Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Review of a True Genetic Genealogy Story: "The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir" by Bill Griffeth

DNA tests can reveal family secrets. When a "secret" has been hidden on the Y chromosome causing the tester's DNA to not match his own surname, we call it a "non-paternity event." Somewhere in the past, whether they were aware of it or not, one of the fathers who shared that Y-DNA was not a biological father. And, though the term "non-paternity event" sounds very scientific and cold, the results of realizing one of these events is in your tree can be shocking.

Over the past few days, I have followed Bill Griffeth's story as he tells about his own Y-DNA test results and how they affected him. After taking a Y-DNA test at the request of his cousin, he received an email in October of 2012 which broke the news harshly: "Your father was not Uncle Charles."

Bill could not believe that his highly moral mother could have had an affair. He refused to believe the test results and decided to take another test. He was hoping the test company had made a mistake.


The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir, which was released last month, is a wonderfully told tale of how one man attempted to reconcile the startling discovery that the father who raised him was not his biological father. He had spent years researching his Griffeth family and even wrote a book about them: By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism. Bill shares of conflicting emotions as he decided whether or not to share this information with others. His biggest question: should he ask his mother, who was in her 90s, about his birth or would it hurt her too much after keeping the secret all these years?

I've also recently read three other books that I believe would interest most genealogists:


 I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe is the fictional tale of Rosetta whose young husband decided to fight in the Civil War. Not wanting to be left behind, Rosetta disguised herself as a man and signed up to fight by his side. Learning about the daily life of these soldiers and how they suffered and died was heartbreaking, but also insightful as I research my own Civil War ancestors.


Maude, written by Donna Foley Mabry, tells the  life story of Donna's grandmother, Maude. Maude first married when she was "barely over fourteen years old" in 1906 and follows her throughout her lifetime. The reader follows Maude through events like the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression, and both world wars. This wonderfully told story gives insight into what it was like to live through each of these events, and Maude's story was absolutely fascinating.


Someone's Daughter, by Silvia Pettem, was a book that was recommended during my Excelsior's "Practicum in Genealogical Research" class this summer. The author was a volunteer at an annual cemetery event where she came across the grave of a "Jane Doe" who had been murdered over 50 years earlier. Silvia hated to see this young woman remain unidentified. Jane Doe must have had friends and family somewhere who had always wondered what had happened to her.  So, Silvia embarks on a long journey to determine Jane Doe's identity. Along the way, she encounters others who have searched for missing loved ones for decades. An incredible use of genealogy skills to help identify some unknown victims of crimes and other missing individuals.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Census "Trick" Works Again

Matthew Boyers, who was probably born in the 1750s, was living in York District, South Carolina in 1810, and in Sumner County, Tennessee in 1830. Although quite a few people have Matthew Boyers on their Ancestry family tree, no one had located him in 1820. So, I used one of my "tricks" and searched for Matthew without his last name.

I specifically searched the 1820 U.S. federal censuses for the following:
  • First name: "Matthew" with "sounds like," "similar," and "initials" checked
  • Lived in (1st search): "York County, South Carolina" in the field and marked as "exact to this place"
  • Lived in (2nd search): "Sumner County, Tennessee" in the field and marked as "exact to this place"
RESULTS:

For South Carolina, only 22 results were found. I looked at a Matthew Biggers to make sure it wasn't transcribed incorrectly, but it looks like "Biggers" to me. None of the others looked like good candidates.

For Tennessee, there were 36 results. Several looked promising: Mathew Bayne, Mathew Boyne, and Mathew Rogers. Both Mathew Bayne, listed as 16 to 25 years old, and Mathew Rogers, listed as 26 to 44 years old, were too young. Mathew Boyne, however, was marked as "45 and over" which would be the correct age for Matthew Boyers.

1820 U.S. census, Sumner County, Tennessee, population schedule, Gallatin Township,  p.140 [printed], 10th family, Mathew Boyers household; image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2016), citing National Archives microfilm M33, roll 124.
After comparing the handwriting of the census enumerator to other entries, and comparing the household members to other years, I believe that the 1820 record transcribed on Ancestry as "Boyne" is actually "Boyers."

POSSIBLE RELATIONSHIP:

I do not know if Matthew Boyers is related to me or not. I am working on the hypothesis that he is the father of two of my direct ancestors:

  • John M. Boyers (~1801 in SC - ~1875 in TN) who married Matilda Dickson (~1805 - ~1875) 
  • Rachel Boyers (~1795 in SC - 1867 in Perry Co, TN) who married Joseph Dickson (1795 - 1898)
Both John and Rachel lived in Perry County, Tennessee for part of their lives. Perry County is where my Dickson ancestors lived.

Are you related to the Boyers family? Or do you have more information? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at drleeds@sbcglobal.net

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Remembering Vietnam and Remembering Wallace A. Abbott

Last week, I attended my local DAR meeting and the guest speaker was retired Colonel and Vietnam veteran, Albert Nahas. Colonel Nahas has written a photo documentary book, Warriors Remembered, highlighting the images and stories behind 100 Vietnam memorials in the United States.

Part of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Photo taken by me, 2010

Several of those memorials include special images like a face without features or a dog tag without a name. Those images are to memorialize those who weren't killed during the war, but who died as a result of the war. For example, some died later from the affects of Agent Orange while others too many others committed suicide. As he emotionally shared photos and stories of the memorials with us, I had to wipe away my tears.

2010 photo by me of my daughter pointing to the name of Gary R Holland.

When my daughter and I visited Washington, D.C. in 2010, we visited the wall memorial and looked for two individuals. One of them was Gary R. Holland who was a classmate of my mother-in-law's. The other was Wallace A. Abbott, a first cousin of my mother's. 

There were quite a few of these "posters" at the base of the memorial. They say that
these particular individuals died "40 years ago this weekend." There is also a portion of
a speech by President Ronald Reagan which starts "...in our hearts, you will always be young..."
The ages of each soldier at the time of his death are also given: these four young men 
were 20, 21, 24, and 26.

Wallace Adrion Abbott (21 Dec 1946-4 Nov 1966) was the son of Marvin Abbott (1905-1981) and Bernie Dickson (1905-1972), my grandmother's sister. According to his Find A Grave memorial, Wallace was attached to the "1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, Company C" in the light weapons infantry. His tour start date was October 7th, 1966, and he died less than a month later of non-combat related drowning in South Vietnam.

How sad to have died so far away from home.

How sad to have drowned.

How sad to have been on active duty for only four weeks.

How sad to have never seen a 20th birthday.

November 4th of this year will mark 50 years since
Wallace A. Abbott died in Vietnam.
I will close with more of the 1988 Veteran Day's speech that was given by President Ronald Reagan's and posted on the small posters at the memorial:

...in our hearts, you will always be young, full of the love that is youth, love of life, love of joy, love of country... you fought for your country and for its safety and for the freedom of others with strength and courage."

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Course Review: Excelsior's Practicum in Genealogical Research with Melinde Lutz Byrne

Excelsior College Courses:

Excelsior College offered two new genealogy courses this summer: "Practicum in Genealogical Research" with instructor Melinde Lutz Byrne and "Genetic Genealogy" with instructor Dr. Blaine Bettinger. I signed up for the practicum and am proud to have completed this intense, advanced course a couple of weeks ago. It appears the courses will be offered three times a year: fall, spring, and summer. And, they hope to add additional courses soon.


Cost:

Each of the courses are 15-16 weeks long and are priced like college courses at $1,595 each. However, members of several societies (NEGHS, NGS, and APG) receive 10% off. And, I was fortunate to have signed up with a 20% discount after watching the intro video. 

Course Prerequisites: 

Although the site says this advanced course is intended for "experienced genealogists and researchers who are seeking to gain advanced skills to resolve open genealogical problems" and that the prerequisites are "genealogical research experience or instructor approval," the instructor has shared other criteria at other times. Most students should have taken the Boston University ("BU") genealogy course or ProGen or have lots of experience as an advanced genealogists. I believe I was the only student who had not completed BU or ProGen. And, though I finished the course successfully, I think it was harder for me and I took more time than other students.

Time Commitment:

The site says the weekly time commitment is "7-8 hours per week." I started the course spending 20-25 hours per week. Once I realized I didn't need to be as picky about the citations and that I shouldn't do as much outside research, I started averaging about 15 hours per week. This is a huge time commitment and it was hard to complete all the assignments during the summer.

Working Ahead:

One thing that made the completion of the assignments possible is that, for the most part, you can work ahead. You can access most of the assignments from the first day so you can work around vacations or other commitments. The exceptions are the few times when you work together in groups or the assignment involves another student's paper so you must wait for the paper to be ready.

The Course Consists of 8 Modules:
  • Planning Solving Methods
  • Predictable Bias
  • Evidentiary Gaps
  • Provenance in Evidence Evaluation
  • Report Structure
  • Research and an Ethical Compass
  • Assembling the Evidence
  • The Total is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts
A Typical Module:

Each module lasted 2 weeks (though I understand the course will be shortened by a week this fall). For most modules, you turn in 2 assignments each week, though some weeks only have a single, bigger assignment. One of those assignments is usually presented to the entire class for discussion while the other is presented just to the instructor for evaluation. Besides the assignments, you also are expected to respond thoughtfully to at least 3 of your classmates posts. And, there are two optional online class "chats" each week for one hour each. 

Each module starts with a lesson where you learn about the topic. The assignments are related to the topic and might include vidoes (TED Talks) or research and articles by other researchers. The last part of the course works towards your final project where you work on one of your own "brick wall" cases and present it as a paper to your instructor and your classmates.

What I Learned:

With often two writing assignments per week, I learned to write as a genealogist. Often, we would be told our paper had to be two pages or less. My first paper's first draft was five pages long and I had to pare it down to two pages! I learned how to trim the excess and focus on what was really important. I have not written "research papers" for a grade in decades and this was an incredibly valuable experience.

All of our work had to include citations. Though I understand the importance of citations, I have not been working with them and it was a cause of stress at the beginning of the course. But, eventually I had a system down and it almost became easy! I just added quick citations as I wrote and "polished" them before I handed in my paper. My citations still need a lot work, but just including citations in my writings is a huge improvement for me!

We also spent time almost every week reading sections of BCG's Genealogy Standards. We probably went over each section two or three times. I had never even read this small book from cover to cover, but now I am quite familiar with the standards! We used these standards to analyze other people's writings and determine whether or not we felt the met the GPS (Genealogy Proof Standard). 

Was It Worth the Cost?

$1,595 is a lot of money for most genealogists, though the course can be taken for $1,435.50 with one of the above mentioned memberships. Is it worth the cost? For comparison, I will use GRIP, the week-long Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, which I have attended the past 3 summers. 

Early bird tuition for GRIP is $425. If you stay in a single room, the cost is $350 for room and your meals for a total of $775. Since I live in Texas, I also need a plane ticket which costs about $300. So, my total is about $1,075. 

At GRIP, I spend 4 1/2 days in a classroom with other students listening to several teachers speaking in depth on a specific topic. As in most classroom situations, I learned both from my instructors and from my classmates. All three of my courses have offered homework, though some of it has been more relevant and helpful than others. 

On the other hand, I spent 16 weeks in the Excelsior class. The homework for each module was relevant and I received feedback not only from my teacher but also from my classmates. I also got to review my classmates' work and see how they handled the problems differently and study their writing: several of my classmates were superb researchers and writers. For 16 weeks I averaged 15 to 20 hours reading over the instructor's lessons, watching videos, reading both published and unpublished research by other genealogists, studying Genealogy Standards, and reading my classmates' work. And, of course, doing the in depth assignments! It was a tremendous learning experience.

Yes, the Excelsior Practicum was expensive. And, I know many genealogists won't be able to afford it. But, if you can, I think it is worth the cost and the time and you will likely become a more advanced genealogist because of it. As with most endeavors, though, you will get out of it only as much as you put into it!

If you have any questions about this course, please ask! You can leave a comment on my post or email me at drleeds@sbcglobal.net

Monday, September 12, 2016

Money, Corn, & Flour To "Alleviate the Sufferings" in Ireland

In 1847, the people of Ireland were suffering from mass starvation during a time period we now call the Irish Potato Famine. As I am continuing to research my Boyers family, I came across a newspaper article that mentions Robert M. Boyers (1788 in SC-1871 in TN) who I believe is either a brother or first cousin of my ancestor, John M. Boyers (~1801 in SC-aft 1870 possibly in TN). (Both men were born in South Carolina and lived in Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee in 1830.)

The scene at Skibbereen, west Cork, in 1847. From a series of illustrations by Cork artist James Mahony (1810-1879), commissioned by Illustrated London News 1847. Image from Wikipedia - public domain. 

This newspaper article was a resolution to help "alleviate the sufferings of that famished country." The money, corn, and flour were to be delivered to Robert M. Boyers who would forward those supplies to Liverpool for distribution. It makes me proud that these Tennesseans were helping in such a concrete way. Here's a transcript of the article:

For the Republican Banner.
IRELAND.

At a meeting at Gallatin on the 6th instant, the following resolutions were adopted:-

   Resolved, That the heartrending accounts received from the suffering Irish are calculated to awaken sympathy in the coldest bosoms.

   Resolved, That we deeply sympathize with the poor of Ireland, inasmuch as her sons materially aided us in our great struggle for liberty, and have ever since been fighting in every clime for the same great blessing.

   Resolved, That it is the duty of the benevolent and charitable of every country to furnish whatever aid they can to alleviate the sufferings of that famished country.

   Resolved, That the following named persons are appointed to obtain and receive money, stacked corn, or barreled flour for the purpose of sending the same to Robert M. Boyers, who will forward the same to our kind hearted Consul, Gen. Robert Armstrong, at Liverpool, to be distributed to him at his own discretion - the Corn or Flour to be delivered at the Gallatin landing as early as possible.

[The article then lists the 19 districts naming the men in charge of each district.]

   Resolved, That the foregoing proceedings be published in the Nashville papers, and in the Gallatin Union, Gallatin, Sumner County.           -J. L. McKOIN, Ch'm.
   G. S. Gray, Sec'y.

Source: Ireland (Resolution), The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, 12 March 1847, page 2, column 4, digital image, newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 11 September 2016).

Do we share common ancestors? Are you related to Robert M. Boyers or John M. Boyers? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at drleeds@sbcglobal.net 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Starting a Family Heritage Book

Two years ago, I traveled to Kansas to visit with an aunt and uncle and view the incredible genealogical collection they'd inherited from my Great Aunt Beulah, the one who got me interested in genealogy in 1998. A couple of months ago, I discovered my dad had also inherited a large amount of photos and other items from his mother. Between the two of them, I imagine we have hundreds of photos and other old documents for this family. 

Years ago, my dad and his Aunt Beulah created this composite family tree. The primary couple, Emil Peters and his wife Myrtle (Coppenbarger), are my great grandparents. So, on this tree I have photos of not only two great grandparents, but also four great, great grandparents, and seven great, great, great grandparents! 


This week I started a new course through the Family History Writing Studio. It's an 8-week course called "Creating a Legacy Family History Book." Basically, we will be learning how to use MyCanvas to make a digital family history book that can be printed out and shared with family members.

During this course, I will be focusing on a book about my great grandparents, Emil & Myrtle Peters, the center of this amazing photo tree. I'm a little overwhelmed at the size of this project, but I'm excited, too. As I work, I'll share some of the photos and stories here, as well as sharing the process. This week, we are learning about MyCanvas and how it works. I also want to get a better idea of the items I have so I can decide what I'll be including. Time to get started!