Friday, February 8, 2019

Edmonia Harriet Stratton


Some of our ancestors just seem to insist on hiding from us. They show up in records and then disappear. Others leave a nice trail behind them like bread crumbs for us to follow after. Still others beckon for us to dig deeper.

My 2x great grandmother practically demands my attention. Her name jumps out on the page as if to say, "Here I am! Come on now, I have something to share with you!"

Edmonia Harriet Stratton.

So let's not leave her waiting, y'all! She's got something to say!

Edmonia's early years

Edmonia Stratton first makes her appearance in the records in the 1850 U.S. Census for Powhatan County, Virginia. At a year old, she's the youngest - at the time - of her many siblings. She's the youngest girl of her parents David Stratton and Jordenia E Hopkins. Her father was a native of Powhatan, her mother of neighboring Chesterfield County.

Edmonia had twelve older siblings! Her mother was the second wife of David Stratton - the son of a Revolutionary War patriot from the same county. Edmonia's early years were also marked by the paradox of the institution of American slavery - that even family could own family. Her father had inherited an enslaved woman named Sally from his first wife's father. The memory of "Aunt Sally" remains in the family to this day. She bore David a daughter named Kate Stratton, an enslaved woman - and Edmonia's older sister - who remained with Edmonia's family until the day of her emancipation. Whether Edmonia knew that Kate and her children were her sister and nieces and nephews we can only speculate. We do know that the families remained neighbors and were buried in the same family cemetery.

The Stratton family attended Peterville Baptist Church, a local church community with an established Sunday School. David Stratton owned for a time a tavern in the town of Macon in Powhatan County but after the Civil War, he lost the tavern and filed for bankruptcy. Edmonia's sisters married into the Hague family, and one was even a local post mistress!

Marriage and family

When Edmonia was 18 years old, she married Leroy Samuel Wooldridge - a veteran of the Confederate army. Leroy's family descended from an important mining family from Chesterfield County that founded the town of Midlothian. Even after marriage, Edmonia remained a member of her family's church - Peterville - though in time her family became affiliated with Powhatan Baptist Church further east.

From 1869 until 1888, Edmonia bore her husband Leroy eight children. Most of the Wooldridge children remained close to Powhatan - all but two married - and many are buried at Old Powhatan Baptist. But by 1910, her husband is listed as a widower.

Unfortunately, neither Virginia nor Powhatan County kept records of deaths between 1900 and 1910, so there is no vital record of her death. Thankfully, her daughter Mary Susan Wooldridge - my great grandmother - recorded the date of her death in her family Bible.

"Grandma) Harriet Edmonia Stratton - died Sept. 28, 1905."

From Unusual Name to discovery

The more I saw records of my "Grandma Edmonia", the more I wanted to discover more. She passed away at the young age of 57, but her daughter - my "Granny Williams" - lived to be nearly 100. How did she pass away? What happened? Not only was her first name "Edmonia" intriguing, so too was her surname "Stratton." It has always fascinated me and called for me to discover more.

My curiosity to discover more about Edmonia has led me to make the Stratton family one of the most thoroughly researched parts of my family history. I have connected with more Wooldridge-Stratton descendants than probably any of my other family lines. I have been part of the puzzle in helping adoptees discover their roots and I have met long-lost cousins over barbecue and old photographs. These connections have given me priceless gifts like the exact dates of birth of Edmonia and her siblings from their Family Bible. These cousins have shared letters written by Edmonia's brother about the Civil War's affect on his life and his fears for their brother's safety while fighting in the war. What price could you ever place on such goldmines of family history? What gifts!

Births of the Stratton children as recorded in the Bible of Louisa Stratton Hague.

Because of Edmonia, I have newfound family members, ever reminding me that genealogy is always about family: that research without connection, documents without stories, and DNA evidence without relationship is just...data. Edmonia may have passed from this life in 1905, but she keeps inspiring her descendants to stay connected and to actively remain family.

*****

Before I began to research my family history, I had never heard of Edmonia Harriet Stratton. But after I had been introduced to her through the records, she has guided me ever since. I may not know many of the details surrounding her daily life or the cause of her death, but she has been the catalyst for so much of my research.

Though I may not know why the Stratton family chose to name her Edmonia - I am grateful that this unusual (though beautiful) name stands so prominently within my family tree. 

Which of your ancestors' names stands out to you the most? How has an "unusual" name inspired your research?

This post was inspired by the week 3 prompt "Unusual Name" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

Join me next time as I encounter my ancestors through family history and remember the past made present.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Challenge of Endogamy


My Grandma Nora's father was named Grover Steven Hite. He was born between 1890 and 1893 (the verdict is still out as to when he was actually born) in Halifax County, Virginia.

Grover had deep roots in Halifax County, Virginia. In fact, all of his great-grandparents lived in Halifax.

With such a strong connection to one specific place for at least a century, my great grandfather's family is seemingly connected to everyone in Halifax! This connection that he shares with so many people is due to a custom called endogamy. So this post will discuss some of the dynamics I've discovered in my great-grandfather Grover's family and the challenge that endogamy poses to my genealogical research.

1. What's endogamy?

Endogamy is a practice in which communities marry within their own social group, repeatedly over time. This is a custom particularly prevalent within communities such as Ashkenazi Jews, Amish, Mennonites, Native Americans, and Acadians.

Since endogamy affects specific communities more than others, there aren't a ton of writers and speakers on the topic. Thankfully, I was able to go to a great talk by Lara Diamond at RootsTech 2018. So make sure to check out her blog as well as this post which specifically deals with how endogamy affects her genetic genealogical research.

I'd also really recommend you read Endogamy and DNA, a guest blog post by Paul Woodbury over at Kitty Cooper's blog, as well as this post which will further help you to understand the complexity that endogamy adds to researching one's ancestors.

2. Was Grover's family endogamous?

Halifax County can be seen here on the border with North Carolina.

Grover was born to George Berryman Hite and Cordelia Frances Tuck, a pair of first cousins who both grew up in Halifax County. The two shared Reuben Wilkins and Edna Elliott as maternal grandparents. As far as I can tell, this is the only episode of cousin-marrying within his genetic line. But as I research Grover's various cousins within Halifax County, I find repeated examples of them marrying close and distant cousins.

One example was Grover's first cousin, Charlie Edward Hite and his wife Mary Otelia Wilkins. Of this pair's eight grandparents, four of them have the surname Hite. On further investigation, you'd find that these four Hites were all siblings, the children of Spencer Perry Hite and Martha Jane Wilkins of Halifax County, Virginia. Put another way, Charlie Hite's parents were first cousins and Mary Wilkin's parents were first cousins.

The more I research Grover's ancestors, I find that many of their children married cousins. Over and over again, I see four common surnames in Halifax County, Virginia records: Hite, Tuck, Wilkins, Elliott.

3. Endogamy's affect on DNA

As the bloggers have mentioned in the posts I linked to above, endogamy has a clear affect on our use of DNA in our genealogical research. Two individuals from the same endogamous community will undoubtedly share more DNA with each other than your average couple with the same known genealogical relationship.

When we look at shared DNA charts like this one produced by Blaine T. Bettinger, we see that two individuals who share a set of great-grandparents (in other words second cousins) share on average 233 cM of DNA (with a range of 46-515 cM). Depending on how many of one's ancestors are from the same endogamous community, this number will be inflated and exaggerated.

In researching the DNA matches of my father and aunt (both the grandchildren of Grover), I see an inflated predicted relationship for most of their second and third cousin matches. Usually, if they are within the predicted range, they are at the upper end of that range. In the fourth cousin list, most of these matches are related to our family several times over but at a much further place in our tree.

4. The challenge

The biggest challenge that I have found relating to endogamy is that it induces a level of despair - or at the very least apathy - in researching my family from Halifax County, Virginia.

With many of my ancestral lines, I am able to identify specific DNA cousins who connect to my family through specific ancestors. But with my DNA matches that come from Grover's family, I can't tell if they are Hites, Tucks, Wilkins, or Elliotts - or some repeated mix of all of them! And more often than not, they have all of these surnames in their family history. So unlike my other family lines, my Halifax County relatives have remained more of a mystery.

When I see a DNA match, I can quickly say - without a shadow of a doubt (and even if they have no tree) - if they have Halifax County ancestry. But, that's usually all I can tell. This is because the Hite, Tuck, Wilkins, and Elliott families have so intermingled within Halifax County with each other as well as with other families that they've produced something of a new amalgam of simply "Halifax."

*****

The challenge of endogamy need not be the despair-inducing, apathy-inspiring thing that I so often allow it to be. DNA tools such as DNA Painter are making it easier than ever to identify which segments of DNA come from which ancestor. If you have encountered endogamous ancestry in your family history, don't give up! Learn from others who have researched their own endogamous communities. 

Genealogy is full of challenges, and endogamy is only one of them. Most of us who are so enraptured by genealogy and family history find solving the puzzle the most satisfying aspect of our research. And what puzzle is more satisfying than a challenging one? 

This post was inspired by the week 2 prompt "challenge" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

I hope you'll join me soon as I strive to encounter my ancestors through family history and remember the past made present today.

Monday, January 21, 2019

How to Prepare and Pack for RootsTech


When I'm preparing for a trip - whether it's just to see family or it's a long distance trip - I always feel like I'm forgetting something. And you know what? I usually do forget something!

So to assist not only myself, but also to make sure that you get the most out of your RootsTech 2019 experience, I'm putting together this simple list for preparation and packing for this year's conference.

How to prepare

1. Study the schedule and decide which classes you'll attend

You can view the event schedule here and the class schedule here. Make sure you read the class descriptions and learn about the instructors. Also, if you see a few classes that you've *GOT TO* attend, assume that others feel the same way. Those classes will likely fill up fast, so you should have a back up in case they're full when you arrive to class. Find another class that you'd also be interested in for those spots just in case. There's nothing worse than being turned away from a room and then not knowing where you're going next. Planning will take away this problem!

2. Download the RootsTech app

Why should you use the RootsTech app? Because it'll make your experience so much easier. I used the app last year, and it helped me find classes, make my schedule, and even let me rate my instructors. You can learn more about the app and how you can download it to your device here.

3. Schedule time to visit the Family History Library

The conference is held just blocks away from the famous Family History Library - the world's largest family history library! This may be overwhelming, so make sure to check out their website to figure out what resources you want to prioritize on your visit. After the busy class schedule, you won't have a whole lot of time to be at the library unless you skip classes. So, decide what items at the library you'll access and then use your time at the library wisely.

What to pack

1. The right clothes and shoes

Salt Lake City in February and March is a cold place. Make sure you pack appropriate clothes for your trip. It may snow, so make sure you have gloves or shoes that will work well in snow and ice. Also, remember that your clothes represent you. Are you going to RootsTech for networking and furthering a genealogical career? Or, are you going simply to learn and make connections? The type of clothes you wear should reflect your purpose. In addition, you'll be doing a lot of walking at RootsTech. Make sure you have comfortable shoes that will allow for all those steps!

2. Laptop or notebook for notes

RootsTech is like going to college for a week. You'll be in class after class and there's no way you'll be able to absorb everything you are taught. So, it's best that you have a way to take good quality notes of your classes so that you can look back at it another time after the conference. I'd recommend bringing a laptop if you're a fast typer. This will allow you to take organized notes while your presenters are speaking. You may also want to bring a notebook if you're more of a doodler or note taker that way.

3. Backpack or shoulder bag

You're going to be walking a lot with your laptop and whatever else you're carrying. So, make sure you have a good backpack or bag to carry with you during the conference.

4. Money

When you go to the Expo Hall you are going to want to walk out of there with some goodies. Books, DNA test kits, cool family history stuff! That means you'll either need cash on hand or cash in the bank to make debit/credit card purchases from the many vendors available. Budget for this.

5. Portable charger for mobile devices

Between using your mobile device for the RootsTech app, following new friends on Twitter or Facebook, checking e-mail, and regular use of your phone, you are going to want to make sure you can charge your mobile devices. You can bring your wall chargers with you, but you're going to have a hard time finding wall sockets when you need them. So, this year I've purchased a portable charger to keep me charged up all week long. Two highly recommended portable chargers are the Anker PowerCore 13000 and the Anker PowerCore 20100. It's a wise investment for RootsTech.

*****

RootsTech is a blast! But it's also a whirlwind of experiences, connections, and new discoveries. So make sure that you're prepared for this wonderful trip. I hope these suggestions prove helpful for you and that we can connect at RootsTech 2019! If you've been to RootsTech before, and you notice that I've left out a helpful suggestion for the conference, please make sure to leave a comment below.

After all, RootsTech is a great place if you like me want to encounter your ancestors through family history and remember the past made present.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The First Time I Heard Her Voice


The first time I heard my Grandma Nora's voice was 13 February 2017.

It was a cold evening and I had decided to finally pull out those old cassette tapes that I had found at my Uncle Art's house. Uncle Art had passed away the previous spring, and in cleaning his house I found a collection of tapes that I had kept in a brown paper bag for safe keeping. I just hadn't built up the courage to listen to the recordings yet.

What would be on them? What if they were just Art's favorite songs? But maybe...just maybe...there'd be recordings of my Grandma Nora.

So I borrowed my dad's old cassette player that he was going to throw out anyway, and that cold evening I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what I might find on those mysterious cassettes. (I later discovered from Tom Perry on Extreme Genes that you should *never* use an old cassette player until first cleaning it. One of the tapes got stuck in the cassette player!)

After not hearing my Uncle Art's voice for so long, here he was again. 

"Okay this is going to be a call to Mother here, in the hospital in Richmond. This will be calling from Manassas here and it's August 10, 6:15pm, that's Monday. Okay hold on....here goes the call!"

I quickly remembered hearing stories of my Uncle Art's love for recording. He would make audio recordings of conversations and thoughts. He was also a photographer, a journal keeper, a man who kept lists. So this didn't surprise me, though it did excite me! What would I hear next?

The first time he called the line was busy, so he tried again at 6:45pm.

"313, please."

Once the connection is made, the nurse hands the phone to my Grandma Nora. And just like that, I'm given a priceless gift that my Uncle Art never expected to give me. The first time I heard her voice.

"Hello?"

"Hi."

"Oh hi Darlin'!" She's so excited to hear from her first born.

"Mrs. Williams?" Art seems almost jokingly formal.

"This is Mrs. Williams!" She replies with a sing-song giggle in her voice.

They talk about how she just had her treatments. My Uncle Art wants to go down to Richmond to see her, but he's not sure if he'll feel up for the trip from Northern Virginia. She talks about the visitors that have come, and her roommate in the hospital. Between her cancer treatments and jamming her finger in the bathroom door (something she mentions in a care-free sort of way), you'd think she'd sound upset, frustrated. But she doesn't. She's jovial. Light-hearted. Youthful. 

"Everything's just fine!" she practically purrs. This is a woman who's clearly spent her whole life thinking of everyone but herself.

"I'd love to see you....I love you. You come when you can, yea, suga'?" Her voice drips with the beautiful non-rhotic sweetness of Virginia.

Sometimes I wish you could just frame a moment; to hold on tight to a particular time spent with someone special. Bottle up the smell of fresh biscuits. Frame the voice of my Grandma Nora. 

In the next recording, Art clarifies that it's 1987. It turns out he did take the two hour trip south after all. To where he grew up, in Moseley, Virginia: an unincorporated area - not quite a neighborhood nor even a town - that hugs the border of Powhatan and Chesterfield counties. 

I'm glad to find out that he took the time to visit my Grandma Nora. That was 10 August 1987 and she she passed away 6 October 1987, not even two months after this recording. 

I was born in the interim - just two weeks before she passed away. I met her only once. One moment with my Grandma Nora. She was so happy to see that I had "Charlie's eyes" - the eyes of my grandfather. She lived long enough to meet me, to see me, but not long enough to tell me her story. 

So every day I grasp at every thread of information, every DNA match, every record, every distant cousin, every story, every photo, every little thing so that I can attempt to paint a picture with words of a woman who gave everything to everyone. Who held on long enough to give her grandson that one precious moment with his Grandma Nora.

I may not have her eyes, but I do have her heart. And I have her giggle.

*****

This has been my first post in a year-long series that I'm participating in with the inspiration of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The first prompt was simply "first." I'll be catching up on the rest of January's prompts, and then hopefully afterwards I'll be on a more regular weekly schedule of blogging about a different ancestor. 

Thanks for joining me with my Uncle Art and Grandma Nora this week. I hope you'll join me soon as I strive to encounter my ancestors through family history and remember the past made present today.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Two Months Until RootsTech 2019!


Well 2018 sure has flown by! It feels like we were just saying goodbye to the last few beach days of the season, and then the trees changed colors, and just as I was getting ready to start thinking about Christmas it was Christmas Eve and my tree still wasn't up! Don't worry though, y'all, I got it up Christmas Eve night just in time...

Suffice it to say, time has gotten ahead of me. And though wishing the time away is never a good thing, there is a perk that comes with us getting closer to the end of February. It means we're closer to RootsTech 2019! In fact, we're just two months away from the largest genealogy conference...and by far the most I've ever felt like a kid in a genealogy candy shop.

*Just* *TWO* *More* *Months!*

So as we're approaching RootsTech, let's look at some of the new developments that have come out about the conference. I'm already pumped about going, but I hope you'll be as excited as I am too!

Featured Speakers

These are the folks we're going to listen to, to learn from, and to collaborate with. They are experts in various genealogical specialties, from genetic genealogy to regional and ethnic studies. They're our friends, our coworkers, and our community's icons. And you'll be together with them for days to connect over our shared passion of family history.

To see the full list of featured speakers click here and scroll down past the keynote speakers to the Featured Speakers section. If you click on a speaker's photo, it'll take you to their short bio. But make sure you also check out the full schedule for the week so you can see all the classes they're offering! Trust me, you'll want to make your schedule before you go.

Keynote Speakers


Our keynote speakers have been announced! We'll get to hear from Patricia Heaton - from Everybody Loves Raymond - on Thursday February 28. On Friday March 1, we'll have Saroo Brierley the author of his biography A Long Way Home that was turned into the successful film Lion. Last, on Saturday March 2, the talented Hawaiian ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro will take the stage. You can check out more on all three of our keynote speakers here.

Preparing for RootsTech

Not sure how best to prepare for the conference? Check out this video series that will help you with everything you need from getting registered to learning about RootsTech. Now that the schedule is public, and we know who our speakers are, you're all ready to start planning what classes you're attending and when you'll have free time to see other area sites. With such a jam-packed schedule, and so many amazing speakers, you're going to have to manage your time well...and that means preparing beforehand.

In the new year, I'll discuss some of what I'm doing to prepare for RootsTech and what I hope to get out of the conference this year.

*****

Two months may sound far away, but February 27, 2019 will be here before we know it! With each passing day I'm getting that much more excited about the new learning opportunities, and the new and old friends I'll get to see this year at RootsTech. Plus, I hope to get out and see more of Salt Lake City this time around! It's such a beautiful city...and that view!

Who are you most excited about hearing from at RootsTech 2019? Is there a keynote speaker you hope to meet? How are you going to prepare for RootsTech this year?

Whether you're spending New Year's Eve relaxing with family and friends or busily sleuthing in the records of your ancestors, I wish you a blessed evening and a Happy New Year! Keep striving to encounter your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present.


*Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash*

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Organizing DNA Matches


Some folks are just more organized than others. When it comes to our work space or our home, some of us like to keep some happy clutter...while others have a place for everything. And the more we get serious about our genealogical research, each one of us will have a different organizational style for our work.

Our genealogy will never be finished, nor will we probably ever find *every* record for any given person. And that's even more true when it comes to our DNA records. Each DNA match that we find is a new record of sorts, a new documentation that may serve to reinforce our paper research. So how do we properly organize all of these DNA matches that are forever growing in number?

In this post, I'm going to share one possible way that you can go about organizing your DNA matches, and some of the benefits of keeping your matches organized.

Organization brings clarity

When we first look at our DNA match list - be it on AncestryDNA, 23andme, MyHeritage, or FamilyTreeDNA - our first feeling might be anxiety. AH! SO MANY matches! Particularly for those with colonial American ancestry, it's common to have thousands of matches at an estimated fourth cousin or closer level. That can be overwhelming!

After we get past the shock of the fact that we're connected to thousands of people in our match lists, we need to get to some work to narrow down our connections. This means we need to organize ourselves somehow. But before I get to that, we should talk about the "why" of it all.

Organizing our DNA matches gives us clarity of vision. It makes sure that we know what we're looking at. When we first look at our DNA matches - without organization - it can be like standing at the edge of a vast forest of trees. What lies within? How do we get through? We have no idea from our vantage point. But...if we look from above - from a bird's eye view - we'll have a view that tells us the best way forward.

When we organize our DNA matches, we can make our match list more manageable and useful for us. Instead of being just a list of names, we'll see our list as a helpful tool for our genealogical research.

Getting organized

When we're surrounded by clutter, even sorting things out into piles can make all the world of difference! And when it comes to our DNA matches, that initial work can be done with the tools that our DNA testing companies give us.

With AncestryDNA, there are two tools which I first recommend everyone use: stars and notes. I recommend everyone start initially by determining which matches are on the paternal line and which are on the maternal line. Then choose which side you're going to star. After this, you can click on shared matches and star all of the closest matches that are shared with those other starred matches. It's not fool proof (you may match someone through both your mother and father) but for most folks it'll be a good place to start.

After you have most of your closest matches starred - or not starred - then you can add notes. I rely on these notes because they remind me of how a person matches the DNA test taker whose results I'm working on. Once I figure out how this person is connected, I also add them and their line into the tree associated with the DNA test. It will make your family tree grow pretty fast, but trust me it will pay off in the long run. It makes determining those more distant DNA matches so much easier!

With this first level of organization, you'll have starred matches and notes on all of your closest DNA matches. And, you'll also have all of your proven DNA connections as people within your family tree as well.

Charts?! Sheets?! Say it ain't so!

So far, everything I've shared with you is what I had been doing for the last few years. I thought to myself - self - you've done good! I thought this was enough to keep my DNA matches organized for the work I was doing. But then...I realized "good" wasn't enough! I want to do excellent work. So I need excellent organization. And one way to have excellent organization is to use charts.

I must admit up front that I do not keep charts and sheets for matches of every family line of my family. I actually only have begun this work on two of my lines. Why only two? Well, these are the lines that I'm most preoccupied with right now. I'm sure I'll do this for more, but for now this is serving to keep me organized and this has been paying off. So how do I organize my charts, and what do I use?

I'm a big believer in Google for my research. I use Google Docs for writing notes for myself and Google Sheets to make free spreadsheets. The huge perk is that they automatically save as I work. For Google Sheets, I am able to make charts that document the DNA connections for my matches. I use these sheets for family lines that I'm looking to get greater clarity in, or that I'm trying to prove or work further back past a brick wall. Since I have tested many family members and have access to some of our close and distant cousins, I can note in Google Sheets how closely each DNA match connects to each of these individuals.

How I use Google Sheets

In the first column in Google Sheets, I note the DNA match name and/or username. The next columns are for your DNA tests that you administer that you want to compare to this user's DNA. For example, when I'm looking at my Williams & Adams cousins Google Sheet, I compare each AncestryDNA user to my aunt, my father, two of my dad's second cousins, my third cousin, and two fourth cousins. You can certainly use this format even if you're only comparing each AncestryDNA user only to your DNA test results, but it gets increasingly helpful when you're comparing to multiple sets of results.

The next column I label "notes" and I use this to note how exactly this AncestryDNA user connects to the family line I'm researching. An example of one user's connection to my Adams family, I wrote, "William Adams & Mary Moore; William; Motier; William E; Linwood C; Linwood P" in the notes column. This shorthand represents this particular AncestryDNA user's descent from the ancestral couple I am studying. It also lets me know the line in my family tree to look at when I want to look at this match. It also shows me which children of my focus couple have given the most matches. This is particularly important in doing descendancy research with your DNA results

The last column I use to include a link to the AncestryDNA user's profile. From their profile page, I can contact them and I can also check back to see if they administer any other DNA test results. I can also look back to see if they've increased the information in their family tree. Also, I might want to compare this user to another person whose DNA results I now have access to.

In each row, I look at a different AncestryDNA user. In each column, I write the amount of DNA that these two people share. I get this number from the "i" symbol next to each match on AncestryDNA. For example, I might write "54.9 cM across 4 DNA segments." This is helpful because later I can look at my Google Sheets and see how large of a connection actually is between two individuals. It's much more specific than simply an estimated fourth cousin.

I use this format for two family lines I'm researching: the Stratton family and the Williams & Adams family from Powhatan County, Virginia. My Stratton Google Sheets form has - as of 27 Dec 2018 - 63 AncestryDNA test results organized and compared to four people. My Williams & Adams form has 49 individuals whose DNA is being compared to seven people.

*****

Before I started making Google Sheets for focusing and organizing my research, I never thought too much about organization. Because I hadn't yet reaped the fruit of good organization. But now I have a visual to aid in my research. I have a resource for my DNA match list, and I don't have to go searching through the brambles of my match list anymore. 

This is only one small way that you can begin to organize your DNA matches. This is something that has helped me, but I'm sure there are countless different ways that you can organize your own matches. The important thing isn't how you organize, but that you do take the effort to tame your match list and to make it more manageable for you. So get to work, y'all!

Do you find your DNA match list too much to handle? How do you organize your DNA matches? How has organization helped to improve the quality of your genealogical research?


*Photo by Oscar Chevillard on Unsplash*

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Wintry Trip to Monticello


I can thankfully report that I've gotten my "Virginian Card" back. I grew up in Virginia, and nearly all of my ancestors lived in Virginia back into the 1600's. I'm nearly as Virginian as Virginian gets, you see. But somehow - how, I don't know - I had never been to Monticello until this week. I've traveled all over the world, but when it comes to being a local tourist, I'm just not quite so good.

But as life has it, some of my best friends (Thomas and Elizabeth) are moving to Guatemala to be Orthodox missionaries with OCMC for at least two years. [More specifically, I'm their koumbaro - it's like a Godfather for an Orthodox married couple. Anyhoo, I'm gonna miss them tons!] So since they're heading out next month, we're trying to get in as much quality time as we can. What better way for history nerds to hang out than to see more of the history that Virginia has to offer? Naturally, Monticello was high on our to do list. 

Even though I went to James Madison University - not the University of Virginia - I've always loved Thomas Jefferson. He's a complex figure in the history of our nation. But he's also the man whose foresight and skill with the written word gave me the freedom to worship (or not) the God of my understanding without government interference. So I was excited to visit the home of my beloved TJ!

And then it snowed. A lot! In the Richmond area, there was over a foot of snow! For Virginians, that can be debilitating. So I was worried our trip would get canceled. Thankfully Monticello was only closed for a day, so our trip for Tuesday was on as scheduled. 

Our Wintry Trip


This was our first sight of the famous Monticello - the home of Thomas Jefferson. It was a tad disappointing at first - until we realized this wasn't the nickel image of Monticello we all know and love. Turns out, this is the front of the building, and the back side is the more famous image. I have no photos of the inside because photography isn't allowed there. But, that doesn't mean I can't reflect on some of the tour.

First, let me say that the house presents a good image of the man Thomas Jefferson. He was a man interested in learning, in business, and in having the greatest technology of his age. His home was like a natural history exhibit meets science lab meets library. It feels like it would have been the sort of home you'd want to visit for a casual visit with the cool professor you made sure to Facebook after the class had ended. There were fossils, Native American tools, walls of books, and scientific instruments. He had European conveniences like an indoor bathroom, sky lighting, beds tucked into the walls and a way to open the door without getting out of bed. The dining room was meant to be casual and the tea room made you want to sit and enjoy a good conversation.

Mulberry Row
With all that said, there is also the other side of Thomas Jefferson: the man followed by controversy. That controversy followed us inside, as a guest on our tour repeatedly challenged the facts presented by our tour guide. This guest insisted that Thomas Jefferson did not father the children of Sally Hemings and that he was a faithful traditional Christian. You'd think from his indignation that there were some grand scheme to undermine the sanctity of a national saint. I reminded the man - as calmly and lovingly as I could muster - that I was there to listen to the tour of our paid guide (not of him) and thankfully he kept quite after that. It's frustrating to me that there are so many who view updates on the study of history as revisionist history. History doesn't change; our perspective though on that history can.

After our tour of the home, we took the Slavery at Monticello tour. And it was awesome! Our guide was passionate about the topic and you could tell he really gets out of bed each day to educate and to inspire that passion in others. We saw the reproduction of the Hemmings Cabin,the textile workshop, and passed through Mulberry Row where the enslaved lived and worked. We heard details of the evidence behind the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings - which I must say was fascinating if you're a genealogist! If only my ancestors had kept such detailed records of those whom they enslaved...BUT it does inspire me to dig deeper to see what records my ancestors did keep.

Yours truly with Thomas and Elizabeth Manuel

After our tours, we were able to walk around the grounds and take some more photos. It really is a beautiful site with great views of the area around Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson had a good eye, that's for sure! Since it was just a couple of days after a snowstorm, the grounds were mostly empty of visitors. The snow had hardly been disturbed but for the occasional footprints or tracks from a passing deer.

Voila! The Nickel shot!
Reflections on a man

What struck me most about my trip to Monticello is just how American the man - Thomas Jefferson - really was. What do I mean by that? Thomas Jefferson was a Virginian. He was educated. He was a renaissance man, a leader, a businessman. Yet he was also fascinated with Europe, with having bigger and better things. He was a thinker, an idealist, a writer, a reader. And yet, he was also a man who struggled with - or perhaps found comfortable - the paradox of being a man who held ideals about human liberty who also owned hundreds of other human beings. A man who wrote the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom adopted by the General Assembly in 1786 yet had power over the religious freedom of those in his control.

Thanks for Religious Freedom, TJ!
I did not leave Monticello thinking less of Thomas Jefferson. I did however leave Monticello with a clearer vision of the arch of American history, one whose evolution has yet to be concluded. One which is forever in a state of flux and is always getting more refined as we age as a nation. The trip for me was not so different from researching my ancestors who lived prior to the American Civil War. I was faced with the necessity of normalizing slavery in order to encounter a man who enslaved others.

I was faced with the reality of something inherently brutal and inhumane and yet I had to become numb to that reality. I had to face what it must have been like to be a man who could see a woman as inhuman enough to be my property and yet human enough to be the mother of my children. I had to face in a deeper way the life of my own ancestors - namely David Stratton of Powhatan County, Virginia - who owned their own children and grandchildren. Like Beth Wylie - a cousin of mine and blogger over at Life in the Past Lane - feel even more strongly that I have a duty to preserve and document the enslaved people of my ancestors. 

A fitting end to my trip

There's nothing like a tour through Old Virginia to work up a healthy appetite! So you'd think I'd have gone over to an old tavern or found a Southern restaurant for some sweet tea, grits, or sausage gravy biscuits right? Well, these three Orthodox kids are trying our best to keep the Nativity Fast so we sought out some vegetarian fare. That took us to a delicious Indian buffet in the heart of Charlottesville. We got there just in time to eat our fill before driving back to Virginia Beach. But as we got back to my car - after walking some of the meal off - we noticed something peculiar.

4th Street at the corner of East Water Street
Both sides of the street where my car was parked had chalk writings and drawings. We were trying to figure out what it was all about. Then we noticed the name Heather in a few places. A picture of a girl. A Bible left on the sidewalk. The word hub - love - in Arabic. 

And then it hit us - we were parked at the exact location that Heather Heyer was killed on 12 Aug 2017.

It was a sobering end to our trip to Charlottesville. We had spent the day reflecting on the paradox of American idealism. We had spent the day walking through the home of Thomas Jefferson, discovering the lives of those whom he had enslaved. And then we had parked - of all places in the city - at the exact location where a white supremacist had killed a woman peacefully protesting racism. In 2017. A chilling end to our wintry trip to Charlottesville.

*****

I have a deep love for my country. I believe in ideals. I love that we are a nation that fights for ideals we haven't yet seen nor even fully experienced. I love that we are a country that looks at itself in the mirror and is able to pinpoint the parts we want to improve upon while also holding pride for all that is good and true and beautiful. 

This is how I feel the day after my trip to Monticello. I'm grateful to our Founding Fathers who designed a country that would be forever improving, forever becoming an ever greater America - never resting upon the laurels of our forefathers nor the illusion of an idealized past. I'm grateful to Thomas Jefferson - the man, not the saint - who like me had within himself ideals and dreams, passions and sins. 

It's this man whom I encountered this wintry trip to Monticello.

Have you been to Monticello? How did your visit impact your genealogical research or your study of the enslaved people of your family? How did Monticello shed light on American history for you?

Until we meet again, keep digging and encountering your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving and the Mayflower Society

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash
I had the blessing of knowing my great-grandmother, Gertlie Brooks née Edgerton. She was a classy sort of woman. She always had her hair done. She liked nice clothes. Her home was filled with interesting furniture and she always had those strawberry candies I looked forward to. I grew up knowing that there was something special about her side of our family. As it turns out, her family was deeply connected to the history of our country, I just never knew the story.

Then along came my passion for family history. I was bit by the genealogy bug and did what many newbies do when they get access to the Ancestry database - I added all the names other people had in their trees! I just added and added and next thing I knew I had a Mayflower passenger in my tree! Could I really be descended from Pilgrim Elder William Brewster?

In honor of my Mayflower passenger ancestors, Elder William and Mary Brewster, I'd like to share with you the process that I took to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. As we are remembering all that we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and as we look back at that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, here is the path I took to reconnect with my ancestors.

Why I wanted to join the Mayflower Society

As I became more involved in the genealogy community, I realized the importance of proper documentation for relationships listed in my tree. Otherwise, my family tree might be no more than a collection of fables! So I collected evidence, I confirmed relationships, and I polished my tree up. But, I still didn't have access to documentation prior to the 1800s. What was I to do if I wanted to confirm that I was descended from William Brewster?

There are many reasons to join a lineage society, but the most immediate benefit - for me - of joining the Mayflower Society is that they already have documentation and proofs for Mayflower passenger descendants for many generations. So instead of me having to reinvent the wheel, and re-finding all of the original documents, I can connect myself to a community that holds that research.

Besides wanting to access records and research, I also wanted to join the Mayflower Society to preserve my own research. It's a way of backing up my work in a safe place for generations to come. Additionally, it's another way to connect with other genealogists - and distant cousins - with a shared interest in the Mayflower and American history. And then there's the added benefit of being able to say not only with pride but also with surety: my ancestor Mary Brewster helped cook the first Thanksgiving meal! Historians and genealogists - peers and superiors - have reviewed and confirmed my descent. It's no fable, after all!

The application process

I began the application process for the Mayflower Society (GSMD) by first collecting my lineage starting with William Brewster and working down to myself. By looking at the GSMD website, I saw that I'd need to apply through one of the member societies that the GSMD has organized by state. This took me to the Virginia Mayflower Society website where I was able to read about the application process and find the Preliminary Review Form to submit to the state historian. This Preliminary Review Form allows a potential member to know how many generations of their lineage have already been proven by previous applicants.

On the Preliminary Review Form, I listed William Brewster on the first generation line, and I worked down generation to generation until I listed myself on the 16th generation. This means William Brewster is my 13th great-grandfather! I submitted this form on 26 Feb 2017. After hearing back from the state historian, my application was given to one of the assistant historians to work with more directly. By 3 Mar 2017, I knew that the Mayflower Society already had proven the first nine generations! That meant I only needed to prove generation 10 through 16!

I was ready to submit nearly all of the documentation by the end of March. My assistant historian from Virginia allowed me to submit digital files of all documentation. This was not only efficient, but it was faster and creates a solid backup of my files. Over the course of the next month, I had to order a few more documents on my great grandparents and grandparents, but it was a fairly smooth process. The GSMD does require all marriage and divorce documents for the most recent three generations though. For families like mine with a lot of divorce, it does present a bit more work....but it's worth it!

The final review of my complete application was done by 29 Apr 2017 and my the final signed application was sent to the GSMD headquarters in Plymouth on 10 May 2017. I then had to wait a bit for the national historian to approve my application but on 17 Aug 2017 I was given word that my application was approved! My hard work had paid off!

The Religious Context of the Mayflower Voyage

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash
Over the course of American history, our country has produced a narrative that has formed our sense of national identity. We are a people of immigrants, of those seeking religious freedom and of the poor hoping for social advancement. Of course this community story is one that not all have had access to - but thankfully our country is also one of ideals and of hope. And so we press on hoping for those ideals to be experienced by all! Those first European immigrants to the New World came for many reasons too. Some for gold, some for land, and others for the peace that comes by following their conscious in issues of faith.

These first Europeans were (by and large) from England. So we need to look at the religious context of these English immigrants. The 16th century was one of great religious upheaval in England. In 1534, with the Act of Supremacy, the reigning English monarch (Henry VIII at the time) became the supreme head of the Church of England instead of the Pope of Rome. By 1549 (during the reign of Edward VI), the first Book of Common Prayer was published for the Church of England. From 1554 until 1559, the Church of England was again in communion with the Church of Rome under the reign of Mary I. But with the reign of Elizabeth I, the Church of England was reestablished and the reform movement was firmly planted in England.

Context is everything here. During the early years of the Protestant Reformation, there were some who wanted more reform than the established Church of England was doing. These various groups are collectively called dissenters. Most had varied religious beliefs and many went to mainland Europe for religious freedom. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published in Switzerland. This was a popular translation for dissenters and was the first English Bible to be divided into verses. In 1611, the King James Bible was published and it was in 1620 that the Mayflower landed on the shores of the New World.

Who was William Brewster?

Elder William Brewster
William Brewster was an educated dissenter born about 1566 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. He moved from England to Holland in 1608 where he became the leader and elder of a separatist congregation. More than merely a dissenter, William Brewster was also a separatist rather than a Puritan. You can read more about the distinction between Pilgrims and Puritans here.

The lives of William Brewster and his family always come to my mind during the Thanksgiving season. They left their their families twice - first in England and second in Holland. They left the comfort of a world they knew for the prospect of being in a place where they could worship as their conscience dictated. And for the blessing to be able to do this in the New World, and for their survival - they gave thanks to their God. Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 45 died during the first winter. There were 18 women that came on the Mayflower, but only four were left by that first Thanksgiving. William Brewster's wife Mary was one of those four women.

So often in our national narrative of Thanksgiving, we remember the idealized picture of peace and mutual appreciation. Or, we debate that narrative and talk about the other side of the story - that of conquest and religious subjection. But few discuss the very personal experience of men and women who lost so much for the chance to worship out in the open. Few discuss the strength it must have taken to continue to hope, to continue to have faith in a world so filled with pain and loss. The strength that it takes to give thanks to God in times when we feel the world is so utterly out of our control.

And so today, I give thanks for my ancestors and their example to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

*****

Genealogy is an intensely personal venture. It's a journey that takes us from the comfort of our own family stories into the often challenging truths that we discover. It's personal because it strikes at the very core of our identities but it is also personal in the sense that it's relational. I feel more connected to my ancestors the more I discover who they were, what they fought for, and what they endured.

My journey to join the Mayflower Society has brought the English Reformation to life for me. It has made English history relevant. It has taken a yearly Thursday meal and turned it into a moment of remembrance of brave men and women who endured. 

Have you discovered Mayflower passenger ancestors in your family? Have you joined the Mayflower Society? How do you connect and encounter your ancestors during the Thanksgiving season?

I wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving and that you too can encounter your ancestors today through family history research and remember the past made present!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Exciting News on RootsTech

I've got some news on RootsTech!

My RootsTech 4-day Pass Giveaway WINNER

First, I have an announcement to make about my RootsTech 4-day Pass Giveaway! *Drum roll please!* My winner is...Alyson Cecil from Utah! Congratulations Alyson!

One of the great things about being able to offer a free pass to RootsTech is that I get to meet another person who's just as excited as I am about getting to go to RootsTech this year!

First Keynote Speaker Announced

Secondly, we have news of ONE of the keynote speakers at RootsTech 2019! I emphasize one because I'd be perfectly content if we had just this one speaker. But, he's not all we have to look forward to (more news on the other speakers soon...) So who is this one speaker I'm super psyched for?


Our speaker on Friday, March 1 will be....Saroo Brierley! Have you seen the movie Lion starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman? (Here's the trailer!) It's an inspiring story of a boy in India who gets lost, is adopted by a family in Australia, and then returns to India to find his birth family as an adult. What makes it even more of an incredible story is that it's a true story based on the memoir "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley. To learn more about Saroo, you can check out these 3 Interesting Facts about Saroo. You can also watch an interview with Saroo Brierley and his adopted mom here.

RootsTech App available

The RootsTech App, available through the App Store and Google Play Store, was a great help for me at RootsTech 2018. It helped me keep track of my classes, where they were located and also helped me make last minute decisions about which class to go to when one filled up. Also, it helped me rate my instructors afterwards too. Super convenient. It's great!

Well, you can get the App now for your smartphone! You can start prepping now for the sessions you'll attend and get even more excited! And if you want to check out those classes from your computer, head over to the class schedule page.

*****

That's all I've got for you now, y'all! Stay posted for my upcoming Thanksgiving related blog post!

Until then, keep encountering your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

RootsTech 2019 4-Day Pass Giveaway!


Y'ALL! I'm so excited to finally be able to offer you this chance to win a 4-day pass to RootsTech 2019!!

I had an amazing week at RootsTech 2018. I met genealogy speakers, distant cousins, and made new friends. I was entertained and I learned A LOT! I was pretty excited about registration opening because RootsTech 2018 was everything I hoped it would be.

So here's your chance to win a free 4-day pass to RootsTech 2019 that will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah from February 27 through March 2, 2019.

What does this pass offer you?

- A 4-day pass to RootsTech and a savings of $299!
- Access to over 300 classes! Check out the schedule!
- Keynote and general session speakers!
- Access to an AMAZING expo hall! Learn more about the Expo Hall 2019!
- Evening events! (Tons of fun!)

*NOTE: This pass giveaway does not include airfare, hotel, paid lunches, or paid labs.*

Don't worry if you've already registered for RootsTech 2019! Still submit for this giveaway! If the winner of this giveaway has already registered, the paid registration fee will be refunded by RootsTech.

Giveaway Deadline & Rules

This giveaway begins October 30th and ends November 15th at Noon EST.

The winner will be announced on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and will be notified by e-mail.


DISCLAIMER: As a RootsTech 2019 Ambassador, I am responsible for promoting RootsTech 2019. In return for this promotion, I received a free pass to attend. My airfare, accommodations and other expenses are not compensated by RootsTech, or any affiliated group/company/vendor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Five Reasons to Join a Lineage Society

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

Growing up in Virginia, I've always known about lineage societies. Who doesn't know someone with a family member in the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Daughters of the American Revolution? It always seemed to me as quintessentially Virginian as Pecan Pie and Chicken-Fried Chicken (it's a thing - look it up!)

After all, Virginians have a deep fascination with our roots. Early settlers were sure to document connections to British royalty and - when it was no longer in vogue after the Revolution - they turned to find royal connections to Pocahontas and other Native American leaders. We see evidence of this with the "Pocahontas Exception" - a loophole in racial purity laws that allowed white Virginians to be considered white if they had as much as 1/16 Native American ancestry. But it's history like this that often keeps people away from exploring genealogy and joining lineage societies.

Plus, joining a lineage society takes a lot of work: documenting each generation along with proofs to previous generations, often for many many generations. So with all of the work it takes, what are some reasons that would make you want join a lineage society?

1. Peer review

The most convincing argument for joining a lineage society is the peer review process. In the sciences, academia and other professions, the peer review process allows a writer or researcher to have their work looked over by peers in their same field.

For those of us researching our roots through genealogy, our research can often be a lone job. We sit there looking at the same records over and over again and can easily overlook holes in our research or undocumented assumptions. Having another genealogist look at our research - along with the accompanying documentation - has the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes and a clear new mind to look at our work.

Anyone can claim a connection to someone famous. But can they prove it? The wall that divides history from genealogical fantasy is built by documentation and is confirmed by peers in our field. The application process for all lineage societies provides this peer review process that confirms - or possibly rejects - the research we present.

2. Access to resources

If I were interested in a particular topic apart from some general knowledge, I'd seek out a specialized library or museum. When we're at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., we don't go to the Natural History Museum to see the Constitution. And we don't head to the African American History Museum to see ancient fossils. But once we go to each of these museums, we find material and information we could find no where else! Lineage Societies too have resources that we might find nowhere else.

The Daughters of the American Revolution has an archives that holds records on families from around the United States. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has documentation on generations and generations after the Mayflower passengers settled in this land. The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia (the Manakin Huguenot Society for short) has a library documenting those first French refugees to Virginia. It's even situated on land from the original 1700 settlement in present Powhatan County, Virginia. Imagine what you could find in one of these archives!

When we struggle to find documentation for more distant ancestors, lineage societies and the resources they hold may be the key to breaking down brick walls and to proving our lineage.

3. Preservation of our research

The fear of many a genealogist is "what will happen to my research when I'm gone!?" While we hope a family member will joyfully preserve our research and pass it down to future generations, this might not be realistic or even possible. And our local state or county archives may not have the space or resources to preserve our research either (though they might - so do contact your local archives to see if this is a possibility!) But if we submit our research and it gets accepted by a lineage society, our research will be preserved for as long as that organization is continued.

In my home county of Powhatan, Virginia, we had many old churches burn in the 20th century. Many of my family members had given their old family Bibles to their churches to be kept safe only to have them burn along with the church building. As tragic as this has been, we don't have to see this happen in the future. We can apply to lineage societies and have copies of our documentation preserved in safe and secure archives in their libraries.

4. The challenge

One of the more exciting aspects of genealogy research is the challenge that it presents. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were impossible, we'd all give up. But with a healthy challenge, we're spurred on for more and more research and this leads to stronger evidence and clearer support of our arguments. When we apply to a lineage society, we're forced to present solid proof for generations that we may have had only shaky support for before.

Having a new challenge presented to us by a new lineage society we're applying to can be that fire that reignites our passion for good genealogical research. This challenge might be the thing that gives you the necessary experience to rethink that brick wall in another part of your tree. The challenge is what strengthens our research skills and keeps us moving forward.

5. Community

On a purely practical level, being a member of a lineage society means being part of a community. Whether it's called a "society" or an "association," a lineage society is a community of like-minded people with a common heritage or with ancestors who had a common experience. Community provides both relationships and support. In our research we can become overly self-dependent and isolated. Community through lineage societies can offer new friends and family members that we can connect with, and connections to break out of our research-induced isolation.

Being a member of a lineage society offers some benefits of community that a genealogical society also offers. When we are together with other genealogists, we can ask for help and receive advice from others who have similar interests and who might be researching similar areas. Two minds are better than one, and the collaboration that is borne from community may be that missing element in your genealogical research.

*****

If you're considering applying to a lineage society, I hope I've inspired you to take that leap of faith to move forward in your application. Research the various lineage societies that are out there and see which of your ancestors could gain you membership with one of them. Don't miss out on this opportunity for peer review, access to established research, and a place to preserve your research. Take advantage of the challenge that comes from a new lineage society application and then enjoy the community that comes from that membership.

Have you joined a lineage society? Which of these five reasons have you found the most true for you? What is holding you back from applying to a lineage society?

Joining a lineage society is a tried-and-true way to encounter your ancestors through family history, and to remember the past made present for you and your family today.

Edmonia Harriet Stratton

Some of our ancestors just seem to insist on hiding from us. They show up in records and then disappear. Others leave a nice trail beh...