Friday, July 31, 2020

Hints? Or Discrepancies?

When piecing together the story of our family's history, we rely so much on newspaper accounts. Obituaries, for instance, are one mainstay of reports concerning close relationships, and yet, we need to proceed cautiously with this resource. Newspapers often contain mistakes, but it's up to us to discern which details provide worthwhile clues for our research, and which ones are simply discrepancies.

Take the obituary of Daniel Falvy we reviewed yesterday. Daniel Falvy was the next door neighbor of a possible relative of my husband's Kelly family in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While Daniel was the only head of household to carry that surname in Fort Wayne, that very surname also happened to be the maiden name of our Kelly relative. I've hoping that, in discovering Daniel's origin and family, I'll be led to further information on our Johanna Falvey Kelly.

There were some promising hints in Daniel's 1915 obituary. While the memorial did not come out and specifically name his parents, it revealed some helpful details—helpful enough, hopefully, to lead us to some reasonable possibilities. The obituary stated, for instance, that Daniel Falvy "came to America with his parents when he was twelve years of age." It mentioned the place—Upper Sandusky—where the family settled after emigration from County Kerry, Ireland. It also provided a timeline regarding when Daniel left his family and arrived in Fort Wayne: "forty years ago."

And there, precisely, lies the problem. Forty years before Daniel's 1915 death would be 1875. By that time, Daniel Falvy was not only married, but he was about to welcome his second daughter into his growing household. Hint: both daughters were born in Fort Wayne. In fact, he and Abbie Murphy were married in Fort Wayne, as well. In 1872. It's unlikely he met his wife anywhere other than her hometown.

Well, that slick little detail didn't add up quite as smoothly as we had hoped. What about the other detail: about spending his teenage years in Upper Sandusky? The only Upper Sandusky I am aware of is a city in the state of Ohio, not Indiana. So, to Ohio I went, looking for any census records to substantiate that report. I tried spelling the surname Falvey. I tried Falvy. I tried modifying the search name with "sounds like" and "similar" options. The strange thing? On, I could find no Daniel Falvey listings for either the 1870 census or even the 1860 census.

Perhaps, since that newspaper math was wrong, their geography wasn't much better.

I did, however, find one possibility. When I tried a search using the word "Sandusky" for the search term at Ancestry, "place your ancestor might have lived," there was a Falvey family listed. Of interest was the fact that the head of household was named Michael—a good sign for one of my husband's DNA matches whose ancestral Falvey line reaches back through a string of Michaels.

Besides the absence of anyone named Daniel in that home, however, there was another down side. This family didn't live in Upper Sandusky, like the newspaper report had asserted. Oh, they were still in Ohio, alright, but about seventy miles from the place where the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported they should have been. And yet, delving into this discrepancy a little bit further, I found some interesting possibilities—just enough to nudge this wild goose chase a bit farther down the research rabbit trail.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Family Next Door

Just because two people in town claim the same surname doesn't always mean they are related, of course. I know better than to assume such a relationship between two men named Kelly, for instance—even if they did pool their resources to purchase a family burial plot together. But when two associated men named Kelly link up with two people named Falvey in the same town, I begin to wonder about some close connections. Could John Kelly's wife Johanna Falvey be kin with Timothy Kelly's next door neighbor Daniel Falvey?

I set out to see what I could discover about this Falvey family next door. My first step was to pull up every newspaper article I could find in Fort Wayne containing the surname Falvey. As I later discovered, I needed to extend that initial search to include an alternate spelling of Falvy, as well.

Most of the results came from the social columns of Fort Wayne's newspapers. There were plenty of happy mentions of the Falvey surname over the years, thanks to school awards and church ceremonies. Sadly, there were also mentions of the unexpected passing of some of Daniel's children at young ages, meriting sorrowful insertions within the pages of the Fort Wayne Sentinel.

Between those articles found in the pages of the local newspapers, plus his appearance in the decennial census records, I learned that Daniel Falvy and his wife Abbie had at least six children: Mary, Kate, John, Julia, Abbie, and Daniel. Of those names, Mary and Catherine were echoed in the families of Daniel's next door neighbor, Timothy Kelly, as well as that other Kelly family I've been pursuing, of John Kelly and his wife Johanna Falvey. Perhaps those names were a fixture in every Irish immigrant's home in America...

I learned also that, even though both Daniel and his wife Abbie were born in Ireland, they were married in Allen County in 1872. According to the 1910 census, Daniel claimed to have arrived in the United States in 1860—and to have become a naturalized citizen. Considering that in the 1910 census, he claimed to have been sixty years of age, that meant he had arrived in this country at a young age. Who were the parents who brought him here?

One key to discovering such information is usually the person's own obituary—but such a detail is generally more common an insertion in modern memorials than those in the year in which Daniel died. Not long after the 1910 census, I found a May 3, 1915, news item concerning the passing of deputy sheriff Daniel Falvy, who had been "installed into office" only three years before that report. While the obituary provided details of his work life and some history of his childhood, it lacked the very clues which help a genealogist push the pedigree chart back another generation.

From the Fort Wayne Sentinel:
   Daniel Falvy, deputy sheriff to the county commissioners' court, died late Saturday afternoon at the family residence, 1209 Boone street, at the age of 68 years. Death was due to heart trouble and followed a very short illness. The deceased continued at his post until April 12, when sickness forced him to remain at home.
   Mr. Falvy was installed into office with Sheriff Gladieux three years ago and was an efficient public servant and was very popular with his associates. He was a prominent figure in local politics and was well known throughout the city and vicinity.
   The deceased was born in County Kerry, Ireland, but came to America with his parents when he was twelve years of age. The family located at Upper Sandusky, where he remained until forty years ago, when he moved to Fort Wayne. He had resided here ever since.
   He was a charter member of the C. B. L. and of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and was a devout member of the Cathedral and of the Holy Name society of the same congregation. Besides the wife he is survived by four children: John, Julia, Catherine and Daniel, jr., all of this city.
   Funeral services Tuesday morning at 8:30 at the residence and at 9 o'clock at the Cathedral. Interment at Lindenwood.

Though complete with some helpful details, as we'll see later this week, there were a few items which just didn't live up to providing the helpful guidance we'd hoped for. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

How Close is Close Enough?

I guess you can call me the family snoop—at least, when it comes to other people's families. If there's a document, a newspaper report, or any record written on paper or even in stone, I'll always take a look at it. I look especially for any details that seem extraordinary or unusually out of place. For such details, there is always a back story.

Sometimes, I can't find that back story, but that doesn't mean I don't try. Take, for instance, my discovery years ago that my husband's unfortunate great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly Stevens, was not buried in the family plot of her husband, John Kelly Stevens, but back in the plot of her father's family. She was so young when she died, and the circumstances so tragic, that it is understandable, in retrospect, to discover that she had been buried in the Kelly family plot. What was a young husband to do?

Then, too, after all these years, the headstone is difficult to read—possibly yet again a factor of the suddenness of the death and the financial position of the bereft husband back in 1884. All combined, what later became telltale signs to help me connect Catherine with her parents and siblings, had for years stumped those who posted the details in online resources. Some volunteers had even missed the fact that her headstone actually had the name Stevens on it at all, and had filed her under her maiden name, Catherine Kelly.

It took a lot of digging around to discover the family plot in which Catherine Kelly Stevens was buried was actually co-owned by two men, neither of whom was her widowed husband. One, of course, was her father, John Kelly. The other was a man by the name of Timothy Kelly.

Now, I know how prevalent a surname like Kelly has always been in Irish circles, but it was tempting to think that perhaps this Timothy Kelly could have been a relative. After all, John Kelly named his firstborn son Timothy, a solid hint of his own father's name. And this other Timothy was of an age to have been the much-younger child whom a father might finally call after his own name.

And yet, try as I might, I could not find a connection to verify that theory. The signs of possibilities were taunting me at every turn—both Timothy Kelly's children and John Kelly's had the same names in nearly the same sequence—but I could not unearth any documents to connect the families.

I literally went through the exercise of building a family tree for Timothy, complete with ongoing collaboration with one of his modern-day descendants, without any success. Other than the choice to forge a business connection to purchase a family burial plot together, it seemed there was no connection between the two Kelly families, other than the fact that they lived around the block from each other in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Years have passed since I attempted to solve that family history riddle. I've long since moved on from that research question. Yet, it seems I'm destined to return to wrestle with it again. Now, reaching back one generation beyond the young deceased mother Catherine Kelly Stevens, I'm working on a puzzle having to do with Catherine's own mother, Johanna Falvey Kelly. As unusual as the Falvey name may seem to be in the United States, it apparently was more widespread in Johanna's native County Kerry, Ireland. What would my chances be to assume that any other Falvey family who showed up in Fort Wayne might be related to Johanna?

I took up that research challenge this week—after all, what do I have to lose, not finding any other clues so far? I had long known that there was a man by that surname living in Fort Wayne during the same years as Johanna. He happened to be in the same line of work as John Kelly Stevens, Johanna's son-in-law. And he apparently came from County Kerry.

However, what are the chances that one other person in town—given a town size of 26,880 in 1880—would be related, just because he claimed the same surname? That's a mighty slim chance.

And yet, it wasn't so slim a chance that I wouldn't consider testing out the hunch with another family tree diagram. Up went the new private, unsearchable family tree on, this time for a man by the name of Daniel Falvey—or Falvy, as his name later turned out to be spelled. I searched newspaper collections for every mention of either "Falvey" or "Falvy" in the Fort Wayne newspapers. I noted his entry in every census record during his Fort Wayne residency. And I kept looking around, remembering the F.A.N. Club concept.

It was the entry in the 1880 census that slapped me in the face. Funny how I hadn't noticed it before, when I was so focused on researching that other Kelly family. Guess who turned out to be next door neighbors?

Yep. That same Timothy Kelly who has had me stumped over the years turns out to be neighbors with the Daniel Falvey who has me wondering about connections with Johanna Falvey. Could they be related? Closely? That's enough bait to lure me down yet another research rabbit trail.

Above: Image from the 1880 U.S. Census for Fort Wayne, Indiana, showing the neighboring households of Daniel Falvey and Timothy Kelly; image courtesy

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Building a New Tree

How many family trees do you have on I don't know about you, but I get the feeling the average number of trees any given family historian might tend would be one. Maybe two—one for each side of the family. Stretching upwards of thirty might be considered, um, extravagant.

True confessions: that's where I am. I know, I know: I'd be considered a disaster area by the likes of professional organizers like Janine Adams, who discussed that very question on her genealogy blog a couple years ago. But I have a reason for my zany approach to using family tree programs. I need a "sandbox" in which to play around with relationship possibilities.

You won't find most of my trees at, my favored place to experiment with relationship possibilities. I believe when there's a need to experiment with constructing trees, it's best to make that type of scratch pad private and unsearchable. No sense tempting anyone to cut and paste from those tentative trees; they'd only be replicating theories, not realities.

So, this week, when I needed to explore the possibility that the only other Falvey family in Fort Wayne might just be related to my husband's brick wall ancestor, Johanna Falvey Kelly, I needed a quiet place to stretch out all the facts and documents and see if that theory added up to anything substantial.

Let's take a look at the initial clues which got me wondering about possibilities. First, how about proper introductions? We are going to be looking at the family of an Irish immigrant named Daniel Falvey. Unlike my husband's second great grandmother Johanna Falvey Kelly, Daniel reported that he arrived in the United States in 1860. Like Johanna, he came from some unidentified place in County Kerry. Unlike Johanna, he likely came at a young age, possibly traveling with his parents.

Daniel Falvey—or Falvy as later records spelled his surname—not only arrived in America before Johanna did, but he was also quite younger than she. Depending on the record used to glean her date of birth, she had been reported as having a birth date in 1830 (in the 1870 and 1880 census enumerations), November of 1829 (in the 1900 census) or 1826 (on her death report). Daniel, though having a fluctuating report for his own year of birth, showed dates more recent than Johanna's: anywhere from November of 1843 (in the 1900 census) to 1853 (in the 1880 census), while settling on a rough average with his headstone claiming 1847.

Given the wide gap between their dates of birth, it is unlikely that Johanna and Daniel would be siblings. In fact, they could be totally unrelated, except for their mutual origin in an Irish county claiming quite a few subjects with that same surname. And yet, there are a few details which draw me to explore the possibility that they might have been cousins.

The one detail which I know for sure is that Daniel did not come to this country alone. While the one maddening thing about his obituary was that it omitted any mention of his parents' names, that memorial did state that Daniel came to America with his parents. Finding those names might help in placing his origin in County Kerry, his homeland in Ireland—and lead us closer to the point of origin for Johanna Falvey and her husband with the unhelpful name of John Kelly.

There is, however, one other detail that causes me to wonder whether it was merely coincidence, or yet another hint that these two Falvey descendants were linked to each other back in Ireland. Evidence of this close encounter was something I stumbled upon while I was doing my due diligence on the F.A.N. Club approach—looking at the friends and neighbors of my target family. It was an unexpected additional connection between the Falveys and the Kellys, found in the earliest census record which included both families in Fort Wayne. I'll explain further as we take a closer look, tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Back to the Ol' Neighborhood

Perhaps it is because we are surrounded with such an abundance of resources for our family history research that we so quickly forget some of the basics of breaking out of the tight loops of stalled research. I should know better than to forget about using the F.A.N. Club approach in muddling through my husband's Falvey ancestry, but perhaps I was bedazzled by the multitude of trees and DNA matches from around the world. Yet, I may find my answer by going back home to the old neighborhood where Johanna Falvey spent the later years of her adult life in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In returning to Fort Wayne, we'll be traveling down the same streets where we once learned the stories of city cop John Kelly Stevens and his wife, Johanna Falvey Kelly's daughter Catherine. We'll also be walking the same path as their son, Will Stevens, before he left his hometown for the big city in Chicago.

These are streets we haven't visited for years. Even when we last discussed the area, we focused more on the Kelly side of the family than the Falvey side, even in checking out the Friends, Associates and Neighbors of Johanna's husband, John T. Kelly.

During this same time, however, there was another Falvey in town, one which I have not yet been able to connect to Johanna's side of the family. I had always wondered why John and Johanna chose to immigrate directly to Fort Wayne, rather than gradually move there from a port city on the Atlantic coast. It seemed as if someone in the family bid them come to that specific location for a reason. While it might have been for a job, any job is made better by the fact of relocation near family. Scoring a connection which satisfies both sides of the family might be even a better choice.

Since I'm grasping at straws anyhow, we may as well take some time for a research detour. While, behind the scenes, I'm still reaching out to DNA matches with Falvey ancestry and examining the documentation in their trees, we may as well explore the possibilities in the adopted home of immigrants John and Johanna Falvey Kelly. With tomorrow's post, we'll revisit Fort Wayne of the 1870s through the early 1920s to see what we can learn about another Falvey from County Kerry named Daniel.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Not Such Steady Progress

When equipped with a solid research plan, a family history student can make much progress delving into records that lead to answers. When distracted from that plan, well, let's just say there are no surprises when the results aren't as stellar.

What a week it has been, with people either rushing to "save" all their tiniest DNA matches, or bolstering their security against a wide variety of possible cyber-scams in the wake of news from two genealogy-related websites. Is it any surprise my usual research progress took a nosedive?

However, in the past two weeks, I've managed to find 151 more relatives associated with my maternal line, so my mother's tree now stands at 22,827. Considering the distractions, that was the best news, even though the pace of discovery was about half what was normally accomplished in prior biweekly periods. So at least I have something to feel good about. I didn't do so well on any of the other trees I manage.

Take my mother-in-law's tree. The only reason I managed to add ten more names to her tree was that I am switching all my father-in-law's entries to his wife's tree, simply on account of Ancestry's resource allowing us to pin our matches to their place in our family tree. Deciding to maintain two separate trees for my husband's parents—essentially, one tree for each of my daughter's grandparents—was not such a great strategy, but back when I made that decision, who knew we'd someday be pinning our DNA results to a pedigree chart? So, now my mother-in-law's tree contains 19,104 relatives' names.

As has happened for more weeks than I care to recall, both my father's tree and that of my father-in-law remained unmoved from their previous records. My dad's tree is still at 715 names, and my father-in-law's tree has 1,812 people. While not all of the names in those trees have been duplicated in their respective wives' trees, I am moving them as needed. That basically translates into adding branches of the tree when I get a DNA match who belongs in that vacant spot.

Hopefully, without any more exasperating news on the genealogical front in the next two weeks, research can return to normal and I can simultaneously trudge through records of my maternal ancestors' descendants and scour the baptismal records of County Kerry for my father-in-law's Falvey connections.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Getting Social

As long as we are all still cooped up at home—and have enough time to get back to some family history research—I may as well carve out some Saturdays to do a review of social media which have turned out to be helpful for genealogy. This week, I'll start with some thoughts on Facebook—one social media stop where almost everyone seems to have an opinion.

I have heard a lot of people say that they avoid using Facebook at all costs. Granted, it can be wearying to voluntarily subject oneself to the constant drone of political complaints. Even though our local genealogical society maintains their own Facebook presence, because of this down side, so many members of our society won't avail themselves of the content our group posts on Facebook. And yet, in those havens of peace within the swirling angst of the general public square we know as Facebook, there is a way to zip in to our own dedicated place to communicate specifically on the topics we are concerned with the most.

The key is to seek out what Facebook calls "groups." Unlike pages, which a user needs to "like" to (hopefully) receive updates, groups need to be joined. Groups on Facebook can either be public or private—and actually, there is a third category called a secret group—and permission to join is controlled by an administrator of the group. The beauty of that arrangement is that it gives control to those who started the group, so that posts on the group will be only those which keep within the framework of the group's purposes. No spam. No off-topic posts. And hopefully, no unrelated drama.

The genealogy world has, of course, discovered the utility of groups on Facebook. If you go on the Facebook website and enter "genealogical society" in the search bar, for instance, then select the sub-category "groups," you will come up with a multitude of options you can join. There are so many genealogy-related groups on Facebook that Katherine Willson, who regularly updates a list of such resources, provides a free guide to genealogy resources on Facebook which runs upwards of four hundred pages. And that's just the ones in English. For Canadian resources, including French language Facebook groups, Gail Dever of Genealogy à la carte offers her own directory. And Australia has their research champion in Alona Tester, who offers a guide specific to Facebook resources for Australian genealogy.

With all those resources to choose from, as you can imagine, the sheer number is overwhelming. With that in mind, here are some tips for helping to navigate this social jungle. First, utilize the search bar at Facebook to pull up groups of specific interest (for instance, search "genealogical societies"). Then, once the group list is assembled, take a look at the description of each group and review the requirements for joining.

Once I've narrowed my choices even more, I then look at the statistics offered for each group. In the group listings, Facebook provides some helpful details. First of all, they provide the size of the group, as well as the average frequency for posting. Perhaps that doesn't seem pertinent to you; after all, a topic is a topic, no matter how small the group, right? Well, it depends. If I want instantaneous help finding the name of a commercial building in Chicago which got torn down during the Depression, I want to ask an active group which is full of like-minded researchers. Asking a group of ten people may not get me the answer I need, but a large and very active group will be more likely to help.

Some Facebook groups are quite large—such as the Pennsylvania Genealogy Network, which boasts 13,000 members. Some Facebook groups are very active, such as the Jewish Genealogy Portal, which claims to have 120 posts a day. Once again, selecting a group should be based on your own research needs. Continuing an affiliation with a talkative group might be just your style, but for others, the avalanche of information may wear a member out.

On the other hand, don't think that just because a group is small, it won't be worth your time to join. After all, just how many people out there can be interested in the genealogy of one particular county? But if it is that distant county your ancestors left a century ago, but you can't travel there now in the midst of a threatening pandemic, this would be your perfect outlet for virtual research.

Many local genealogy societies use Facebook groups as an outreach to help researchers living beyond their area, but are, by reason of their subject matter, only going to draw in a limited group of people. However, don't assume that your specialized topic will always result in a small group. The Lithuanian Global Genealogical Society Facebook group, for instance, draws in eleven thousand participants with an average of twenty posts a day.

Once you find a Facebook group that interests you, and you have been accepted into the group, you can not only post comments or questions about your specific research interests, but you can also search internally in the group for keywords that might be of interest to you. Just click on the search icon to the right of the group's own task bar.

While I have yet to see Facebook groups for genealogy get to the level of camaraderie of the old genealogy forums—the interaction seems somewhat more frenetic and not as conducive to the deep dive of subject matter as forum posts were—that is perhaps a function of the current audience. After all, we can extend our reach around the world for instant genealogical gratification with a quick question which zeroes in on the right geographic source. That's exactly how I found the family in County Cork who descended from the sender of the abandoned photograph album I found in an antique store near my home: I posted a question in the Cork Genealogical Society's Facebook group. I had my answer within twenty four hours.

There are other resources for those of us who want to connect over social media, but Facebook is the most prevalent. Using Facebook's groups can shield you from the extraneous material that makes so many people shy away from that communication channel, while allowing a researcher to target the specific groups of people who would most likely be interested in sharing a conversation about your latest research project. Don't just limit yourself to one resource, though. There are others which may suit your communication style much better. Next Saturday, we'll discuss another social resource: Twitter. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Calling for Collaboration

With the advent of so many companies catering to the lone genealogist, one would think the pursuit of family history has become a solitary sport. After all, with the click of a mouse, we have a world of documentation at our fingertips at any hour of day or night. And yet, everything from the details built into the system at online websites to the social media resources surrounding us encourages us to take back the solitary isolation of this research road and blend in some collaboration.

That's what I've been doing lately with my current research goal. I'm on the hunt for the names of Johanna Falvey's parents in County Kerry, Ireland. Johanna, once she was married to John Kelly and proud parent to Timothy, Catherine, and Mary, had left her homeland for Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the United States, but clues in her obituary showed me that she had left "several sisters" back home near the Lakes of Killarney, and that one sibling who also emigrated arrived on the shores of New Zealand sometime before her 1903 death.

While collaboration between avocational genealogists has changed over the years—gone are many of the genealogy forums of the earlier years of Internet usage—we still have many avenues useful for connecting. And yet, I know several researchers have tried to reach out and been disappointed in the results. Many a DNA match has complained that no one responds to an introductory message, or gives the most enigmatic of one-liner responses, true, but there are others out there who are still quite willing to collaborate. Face it: those of us who have been smitten by the genealogy bug can discuss our passion for hours. What better discovery than to find a like-minded researcher seeking the very same family!

Step one has always been to contact others whose tree or DNA test shows a promising connection. Services such as Ancestry make that easy for us to do. For the past two weeks, I've been working my way through a list of contacts, asking them if they would be willing to collaborate on finding our Falvey connection back in County Kerry.

The result so far has been pleasantly positive, but you never know what the outcome to such an inquiry might be. That, in essence, is why we should connect with fellow researchers: someone may be out there with a private collection of family memorabilia which includes the exact tidbit you are seeking. It may be a family Bible, or a photograph, or a newsy letter sent back home to the folks over one hundred years ago. We seek what we don't know is there precisely in the hopes that someone else will know where to find it.

Part of my current research plan has been to evaluate the family trees of the several small DNA matches between my husband—Johanna's second great-grandson—and other Falvey descendants. It's a lot of work, admittedly, and may involve building out others' own trees to check accuracy, but even that task doesn't need to be done alone.

I reached out to yet another Falvey match late this week who, despite being a small match of ten centiMorgans, has a Falvey ancestor from the correct county in Ireland who was born there at about the same time as our Johanna. Despite the slim chances of relationship—the connection is only ten cMs, after all—this DNA match happens to have closer relatives who still live in County Kerry, and is most willing to help with this project. You never know what you will find, just for the asking.

And it's not just a matter of asking once for the answer to one simple question. To find a number of distant cousins all willing to continue working on a joint research question—now, that is the key. I know one family history researcher who, thanks to DNA testing, put together a fuller story on one entire mystery branch of her family's story. Hers wasn't just a one-question-and-thanks-a-lot instance; she and her new-found distant cousins put together a private Facebook group so that they can continue the conversation. They set up a convenient means to share ongoing research discoveries. Now, that's instant collaboration!

Whether my Falvey research question will ever lead to that level of continued collaboration is yet to be seen. But that research network is growing, now stretching out to three continents, with emails reaching around the world. Collaboration enables us to accelerate our research progress, but it also affords us the opportunity to get social and meet others who are interested in the same specific research questions. Together, we amplify each other's progress.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Know Thy System

Have you ever fidgeted with a gadget in a way for which it hadn't been intended—and then became disappointed with the result? Those of us who are prone to improvising sometimes forget that tools are designed for specific purposes, and that using them otherwise does not come with the same guarantee. That's what engineering is all about: design with an end use in mind.

I forgot about that the other day when I received what I thought was an unusual observation about a tool I was using. Thankfully, it wasn't about use of a sharp, pointy object—I'm one of those people who are prone to improvising—but about a virtual tool.

The context of the comment had to do with that research project I've been wrestling with lately: finding the parents of my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey. The tool—a virtual one, remember?—was the system at AncestryDNA, where my husband has several tiny matches which are about to become so small that they will be invisible. I was reaching out to all the DNA matches I could find whose tree included a direct-line Falvey ancestor—all of whose shared genetic connections are quite small, I assure you.

This particular DNA connection was a person with Falvey antecedents who, in leaving Ireland, had traveled from County Kerry westward to the New England region of the United States. In all, this DNA match and my husband shared a mere 18 centiMorgans—not much, I admit, but thankfully a smidgeon over that new cutoff point of eight cMs.

As I have been doing with all the other Falvey DNA matches, I sent this person a message asking if he would be interested in comparing notes and working with a team of fellow Falvey matches to untangle this puzzle. His response indicated he was quite open to collaboration, but he had one question.

Upon receiving my message, this researcher had clicked on the tool at Ancestry labeled "Shared Matches." Just as I had noticed in doing this, he received a message that went something like this:

This DNA match found it odd that even though he and my husband share Falvey ancestors to some degree, not a single other person appeared to share this genetic connection with them. He mentioned as much to me in his response.

Of course, I was surprised to learn that as well—until I learned that that wasn't the case at all. We could possibly share a common Falvey connection with others—it's just that it was too small a connection to register, based on the specific system we were using. In other words, that system is not designed, currently, to be useful in that way. If you and your match have other matches in common—but only at a shared amount of centiMorgans less than twenty—they will never be listed in response to your inquiry.

It wasn't until all the commentary on AncestryDNA's latest decision to revise their tools that I realized why these two matches didn't come up with any shared matches. Somewhere deep in all the articles about the latest Ancestry changes, I recalled seeing someone speaking to that issue. Of course, now I can't find the specific mentions of that design limitation, but I did locate a few indicators that that was how the system now handles "Shared Matches."

For one thing, Ancestry has already mentioned that "Shared matches are only available for fourth cousins and closer to you." Since I was starting out with an 18 cM match, it was likely that our connection represented at least a fifth cousin connection. But Roberta Estes, in her response to a comment on a recent post, explained that "Common matches are only shown if they are 20 cM or over."

No wonder we had "no" connections! The tool wasn't designed to provide that information. While of course it would make my research efforts much easier if such information could be provided—at least to the same level as the currently-bemoaned upcoming cut-off point—I still have what I need. Thanks to the data the system does provide, I was able to find a viable match, despite the small genetic size, and make a connection with another researcher sharing my goals to locate a specific Falvey family in County Kerry. While I can't just click a handy label like "Shared Matches," I can search the entire match listing for other DNA customers whose tree includes a Falvey ancestor from County Kerry.

While that lack in the system I'm using does cause me some additional work, it's certainly work that can be accomplished. In the meantime, it reminds me to know the limitations of the specific tools we choose to use. While an insightful customer service response would be to implement changes that are of use to one's subscribers, in the meantime, I can maximize what use I can gain from a tool, and look elsewhere for the services I'd prefer to gain.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Not Swimming With the Cyber -Sharks

Just when I thought it was safe to step back into the GEDmatch waters...

Truth be told, I had been rather ambivalent about what has happened at GEDmatch over the past couple years. On one hand, I am in awe of the power of DNA to reveal information we couldn't attain in any other way. I love figuring out the identity of the missing people in my pedigree chart, of course, but because I have a husband with a lifelong career in law enforcement, it made sense to me to see how others have harnessed that power for the greater good of the community—and yet, I somehow hesitated to greet such an option as that at GEDmatch, personally, with open arms. There's something about a blank-check approach that makes me turn wary.

And so...I didn't go back to my GEDmatch accounts for a long time. But then, there was this Falvey question...

Since my husband's new-found New Zealand cousin uses GEDmatch a lot, I decided I'd be a good team player and log in again. I checked out a few details on the one small chromosome segment these Falvey matches seem to have in common, just last week. And then, decided to go back and double check what I saw, yesterday.

Only...yesterday, the website was not open for business. Something had gone terribly wrong.

I suppose by now, you have already heard the news of the security breach at GEDmatch, and the subsequent security threats being rebuffed at MyHeritage. If you haven't, and you use either of those two entities for your genealogical research, inform yourself now. Whatever you do, be aware that there may be false websites or emails, trying to pass themselves off as MyHeritage communications—only, sporting a "q" where the correct spelling with a "g" should appear.

It seems there has lately been an avalanche of intrusions upon us from all sorts of technology-related bad actors. Perhaps hackers are getting tired of quarantines as much as we are—or at least are banking on the rest of us becoming careless in our pandemic listlessness. Everything from telephone scams to intrusive texts to phishing attempts show us that there are a lot of people out there intent on separating a person from his or her money. Our top priority right now seems to be to not be made that fool in the process.

A number of genealogy bloggers have already tackled that approach with great detail, in case you seek examples of what to look for and how to respond. Debbie Kennett, who spotted the unusual activity at GEDmatch early on, provides an updated timeline of the unusual event, almost as it unfolded, as well as sharing a screen cap of GEDmatch's post to their Facebook group, acknowledging the issue and their response (which wording has also been issued via email to GEDmatch subscribers). Likewise, a timeline-tracking eyewitness report from Leah Larkin. Roberta Estes, who also provided a report of the GEDmatch issue, followed up with instructions on what to do, especially for those who may also be associated with MyHeritage or who are receiving fraudulent emails associated with this breach.

Bottom line in this avalanche of cyber-attacks? Learn how to be an impeccable proof-reader. Don't let those letter changes trick your eyes. Watch for those tiny tells. Don't click through on anything which seems suspicious. When in doubt, contact the purported issuing company by other means, not by replying directly to the current, slightly-off, means of contacting you. And share the news with others you know who are using these sites. Sharing the information may be only a small step to take, but we strengthen each other when we insure that everyone is forewarned.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Not Looking for Great Grandma

I don't know what might have enticed you to spit in a tube and mail it to AncestryDNA, but I can tell you one thing: most genealogists didn't do it merely to find out about their great grandmother. They already know who she was.

In fact, except for those DNA matches at Ancestry for whom there is no tree posted, many DNA customers are in the same position I am: we already know who our great grandparents are. In other words, that's not why we tested. We need a tool which can extend our reach beyond the limitations of the messiness of life.

The farther back in time our genealogical puzzle leads us, the less information we may have to go on. Courthouses burn, wars happen, people run for their lives—or get captured and stripped of their identity and transported great distances from their point of origin. And people keep secrets.

My original reason for turning to DNA for genealogical answers was to uncover the secret my paternal grandfather had taken to his grave. It wasn't a horrible secret, I was sure; he had hidden his Polish identity in his newly-adopted homeland on account of prejudice against his ethnic origin, combined with the politically-correct enemy alien nationality designation the government forced his people to assume in war time.

Still, though I could guess who his mother was, I wanted to learn where she came from, and who her parents were. Though it took years, comparing three different close family members' tests, the breakthrough came on account of those small segment connections some people say are of no use.

Thanks to MyHeritage's AutoClusters tool, provided there through arrangement with Evert-Jan Blom of Genetic Affairs, a tiny cluster of matches spotlighted the way. The nexus reached back far beyond that great grandmother to her grandparents before I could connect the dots to a hypothesis on how we connect. But now I know.

If it weren't for tools which help evaluate those small connections, I still wouldn't know. And I wouldn't have gained the insight to know how to proceed with other such research challenges—such as this current one seeking my husband's Falvey family through his as-yet-unknown third great-grandparents in County Kerry, Ireland. Those, however, are much more distant matches than the quest to find second cousins via a great-grandparent.

Yet another research puzzle calls for DNA encounters of a distant kind. While my grandfather hid his identity to escape his people's past, there are others for whom that past has never been known. As descendants of formerly enslaved people, many African-origin Americans can only trace their family lines to a brick wall of 1870, or perhaps a few years before that. They, too, are not searching for their great-grandmother. What they need to unlock that closed research door are matches with whom they share common ancestors from, in some cases, more than 160 years past. Sometimes, this means finding fifth cousins, fourth cousins, or in some cases, even third cousins, before a theory can be put together.

I realized the other day, after the AncestryDNA announcement was made, that I have some connections which may help a few people make that connection—I actually am related, very distantly, to King Stockton whom I've written about before. Those connections, though, are slim, sometimes bordering on the tiny centiMorgan count which will soon be deleted from AncestryDNA matches. I've been rushing to preserve those matches by color coding them, making notes, and in some cases, sending out messages. I don't want to lose those connections. They are so small, but still viable.

When you are seeking third cousins—or beyond—something unhelpful can happen: you can share zero centiMorgans with such a relative. In other words, they can be invisible to you, genetically, even though you actually share a family relationship. Likewise, you can share an amount anywhere on a range of possible measurements, like zero to 234 for a third cousin. Or zero to 139 for a fourth cousin, according to the Shared cM Project at DNA Painter.

It's when that match amount approaches zero that we run into trouble. Some of them, granted, can be false matches. But many of them are not. Those which are not can, with care taken, actually be of use to a researcher with little else to rely on.

This is the realm where any serious genealogist is looking for answers. We already have figured out who our great-grandparents are, remember? It's those relationships in the generations beyond which have us searching. For some of us, DNA may be the only way to guide us to answers.

Yet, despite all the tools we have at hand—well, those still remaining after legal challenges—these are the very ones which I've nearly been shamed into relinquishing, on account of recent assertions made in support of AncestryDNA's decision to remove matches under a true threshold of eight centiMorgans. Fifty percent "poison candies," Blaine Bettinger warns. "Not important at all," Judy Russell argues, reaching out with a bottle of chill pills.

Tell that to someone for whom there is no alternative. Those of us who need to are taking great care to learn how to circumvent the pitfalls. Because that is all we have.

That's why, in the midst of this furor, I was so grateful to stumble across Roberta Estes' encouraging "Plea to Ancestry" post. While particularly pertinent to those struggling to research their pre-Civil War African-American ancestors, the message applies to all of us. We are all impacted by this recent decision, if we are seriously pursuing our family history beyond the basics of the generations we knew from our own personal memory.

Our own test results can help others solve their genealogy challenges, even through a distant relationship, only if we can still see that match. And for some, that is the only key at hand to help them progress toward opening up doors to their family's history.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Seeing Stars

After an announcement by AncestryDNA last week which some considered to be a blow to their research, we are now—thankfully—seeing stars.

Stars on our tiniest DNA matches, that is.

The news, which had been thoroughly discussed last week by several in the genetic genealogy field, is that AncestryDNA will now only provide matches to customers down to the level of eight centiMorgans. The previous six and seven centiMorgan matches which Ancestry has customarily included in our match lists will no longer be provided from new customers, and those we already have in our lists will be culled, as of early August.

The only way to spare ourselves of that loss is to earmark specific matches for further consideration. The directions had been to either send the match a message, or to color code or add a note to that record.

Thankfully, some updates surfaced over the weekend. Leah Larkin provided clarity on how AncestryDNA goes about matching all those distant cousins—and closer relatives—in their ever-expanding database, as well as warning us to remember that Ancestry actually rounds the count of centiMorgans, so any matches labeled with eight might actually represent, say, 7.8, thus AncestryDNA will drop some eight centiMorgan matches, as well.

Besides that reminder, Debbie Kennett of Cruwys News received word that, in addition to the redeeming note/message/color-code triumvirate, any matches marked with a star will also be preserved. What's more, if you mark your distant match in any of those ways, it will do double duty by preserving the record on your side and on the side of that match's account. (Scroll down to the bottom of her July 14 blog post to see the July 19 update from Ancestry in the "Updates" section.)

While some may be reeling from frantic efforts to mark thousands of small matches in their account, the word from several experts is that a great many of those are actually "false" matches. For many people, that may be so. It's for the ones who have particular reasons for pursuing these small matches that the news is less favorably received. The timing could not have been worse for the project I've just launched on connecting with my husband's Falvey line—a project for which all I have are small matches to work with.

Nevertheless, while slogging through the actual church records in County Kerry may have slowed to a standstill while I search for viable small matches which also contain Falvey direct lines, I will eventually pick that task back up again. In the meantime, I'm just glad that there are easier ways to earmark accounts for preservation. Following Leah Larkin's suggestion of creating wholesale groups to quickly earmark possibilities, I'll be assembling my own huge collection of "to do later" evaluation.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Zooming Along

Not that anyone has been counting, but today marks exactly four months since our state's governor issued a stay-at-home order on account of the current pandemic. While at first, everything seemed to grind to a stand-still, we have somehow managed to eke out an existence in the time beyond that date. Small businesses may have been crashing down around us, and people of all ages whom we've been surprised to lose have succumbed to the disease, but somehow, the rest of us have learned to adjust to what people dub "the new normal."

Part of that new normal has brought unexpected results. Some of us have put on our COVID-19 nineteen pounds, either from stress eating or binge-watching old videos. Others of us have lost our COVID-19 nineteen pounds, while we have simultaneously worn out the family pet by using Fido as an excuse to get outside in the sunshine. Some people have been so inventive in this new quarantine season that, looking at the freeway traffic, it would be hard to realize we are still hiding from an unbeatable germ.

One of those small and unexpected pandemic side effects has been a renewed interest in genealogy. After all, people have to have something to fill up all that time previously swallowed up by ninety-minute commutes. Perhaps the lure of the multitude of free genealogy webinars which have been showered down upon us has been the instigator. Who knows—but along with the shift away from public meetings has come a clamoring for ways for local genealogy groups to get together online.

Our local genealogical society made the jump to online meetings within the first month. At first, the thought seemed so beyond us—genealogy society members are not usually at the leading edge of tech innovations. But as one person recently put it, using one of the online options—Zoom—is so user friendly. How could we not make use of this technology?

And so, every month, we've migrated to an online venue for our society meetings. And then, when members seemed interested in having even more, we added special interest groups to explore specialized topics. And then added a mid-month discussion group, too—even in the summer, when our society customarily takes a two-month break from all activities.

The motivation to connect now is stronger than ever. One member told me recently that her life has been like a "flat tire" since COVID-19. Whatever our society offers, she will be there for it. It is something to do, especially for those who still need to physically remain isolated. Though we can't connect face to face, people still need a way to reach out and be in touch. That has been what has boosted this phenomenal growth in video conferencing use: we are social beings. We need to connect.

Did you ever expect a genealogical society to be the one to throw out a lifeline?

Saturday, July 18, 2020

On the Way to do Something Else

A funny thing happened on my way to rescue some distant DNA matches I didn't want to lose: I accidentally found some other connections! These small DNA matches are turning out to be useful for far more than one could imagine.

I've never been one to advocate using small DNA matches on the sheer possibility that that limited number of centiMorgans could, in and of itself, yield valuable information. However, I have connected to some useful information by coupling even small matches with other, documentable, evidence.

For the past two days, I've been combing through my distant matches of six to eight centiMorgans and coupling those search results with searches for some of the more rare surnames in my direct line. In the case of my Broyles line, for instance, I have encountered matches with helpful information. This week was no different. As I combed through those DNA matches, honing for surnames, I ran across a snippet from an unpublished manuscript which someone had shared to a tree at

Usually, when those documents are re-posted by other subscribers, it is easy to determine who originated the post. In this case, it was provided by a subscriber who had attached it to someone to whom I am not even related. Reading the full page entry, though, I could tell it tangentially referred to someone in my Broyles line—but I couldn't tell for sure, as the entry was cut off before I could ascertain the context.

You know me: I wanted to know more. So, I messaged the subscriber and asked where the manuscript page came from.

Thankfully, I included my direct email address in my message. After all, the newly revised messaging system at Ancestry, in my opinion, is enough to try one's patience; why continue the conversation in the same place?

In less than twenty four hours, not only did I have an answer, but a copy of the entire hand-typed manuscript.

Do I need to mention that I didn't do anything else that afternoon until I had completed reviewing the entire paper?

One thing I realized: this manuscript contained some journal entries which a reader here at A Family Tapestry had already shared with me from a previous typewritten transcription of an ancestor's journal—in that case, gleaned from the library of the South Carolina Genealogical Society.

That made two instances of unpublished manuscripts which contained information that could be useful to me in my own family history pursuits. Obviously, there were people out there who were intent on preserving personal family records; it is just a matter of finding a way to discover those resources.

If nothing else, that experience reminds me of two good intentions I've always had:
  • Keep in touch with other people who are researching the same family lines
  • Always remember to check for the possibility of unpublished manuscripts or personal papers which have something to do with your surname of interest or that family's community

Sometimes, those helpful connections don't even need to be directly tied to your surname. Remember that FAN Club principle: it is often in mentions of your ancestors by other people that you will find richer context to understand what life was like for your own relatives in prior generations. What their Friends, Associates, and Neighbors said about them reveals much about their life history.

After all, if all we know about our ancestors is just their name and dates of birth and death, we know very little about them, indeed. It's the stories that bring these people back to life. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Cheering for the Underdog

After the word got out about AncestryDNA's upcoming plans to adjust matches upward to a cut-off of eight centiMorgans from its current minimum of six, I spent the day reviewing all my tiniest matches for possibilities to save. Among those were connections to surnames such as the Falvey puzzle I'm currently wrestling with, but they also included links to other distant ancestors whose stories I am struggling to preserve—such as the oral history of King Stockton repeated to my grandmother, then my mother, before I ever heard it told. It is so important to keep connected with these other researchers, especially after being promised that the bulk of messages in the old Ancestry messaging system could be downloaded—but yielded nothing, once the downloaded file was opened.

That, however, is another story. For now, the issue is to save what we may regret losing in only another couple weeks. While the task may seem tedious—and enormous—I am taking it day by day, lest it get overwhelming. With a system, I'm marking each six or seven centiMorgan match if it contains a tree with one of my rarer family surnames, or presents with one of those Ancestry green leaf matching ancestor icons. I'm not going so far as to color code them now; without certainty about the validity of the connection, all I want to do is flag them so they aren't lost to future consideration.

Meanwhile, a recently-released white paper helps put the recent changes at Ancestry in a more positive light. For those with a deep need to know more than anyone else would care to know, the thirty-four page document is available here.

With all the awe-inspiring wizardry and computational prowess that goes into determining our personal genetic makeup and who we most closely match, there still is a downside to the methods currently employed at AncestryDNA. Granted, brainiac algorithms have yielded us an amazing body of knowledge, but Ancestry, like the proverbial giant, has difficulty with any move it makes. There are computational costs they are confronting with the largest genetic genealogy database currently in existence, true, but compounding the challenge is the fact that this eighteen million count is not a static number; the database is constantly growing. This, too, brings on its own challenges—and increased costs.

To add to their arsenal of algorithms to produce the results we have come to expect, the AncestryDNA staff have developed additional procedures, such as the genotype phasing strategy they have dubbed "Underdog." Reduced cost and speed of computation are business goals, granted, but the challenge of a constantly-changing data set as it spirals up beyond its current benchmark of eighteen million is likely uppermost in the minds of Ancestry executives.

Much of the outcry over the announced changes may turn out to be needless drama, but we'll have to wait to see how our own matches change—if at all. If I weren't in the throes of wrestling with a reticent brick wall ancestor right now, perhaps I wouldn't have cared at all to see the announcement this week.

Then, too, I need to remember that I also have matches at all the other DNA companies where I and my relatives have tested. Beyond that, as we progress with examining some of our research problems, we can't lose sight of the opportunity to find key relatives to ask to consider adding their test to the DNA mix. There are many other ways to utilize the tools we have at hand, even if the decision at Ancestry turns out to be as drastic as some make it out to be.

In the meantime, just in case, I'll be continuing that plodding system to quickly earmark any possible Falvey connections whose match just missed that magic eight centiMorgan mark. Ancestry may wish to kiss them goodbye, but I'm not quite ready to cut the cord just yet. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Save Your Sevens!

With the momentous news that AncestryDNA now has over eighteen million tested in their database comes a second, less than thrilling, development. Come the beginning of next month, the company has announced they will cull from subscribers' matches any which are considered "false matches."

While on the surface, this seems a noteworthy strategy, it uncovers some less-welcome implications. For one thing, the move will likely impact any matches with whom customers share less than eight centiMorgans. By August 1, such entries will be removed from your match list, with three exceptions:
  • Those matches whom you have already contacted through the Ancestry messaging system
  • Matches for whom you have entered any notes
  • Matches included in any color-coded group designation you have created 

Normally, I wouldn't have been too concerned about this development. While I seldom see a DNA match with whom I share more than 100 centiMorgans, I have recently launched into a research project to break through a persistent "brick wall" in the person of my husband's second great-grandmother, American immigrant Johanna Falvey Kelly from County Kerry, Ireland.

News travels fast. While the original announcement was made by through a conference call, the pertinent facts—plus ample analysis—were passed along by key members in the international genealogical blogging community.

I first spotted the announcement thanks to Debbie Kennett's tweet sharing her post on the development. Also from the U.K., Peter Calver of Lost Cousins mentioned that AncestryDNA will soon post a warning on the website to alert customers of this plan, as well as issue a white paper describing the new match policy. In Canada, Gail Dever made note in Genealogy à la carte, as well as share some other Ancestry updates.

The main message has been: get to work saving your smaller matches. Roberta Estes put together a detailed post on how to best go about saving those smaller matches on her blog, DNA Explained. Of course, she hasn't been the only one rushing to do so, as I noticed from reading the multiple comments on Debbie Kennett's blog—including one comment with the rallying cry, "Save our sevens!" from which I took my inspiration.

But why the frenzy to save those small matches if they really are "false" matches? Well, if they truly are mistaken connections, all would be just fine. But in some cases—particularly if there is other supporting documentation to indicate otherwise—the wholesale deletion of such records represents a loss. With thousands of such small matches in any given account, a two week warning would hardly be sufficient to adequately evaluate which matches would be superfluous.

Take this very project I've been working on for the better part of the past month: the search for Johanna Falvey's parents in County Kerry. There are several DNA matches to my husband which, taken all together, are clustering to help point me in the right direction, regarding this brick wall ancestor; the drawback is that some of them share small segments of genetic material. And yet, they also share the Falvey surname from County Kerry in their pedigrees.

You can be sure I'm racing to preserve any such possibly helpful matches by earmarking them for further study. I've suddenly grown a whole garden of green-tagged group members under the label "Kelly-Falvey connection" in my husband's AncestryDNA account. I don't want to wait, in hopes that Ancestry will change their mind and alter this recently-announced policy. I and some of my husband's Falvey DNA matches are already working together to explore our mutual connections. We certainly can't afford to lose some of the pertinent data through Ancestry's unilateral move.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Learning the Lay of the Land

I wonder how many people, when starting to build their family tree, consider how international that growing tree's place names will become. We add names, then dates, then places where significant life events occurred: birth, marriage, death. For the most part, those listed places remain in the same country, but eventually, the family history trail will require us to jump borders.

Many people in the United States—or any former British colony, for that matter—can assume the trail back to the homeland of origin will lead them "across the pond" to England or another country in Europe or Africa. We seldom imagine ourselves connecting with a distant cousin in yet a third place, whose ancestors also originated in that same homeland. Yet, with the international spread of genetic testing for genealogy, that is exactly what is happening.

Thus, in my quest to determine the parents of my husband's Irish second great grandmother, Johanna Falvey, I wasn't entirely surprised to find some DNA matches in New Zealand. Of course, the fact that Johanna's obituary told me so prepared me for such a discovery. But I am not alone in such a find; the Irish diaspora claims descendants from many countries around the world.

The challenge is learning how to learn about those families' generations. In the case of research in New Zealand, I know next to nothing. I'd fare far better if presented, instead, with a distant cousin in, say, Australia.

I wanted, specifically, to find an obituary for one of the Falvey family from New Zealand. If I were searching in Australia, for instance, I'd know to head to Trove, but where does one go for New Zealand newspapers?

My first step was to check with one of my go-to favorites, The Ancestor Hunt, where Kenneth R. Marks provides links to freely access historical newspapers around the world. Well, make that almost all around the world. While he does include such former British colonies as Canada and Australia—he even includes links to some collections in the Caribbean—there is, alas, no reference to any New Zealand publications.

Clearly, I needed to do what I always do when approaching the frontier of a new-to-me research territory: head to Cyndi's List. There, I searched for New Zealand resources and clicked away at possibilities. Drilling deeper amidst the listed possibilities, I learned about DigitalNZ, and was delighted to see the website included access to a resource called Papers Past.

Then came the long list of available newspapers, and I realized I had yet another step to take in my customary exploration of a new research territory: learning about the actual geographic location. I knew the Falveys who immigrated to New Zealand eventually lived in a place called Blenheim, but I knew absolutely nothing more about that place than its name.

So, to Wikipedia I went to get briefed on Blenheim. There, I discovered the place is located toward the northern tip of the South Island, included in the region of Marlborough. I gleaned the names of several local newspapers, and armed with that newfound knowledge, I zipped back to the Papers Past website to try my hand at finding some Falvey mentions.

Despite such preparation, I wasn't too successful at my first foray into New Zealand's historic print media. What I needed to do was learn to widen my scope. After all, the Falveys who arrived in New Zealand may have traveled at much the same time as my Johanna Falvey and her husband John Kelly, on their way to the States in 1869. Back then, as had happened elsewhere, borders changed. Blenheim was once considered part of Nelson Province, and likely the newspapers which the locals relied on might have changed, as well. When I broadened my search, I found many more references to the Falvey name.

It does seem awkward to first approach research in a totally foreign area. We want to jump right in to finding our ancestor's name, but it does take a period of orientation before we can confidently assess that the resources we've found are the appropriate ones for the people we are seeking. Simple and generic websites like Wikipedia can help us glean enough information to take that first step towards getting the initial big picture we need, and finding aids like Cyndi's List can then help us zero in on likely resources to help us move towards our original research goal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

More About Those Odds

Battering down a genealogical brick wall can seem an enormous challenge, so I try to circle the problem and assess multiple approaches that might lead to my conquest. With DNA as one tool, we gain some possibilities open to us that a mere paper chase might not provide.

I've already mentioned one encouraging aspect of the sheer number of distant DNA matches when attempting to scale the brick wall surrounding the parentage of a distant ancestor: we have a lot more possibilities to examine. So it is with my husband's challenging ancestor, his second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey. Born in County Kerry—but to whom?—Johanna eventually married John Kelly, gave birth to at least four children, then left Ireland for, of all places, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Now, four generations later, the DNA tests of my husband and his two sisters point to some promising DNA matches. Each of those matches include Johanna's surname Falvey in their family tree. However, the count of genetic material shared between my husband's immediate family and these others is rather low, hinting at the distance of the relationship—everything from eighty two centiMorgans down to a nice round number: zero.

I thought it might be useful to list all the possible relationships that can be represented by those centiMorgan measurements. After all, raw numbers sometimes tell us very little; it is when we translate them into concepts we can wrap our heads around that we get led to that aha! light bulb moment of clarity.

To try this exercise, I decided to begin with the Falvey match which contains the highest number of centiMorgans shared. That would be between one of my sisters-in-law and a gentleman in New Zealand, the very place where, post-emigration, our Johanna supposedly had a sibling living.

I took that number—82 centiMorgans—and entered it into Leah Larkin's "What Are The Odds" interactive chart at Jonny Perl's DNA Painter website. Here is what I got:

While I removed the relationships with the lowest percentage of probability (two categories, each ranked with three percent probability), there are still several connections for us to examine. If I remove all the half-relationships and focus on only the full relationships, we could be dealing with anything from a first cousin three times removed to a fourth cousin.

To help me avoid having my mind go cross-eyed, I then snagged a copy of my husband's pedigree chart to help keep the relationships straight—and to correctly count off all those x-times-removed connections.

To also help you avoid going cross-eyed, I've included the paternal side of his pedigree chart here. The little black rectangle in the lower left corner, labeled "Stevens," represents my husband. If you've been following along at A Family Tapestry for a long time, you've already met my husband's dad, Frank, and his paternal grandfather, Will. Johanna Falvey was Will's maternal grandmother.

If we take the simple relationships—third cousin and fourth cousin—as possible relationships, we are talking about finding a match for whom the Most Recent Common Ancestor would be Johanna herself, or her parents. Since I already have traced all the lines of descent from Johanna and her husband John Kelly, even though that thirty one percent probability looks the strongest on paper, it is not likely, given the DNA matches we are working with, thus I'll eliminate that third cousin possibility. On the other hand, the fourth cousin match would target Johanna's parents, the very ancestors I still need to identify—making this a key relationship to watch.

The more complicated relationships also pointed back to specific MRCAs. In the case of first cousin three times removed, that would represent a first cousin to Catherine Kelly, Johanna's daughter, and thus Johanna's parent as MRCA. A second cousin once removed would be a second cousin to Frank, yielding a MRCA as Johanna, herself, which I would again rule out as a possibility. Yet, the second cousin twice removed option would lead to Johanna's parent as MRCA, a possibility, despite the twenty four percent probability, which I could still accept. And the second cousin three times removed, at a twelve percent probability, would finger one of Johanna's own cousins, pointing to her grandparents as MRCA.

Thus, I can diagram the specific relationships which would be most likely, given a shared eighty two centiMorgans between my sister-in-law and this man from New Zealand. While I don't yet know the identity of Johanna Falvey's parents or grandparents, this gives me some specific connections which are most likely, based on the science of probabilities and what I already know about Johanna's own descendants.  

Monday, July 13, 2020

Adventures in Website-Jumping

Do you ever find it easier to locate a specific record deep within one website by searching via a different website? I use that technique all the time, especially when Google can better zero in to a specific term within a website lacking an efficient search engine of its own. For instance, I'll often compose a search with the name of a website in quotes, followed by the exact book or topic I'm seeking, or even surname, such as "Internet Archive" plus "History of Perry County" plus Gordon.

Now that I'm on this mad pursuit of the parents' names for one Johanna Falvey of County Kerry, Ireland, I've aggregated a sizeable stack of notes. My tactic was to examine the Catholic baptismal records—in whatever form they are currently made available—to glean the names of all sponsors for all children born to Falvey parents in the parishes where I've already found their known children. (I chose to focus on Falvey rather than Kelly, as it is a somewhat less common surname.)

Running on the theory that all godparents are actually siblings or in-laws of either of the child's parents, for each Falvey-Kelly child baptised, I then examined their sponsors' names. Eventually, I hoped, I'd run full circle and be able to piece together family constellations for the siblings and in-laws of Johanna Falvey and her husband, John Kelly.

Well, now I have a pile of notes and am ready to organize them further. However, some come from one website and some from another. Some are digitized photos of the actual records, while others are merely transcriptions of original records. The trouble with transcripts, of course, is that someone might have made an error in the copying of the material. I need to see those records for myself—but where to look?

To the rescue came a timely blog post by genealogist Donna Moughty who, in less pandemic-ridden times, would host research trips to Ireland each fall. Donna has been writing a series of blog posts on what she considers the best websites in Ireland for family history research, and in this particular entry, had discussed the website

Because this is a subscription website, Donna recommended first checking to make sure the site included records from the region you are researching. She included an example of how she used the site for her County Mayo ancestors, but since I already was aware that the site was not the best resource for Catholic records from County Kerry, I thought I would follow her instructions in how to first check availability.

By going to the website, then the tab "Online Resources," a drop-down menu appeared, in which I clicked on my target county, Kerry. From that new page, I then clicked on the tab labeled "Online Resources." This gave me a listing of all the available records for each listed Catholic parish by date in County Kerry.

Oh, if only the parishes I wanted were in the list here at this website! But they weren't. So I went on to Donna's other suggestion: to check the status of records by going to John Grenham's site, "Irish Ancestors." There, I entered the surname Falvey, and found some interesting maps confirming that, yep, Falveys are definitely in County Kerry.

What I also found at the Grenham site was a listing of Falvey Roman Catholic Baptisms. It was a clickable link, so what else was there to do but click on the link?! Along the left hand column was a listing of all baptisms by county and parish. Clicking on the parish link there would bring this curious Alice to the actual entries in the subscription site Find My Past. Because I already have a subscription to that service, what else would a curious researcher do, but click on through?

Of course, I already had been prepared by knowing the name of the three potential parish locations for my Falvey connections, so hopping over to Find My Past was deftly facilitated by John Grenham's cross-linking. Easy peasy.

Lest I get overwhelmed by that curiouser-and-curiouser feeling, what I need to do next is cull all the information I've already gathered into a much more manageable form. Then, since I'm now touring the Irish Catholic baptismal records for County Kerry at Find My Past, I may as well make myself at home and take those other surnames for a test drive. Surnames already linked to our Kelly and Falvey family are Connor, Cullinane, Fleming, O'Brien, and Sullivan. Somehow, as sponsors, they are supposedly in-laws to our Johanna Falvey or her husband John Kelly. My next step needs to be to find out as much about these other in-laws as I possibly can.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Progress in the Face
of Diminishing Returns

One of the prime reasons I committed to expanding my family trees, several years ago, was to help identify the distant cousins sure to appear, once my husband and I took our DNA tests. The struggle of looking at all those unrecognizable names of distant cousins in our test results was too frustrating for me. I set about to develop a system to find that needle in the genealogical haystack.

Bit by bit, every two weeks, I checked progress on four trees—one for each of our daughter's grandparents. Some trees grew rapidly, such as my mother-in-law's Catholic family which migrated west to Ohio from their original landing places in Pennsylvania and Maryland. My mother's tree, which dates back to colonial times in North America, likewise grew exponentially over the centuries. My father-in-law's tree, converging in the midwest from two vastly different immigration routes—one through Canada, the other up the Mississippi from New Orleans—grew in fits and starts, and currently  has me stymied with one branch of the Irish ancestry in County Kerry.

The numbers today, for my biweekly count, tell the story of the widely divergent results. My mother's tree stands at 22,676 individuals after having added 247 more documented individuals over the past two weeks. My mother-in-law's tree of 19,094 only grew by eighteen in the same period, mainly following an addition of a few people after a DNA match's emailed contact last week. Neither my dad's tree, stuck at 715 names, or my father-in-law's tree, now at 1,812, saw any action this time.

The main concern over this strategy is that it only helps when I have DNA matches to compare with my tree data. No addition to the trees, no additional help in connecting with matches. On the flip side of that, no additional DNA test customers, no additional DNA connections—and those numbers have slowed to a trickle. In the past two weeks, for instance, my account gained only one new DNA match at and two at 23andMe. My account at Family Tree DNA did somewhat better at twenty new matches in the past two weeks, but who's to say those aren't submissions from law enforcement agencies, desperate to solve cold cases, a la "The Genetic Detective." I doubt I'd be exchanging emails with the admins for cases like that.

And yet, I keep on adding the records, working one at a time through the branches of each descendant of my ancestors. Working consistently, a little at a time, day by day, is the most reasonable way to make research progress. Sometimes, that progress is more obvious, such as adding individuals in my mother's tree via documentation. Sometimes, that progress seems stalled, in cases such as my floundering attempt to break through that brick wall ancestor in my father-in-law's Falvey line in County Kerry. But I've learned to have confidence that the consistently-applied effort will eventually lead to an answer. Bit by bit. Day after day. Record by record. Resource by resource.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Missing Everyone

It's the middle of July, time for many genealogical societies to take a midsummer break, and yet, something different is happening this year. Some groups are continuing their meeting schedule into the summer months. Why? Because, as one member put it in a text to me this week, "I miss everyone!"

It might seem that the typical genealogical society member would be on the far end of the spectrum from the technology enthusiast, but somehow, they are now learning how to swim in these uncharted waters. Funny how the need to connect can find ways to adapt, despite mandated isolation.

After cancelling our first meeting in, likely, ever last March, our local society tried this new service called Zoom. Despite the board's misgivings about how many people we'd see at our first virtual event—our society's program director and I guessed the number would be approaching zero—we were pleasantly surprised with a healthy showing, including members from far out of town who would otherwise not be able to attend in person.

As the months wore on with no apparent solution to the pandemic threat, we found ourselves, as a board, devising more ways to connect with our members. We re-activated special interest groups and even began a new one. We asked for volunteers to help us test the technology waters so we could try out the other features of our newfound online presence, and experimented with using "breakout rooms"—and fell in love with the possibilities for interactive experiences.

While we were trying out our technology wings, our society's board was also looking around to glean ideas from neighboring societies. Perhaps because we always assume the grass is greener over yonder, we thought those other folks would have far better ideas than we did. But, to our surprise, we discovered that there are still some societies out there which chose to run in the opposite direction, closing shop and taking a hiatus until the threat cleared.

They may be waiting for a long time.

In the meantime, are we being gluttons for the possible? We have found yet another way to gather our members together online, and are launching a second event for each month—at least for the summer, billing the extra meeting an experiment. But what if everyone likes the experiment? This is certainly an unexpected way to expand our services.

The current pandemic may have caused myriad troubles for some—with small local businesses permanently shuttering their doors, and large corporations threatening massive employee layoffs. But in other ways, necessity has indeed once again become the mother of invention.

In this case, we have been so starved for human interaction that we are satisfied to see each others' faces in two-by-one squares checkered across our computer monitors. It's not exactly my idea of reaching out and touching someone, but it certainly suffices. "I miss everyone" turns out to be a sentiment which currently resonates with a lot of people.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Lessons in Chicken Scratch

Round and round the search seems to go, seeking answers to a simple question: who are the parents of Johanna Falvey of County Kerry, Ireland?

At this point, armed with data from seven DNA matches' trees, I thought it might be a simple matter of searching through the digitized baptismal records from the two Catholic parishes where I had previously found promising Falvey records. I had culled the "founding ancestor" from the pedigree chart of each of seven Falvey descendants whose DNA matches my husband's test results, along with the purported name of their parents in six of the match cases.

I worked my way down the list, from the match with the largest amount of centiMorgans shared in common, with not so much as a possible connection, once I searched those baptismal records.

And then, I came to an entry for a child of a couple named Jeremiah Falvey and Margaret Sullivan. This seemed a likely match, as in previous explorations, I had seen the Sullivan surname pop up as sponsors for some of our own close Falvey family records. The record was also from a parish which I had already encountered for the baptismal record of one of our Johanna's own children.

The entry I found, however, was apparently a record in very poor shape. Whoever attempted to transcribe the handwriting left the entry riddled with question marks. There was simply no way to confidently determine, in the faint scrawl, what the gaps in handwriting could have signified.

I squinted and peered and blinked and looked again, but the letters just didn't speak to me. Finally, I went looking for any translation key that could help me make sense of the written message, and found this helpful decoding ring from Claire Santry's "Irish Genealogy Toolkit." It provided an example, not of a baptismal entry per se, but of a likely shorthand a Catholic priest might use to abbreviate the entry.

Here's her example:
Bapt Michaeli, fl Patricus Daly et Ellena Mahony, Courtmshry. Sp John Doyle, Marian Shea.

Here's her translation:
I baptised Michael, legitimate son of Patrick Daly and Ellen Driscoll of Courtmacsherry. Godparents John Doyle and Mary Shea.

I had spotted the "F.L." entry in the baptismal entry I had found in County Kerry, and wondered whether it might have stood for filium legitimum. After all, I suppose it could get tedious for a priest to have to write the same formulaic phrases over and over in a record book, when everyone already knows the pattern of what was supposed to be written. Seeing Claire Santry's example helped substantiate my guess.

As for the rest of that faint scrawl in the baptismal records in the Falveys' parish in County Kerry, I wasn't so certain. I could make out the faint "Falvey" but what was the father's given name? It started with Deme—but then, what followed? Could it have been Demetrius? But that didn't yield me the Jeremiah Falvey and Margaret Sullivan this DNA match's tree assured me I'd see.

I did recall, somewhere in the distant past of researching Irish names translated into Latin, that there was something up with the name Jeremiah, once it was transformed into Latin. Off on a mad search I went again, to see what the Irish equivalent of Demetrius might be—if, of course, that scrawl did indeed spell Demetrius.

There are several listings which assured me they contained exactly what I was looking for, but upon further inspection, alas, did not include the sought after Demetrius. All except for one, that is: this chart from FamilySearch on equivalents of Latin names for England. Sure enough, there in its right place was an entry assuring me that the English equivalent for Demetrius was indeed Jeremiah.

With that small victory, I wasn't done with this particular search, though. There was one small problem remaining. While I was looking for a child of Jeremiah Falvey and Margaret Sullivan whose name was Bridget, this entry recorded the baptism of their son named Michael.

Even bigger problem: the date of Michael's baptism—clearly given as the 28th—happened in August of 1842. Guess what year was given for the birth of our DNA match's ancestor, Bridget? That very year. Clearly, we aren't talking about the same Jeremiah and Margaret as parents.

Perhaps it's time to retrace our steps and look at the family trees of each of our DNA matches with a more discerning eye. Rather than assuming that the line of descent is already correctly laid out in each match's pedigree chart, it's always best to start with the present and work our way backwards through the generations. The best lesson we can learn, in deciphering chicken scratch, is to make sure we are looking at the right handwriting in the first place.

Above: Entry from Catholic parish in Molahiffe, County Kerry, Ireland, for 1842 baptism of Michael Falvey; image courtesy
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