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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Thursday’s schedule was a bit slow-paced, but Friday’s schedule (Day 2) was jam-packed with activities.

On Friday and Saturday, the first lecture of the day started at 8:30. On Friday I first chose “Loyalist Migrations: Leaving & Returning to the States,” given by Chief Paul Bunnell, UE. For those that don’t know, Paul Bunnell has published several books on Loyalists as well as a number of other books. So far, my earliest immigrants to what eventually became the Canadian province of Ontario were Loyalists who left the rebelling Colonies behind. My family eventually came back to the States, but they left many of their relatives behind in Ontario, and most of the folks I’ve met through my research who are researching one or more of these same lines still live in Canada. Loyalists are still a hot topic here in New England after over two centuries, with some researchers whose family all stayed in New England and who believe all of them supported the revolutionaries becoming bitter any time any Loyalist who fought in New England is mentioned, so I had been pleasantly surprised to see on NERGC’s schedule that there was a talk on Loyalists.

I really enjoyed Paul Bunnell’s lecture. He started out with two statutes that were supposed to apply to Loyalists in the new States, one included in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and another passed in 1784. Loyalists were, for example, supposed to get their seized land and other seized property back. I knew from my research that this did not happen, and indeed, he pointed out that not a single state honored these statutes. Turning federal theory into local practice was apparently simply not possible for the young United States.

The thing that struck me the most was that though there were only approximately 3,000 Loyalist claims put in to the Crown, not all of which were approved, he mentioned that since he had started doing Loyalist research many years ago, the total number of Loyalists who left the American Colonies has been significantly revised upwards several times, to the point where it is now estimated to be around 150,000. With a staggering difference of 147,000, he advised that the some of the best ways to try to determine whether your research subject that moved to Canada was a Loyalist if there was no claim are to try to determine when they left the now-United-States, where they settled, and who settled in the same immediate area. He also suggested checking shares in ships as a possible record source for locating a Loyalist and finding associated people, as many times families and associates would all buy shares in one ship.

Paul Bunnell said that the fastest, easiest way to determine who settled in the same immediate area is through the maps of the initial land grants, but unfortunately, as he noted, these appear to primarily survive for New Brunswick. This is great for researchers of New Brunswick Loyalists, but many more people settled in Nova Scotia and the future provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Often people from the same original location in the Colonies and/or the same military regiment would settle in the same immediate area, and he has been able to use the New Brunswick maps to successfully track many people back to their origins in the now-States via their associates. As someone who tremendously loves maps anyway, I remain disappointed that there appear to be so few extant ones for the early European now-Ontario settlements.

Paul Bunnell stressed early and repeatedly that Crown land grants were not given out evenly nor fairly. The high-ranking military officials got by far the most land, and single white men and any black men (single or not, military or not) got the least, at only 50 acres per man, which was very difficult to successfully live off in most of the areas Loyalists settled. Due to this unfairness and other issues, there were a number of riots of white and black Loyalist settlers, especially in certain areas.

Paul Bunnell also noted that there were a number of Loyalists, especially elderly women, still alive in Canada in 1851, and should clearly be marked as “UE” (for United Empire Loyalist) on the 1851 census. After NERGC I tried this with the only one I personally knew was a possibility – the daughter of a UE who got a land grant for her family when the Crown started allowing children of Loyalists to apply – but her entry does not list her as UE. I don’t know if this is because technically it was her father who was UE, not her, or if it’s because the enumerator in this district seems to have been kind of phoning it in; for example, her birth place is only listed as “Cda” (standing for “Canada”).

Next up, I continued with the day’s “Military Track” by attending “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England,” by Craig Scott, CG; the conflict that we usually call the “French and Indian War” here in the States is known in Europe as the “Seven Years’ War.” For those that don’t know, Craig Scott is an expert on military records relating to American conflicts, including colonial-era ones. I am generally interested in the history of this war that so impacted the New Englanders and New Yorkers in my tree and have also accidentally found numerous casualties of the Native American raids on colonists’ settlements in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s in New England vital records of the time period [the latter, though more closely tied to the earlier war generally known as “King Philip’s War” than the French and Indian War, is the subject of another draft in my blog files, hopefully to be posted here someday soon]. Additionally, I have at least one ancestor that local histories state was a soldier in the French and Indian War, but I have done very little research on his possible service to date. Consequently, this was one of the lectures that I circled as a must-attend as soon as I registered for NERGC. It exceeded my expectations.

Craig Scott set the stage for his lecture by showing a French map of colonial North America followed by an British map of colonial North America. The differences in their views, including the way they colonized a place, were more starkly illustrated visually than they ever could have been in words, and just looking at the two maps, it was apparent that there was likely to be conflict over the places these views overlapped. Craig Scott expressed the opinion that in retrospect, there was no question at all which of the approaches to colonization would win, and which of the societies would consequently become the permanent new settlers of North America.

Craig Scott went on to discuss some of the colonial wars in North America, putting them into two categories – wars exclusively with Native Americans, primarily over land issues, and wars between colonial powers, most of them starting in Europe. He stated that the French and Indian War is an exception to the latter category; it started here and ended there. While it is commonly called the French and Indian War here in the States, he generally referred to it as the Fourth Anglo-French War, and stated that part of the issue was that the Third Anglo-French War had never fully ended here in North America; though the French had stopped fighting in North America, many of their Native American allies continued fighting between the two “official” wars. In North America, the Fourth Anglo-French War was fought from Acadia (now Nova Scotia) to Fort Niagara down the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers in Pennsylvania and the South.

In 1748 the British Crown approved a 200,000 acre grant near the forks in the river where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stands today. Craig Scott argued that the French built their fort at now-Pittsburgh in direct response to this. The fort became one of the issues that led to war. Despite the war so impacting North America, he pointed out that most of the colonial fighting took place in the British Crown’s top-priority colony of India and that the last battle of the war was fought in Manila Bay. He mentioned as an aside that this same prioritizing of India would stretch the British military thin, causing the Crown to not send enough troops to quickly quell the 1776 rebellion in North America.

Troops fighting on the British side in the French and Indian War/Fourth Anglo-French War included the British Army, the Colonial Forces, two types of militias known as the Colonial Militia and the County Militia, Sailors and Marines, and Native American allies. The Colonial Militia was generally tasked with protecting the home front and had “no great interest in wandering far away.” Many in the British Army treated the colonial soldiers poorly.

The general guideline Craig Scott suggested is to look for possible service of any North American man of British descent who was between the ages of 18 and 60 during the war. No New Englanders successfully obtained bounty land from service in this war, so that would be a fruitless search. Because so much of the war was fought by New Englanders in New York, Craig Scott recommended the New York Historical Society Museum & Library as a good resource for those of us researching New Englanders who served in the war, as well as mentioning multiple times that the National Archives [UK] has a good number of records since anyone serving at the time was technically serving in the British military. He also advised researchers “follow the money” by utilizing treasury records, including people being paid for military service and colonists being paid for logistical support. I can personally attest to this as an excellent strategy; I have utilized treasury records extensively in my research of the American Revolution in Vermont.

My Twitter friend Beverly Hallam (@Beverly_H_) is the volunteer research co-ordinator for the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) and did some follow-up when I mentioned Craig Scott’s comments on the impact the Crown’s heavy military investment in India had on their global interests at this time. On FIBIS’s Wiki, she found some internal and external links on the Seven Years’ War in and near India, which you can read here.

For those of you that have never attended an American genealogy conference before, there are typically conference-sponsored workshops, luncheons, and dinners that cost extra to attend beyond the conference price and generally have a limit, after which further people are placed onto a waiting list. The luncheons and dinners are typically sponsored by a genealogical society, genealogical company, or similar. The only one I attended at NERGC was next up on my schedule – the Friday luncheon sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) and featuring Laura Prescott giving a presentation titled “Jousting with the Gatekeepers” of records. MGC is an umbrella organization whose primariy mission is working to monitor records access on a state and national level and, if necessary, to mobilize genealogists and others that need to access American records to support or oppose specific legislation.

This luncheon was a bit different than ones I’ve attended at one-day events in the past; they waited until about everyone had finished eating before beginning the presentation. After a brief introduction on what MGC does, the first speaker introduced Laura Prescott. I didn’t really know what to expect from her presentation, but much of it consisted of specific stories regarding people having anywhere from an incredibly easy to extremely difficult time accessing records in specific locations. This wide mix reflected my own experiences, and I’d imagine that anyone who has tried to access records in a variety of different locations has probably had similarly varied experiences. The talk succinctly illustrated how important the “gatekeeper” is to our ability to access records. Laura Prescott ended with some steps we can all take to try to keep the best access to records possible, including being ever-vigilant towards proposed legislation.

Our table was a mix of people I already knew and ones that I had not known before sitting with them. The couple that sat down next to me turned out to live in a town in Vermont where one of my lines settled in the late 1700’s, which is also next to a town where another line of mine settled around the same time. They had moved there from elsewhere and were excited to meet someone who has an ancestor mentioned in the tome* on the history of the town, though I suspect I was even more excited than they were at meeting people who live somewhere of research interest to me! Since NERGC, we have been emailing. (*You probably think I’m exaggerating, but it’s one of the books I jokingly keep in mind at the library as a way to injure an attempted attacker if it’s ever necessary.)

As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vegetarian entree was actually good. As a vegetarian I often find that at catered genealogy events, non-vegetarians take most of the vegetarian choice(s), for whatever their reason(s) may be, and that the vegetarian choice(s) tend to be rather boring and sometimes not very tasty. Thankfully for this luncheon you pre-ordered your entree when you registered, and were served it by waitstaff rather than the much more common self-catering.

On Friday and Saturday, the afternoon contained three lecture time slots, as it had on Thursday. On Thursday I had heard reports from people I knew that they had been unable to attend the lecture they wanted to attend because the room was full by the time they arrived, so by Friday I tried to make it to a room quickly to reserve a seat even if I ended up temporarily leaving between my first arrival and the start of the lecture.

My first choice on Friday afternoon was Steve Morse’s “Genealogy Beyond the Y Chromosome: Autosomes Exposed.” The largest room was crowded for this talk on DNA, showing the great interest in the subject that was also reported by people who attended DNA sessions at RootsTech 2013. Steve Morse made it very clear at the beginning that he was not a genetics expert, but rather a layperson interested in explaining the science behind DNA tests to others. Thanks to his clear, concise, visuals-heavy explanations tailored for fellow laypeople, I felt like I finally fully understood the science behind the autosomal DNA testing my family had done.

At the end of his talk, Steve Morse recapped the different kinds of testing currently widely available to genealogists. According to him, Y-DNA tests can potentially find both recent and “deep” cousins, mtDNA tests are primarily for finding “deep” cousins, autosomal DNA tests are primarily for finding recent cousins and/or testing amongst potential recent-common-ancestor relatives, and the tests that tell you your percent of each ethnicity are junk science that doesn’t really tell you anything.

In the last part of his presentation and again in answer to some questions, he stressed that you are at the mercy of the statisticians to match you and/or interpret your results; for tests where you are matching to recent cousins, it’s much more difficult for the statisticians to make an error that will significantly impact your matches, but once you get back to deep ancestry or if you are taking a test to determine your ethnicity percentages, it is much easier for a statistician to interpret your results in a way that skews your results and/or your matches. He also stressed repeatedly that because autosomal DNA changes with every generation, with potential significant differences even between full siblings, it’s not very accurate beyond about 4-5 generations at the way the technology stands today.

Next I stayed in the large room for Lori Thornton’s “Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer.” While I thought the lecture was interesting, it wasn’t what I expected from the title and description. Most of the highlighted records were ones that could apply to people in a variety of occupations rather than specifically applying only to farmers.

For me, my best takeaway from the lecture had nothing to do with farmers. One of the example record sets she gave was the Vermont Religious Certificates, which early Vermont required of Christians who were of other denominations besides Congregationalist, what the Puritan denomination had become over time. I had forgotten this record set existed, as almost all of my New Englanders were Puritans/Congregationalists. I have been trying for some time to figure out what church my great-great-great-grandmother attended at the end of her life; she mentioned it in a letter to her grandson using a church name that appears to have been colloquial, as I have not been able to use the name to successfully determine the church. I was briefly hopeful that perhaps this could be a source to utilize in my search, but unfortunately I later quickly determined that the certificates had stopped being required decades before she would have switched churches, and also that they often don’t mention the specific alternate church the person is attending anyway. However, it is good that I was reminded of the record set and it will now stick in my head as a possible future source.

I was somewhat surprised that when discussing land grants and homestead applications, Lori Thornton only mentioned the low-information one-page land patents that have been scanned onto the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (BLM-GLO) site, but did not include information on ordering homestead or other applications, what the applications could contain, nor the survey maps that the BLM-GLO scanned onto their site a few years ago. I wondered if perhaps this was because it seemed from her presentation that almost all of her research was in the Deep South of the U. S., and in the federal land states in the Deep South the process was mostly a cash-entry land patent system rather than systems such as the land grants offered to veterans of the War of 1812 (or next-of-kin if they were deceased) starting in the 1850’s primarily in the Midwest and the homesteads primarily in the Plains and West that began via the Homestead Act of 1862. Cash-entry applications, such as those that were common in the South, typically are only a few pages long and typically contain almost no information on the research subject, though I have heard stories from other researchers about surprise gems found in those slim applications as well, a good reminder to never write off any record as automatically being useless in a search.

On the way home that night I asked the person with whom I was carpooling that day, who had been sitting with me at the farmer lecture, if they had checked whether their New Englanders who moved to the American Plains had taken out a homestead. They said they had not, and in response I detailed some of the information that can be found in the applications and they said that they had never realized how much information can be found in them and that they were going to investigate further. I readily admit that I am biased; homestead applications are one of my favorite American and Canadian record sets.

As my last lecture choice of the day, I continued with the previous lecture’s “Occupations Track” and went to Jayne Jordan’s “Indentured Servants in the New England Colonies.” She didn’t have enough handouts so I never received the handout of resources, and she had no working projector so we had no visuals for what she said was supposed to be a visual presentation. I left that talk not really having a better idea of how to research indentured servants than when I arrived. The primary benefit for me personally from that lecture is that one of the examples she gave was of a family that I’m as sure as I can possibly be from the given date and location was headed by a brother or first cousin to my direct line, but is a collateral line that I haven’t thoroughly researched so far. From the lecture I now know that at least according to her research, some of their children were removed from their home and placed into indentured servitude, which provides me with a place to start, even though I will have to figure out on my own how to do the research. She did not state whether she found the information on that family in original records or some other source.

I have had Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 by Christopher Tomlins (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2010) in my to-read pile for some time. Not having read it, I cannot tell you how good it is, but I can tell you that based on the index, there are many references to indentured servitude, including a number of specific references regarding the various English colonies, with the largest amounts being for Pennsylvania and Virginia.

After the last lecture of the day, I attended a private reception for alumni and teachers of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research program. It was nice to see a number of familiar faces and meet some new folks. Around 50 people attended, though I am sure that there were more program alumni present at NERGC than at the reception. The NERGC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were pushed back from their original scheduled start of 7:00 to starting at 7:30, so unfortunately I never made it to so much as the beginning of any of them.

………

My own experiences that day will probably go down as one of the strangest days of my life. We are of course always living future history, but at least for me, only occasionally does it really strike me that I am, at that moment, living history that will be remembered by many around the world.

I woke at 5:00 and turned on the news to discover that there had been a shootout the previous evening between the police and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Shortly after I began watching the news, the authorities announced that much of metropolitan Boston was now in “lockdown” and the entire public transit system had been closed. I live a little beyond the lockdown area – about a 15-minute walk from the border of the nearest locked-down town – but my friend with whom I was carpooling that day called at 6:00 to say they were on their way and would call back if they encountered any roadblocks or other problems. We were able to make it up to Manchester, New Hampshire, with no issues, though we did see a good number of speeding, siren-blaring police cars zip past going the other direction while we were leaving the metro area. I would subsequently discover that the BU staff member who had coordinated BU’s NERGC reception was not present at the reception because she did live in one of the towns in the lockdown, so I was lucky to have made it there.

When I arrived at NERGC many people who knew me expressed happy surprise to see me there, saying, “I didn’t know if you were going to make it.” I often responded, “I made it here, though I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll be able to make it home tonight.” This was true; I knew it was possible I would have to spend the night outside the metro area, depending on how events unfolded that day. NERGC volunteers had printed out stickers that said “WE ARE BOSTON” for attendees to put on their badges and had put them at the registration desk. Before the first session started and during every break, a throng of people clustered around the hotel lobby’s television, perpetually on a news channel on mute, to see if there were updates, and in the hallways people often asked me if I’d heard anything new recently.

On the car ride home we turned on the radio and discovered that the remaining suspect had been located but not yet apprehended. Shortly after I got home authorities announced that he had successfully been apprehended. I was so busy all day that I did not get the chance to check Twitter until I was home, and many of my Twitter friends had expressed worry over the day. (Thank you all for your concern.)

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FamilyTreeDNA sorted out their mis-belief that my mother hadn’t paid for her DNA test upgrade, as I discovered a couple of days ago when she told me that they had notified her that her first DNA test results were available.  She ordered tests without consulting with me, so it was only when I went to look at hers that I discovered that she hadn’t just ordered a more complete mtDNA test (as I said in my most recent entry, she had been one of the early participants in National Geographic’s mitochondrial origins study), but also what FamilyTreeDNA calls their “Family Finder” test, which is their term for their autosomal DNA test.  This is the test that had been completed, with the results available on their site.

I’m glad she didn’t tell me she ordered it, as I probably would have told her that it seemed like the technology didn’t make it worthwhile at the current stage to do this test without having a relative also being tested with whom to compare results.  But as it turns out, she has 2 matches in the database that are stated to be in the 2nd-4th cousins range, with the database estimating them as 3rd cousins.  I wrote to both of them yesterday morning and so far one of the two has responded.

He says his family was primarily clustered in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania border region, wherein my own research on my mother’s lines in this area really flounders; I know from records in Canada that one of my mom’s Loyalist groups was from that area, and I know from a longtime researcher of that family that some of their grandchildren moved back to that area from Canada.  But I have not had any luck tracing their common name, Stewart/Stuart/Steward, back to the previous generation in the States, nor discovering the maiden name of the mother; and from what I have discussed with other researchers of this group, it appears that nobody else has been able to do so either.   My educated guess based on our initial contact is that this is the connection between her and this other person, but it is also possible that they come from some other Colonial New Yorkers who strayed farther south (most of her other direct NY lines were farther north in New York but there’s no reason that relatives of theirs couldn’t have moved south).

DNA results have been so fascinating for me as a researcher because they’re the exact opposite of the way I usually connect with other researchers.  Instead of finding the specific connecting person(s) and working our way outwards from there swapping information (and sometimes theories or leads), we have to start with information that’s as general as possible without being too general to be of any use, and try to work our way inwards to figure out exactly what the specific connection is.

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My father took a DNA test earlier this year, and his results came back this past week.  I am new to using DNA in genealogy, and it’s been an interesting learning experience.  I chose FamilyTreeDNA, primarily because they have the largest database of other users with whom to compare results – a self-reinforcing cycle.  They also offer the option of uploading results to two non-company-specific sites, one each for Y-DNA (paternal line DNA) and mtDNA (maternal line DNA), so I did that for both.  The 67-marker test was the highest Y-DNA test available when I ordered it, so that’s what I got.  My dad has a good match to one other person in the FamilyTreeDNA database, and none in the non-company-specific Y-DNA database.  He has a fair match to two people in the mtDNA database, but if I understand what I’ve read about DNA correctly, that test is much less refined than the Y-DNA test we did; it’s more like a low-marker Y-DNA test.  FamilyTreeDNA is currently having a sale on the much more refined mtDNA test (one that is more like the 67-marker Y-DNA test), so I’ve upgraded his test.  It will be interesting to see what the results are.

I wrote to the best match in the FamilyTreeDNA database, and to the two best matches in the mtDNA site’s database.  Two people have each responded once so far, the third not at all.  The Y-DNA results comparison says that my dad and the other 67-marker Y-DNA test-taker have a 44% chance of having a common ancestor within 4 generations, and an 84 and 97% chance, respectively, of having a common ancestor within 8 or 12 generations.  I have a paper trail for my dad’s paternal line back to the first generation in the Colonies, born c. 1642 and having lived in Connecticut.  That’s 9 generations ago for my dad, as some of his ancestors were born relatively late in their parents’ lives.  If the paper trail is correct, my dad’s paternal line is from England.  Interestingly, this match has a different last name.  12 generations ago may be recently enough for surnames to have been used; the FamilyTreeDNA site says there’s a very good chance that it is recently enough, but of course, it depends on how much time is between each generation in each line.  Regardless, I hope that this matching person writes me again.

Fortuitously, the results came in just in time for me to attempt to summarize them on my Father’s Day phone call to my dad.  He was more interested than I expected, and seemed nonplussed that the best match has a different surname than his.  He asked me to let him know if his best match writes with further information.  As I pointed out to him, because more people are having DNA tests done for genealogy all the time, there’s also a pretty good chance that someone who newly takes the test will match him at some point, just like he matched this other person who had already taken one.

This experience has also really illustrated for me me what I’d heard in lectures, about how the more refined the test the better the results are.  It’s sensical, but the matches list shows it very clearly.  At 37 markers, three people are the same match for him.  But all three have also taken the 67-marker test, like he did, and when you get to that level, one is a full step closer in genetic distance than the other two, meaning that the other two have less than half a chance of having a common ancestor within 4 generations (for example) as the best match, even though the 37-marker test shows them all as equivalent.

I’m not sure exactly why (I guess I didn’t read the fine print finely enough), but FamilyTreeDNA didn’t run my dad’s exact Y-DNA haplogroup via the tests I ordered.  So far, all the site’s results do is predict what his haplogroup is based on his matches – R1b1a2.  So when I ordered the on-sale upgrade for mtDNA, I also added a test for his haplogroup.   I haven’t read a tremendous amount on the haplogroup yet since it’s just a prediction, but what I have read so far isn’t particularly surprising; it’s a common haplogroup in samples taken in Western Europe.  The haplogroup has a new name as of this year, which shows how rapidly our understanding and categorizing of DNA is changing and refining.

My mom got more and more anticipatory as we waited for my dad’s results, till she eventually decided to order a kit for herself without my even asking her about it.  However, there’s a snag in the processing; FamilyTreeDNA currently says that the charges never went through, though the charges posted to her credit card a while ago by this point.  So the test is on hold while things get straightened out.  My mom was tested some years ago as an early participant of the National Geographic mtDNA genetic origins program, through which we discovered that she (and, being my maternal line, by extension me) is (are) part of mtDNA haplogroup J.  This is a much less common haplogroup in Europe than my dad’s predicted Y-DNA haplogroup.  The mtDNA test she ordered will provide much more detailed information than the NatGeo test did.

I do understand, however, why so many genealogists don’t much see the point in taking mtDNA tests at the current level of the technology.  My dad’s maternal line is stalled out for me in the early 1800’s, and I’ve gotten my mom’s maternal line back to the late 1700’s so far and have been taking a break from it.  But that’s not as far back as the best matches often match at this point in the technological development of DNA testing, and many other people, including my dad’s mtDNA decent-match who has shared her most distant known maternal ancestor with me, haven’t gotten their maternal line as  far as I have.  It’s just plain tough to research maternal lines in most locales in the U.S.

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