Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 4 – Looks like we’re back at the brick wall…

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 4 – Looks like we’re back at the brick wall…

(Note: This is continuation of a series, and we suggest you start at the beginning – Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery)

Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of this experiment of live-blogging a search to break down a brick wall. It was kind of exciting starting this series not knowing if we’d be successful, even though it felt like we might be able to link this DNA match.

We’ve gone through every quick trick we know to try and find Excell before 1910, and so far, we’re striking out. We’ve searched for Excell (and XL and Ex and X) in both the 1900 and 1880 U.S. Census. We’ve used Stanford/Standford/Sanford/Stanfor and we’ve looked in the counties we expected him in, surrounding counties, and the entire state. We’ve even looked for him as “White”. Theres nothing so far, although there are a surprising number of people with the first name “Excell” in Mississippi in 1900! We’ve also tried to push through to 1880 using his uncle James, but to no avail. We now know James’s wife’s maiden name, but we can’t find either of them in the 1880 U.S. Census.

So, after a day of searching, we have another set of data points which will someday help us break down this wall, but we didn’t get through it today. When we’re on the ground in Mississippi doing physical research, we’re confident we can put this puzzle together…just not today. Not yet.

But hopefully sharing this day of searching illustrates how we go after these leads, and we’ll follow this up with a more detailed explanation of our approach on these DNA matches, and of course we’ll follow up when there’s a break through!!

Last screen shot 2
Correcting the tree from Episode 3…THIS properly reflects James as Excell’s Uncle. Thanks for one of our readers pointing it out!!

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 3 – Now we’re in the thick of it…

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 3 – Now we’re in the thick of it…

(Note: This is continuation of a series, and we suggest you start at the beginning – Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery)

Progress was good this morning…until we got out of Illinois, and started researching the history of Excell Stanford in Mississippi. It’s just disheartening on how little information is available for Mississippi post-Civil War, especially for African Americans.

We know that Excell and Carrie were married in Mississippi around 1917. Of course there is no marriage record, so we still don’t have a maiden name for Carrie confirmed, but we do have her children’s birth records showing it as Boling/Boiden. We found Excell’s 1910 U.S. Census entry, and he was living with his uncle James in Coahoma Co., Mississippi. Interestingly, his name is listed as “XL” which gives us another name to search (we confirmed that his son Edward’s middle name was legally “Excell” so that’s likely how our Excell spelled it). We’ve been able to take uncle James and his wife/children back to the 1900 U.S. Census, but not yet to the 1880 U.S. Census…which might give us a lead on Excell’s father.

We also haven’t been able to find Excell in the 1900 U.S. Census yet…which is going to put up a pretty serious barrier to tying our DNA match to the known Stanford line. Let’s hope we can get past this. There are some un-indexed records like the Mississippi List of Educatable Children which can be helpful, but records for the early 1900’s can be spotty, and since they are un-indexed it will take review of each of hundreds of pages to find a match.

We’ll keep digging in on Excell, and see where we are in a few hours!

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 12.20.00 PM
Tree growth has slowed…and we’re using “Unknown” to link the two brothers.

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 2 – Building out our match’s tree starting with her grandparents and their children

(Note: This is continuation of a series, and we suggest you start at the beginning – Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery)

It was the biggest shock we had when we started trying to use DNA results in our research: We spend most of our time working DNA building other people’s trees.

So, step one was re-create their tree in our Ancestry account using the information they had posted. They don’t have much up on this line, but the good news is that the match’s grandparents died in Cook County, IL and grandfather had a VERY unique name: Excell. It’s also positive that Excell was born around 1895, so we miss the gap of the 1890 Census, we have a good shot at him being on the very helpful 1900 Census, and he’s born after the 1870 slavery gap.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.09.00 AM
Our match’s tree

As of right now we have expanded Irma’s family to identify her mother’s maiden name, some brothers/sisters, as well as a step-family. We’ve gone through Excell’s Cook County records, and the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census. We’re working backwards to build out the tree in chronological order, and so far so good! As much as we’d love to rush to 1900 U.S. Census, to see what we can find, we’re trying to be patient and let it unfold for us!

The process we’re following is how to build a good skeleton tree: review online sources, attach them to facts as Primary or Alternate, starting with “Shakey Leaf” hints (which are the top 10% of Ancestry matches), then using “Search” to look for the other 90% of Ancestry records. Notice we’re stay away from Ancestry User Trees at this point. They aren’t sources! Here’s how we brokedown this process in an earlier set of posts: Building a good Public Ancestry.com tree – Part Three: Attaching online records to your tree

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.13.18 AM
Our tree…so far!

More to follow!!

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery

We’re going to try something different today…we’re going to live blog the process of taking an AncestryDNA match and using it to break down a brick wall, without knowing the outcome before we start the posts. We’re not sure it’s going to go as we hope, but we thought it might be interesting to try.

What’s going on

Last night, after finishing up a few genealogy emails after 10 days of near-obsessive research on ANOTHER brick wall (which is crumbling nicely, and we’ll post on that later) I was killing time before our youngest was going to need us to put him to bed and hadn’t gone through my wife’s mother’s DNA results in awhile. As I was puttering around, I literally gasped when I clicked a match…the match was 98cm (close cousin, 3rd or better most likely), had a small tree to the grandparents, and the match’s maternal grandfather’s last name matched Felice’s mother’s grandfather’s surname. We’re going to call Felice’s mom “Sue” in this post, since we haven’t gotten her approval to use her real name. Only needing to match the parent of both “Stanford” men in these two trees to make a match might be doable, and this will be a huge brick wall broken down.

Why is this a brick wall

This is part of the darkside of genealogy in-general, and DNA genealogy specifically: when you ask questions, and collect proof, you expose not just the best parts of your family. Sue’s mother Delia had 3 children, by a man named Robert Holmes in Mississippi, before she migrated to Milwaukee in the 1960’s. But, it’s widely assumed, and Delia told Sue as much, that Robert Holmes was not Sue’s actual father. He had just agreed to sign the birth certificate, although he might have actually been the father of Delia’s first child. Robert was married this entire time, and 30+ years older than Delia, and no one has any information on him in the family. He died in 1968, and Delia died in 1999, so we can’t ask them. Talking to Delia’s sister about her history, and as much as she could remember about Delia, she said they were party girls back in these times and that the sister had actually gotten married once just so she had someone to watch the kids while she went out and partied with Delia. I love this woman, and I would have loved to meet Delia when she was here, and I love that she giggled and with a gleam in her eye at 85 years old gave me the best quote of all of our family interviews: “We were whores back then”.

Further complicating this search, is that getting past Sue’s great grandparents is difficult because before the 1870 they were all owned property (the “S” in the image above symbolizes a person born into slavery), and for the 100 years that followed they lived in Mississippi which sought to de-humanize them in every way they could…including reducing the official records their names might appear. Since these official records are the lifeblood of genealogy, and since Mississippi is behind just about every state in digitizing/sharing the records they do have for African Americans, it’s very challenging finding black ancestors in that state.

Additionally, African Americans tend not to participate in the hobby of genealogy as much as, say my family, which was DAR in 1904, and which I have several lines that have books published about. The combination of not wanting to talk about a painful linage, generations of economic challenges which doesn’t lend itself to time consuming hobbies, systematic suppression of official records, lack of work from older generations to build upon, and of course the 1870 wall, finding good genealogical matches is hard. For my wife’s family, we have only identified 12 of 32 3xGGP vs. my side where we’ve identified 29. (More about this: Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…)

What’s next

The good news is that our match is in Illinois now, with at least her father passing away in the same state. This means we should have better records to start our search, and since I work in Cook County, it will not be hard getting access to original birth/records for their first generation.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 9.59.17 AMWe’re going to start building out our match’s tree, and hope that we find a Standford father that has her great grandfather, and Sue’s great grandfather, as children, and we’ll proven the DNA link. In doing so, we’d not only better understand that line, push back her known ancestors back at least one more generation, but we’ll also be able to prove that Sue’s father is the man listed on her birth certificate.

More to follow in a few hours!!

How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

Over the last year, we’ve probably spent half our genealogy time working on one project: cleaning up the sloppy work, especially with citations, we completed in our first years of assembling this family tree.

We had read Black Roots by Tony Burroughs (Black Roots) before we started, and beyond everything else he advocates a great genealogy process and has lots of advice on how to proceed building your family tree. He warns against falling to the temptation of just building out as fast as you can, and focusing on document collection instead of getting the things like oral family histories that you will not be able to get later.

We promptly ignored Mr. Burroughs’ advice, and clicked every shaky leaf we could see, we built out based on Ancestry User Trees, we accepted nearly every hint, and we ended up with a mess. A pretty solid, very useful, mess. The tree has good bones, but it probably causes more harm than good as a public tree some days. It’s why we’ve spent so much time going back and cleaning up our mess.

As we looked to clean up our main tree, and bring it into a much better, cleaner, accurate record of our family history, we started with one item which we don’t see many researchers publishing: attaching all sources as ours, with citations attached. This gives us a standard source format for all our evidence, and it gives us full ownership of the records and media, independent of what the original publisher chooses to do with it later.

The bulk of our process is taking all sources, online and offline, drafting a proper citation (following Evidence Explained as best we can), attaching that citation to the media/record, and then publishing our extracted record as the evidence supporting various facts. For online records this means not just accepting Ancestry.com’s record entry and attaching it directly to our tree, it means downloading the media, crafting a proper citation, and manually attaching the record to our tree, while citing/linking to the online record.

There are many advantages to this approach (and we’ll blog in more detail on them next week), but the most important two benefits are this: we fully understand the quality of the record we are publicly attaching as valuable evidence before we do so, and we now fully own the record (and the media) regardless of what happens to the original digital source. For example, websites close, message boards with attached files get archived, Ancestry.com subscriptions lapse…but if you have followed this approach, the 1880 U.S. Census record for your 2x great-grandfather is still attached to your tree, still shareable, and still visible no matter what happens to the original digital record.

Today, we’re going to walk you through how we do this, and how we attach it to our tree.

Step 1 – Download the record

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 9.55.47 AMWe’re going to use a record with media as our example, but this would largely hold with database-only or index records that don’t have media. First off, locate the record you’re interested in and download it from the holder of the electronic record. Most sites have a “Download” button, but if not, try right-clicking the image and select “Save image…”.

Step 2 – Create an MS Word document of the record, by inserting the picture

Open a blank Word document, and save it in the proper folder (we create a folder for every ancestor, and we would create it under their name and we would have copied the file from Step 1 into this folder). Adjust the “Orientation” to match the document (in our example, it’s a square shaped document, so we chose Portrait) and the “Size” (match the size as close as possible to the original size, so in our example we selected Ledger size to match the census sheet). Then select “Margins” and set them to “Narrow”. This will let you use as much of the sheet as possible.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.06.51 AMNext, click “Insert-Pictures-Picture from file…”and select the image you downloaded in Step 1. Make the sure picture is selected, and click “Wrap Text-In front of text”. Now, you can move the image freely in the document, and you should resize it until it takes up most of the sheet…leaving enough room for text on the bottom.

Step 3 – Attach your citation

We’re not going to address how to craft a citation here, but we are huge fans of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained and have done our best to follow that standard. For fellow adopters of the EE standard, we are using the “First Reference Note” as our citation for our images.

Create a text box below the image you inserted in Step 2 (Insert-Text Box-Draw Text Box), stretching it from end-to-end of the image above. As with the image, make sure the new text box is selected and click “Wrap Text-In front of text” to allow you to move the box freely on the page. Click in the box, and type your citation. When done, resize the text box to make sure it’s as close to the edges of the image as possible, and sized to keep the text as close to the bottom edge of the image as possible. Save your document.Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.34.48 AM

Step 4 – Prepare for publishing

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.37.30 AMNow that the document is complete, save as a PDF file. This will make it easier to share later, and easier to print if needed.

Next, we convert this document to an image (.jpg) so that it appears easily readable in online trees. We use a free website to do the conversion (http://pdftojpg.me/) but feel free to do it however you’d like. Some people just do a screen capture of their final document, some people just save as .jpg from a tool like SnagIT. Once we have created the .jpg, we’ll take the opportunity to crop it tight to the margins of the image, keeping the citation visible.

Step 5 – Create the Source in your Online tree

There are many different ways to do this, but it basically comes down to two methods: Create the source Online or create the source in your genealogy software and sync the change to your online tree. Either way works, and it’s basically the same tasks for both approaches.

Create the source record, and draft it to the standard you follow for your sources. In our case we are using Family Tree Maker to create the source and attach to the facts, and we use the citation we created in Step 3 as the main citation for the Source. We also make sure to attach the web link to the record in the Source, so that you can click through to the original online record just like if you had attached it from the online source directly.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.29.09 AM

When you’ve completed creating the source, attach the image of the record created in Step 4, attach the source to your facts, and you’re done!

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.30.43 AMAll told this exercise takes about 5 minutes per source, and you’ve ensured that you will forever own this Source material, no matter what happens electronically in the future. And, as you’ll see in our next post, you can lose very precious information when online sources are taken down unexpectedly…

Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…

Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…

During this recent Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend, we received one of those messages on Ancestry.com that you dream of. Through Felice’s paternal grandmother’s DNA, we had a 5-8th cousin reaching out to help try and draw the line between the tests, and while their theory probably doesn’t match up as she thought it might, it did highlight 3x great-grandparents we hadn’t yet identified. From that, we’re starting to piece together a theory that’s looking pretty strong about siblings of the 3x GGP’s, and with that a good lead on new direct relatives for my wife.

Genealogy for African families is very difficult because for much of our history they were only viewed as property and what we know from that time is largely based on who survived long enough to be considered a person.

These new relatives were all born as slaves in the South before the civil war, and so very little is known about them, very little was recorded, and even less survived. Good theories may be all we can ever piece together to explain the DNA connection we now know we share…and it seemed appropriate that this excitement, and struggle, should happen during the weekend we put aside to honor the struggle of our ancestors to be allowed to be human and citizens in the United States.

But like many lessons taught by Dr. King, there is a level even deeper than that which became apparent only after we thought about it and discussed it more.

By contrast, my genealogical line is much better defined, as most northern European/British lines are. In addition to being a Mayflower descendent, I have several lines that go back to the early 1630’s in the new world, and all of my relatives had arrived in the United States by 1850. This means I have a great deal of documentation on my ancestors, and it means I only have questions about the identity of 3 of my 32 3x GGP.

Felice’s line has only about 12 of 32 3x GGP’s identified, and since both of our relatives in that generation would have been born between 1800 and 1850, it’s surprising we have as many of her line identified as we do. It’s an obvious truth: genealogy for European

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 3.06.18 PM
There is more to the “1870 wall” than slavery

families is much easier pre-civil war because they were considered humans, even if they were largely disdained at times; genealogy for African families is very difficult because for much of our history they were only viewed as property and what we know from that time is largely based on who survived long enough to be considered a person.

While we were both excited and troubled (as you are when you discover new relatives who were born as property) by this new finding, there was another emotion: we have so much information about Felice’s father’s side of the family, and not nearly as much as her mother’s…and here’s another breakthrough on her father’s side.

As we talked, and thought about it, we narrowed in on why this was: the relatives on her mother’s side were subjected to the worst of the Jim Crow post-war South, and suffered for generations under economic conditions that not only led to very few records being created, it meant that there were no family historians that had the luxury of gathering stories, documents, and proof of their ancestors to pass down. They were just further victims of the social apartheid they were subjected to for another 150 years after gaining their “freedom”.

In contrast, her father’s side of the family had several relatives that broke that cycle in the late 1800’s. A few relatives owned property by 1880 and were able to work it independently and keep the profits/proceeds. Another owned a cotton gin in 1875 and used that buy property, and spread the wealth to his children so they could be above the lowest social rungs. Felice’s paternal grandmother’s parents owned their land in Arkansas, and so the descendent of the original slaveholder in the neighborhood, who now managed a massive sharecrop (read exploitation/subjugation) organization in Ashley County would come to her father at harvest time and ask if he would help harvest his crop. He would refer to her father as sir, and ask please. He would take “no” for an answer, and pay him market price for what he helped harvest…the same as his white help.

It’s not just chance that we have more information on this side of her family. They were not as impoverished, they had the luxury of history and time to collect the information we now have. Just as my great-grandmother on my father’s side was completing her DAR application, and gathering so much of the amazing material I have today in the early 1900’s, so too were parts of Felice’s family. Today, there are multi-state bi-annual family reunions on some lines, and books published, and for others there’s a network of researchers who capture new DNA matches and connect the historical dots for us.

But her mother’s side heartbreakingly illustrates the subtle effects of the brutal oppression they suffered, and the echoes of which linger for generations after…even after many of the children escaped North during the Great Migration. Her mother’s family was largely sharecroppers, at best, and we regularly see 50% child mortality in these lines. The mothers often had more than 10 children, and we can only imagine how they struggled to make ends meet. They were living in the worst of the deep south, in the parts of Mississippi that were still stringing up African Americans regularly well into the 1960’s.

U1292863INP
Mose Wright testifying against the white men who murdered of Emmett Till in 1955. In doing so he “crossed a line that no one could remember a black man ever crossing in Mississippi”, and that was only 10 years before Felice’s mother was born in the same county.

For example, Felice’s mother was born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi only 10 years after a young Emmett Louis Till was tortured and murdered in that county. At the time of her birth, no one had been convicted of that horrific murder, and it was still known as the “Free State of Tallahatchie County” since the white residents knew they could, and would, do whatever they wanted and damn what anyone else said.

This black hole of genealogy just so clearly demonstrated the devastating conditions her family survived through, that we both were speechless as it because clear to us the answer why one side was more documented than the other. While both her parents’ families survived horrible oppression in the Jim Crow South, one side had slight means and a slightly less aggressive apartheid to allow them a sliver of advancement out of Arkansas.

The other side was in Mississippi, which freely and deeply continued to destroy the identities and lives of black families to the point of there being few official records, and those records are still very inaccessible. The official policy continued to be to deny the humanity of African Americans even after the world tried to force them to accept these people as people. That side of the family could barely feed itself, and couldn’t even accuse white people of a crime for most of their existence. Family history couldn’t be less important in those circumstances, and we see that today by the complete lack of their history beyond a basic census every 10 years.

It’s another example of how what isn’t in your family history can be as valuable as what is, and it’s another way that we learn what our ancestors faced on their journey leading to our birth. And on this MLK day, it helped our family feel more acutely the struggle and fight of those who put everything on the line to free African Americans from the oppression of the American government and culture…which is exactly what we should do on this holiday.

 

We’re not dead yet, posts to resume shortly!

It has been WAY too long since we’ve posted, and we just wanted to drop a quick note to let our followers know that we’re still in the land of the living, and that we’re still here.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole, in addition to an overwhelming amount of family history material we worked to archive over the summer (Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection), we had planned a move to Costa Rica on October 1st. Much of August and September were consumed with that, and then 8 days before the move we found out we were not going to be able to leave the country, and we’ve spent the time since scrambling to find temporary housing, getting a car back from Costa Rica, storing our belonging, finding permanent housing, and getting unpacked…as well as working and living our lives! Needless to say the hobbies of Genealogy and blogging have both taken a back seat.

Last night we were able to access RootsMagic for the first time since late September, and time is starting to free up for hobbies. We’ve got some good insights on leveraging non-indexed resources, updates on the large Archive project (and the first published works from there), a funny coda to the Family Tree Maker vs. RootsMagic saga, and some nice personal discoveries from the last few month.

Thanks for your patience and your interest, we’ll talk to you soon!