Give me a couple days and we'll see whether I chicken out. Baby Louise may just have to remain in that folder on my desk until a closer relative stumbles upon this post via our research assistant, Google.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Crossing Paths With
Our Ancestors' Descendants

I've been dealing, lately, with a mind obsessed with crossed paths. What I uncovered this week, in my relentless pursuit of ancestors, grabbed me with this notion even tighter.

It's only because I've been bombarded with distant cousin matches on all my DNA testsyes, I've been that obsessed researcher who has tested at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and MyHeritagethat I've been left with the quandary of wondering, "Who are all these people?"

My solution was to spruce up my family tree a bit: go back to my ancestors and enter all their children, not just my direct line. And then, enter all those children's children. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I call it quits on a line when I reach seventh cousin, mostly because some companies will show matching cousins up to the level of fifth or sixth cousin (and one goes up to eighth). Reliably, of course, some paper cousins won't show at those levels on DNA tests, even if they are blood relatives because some genetic material from our third great grandparents may simply not make it down all the generations to reach us. Since we don't know, ahead of time, which relatives that involves, I decided to trace them alland then some.

All that to say, there are a lot of cousins out there, still needing to be added to my family tree. So I plod onwards.

This week on the paper trail, I ran into some cousins who actually ended up living in the same city as I do, and at the same time that I've been here. I had no idea at the time, of coursebut then, I'm talking about sixth cousins. One could hardly be expected to keep tabs on that extended relational reach...until the advent of genetic genealogy.

That brings me back to my occasional obsession: wondering, whenever I travel, what the chances would be that I would cross paths unknowingly with someone who turns out to be a seventh cousin. Forget that, maybe even a third cousin. It might be the person sitting next to me on the plane, or the one behind me in line to buy coffee. I am awed at the possibilities of how we all relateand how we don't even realize it.

So, I keep working on those descendants of my multiple-great-grandparents. And those trees grow bigger. Not because I'm pushing back to incredible reaches in history, but because I'm throwing my net wide and capturing all those distant cousins, in hopes I'll recognize them when they show up in my DNA matchesmaybe even if they show up at the dinner table at my next genealogy conference.

The past two weeks surprisingly yielded some research progress, considering how difficult the time has been. Perhaps there's a solace in the routine research of adding names to a family tree. There sure is that family-talking-to-family sort of gathering, when we lose a loved one, just comparing family notes and reminiscingand remembering that we forgot to add that new baby, or that new spouse.

For my mom's tree, that meant jumping 172 entries to land at a tree size of 12,903. For my mother-in-law, that gained her tree of 14,746 another 107 entries. For my dad's tree and my father-in-law's tree, each gained only one entry apiece, but they now stand at 501 and 1425, respectively.

Yet, as fast as I try to build those trees, the DNA matches seem to roll in faster. I'm up to 2,989 at Family Tree DNA and 4,305 at MyHeritage. AncestryDNA seems to have given up counting, once the matches exceed 1,000, so I don't even know how many I have thereand those are just counting fourth cousin and closer. As for 23andMe, it's a rare biweekly count when I don't lose matches from my count, but this is one of those times: I now am up five to 1,036. And I really can't complain there, since one of the new matches actually contacted menow, that's a switch!and the bonus is that she is apparently related to my on my father's side. Perhaps it will even be on my paternal grandfather's sidethat man who claimed he was an orphan and unofficially changed his name and zipped his lips concerning the reasons why.

My husband's matches are piling up almost as fast as mine. He's got 1,915 at Family Tree DNA and 3,007 at MyHeritage. He hasn't hit that thousand-mark ceiling at AncestryDNA yet, but he's over halfway there at 549. For once (can you tell I'm jealous?) he actually saw his count go backwards at 23andMe, dropping six to level off at 1,072. But because I have his mother's tree so full of cousins, it seems much easier to figure out the matches to his DNA cousins.

As I travel this research pathway, I'm constantly surprised to spot coincidences and crossed pathseverything from distant cousins marrying, to relatives moving from their home turf in Ohio or Alabama or Florida, all the way out to the corner of the country where I thought my own family was well hidden away. And yet, we have ended up driving down the same streets where our ancestors' descendants decided to live. How does that happen? More to the point, how does that happen and we don't even realize it? Our invisible networks and connections, once brought to light, can indeed be unexpected and fascinating.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Now Indexing: Indiana Marriages

It's high time to do some volunteer work, giving back with appreciation for all the help of those countlessand namelessothers whose efforts have made possible the ease of online research. I headed to the indexing tab at with good intentions, but apparently today was a technology and tantrums day for our good friends with the enormous digital data collection. Try as I might, I just couldn't get any indexing projects to open for me. I'd scroll through the choices, select oneI try to stick with naturalization records in either New York or Chicago, my two research interests right nowand with that click came...nothing.

Well, take that back. I did get an error message. Something about that batch not being able to be opened; try again.

Rinse and repeat may work for shampoo, but it wasn't working for selecting a new batch to index at my favorite online place to volunteer. Out of desperation, I started looking for anything...anything...which was in English and featured a record set in my home country. It's been a long time since I last volunteered to do any indexingtoo longand I didn't want another day to pass without helping out.

Finally, success: I got a file to open for county records of marriages in Indiana. Well, my father-in-law's line did have some family in Indiana, so at least I have a vested interest in this project, after all. The surprise was: the records weren't really all that old. One set out of the two I did actually bore dates in the late 1980s. So much for privacy of living individuals. And here I thought only California had that blatant disregard for further publicizing their "public" records.

Once I got into the record set, the indexing system worked like a charm. I was done with my first set in no time, leaving me quite willing to spring for a second go-round. It's times like these which encourage me to delve into doing more volunteer work like this. Painless, the minimal effort is amplified by setting up searchable records that can then be easily accessed by countless others, as long as the FamilySearch website still makes these records available.

That sure beats the old way of individually having to contact each government entity with a snail-mail plea to look up a document. I don't think there would be many of us researchers boasting trees numbering in the thousands if we were still resigned to the crawl of such a research fate. And that makes it all the more worthwhile to expend this minuscule amount of effort to get those records prepared to be accessed online.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Still Waiting . . .

Gradually, the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole is finding its way homeor, at least, finding its way closer to descendants who are interested in receiving one of these hundred year old pictures. The only thing I lack, in one case, is an address. In another case, I still need to locate the descendant.

I still have resources, of course. In the case of baby Louise, since she lived in a city near my own home, I posted a request on our local genealogical society's Facebook page. Hopefully, someone on that site will know someone who knows someoneand that six-degrees-of-separation shuffle will serve up a possible recipient. In a best-case scenario, that is. If not, I'm sure our prolific Cole researcher, Karen, would be happy to add it to her family history collection.

The behind the scenes news about Ralph C. Pollock, however, is different. Ralph is the young man from Greeley who, after the loss of his mother, was raised by an uncle and aunt. As far as we could see from census records and other documents, Ralph attended college, receiving a degree in chemistry which led him to research positions in California.

This was all confirmed when, thanks to, I located a researcher of the Pollock line who turned out to be a direct descendant. This researcher was kind enough to send me photos and news clippings explaining some of Ralph's later accomplishments and interests—Ralph apparently was still able to do handstands, walking on his hands and doing series of pushups, at age eighty. A plus was the discovery that Ralph had a "deep interest" in his family's history, and had left handwritten notes of his research.

While all this is encouraging to hear, it still doesn't resolve one tiny detail: where to send the photograph. And so, I wait. Such a small detail that stands between Ralph's abandoned photograph and his return to family who knew and cared about him. But I'm patient. After all, it's been well over one hundred years since these families last held these photographs. What's a few more days' wait?

 Above: Photograph of a young Ralph C. Pollock of Greeley, Colorado, possibly dated prior to 1900.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mildred Finds Her Way Home

Just a baby whose infant photograph taken in Greeley, Colorado, somehow ended up in California, Mildred "Rigg" turns out to be someone whose descendants live not far from me. And thankfully, now that I've corresponded with two of those family members, Mildred is heading on her way home.

Mildred's picture was one of several added to the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole, another Greeley resident who moved, eventually, to northern California. I'm still not sure what the connection was between Thirza and the family of baby Mildredeven after puzzling over it with her descendantsbut I think it's safe to say it was just another token of how much Thirza seemed to care for those she met along the way in life.

As I've done for the other abandoned family photographs sent home, I first looked for descendants among those posting their family trees on With a little time and an eye to detail, it is fairly easy to determine those who have put in a lot of time on their research, as opposed to those for whom genealogy is just a passing fancy. I like to look for those for whom this means a great deal. I also like to seek out the closer relatives, rather than those over-zealous researchers (like me) who have constructed enormous trees with multiple branches of very distant cousins.

The researcher I found to make first contact with, in Mildred's case, deferred to a closer relative, and forwarded my information along to this person. I am happy to say this recipient is apparently one who has had a longstanding history of researching family, for he mentioned using Ancestral Quest as his genealogical software, a program first developed in 1994 and most often associated with the Personal Ancestral File program formerly provided by FamilySearch.

I'm always encouraged when I discover that an effort in "giving back" actually goes to benefit those who helped newbies like me, decades ago, because I recall that time period as an era in which there were so many who freely gave of their time and expertise to help others develop their genealogical research skills. This little token of rescuing abandoned family photographs is my way of giving back, in memory of folks like those, back in the 1990s, who helped me when I first tried to bridge the gap between the hand-to-hand combat of wrestling with real, liveand dusty!documents in archives to viewing their pristine facsimile in virtual format online.

So today, off goes Mildred to a descendant who understands the efforts of genealogical research and values remembering the inter-generational connections between family.

Above: Photograph of Mildred "Rigg" from Greeley, Colorado, dated about 1898; picture currently on its way home to one of Mildred's descendants.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

But Wait!
Wasn't There Another Daughter?

There is one additional detail about Thirza Browne Cole, the woman whose photograph collection ended up abandoned in a northern California antique shop. You may have picked up on it, back when I discussed finding Thirza's obituary from 1979: the obituary made mention of a daughter.
She is survived by her daughter, June Buck of Lodi, and two grandchildren.

The confusing thing about that mention is that we had already seen that Thirza and William Cole's only daughter had died young in 1923. Who was this other daughter?

In order to discover anything further on this mystery person, it helps to go back to the earlier obituary of Thirza's husband, William Cole, who passed away in 1947. There, we notice a mention of someone with the same surname, Buck:
In addition to his wife, the deceased leaves a foster son, Geo. I. Buck of Lodi...

Other than that, for descendants, the same obituary mentioned only his deceased daughter, "the late Mrs. Pauline B. Lee."

So who were George and June Buck?

Going back to the 1940 census where William and Thirza Cole livedin Lodi, Californiathere were two entries in their household which may help tell the tale. Although the enumerator seemed confused about how to properly report the relationships, he did include two names of interest in our current question. While there was an entry for a George I. Buck, Junior, there was also a name immediately above his in the Cole household for a single woman also bearing the surname Buck.

She, however, was not June. Her name was entered as Burnis Paulineor possibly a sloppily written Caroline. Burnis was twenty two, and George was twenty. At first, the entry for Burnis' relationship seemed to be "relative" with a question mark included. Then, penciled in above was the word, foster, again followed by a question mark. George's entry was equally unclear, seeming first to say "son" which was lined out and replaced with the word "foster."

Checking the previous census record in 1930, Georgethen a ten year old boyhad again been listed in the Cole household, although then, the listing was simply as a lodger. There was no sign of Burnis, nor any hint about who June might have been.

This, of course, calls for further explanation. You know I couldn't just let it sit there. I noticed there was a record of George's World War II draft card, listing Thirza Cole as his next of kin. Yet, Thirza was not technically his closest relative. At about the same time, there was a 1940 census entry for the elder George I. Buck (remember, our George was a junior) which included a "Bernice P." Buck of the exact same age as our "Burnis" in his household.

Looking back through the years, the 1920 census offered a potential Buck household, complete with father George I. Buck, wife Althea, and including two year old "Burnis E." and infant George.

As for June, my guess was that she had married George, the Coles' foster son, though I couldn't find any marriage record online. What I did find was a sad Find A Grave memorial for George, dated years laterbut during the years in which Thirza was still alivenoting that his wife was named June.

After George was gone, June must have continued maintaining the connection with Thirza. Perhaps their children grew up knowing Thirza as their grandmother, just as Thirza's obituary had listed them.

What I wonder is whether it was June who provided all the detail about Thirza's life for the newspaper article after Thirza's passing in 1979. The obituary was so full of minute details of Thirza's younger years, yet by that time, there were none of her peers to have provided that much information (unless it was from Karen's own parents, who, despite the distance between their two households, had kept in touch with Thirza since at least the 1940s).

All this may seem like a diversion from the true goal of finding Thirza's roots as we prepare to send her photographs home, but I don't think it is. Family is sometimes a concept that is more fluid than we may make it out to be. Sometimes, it just doesn't fly to tell the census enumerator, "It's complicated," about relationships. We're left reading between the lines.

Just this vignette of Thirza and William Cole's longstanding relationship to twolater threeyoung people who were not actually their kin reveals something about the personality of the couple we have been observing. They seem to be people who were willing to reach out to others in need, regardless of whether those others were family, friends, or lost souls desperately in need of love.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Telltale T

No, T is not for Tax Time, though I can certainly understand such a guess on a day like today.

T, in this case, is for Thirza, and just as I was preparing to send Thirza's picture home to a Cole descendant, its intended recipient, Karen, sent me a little interesting clue.

Remember Thiega? That scrawled name with the spelling which caused me so much doubt? How's this for a possibility? Wouldn't you think this handwriting said "Aunt Thiega" instead of Thirza?

That happens to be Thirza Cole's signature on a letter to Karen's parents, back in the 1940s. You can see how a beleaguered researcher might feel confused.

But that's not the only thing about that handwriting sample. There was something else. Remember that much older photograph I stumbled upon, from that same expedition up to California Gold Country to rescue some more abandoned family photos? The one of the elderly couple, Grandfather and Grandmother Browne from Grand Rapids, Michigan? It didn't have Thirza's name on itas had all the other photographs I found from her collectionbut it did have one other detail.

See if this handwriting looks familiar to you.

Just in case you think that T might have been a fluke, here's another handwriting sample received by Thirza's nephew and niecesubsequently passed to their daughter, Karen.

In my opinion, the handwriting on the reverse of the Browne grandparents' photograph is that of someone in her later years, but no matter when it occurred, the curious flourish over the T in both the Thirza signatures and the T in Timothy remain consistent. Whether Timothy and Caroline were indeed the names of Thirza's paternal grandparents or simply the grandparents of whoever wrote the original entry remains to be uncovered by additional research. But it's an encouraging clue. One that couldn't possibly have been discovered without input from another genealogist intent on collecting everything available about her family history.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Because She Said I Could

It may seem like I've been in a tailspin the past week or so, but behind the scenes has been some activity. This week will be the timeat last!to start sharing how some of the photographs in the Thirza Cole collection will be going home.

But before I unwind the stories of the connectionsremember, this was a collection of pictures of unrelated (as far as I can tell) individualsI wanted to get permission to share one thing: a picture.

No, this is not another photograph rescued from an antique store in the foothills of northern California. This picture already has its home. But I think, once you see it, you will appreciate having had the chance to see it too.

The picture, you see, comes from the very person who will soon be receiving the photo of Thirza Browne Cole, herself. I am very glad to be able to send Thirza's picture home to this researcher, someone I found through her thorough family tree posted at What a collector of family photos this woman is! You can understand why it's a reassuring feeling to be able to add to her collection: family photos evidently mean much to this person, and she is willing to share them on her family tree at Ancestry.

Look carefully at the composition below, and you will see as the little girl in the center, none other than Thirza's only daughter, Pauline, the one who, widowed, died in her early twenties. Pauline's parents, Thirza and William Cole, stand behind her. Will's brother Howard and his wife Bertha complete the picture.

The picture affords us a wonderful snapshot in time for Thirza and her familyan earlier version of the woman whose picture I found, plus a glimpse at what her husband and daughter looked like, too. Of all the ones in Karen Cole Eaton's many uploaded photographs on Ancestry, I think I'm drawn to this one the most.

Thank you, Karen, for sharing so many of the Cole family memories in picture form. It's such a treat to know that Thirza's photograph is going to a family history keeper who cares so deeply about preserving the family story!

Above: Photograph of Thirza and William Cole and their daughter Pauline, standing behind William's brother Howard Cole and his wife, Bertha. Photograph courtesy of Karen Cole Eaton; used by permission.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

(Already) Off the Shelf:
Letters from Dad

The somber mood of last week has brought up several unexpected thoughts and memories. Seeing that gift of a Facebook video of my brothertaped a couple years ago, saying he knew he wouldn't always be here and giving his advice for that inevitable day, along with his goodbyes in advancereminded me of a book I'd read long ago.

It was a book by a dad, trying to figure out what he could leave "of lasting value" to his children. Called Letters from Dad, author Greg Vaughn's book didn't necessarily mean to imply that that dad was about to be "no longer with us," but that possibility always lurks in the back of some minds.

What it did convey was a message urging dadsprobably every parent would apply hereto send messages to their children in writing, on paper as keepsakes to be pulled out of wraps over the years, read again and again...and remembered.

I certainly can relate to that sentiment. After having sifted through the letters of generations of my husband's Stevens and Tully families to glean details of their lives, and having examined every word in my own mother's journals from her later years, I know I was grateful for having been gifted with these artifacts of loved ones' lives.

Of course now, we hardly pick up a pen and paper to write a grocery list, let alone a letter. Everything is electronic in format. When the message is no longer pertinent, thenpoof!it disappears. "Delete" stands in opposition to history preserved.

Just to have that brief film clip of my brother saying goodbye made such an impact. And that is to say nothing of having stacks of letters over the years of a deepening relationship. That was the kind of treasure in which people from bygone ages were rich that we are bereft of in our "modern" times.

Almost makes me want to sit down and write a letter. Just in case. One never knows what tomorrow may bring...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Still With Us, In a Way

Well, it's the weekend.

And we made it this far.

Family holding family up as no other can in such times, it's been a week of connecting with relatives over the tiniest of memories. The memories are what help.

But you have to be careful about memories. You never know when they can trigger an unexpected sequel. Memories sometimes have partners. Twins. They can come with company.

A friend of my brother posted a sweet video memorial of him on Facebook from a documentary this man and another creative had taped, a few years ago. Bit by bit, members of the family spotted it and shared it. Though the production itself was well done and thoughtfully framed for the current situation, it was the tiniest of details that got people talking.

A daughter of one of my cousins told me the gestures in my brother's goodbye wave reminded her exactly of her grandmothermy father's sisterand then...triggered those tears...again.

When I think of my brother, I naturally think of my dad. Since I lost my dad pretty early in my adult life, I learned quickly that if I went to see my brother, I somehow could feel like I still had my dad.

That's been years ago now, of course, so the passage of time tricked me into thinking I was free of needing a daddy fix.

Until the daddy fix was gone, too.

A month agohaving no premonition that this family loss was about to befall usI had started reading a book called Option B. My original reason for that choice was that I had been inspired to read every book I could get my hands on by Adam Grantthough once I got the thing in my hand, discovered to my horror that it was co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame, the one women's author* sure to elicit paroxysms of criticism from my business-exec sister.

That didn't stop me from reading the book, however. Something else did. The reason the book even exists at all is that Ms. Sandberg had the type of awful experience you wouldn't want to wish on anyone: in an idyllic setting where she, her husband and some friends had taken a respite from their surely hectic work lives, she discovered him dead from a massive heart attack only moments after she had last spoken with him.

The book unwinds her torrent of emotions as she attempted to piece together her lifeand her children'sin the aftermath.

It wasn't far into that scenario when I realized there was a backstory chattering away at me from inside my own mind. It was that internal narrative, shouting so loud inside my own head, that distracted me from the words on the page. Uncomfortable, I had to lay the book down.

Why? It reminded me of my own husband's death. Decades ago.

Yeah, those kinds of memories don't go away.

And so a book triggers a memory of life's earlier episodes, and the sense of loss comes back anew. A wave of the hand, a nod of the head or the blink of an eye, and a three minute video transports us from the presence of the one we know, to the one we remembered. It's as if they were hereand then, once more, goneall over again.

Of course, some of us take the less pragmatic, more hopeful long view of a life beyond life. And there has been plenty of talk about that among us, this past week. But I'm starting to see how life lives on in another way, as well. When I saw my cousin's comment about the video on Facebookabout how a wave of my brother's hand was so exactly like her grandmother's mannerismsI realized what we were both observing wasn't her grandmother, or my father, but someone neither of us had ever met: their parents, my grandmother Sophie and that Polish mystery immigrant, my grandfather, whom we only knew as John T. McCann.

After all, where do we get those mannerisms from? Aren't they indwelt from the genetic makeup we inherit? The microhistory we share with family members, witnessed minute by minute over a lifetime?

And if Sophie and John would have seen the same film clip, some of those gestures might have reminded them of the generation preceding thempeople my father's generation never got to meet, but ancestors just as much.

Some people take sides on the argument about nature versus nurture. Environment versus inheritance. Whatever it turns out to be, we've got itand we're surely going to pass it on.

Andwhatever "it" isit will become that part of us that lives on after we, ourselves, are gone. And we, while we're still here, become the gift of remembrance to those who do recall that older generation and can recognize it in our eyes, our voice, our gestures. In a wayis it through our DNA?those who have gone before us do live on. And gift us with that one way of remembering them.

I have no idea how that works, but I'm glad it does. 

*To her credit, a surely kinder, gentler Sheryl Sandberg went on to found the nonprofit organization of the same name,, building a community of sharing and advocating for resilience in the face of many kinds of adversity. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Still Stuck

Whatever technical glitch locked up my longstanding account at Ancestry, I'm not sure, but I do knowat least after ninety minutes of phone conversationthat it is a problem which will take at least another day to resolve, if not more. I can guess about the source of my difficulties, but hey, I'm not the tech expert.

So I wait.

Meanwhile, Thirza's father Thomas Browne continues to elude me. It didn't help, of course, that he didn't quite make it to the 1900 census. But it wouldn't have hurt, either, if those other census records could have provided a consistent report. Right now, I'm not sure which one to believe.

I already knew something was suspect with the 1880 census. Granted, the Brownes were nearly newlyweds, with their daughter Thirza only one year of age, as reported in that census year. And yes, their home in Weld County, Colorado was home to a townGreeleywhich had been established only eleven years earlier as an experimental utopian society and didn't gain official city status until 1886. With a history like that, it would not be surprising to learn that residents had come from all over.

Thomas Browne's entry, however, seems to have been left blank in the original. The handwriting for the report of his place of birthas well as that for each of his parentsseems to be quite different from that of the rest of the enumeration sheet. All three blanks were entered in a different hand than the rest of the form, with the abbreviation "Ill." Yet, for both his daughters, the spot for their father's birthplace was left blank. One wonders what the case actually was for this scenario.

Waiting to verify with the next census does us no good, as we've already discovered Thomas' likely demise by 1892. And trying to find him in the previous census, as a single man with the oft-bemoaned common surname Brown would be next to impossible. Even taking the presumptive move of searching for a Thomas Brown with parents Timothy and Caroline brought up nothing of use.

There was one other solution, thoughand one I'd already begun exploring. Remember the 1885 Colorado state census? The one where I got baited by the 1880 discovery of next-door neighbors Harvey and "Baby" Pollock and went off on a rabbit trail to discover whether "Baby" was Ralph? Well, I forgot to go back and see if I could find Thirza's family whereabouts in 1885.

So now's the time to check that out.

With this one document, I now have the only other resource upon which I can pin the birth location of our specific Thomas Browne. Hopefully, this one was a more accurate report. Whether it was or not, though, one thing is certain: neither Thomas' father nor mother were reported born in Michigan. The verdict on this pursuit, according to the 1885 tally?

Thomas was from Ohio, and both his parents from Pennsylvania.

While it doesn't cement any connections between the younger Browne and his (potential) parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this 1885 record at least provides us a picture of the entire Browne familysans the one child lost in infancyin one place.

Above: Excerpt of 1885 Colorado state census for the city of Denver in Arapahoe County, showing Thirza Browne Cole's childhood household. Image courtesy

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Locked Out if being in a holding pattern, waiting for the funeral of a sibling to be planned and subsequently coming down with the flu isn't'd think hauling my miserable self out of bed for a few minutes to write a sorry excuse for a post would at least go smoothly. After all, what was I going to write? That I am still having problems locating Thirza Browne's fatherlet alone his parents?

Thanks to a fluke of technology, apparently, I can't even access my account at to refer to the few details I've parked there in a private, unsearchable tree which I use for my genealogical sandbox. And no, it isn't because I failed to renew my account. What I'm wondering is if my antiquated user nameassigned to me during those halcyon days when Rootsweb used to be its own entityis the sticking point.

All that, however, will have to be resolved later in the morning, not in the wee hours when my far west time zone works against me. Everythingeven a Utah-based companyruns on east coast time.

There are, however, other resources, all which will have to be considered without the ability to refer back to the research I've already done on the family. Online tools are greatbut only when they're accessible.

That search effort, however, didn't yield much. I tried FamilySearch, looking for a Timothy and Caroline Brown or Browne who might have livedor diedin Kent County, Michigan, home of Grand Rapids, the place where the photograph I found was originally taken. I tried burial records via Find A Grave, but the only Caroline I found was someone married to a William, not a Timothy. Checking out Seeking Michigan wouldn't work, because the dates are too recent for tracking down my mystery Brownes.

Sometimes, it just helps to know when to quit. I'm getting the clue that now would be an opportune time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Brown, Browne —
Tomayto, Tomahto

It doesn't help, when researching a family's history, when even the family members can't be sure which way to spell their own surname. Especially with a name like Brown. How hard can that be?

In the case we brought up yesterday, the size of the original photograph leads me to believe it was actually a carte de visite. It measures approximately two and a half by a little over four inches, much smaller than the cabinet cards which supplanted that earlier format.

If so, that dates the picture to approximately the 1860s. That, if it is indeed a picture belonging in Thirza Cole's photograph collection, would be a reasonable time to place her grandparentsif we can trust her father's 1880 report that he was born about 1848. If Thirza's father Thomas Browne was the oldest child of this parents, that might put the unknown couple's dates of birth around the mid 1820s. Perhaps they would look that "seasoned" by the time this photo was taken.

Or not. That's a lot of ifs.

There's one other thing. Perhaps you already noticed it yesterday. The front of the photograph bears the words, "Jackson,"presumably the studio's nameand "Grand Rapids, Mich."

In 1880, Thomas Browne reported his birth being in Illinois, not Michigan. His daughters' subsequent own reports of where their father was born do indeed vary from enumeration to enumeration, but they never seem to settle on Michigan as the reported location.

A cursory glance at records in Grand Rapids for that time period didn't seem to reveal much information linked to that name, either.

But there's one constant in all this. Just like all the records I've seen on Thirza's family, even on the back of this photograph, family members were undecided about which way to spell their ancestors' names.

One entry, the first, presuming from the order of appearance, gave the name in a tight, neat hand: "Grandfather + grandmother Browne." Following that entry was a scrawl much like the one causing me the grief of hesitating between the name as "Thirza" or "Thiega."

Perhaps this was the one whose handiwork we've already observed on others of Thirza's photo collection. Whoever it was, it was someone who decided the spelling should be "Timothy and Caroline Brown."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Another Browne Photo

Working with common surnameslike Brown, for instance, no matter whether it has that fancy "e" at the end or notcan be frustrating.

We've already discovered that the photograph stash marked with the name Thirza Cole belonged to a woman whose maiden name was Browne. Finding out much about her early years has been a challenge. Had it not been for the unusual detail preserved in her own obituary, I'd likely not have been able to trace her whereabouts during that twenty-year span between the 1880 census and the next surviving enumeration.

But before that point? Even after wrestling with this family's history for weeks now, I am no closer to uncovering something fresh and new.

And then, reaching back to that stash of photographs I rescued from an antique store up in California gold country, I pull out another photograph and notice the names written on the back: Timothy and Caroline Browne.

Could they be Thirza's grandparents? Or just a coincidence, merely owing to such a common surname?

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Hardest Part of Family History . . . when it goes from the sweet baby pictures of those innocent first years... the other end of the story.

While that has just happened for my brother, thankfully the outpouring of love and encouragement helps hold us all up.

With all that he accomplished over the years, the one vignette I remember the most, when thinking of my brother, is his theme song from those early years in NYC. If you know him, you may remember...

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Delving Deeply Into DNA

Perhaps it's high time I got frustrated over not confirming more than a handful of my umpteen thousand DNA matches. I mean, look at this: I have over one thousand matchesfourth cousin and closerat AncestryDNA. They won't even count the number anymore. Just "1000+."

That's not all. I have 2,946 at Family Tree DNA. Besides 4,072 at MyHeritage. We won't even go into how I'm losing matches at 23andMe and still managing to stay above the thousand mark for matches there.

Who are all these people?!

Oh, yeah: and I have 532 to work on at Ancestry for my husband. Plus a measly 1,879 at FTDNA, a mere 2,859 at MyHeritage and an irksome 1,078 at 23andMe (the only place where he bests me on DNA matches).

I had heard about DNA Painter, the chromosome mapping tool sweeping the grand prize at this year's RootsTech DNA Innovation Contest. Created by London web developer Jonny Perl, it was a beta app which he revealed he had "launched by mistake." Users didn't think so; the visual display simplifies identifying which matches align with which family lines, streamlining the hunt and peck method of searching for identical surnames in enormous pedigree charts.

Once all the hype about RootsTech itself had subsided, more details began to emerge about DNA Painter. Roberta Estes began a helpfuland thoroughblog series on using DNA Painter. Part One was all I needed, and I leaped for the chance to add my name to the long list of beta testers. I started "painting" this week, adding the details for the few DNA matches I've already confirmed. Soon, I'll have a colorful patchwork framework of my own genetic materialand a separate one for my husband's familyupon which to hang those aggravatingly enigmatic matches which have, heretofore, stubbornly resisted identification.

Hah! Take that, mystery matches!

Meanwhile, I'm still plugging away at my quixotic quest to document all the descendants on all my ancestors' pedigrees. At least to the level of seventh cousin, I'm tracing all my colonial ancestors' families. And yes, I have a long way to go. But at least I can say, in the past two weeks, I've added 124 additional relatives to my mother's tree and 164 to my mother-in-law's tree. Even though I've only added one each to my father's tree and my father-in-law's tree, that still leaves me with 12,731 in my mother's tree, 14,639 in my mother-in-law's tree, 500 in my dad's tree, and 1424 in my father-in-law's tree.

One way or another, I'm finding ways to discover just how those thousands of people whose DNA somehow aligns with mine are actually connected. And in the meantime, I get to paint everything in brilliant colors. Not bad for a research perk.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Procrastinators and Planning

It's high time for all genealogical-conference goers headed to Jamboree to stop procrastinating and complete their registration before the early bird deadline flies by.

Yes, that means me, the guilty procrastinator extraordinaire. I have until April 14don't blink; you'll miss itto decide what to do about my registration.

I know, I know: the conference isn't happening until May 31 through June 2. But that's not what gets you your ticket into the front door. Registration is. And the best price for that can only be gained through an early-bird window that will shut tight April 14. Leaving me stymied by indecision.

Not that I don't plan on going; totally the opposite. The problem is: there are even more offerings. But in less time.

This year, the Southern California Genealogical Society responded to feedback about holding their event through Sunday. So this timetheir forty ninth yearthey decided to break with tradition and eliminate their Sunday offerings.

No problem for me with that change. We usually duck out early anyhow, since we face a nearly eight hour drive home. Now we can do it on Sunday at a more leisurely pace and get home a bit earlier in the evening.

But the other that's the one causing me problems. You see, Jamboree for many of us traditional attendees was not one event, but two. Coupled with the usual conference was a pre-session known as DNA Day. Thankfully, that event is not going away, which I'm relieved to learn. But what is changing is that the conference is adding yet another special focus: a one day writers' conference.

On the same day. Which one to choose? (Can't I have both?)

Faced with the dilemma of wanting to attend some of the DNA sessions, but some of the writers' ones, too, I'm stalled with the indecision.

An added problem, which I'm sure many repeat attendees have realized, is that conferences tend to focus on the many topics which can satisfy the learning requirements of beginners. That is probably why I opt for attending weeklong genealogical institutes, where a learner can feast on a specialty topic in depth, rather than cherry pick from a smorgasbord of hour-long appetizers.

To counterbalance that attendee's dilemma, to their credit, the Jamboree team offers their own version of in-depth learning with half-day seminars. If, for instance, my procrastination hasn't gotten the best of me and kept me from signing up before the class becomes full, I hope to register for Blaine Bettinger's Visual Phasing workshop. I've read his five-part tutorial on his website, but still feel like I want to pelt him with questions; this will be the perfect opportunity.

All that comes, of course, with cutting out all the indecision and registering. Before April 14.

If you're like meloving the learning environment of a successful conference like Jamboreehopefully, you'll find your way to the Jamboree registration page before April 14 as well. And then we can look each other up, once we get to southern California for the May 31 through June 2 event.

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