Wednesday, April 13, 2022

More Ethnicity Updates from AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA is maintaining their annual ethnicity updates, and it's a little early this year. But it's a new kind of update - rather than the usual changes to either the reference panel, or algorithms, or both, this one introduces a new feature called SideView. It is essentially phasing our DNA with our DNA matches to determine which ethnicities come from one parent or the other. It also means adjustments to our individual percentages, which should theoretically be an improvement. Phasing is usually done with parents or other very close family members, so I was skeptical about AncestryDNA doing it with our more distant matches. Your parents don't have to have tested for this new feature to work, but I was hopeful that my parents having tested would make it more accurate.

I find the parental breakdown (shown above) is very reliable - at least, it's as reliable as it can be given how accurate (or not) each of my kits are to begin with. For example, it correctly identified that my Norwegian and Italian ancestry are from opposite sides of my tree, and that is true: Norwegian is on my mom's side, Italian is on my dad's side. But it puts all of my Germanic ancestry on my dad's side because my mom's results still don't include Germanic despite having a great grandfather of full German descent (dozens of DNA matches on this branch confirm there's no NPE) and several other German branches further back. 

Looking at my mom's parental breakdown, shown above, (neither of her parents having tested), there is less reliability, that's partly due to the fact that her Norwegian ancestry is grossly exaggerated. She now gets a whopping 47% in Norway despite only having had one Norwegian (or Scandinavian) grandparent (so she should be about 25%, although it may vary, it shouldn't be more than about 36%). The majority of her Norwegian results does get put on one side, but that means there's not much room left for the other 25% on her mom's side that should be mostly English. Most of her English results get put on her other side, which isn't exactly wrong, she does have some English ancestry on that side too. But her dad's side should be mostly Germanic, and again, she gets no results in Germanic. If the percentages were more reliable to begin with, the split up would be more reliable too.

My dad's parental breakdown is very accurate, probably partly because his father tested but also because there is more genetic distinction between his mom and dad's sides - his mom was Italian, his dad mostly German and some Scottish and English. The split up (shown above) correctly shows all his Italian (Southern and Northern even though his ancestry is only Southern) plus trace amounts in Cyprus and Levant (obviously coming from his Italian ancestry) on one side, equaling exactly 50%. On the other side it correctly places all the rest of his ethnicities, although they are not all accurate - he wrongly gets results in Scandinavia where he has no known ancestry.

My paternal grandfather's parental breakdown is surprisingly very consistent with his tree, considering neither of his parents tested. On his paternal side, he is German with some English. On his maternal side, he's German and Scottish, with some English. Although his percentages are overall off (too much English, not enough German), the split up is accurately reflected here. English on both side, German on both sides (though barely), and Scottish on only one side.

My husband's parental breakdown (shown above) is also as accurate as possible given his percentage results and the fact that neither parent tested. It correctly identifies the majority of his Irish ancestry on one side and all of his English ancestry on the other side. His father was Irish, his mother was mostly English. He overall gets 40% in Ireland (a decrease from previous 47% which was much more accurate), and 36% is assigned to one side, his dad's side (shown below). His mother does have one Irish branch from much further back, which would amount to about 3%, and interestingly it puts 4% Ireland on his mom's side. Not bad. It then splits his Scottish results up more evenly on both sides - he does indeed have one Scottish 2nd great grandparent on his mother's side, so the Scottish portion being assigned to his father's side is obviously just due to the genetic overlap between Ireland and Scotland. His Scottish percentage is exaggerated to begin with: 22% when it should be more like 6% and probably no more than 12%, but interestingly the amount that is put on his mom's side is 9%, which is consistent with the Scottish 2nd great grandfather on his mom's side. Again, not bad, AncestryDNA, not bad. However, he has no Welsh or Norwegian ancestry, so those are obviously coming from genetic overlap with England.

So overall, the split ups among most of my kits were very reliable, but I can't say the percentages have benefited from the phasing. For example, my Scottish results wrongly shot up from 12% to 29% - based on my tree, the former is more accurate. And as mentioned, my mom is still lacking any Germanic results at all when she should be at least 12%, while her Norwegian results were already too high to begin with (43%) and just went up even more (47%). My dad's results didn't change by much, but he's now getting small percentages in incorrect regions that he didn't get before. In fact, most of my kits have seen this too - most of them now have small percentages in Ireland which they didn't have before. To my knowledge, all of my so-called "Irish" ancestors were actually Scots-Irish. So previous results were more accurate and the sudden appearance of Irish in results is disappointing (only because it's not accurate, not because there's anything wrong with being Irish, lol - obviously, my husband is half Irish).

Sunday, February 27, 2022

What exactly is the AGBI and how do we use it?

By now, you've probably occasionally come across a source known as AGBI, or American Genealogical Biographical Index, and maybe you've even attached it to your tree because it comes up as a hint for your ancestor, and everyone else has attached it to the same ancestor, and you don't want to miss out, right? But the details are usually vague, what is it even referencing and how do you know the records are for the right person?

The AGBI on Ancestry is basically an index of an index. It's referencing a big series of books that indexes tons of sources on early Americans. I don't know why Ancestry's index doesn't include all the data included in the book's index, but it doesn't. So to find the original source, you first have to look up the AGBI book index. You can find the books in a number of places online, I usually use the one at FamilySearch because it's free and accessible from home (it's not a restricted collection) - scroll all the way down (passed the listings that say off-site storage). 

Ancestry's index should include a volume and page number, although weirdly the books don't include page numbers, that's okay, because they're in alphabetical order. So simply open the volume you're looking for, and then find the name you're researching in alphabetical order. There will likely be several entries for the name you're looking for, but you can usually tell which one you need from the location and/or time period included in Ancestry's index. Even so, the AGBI books can be seemingly as vague as Ancestry's index is, and sometimes it takes some understanding and/or Googling of what it's referencing. 

For example, "Pa. Archives" is not a reference to the Pennsylvania State Archives, it's a reference to another series of books that includes primary records from early Pennsylvania called the Pennsylvania Archives - there should be a series number, a volume number, and a page number. The Pennsylvania Archives are also available online at various sites, Google Books, Archive.org, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Fold3, etc.

Another example is a source just called "Transcript" - this is a reference to the Boston Evening Transcript, a newspaper that ran a genealogy column from 1906-1941, including details on ancestors not exclusive to Boston or Massachusetts. Obviously, it's very much a secondary source, so I'd be careful with it, but it's available from Newspapers.com covering the years 1848-1914, and at American Ancestors covering 1911-1941 (select the Boston Evening Transcript from "Database").

You'll also see references to Revolutionary War Rolls and Pensions, those are fairly self explanatory. There's also states with "Heads Fams" which is referring to the names of the Heads of Families listed on the 1790 census. Since the 1790 census is already widely available online and probably already attached to your tree when appropriate, this isn't a very useful citation anymore. There's lots of other sources included in the AGBI, but usually they are self explanatory, or you can find out what they mean with a little bit of Googling.

It's really important that you find the original record the AGBI is referencing because the index is so vague, there's really no way to know from it whether it's for the right person you're researching or not. You may often find that once you look up the original record, it's not actually a reference to the person you're researching after all. Probably, researchers on Ancestry just attached it to their tree because the name and perhaps location and/or time period fit, without looking into it further probably because they simply don't know how to find the original. But particularly with common names, you can't assume that means it's for the correct individual, and now you don't have to be one of those people.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

TellMeGen Review

New DNA companies with the option to upload raw DNA data from other companies keep popping up, and honestly, it's hard to keep track of them. But recently, I tested one called TellMeGen out of curiosity. They offer reports on disease risk, traits, wellness, ethnicity, and even offer matching with other testers, all for free. But you know the saying, "you get what you pay for"? That's a little bit true here.

I can't really complain about the health and traits reports, they are easy to understand but also include the technical data if you want to explore that. They include reports on a lot of common health issues people want to know about, like cancer and heart problems. They correctly identified me as probably lactose intolerant, and having decreased levels of vitamin D. There aren't many Monogenic Diseases included, but that may just be because I uploaded from another company, so the data may not be there for some reports. It's always best to test with the company when they offer their own kit, but I can't afford to be buying all the DNA tests available out there.

But what we're focusing on is the ethnicity report, and I have to say it was not very consistent with my known ancestry at all.



 French 43.7%
 Scandinavian 37.7%
 Turkish, Caucasian and Iranian 9.5%
 Bedouin 4%
 Egyptian, Levantine and Arab 3.2%
 Basque 1.1%
 Sardinian 0.5%
 Ashkenazi Jew 0.3%

The only location/population here that's accurate is Scandinavian. I do have Norwegian ancestry, but it is not this high - more like 12.5% (one great grandparent), and other companies usually peg it even lower than that, suggesting I may have gotten than expected from my Norwegian great grandfather. I'm guessing that my inflated Scandinavian percentage includes my British ancestry, knowing there is genetic overlap between them.

I do have some very early colonial French Huguenot ancestry too, from the 1600s - but it amounts to less than 1% of my tree, so I do not consider it relevant to DNA ethnicity reports. Probably, the high amounts in France are coming from my neighboring Germanic ancestry.

Adding up the Middle Eastern results, I get 16.7%, which I can only imagine is coming from my Italian ancestry, though why it didn't come up Italian, I can't say. But even adding the Basque and Sardinian results in for 18.3%, it still doesn't add up to my expected amount of Italian ancestry, which I've detailed here many times as being about 32%. 

Although the 0.3% Ashkenazi is small enough to just be noise, knowing how endogamous the Ashkenazi population is and how reliable results in this category normally are, and should be, getting any results at all in this population when I have no known Jewish ancestry and get no results for it at any other company, is just another point against TellMeGen.

In short, my results simply do not make much sense. While it's not totally unreasonable to get some results in neighboring regions, this is a bit extreme, and if I have to jump through hoops to make sense of my results, it's not a reliable report.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

How Far Back Can We Go?

How far back can we research our family tree? It's a question that comes up periodically, especially from beginners who are sometimes overwhelmed with finding other people's trees going back very far. In practice, the answer will vary greatly depending on your tree. One branch might dead end in the 18th century, another might go back to the 16th century, and another yet might link to royalty and date back to Charlemagne (8th-9th century). But how far back is it plausible or realistic? At what point exactly do all these trees that date back to ancient times, mythical figures, Adam and Eve, etc become impossible? 

In general, the simplest answer for European research that has no known connection to royalty or nobility is that the 1500s is the end of the line. Like I say, not all your branches will likely even go back that far. Many times, the trail simply runs cold well before that point. For example, if you're American, you may never be able to find the specific origins of an immigrant ancestor. But if you're lucky, you may find a few branches here and there that go back to the 1500s.

Why the 1500s? Because that's when parish records began to be mandated in Europe. England was among the first to do so. In 1534, England separated from the Catholic Church and formed the Church of England, a protestant church, all so that Henry VIII could divorce his wife and marry his mistress. A mere 4 years later, England required that their brand new church begin keeping parish records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths/burials in 1538. Around the same time in 1540, the Lutheran Church also started requiring parish records be kept throughout their rapidly expanding churches in central Europe. In 1563 at the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church ordered that parishes keep baptism records, and in 1579, another order required marriages and deaths/burials. This meant essentially most churches in Catholic or Protestant Europe were expected to keep parish records from that point onward.

However, not all churches began adhering to these requirements right away. Many were slow to start keeping records, so depending on the location, you may not find parish records going back quite this far. In England, only 14.8% of parishes were keeping records by 1555, and that had risen to 54% by 1600. Most parishes in Italy didn't start keeping records until about 1595, but at the same time, a few Italian parishes (namely Palermo and Firenze) had taken it upon themselves to keep records long before the Catholic Church mandated it, sometimes going back as far as the 14th century! In France, general compliance wasn't until around the mid-1600s, and most Reformed churches were keeping records by 1650 as well. So in many places, you may only be able to go back to the 1600s.

Additionally, even when records were kept from this early on, not all have not survived to today. Many were damaged, lost, or destroyed over time, through natural disasters or war, or simply deteriorated over time. Some from the 16th century may have survived but there might be large gaps, making it impossible to connect the dots. 

So, how far back parish records go, and whether they've survived to today or not really depends on the specific location in Europe, but in general, it's safe to say the 1500s are the furthest plausible cut off point. Unless a branch has genuine links to royalty or nobility (and there's a lot of false links out there, so be careful), or you're among one of those rare exceptions of parish records going back to the 14th century, a tree extending beyond the 1500s is probably not accurate or reliable.

That doesn't mean every tree going back to the 1500s is reliable though, just that you would have to look more deeply to determine that. As I mentioned earlier, in some cases, your trail may dead end with your immigrant ancestor. If you can't find the specific origins of your immigrant European ancestor, it doesn't even matter how far back European parish records might go. And just because parish records may go back this far doesn't necessarily mean you can use them to reliably trace your lineage. Parish records are notoriously vague, containing very little information that can often make it impossible to say for sure if the records you're looking at are for the right person you're researching. Especially when you only have access to an index and not the original documents (which is common for early parish records like this). All it takes is more than one person with the same name born around the same time and location to completely throw their identity into question. Or one ancestor moving across the country with no record of it, and having no idea where to find them. Records can be so scarce, it's safe to say that if you're not descended from a somewhat notable lineage that was better documented, like wealthy land owners, merchants, or holding some sort of position like a sheriff (not necessarily nobility), there's a very good chance you'll never be able to reliably research back as far as the 1500s, even if the parish records exist.

Now, I keep saying "unless you have a genuine connection to royalty or nobility". So what if you do? Despite the amount of false links out there to royalty, some of them are genuine, and in those cases, it is possible (likely, even) to go back much further than the 1500s. Most royal and noble lines are well documented even before parish records were kept, because their titles were inherited, so documenting their lineages, especially male lineages, was very important. How far back they go depends entirely on the lineage, but many royal lines go back to Charlemagne, who ruled much of Western Europe in the late 8th century and early 9th century. Charlemagne's ancestry has also been traced back to his 5th great grandfather, a 6th century nobleman named Ansbert, whose wife, Blithilde (or alternate spellings), has been claimed to be the daughter of Chlothar I, but this is highly debatable. Ansbert is generally considered the end of the royal line, and not all lines will go back that far.

As you can see, even royal lines only go back to about the 6th century at the most, so proving European descent from BC is just not possible. There are many theories out there, but none are proven. Any tree that goes back to BC is highly speculative at best. That's not to say the family trees of people who lived in ancient history can not be traced within Antiquity, just that there's a known genealogical gap in between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Sources:

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Antenati's New Site Design - is it Actually Better?

Not too long ago, the Italian Archives website, Antenati, or "Ancestors Portal" got a face lift. At first, everyone raved about what an improvement it was, and admittedly, the ability to find and navigate to the records you're looking for has been a great improvement. Unfortunately, it has come at the cost of the Archives no longer supplying an inherent way to download full resolution images, which means we can't save copies of the records for our personal reference. We can take a screenshot, but to get the whole document, it will be too small to read. And if we zoom in to take a screenshot, we won't get the full document.

There is a way around this - but it's basically a hack, and who knows if it will remain available forever. It's also complicated and includes several steps involving the html code. But if you're brave enough, here's how to do it:

Step 1: Navigate to the image you wish to download, and click the icon with 3 horizontal lines located in the upper left corner of the image viewer window (see screenshot below, the icon is highlighted in yellow, click to enlarge).

Step 2: This will bring up a side bar on the left with information. Note the page number listed here (highlighted in yellow in screenshot below), because you'll need that later.

Step 3: Scroll down the side bar to the bottom where you'll see a link just below where it says "IIIF manifest". Click the link (highlighted in yellow in the screenshot below).

Step 4: Here's where it gets tricky. The link opens a page with a bunch of html coding. Different browsers seem to display it differently - if you're lucky, it will be organized with nested lines and different colors, making it easier to find what you're looking for, and the URLs will be clickable links. If you're unlucky like me, you'll see a big long block of text/coding with no links, no colors (shown below). What you're look for first is the page number you took note of in step 2. In the code, it will say "label":"pag. 31" (or whichever page number you're looking for). If you're having trouble finding it, you can use your browser's "Find" or "Find in Page" option to search for it (the screenshot below shows the page number 31 highlighted because I searched for it).

Step 5: Look just above your page number in the code for a URL that looks like this: https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/wrZgxjz/full/full/0/default.jpg (URL is highlighted in grey and shows relation to the page number in the screenshot below) - the part that says "wrZgxjz" in my URL will be different for you. That's okay, that's what you want. That's the specific image code you're looking for. Copy and paste the whole URL (or click on it if it's clickable) into a new browser tab.

Step 6: If you're unlucky like me and the URL you copied and pasted includes duplicate slashes so you're getting a "Page not found" result, remove the duplicate slashes. The URL should look like this: https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/wrZgxjz/full/full/0/default.jpg, not like this: https:\/\/iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it\/iiif\/2\/wrZgxjz\/full\/full\/0\/default.jpg or like this: https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it//iiif//2//wrZgxjz//full//full//0//default.jpg. If it's annoying to delete all those extra slashes every time, you can always just bookmark the proper URL and then just copy and paste the image code into the URL.

Step 7: Once you get the correct image to load, you can right click it and save the full resolution image.

Although the new site might be faster and easier to navigate, the inability to save crucial documents (which you'd think was the entire purpose of the site) is a huge step backwards. This hack is cumbersome, but for now, it's the only option. Good luck.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Outlander and the Development of Surnames

For the record, I have never read the Outlander book series, but I have watched the TV show, and as a genealogist, there was one scene in particular about surnames that struck me as hugely unrealistic. It was the suggestion that a somewhat abandoned child never had a surname. There's a few reasons why this seems rather ridiculous to me.

This isn't really a spoiler, because it's not really a scene that's crucial to the plot, though I guess it's relevant to character development, I still don't consider it very important but other's might, so you've been warned, read at your own risk.

In the TV show, our male lead character, Jamie, comes across a young pickpocket, Claudel, while in Paris, who never knew who his parents were (his father was unknown, and his mother was probably one of the prostitutes at the brothel where he lives, but he's never been told which one). They have a conversation in which they both agree Claudel isn't a very good name, suggesting that it isn't a very strong or masculine name. Jamie recommends the name Fergus instead, and Claudel, now Fergus, agrees, and they return to Scotland with Fergus as Jamie's foster child. Fast forward to when Fergus is all grown up, now a young man marrying his sweetheart (who happens to be Jamie's step-daughter - it's best not to examine that too closely), and the officiant asks what his last name is. Everyone pauses as they remember he doesn't have a last name, before Jamie graciously steps in and gives Fergus his own surname, Fraser. It was a touching acknowledgement of their father/son relationship. While it's maybe understandable Fergus may not have been given a surname at birth (though even this is a stretch, more on that later), it doesn't make much sense that by this point in his life, he would not have developed an informal surname that he likely would have used on a marriage record.

Fergus gets married with Jamie's surname

Remember, at this point in history, there were no birth certificates and forms of identification. There were parish records, so there would have been a baptism record, but people didn't keep or travel with copies of their baptism record for identification. Names were more fluid and the concept of an official or legal name hadn't really developed yet. So even though no one gave him a surname at birth doesn't mean one wouldn't have developed over time. Claudel was probably a fairly common name in France at the time, and Paris was a big city, so there were likely other young boys named Claudel, and people would have needed a way to identify or distinguish them. If one of them didn't have a last name, they would have used a description, which would have then naturally been shortened overtime into a surname. Especially as Claudel/Fergus was a bit of a troublemaker, certainly, people would have been talking about him periodically, and needed a way to identify him.

The same would have happened in Scotland, if it never had a chance to happen in Paris, or if the names didn't follow him from France. There was likely more than one Fergus in the area of Scotland they lived in, so people would have identified him in the most obvious ways, probably either something like, "Jamie's ward", "Jamie's foster child", or "the French boy." Overtime, they likely would have gotten shortened to just "Ward", "Foster", or "French," and all three of them could have even been in use at the same time. Therefore, when asked what his surname was, he probably would have picked whichever one of the three he liked better, or was more common. When you think about it, these three names are all very real surnames in use today, and they sometimes come from situations exactly like this one. 

But that fact doesn't have to have ruined the moment. A name like "Ward" or "Foster" kind of identifies one's undesirable origins (and a name like French among a bunch of Scots kind of does too), so it could have been a source of pain or embarrassment for Fergus, and Jamie still could have stepped in and said, "No, it's not Ward, it's Fraser."

Also, let's not forget how easy it was to change or make up a new name. Again, there were no birth certificates and remember how Claudel simply changed his name to Fergus just by deciding that's what he wanted to be called now? So, if he's able to just make up a new first name, there's no reason he couldn't have just made up a surname at the same time. I'm not saying he definitely would have done that, just that if his lack of a surname was a source of embarrassment for him, he could have just given himself a surname, and picked whatever he wanted. This idea that he could change his first name on a whim, but oh no, he's stuck without a surname his whole life until Jamie steps in to save the day, is a little bit silly. 

And I'll even go so far as to say the fact that he didn't have a surname at birth was silly to begin with. Children born out of wedlock were typically given their mother's surname. Fergus didn't know who his mother was, which is weird to begin with, because she's supposedly the reason he was living at the brothel (so was he even actually "abandoned" to begin with if he was living with his mother?). I've been told that he had no surname because "nobody cared enough about him to give him a surname". But what about the fact that someone cared enough about him to let him live at the brothel that his mother worked at? Someone cared enough about him to feed and clothe him, a financial burden to them, when they didn't have to, when they could have dropped him off at an orphanage or foundling hospital (the first of which opened in Paris in 1670), which would have taken him in, and given him a surname. Foundlings were a common part of history, and they were given surnames by this point in time because by the 18th century, surnames had long been in full use in France and Western Europe. But that's not what happened. He was kept at the brothel, supposedly because someone wanted him there, probably his mother, so why would she not identify herself and give him her surname? Even if she died when he was an infant, someone else at the brothel must have cared enough to keep him there even when they didn't have to, and that person surely would have known who his mother was and told him, and therefore he would have used her name. 

So it just doesn't make any sense that even an abandoned child in 18th century Western Europe would not have a surname to begin with, and that even if for some reason he didn't, that one wouldn't have developed out of a nickname over the course of his young life. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

What was Immigration Like in History?

Part of understanding our ancestor's journey is understanding the laws and regulations at the time. The topic of immigration laws and restrictions, and when they began is one that comes up frequently. There's a very good Timeline of Major US Immigration Laws from 1790 - 2006, but it also includes a lot of laws on naturalization, deportation, and changes to enforcements of these laws. So, here's my breakdown of the most important parts:

The first federal immigration act to restrict who could come into the country was the Page Act of 1875, which prohibited the entry of Chinese women, which is less racist than it sounds, it was an attempt to reduce the amount of Chinese women being trafficked into the country for prostitution. In 1870, roughly half of Chinese women in the US were prostitutes, keeping in mind many of those not recorded as prostitutes were children, so it's probably safe to say most adult Chinese women in the US were prostitutes.

It was shortly followed by the much more significant Immigration Act of 1882 and the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Immigration Act banned anyone considered a "convict, lunatic, idiot, or person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." You may think that would only affect the mentally or physically disabled, or sick, but it could also include pregnant or single women considered to not have financial support from a man, like a father, brother, husband, etc. It also put a tax of 50 cents on each incoming foreigner, to be paid by the ship's owner. I imagine this may have driven up the cost of passenger tickets, making it harder (but not impossible) for the most destitute of people to immigrate, though I can't say that was the intention - the intention was merely to raise funds for the regulation of immigration.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was pretty much as racist as it sounds, it suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years. Over the next 20-some years, there continued to be additional laws that further restricted Chinese immigration, and allowed for easier deportation of existing Chinese residents, such as the 1888 Scott Act, which prohibited lawful Chinese residences from returning to the US if they left. Also, the 1892 Act to Prohibit the Coming of Chinese Persons into the United States aka the "Geary Act", which required all Chinese citizens living in the US to obtain certificates proving their lawful residence, and any Chinese person found unlawfully living in the US, instead of being deported, could be imprisoned and sentenced to one year of hard labor. Fortunately, the hard labor part was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1896 under the 5th Amendment, but it was probably a small win for the Chinese who continued to be harshly discriminated against.

Also worth noting is that although there was never a law with specifics, from 1892 to 1924, the determination of who was likely to become a public charge was left to the discretion of immigration officers, who typically required immigrants have a certain amount of money at the time of immigration. The amounts varied by the immigration officer, but if you did not meet their requirement, you could be deported. How unfair to not have a set national limit on this so immigrants were prepared and could save up enough money. However, there was a backup option if you didn't have enough money: there were immigrant aid societies who would sometimes cover or "sponsor" missing required funds.

In 1917, the harsh laws restricting Chinese immigration were extended to essentially most of Asia and the Middle East with the 1917 Immigration Act. It also prevented immigration of anarchists, persons previously deported, and all individuals over 16 who are deemed "physically capable of reading" but who cannot read (of any origin).

But basically, if you were literate, not a convict, not likely to become a public charge, and not Asian, there were no restrictions on your entry up to this point. That changed starting in 1921, and became even worse in 1924.

The 1921 Emergency Quota Act was the first to set "quotas" based on nationality, meaning it limited the number of immigrants from each foreign nation allowed in. The limit was set to 3% of the number of existing residences from those nations based on the 1910 census. So if there were 1,360,000 people on the 1910 census who were born in Italy, only 3% of that, or 40,800 Italians would be allowed to immigrate per year. This significantly reduced the amount of overall immigrants into the country.

In 1924, the quota was reduced to a mere 2% with the 1924 National Origins Act, and more than that, it was based on the 1890 census instead of the 1910 census. It may seem like an odd choice to go with an older census year, as it would be less up to date, but it was a strategic, and arguably discriminatory decision, as it restricted southern and eastern Europeans more than others. Most southern and eastern Europeans immigrated after the 1890s, so basing the quota on the 1890 census meant their numbers were smaller, making their quota smaller. This was the first act to discriminate against certain Europeans (good thing all my Italian ancestors were here by 1914). There were exceptions: students, citizens of Western Hemisphere nations, people of certain occupations, and wives and children of US citizens were all exempt. The act also for the first time required visas be obtained abroad before entry.

Granted, in 1927 the discriminatory selection of the 1890 census was changed to the 1920 census. However, you can see the dramatic drop in immigration due to these two acts in the historical stats. In 1910-1919, the number of people immigrating from Europe was 4,985,411, but in 1920-1929, there were only 2,560,340. By the 1930s, there were only 444,399 immigrants from Europe. The Golden Age of Immigration was over.

The next major immigration changes came in the 1940s, when they actually allowed for more immigration due to the war. During the war, Mexican temporary agricultural workers were allowed in with the 1942 Bracero Agreement, and following the war, the War Brides Act (1945) accepted foreign wives and children of US soldiers into the country. Finally, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allowed for 200,000 people displaced from their homelands by Nazi persecution into the US, which actually doesn't seem like a huge number in comparison to the millions that were immigrating prior to 1921. 

In 1965, regulations shifted from the quota based system to one of united families. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act based admittance on immigrants relationship to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident family member or US employer. However, caps were placed on the total number of immigrants admitted each year in most family and employer based categories. Additionally, a limit of 120,000 was placed on the total number of permanent residents admitted from the Western Hemisphere.

There were also a number of refugee acts in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and I could go on up to modern times, but it becomes more and more complicated, and this is only a look at the history of immigration laws and regulation. Hopefully, it's helped you have a good understanding of your ancestor's experience in coming to the US, depending on the time period.

Sources:

Sunday, September 19, 2021

How to Group Your DNA Matches to Help Break Down Brick Walls

How do you break down a brick wall with DNA? It's what everyone wants to know - after all, what is the point of getting a DNA test if the ethnicity report is unreliable? Everyone says the true value of the test is in your DNA matches, but how do you utilize them to actually be useful in your research? To break down brick walls? To do what paper research couldn't?

This sort of ties in with my instructions on how to find unknown biological ancestors with DNA, though that was targeted more at NPE or adoption situations. However, the same basic process and workflow can be applied to breaking down brick walls. In the past, I've detailed specific cases where I've used DNA to break down a brick wall, but some of them are a little unique - every situation might be a little different, and therefore might require a bit of a different process. But here's the basics. 

In my post about finding unknown biological ancestors, in Step 1, it says, "Look for your closest DNA match that you can't identify as being from another known branch of your tree."

But wait - how do we even get to the point of finding a match you can't identify? You do that by identifying and grouping as many matches as you can. This is how my workflow goes, it works best for me, your mileage may vary, but in my experience, this is how most people do it in some way or form. Some maybe use a spreadsheet and the "Leeds Method", but ultimately, it's just a matter of grouping your matches by what branch of your tree they belong to, and since AncestryDNA have a built in grouping tool, I find that works best for me.

Grouping your matches.

Step 1: Create a group for each "branch" of your tree. Which branches? I recommend a group for each of your sixteen 2nd great grandparents, unless any of those 2nd great grandparents were from the same specific location, or endogamous population, because they will be difficult to tell apart. For example, my 2nd great grandparents who both came from the same tiny town in Italy called Monteroduni got grouped together because I have no other branches from there, and since the town is so endogamous, it would be difficult to always tell them apart. So I just have one group for "Monteroduni". Don't group by broader locations, like country. I did that by grouping my other 2nd great grandparents together because they were both from Norway, but now I regret that because they came from totally different parts of Norway, so there's no endogamy between them. So although I recommend a group for each 2nd great grandparent, depending on your ancestry, you may want to sometimes group them differently. 

16 groups does mean that it will fill up a lot of your available groups, AncestryDNA only allows you a maximum of 24, so you will only have 8 groups left to do with whatever you want. So like I say, you may want to group them differently, but this is what worked best for me.

Step 2: Start at the top of your match list and work your way down. Do you recognize your top match? Or can you see from their tree (if they have one) what ancestor you share? Is there a ThruLines/common ancestor hint for them that you can verify? If you already know the match or can identify how you're related to them, mark the branch you share by adding them to a group you've created for that branch. Do not assume a shared surname alone is the source of your shared DNA, it must be an actual common ancestor.

You may also want to add a note of your common ancestors, so you can see who they are more easily, and also so you know there's identified common ancestors (though I also have a group for MRCA - matches that have identified a most recent common ancestor).

My top matches are all my Italian cousins, you can see how
I've grouped them and added our MRCA to notes


Step 3: Do the same for the next match, and the next - keep going until you can't identify a match. When that happens, look at your Shared Matches with that person. Are any of them the people you've already identified with a common ancestor? If so, they are likely also from the same branch (especially if there's more than one match they share from the same ancestor/branch), so add them to that same group. 

I don't know my MRCA with Bettye because she hasn't added a tree,
but I can tell she's from my Smith branch because she matches
several people who are confirmed Smith descendants

If they have a tree, even a tiny one, build on it until you can find the connection to the branch you know they are likely from (focus on lines that come from the same/nearby location). If you can't find a common ancestor, that's okay, leave them in that group and you can come back to them another time.

Step 4: Keep doing this, ideally for all your estimated 4th cousins and closer (20+ cM). That's a lot, I know (I currently have 1,048 matches that share 20+ cM with me). It takes time, it's a lot of work, but in the end you'll wind up with 3 types of matches: those with identified common ancestors, those who likely come from an identified branch, and those you have no clue how you're related, not even a potential branch.

What to do with these groups? 

This is where there will be some overlap in my instructions on finding an unknown biological ancestor. Look at the closest match that you haven't even been able to group into a certain likely branch (or a common ancestor). Even if they don't have a tree, that's okay - look at your Shared Matches with them and open any match that has a viable tree. Compare the trees - do any of them share an ancestor with each other that you don't recognize? If so, research that ancestor and build a tree for them, you may find it links up with yours somehow, maybe even by breaking down a brick wall, or that it leads to an NPE - when someone's parent(s) is/are not their biological parent(s).

Additionally, you can look at your closest match that you haven't identified a common ancestor with, but you have grouped them into a likely branch. If they have a tree, again, build on it, and keep researching until you can find a connection. See my case example of Emma Elizabeth Sherwood.

This method of grouping your matches to single out the ones you can't identify at all can help lead you to some enlightening revelations, but they tend to be rather random. You don't know what you're going to find, you don't know which brick wall it might break down. Even the matches you can group into a likely branch but you're still searching for the common ancestor might surprise you - in my example of Emma Elizabeth Sherwood (above), I knew the match was related to my Mills branch (Emma's husband), but I had no idea it would finally break down the Sherwood brick wall that had been blocking me for 12 years.

Other methods.

There's other methods of breaking down a brick wall with DNA, ones that are more targeted for a specific brick wall, but they heavily rely on the surname you're looking for not being a very common one. You basically just search your matches trees for the surname you're looking for, and then compare the trees of the matches in the results, looking for a common ancestor among them. It can work well when the name isn't common, because it's likely most of the matches in the results will be the ones you're looking for. But the more common the name is, the more matches there will be in the results that aren't related to the branch you're looking for. That's why this never worked with Emma Elizabeth Sherwood (in my above example), because Sherwood was too common of a surname, I only found her family by using the more random grouping method and not knowing where an unknown match would lead me.

The surname search method would be much more effective if AncestryDNA would offer a very simple feature: the option to search for a surname within a specific location. At the moment, you can search for a surname or location, but not a surname in a location. So you can search for Smith OR Christian County, Kentucky, and you can search for them both at the same time, but it will include results for match's trees that have either the surname Smith, OR the location Christian County, Kentucky. And even if the tree includes both, it's not necessarily for the same branch or ancestor, it might be their Jones branch that's from Christian County, Kentucky, while their Smith branch is from Pennsylvania. For common surnames, we need a way to narrow it down, and the best way to do that is by looking for surnames within a specific location. At the moment, we can only do that manually by searching for a surname, and going through each match in the results to see for ourselves if that branch is from the right location. If so, then we can look for a specific common ancestor. It's very time consuming, and the more common the surname is, the less realistic it is to go through all those matches manually, yet there's a very simple way to make it easier, if AncestryDNA would just listen to their customers.

The surname search works a lot better if it's not a common surname. I successfully used this method with the surname Deaves, and also a suspected maiden name of Brannin.

You can also search by just location, but this only really works if your ancestors are from a very small, unique town, especially where there's endogamy. In my above example about my 2nd great grandparents who came from a tiny Italian town called Monteroduni, it's safe to say that the town is so small and endogamous that anyone who has ancestry from Monteroduni is probably related. Certainly, any DNA match of mine that has ancestry from Monteroduni, it's safe to say that's very probably how we are related. So I can very easily search my matches trees for the location of Monteroduni and even if I can't find a common ancestor between us, most likely that's probably where our common ancestors were from. Brick walls are difficult with endogamy though, so that might be the most I'll ever be able to determine. Searching by location may not break down any brick walls in your tree, but it does help you identify and sort your matches into groups/branches, which can help you find other unknown matches that may lead to a brick wall.

Like I say, sometimes breaking down a brick wall with DNA can be unique to the situation. Sometimes you have to think about what you're looking for, and consider the best way to come at the problem. But this should give you the basics to get you started. Feel free to share your success stories!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

ThruLines is not the enemy

I see a lot of skepticism out there about ThruLines, and some of it is warranted, because it is based on family trees, which can have errors that get copied multiple times. But that doesn't mean you should dismiss ThruLines entirely, there are ways to get reliable use out of it, and not just by finding records that confirm them. There are ways to use DNA to find biological relatives or break down brick walls in your tree even when there's no written records of the lineage, and ThruLines is just one tool that can help you do this.


It's basically a matter of probabilities. The more people you match who are descended from multiple siblings of your ancestor, especially when all those descendants all or mostly match each other to form a cluster, the less likely it becomes that it's an error. When the matches mostly all match each other to form a cluster, you know they are all related and descended from the same branch/ancestor - you just need to identify which branch/ancestor, which is where trees and ThruLines come in. Each sibling that those matches descend from would have to be an error for trees/ThruLines to be wrong, so the more siblings you match descendants of, the more likely the trees are accurate. If you match 20 people (who mostly all match each other too) descended from 5 siblings of your ancestor, what are the chances there's been an error in the trees for each of those 5 siblings, plus your own ancestor? Extremely unlikely. In the example above (click to enlarge), there's 41 matches descended from 8 siblings of Elizabeth Mertz, so for this all to be wrong, there would have to be 9 different errors. This amount of evidence is really very conclusive, and I can probably confirm this family now.

Even assuming there's only one error and those siblings are indeed siblings to each other, but your ancestor is the lone error, and not actually their sibling, what are the chances you would match that many people from a certain family, if you weren't related to that family somehow? Using the example above again, what are the chances I match 41 people descended from those 8 siblings, if Elizabeth Mertz is not one of their siblings? Again, it's very unlikely - and the only way this would be possible is if there was a lot of endogamy involved, but even so, it would still be pointing you towards a specific population you're likely descended from (and matching surnames from the same endogamous population means you're probably related to that specific family somehow), so you don't want to dismiss it.

Granted, it doesn't confirm who exactly the parents of those siblings are, only that they are indeed siblings. For that, you'd have to go up another generation and do the same thing - look for people descended from siblings of the alleged father and mother. In the example above, it doesn't really confirm that Phillip Mertz is the father of Elizabeth and all her siblings, only that they are siblings from the same parent(s), whoever that may be. But for now, it's probably safe to add Phillip Mertz at least as a placeholder until more research can be done (it really is okay to add speculative data to your tree as long as you know it's speculative!).

In the example below, you can see how this ThruLines doesn't confirm descent from Benjamin Butler - the 6 DNA matches are descendants of children of David Butler, so this really doesn't confirm this potential ancestor at all.

And there's other limitations, mainly the fact that the Shared Matches tool (which is the only way to confirm if matches match each other and form a cluster) only includes estimated 4th cousins or closer (20+ cM). AncestryDNA really need to provide something more comprehensive. They say it's limited to 20+ cM because it would tax the server too much if they expanded it to include all matches. But at the very least, they could expand it to 15+ cM segments, which have a 100% chance of being identical by descent. That would still exclude most matches (8-15 cM) and therefore not be as taxing on the server, but include all matches that have a 100% chance of being IBD, which would make ThruLines so much more useful and reliable. At the moment, they are excluding hundreds, even thousands of IBD matches from the Shared Matches tool, which is extremely debilitating. Alternately, they could offer another tool that would be less taxing on the server - a simple one-to-one comparison. Pop in two match usernames, which would tell us whether those two matches match each other or not. Very simple, not very taxing, but it would get the job done.

Even so, it's still possible to get reliable usage out of ThruLines. Remember, ThruLines is only automating a process that people used to manually do (and still do when the relationship exceeds ThruLines' 5th great grandparent limit). If it weren't possible to use DNA to confirm relationships when there is no written record of it available, what use would DNA be, and how do you think all these NPEs are being discovered? While it's true that you do have to watch out for tree errors being replicated in ThruLines, if you understand how DNA and ThruLines work, there is useful data you can get out of it. To often, I see people who seem to completely dismiss ThruLines, as though it's not reliable at all, but you're only hindering your own research by thinking that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Finding Unknown Biological Ancestors with DNA

This is a topic that comes up regularly in genealogy circles, because DNA testing often reveals cases of unknown adoptions, or what we call "non-paternity events" (NPE), when someone's father is not their biological father. Once there's enough suggestion that something like this has happened, the question then becomes, how do I identify this unknown biological ancestor? It can be done, although the further back on your tree it occurred, the more difficult it will be (far enough back and it might not be possible). Whenever possible, it's best to have someone from the oldest generation descended from this event to test. Like if you're looking for Grandma's unknown biological father, have Grandma take the test, or if she is unable or unwilling, have your relevant parent take the test. At the same time, if the person you're looking for is actually still living (like if you're adopted and looking for living biological parents), it will be difficult to research since lots of records on living people are private (that's a whole different ballgame and you often have to rely more on information and communication from your DNA matches). Additionally, if you're working with an endogamous population, you may be out of luck. With all that in mind, here's how it works.

Step 1: Look for your closest DNA match that you can't identify as being from another known branch of your tree. If they don't have a family tree added, that's okay because first you want to look at their Shared Matches, and open any matches that do have family trees (the bigger, the better).

Step 2: Compare the family trees of those Shared Matches, looking for ancestors any two or more (the more, the better) of them have in common with each other (especially if those matches also match each other) - ancestors who are not found in your tree. Yes, this may take some time because you have to manually compare the trees - I find it best to start with the surname list on the match review page and find surnames they have in common with each other, then see if those surnames actually lead to a common ancestor among them. If the ancestor is found in your tree, then you know this group isn't from the branch you're looking for and you can label them and move on.

Step 3: Build a descendant tree for the ancestor you found. Make a note of any descendants who were in the right place at the right time at the right age, but we're not done yet.

Step 4: Repeat this process with the next closest match you can't identify (who isn't a part of the first group).

Step 5: Look for a descendant who appears in both the trees you've built - so someone who descends from both the ancestors you've identified. This is probably either the person you're looking for, or a close ancestor of theirs, like a parent or grandparent. If you don't find one, keep repeating this process until you do.

Chart showing the two different DNA matches groups and their shared ancestors.
Click to enlarge.

For example (shown above - these names are made up but the situation is real and came from my tree): I was looking for my grandfather's unknown biological father, so I had my grandfather take the test before he died. I first found a group of his matches (who mostly all matched each other) who were all descended from a colonial ancestor named John Smith (I told you I changed the names, lol), so I built a descendant tree for John Smith. I then found another group of matches who all descended from another colonial ancestor called Christopher Jones, and built a descendant tree for him. By building those trees, I found a descendant of John Smith - named Isaac Smith - had married a descendant of Christopher Jones - her name was Carrie Jones. This suggested that the man I was looking for was probably a descendant of Isaac Smith and Carrie Jones, and based on the dates, it could only really be one of their sons, specifically one of their four oldest sons. Eventually, a close descendant of one of the four sons tested and confirmed which of the four sons was my grandfather's biological father (below).

Chart showing the closer matches that eventually showed up and allowed me to figure out
which of the 4 brothers was my grandfather's bio father.

Granted, there could have been another descendant of John Smith who married a different descendant of Christopher Jones, and that could have led me to the wrong family - this is why too much endogamy can throw you off. But as long as there's not too much of it, you can document each case of it and using your DNA matches and how much DNA you share with them, you should be able to figure out which descendants are the ones you're looking for. But a highly endogamous population might be too complex. If I was looking for an unknown bio ancestor on my mom's Mennonite branch, I'm not sure it would be possible. I can sometimes share up to about 5 ancestor couples with matches on my Mennonite branch. And the unknown father of my Italian ancestor who was from a tiny, highly endogamous town in Italy where everyone there is related to everyone else somehow? Forget it.

However, this is the same type of method that professional Genetic Genealogists like CeCe Moore employ to identify individuals from DNA left at crime scenes (either suspects or unidentified victims). It can be done (for the most part), it just takes work, and sometimes some patience for the right matches to come in.