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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Eight Family Tree Tips to Take Away From "Genealogy Roadshow"
Posted by Diane
Genealogy television shows like TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and PBS' "Genealogy Roadshow" are meant to entertain us, but that
doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from them.
In fact, our Tuesday, Nov. 12 webinar, 10
Essential Research Tricks from "Genealogy Roadshow," is full
of such lessons from co-host D. Joshua Taylor.
Here are my own favorite takeaway family tree research tips from
- Don't believe everything your family told you about your
ancestors. Whether it's the year Great-grandpa arrived in
the United States or a rumored link to George Washington, treat
family stories as theories that require research to prove or
- You can't get away from the "start with yourself and work
backward" principle. No matter what family claim the
"Genealogy Roadshow" experts were researching, the research
started with the present and moved to the person's parents, then
grandparents, etc. You didn't get details about every generation
in the show's quick segments (remember the entertainment factor), but those generations were listed
in the trees that flashed by.
- You're related to lots of people. Among them is
probably someone famous and someone infamous (remember this next
time one of those announcements comes out about which
celebrities are related—it's really not anything unusual). The
way to document a connection between two people is to research
both family trees as you normally would, and find a person
common to both trees.
- Build on others' work. "Genealogy Roadshow" sometimes
used already-existing, reliable research about famous folks.
Don't be afraid to look for clues in published family histories
and family trees you find online—just make sure you do research
to verify all the names, dates and relationships in those
resources, so you don't end up repeating someone else's mistakes
and claiming the wrong ancestors.
- Once you get beyond your garden-variety first or second
cousin, figuring out exactly how you're related to someone can
seem complicated. The trick is to find the most recent
common ancestor to the two cousins in question. If there's a
different number of generations between each cousin and the most
recent common ancestor, the cousins are "removed." The number of
removes is equal to the number of generations that separates the
two cousins. We explain
cousin relationships here and have a free
relationship chart PDF download here.
Josh Taylor's 10
Essential Research Tricks From "Genealogy Roadshow" will help
you do better family tree research whether you watched the show or
not. And you'll save $10 when you register
- Sometimes genealogical discoveries come quickly, and
sometimes it takes a lot of research to find answers. The
show's hosts often used the word "we" when talking about records
discovered. Behind the scenes, full-time, professional
researchers were devoting hours upon hours to tracing guests'
family trees. You might not be able to devote that much time at
once to your research, but keep plugging away a little bit at a
time. And keep track of what you've done so next time you can
pick up where you left off.
Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:50:06 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Genealogy Clues Your Ancestor Was a Black Sheep
Posted by Diane
One of the folks on this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow"—the last one of the season, filmed in Austin,
Texas—had a Civil War ancestor who, perhaps suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, shot and killed his wife years after
the war. A very sad story.
Such family tree discoveries can be unsettling, even when family
rumors hint that something bad happened (as they did for this
Genealogy Roadshow guest). On the other hand, genealogists often
relish having ancestors who committed less heinous crimes—maybe
horse thievery or bootlegging—because that means records to
"Black sheep" are more common than you might think: Investigating
our family stories of my great-grandfather's time in prison for
bootlegging led me to the unexpected
discovery that his wife had filed for divorce and claimed cruel
treatment (the case was dismissed).
On the other side of
the family, I was completely surprised to discover that my
third-great-grandparents were divorced
in a sensational case, and a few years later, my
third-great-grandfather was stabbed in a knife fight over a woman
he'd become obsessed with (I still need to blog about this).
Here are a few clues that you may have a black sheep ancestor on
Strategies: Criminal Records download helps you track down
court, prison and other records of ancestors who strayed to the
wrong side of the law.
- Family stories. They aren't always true, as we've seen on
"Genealogy Roadshow," but there's often a grain of truth behind
- An unexplained disappearance from the family. It could
indicate an unrecorded death or migration for work, or it could
mean the person deserted the family.
- Your ancestor is listed in prison on a census. You'll usually
see the institution listed at the top of the form, and he may be
listed as an "inmate" or a "prisoner." (Not all inmates were in
prisons, though: In 1920, my bootlegger's son was an "inmate" in
an orphanage. It was just a term for someone who lived in an
If you know or suspect your ancestor was imprisoned, you can
find some records or indexes online. For federal institutions, check the National
Archives' Online Public Access search. For state prisons, check the state archives' website. Also look for prison records you can borrow on microfilm through interlibrary loan.
- You find newspaper articles about a divorce filing, desertion
(wives would sometimes post newspaper ads for missing husbands),
arrest, or a court action. I've been unable to find the court
records for my great-grandfather's bootlegging trial, so newspaper
mentions of it are all I have (so far).
- You find court records. When I was checking a court index in
search of the bootlegging case, I came across an entry showing
my great-grandparents as plaintiff and defendant: their divorce
Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar with Judy G. Russell
delves even deeper into the trial process, what court records it
might have generated about your ancestor, and how to find those
Watch this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow" online here.
court records | Genealogy TV | Newspapers
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:58:21 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, October 11, 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Oct. 7-11
Posted by Diane
- The Federation of Genealogical Societies is running a three-part webinar series on genealogy society membership and communication. The webinars are presented by our friend George G. Morgan (author of Family Tree Magazine’s Document Detective column) and include:
- The Shape of the 21st Century Genealogical Society (Oct. 22)
- Harness the Power of Email in Your Society (Nov. 4)
- How to Develop and Implement Affordable Membership Benefits (Nov. 18).
Learn more on the FGS Voice blog and use the links in the post to register for each one.
FamilySearch | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | Webinars
Friday, October 11, 2013 9:19:11 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Seeks Guests for Possible Season 2
Posted by Diane
Word on Facebook has it that "Genealogy
Roadshow" is seeking guests for a second
season. (Whether there'll be a
second season hasn't been announced, so we'll have to keep our fingers crossed.)
Want "Genealogy Roadshow" researchers to investigate your family stories? Click here to fill out the
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 4:08:36 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Chinese Immigration and Angel Island
Posted by Diane
One of my favorite aspects of PBS'
"Genealogy Roadshow" is the mention of historical people and
events that have become fuzzy memories for folks who once learned
about them in a history class. The show elaborates on some of these
people and places, and others have me googling on my phone.
Last night, Genealogy Roadshow was set in San Fransisco's US Mint
building, with stories ranging from the 1860 Wiyot
Massacre to the 1906
earthquake and fire. The California
Gold Rush came up when a guest wasn't related to James
Marshall, whose gold discovery in the American River started
San Francisco's Chinese community was highlighted when a young
Asian-American woman wanted to know about her family and its fabled
connection to gangster Big Jim Chen. Researchers weren't able to
prove the story because Chen apparently hid his tracks well.
A history segment focused on Chinese immigration and the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882. Here's a little more about Chinese
immigration through San Francisco:
Angel Island in San Francisco Bay
was the immigration point for many Asians entering the United States
between 1910 and 1930 (along with Australians, Candians, Central and
South Americans, Russians and others).
station there served mainly as a place to to detain and
interrogate immigrants, mostly Asian, who were trying to enter the
country. When the 1906 earthquake destroyed San Francisco birth
records, it presented an opportunity to get around the
Exclusion Act, which made an exception for the children of US
citizens: Chinese who'd naturalized could claim to have had
additional children during a visit to China, then sell the "slots"
to those wanting to immigrate.
Immigration officials tried to identify these "paper
lengthy interrogations about the immigrant's home, family and
village in China. Visitors to Angel Island still can see some
of the poetry detainees carved into the walls as they passed
Nearly 250,000 case files were produced for Angel Island immigrants;
they're at the National
Archives at San Francisco. UC Berkeley has a database
with 90,000 of these immigrants' names and case file numbers.
You also can read some
immigrants' stories on the Angel Island Immigration Station
You'll find a guide to researching Angel Island ancestors and
locating their case files (even if they're not in the UC Berkeley index) in
2010 Family Tree Magazine.
You can watch the San Francisco "Genealogy Roadshow" online. Next week's
episode takes place in Austin, Texas. That's where my grandfather went to college in the 1920s and '30s, so I'm hoping to pick up some local history.
Asian roots | Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 3:59:14 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Your Ancestor's Immigration Experience and the Ellis Island Myth
Posted by Diane
Many of the guests on last night's "Genealogy Roadshow," filmed in
Detroit, had done their own research into family history claims. I love to see all that genealogical interest, and the impact that
family history knowledge can have on someone.
The young woman at the
center of my favorite story was adopted as part of an open adoption. She knew a lot
about her white birth mother's family tree, and little about her
African-American birth father's family. All four parents were with
her as Kenyatta Berry took her back in time along her paternal
Among the other stories was a woman whose English ancestors founded a royal bookstore that still exists today—but later in that line, a physician ancestor went to jail for murder. The final guest learned she was in fact related to Ponce de Leon.
One thing that surprised me in this episode was the show's handling of a
guest's tale of his family name change at Ellis Island, a common belief.
Taylor told the man (I'm paraphrasing) that Ellis Island arrivals
were brought into a room with a clerk at a desk, and the clerk may
not have spoken the languages of the immigrants. When the
clerk asked the passenger's name, he would write down what he'd
heard, which often wasn't the spelling the passenger used.
He made it pretty clear that Ellis Island officials didn't deliberately change passenger names because they were hard to pronounce or not American
I've always read, though, that passenger lists were
created by shipping line agents at ports of departure, and turned
over to US officials after arrival here. US immigrant inspectors
would then check off the passengers' names on those lists—they
didn't write down any names. Ellis Island also employed translators
in a wide range of languages to speak with immigrants. TV shows are often heavily edited, so what was
actually said could've been quite different from what ended up on
You can read
more about the Ellis Island name-change myth in this article
by Marian L. Smith, a historian at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (now the Citizenship and Immigration
Service). The New
York Public Library has a similar article, with details about how
passenger lists were created.
Update: Here's a statement from Josh clarifying his comments on the show.
Many immigrants, like the one in question on last night's show,
changed their own names after arrival. Someone could do this legally, but more
often, people would just start using the new name.
Two good resources for learning about your ancestor's immigration
Also keep an eye out for the December 2013 Family Tree Magazine,
which will have a workbook to help you find your ancestors on
passenger lists. Also
check out these immigration research resources.
You can watch last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" here. Next week's episode takes us to San Francisco. I'm hoping to see some Gold Rush stories!
Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 01, 2013 2:34:56 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Genealogy Roadshow Dispels Myths, Tells (Short) Stories
Posted by Diane
Did you watch "Genealogy Roadshow" on PBS last night?
It's easy to see the "Antiques Roadshow" styling: "Genealogy Roadshow" had the
lines of people waiting to get in, the onlookers watching the expert
consultations, a host, a break to take in a few minutes of
local history (of the Belmont Mansion, where the episode was filmed), and the guests' surprised expressions.
I loved how the audience members leaned in to hear what genealogists D.
Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry had to say about the guests' family
I loved how twice, another person related to the story emerged from the
audience to meet the surprised guest.
And I loved how Taylor and Berry quickly dismissed several common family claims,
such as being related to Davy Crockett, George Washington (who had
no known descendants) or Jimmy Carter. They always offered a
bright side: The husband of the woman who wasn't related to Davy
Crockett had a Revolutionary War ancestor, for example, making their children eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American
we share six common genealogy myths you'll want to avoid as
you trace your family tree.
A couple of wishes regarding "Genealogy Roadshow":
- The show was fast-paced, so there were times I wanted
more and slower visual aids to explain the connections
researchers had uncovered. We saw family trees in some cases,
but the show zoomed through them pretty quickly.
That story; the one about the tender photo of Lafayette Cox, an
African-American man, holding the little boy of the family he worked
for; and the story of Sarah Jones, a young woman who had never met
her father, were my favorites.
- I wished to spend more time on some stories. An African-American woman learned
from a letter discovered at an archive that she really is related to white
Tennessee governor Austin Peay. But who wrote the letter, and why?
And I just wanted to hear more about the
African-American family who learned their enslaved
ancestor, Dinah Bell, was brought from South
Carolina to Tennessee. A dozen or so family members of all ages
were hanging on Taylor's every word, and you could see how much
the information meant to them.
You can watch
the Nashville episode of Genealogy Roadshow online.
I can't wait to see next week's show, set in Detroit!
Do your own genealogy detective work to sort out family stories with
help from Family
History Detective: A Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Family
History and The
Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing
African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:04:03 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Sept. 23 Debut Investigates Family Stories in Nashville
Posted by Diane
I've already told my husband he's kicked out of the family room for
Monday night football next week: That's when the new "Genealogy
Roadshow" premieres on PBS.
This four-episode series has hosts Kenyatta Berry and D. Joshua
Taylor revealing the truth behind participants' family stories in front of
a live audience, which should bring a fun energy to the show. (I
chuckled at this
take on the Genealogy Roadshow format.)
Monday's episode was filmed at the Belmont Mansion in
Nashville, Tenn. One guest is David Miles Vaughn, who's been doing
genealogy for five years and wants to know if his family is really
related to Davy Crockett—a tale he'd always heard growing up.
Genealogy Roadshow premieres Monday, Sept. 23, at 9/8 Central on
PBS. Future episodes are set in San Francisco, Detroit, and Austin,
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 4:31:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
'WDYTYA?" Will Return to TLC in 2014
Posted by Diane
"Who Do You Think You Are?" watchers, rejoice—the
genealogy series has been renewed for a second season TLC. The
network has ordered 10 episodes, an increase over this season's
The celebrities haven't been announced. Which celebrities would you like to see on "Who Do You
Think You Are?" in 2014?
Last night's WDYTYA? season finale showed "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons' search for his French roots in Louisiana and in
France. Among his ancestors were a Medical College of
Louisiana-trained physician and an architect to King Louis XV.
Don't be sad—your genealogy TV-watching isn't over for the year. We
still have four
episodes of the new series "Genealogy Roadshow" coming up on
PBS, starting Monday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. It'll explore
noncelebrities' family history claims and reveal the answers before
a live audience.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:59:26 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Charlemagne Connections and English Roots
Posted by Diane
It's actually not unusual to descend from Charlemagne,
whom Cindy Crawford learned is in her family tree on last night's "Who Do
You Think You Are?" As noted in the show, the eighth-century
Frankish king had 20 children with different women (with eight of 10
known wives or concubines).
Charlemagne, who lived from April 2, 742 to Jan. 28, 814, was Cindy
When you go back 40 generations,
and you have roughly a trillion ancestors—more than the number of
people who existed at the time Charlemagne lived. (Virtually all
family trees have consanguineous marriages, so the same person will appear
in multiple places in a tree.)
NationalGeographic.com article explains how there comes a
point in history when "all individuals who have any
descendants among the present-day individuals" (that's us) "are
actually ancestors of all present-day individuals."
"all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man
or woman who lived around 1400 ... About a thousand years ago, a
peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans
alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living
today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants
eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would
turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today."
So anyone of European descent is probably related to Charlemagne,
and to his royal relatives as well. Of course, documenting the
generations back to royalty is another thing. You
can get started discovering your royal roots with the six steps in
our Spring 2011 Discover Your Roots bookazine.
If you have English ancestry of any variety, as Cindy Crawford did
through her Trowbridge line, there's still time to sign up for our Aug.
29 webinar and learn how to research English genealogy online.
You also can get our e-book A
Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors.
If you missed last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" you
can watch it on the show's website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 10:25:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
PBS Series "Genealogy Roadshow" Explores Roots of Everyday Americans
Posted by Diane
I learned a little more about PBS' upcoming Genealogy Roadshow
series while at the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference
The show, slated to air Mondays from 9 to 10 p.m.
ET starting Sept. 23 (my husband'll have to find someplace else to watch Monday night football),
will combine history and science to uncover the roots of everyday Americans. This season's participants come from four
cities: Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Detroit; and San Francisco.
Genealogy experts will explore unverified family history claims
about connections to a famous event or historical figure (sounds to
me like a genealogical version of "History Detectives") by using
family heirlooms, records, DNA and local historians.
will reveal many of the answers they discover in front of a live
audience in a location relevant to the participant's family history.
Here's a teaser:
"Genealogy Roadshow" hosts are Kenyatta
D. Berry, a professional genealogist and president of the Association of Professional
Genealogists, and D.
Joshua Taylor, whom you've seen on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and who serves as lead genealogist at findmypast.com.
(Both have also appeared in the pages of Family Tree Magazine
and been interviewed in our "Five Questions" column. Coincidence?)
"Genealogy Roadshow" is based on an Irish series of the
Genealogy TV | Videos
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 3:05:13 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)