My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Taming the Dragon

Last week, I broke my right arm .... and let me definitely confirm that this slows down the family history research process.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?  So I've turned this setback to good use.  

Awhile back I was researching various options to help me transcribe the mountains of handwritten documents I've accumulated over the years and came across Dragon Dictate voice dictation software, but dismissed it as being too expensive.  

A day or two of hunting and pecking with my left hand quickly justified the expense.  I also have to admit that the idea of commanding my computer with my voice, a la Captain Kirk, had a certain appeal.

Dragon for Mac was extremely easy to install and set up.  I read a few stories to my computer to train the software to recognize my voice, and that was it!  Within minutes I was reading a document out loud, and the words magically appeared on my screen.   Think about how time-consuming it is to type a transcription while you're trying to decipher the handwriting.  With voice dictation software, all you have to do is focus on what you're reading.  Your transcription accuracy also improves since your eyes don't have to switch back and forth from one document to the other, and you are less likely to lose your place.

One caveat--you probably won't produce a literal transcription of your historical document with all its strange spellings, because Dragon transcribes what it hears into modern standard English.  I think that if you study the editing commands you can have more control over the vagaries of your ancestors' spelling and punctuation, but I wanted to jump right in....perfection can wait! 

I also discovered a bonus use for Dragon--its a great tool for taking research notes!  I was looking for several families in the NY land indexes on FamilySearch yesterday and noticed that if I read the index entry (and full citation) out loud, I automatically produced a neat "to do" list for this class of records.  No more stopping and starting each time I find an entry of interest so I can write it down.  I freely admit to being dazzled by the so-called BSOs (bright shiny objects), so anything that keeps me focused on one thing at a time is a worthwhile investment!

The only thing that confuses me is why the Mac edition of Dragon Dictate is nearly twice as expensive as the PC version -- but once I got over that, I've been extremely pleased with the software.  

PS--with some editing, this blogpost was entirely produced using Dragon!  I will note, however, that it works better when you know exactly what you are going to say, and not quite as well when you are still thinking.  Reminds me of the Berlitz commercial...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Go Fish!

I don't know about you, but until recently, the whole DNA thing has been pretty disappointing.  I feel like we are constantly playing our own version of the old "Go Fish" game when we contact our DNA matches:

"Do you have a William Green in your family?"

And the game goes on, because the likelihood that you and your genetic match have both identified your common ancestor is not terribly high.  Your actual DNA connection is probably two generations before your earliest known ancestor, or even more likely, hidden behind women who all have different surnames than their father.

Not only that, but getting information from your matches can be like pulling teeth.  FtDNA has the best tools for comparing DNA, but not many of their customers post family trees, so it is hard to have any sense of where in the world your potential match comes from.  While Ancestry is all about family trees, the company takes the paternal approach and tells you that you are related.  The lack of tools for users to compare and contrast the data for themselves just means you are relying on the accuracy of the posted family trees; you will miss the matches who either have it wrong or don't post at all!

I have been reading the DNA blogs for some time, and have been fascinated with the work of Roberta Estes, Blaine Bettinger, CeCe Moore and others.  This is an entirely new way of recording our ancestors -- even to the point of some day recreating ancestral DNA -- and it finally reached a critical mass for me just before I went to RootsTech.

I actually had a problem to solve.  A DNA cousin contacted me with new information and we needed to find other relatives so we could prove or disprove a hypothesis.  All you need to make it interesting is to have people who share a common segment of DNA and some kind of information about the potential ancestor.  By creating a spreadsheet with all the various permutations of who matches whom and on which chromosome, you can gradually begin to identify particular DNA segments as belonging to ancestral individuals.  

Kitty Cooper put it succinctly:  "The way to prove the common ancestor is to see if A and B match each other in the same place that they match you. This is what we call triangulation."1   In this particular case, it was no dice.  The problem that spurred me to tackle DNA research on a practical level fizzled out with no solution, since the third person did not match on the same segment where the second person matched my mother and uncle.  But now that I see the possibilities, I have been combing my match lists for people I know for a fact are cousins and recording their data on a spreadsheet.  

This is a section of the spreadsheet I created to show five different individuals who match my uncle on Chromosome 5.   My uncle, mother, and one of these matches are all known descendants of Reuben Hill, a Revolutionary War soldier from Rutherford Co, NC.  The others are matches on FtDNA who share roughly the same segment of DNA. Most importantly, all of these people also match each other.

Now of course I can't say (yet) that this area on Chromosome 5 belongs to Reuben Hill (or his wife Margaret Brien).  It's just that sharing this particular segment -- together with the traditional genealogical research I've done on this line -- really narrows down the field, and gives me something to talk about when I contact the other matches.  

I am no longer playing "Go Fish."
1. Cooper, Kitty. "Triangulation -- Proving a Common Ancestor." Web Blog Post, "Kitty Cooper's Blog.", 26 Feb 2015, accessed 27 Feb 2015.

Some great reading:

DNAeXplained -- Genetic Genealogy (Roberta Estes):

Triangulation for Autosomal DNA
Chromosome Mapping -- AKA Ancestor Mapping
Chromosome Browser War
Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
How Phasing Works and Determining IBD Versus IBS Matches
A Study Utilizing Small Segment Matching
Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA

The Genetic Genealogist (Blaine Bettinger): 

Your Genetic Genealogist (CeCe Moore):

The Folly of Using Small Segments as Proof in Genealogical Research, Pt. 1

Kitty Cooper's blog:

Triangulation -- Proving a Common Ancestor

International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)