Thursday, August 10, 2017

Near the end of the journey?

Maybe it started with a casual question, to yourself or a parent or close older relative. Or seeing one of those commercials on TV about finding your origins using DNA, or those shaking leaves. Just a casual thought. And then - boom - it's 35 years later and you have a whole room full of genealogy information and find yourself going on a "genealogy vacation."

Now comes the next stage of the journey: bringing it down the home stretch. No one wants to talk about this or if they do touch on it at all, the advice is to "make plans about who gets your stuff." But what happens between now and then? I'm 70 and thinking about how long I have to get my stuff ready for the big handoff. Getting older has some downsides and one of them for many of us is not being able to travel any more so less time is spent on finding those missing records at distant archives. Some of us can't remember quite as well as we used to or see the computer screen or book page as well as we once did. We never know how soon this record hunting will all come to a halt. This reality needs to be faced and anticipated to the degree we are able.

The big question isn't who gets my stuff but what shape is it going to be in when they get it? What are my plans between now and when my genealogy goods get handed off to my niece or nephews. Am I going to ship it all the big binders Mom started to them in a series of cardboard boxes? Will it get put in their garages, assuming they even have garages? No, it needs to be packaged for the future. Digital.

So, I'm sitting here thinking about the form all of the genealogy stuff needs to be in. (Poor sentence structure, I know.) Frankly, this is a work in progress but let me share what I have so far and maybe you have some thought you can add.

You should be aware to that Mom started this genealogy thing back in the 1970s. She got a slow start but then it kept rolling, like a snowball, getting bigger as it went. Last year, and because Mom is 99 and has macular degeneration and can't see the computer any longer, I brought the remainder of her binders and notebooks along with all of her books here with me. (She's in Western Maryland and I'm in San Diego.)

These present a different sort of problem when it comes to archiving the materials. Also I should mention that Mom was very good at this and went to archives, churches, and courthouses you can't get to anymore. She copied documents and took notes while there. It needs to be organized, scanned, and generally converted to digital form. So this is where I am with Mom's material.

The tree that Mom started and I built is now on Ancestry and the latest version of it downloaded to Family Tree Maker resident on my computer which is backed up to an external hard drive and backed up to Carbonite. About 10 years ago, Mom's version of her tree only existed on her computer. If her house (heaven forbid) caught on fire, all of her work would have been lost. The first task was to copy over all of her digital files to an external hard drive, and that included all of her many versions of her tree in GEDCOM form. We decided that it was well past time to share her work with anyone who needed it so I uploaded it to Ancestry. The tree is public under the name "Virginia Williams Kelly's Big Tree".

Once there on Ancestry I got very busy attaching all of the available documents from Ancestry, attaching the census, book, index, Find A grave and all the rest of them to the appropriate individuals. Because there are over 60,000 people on Mom's tree I chose to focus on the "blood line" or direct line back, and included siblings but mostly stopped there when it came to investing time attaching all the records.

Next, I uploaded photos from Mom's collection for each member in the blood line. I think having a photo of your relative or ancestor is soulfully important, and if candid's were available, all the better.  As I went, if there were any important documents, such as a death certificate for an individual then it got scanned and uploaded. Remember, it's Mom's intention that her work be shared with as many other who might be interested and I share that attitude.

OK, so far Mom and I are sharing share our collective work with 1) members of the immediate family once the material is organized without dropping off a pile of boxed on someone's doorstep, and 2) with others by way of  our Ancestry Member Tree.

Then, a project started last year and to be finished soon is to write up the story of each of our bloodlines and tell it in the most interesting and fact-filled way we can. Last year I wrote up Dad's side, had it bound, and gave a hard copy to my brother and sister. A thump drive went to each of the nieces and nephews. This year I'm working on Mom's side. Now I'm wondering if a local library might be interested in it?

To tell the truth, I like having this narrative form of our family's history for a number of reasons. Obviously, it's the easiest way to see and understand the broad sweep of our ancestral lines, tell the big story back through the many generations. And this story form is the easiest way to get the younger generation interested.

There's research that shows the young folks do better in life when they know they came from resilient people and personally know the individual stories of our people. Every family has resilient people and a story that says our people met with adversity. suffered, persevered and overcame. In our family there's the story of our great grandmother who ran back into her burning home to save the babies. And her husband who rebuilt the house bigger and better, but on another street. See the pattern? Tragedy, loss, suffering and then they overcame. Mine did and I'm willing to bet that yours did too.

So here I am, ready for the next step and that's taking all of Mom's binders and notebooks and turning them digital. My schedule for the rest of the year - at least- is a big old scanning party! Once that's finished I can rest a little easier.

So, what's your plan for giving your genealogy stuff to the next generation? Boxes of binders or papers? Or will it be dumped ending up on the curb for the trash man?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The never finished tree: DNA proving otherwise

Weekly, someone will contact me because we match on either AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Mostly, we can find the common ancestor and a time or two we've found more than one shared ancestor. That's nice too because we're doubly connected.

I'm lucky because I got a big head start from all the genealogy work Mom did. She worked on the family tree from the early 1970 and when she had to stop due to eye problems she had almost 70,000 folks on the tree. Sure, many are way out there on limbs connected to other limbs, and so on, but she got more right than not.

Truth be told and because she's a great genealogist, she still worries about the accuracy of it all. When someone contacts me because they see their ancestor in this blog or because of a DNA connection, it's rare for them to tell me that I have it wrong. She's that good and I've been rechecking her work as I go along, finding new records not available to her.

There are exceptions to this and one of them has to do with a particularly confusing bunch of Workman chromosomes. I match people I shouldn't. And because DNA doesn't lie, if you do it right, my suspicion is that the confusion has to do with a man named John Workman.

Their John Workman on the confusing match trees, is John the Mormon. He was born in Cumberland, MD and went "out west" as part of that great Mormon migration. Here's the Find A Grave listing for John the Mormon and there's so much incorrect about it I hardly know where to start! Let me just say that, yes, there were early Workman in Maryland in the 1600s but they have nothing to do with the Workman family who came to Western Maryland in the late 1700s who were Dutch and came to New Amsterdam in 1647, then New Jersey about 1700.

I'm certain about who my John Workman is and that he was the son of Isaac Workman, one of many by this name, who moved on to Ohio about 1820. I have that paper trail nailed!

Thing is, these other John the Mormon people are showing up on my DNA match radar. And a couple are adamant that I'm wrong. One is quite offensive about it too. Never mind.

So here's the interesting part. I know who my John Workman is and who his parents were and children too. Have it all documented. So when these other folks came at me with the DNA thing and their John Workman and insisted that I am incorrect, at first I got defensive. Then I just sat back and thought, guess we just disagree.

Imagine this situation, if you will. By the 1780s, maybe as many as 100 Workman people were in Allegany County living in very close proximity to each other, all ultimately descended from a couple who came to New Amsterdam in 1647. They migrated in clutches - Brooklyn to New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, and on to Allegany County MD - then split up and moved on in small groups.

Have been collecting names and ancestors and keeping a chromosome spreadsheet when I can get the information. But there's a number of projects on my To Do list. I'll get on this one in a while. It needs to be done. Back before 1800 all of these Workman were moving around and naming all of their children John, Isaac, Nimrod, Cuthbert, William, Samuel and Stephen, and all in the same place. Good grief! DNA might be the only way to sort it out.

As a side note, John the Mormon is a very big deal and to say that you descend from him is rather  important. Of course you see what I'm getting at here. Not saying that's what's going on but simply suggesting a possible motivation to be connected to John the Mormon rather than my humble John the farmer out in Western Maryland.

We all know our trees are never finished and that they all contain mistakes. It can hardly be any other way. Once you get past a certain point, going back in time, records are hard to find. Maybe DNA is the only way to sort it all out. Maybe.