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<September 2016>

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# Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Simple Steps to Solve Your Genealogy Research Problems
Posted by Diane

A cousin I met online (one who attended my grandparents’ wedding as a child!) asked me to look at a research problem on a line we don’t share.

Her great-aunt Elizabeth Schalk was born April 4, 1893, married Wesley Thomas in 1910, and became a widow two years later.  Then she disappeared.

Was Elizabeth “lost” under a second husband’s surname? That’s not an uncommon situation with female relatives. In a similar scenario, you might know an ancestor by a spouse's name, and have trouble discovering her maiden name so you can find her parents.

Our Problem-Solving Bootcamp for Genealogists, happening online Oct. 3-9, will help you formulate strategies to research this and other genealogy problems: unknown immigration, mysterious places of origin, missing from the census, your usual appeared-from-nowhere or dropped-off-the-face-of-the-Earth ancestors.

The workshop will show you how to use some of the same principles that led us to Elizabeth:

1. Develop a theory that could explain what happened: Elizabeth remarried, began using her new husband's name, and possibly moved away. This might involve doing research into what was going on in the particular time and place.

2. Determine what type of record would provide information about your theory. Local research guides can help here. In this case, a marriage record such as a certificate, license, bann or newspaper announcement showing an Elizabeth Thomas getting married after 1912.

3. Look for the records. Major genealogy database sites like, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage are good places to start. But don't overlook lesser-known sites, such as the local historical or genealogical society website, or resources you can find through the USGenWeb county site.

I came up empty on big genealogy sites, but the Hamilton County (Ohio) Genealogical Society website had an indexed 1915 marriage bann for an Elizabeth Thomas marrying Herman J. Bley.

You might need to look offline for published indexes, or if you have a narrow enough time frame, browse original records at a repository or on microfilm. 

4. Find additional evidence. Elizabeth Bley's census listings and Social Security Death Index record were consistent with what we knew about Elizabeth Thomas. My cousin ordered Elizabeth Bley's 1981 death certificate, which put the nail in the coffin of this brick wall, so to speak, with the right maiden name and parents' names.

The Problem-Solving Bootcamp for Genealogists starts Monday, Oct. 3, and includes seven video sessions (which you can download for viewing whenever you want), written material, exercises to apply to your own research, and an exclusive workshop message board to exchange questions and ideas with other attendees.

Find out more about this genealogy learning opportunity at

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 12:41:28 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, September 26, 2016
Quick Tip: Sifting Through DNA Matches
Posted by Diane

If you’ve taken an autosomal DNA test at 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA, you likely have a long list of genetic cousins. After sequencing portions of your DNA, the testing company compares your results to the results of other test-takers in its database. If you share enough DNA with another test-taker in the database, you’ll see that person in your list of matches.

The company evaluates how close you might be to another test-taker based on the amount of shared DNA. See the image for a sample list of AncestryDNA matches (with usernames blurred for privacy).

In this guest post, Blaine Bettinger, DNA expert and author of The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, shares a quick tip for identifying your DNA matches with the best chance of aiding your research.

For test-takers with ancestry in well-represented areas (such as Europe), the list of genetic matches may be thousands of people long. A few of those matches might be close, but most will be distant matches who share just a small segment of DNA. How should you process all those matches? Which ones should you focus on to attempt to find your common ancestry?

Focus on your closest matches first to increase your chances of finding family members and learning more about your family tree. If you’re lucky enough to have a predicted second cousin or closer, review that match’s family tree (if the match has provided one) for familiar names or places from your own family tree. Since the relationship is so close, you may only need to build his or her tree out for a couple of generations.

If the match doesn’t have a family tree, you might be able to build one for them or contact the match and ask for one.

What do I mean by your "closest" matches? Simple: The ones with whom you have an estimated relationship of fourth cousins or closer. You have a pretty good chance of finding common ancestry (such as a great-grandparent) with second cousins or closer, and a decent chance of doing the same (i.e., finding a shared second or third great-grandparent) with predicted third and fourth cousins. Beyond predicted fourth cousins, however, you'll have difficulty finding a common ancestor. In most cases, you'll only want to pursue these more distant matches if you have additional concrete evidence that you share ancestors.

Learn more about analyzing DNA matches and using test results in your research in The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, available in both print and e-book versions at

Pin this article for later!

Genealogy books | Genetic Genealogy
Monday, September 26, 2016 11:38:41 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, September 19, 2016
How to Handle Surprises in Your DNA
Posted by Diane

DNA testing is a powerful new tool for genealogists. And just like any other genealogical record, it's capable of revealing secrets.

For example, the results of a DNA test can reveal relationships that were either long-forgotten, or were long-held family secrets. Knowing this, what should you do when you discover a secret in your family?

Genetic genealogy expert and author of the new book The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy Blaine Bettinger shares some tips for handling surprises in your DNA findings:

You can follow a few important steps before testing that will help prepare you and the test-taker for potential surprises:
  1.  Explain to prospective test-takers that you may discover family secrets and unknown relationships through a DNA test. The test-taker can then make an informed decision about whether or not to test, and will be better prepared for possible outcomes.

  2. You can also ask the test-taker—again, before testing—whether he or she would even like to know any surprises or unexpected findings that are uncovered. Some family members may decide that they'd rather not know, and that decision will guide how you respond to any discovery you make.
And what should you do if you find something unexpected in your research? If you uncover an unknown relationship or family secret, break the discovery to the affected relatives slowly and carefully. Are you absolutely certain about your conclusion, or is there room for other interpretations? What can you do to confirm the result before sharing information that might not be correct?

Once you’re sure you’ve discovered an unknown relationship or family secret, you must then decide what to do with that information. Even if the relationship you've found is hundreds of years old, it will likely have an impact on living individuals and thus must be considered carefully. If the family member involved has indicated that she wants to know about any uncovered surprises, you can thoughtfully and gently share the new information with her, keeping the emotional impact of the discovery in mind. If the family member has indicated that he'd rather not know, you have a responsibility not to share that information with him. For thousands of people, the discovery of family secrets is an inevitable part of genetic genealogy—but that doesn't mean those secrets should always be divulged.

Learn more about the ethics of DNA testing—as well as the Genetic Genealogy Standards that guide ethical DNA testing and research—in The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, available in both print and e-book versions at

Genealogy books | Genetic Genealogy
Monday, September 19, 2016 11:10:17 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Tuesday, September 13, 2016
3 Tips for Choosing a DNA Relative to Test
Posted by Diane

Average Amount of Autosomal DNA Shared With Relatives

Genetic genealogy, using DNA to study ethnicity and identify genetic cousins, is becoming an essential part of doing genealogy. If you’ve tested yourself and want to explore DNA tests for family, which relative should you ask to take a DNA test? Are some cousins or relatives better to test?

Here are some tips from guest blogger and DNA expert Blaine T. Bettinger, author of the new book The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, for finding the right relative to help you break through that brick wall with DNA:
  1. Test the oldest generation first. Testing the oldest generation available is often the best course of action. The members of this generation might not be available to test in the future, so it's important to get a DNA sample with an older relative's permission as soon as possible.

    Additionally, this generation is often genetically closer to your research questions, meaning older ancestors may have more autosomal DNA (atDNA) from the ancestor of interest.

  2. Test relatives likely to share DNA with you. As you can see in the image above (red boxes indicate what percentage of atDNA you share, on average, with each relative), second cousins and closer always share at least some DNA, but many third cousins do not. If possible, test relatives who are most likely to share DNA with you. But if your genealogical question relates to an ancestor further back in time, you might have to test distant cousins to get the evidence you need.

  3. Test relatives who can provide the proper type of DNA. Genetic genealogy has no exact rules, but you'll want to remember some key principles as you identify people to test: While atDNA (the kind of DNA most tests examine) is usually inherited from each parent equally, other types of DNA follow different inheritance patterns.

    For example, children receive their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mothers, and males inherit their Y-chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA) from their fathers. If you’re researching an ancestor in your Y-DNA line, you'll likely want to obtain DNA from a male relative in that same Y-DNA line (e.g., your brother, your father, your father's brothers, your paternal grandfather).

    Similarly, if you’re researching an ancestor in your mtDNA line, you'll probably start with DNA from a relative in that same mtDNA line (e.g., your siblings, your mother or her siblings, your maternal grandmother). Testing multiple types of DNA may provide you with even more information to help you attack your question!

Blaine provides more tips and hints for identifying the best person to test in his new book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. You can find both print and e-book versions of the book online at

Genealogy books | Genetic Genealogy
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 10:37:26 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, September 06, 2016
9 Tips For a Terrific Fall 2016 Virtual Genealogy Conference
Posted by Diane

Our Fall 2016 Virtual Conference is coming right up Sept. 16-18, with online genealogy learning opportunities in video classes on genetic genealogy and DNA, using, identifying old mystery photos and more; plus live chats; our exclusive conference message boards and more.

Now, you can save $25 on Virtual Conference registration when you enter coupon code FTMSEPT25 at checkout. Register at

Watch this quick video tour for an idea how the conference works, and take in these tips for making the most of this genealogy event.

1. Once you complete your registration, you'll receive an email with instructions on logging in to participate. Read through the email (if you have any questions, feel free to email Family Tree University), and be sure to save it. You'll also get reminders as the conference gets closer.

2. The welcome page has helpful hints about getting around the conference, viewing classes and using the message boards, so check it out.

3. The video classes are recorded, so you can watch them whenever you want during the conference, and download them to your computer to watch later. It's helpful to watch any you're especially interested in early in the conference so you have plenty of time to ask questions on the mesage boards.

4. Live chats are scheduled. Be sure to account for time zones when you're planning your weekend. We post transcripts on the message boards for anyone who missed them (and so chat participants don't have to frantically take notes).

5. If any live chat topics have inspired related questions, you can get them ready in a Word document before the chat so you can just copy and paste into the chat window.

6. If you have kids, have some independent activities to keep them occupied and snacks ready to grab. 

7. Have your favorite genealogy snacks and drinks ready, too. It'll be pretzel crisps and coffee for me.

8. Three topic threads to look for in the message boards:
  • The introduction board: Tell us who you are, where you're from, what you hope to get out of the conference and anything else you want to share.
  • The surname board: Post the surnames you're researching and the place those relatives lived.
  • The tech questions board: We'll be checking this one throughout the conference for any tech issues that come up.
Of course, there'll also be other threads relating to the video classes, research brick walls, old family recipes and lots more.

9. When responding to someone's comment in a busy live chat, it helps to start with their name: "Diane, I hear passport records are..." Other comments will appear between the original comment and your response, so this helps connect the two.

Check out the Fall 2016 Virtual Conference program and register now at!

Save this article onto Pinterest for later:

Family Tree University | Genealogy Events
Tuesday, September 06, 2016 9:55:28 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, August 08, 2016
Five Genealogy DOs and one DON'T on
Posted by Diane

For folks who are newer or less-frequent users on, we're sharing some genealogy DOs and a DON'T for searching for ancestors on the site. They come from Family Tree University's Master Workshop next week, Aug. 15-18. is a genealogy staple, but because it's so large and contains so much information, it's not always easy to find what you're looking for. As the site evolves, certain views and features change, too, which can add to your confusion. If you want to take advantage of the full complement of's databases (which number more than 30,000 and range in size from 2 million-plus names all the way down to one name), there are some essential steps you should add to your to-do list: 
  • Do search specific collections. It's easy to head straight for the global search on the home page, but the other, smaller collections listed in the Card Catalog may turn up hidden gems.
  • Do create a game plan for your search. It's tempting—and it can be useful—to just type in a name and hit Search, but you end up with a lot of results to wade through. Once you get past the relevant results on the first couple of pages, try a different approach: Set a specific goal for the type of information you want to find and the kind of record that would contain this information. Adjusting your search terms accordingly (and using filters when you view your matches) will bring more-accurate results.
  • Do familiarize yourself with everything has to offer—from trees and shaky leaf hints (yes, these can be very helpful when used with care)—to historical records, message boards (which are free for anyone to use), and AncestryDNA.
  • Do try for free during a free-access weekend (usually around holidays such as the Fourth of July or Veterans Day), at a FamilySearch Center, or at a library that offers Ancestry Library Edition. This way, you can get comfortable with the site before you subscribe (or decide not to).

  • Do revisit your searches every so often, as databases are frequently added and updated. New results may show up.

And we'll add one don't:
Monday, August 08, 2016 12:02:49 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 02, 2016
How to Mine Family Memories for Genealogy Clues
Posted by Diane

Your family history begins with your own memories—and what you remember can serve as a useful springboard for learning more about your whole family's history, connecting you emotionally to past generations.

Your memories also can provide critical research clues for genealogy research. When's the last time you mined your own memories for details you can use to research your family tree? Story of My Life author Sunny Morton is here with a guest post on three focuses for your dive into your memories:
  1. People. Who do you recall—even vaguely—in connection with your family? The neighbors across the street from your grandparents? Your mother’s sorority sister? Dad’s business partner? Memories of people can lead to more memories, and even to research resources.

    Mention your grandparents’ neighbors—the ones who always came to play cards—to your cousins or an aunt and see what stories come to light. Does anyone know how they came to be good friends? How did your grandparents act around their friends? What else do relatives recall about the neighborhood? Did anyone stay in contact with that neighbor’s family?

    If Mom’s sorority sister is still alive, her memories or memorabilia may give you fresh perspective on your mother’s younger years. Recalling the name of the sorority can lead to its records, photo collections and more insight into your mother’s time at college. A similar line of thinking about a father’s business partner may lead you to that family’s recollections, business records, ads or listings in city directories, or news articles about your father or his business partner.
  3. Places. What places were part of your childhood, or your parents’ lives? Think about where you (or they) went for family gatherings, and about family cemeteries, churches, funeral homes, schools, places of business, vacation destinations and other locations that figure in family memories. Consider your old neighborhood, your grandparents’ ranch or farm, or your mother’s description of her childhood home.

    What can these memories tell you about your family history? Mention them to relatives and see what recollections they prompt. Look for Sanborn or other maps of old neighborhoods. See if you can find old images of the cottages at Lake Erie. And definitely look for records connected with these places, such as membership records for Grandma’s Methodist church or burial information from a cemetery or funeral home.

    Use the same line of thinking to explore the “researchability” of other memories: a sporting event you attended with your dad (find news coverage to flesh out the memory), or an annual trip to the state fair to see Grandpa’s prize-winning livestock (look for state fair award lists and photos).
  5. Objects. The "stuff" you associate with your family, such as an automobile or household appliance, provides another piece of the family puzzle that can jog memories. Did your mother use only one brand of detergent? Was your brother obsessed with Superman comics? These details provide insight into daily lives, personalities and values. Memorabilia such as photos and heirlooms can further inspire your memory of people and places. What pictures or descriptions can you find, and what meaning did they have? Share these and other treasured family artifacts with relatives—you never know what they might remember.

My new book Story of My Life can help you remember and document memories of the people, places, events and objects associated with your family history. The book provides a place for you to organize your thoughts and tie them to a certain time, place or person.

Story of My Life
is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.

Writing about your family history
Tuesday, August 02, 2016 9:53:32 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, August 01, 2016
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Family Tree Craft
Posted by Diane


Hi there! My name is Madge Maril and I’m working with Family Tree Magazine this summer. You might have seen my photo in September's issue of Family Tree Magazine. Working with FTM’s editorial team has been a blast. Today, they let me pop onto this blog to talk about two of my favorite things: DIY crafts and Harry Potter.


"While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted," reads the official description of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the newest book in the Harry Potter series. Those problems might sound familiar to some of us genealogists!

Harry Potter has taught the world the importance of family and genealogy for over a decade. One of my earliest memories is listening to my dad read the books to my brother and I before bedtime. Harry fought for the first seven books to protect his adopted family, the Weasleys, from the dark forces at play in the magical world. Each family in the Harry Potter books boasts their family trees and lineage. Harry works as hard as any modern genealogist to find out the story of his deceased parents, Lily and James.


The Cursed Child follows the life of Harry’s son, Albus. Like many kids, Albus is insecure about his place in his family. With plenty of magic and fun, this book delivers the same important lesson: You are who you are because of the people who came before you. 

If your kid or grand-kid has already finished the book—or you haveand wants to keep exploring the Potters’ world, try this Harry Potter family tree craft to spark their interest in the genealogy of the series. It’s DIY and easy as can be. All you need is:

  • Windows Word
  • A printer
  • Paper
  • Coffee
  • A cookie sheet or other shallow pan

1. Type out the Weasley family tree on your computer in Windows Word. For more fun, download our free family tree templates <> to add a creative spark to the project.

We found this easy-to-follow harry Potter family tree on Tumblr, from user –harrypotter:

Tip: Need to see this family tree bigger? Right-click on it with your mouse, then click "View Image" for a larger version of the Harry Potter family trees to open in your browser.

2. Print out your family tree on regular printer paper.

3. Next, put a third of a cup of coffee (instant works as well) in a cookie sheet or other shallow pan. Add a full cup of boiling water to the cookie sheet. There’s plenty of wiggle room here, though. Use more coffee grounds to make your paper darker and more antique looking. Allow the coffee and water to rest in the pan for at least five and a half minutes, which will allow the coffee to steep and the water to cool.

Tip: Do you have leftover coffee from this morning? Use it! Cold coffee will also add a weathered patina to paper.

4. Take your printed out Weasley family tree and place it in the coffee for at least five minutes. The longer the paper is in the mixture, the darker it will become. The paper will also darken as it dries.

5. Remove the Weasley family tree from the coffee when you’re happy with the color. Carefully hang the paper to dry somewhere safe

6. For an even more antique look, after the paper is completely dry, crumple the Weasley family tree in your hands then smooth it out. Do this as many times as you want to make it look like the family tree has been passed down through Weasley and Potter generations.

Once your craft is finished, it might look a bit like this:

Have fun with your DIY Harry Potter family tree craft! If the paper rips a little when it’s wet, don’t worry. A few tiny tears will only make the Weasley family tree look cooler. After all, a family tree should be just as unique as the family it represents.

Monday, August 01, 2016 2:20:25 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, July 25, 2016
To Write or Not to Write: Respecting Privacy in Family-History Storytelling
Posted by Diane

When you start writing your life’s stories, you may wonder what to put in and what to leave out. Should you mention that time you got arrested, or when your best friend betrayed you? What about your difficult relationship with your dad? What if telling your stories will reveal someone else’s secrets?

Writing your life story can raise questions about how to be fair and honest, and what stories of your life should keep private. Story of My Life workbook author and guest blogger Sunny Morton has three quick things to consider when you start writing your family history:

  • Everyone has a right to privacy. Writing about your life doesn’t obligate you to share all your stories. Chances are there are some events, relationships, failures or disappointments in your past you’d rather not write about.

    While you should consider acknowledging all life-changing events (even if you choose not to dwell on details), you don’t have to write about everything. For painful events that prompted major changes in your relationships, career, living circumstances or way of life, a passing mention—along with the results—may be sufficient: “After my divorce, I moved to Seattle, where my sister lived. I wanted to leave painful memories behind.”

  • Honesty is key. You don’t need to tell everything—but everything you tell should be true. Of course, you won’t intend to write falsehoods, but it can be tempting to downplay your role in a big family argument or skip over the nice things your “worthless” baby brother actually has done for you. Nobody is all good or all bad, including yourself. Try to write about everyone fairly. In doing so, you may discover some new truths in the process of writing: how you felt about someone, what you learned from a situation, how you feel now.

    Consider including at least some of these insights in your life-story writings. You may think it’s obvious what the past taught you or how you might feel, but that may not be the case. And your insights or life lessons may turn out to be the most valuable part of sharing your memories (for you and others).

  • Think twice before revealing someone else’s secrets. Many who write their life stories have to decide whether to divulge confidential or sensitive information about someone else. Should you write about a relative’s addiction, debts, temper or marital problems? Consider the answers to three questions:

    • First, is this your story to tell? If it didn’t significantly affect your life, it doesn’t really belong in your life story.
    • Second, what are your motives? Revenge, or an unfortunate but real need to set the record straight?
    • Finally, who may be hurt by your revelation? Even if the person with the secret is dead, that person may have living loved ones who may suffer.
After considering these questions, you may still see the need to reveal confidences, but you may approach it more sensitively.

My new book Story of My Life guides you through the process of deciding what stories to tell, telling them (including lessons learned) honestly, and focusing on what’s most important. You’ll find hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions about the people and events of your past.

Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a preformatted document you can print or share as you like.

Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Monday, July 25, 2016 10:54:01 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, July 22, 2016
Why Your and Other Online Genealogy Searches Don't Work
Posted by Diane

Chances are you've become frustrated at times when searching for ancestors online at genealogy sites such as, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. Knowing why genealogy searches sometimes fail can help you figure out how to fix them.

Below is our cheat sheet of common issues that trip up your searches, plus tips to fix them.

Get expert guidance on using in our Become an Power User online course, starting Monday, Aug. 1, at Family Tree University. This four-week course will help you delve into the Ancestry's rich resources and pull out records where you came up empty before.

Why it Happens
Transcription errors You're not actually searching the documents on genealogy websites. Instead, you're searching a textual index created by a person (or sometimes, software) who transcribed what he or she thought the documents said. Illegible records, poor-quality digital images and human error cause a mismatch between the index and your search terms.
• Use filters and wildcards to find variant names, enter date ranges, and broaden the geographic area

• Search for variant and incorrect name spellings

• Search with fewer terms, i.e., leave the name blank

• Try another site with the same data set (the index may be different)

• Browse the records
Record errors Enumerators and clerks who created records may have recorded wrong information, your ancestor may have reported it wrong, or another informant (such as neighbor) may have taken a  guess. The index accurately reflects the record, but it doesn't match your search.
Same as above

Incorrect search terms You might be wrong about details such as when your immigrant arrived or when Great-great-grandma was born, so your search terms don't match the record you want.
• Same as above
• Double-check your research and information sources. Disregard family stories that lack a basis in records.
The record doesn’t exist Disasters such as fire, flood or custodial neglect may have destroyed the records. Or maybe they were never created in the first place, such as for early vital records in much of the US. It's also possible your ancestor wasn't enumerated in the census, or no one reported his birth.
• Check the collection search page and local genealogy guides for information on record gaps.
• Look for substitute sources, such as church records for vital records.
The record isn't online
Libraries and archives are full of valuable records that exist only on paper or microfilm. Occasionally, one or more documents might be missed during digitization. 
• Check local library websites and genealogy guides for record locations. Visit the archive, hire a researcher to visit for you, or request a copy by mail or email.
• Look for other, more-accessible records with the information you need.
The record is online, but isn't indexed A collection may be digitized and browsable online, but no searchable index exists. Figure out how the collection is organized (such as by state and county, chronologically, etc.) and browse to the record you need.

Register for our four-week Become an Power User course at | Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Genealogy Web Sites | MyHeritage | Research Tips
Friday, July 22, 2016 10:38:36 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]