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# Monday, November 24, 2008
Free Database: Local and Family Histories
Posted by Diane

FamilySearch and the Houston Public Library (whose Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research is among the country’s best places to research your roots) have announced a collaboration to digitize some of the library's resources and post them online for free.

That includes county and local histories, registers of individuals, directories of Texas Rangers, church histories and biographical dictionaries. The records cover the years from 1795 to 1923.

The project will start with Texas records (yay for me; my Dad’s branch was in the Lone Star State for a time), followed by other Gulf Coast states. It'll take up to five years to complete.

A few books are already digitized and free (they're part of Brigham Young University's Family History Archive; you also can get there from FamilySearch by hovering over Search Records and clicking Historical Books).

You can browse; keyword search on a surname, author or title; or every-word search on any term. Your search results link to digitized images.

If a digitized book is among your Family History Library catalog search results, the catalog listing will link to it.

The digitized Houston Public Library records also will be available free on the library's Web site.


FamilySearch | Free Databases | Libraries and Archives
Monday, November 24, 2008 1:30:33 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, November 21, 2008
101 Best Sites: Irish Maps and Nevada Censuses
Posted by Diane

This week’s 101 Best Web Site’s highlights cover Irish history and Nevada censuses:
  • Ireland’s History in maps: This fascinating map collection spans the Ice Ages through the years of the Great Famine, with a historical synopsis for each.
  • Nevada Census Online: This state government site earned genealogists' eternal admiration for creating online indexes to the state’s federal censuses from 1860 through 1920 (except the mostly destroyed 1890 census)—free.
See all the rest of our 101 Best Web Sites picks at FamilyTreeMagazine.com.


Free Databases | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, November 21, 2008 2:35:42 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Target Carries UK-Based Genealogy Software
Posted by Diane

Genealogy software Family Historian, which released version 3 earlier this year, is now available stateside at 1,500 Target stores (but not through Target.com, it appears), as well as at Micro Center and Fry's.

The software, from British-based Calico Pie, Ltd., is known for its family tree charts and diagrams, particularly the unique “All Relatives” diagram that even includes in-laws, and the “Everyone” diagram that shows everyone in your file and their relationships.

You can browse and edit individual files using diagrams. With Smart Trees, you hide, show, move, resize and re-order people and branches, and watch the trees adjust themselves to reflect your changes.

Family Historian claims to be the only program that’s 100 percent GEDCOM compatible and “GEDCOM complete”—meaning it saves and reads all fields in a GEDCOM file. (GEDCOM is the standard file format for genealogy software.)

The program runs on Windows 98 and higher. It's available as a $56 download through the manufacturer's Web site.

If you buy the boxed CD at US retailers (blogger Dick Eastman found it at his Target for $49.99; it's $69.99 on the Micro Center and Fry's Web sites), you get a 6-month membership to World Vital Records and a CD on doing genealogy online.

You can try out Family Historian with a free 30-day trial.

Randy Seaver at the Genea-Musings blog has been reporting on his Family Historian test drive in a series of posts, starting here.


Genealogy Software
Friday, November 21, 2008 2:11:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, November 20, 2008
FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage Offer Discounted DNA Tests
Posted by Diane

The family networking and genealogy site MyHeritage and genetic genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA just announced a partnership that promises DNA testing discounts for you.

The arrangement continues the trend of merging social networking, genealogy and DNA, on sites such as Genetree, Ancestry.com and Familybuilder.

The FamilyTreeDNA-MyHeritage offer includes these discounted DNA tests: 
  • 25-marker Y-DNA: $129 (FamilyTreeDNA doesn’t usually offer a 25-marker test, but its 12-marker test costs $149)
  • mtDNAPlus, which tests mitochondrial DNA and estimates Native American and African ancestry: $129 (this beats FamilyTreeDNA’s regular price of $189)
  • mtDNA and 25-marker Y-DNA: $219 (compare to the regular price of $229 for an mtDNA and 12-marker Y-DNA combo)
The offer page says the specials are for MyHeritage users, though it doesn’t look like you're required to prove you’re a member of MyHeritage.

You can read more about these and other genetic genealogy companies in previous Genealogy Insider blog posts. The DNA toolkit on FamilyTreeMagazine.com offers advice on choosing the right test for your research questions.


Genealogy Industry | Genetic Genealogy
Thursday, November 20, 2008 9:45:19 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Time to Talk About Your Family Health History
Posted by Diane

For the past several years around this time, the Surgeon General has urged Americans to use holiday gatherings as an opportunity to talk about health history.

It’s not to make you feel guilty about that extra piece of pecan pie. It’s because your ancestors’ medical conditions may have a genetic component. So maybe you can improve your health outlook by changing a few habits—or at least you’ll know what to watch out for.

While Great-uncle Hector’s intestinal blockage might not be the best dinner-table conversation, we encourage you to gently ask about family members’ illnesses and causes of death when your family gets together.

You can record what you learn using the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait online tool, then print a chart to show your doctor.

Other ways to gather famliy health history:
  • You may find clues about illnesses in journals and letters—health was a major topic of discussion for our ancestors.
If you find yourself wondering what a record means by “podagra,” consult the archaic disease dictionary at Antiquus Morbus (it’s a term for gout in the joints of the foot.)

See FamilyTreeMagazine.com for more resources on researching health history.


Research Tips | Vital Records
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 3:35:28 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Where Do We Find All That Old Stuff?
Posted by Grace

Readers occasionally ask us if we have information on the photos or letters we show in our articles. Unfortunately, for the most part, we don’t. "Many of our old photos have come from antiques stores and flea markets," says our editor, Allison Stacy. "We used to have a photo stylist go out and buy props for us—kind of like a mystery shopper." So where do we get all the stuff we show in Family Tree Magazine?

Without a stylist these days, we have to get a little creative in finding props, and we aren’t too proud to scavenge. "I brought home copies of some documents and burned the edges of them on my patio one night for a photo shoot" for a story about burned courthouses, says our art director, Kathy DeZarn. "The next morning on my way to work I spotted a bunch of charred wood and broken bricks from a house fire just a few blocks from my home. It was just too good to pass up."

Kathy got the Mason jars in the May 2008 History Matters from her aunt’s basement, and "the boxes of stuff I inherited when my parents died has been the source for all sorts of letters, photos and stuff including one (I only found one) of the shoes my mom wore on her wedding day."

Managing editor Diane Haddad’s grandmother's purse and burgundy dress have been in photo shoots for the magazine, as have various family pictures. My own parents happen to have a house full of antiques and ephemera, which comes in very handy! That's a picture from their living room below. (The telephone, directory and telegraph key in the "Getting the Message" article in the January 2009 issue pictured above came from them.)


Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy fun | Photos
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 3:41:33 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, November 17, 2008
Hello, Sunshine: The Family History Expo in Mesa
Posted by Diane

To show you the lovely weather in Mesa, Ariz., host of the Family History Expo whence I just returned, here’s a photo of Friday morning’s 8 a.m. opening session:



(Warm sunshine probably isn't a big deal to everybody who's reading this, but it is for someone who just came home to overcast skies and temperatures in the 30s.) That’s Don R. Anderson, senior vice president at FamilySearch, giving tips on finding ancestors in a digital world.

After snapping this photo, I raced to the Family Tree Magazine booth to prepare for the onslaught of researchers stopping to take magazines and handouts, start or renew subscriptions, and purchase our State Research Guides CD for their very own.

I had a great time meeting family historians from Mesa and beyond, including some (hi, Happy Dae!) whose posts I’ve read here and on our Forum. One visitor’s dad went to high school with my dad.

Keeping my sugar intake nice and steady, I took a Hershey’s Kisses tour of the exhibit hall (many exhibitors tempt conference-goers with candy). I scored a limited-edition macadamia nut kiss, sold only in Hawaii, from Ohana Software, makers of Family Insight.

Sacha, my neighbor over in the Genetree booth, brought cake to celebrate Genetree’s first birthday.



Some of the newer genealogy exhibitors I met on my tour include:
  • Photoloom, a site where you and your family can organize pictures around a photo-based family tree
  • Echo Media, a service for digitizing slides, prints, film and video- and audiotapes

  • LDSJournal, a personal journaling and memoir-writing site

  • Genlighten, a site where you can hire an amateur genealogist to do a research tasks in a distant repository

  • I-ASK, the International Association of Story Keepers, a network of oral history interviewers who also help you digitize photos and videos and share them online with family

  • Prepared Binder, a kind of kit for organizing family records and personal, medical, insurance, financial and other papers

Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun
Monday, November 17, 2008 2:02:25 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, November 13, 2008
Genetic Genealogy Companies Under Fire
Posted by Diane

Genetic genealogy testing companies aren't doing enough to make sure you understand the limitations and implications of DNA testing, says the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG).

The organization, whose 8,000 members include geneticists, scholars, genetic counselors, nurses and others, today issued a statement with recommendations for the genetic genealogy industry.

It was prompted by the rising popularity of genetic genealogy. According to the ASHG, a half-million Americans will spend $100 to $1,000 per test this year.

ASHG faults tests designed to determine ethnic ancestry, rather than the Y-DNA tests that estimate whether you’re related to someone. "Rarely can definitive conclusions about ancestry be made beyond the assessment of whether putative close relatives are or are not related," reports the statement.

That's because such tests compare the genetic contribution from a tiny slice of your family tree against a reference database that uses DNA samples from modern-day individuals to represent populations that existed eons ago. A lot of population shifting and combination has happened since then.

No standards exist for statistical analysis and how results are reported to you, says the statement. "Perhaps the most important aspect of reporting confidence in ancestry determinations is to accurately convey the level of uncertainty in the interpretations and to convey the real meaning of that uncertainty."

As genetic ancestry testing expands to cover inherited medical conditions, ASHG is concerned patients may misconstrue the results of these often-inconclusive tests when making medical decisions.

The organization joins a growing chorus. States such as California and New York have come down on genome profiling companies including 23andMe and DNA Traits for providing medical testing without involving individuals’ doctors.

A year ago, the New York Times doubted the accuracy of ethnic DNA tests after its reporter received varied and conflicting test results from five companies. Bert Ely, a geneticist who helped start the African-American DNA Roots Project with high hopes in 2000, shared his findings that most African-Americans have genetic similarities to numerous ethnic groups in Africa—making it impossible to match African-Americans with a single group.

An article in the Oct. 19, 2007, Science magazine cited these problems:
  • Limited information in companies’ reference databases might lead them to draw the wrong conclusions. (Today’s ASHG statement said these databases “reflect a woefully incomplete sampling of human genetic diversity.”)
  • Some companies’ databases are proprietary, making it hard to verify customers’ test results.
  • Tests trace a small percentage of a person’s ancestors and can’t pinpoint where they lived, or the specific ethnic group they might’ve belonged to.
The ASGH ancestry testing recommendations include the following:
  • The genetic genealogy industry should make a greater effort to clarify the limitations of ancestry testing. Consumers must understand more about ancestry testing.
  • Additional research is needed to further understand the extent to which the accuracy of test results is affected by the makeup of existing human DNA databases, geographical patterns of human diversity, chromosomal marker selection and statistical methods. 
  • Guidelines should be developed to facilitate explanation and counseling for ancestry testing.
  • Scientists analyzing genetic ancestry test results should take into account the historical, sociopolitical and cultural contexts under which human genetics evolved.
  • Mechanisms for greater accountability of the ancestry testing industry should be explored.
Part of the problem may lie in the complex science involved. The explanations are difficult for laypeople to understand (I'm a layperson, and I'll admit it); but in simplifying them for marketing materials and test reports, DNA companies may downplay the tests' limitations.

Do you have a handle on what genetic genealogy testing is all about? Click Comments and tell us about your DNA testing experiences. For information on how DNA can (and can't) aid your genealogy research, see our DNA toolkit.


Genealogy Industry | Genetic Genealogy
Thursday, November 13, 2008 9:36:49 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Canadian Censuses To Be Digitized and Indexed
Posted by Diane

The subscription site Ancestry.ca (a Canadian records-focused sister site to Ancestry.com) and FamilySearch are partnering to digitize and index Ancestry.ca’s Canadian census records.

They’ll be available to Ancestry.ca subscribers in 2009, and the indexes will be free to the public on the FamilySearch Web site. The images will be free at FamilySearch Family History Centers.

Canadian national censuses were taken every 10 years starting in 1871; earlier censuses cover various areas of Canada. Under the agreement, FamilySearch will provide Ancestry.ca with images and indexes for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1916 censuses. Ancestry.ca will provide FamilySearch with indexes for the 1891 and 1901 censuses.

This partnership should ease Canadian roots research a bit. Only the 1901, 1906 and 1911 censuses, as well as part of an 1851 census, are indexed by name. To find your ancestor in other censuses, you need to know his or her district and subdistrict—which could change between censuses.

The Web site Automated Genealogy is coordinating a volunteer indexing project for the 1901, 1906 and 1911 censuses; search the growing database free. If you find an ancestor’s name and district information, look for him listed in the free census images on the Library and Archives Canada Web site.

Library and Archives Canada recently announced a digitization partnership with Ancestry.ca. No specifics were available about which records are up for indexing.


Ancestry.com | Canadian roots | FamilySearch
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 10:42:46 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Jewish Group Says Mormons Are Still Baptizing Holocaust Victims
Posted by Diane

The controversy over Mormons’ practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims is in the news again.

The Associated Press reported on yesterday’s American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors (AGHS) press conference. The organization claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t enforced a 1995 agreement to permit its members to submit for posthumous baptism by proxy (often described as “temple work”) names of only those Holocaust victims who are direct relatives.

Posthumous baptisms by proxy are central to Mormons' faith because the practice allows families to be reunited in the afterlife. They see the baptisms as an offer that the deceased individual can refuse; many Jews view the practice as disrespectful to those who were killed for their religious beliefs.

A researcher the AGHS hired reported finding several thousand names in the LDS church’s genealogy databases, some submitted as recently as July.

The church removed Jews’ names after the 1995 agreement, but told the Associated Press that since then a few well-meaning members have “acted outside of policy.”

In a written response to the press conference, the LDS church claims AGHS refuses to provide the names of the Holocaust survivors found in the database or respond to LDS proposals stemming from a Nov. 3 meeting of both organizations.

New FamilySearch, the online family tree tracking program slowly being released to church members (it'll eventually be publicly available), should help resolve the problem by discouraging mass submissions, and separating names intended for baptism from those submitted for genealogical purposes.

Read the full article on CNN.

Here's the LDS church's response.

AGHS also has links to news coverage of the press conference.


FamilySearch | Jewish roots
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 8:46:26 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [7]