Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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DNA Testing in an Uproar

Last year we learned that GEDmatch opened its Terms of Service to explicitly support law enforcement submitting tests to compare with others in their database in order to use DNA to match family members of those who committed violent crime as well as those who are unidentified victims of crime. Actually, GEDmatch learned that LE was already doing it, decided it was a Good Thing, and changed the terms to be more explicit about it.

I deleted all of my tests from their database.

Now FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) was “found out” to be allowing the same thing, having changed their Terms of Service without notifying its customer base, and many folks are livid. Not because we are criminals or don’t want law enforcement to solve crimes, but because the issues of privacy and lack of consent have been ignored by a company that we trusted.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has written some very articulate blog posts explaining the FTDNA issues. She’s not the only one, but I always find her to be clear, logical, and informed. Read these:

I totally get that databases of DNA samples voluntarily submitted by millions of people looking for cousins or ethnicity background created a perfect resource for them to match additional samples taken from crime scenes. I didn’t put my DNA in that database for the government, and I do not trust for one minute that what starts as a simple test for matches to autosomal DNA could open the floodgates (to use Judy’s imagery) to other government hunting. And we would have no idea and could not stop it.

I was lucky to have been able to tests my parents’ DNA, pushing me back a generation. But honestly, I haven’t found a lot of relatives. Most of my matches don’t bother to answer emails or initiate them themselves. But most importantly now, my brother, who shares that DNA with me, does not want it to stay accessible. At all. Which means deleting tests from people who are gone and cannot give those cheek swabs again. And the loss of money and possibilities. But I share his concern.

Right now my FTDNA kits are set to “no match” which basically makes them unfindable for the purpose I tested in the first place. One of my cousins, whose test I manage, is fine with keeping it open and I’ll make that change. For the others, I want to output reports and match lists – at least to people who still have matching turned on – before I delete my tests completely. I’m ready to go to MyHeritage, 23andMe, and LivingDNA to do the same thing. I don’t trust them, either.

We tested at Ancestry.com before anywhere else, and I’ve asked my brother to let me keep those kits, at least for now while we see how things shake out. It may be that I can’t keep that, either, but I really would hate to lose everything. On the other hand, I’ve had 10 years to play in the sandbox and fill holes in my tree as I worked with DNA results.

My brother was concerned about all of this from the beginning. Maybe I was naive not to be, and I know I was caught up in the fun and excitement of new tools for genealogy after decades of traditional research. But I’m older and wiser now and I don’t want to put my DNA or that of people I love in the position for any government misuse or abuse.

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Burned out on DNA research

My brother’s Christmas present was a 306-page book pulled from my Family Tree Maker data, collected over almost 50 years. It wasn’t the entire tree, which has 1800 names, but it had a lot of ancestors in there with citations to sources, endnotes, indexes, and pages of pictures. I worked on the book creation part for almost a year, writing ancestor profiles, cleaning up sources and information, and rescanning all the photos.

But now I’m burned out. I’ve been doing research since 1970, when I was sixteen years old. And I love it, and I love finding people and figuring out connections and learning about history and places and migration patterns.

I’m just not interested in DNA research. At least not now. And these days, you can’t really do genealogy research without it. Oh, I’ve tested my own DNA and was able to get my parents tested before they died, and those results have been uploaded and can be found on Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, My Heritage, Living DNA; I’ve tested myself at 23andMe, too.

For a while everything was also loaded into GEDmatch, the database that allows people to check results across platforms using chromosome browsers, which Ancestry doesn’t have. But in May 2018, I pulled test results from GEDmatch after talking with my family. It had become the database used more and more often for crime-solving, and while we are all for solving crimes, there was real concern about what OTHER unknown uses might be made of freely available DNA results. Their terms of service had more holes than my lawyer-brother was comfortable supporting and I had my own concerns. So out they came.

To really make good use of DNA results, you need to be using all sorts of nifty tools such as DNA Painter, Charting Companion, Genomate, graphing tools, and more. You also need to test everyone you can find in a particular line to triangulate shared DNA and work backwards to shared common ancestor(s). You need education, too, because this stuff is complicated. I took a course in Genetic Genealogy, went to workshops and seminars, read blogs, and joined several Facebook Genetic Genealogy groups to try and keep up.

Do I have mistakes in my records because of Non-Parenting Events (NPEs)? Probably. Everyone has two trees, a genealogical tree and a genetic tree. Sometimes all the documents in the world that build the genealogical tree are blown apart by DNA evidence (and it’s evidence, not proof) that a recent or past relationship isn’t what we thought it was.

Do I care? Not really. Not now. I am almost never contacted by new DNA matches; I’m the one who does the contacting, and get very few results. People are happy learning whether they should wear kilts or lederhosen. And there is no reason why they should want or need to know more than that, just because I want to know how we connect.

Because of DNA testing and trying to figure out matches, I spent a lot of time over the past few years working on collateral lines and bringing my tree forward in time beyond just direct ancestors. It was fun and challenging and now many of the matches I find I can place on the tree without a problem. I have a few walls that are pretty solid and I’m not making much progress. Maybe working on figuring out relationships with 5th and 6th cousins would do it.

But I don’t want to. I don’t want to put the time into it because no matter what I was doing, it was never enough. So I’m giving myself a break. John Grenham, the guru of Irish genealogy said last year in his blog: “Leave something for the next generation to discover.” That also applies to “leave something for you to discover later.”

For now I’m leaving DNA results alone, as well as the Facebook groups and classes, and concentrating on documentary research to help other people who don’t know anything about their family history. My big project for 2019, though, is continuing to organize my notes and records in binders with original documents interspersed. This will be the Research Collection and if anything happens to me, my family can make sense of everything I’ve collected. It won’t be fast but it will be done by Christmas 2019.


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.


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Cousins of the heart

We all have them, those people who are related to us not by blood but by love and shared memories. They are as much our relatives as those with shared DNA. 

Our related clans in 1951

My life was graced by a special tribe in New Jersey, two sets of sisters who shared their childhoods and stayed connected as young marrieds with small children. We children grew up sharing the beach at Manasquan and visits in between summers until both Flanders sisters moved too far away to come back for summer vacations.

Letters kept me connected to my godmother and I made a visit to London to visit Cousin Carol while in college. We sat around and shared endless cups of tea the same way our moms had sat for years over cups of coffee. As we grew older, we stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards. But now with Facebook, I’m reconnected. I love seeing pictures of their children and grandchildren, of their travels, new homes, and worry over illness and sad times. 

The last of that senior generation is gone now  with the death of Uncle S this week, just a few months after my father’s death. We children who are no longer children are the senior generation now. Our children don’t know each other, the way we grew up knowing each other, but it’s important to me to not lose the connection I have to those far-away cousins of the heart. 


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Thanksgiving transition

This is my first Thanksgiving without my father, without either parent. I’m living in their house which doesn’t feel like my own on a holiday spent in this place for over 30 years. It’s a kind of limbo time. I’m alone – by choice – today, staying quiet after being sick most of the week, and taking down fall decorations to put up Christmas ones. No turkey or stuffing, no pie, no green bean casserole, no family gathered around the table. I missed them for about 30 minutes but I’ve spent other holidays on my own before. It’s just that this is the first one in this house. It makes a difference. I miss my daddy and am grateful to have my beautiful kitty girls for company.


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Cleaning Up the Family Tree

I know, I know … no new profiles recently. But I’ve been working like a fiend behind the scenes doing database cleanup on my 48 year old genealogy files. I have public trees in several places including Ancestry.com, but my real work happens in FamilyTreeMaker (FTM), which I’ve used since it was a DOS program (yes, I’m old and have been doing this a long time). I’ve also been synching my tree between Ancestry and FTM since the capability was offered, keeping both up to date.

FTM

FamilyTreeMaker Available at https://www.mackiev.com/ftm/index.html

But there are problems. Lots of problems. Importing and merging records over many years gave me a tree full of errors and I hadn’t really done systematic cleanup. I had duplicate names recorded as separate facts, a mishmash of place name formats, and serious errors such as people attached to the wrong parents. Oops.

So that’s what I’m working on now. I joined a Facebook group for FTM Users, which has wonderful resources on working with the software which has developed powerful tools for cleanup that I had no idea were part of the software.  Ancestry doesn’t have them, although I do like their relationship tools better than FTM. Lucky me, I can work in both and synch.

ResolveplacenamesMy trigger for doing all of this was using the new FTM plugin Family Book Creator to pull data from my tree into a book of my father’s ancestors. Looking at the index of place names, individual names, source list, and scanned images gave me a road map of things that need fixing.  I started with the easiest (and smallest) group: duplicate people. Then I worked on reconciling place names, making sure that all elements were present and in the same format of  City, County, State, Country. Although I’ve been careful about this in the last few years, I had decades of old work that needed correction.

Next I went to Manage Facts and was appalled to see that importing records from FindaGrave, Fold3, and Newspapers.com created dozens of new fact labels with data that should have gone into a different field. I worked through these one at a time and have a strategy for working with new finds.

Now I’m working through the Data Errors Report, which had 36 pages of problems such as missing dates, duplicate events, duplicate names, children born when mother was too young or too old, etc.  I can’t fix the “missing date” problems for most of these people right now but I hverified that my extended direct lines are complete and I have a report of what’s missing to work on later.  The other errors are taking time to work through but it’s satisfying to know what needs doing.

DataErrorReport

My biggest challenge ahead is cleaning up my Source list. It must be done and I know why and how, but I hate citations and hate that I have so many to fix, which is why I started with everything else.


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Where Did You Come From, William Myers?

My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all named William Myers. Beyond that, though, the line goes dead in terms of anything I can prove. It’s very frustrating since it’s my name!

In doing genealogical research, we start with the most recent information we can find and work backwards. My grandfather William Myers doesn’t appear in any contemporaneous records with his parents because birth certificates weren’t required in 1906 when he was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina. His mother Josephine Emma Goodwin died in March 1909, followed by her husband William Myers in October 1909. There are no death certificates for either one, depriving us of another source of information, but family lore says they died of the flu. No wills, orphans records, or burial records have been found.  My great-grandmother’s sister Lurinda Goodwin Curtis took in orphaned William, Percy and Nellie Myers, who grew up with her family. They are listed together in the 1910 census.

Myers 1900 census

So let’s see what else we can find by going back to the 1900 Census.  William Myres (38), his wife Josephine (26), and son Percy (3) were living in Bethel, Perquimans County, North Carolina. William and Josephine had been married for 6 years; she had born two children, only one was still living.  All of them were born in North Carolina of parents also born in North Carolina. William was a farmer on rented land. His birthdate is listed as January 1862 and hers, December 1873.

No North Carolina marriage records were found, but my grandmother remembered that her husband’s parents were married in Virginia and not North Carolina. Why she remembered this is a mystery; her husband was only 3 years old when his parents died in 1909, so he barely knew them and she never met them. But remember she did, and it opened possibilities.

William Myers and Joseph [sic] Emma Goodwin were married on 27 Dec 1893 in Suffolk, Virginia, about 55 miles from their 1900 home in Bethel, North Carolina. The marriage record shows that William, age 26, was born in 1867; his parents were listed as David and Margaret Myers. Joseph, or Josephine, age 20, was born in 1873 to parents Lemuel S. and Mary J. Goodwin.

Already we have a discrepancy. The marriage record gives William’s birth information as 1867 while the 1900 census, taken 7 years after the marriage, gives the date as January 1862. Josephine’s information is consistent across the two records. Her parents, Lemuel Goodwin and Mary Jane Thach, grew up in Perquimans County but had moved to Suffolk, Virginia, sometime before December 1893. The Myers were more elusive. In fact, they’re missing.

One of the benefits of online rearch is the ability to do “sounds like” searches, which is handy when there are many ways to spell a name. And there are many ways to spell Myers, among them Meyers, Meyer, Myer, Mayer, Meirs, Mears, Maiers. Unfortunately for me, I found no marriage record for a David Myers (of any spelling) and anyone named Margaret in North Carolina or Virginia. I also found no William Myers (of any spelling) born in 1867 in North Carolina or Virginia.

One promising William Myers (born to David Giles Myers) was born in 1861 in Davidson County, North Carolina, but follow-up research showed he lived and died in Davidson County and married someone else completely.  There is, though, a David Myers born about 1837 in Chowan County, right next to Perquimans County. He appears in the 1850 census at age 13 in the home of Thomas Myers, his wife Minnie, with siblings Alexander (21) and Harriet (15), living in the District Below Edenton.  In 1860, the only David Myers in the county appears in Edenton, where he was age 24 and working and living as a bookkeeper in a hotel.

MYERS N.D. - NC Civil War Roll of HonorDavid Myers enlisted in as a private in Company M, North Carolina 1st Infantry Regiment on 29 April 1861 and mustered out on 12 Nov 1861. His name on the Roll of Honor appears as N.D. Myers. And then he disappeared from Eastern North Carolina.

One Nathan David Myers died on 18 January 1917 in Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina. According to the obituary in The Kinston Free Press on 20 January 1917, he was a native of Edenton and had served in the Confederate Army. Sound familiar? He has a widower who died childless; his wife Eveline Dunn Myers died in 1894. I believe that this man was the David Myers who we found in the 1850 and 1860 census records in Chowan.

Meanwhile, back in Perquimans County in 1870, Alexander Myers lived with his wife Harriet and children William (10) and Margaret (9). There was only one Alexander in Chowan and Perquimans County; he is presumed to be the son of Thomas and Minnie Myers, parents of N. David Myers already discussed. William is also living with Alexander in the 1880 census as well. His birth year of 1860 or 1861 is consistent with the birth year of William Myers found in the 1900 census but not consistent with the birth year of William Myers on the 1893 marriage record.

Do we have an explanation? No. One possibility, however, is that Willliam was actually the son of David Myers who was raised by his brother Alexander. I have no proof of that at all and it may be far-fetched. DNA evidence does connect my father William Myers with a known descendant of Alexander Myers and another descendant of Whitaker Myers, who was related to Alexander’s father. It proves nothing but it certainly is interesting!