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<2009 October>

More Links

# Monday, 26 October 2009
DNA Tests in Ghana May Shed Light on African-American Origins
Posted by Diane

The Center for African-American Genealogical Research, Inc. (CAAGI), genetic genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA, and the Public Records and Archives Administration Deartment of Ghana (PRAAD) are embarking on a project that may improve the ability of DNA tests to estimate African-Americans’ origins in Africa.

DNA tests designed to analyze origins in Africa often lead to more questions than answers because relatively little is known about the diverse genetics of African tribes. The tested person’s DNA is compared against a database of modern Africans' DNA—but because of historical migration in Africa, the DNA of a given area’s modern residents may not match its original inhabitants.

Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast), located in Western Africa, was the source of an estimated million-plus African slaves. FamilyTreeDNA will test several hundred members of the Nzema, Ga, Fante, Ewe and Asante tribes, all of which were part of the slave trade.

The DNA will be gathered at a workshop CAAGI is conducting this Friday at the PRAAD offices in Accra, Ghana, as part of its Sankofa project to use traditional genealogical sources and DNA to reconnect African families. Attendees will learn about online genealogy databases, preservation of song lyrics and photographs, transcription of family stories, and forensic genealogy.
Ghana was once a UK colony where British, Dutch and Danish merchants traded. PRAAD has a Slave Trade Archives project with microfilm on Danish activities in Ghana from 1658 to 1850; some of the film is digitized online.

Addition: Bennett Greenspan, president of FamilyTreeDNA, provided a bit more information on this project.

Greenspan believes the results, which should be available in three to four months, will “absolutely” help improve analysis of African-Americans’ origins in genetic genealogy tests.

“The results of this outreach will be to both increase the size of the FamilyTreeDNA/ comparative databases and the results will also be added to the permanent Hammer collection at the University of Arizona, who will publish on the results of these and other outreach missions to Africa," Greenspan says. "In that way, the data will be published and available to all researchers of Africa.”

The University of Arizona's Hammer Lab is managed by Michael Hammer, FamilyTreeDNA's chief scientist. is the African-American genealogy research firm of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

African-American roots | Genetic Genealogy
Monday, 26 October 2009 12:33:47 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 23 October 2009
Genealogy News Corral: October 19-23
Posted by Diane

Here are some of the week's genealogy news tidbits:
  • We wrote about ethical wills (last statements concerning personal values rather than property) in the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine. (Family Tree Magazine Plus members can read the article here.)
Ready to get started on one? Personal historian Dan Curtis is offering a free, seven-part online course on writing an ethical will for your heirs.
Discover more resources for Chinese genealogy in these Genealogy Insider posts.
  • The new Amelia Earhart movie is getting tepid reviews (from what I’ve seen, anyway), but the real-life details of her 1937 disappearance might be more interesting.’s "Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad" collection contains a case file of correspondence concerning an investigation into the theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were imprisoned in Saipan. Find out more about the case on’s blog and on's “What really happened to Amerlia Earhart?” page.
  • Genetic genealogy company DNA Consultants has added a blog to its revamped website; posts review news and research on dna testing and popular genetics. That involves some complex scientific terms and concepts, so put on your genetic genealogist hat when you visit.

Asian roots | Celebrating your heritage | Genealogy Events | Genetic Genealogy | Social History
Friday, 23 October 2009 16:08:48 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 22 October 2009
New Digital Library Names Thousands of Slaves
Posted by Diane

Search information from thousands of slavery-related county court and legislative petitions in a new, free resource from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro library.

The Digital Library on American Slavery provides detailed information on more than 150,000 individuals who are named in the petitions, including 80,000 individual slaves and 10,000 free people of color.

The information comes from legal documents, such as wills, estate inventories and civil suits, filed in courts of 15 states and Washington, DC, from 1775 to 1867. Though this database doesn’t contain images of the records, it offers a lot of detail from them.

When you search by name, here's what your results list might look like:

Click the petition number by someone’s name for an abstract that tells you what the petition was about, and the date and place it was filed.

Under “People associated with this petition,” click the links for names of enslaved individuals, defendants, petitioners, etc.

One the resulting page, click a name for information about that person. You might learn the person’s color and sex, slave or free status, occupation, skills, physical attributes, diseases and more. Not every detail is available for each person—it depends what's in the record.

This database lets you connect slaves with owners and others they may have interacted with.

The Digital Library of American Slavery grew out of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project, established in 1991 by Loren Schweninger. The project created a microfilm edition of the petitions and documents called Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks: Petitions to Southern Legislatures and County Courts, 1775-1867. It’s on 151 reels; scroll down on this page for a list of institutions that have some or all of them.

Also see Schweininger’s book, The Southern Debate Over Slavery, Volume 2: Petitions to Southern County Courts, 1775-1867 (University of Illinois Press). The original documents are at state archives and county courthouses.

African-American roots | Free Databases | Genealogy Web Sites
Thursday, 22 October 2009 11:01:51 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
NARA Explains Proposed Research Room Changes
Posted by Diane

The National Archives and Records Administration released a statement correcting what it calls "erroneous" information about planned changes to its Washington, DC, research facility.

The plans were publicized yesterday on the National Genealogical Society (NGS) UpFront blog.

The NGS post said NARA wanted to reduce research space, move and reduce the number of microfilm readers, eliminate the military services research room, and eliminate self-serve microfilm pulling in favor of a system that required staff to pull film. The reason? To expand the exhibit area and shops.

I asked NARA about the changes and was sent this statement, which also will be posted on NARA’s website today.

In short, changes are proposed, but according NARA, research space will increase, the microfilm reading room and self service microfilm will not be eliminated, and the lecture room will remain. Plans for the consultation area will follow the service model at the Archives II research facility in College Park, Md.

Here's the statement:
The National Archives and Records Administration continually looks at ways to improve and increase our services to visitors and researchers. We conduct this review to ensure that we continue to provide the highest level of services to our regular clientele and to extend our services to potential users with different backgrounds and expectations. 
It's come to our attention that our researcher community may have received erroneous information about our plans for some adjustments to the Archives I research rooms. The following information is an outline of what we are considering.  
Are you reducing the size of the Finding Aids/Consultation Room?
No.  Current plans would more than double that space.
The current room on the ground floor of the National Archives Building (Room G-28) serves as the finding aids room, the consultation area, and as office space for three staff members.  The area available in this space for consultation with the public is approximately 450 square feet and has three consultation tables. 

We are proposing to move the consultation area from G-28 to the adjacent area which is currently the National Archives Library, G-30. We will use approximately 1100 square feet of what is now Library space for this consultation area.  The space will have eight tables for consultation. 

So, we will more than double the area and number of tables for researchers to consult with staff and use the finding aids. The three staff members who currently have their workspace in G-28 will have new workstations adjacent to the research room that they can use to do other work when they are not providing direct consultation service. 

This plan is based on the successful model that has been in place for several years for consultants at Archives II in College Park.
Are you eliminating the Microfilm Reading Room?
No. Over the last few years use of our microfilm holdings has decreased by 70 percent. In fiscal year 2000 we had 53,000 microfilm researcher visits; in fiscal year 2009 we had 16,000 microfilm research visits. When our microfilm reading room was first designed and built we estimated the need for 100 microfilm readers.  Because of digitization and other factors, there no longer is the need for so many microfilm readers.  So we are considering reducing the number of microfilm machines to 30 and increasing the number of public access computers to meet the demand for the old and the new technology.  We will maintain the number of microfilm machines at a level that is needed by those researchers who continue to have the need for microfilm.
Are you eliminating self-service microfilm?
No.  For the convenience of both researchers and staff, the National Archives maintains a policy of allowing researchers to browse our microfilm cabinets and select their own microfilm.  We will continue with this policy as long as research demand warrants it.  We may, however, relocate the microfilm to another public area adjacent to the microfilm reading room.
Are you eliminating the Lecture Room?
No.  Our current lecture room on the ground floor (G-24) is used daily for programs such as our very popular "Know Your Records" seminars.  Any renovation of the ground floor research area will include a lecture room so our researchers, visitors, and NARA staff can continue to use it for critical outreach and other activities.
What are you doing with the Orientation and Registration Area?
While we may eventually re-locate those areas physically, we have no immediate plans to do so. We of course would not eliminate this critical function, and will ensure it is located appropriately.  
These changes to the National Archives Building should improve the services we provide to researchers.  No functions or services are being eliminated or reduced.  
To ensure that the changes meet the needs of researchers, we intend to continue to have our quarterly meetings with our Archives I user group to keep users informed and solicit their comments.

Libraries and Archives
Thursday, 22 October 2009 09:43:52 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
FamilySearch Tests Community Trees Site
Posted by Diane

When I saw Dick Eastman's report that FamilySearch labs (the arm of FamilySearch that develops and tests new online projects), is testing a  Community Trees site, I went to check it out.

First, I learned the site doesn't work well in Firefox, so I switched to Safari. 

Community Trees has lineage-linked genealogies from specific places and time periods (some date to medieval times) around the world—for example, Millville, New Brunswick, Canada, and Norfolk, England, in 1563.

Here's a description of current trees. They include communities in Britain, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Norway, Pacific Islands (including New Zealand), Canada, and Washington State.

Each tree is a searchable database with views of individuals, families, ancestors and descendants. Most are joint projects between FamilySearch’s Family Reconstitution team and local residents or genealogists with expertise in the area or the records used for each database.

Search across all data by name from the home page. Once you click on a name, tabs show you the person's ancestors and descendants, let you calculate his relationship to another person in the tree, display a timeline, and let you download a GEDCOM (in some cases), or suggest new information.

Links at the bottom of the home page let you search for dates, places, cemeteries, histories, etc. Not all seem to be fully working, but you can click the Sources link to search the source citations used for the information in the trees. Each source is linked to related individuals.

Since the site is being tested, you can expect that some features won’t work all the time. Give feedback using the Contact Us link, which is under the Info tab at the top right of most pages.

FamilySearch | Genealogy Web Sites
Thursday, 22 October 2009 09:25:14 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Genealogy Browser Toolbars
Posted by Diane

Want to save time surfing for genealogy information? A free genealogy web browser toolbar might do the trick.

Your browser toolbar is the thingie at the top of your Web browser window with buttons that let you go to the last Web page you were on, bookmark pages, see recently viewed pages, etc.

Web sites can create their own toolbars for frequent users; you can download one and add it it to your browser to easily link to the site’s main pages or use certain features of the site without actually having to go there.

You can download a toolbar for just about anything, including using Facebook, searching Google and generating Mapquest maps. A genealogy toolbar might have search boxes for one or more search engines, menus of bookmarked genealogy Web sites, and other shortcuts. You might be able to customize the toolbar’s appearance and settings.

Sometimes toolbars come with spyware or adware, so before you download one, look for an online review or check the developer’s Web site for a reassurance that you won't get these nasty surprises. Also, make sure the toolbar works with your favorite Web browser (Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.) and that it’s easy to uninstall if you change your mind.

Here are some genealogy toolbars we've learned about:
  • The My Genealogy toolbar has dropdown menus of categorized links to genealogy websites. Download it from here or here. It works with Internet Explorer and Firefox.
  • The Malhamdale Local History Group of Yorkshire, England, created a toolbar with links to the group’s site and other genealogy websites. It works with Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox (though Firefox users are directed to a help page).
  • The Manchester and Lancashire (England) Family History Society launched a genealogy toolbar that provides links to more than 200 useful British genealogy sites. It’s regularly updated, and you can configure settings such as which web site categories to display.
  • The Family Genie toolbar works with Firefox (it’s supposed to work in Internet Explorer, but CNET reviewers couldn’t get it to). It has first- and last-name search boxes and a single dropdown menu of search engines, as well as a menu of bookmarked genealogy sites.
  • If you’re an member, you can download the toolbar for quick access to links on It also lets you easily save links and add photos and text from any web page to your Ancestry tree.
  • Google is a handy genealogy tool for searching on ancestors’ names, getting language translations, locating addresses and more; and you can make more use of it than ever with help from resources such as our Googling Your Genealogy webinar and the book Google Your Family Tree by Daniel M. Lynch. The Google toolbar isn't just for genealogists, but you'll appreciate the shortcuts to the search engine’s features.
If you know of a genealogy toolbar not mentioned here, click Comments and tell us about it.

Genealogy Web Sites | Research Tips | Tech Advice
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 09:35:46 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [10]
# Tuesday, 20 October 2009
10 Ways to Use Your December 2009 Family Tree Magazine
Posted by Diane

The December 2009 Family Tree Magazine should be hitting subscribers’ mailboxes during the next week (yes, it’s already December in Magazine Land). I randomly picked out 10 ways this issue might figure into your family history pursuit:

1. Start a family medical history with nine sources that can help you learn what illnesses your ancestors suffered and died from. (See, I thought I’d start this post on a bright note.) Click here for our online listing of health history books and Web sites

2. And for a slightly morbid yet somewhat educational five-minute time-killer, try to match up 12 archaic maladies with their modern equivalents.

3. Plan your heirloom preservation strategy with a guide to preserving a variety of keepsakes—including a quilt, a delicate wedding ring and other items our coworkers at Family Tree Magazine headquarters brought in. (Associate editor Grace Dobush blogged about the shady past of one such heirloom.)

4. Are genetic genealogy tests really 99.9 percent accurate? Will they pinpoint where your ancestors lived? Discover the truth behind common beliefs about DNA and genealogy, and use quick-reference lists of testing companies, definitions and online DNA databases.

5. Follow along with our step-by-step guide to entering genetic genealogy test results in two genealogy software programs.

6. Did you know the historical newspaper search at GenealogyBank treats personal names like keywords? That means if your name is also a word, such as White or Banker, you’ll get lots of false matches. (The site’s obituaries and SSDI database are indexed by name). You’ll find search tricks in our Web Guide to GenealogyBank.  

7. Can’t find your ancestor’s town of “Gross Herzogtum, Baden?” That’s because gross Herzogtum isn’t a town, but a term for “grand duchy.” Find explanations for this and other place terms related to ruling nobility in our guide to research in German states, including Prussia, Hesse, Bavaria and others. (See articles in our online German research toolkit here.)

8. Thinking of adding (or already have added) a genealogy app to your Facebook page? Get the lowdown on FamilyLink's We're Related and Family Builder's Family Tree, two popular genealogy apps for Facebook.

9. Chuckle over six readers’ captions for a giant-fish photo and enter our newest All in the Family Challenge.

10. Where's that one article ... the one about the census ... not the regular census but the special ones ... ? Stop flipping through all this year’s magazines and open to the 2009 index on the last page of your December issue. You'll find that the article on nonpopulation censuses was in the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine on page 20.

Of course, there are even more great resources and tips in the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine. It'll be available starting Nov. 3 at

Family Heirlooms | Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy | International Genealogy
Tuesday, 20 October 2009 09:38:18 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 16 October 2009
Genealogy News Corral: October 12-16
Posted by Diane

Here are some of the news items we've rounded up this week:
  • I read an interesting post on the Archives Next blog about NARA’s record digitization agreements with firms such as Footnote and The blogger outlines possible good, bad and ugly outcomes when NARA is finally legally able to post online the record images obtained through contracts with third parties. 
  • Pedigree database subscription site OneGreatFamily ($59.95 per year) plans to improve its search function by installing the Perfect Search Database Search Appliance from Perfect Search Corp. Each week, OneGreatFamily makes more than 18.8 trillion comparisons of names, dates and other details in members’ family trees, says CEO Alan Eaton. The new search tool should increase searching capability, improve indexing, and to deliver results faster.
  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has added several genealogical journals to its online subscription ($75 per year): Besides its own New England Historical and Genealogical Register, they are The American Genealogist, The Connecticut Nutmegger, New Netherland Connections and The Virginia Genealogist.
  • Also from NEHGS: Fellow actors, Boston natives, best buddies and  People magazine sexiest men alive Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are 10th cousins once removed. Their common ancestor is William Knowlton of Ipswich, Mass., a bricklayer who died in 1655. Read the full story in the Boston Herald.
Family Tree Magazine Plus members can read our article about Matt Damon’s roots—including his link to Ralph Waldo Emerson—here

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy societies | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives
Friday, 16 October 2009 14:49:28 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 15 October 2009
Announcing Family Tree Magazine Plus!
Posted by Diane

Along with our Web site’s new look unveiled a couple of weeks ago, we started something else: Family Tree Magazine Plus, an online membership that gives you access to archived articles from the print Family Tree Magazine.

That’s nine years’ worth of advice on researching ancestors from around the world and in the United States, help finding and using genealogy records, recommendations for genealogy Web sites and books, guidance on researching and preserving photos and heirlooms, product and Web site reviews, ways to celebrate your heritage, and more.

In addition, Plus members will get access to new articles when an issue is published, as well as exclusive content that’s not in the print magazine (such as decorative family tree charts that I’ll post about next week).

The cost is $39.99 per year or $5.99 per month. Check out our money-saving VIP program, too, which includes the Plus membership, a year’s subscription to the print Family Tree Magazine, an automatic discount at and other goodies.

(Genealogy Insider newsletter subscribers will get a special message about the VIP program this weekend.)

Of course, much of our site is still freely accessible by anyone. We’ll still add new free content, and all the articles and forms that were free before are still free.

When you search using the search box in the top right corner, you’ll get a list of both Plus and free article titles that match your search.

Next to articles that are part of the Plus membership, you’ll see a green plus icon. Here’s an example:

The Sort By Menu at the top of the results lets you sort the list of articles by Plus/Free (the free articles will then be listed after the Plus articles).

You can click on a Plus article title to read the first paragraph or two, which looks something like this:

Click one of the “Join Plus” buttons to start a membership. Or, if you're a Plus member and you're logged in, you'll see the whole article.

Plus articles show up right on the Web site—no need to download anything.

There’s also a printer-friendly link at the end of every Plus and free article, so you can easily take articles with you to the library.

For a shortcut to starting a Plus membership, just click the orange Join now! button on our home page.

We’re glad to be able to offer this convenient, online way to access the tips and resources in past issues of Family Tree Magazine. If you prefer a more-traditional way to get your genealogy how-to information, though, you can download many back issues and individual articles as PDFs from Most recent back issues are still available in print, too.

Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy Web Sites | Research Tips
Thursday, 15 October 2009 11:00:35 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Vital Records Research Tips
Posted by Allison

I've been thinking a lot about vital records lately, while working on our next webinar with presenter Lisa Louise Cooke: Vital Records: Researching Your US Ancestors' Births, Marriages and Deaths Online.

While I've got this topic on the brain, I thought I'd share a few tips with you:
  • US vital records access and coverage varies from state to state. Each state has its own rules  and regulations, but for privacy reasons, death records are  usually  closed to the public for around 50 years, and birth records for 75 to 100 years. But you can sometimes get these records for genealogical purposes if you can prove a relationship.
  • Some states started state-level vital record keeping later than  others—in certain cases, well into the 1900s. But many counties started recording vital statistics  decades  or even centuries before the  state  mandated it. Look for those records at state archives and through the Family History Library.
This is good background knowledge to frame your expectations for your vital records research. Lisa's going to get more specific in the webinar, and demonstrate web sites that can help you get to your ancestors' records.

The webinar will take place next Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. Eastern (that's 6 Central, 5 Mountain, 4 Pacific). You can read more about the session and register on

Vital Records | Webinars
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:21:01 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]