So I Did Something a Bit Unusual for My Birthday This Year...

Sunni's picture

I actually gave myself a gift. Sort of. I’m getting a genetic test done. The sample’s en route to the lab. But I’ve already made some very interesting discoveries.

While the analysis is in process—and it can take some time—the company’s web site offers a variety of other things to do. I’ve invested a fair bit of time in trying to fill out my family tree. Given how much I paid for the genetic testing, I’ve resolved to do this on the cheap, as much as possible. An unlikely source has proven extremely helpful: Find a Grave. It’s hit or miss, though: if I understand the setup, the site relies on volunteers who take photographs of headstones in cemeteries, then enter that information in the site’s database. Based on the information culled from the headstones, likely relationship links are included when one views a specific memorial, as shown on Ayn Rand’s memorial page.

As a child, I was occasionally dragged along on family outings to the cemetery. Once I tired of peering at the more interesting headstones and sighing over the section set aside for infants (this is a pretty old cemetery), I’d return to where my parents and grandparents were: tending to the graves of my paternal forebears. A few of the names I recognized, but it wasn’t until I looked them up on Find a Grave and saw the family links that I discovered that my paternal side stretches further back than I thought in my hometown area.

Because the “family links” listed on Find a Grave pages are inferred from the headstones rather than verified by records, I wanted to ensure the information listed was accurate. Family Search has been very helpful in that regard, even though I’m almost certainly not using the search function very efficiently and haven’t even bothered to create an account. Using the information from Find a Grave, I was able to extend my lineage back a couple more generations on my father’s side. Counting him, I’m up to five generations on his father’s side—that stretches back before the law mandated that records be kept. This astonished me, because I’d thought that both sides of my family were fairly recent emigrants to this continent.

All these people on my father’s side lived their lives within an approximately 30-mile radius of my hometown. That isn’t limited to just my immediate family; there are great-uncles and -aunts who never roamed as well. That seemed very weird to me, so I immediately attributed my wanderlust to my mother’s side of the family. Heh. Pretty sure the genetic test results won’t back me up on that, though.

I am very pleasantly surprised to discover how interesting and fun this has been for me. The quest to fill out the various branches of my family tree is a scavenger hunt of sorts; and every bit of information I get leaves me wanting more. I might be running up against some limits, though; on the oldest records I’ve found, the issue of varying names has arisen... some of my female forebears apparently went by middle names on occasion and/or changed the spelling of their first or middle names. As for my mother’s side, the cemetery where her parents lie is not one that has been extensively documented yet (it’s in a very rural part of the state, so that’s no surprise). I haven’t found a shred of information on her father’s parents, and the scant information I have on her mother’s side ends with an arrow pointing to Norway.

Thus, I think that I need to move to the bigger guns to get more results. I saw that Ancestry.com offers a free trial; does anyone have any experience with that site? Free trial or no, it’d be good to have a sense of what the place offers before going through the bother of registering. Has anyone tried finding ancestral data from Ellis Island records, or other such places? I’m not even sure that that’s the entry point for my mother’s family, although it does seem the most likely.

This is pretty neat. Here I was, looking forward to seeing what today’s science and technology can tell me about my genetic background, but I’ve been turned on to a fascinating paper chase.

Utah?

You might find a wealth of assistance at the local Mormon church or at the LDS websites. They have a special interst in these searches, I'm told.

I never had much interest in geneology myself, but my cousin in Michigan spent a great deal of time and effort tracing the family history and I have a "family tree" she created for my mother. On my father's side, I know nothing except that his parents were political refugees from Scotland around 1880, changed their names when they got to America and never shared their history with their sons. My dad was born in 1886, and his brother two years after. All of them are long dead now, of course.

My sister tried to trace dad's family once, and spent some money doing so, but we simply had too little solid information to work with.

Good luck!

No need to visit Utah: it’s all online

My maternal grandfather created a family tree for me some 30 years ago. I thought I had it still, but a quick rummage through some stuff proved futile. It may yet turn up; it would be enormously helpful for his and his wife’s family history, although I’m doubtful that I could find anything from Norway and Sweden.

I must say that my interest in my lineage is mostly practical and geeky: I want to know of any health issues I might influence via epigenetics (genetic analysis also reveals which meds [of a limited number of them] are more likely to be effective for the individual); and I’m curious to see where different traits may have come from. I’m honestly not sure if the current level of analysis allows for the latter, though.

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Personally I've always found things like ancestry.com a bit creepy -- yet another big data repository that's gathering information about you while you're searching for information about your forbears. All that stuff about Baptisms for the Dead is pretty weird, too. But live and let live. :-)

Wise words

I knew nothing of the baptism for the dead thing until very recently... seems like it could be a way for a religion to shoot itself in the foot: “I don’t need to bother with believing; someone can patch it up for me after I’m gone.”

Your primary point is very well taken, Saint. It was (falsely?) reassuring to see that the default settings for family trees allow for some measure of privacy as far as other members viewing it go; and living individuals are automtically set to “private”. But it’s impossible to know what’s going on in the software.

Last night, Snolf Mk I and I watched Nova’s “Cracking Your Genetic Code”. Since its focus was on the health implications of peering at one’s genes, in retrospect I shouldn’t’ve been too surprised at his concern over simply knowing whether some of these genes are present or not. I see a wide range of homeschool topics opening up...

A genealogy update

I did create an account at Family Search; it’s free, and one finds loads more information for doing so than digging through the records as an anonymous visitor. I also took a free trial at Ancestry.com.

While Ancestry.com undoubtedly provides more extensive documentation (I was able to find and view census forms and more personal documents, such as WW I draft forms and a great-grandfather’s death certificate), its interface is not nearly as easy to use as Family Search’s. Through the latter, I was easily able to explore up branches of my father’s family tree—as was expected, my mother’s side ends much sooner, though I was able to connect back to Norway and Sweden—in one line, all the way back to the eleventh century, and in another, to Martin Luther and beyond. It remains a fascinating endeavor.