Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Presidential Announcement

President Grover Cleveland
Much of my genealogy lately has revolved around my DNA matches. Sometimes, though, I need a break. That's when I head back to traditional research. And I freely admit, most of my traditional research comes via the internet.

I have many of my lines researched 200 years or more back in time. But no matter how much information I have, I always want more. Always! I also review some of those "dormant" families and see what might be new, or new to me, on the interwebs. One method is through online digitized books. It is pretty amazing how many old family genealogies and town histories have been digitized. Searching Google Books and the Hathi Trust usually yields something good.

Take the case of my search on the TENNY or TENNEY family of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. There is a Tenney family history book I've located that mentions my great-great-great-grandmother Amelia Tenney (1838-1891). I have confirmed using other sources that this is indeed my family. The Tenney book goes back several generations, to Thomas Tenney (c1615-1699) of Yorkshire, England and Rowley, Massachusetts, and includes descendants and many in-laws when known.

A little farther along Amelia Tenney's direct line, I came across Lucretia CLEVELAND. Hmm. There can't be too many Cleveland families in the 1700's. Some web searching about President Grover Cleveland yields his line and ancestry - and it ends the same as mine! Our first common American ancestor is Moses Cleveland, who came to Massachusetts in 1634 from Suffolk County, England. Another of Moses' descendants, also called Moses but using the spelling Cleaveland, was a famous surveyor and the founder of...Cleveland!

Here is each of our lines:

Using this chart from ISOGG, I traced each of our paths to Moses Cleveland. Moses was Grover's 4th great-grandfather and he is my 10th great-grandfather. That makes Grover and me 5th cousins 6 times removed, or 5C6R. 

I can call him Grover because he is my cousin after all ;)

For a Midwestern girl who comes from farmers and miners, I'm not quibbling about the degree of cousinship. I'm related to a President!

PhotographThe Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "Grover Cleveland and his Cabinet." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

© 2016 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Birthplace Pedigree, or WOW, Did My Ancestors Travel!

Of course, I had to jump on the bandwagon in creating a birthplace pedigree chart! For "extra credit," I went to six generations, only because all of my lines migrated so much!

Here's the picture:

Thanks to Cheri at Carolina Girl Genealogy for posting this on Facebook and to those who made the template!

© 2016 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Circle of Life

Last week I had the opportunity to wander around the University of Chicago, one of the preeminent universities in the US.

Henry Crown Fieldhouse

Let's back up first. 

I have written in the past about my grandfather Dallas Spencer. My grandfather was born on his family's farm outside Lansing, Ingham, Michigan. It was the same farm his great-grandparents first settled on in 1867.

After his education at the Agricultural College of Michigan (now Michigan State University), he served in the Navy in World War II, both in the US and in Japan. Eventually, he took an engineering position at the Department of Energy's new Argonne Laboratory in suburban Chicago. Argonne was founded in 1946 by several of the participants in the first successful nuclear chain reaction under the Stagg Football Field at the University of Chicago. Here is some great history about Argonne.

While my grandfather was not 'under the field' for that moment in scientific history, he was later presented with a small token to commemorate it:

memento inherited by this author

Fast forward to February 2016.

Readers of my blog may remember that I have sons who run competitively. My college son was racing in a meet... at the University of Chicago. And it happened to be a glorious, 50 degree February day in Chicago. So I went with dual purposes: watch my son and his team compete, and visit the University.

my son :)

modern sculpture noting the location

plaque commemorating the exact location of the nuclear reaction

beautiful Chicago skyline, south of the Loop

Sometimes genealogy and history are just genealogy and history. But sometimes they can show us a connection, a window, a way to observe the bigger world around us. 

My grandfather went from a boy on a farm to a seaman in Japan to an engineer for the Department of Energy. He circled the world. In following my sons as they circle their prized track oval, I can make connections and create context to the places I visit and the things I have learned about my ancestors. Watching my son reach for his goals gave me an opportunity to remember my grandfather and how his choices reflect why I am here today.

The Circle of Life.

© 2016 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vet Your Sources, Please!

I am not Ancestry's biggest fan.

I love the record sets. Love. Them.

I do not like a lot of the other "tools" they have, especially the DNA tools.

I recently checked out a DNA Circle that suddenly has 7 connections. Well, the seven include my two tests, the four tests of one other contributor, and one test to a person who Ancestry doesn't show as matching to my tests directly.

[Confidential to Ancestry: give us segment data and/or a chromosome browser, so I can determine how I really do match these connections. Please and thanks.]

The other group of tests are descendants of a common ancestor I'll call Jacob. I have lots of good data on Jacob, including his Will, pension file and census records. I have no definitive parents or birthplace for Jacob - another brick wall ancestor.

This new DNA Circle member does!

I viewed the Timeline that Ancestry can create from my connection's tree and found this:

So "Jacob" was born in England, six years later his mother died in New York, he then went back to England (assuming he came to the colonies with his parents!) to marry and have a first child, sail back to the colonies and have three more children in two years in three different counties covering two states, bury his wife a year later in yet another county and state, and then move some more. 

I need a map.

The "sources" for the children's information include - only - a minimum of 12 other Ancestry trees. There are no sources given for the English records. 

Maybe, maybe, maybe this is true but I am too skeptical. I will keep searching for Jacob's parents.

Examine your timelines and vet your sources before you get my hopes up again!

© 2016 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Space for a New Year

As 2015 draws quickly to a close, I am here with my year-end wrap-up, for those of you still along for the ride!

As usual, life got in the way of genealogy as it always seems to do. But that doesn't mean I still haven't been working on my family tree. THAT will never change.

Recently, I decided to take over a portion of our basement so I could have a dedicated genealogy space. Previously, the files and computer for my husband's small side business were housed in the basement. He was "supposed" to work down there. Slowly but surely, he and his files made their way upstairs into the computer loft, where both my little workspace and the family computer are located. Rather than compete for space, I made lemonade from lemons and took over the basement.

The basement is divided into a kids video game area and storage, with some basic studding separating the two. My new space consists of two folding tables plus a 6' plastic storage shelf. I bought two new industrial rugs on sale at the local home improvement store to keep the floor area warm. The kids' video game TV was starting to fail, but the PC connection still worked. I hooked up that TV to a basic PC and will use it for internet access to read records on a big screen! My bifocals heartily approve. Then I will continue to use my laptop for my family tree entry and basic computer work.

For storage, I had two rolling IKEA tables. I kindly left one upstairs for my husband. The other one holds both of my scanners and neatly rolls underneath the smaller table. Good use of space!

Finally, the only real decorating expense of my project was shower curtains! We haven't figured how (or if) the basement will be finished, but for now I tacked up two plastic shower curtain liners between the kids' space and mine. Voila - room divider for $5.

Now it is a basement and you may wonder about water problems. Oh, we've had them. June of 2015 brought terrible rain and storms to Illinois. We did have some water in the basement after power loss and the sump pumps not working. We tossed the old carpet scraps and went through mops and bleach, but in the big picture, damage was pretty minor. We do, however, have everything stored in the basement in plastic buckets, all our files are on racks with feet and nothing of value is actually on the floor - we learned! My family photos are stored upstairs, if you were worried.

For file backup, I use a redundant system of backup drives. And Santa brought me a new 2 terabyte drive for Christmas! Files are routinely backed up and the drives stored away from each other.

I think the best part of "moving" will be the opportunity to go through all the papers and notes I dragged downstairs to refile. Sorry - no pictures of that mess. I don't want to spoil your image of me! And as an added bonus, I can keep an eye on the laundry while I'm working ;)

For less than $50 and re-purposing many things we already had, I have a new place of my own!

So now you'll know where I'll be, once my kids are back to school and NOT USING MY NEW SPACE!

Happy New Year to you all!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Monday, October 5, 2015

Oh Ancestry, or How I DNA: Part Two

Last week, I shared an overview post of my family's DNA results from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). This post is devoted to AncestryDNA's results.

To review, here are the tests for me and my family:

When Ancestry had a sale, I ordered two $79 "spit" kits. I took one, and since I had not yet tested my mom, she agreed to take the second one. I have a full Ancestry account and was able to link both tests to my account. Mine shows as me, and hers shows as "managed by me."

Ancestry provides the same basic information: ethnicity, matches from their testing database, and their own "hints," "circles," "new ancestry discoveries," and recently, "shared matches." Additionally, since I have tested my mother, I can sort my own matches against "mother" by selecting that sort option.

(+) Ancestry's biggest connection feature is their Hints, via family trees. In your list of DNA matches, some will show the Ancestry "shaky leaf" hint. These matches share DNA with you AND have a discernible match through a tree in Ancestry's database. However, just because there is a match doesn't guarantee that that is the actual DNA connection. Use it as a hint and only a hint. In some cases, Ancestry also shows a DNA Circle. These are links based on both DNA and multiple trees (albeit through a computer algorithm) that may also give you connections to pursue.

this is a good hint that matches what I already had - yay!

The above graphic is one of my hints that is also my only Circle (cue the sad violins). There are four people in this circle: me, my mom, and two other descendants. This is a tree hint to one of the descendants. I have done a large amount of research on my branch of the Maxson family and am comfortable with this connection. This is a great way to review other sources or connect to other researchers.

(-) Every rose has it's thorns and AncestryDNA has bunches, in my opinion. First, Ancestry is basing the hints to your DNA connections on it's trees. Argh! Online trees can be a notorious means of error dissemination. Therefore, proceed with caution! The DNA doesn't lie, but the trees - perhaps. But many do not have a tree of any kind or keep it locked:

no help here

Which brings me to drawback #2: the messaging system. Ancestry employs a blind messaging system so that you need to connect within Ancestry (not by email). The system is often broken and there are loads of instances where messages don't get though. That's a problem. And some people choose only to test for ethnicity or at the request of a family member and will likely not ever reply. You also cannot search by tree name or by tester name. Huh?! Kind of a big drawback, but that is a site-wide concern, not just DNA.

Finally the biggest and most egregious issue is NO CHROMOSOME BROWSER OR SEGMENT DATA! We can only rely upon the data in the form Ancestry chooses to share with us. I consider that a huge fail. The other two companies provide actual segment comparison tools as a means to analyze and compare connections. Really, this is the basis of DNA testing! I wish that Ancestry would provide this option, even though perhaps only a small percentage of testers might utilize it. It can't be more difficult than offering up silly circles and new ancestor discoveries. 

Addendum: New Ancestor Discoveries

Holy cow, what a weird thing to waste your engineering resources on, in my opinion. I now have four of these and they make be laugh harder every time I see them.

I'll keep the Circle and ditch the rest...

I clicked on the NADs, even though my sensible inner voice told me not to. I looked at the trees of the first two. The names and especially the locations have no connection whatsoever to my tree. In fact, they even made me start to question my own research. But I am not going to fall into that trap. I am confident in my own genealogy (what the heck, I have REAL documents, pictures and family stories!). 

On closer inspection, all four of these NADs are in the 13,000+ family tree of DNA relative Bob. Now Bob is only a 5th-8th suspected cousin, which is already beginning to stretch the usefulness of DNA and it's predicted amounts (you know, from ACTUAL DNA segment research). So somewhere waaaay back, Bob and I have common DNA. It could be a very small segment that we were both fortunate enough to inherit, but we will never know because Ancestry WON'T GIVE US THE DATA! And it still doesn't mean that any of these people are the reason Bob and I share DNA. Oy.

I appreciate Ancestry for the clues, but my kingdom for some data! If you can afford to, or are all-in with Ancestry, by all means, test! But if you are hoping for serious genetic genealogy, you will be disappointed.

Off to lower my blood pressure! Thanks for reading.

Next time, I'll offer some pitfalls to avoid with your DNA results.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Monday, September 28, 2015

How I DNA - Part One

The focus of my genealogy research lately has been on DNA matching. Working with DNA matches goes hand-in-hand with traditional DNA: you cannot locate the match connection unless you have a paper trail to use. I plan to write a few posts on what I do (and don't do) with my DNA and some mini case studies of real matches.

I started out with DNA testing in 2013 using 23andMe. At the time, they were the first of the "Big Three" companies to lower a test to $99. Good enough for me! Over the next year or so, I was able to test other family members, so I have multiple results to compare as well as having a view of how each of the tests work.

Here's what I did for testing:

I am not made out of money, so some of my decision making was financially-based, and some was obtaining as much information as I could. I'm fortunate that both of my parents are still living. They've put up with my genealogy stories for plenty long, so it didn't take much to convince them to take a test. All of these tests were autosomal (cousin-finder) tests that are applicable to both men and women. My last tester was my brother. In addition to the traditional autosomal test, he also took a Y-DNA test for me, so I had a test for my very unknown Irish male lineage in my DNA arsenal. 

Short of having everyone test everywhere, this lineup has been working pretty well for me. I have a wide variety of tests and results. With some family at multiple companies, it also helps to sort results between paternal and maternal families.


This was my first company. It is a "spit" test. They provide ethnic breakdowns, Neanderthal percentage, haplogroups, general ethnicity by chromosome, and lists of matches by percent of DNA shared and by number of segments in common.

(+) Having my dad test there also allows MY matches to be designated "P" for paternal. What a plus! I don't take this to heart the farther away the matches become, simply because the shared DNA is too small. My dad has one grandparent who is French-Canadian, and easily 75% of his matches have ancestry from Quebec. If you have French-Canadian ancestors, test there!

(-) The biggest drawback is the connection system. You can opt for public or private. If you are private, your connections can see basics, but must agree to connect to see the actual DNA segments. The whole point, in my opinion, is having the segment data, so when a match does not reply or agree to share, it is very frustrating.

Here is a table of data for my dad at 23andMe, showing me in green and three of his first cousins. Who wouldn't want all that information?!

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) does autosomal tests and currently accepts transfers of DNA data from Ancestry. This is how my mom and I moved our data to FTDNA. My brother took their "cheek scraper" autosomal test. FTDNA provides ethnic breakdowns, match lists, longest segment shared, ability to add a family tree, an ICW (in common with) list, and several other features. It's a little clunky, but provides great information.

(+) Using the ICW list is helpful in determining who a match might also match. Using the list, as well as any tree information, you may be able to narrow the connection. ICW does NOT mean they all match each other in the same place, but in a more broad sense; think Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. FTDNA also has a chromosome segment map that is very useful.

(-) Two of the bigger drawbacks using FTDNA are that (1) they tend to overestimate the closeness of a match, and (2) your matches are sorted by largest block of DNA, not total amount. When you dig a little deeper with your matches, sometimes you'd rather have total DNA shared, not just the longest block.

Here's what my top four DNA matches look like on FTDNA. First is my mom, then my brother, then a maternal match and then a paternal match:


Ancestry has so many features going on - good and bad - that I will leave them for their own post!

Thanks for reading!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen