Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How To Do Pre-1850 Research?

The will of Jonathan Gilbert, naming all his children (Charles
and Israel's names highlight)
It's one of the first questions people ask once they've been researching for a little while. Why do most branches seem to brick wall around 1850? How do I get back further?

So often, our main resources in genealogy are census records, and in the US, pre-1850 census records only list the head of household by name. This makes it difficult to identify families and find parents names of people who were adults and living independently from their parents by 1850. Additionally, most states in the US were not issuing birth and death records this early on, meaning we have to rely mostly on church records and obituaries. Many church records either haven't been digitized, making them hard to track down, especially if you don't know where to look because you don't know where specifically one was born or what church they attended, or they may have been lost or destroyed over time. Unlike civil records, churches have no obligation to archive their records, or even keep them in the first place. As for obituaries, often times they are only a brief death notice with nothing more than info on the individual's death and burial, and that's assuming they available online or you can find access to the right newspaper offline. Occasionally, you might see a burial record that name's the decease's father, but not always. So to say that records become more scarce before 1850 is putting it lightly.

It's frustrating, but the good news is, there are other sources. Records like probates, deeds, and tax lists are often some of the oldest records available, and recently, more and more of them are getting digitized. Now, I can't promise these records will always break down your brick walls but they are worth exploring, and here's my most recent example.

In search of the parents of my 4th great grandfather Charles Gilbert (1784-1861, Montgomery County, PA), I finally found them through probate and deed records alone. Firstly, I knew that Charles had a brother Israel Gilbert, because there is a local history book detailing one of Charles' sons, Seth, and stating he had an uncle Israel Gilbert (and yes, it also confirmed Seth as the son of Charles Gilbert and my 4th great grandmother Jane Sutch). Next, I was looking for deeds bought or sold by Charles, and one of them from 1811 mentioned Israel, so I knew I was looking at the right Charles Gilbert. It also mentioned several other Gilbert men, and indicated the estate of the deceased Jonathan Gilbert. My spidey-sense immediately tingled, as it sounded a lot like Jonathan was the father of all these men and his sons were taking care of his property after his death. But how do I confirm it?

Jonathan Gilbert's will confirming his wife's unique name,
shared with her granddaughter
I went looking for wills of a Jonathan or John Gilbert in the right area around 1811 and immediately found one dated 1808 and proved in 1809. It lists all his sons names, matching those in the deed, and his wife's name. The clincher? His wife's name was Dedemiah, a rather unique name shared by none other than Israel's daughter. Bingo! Mystery solved, with nothing more than a deed and a will.

Israel also had a son named Jonathan, probably named after his father, but given the popularity of this name, that alone wouldn't have been enough to convince me.

It doesn't always go this way, of course. Not everyone owned land, and not everyone had a will, and even when they did have a will, they did not always take the time to consider us future genealogists and list their children by name. Sometimes, later probate records regarding the execution of the will, can name children though, so be sure to read those to, no matter how boring they seem.

Montgomery County, PA Deeds 1784-1866 can be found online (but not indexed yet) at FamilySearch.org
Montgomery County, PA Probates can be found at both Ancestry.com (indexed), and FamilySearch.org (not indexed)

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Secret" Hidden Collections on FamilySearch

So, FamilySearch are discontinuing their microfilm service soon. Everything will be digitized by the end of 2020, which is a bummer we have to wait so long for some films, but here's the good news: there are already a number of collections digitized but not yet indexed. That means they won't show up in the search engine when you're searching by someone's name. You have to find the collection in their list of collections and then manually browse the images. It's tedious, but if you're anxious to find something and don't want to wait for it to be indexed, it can be worth it. Additionally, there's some collections already digitized but not even found in their online collections list yet! The way to find them is to search for microfilm from the catalog and if the film has a camera icon on the right, you can click on it and be taken to the digital images. Of course, first check to make sure the collection hasn't been indexed, so you're not wasting time manually searching the images when you don't need to.

Above is an example of one such collection. The Montgomery County, PA Deed, 1784-1866 is not found in the online collection list (at least, not as I post this - it could get added any time), you can go to the list and narrow it down to Pennsylvania and see there is no mention of any records of deeds. Yet if you search for it in the microfilm catalog, you'll see the camera icons (circled in red in the screenshot above) you can click to view the digitized images. Of course some collections may have restrictions on them, meaning you can only view them from a computer in a Family History Center or affiliated library, but it's better than nothing/waiting for microfilm to come in.

What this means is that there may already be collections you need that have been digitized, you just need to do a little more digging to find them. So there may be more available now than you realize. Of course, if you'd rather wait till everything is indexed, you're welcome to do so. But the end of 2020 date is just for scanning everything, that doesn't even include indexing. You could be waiting much longer than 2020 if you wait for everything to be indexed. So I would advise regularly checking the catalog to see if there's any collections that have been scanned but not yet added to the collections list or indexed.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The New Change in AncestryDNA's Test Activation Process

You may have heard the news that as of July 18, 2017 Ancestry.com will be requiring that only one DNA test can be activated per account. Before you panic, let's get the facts straight.

1. This won't affect existing multiple kits on your account. Ancestry have made it clear that "If you are a customer who currently manages multiple DNA kits in your account you’ll continue to have access to those DNA results and there’s no action for you to take."

2. You will still be able to administer someone else's test on your account. The changes only effect the activation process. Once activated, you can still go into your test settings and transfer management of your test to another account. They are now calling it "making someone a manager" rather than "transferring administration", but the manager has pretty much all the same access and rights the administrator did, the only thing a manager can't do is remove the owner from access (see the chart above). You can read instructions on how to transfer management from Ancestry's help article found here (scroll down to "making someone a manager"). The changes to the activation process just mean that managing someone else's kit now requires several extra steps of first creating a new Ancestry account and activating it on the new account before management can be transferred to your account.

3. You do not need to subscribe to Ancestry.com to take their DNA test. This means Ancestry are not trying to artificially inflate their subscription numbers. You can read more about the free guest registration here, and sign up for it (not the free trial), with no credit card necessary, here.

4. Ancestry.com have always advertised the number of DNA tests in their database, not the number of accounts that have DNA tests. Therefore, Ancestry are not trying to artificially inflate these numbers either, as these new changes will not affect these numbers. Their company stats are available here.

5. What is their motivation for doing this then? If you read their response to this support topic, from back when they were trialing this, it is a little clearer: "It has been Ancestry policy that only those with legal authority (such as a legal guardian) can activate a test for another user. We are making changes to reflect that policy." My personal interpretation is that this is a legal issue, and their lawyers want the company to assure (as best they can from their side, within reason) that the person activating the test is the person supply the sample. It allows them more deniability if someone accuses someone else of activating their kit without their permission.

6. Other companies have similar policies. Not only does FamilyTreeDNA require a different account for each person, they do not even allow you to transfer management to another account after activation like Ancestry do. The only saving grace to this is that FTDNA allow you to register more than one account with the same email address, because their login details use kit numbers instead of email address. But it still forces you to constantly login and out of different tests if you manage more than one. Ancestry's changes may feel like a step backwards in their activation process, but when you consider the alternatives, Ancestry still has an advantage over some.

Understanding all this, of course the new changes are still an annoying inconvenience when someone wants you to administer their test on your account. But despite all the objections made by customers during the trial of these changes, they are clearly going ahead with it anyway. Personally, I would respect this change more if they stopped trying to make it sound like this is of some kind of benefit to customers, as though this system is easier for us, when we all know it's not.

If you recently took advantage of the AncestryDNA sale on Amazon Prime Day and this is not your first kit, I recommend you hurry up and activate as soon as it arrives so you don't have to deal with this come July 18th. Fortunately, Prime promises 2 day shipping, so you should have already received it, if not today than tomorrow. You can activate it before you supply the sample and send it into the lab, and there is no deadline on when you can send it in after activating, so don't delay on activating it!