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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Is Technology Helping Us Discover Our Ancestors?

Guest post by Jocelyn Brown

In his book, Ancestral Journeys, Jean Manco of Plymouth University in the UK traced humanity’s migrations and movements through Europe using DNA. It is a sign of how much the technology has come along in the last few decades that such a book can be written and a proper analysis of how modern humans and neanderthals might have interbred to produce a 4% of our current DNA. However, for the family historian, there has never been as much technology available to us to source our own ancestors. For example, we have online platforms containing vast records, we have cloud devices for communicating and sharing results, and we have the fast developing DNA ancestry tests. However, are they all useful and applicable?

Access to Information
Prior to the rise of the Internet, family history research meant first speaking to older family members to work out a current family tree and to gain recollections from them, then going to various records offices and painstakingly trying to work out using surnames a family tree. However, over the last two decades records are being digitized as they are released, which is making tracing family histories easier. The main problems faced by those using platforms hosting this information is working out which one is the best and most comprehensive and whether it is worth paying for one just to access a single document you cannot gain elsewhere.

Making Family History Collaborative
The above platforms are partly fueled by the rise of cloud technology and storage. Families and photographers, for example, have found the latter particularly useful for storing images and data on one service, but accessible from many devices. It’s also allowed families to quickly share information and form a collaborative approach to sharing both genealogy discoveries and ancestral photos and documents gleaned from the above sites or through over methods. This means distant families can work together still. That being said, some believe the technology and social media make it more difficult for families to actually communicate. So with all tools, it’s about how families use them which makes the difference.

DNA Ancestries

Tracing the DNA journeys of our ancestors is fascinating. They can confirm or discount ideas brought about through purely studying the historical or archaeological record. For example, did the people move or did their goods and cultures move? However, for you or me, the question is have our ancestors always been from where we are now and where were they before our oldest, traceable ancestor? Testing services such as 23andMe claim to be able to trace a person’s ancestors down the ages. Many people have seen the adverts of shocked people finding out their ancestry is quite different to what they suspected, however, it is worth remembering that even a few generations past, most unique DNA is lost in a vast soup of the world’s ancestors, so it is difficult to firmly discover our real past this way. It’s fun, but don’t believe it too much - our ancestors will always be more varied than the results suggest.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Benjamin Franklin Silver Award Winner

The last few weeks were a bit of a whirl wind around here.  For those of you who follow me on other social media networks you already know the exciting news. I was a Silver Award winner for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards on my book Genealogy Basics in 30 Minutes.  While I did not win the coveted gold award with crystal trophy, this time, it was an experience I will never forget.

This was my first visit to Portland, Oregon.  I know, hold you shock.  So I though I would give you a glimpse at the weekend I spent there.  Including the award ceremony.  It was 2.5 days of jammed pack stuff!  Thankfully I was able to spend it with a good friend of mine since my family was on Spring Break (I joined them later).

It really was a fun and amazing night.  First there was the cocktail hour meet-n-greet.  All of the finalist books were on display and it was an opportunity for people to talk to the writers, editors, and publishers in the room.  My friend and I, completely unplanned, wore very similar dresses.  Lets just say it was a great conversation starter as many people came up to us and asked if it was planned!

During this time I also met my publisher, Ian Lamont, for the first time face-to-face.  We have talked numerous times over the phone and email but meeting someone in the flesh is a great experience.  It is like you finally know them!  Ian finally learned exactly how odd I can be.  I think that was a good thing though, since I am full of odd information.

Highlight of the evening was getting my book back with the silver sticker on it and having my picture taken in front of the IBPA Award wall.  Even though I was exhausted (working on 3 hour time difference) we did go back to the hotel bar and celebrate more with a bottle of bubbly.  I mean, who wouldn't?!

My one free day in Portland was spent sight seeing and shopping.  Of course we had to visit Powells Bookstore.  The one place everyone told me I HAD to go to while in town.  It was truly amazing and we spent way too much time in the rare book collection.  They were just so cool!

Spent the afternoon at the Portland Art Museum.  I found the English Silver collection and stayed an hour documenting the heraldry on each piece that showed one.  There was a lot.  Including some Elizabethan pieces.

Our day in town was topped off with a late lunch with the most amazing clam chowder and apple cider sangria.  Yum just cannot do the meal justice!  Instead of potatoes in it they put gnocchi in it.  O.M.G.

It was an amazing weekend that I will not forget.  I can only hope that I have another book that makes it this far in the future.  You know that I want that crystal trophy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 Benjamin Franklin Awards Finalist

I am so happy to announce some very exciting news. My book Genealogy Basics in 30 Minutes has been named a finalist in the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Awards competition in the Craft & Hobby category.  To say I was gobsmacked when I got the email from my editor was an understatement.  

My editor from In 30 Minutes described it as the "Oscars of the independent book world."  From what I understand there is one gold winner (who receives the nifty crystal trophy too) and the other finalists are silver winners.  This means I am now officially an award winning author.  Yeah, that is still sinking in too.

On April 7th at the awards dinner in Portland, OR I will find out if I won the top prize. My flight and hotel are booked. My best friend is attending with me since my husband and kids will be holding down the beach (it is their spring break). Now all I have to do is figure out what to wear!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Meeting my childhood reading friend

Months ago it was announced that LeVar Burton was going to be a keynote speaker at this years RootsTech conference.  I jumped, I screamed, I punched my fist in the air.  Seriously I did!  You see he was a fixture of my childhood and then my teen years.  But, before that he was something much more.

Burton touched the hearts of all in attendance at the opening session on Friday.  He spoke with so much love, and emotion, of his strong mother.  A deep love and respect for the woman who raised him to be the man he is today.  His words spoke to my heart on more than one moment, and had many of those around me in tears.

While I was too young to see his debut performance of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley's Roots learning from him what the experience was like moved my to the core.  I was able to ask him about how this experience shaped his life and career.  He told me, and the group of bloggers surrounding him, how it was an initiation by fire.  The experience was painful, moving, a moment of learning, but most importantly, of connecting with his heritage.

Heritage, this is why we do what we do...right?  To that end Family Search surprised him with a book of his own family heritage.  At one point Burton turned to the room and asked "is this what you do?"  A resounding "YES!" was shouted back.  Thanks to the wonderful work of Thom Reed, Burton was transported back to ancestor "his people" from the early 1800's living in Mississippi.  What a wonderful gift.

While he will always be my childhood friend who took me over the Reading Rainbow, and the engineer from my informative years taking me where no one has ever gone before, I can now add this powerful persona to my memories.  Seeing the person behind the mask was the best gift I could ever hoped for here.  One I will treasure.

Please, if you have not watched it, go and do it now.  They will be archived so you can watch it over
and over again.

Bill Bennett, VP Marketing from FindMyPast, spoke on Friday morning at RootsTech and unveiled their new project: Catholic Heritage Archive.  This amazing record set was previewed on stage, and you can find the full press release below. 


They are working with various archdiocese in the United Sates and the UK to digitize and preserve the records of the Catholic church which most times are locked in a parish hall.  Access can be hard, if near impossible and for those who have Catholic Roots there is hope for those elusive records to show lineage and relationships to our past. 

In my Interview later that day with Bill he said they are starting with larger dioceses and then moving into smaller parishes.  Most exciting is that you will be able to browse images free online through FindMyPast.  You will only have to use credits if you want to use the index.  I also loved hearing that the churches and diocese who let them digitize records will also have full access to their own collections.  This will be a boon to researchers who can travel to their family churches.

Also touched on during the morning session was that thanks to their association with the Pennsylvania Historical Society there are now over 3 million PA records online.  This large project is nearly concluded with hundreds of thousands of vital records and unusual manuscript collections digitized.  Births, marriages, deaths, congregational records, military records, and more are now available to search.

Finally the US marriage record collection is wrapping up.  As Bill stated in our interview they were saving the best for last.  The records which are being uploaded in this final push are the most unique of all.  Oh, and only found on FindMyPast!  We will have to check them out.


FindMyPast Official Press Release: 

FindMyPast announces plans to create the most comprehensive collection of Roman Catholic sacramental registers for the United States, Britain and Ireland
When complete, this exclusive collection will contain over 100 million records spanning 300 years of Catholic history

Millions of exclusive Catholic records published online with more coming soon
Findmypast also announces new additions to the ambitious United States Marriages project
Release marks significant expansion of Findmypast's US data collection



Leading family history website, Findmypast, today announced the creation of the Roman Catholic Heritage Archive, a ground breaking initiative that aims to digitize the historic records of the Catholic Church in the United States, Britain and Ireland.

Findmypast is today releasing over 3 million exclusive records including sacramental registers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1757 to 1916 as well as for the British Archdioceses of Westminster and Birmingham from 1657 onwards. This builds on last year's publication of more than 10 million Irish Catholic parish registers.

The Catholic Church holds some of the oldest and best preserved genealogical records ever created. However, as many of these documents memorialize important religious sacraments such as baptism, marriage and burial, their privacy has long been protected and access to original copies has traditionally been hard to come by.

In collaboration with various Archdioceses of the Catholic Church, Findmypast is helping to bring these records online in one unified collection for the first time ever. Exclusively available on Findmypast, images of original documents will be completely free to view in many cases. Fully searchable transcripts will also be included, providing family historians from the around the world with easy access to these once closely guarded records.

The next phase of the Catholic Heritage Archive will include records from the archdioceses of New York and Baltimore as well as additional records from Philadelphia. There are over 30 million records in just these three dioceses. The digitization of the whole archive is a monumental undertaking and, when complete, will contain hundreds of millions of records for the USA alone.

Brian Donovan, Licensing Manager at Findmypast said; “The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. Despite the popular perception that it had few adherents in Britain, or was not that important in American settlement, it has always been a significant component (up to 25%) of the population. The Catholic Heritage Archive will uncover the history of millions of Irish, Italian, German, Polish and many other nationalities as they made a new home in the USA.”

Kate Feighery, archivist at the Archdiocese of New York said; “The Archdiocese of New York is delighted to begin the process of opening their sacramental records for historical research.  As one of the major immigration hubs in the country, and the second largest diocese in the United States, many Catholic Americans can trace their ancestors back to New York. The Catholic Heritage Archive will allow interested amateur and professional historians to more easily find out more about their family’s roots in Catholic New York.”

Cait Kokolus, Director of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Records Center said; “ The digitization of parish records is a great gift to the Catholics in the Archdiocese. Now they will be able to find where their grandmother was baptized, or when their great-grandparents married. In such a quickly changing society, many people are discovering that knowing their family history gives a sense of identity and stability.”


10 million new US marriage Records
Findmypast has also just released a further 10 million United States Marriage records in association with Family Search International. The new additions cover 45 states, over 1,800 counties and date from the early 17th century up to the present day. Over 65 million records are currently available to search within the collection.

Covering 360 years of marriages from 1650-2010, when complete this landmark collection will form the single largest online archive of U.S. marriages in history and will only be found in its entirety exclusively on Findmypast.

The launch of these new US records is central to Findmypast's growth strategy in the U.S. They will complement Findmypast’s massive collection of British and Irish data, providing many more connections and a more comprehensive experience to family historians in the US and all over the world.


MyHeritage Announcements From RootsTech

This week has been a whirlwind of activity for the team at MyHeritage.  Each day has been a new press release about the products and changes happening within the company.  

Photo Discoveries:
Friday was the launch of a brand new feature - exclusive to MyHeritage - Photo Discoveries™.  A Photo Discovery provides users with a set of photographs of ancestors and relatives, originating in family trees contributed by others. Users can add the photographs to the matching profiles in their family tree, in a single click.

Photo Discoveries is an innovative feature which transforms family trees by automatically adding matching historical photos. A Photo Discovery provides users with a set of photographs of ancestors and relatives they may have never seen before, originating in family trees contributed by others. Users can add the photographs to the matching profiles in their family tree, in a single click.
Layered on top of MyHeritage's highly accurate Smart Matching™ technology, which locates matching profiles in other family trees, and Instant Discoveries™, which enable users to add entire branches to their family tree in just a few clicks, Photo Discoveries identifies the profiles that have no photographs in the user's family tree and provides photographs of these individuals from matching profiles on other family trees.

Users can add up to ten photographs per Photo Discovery, reject specific ones they do not wish to receive, and apply Photo Discoveries as many times as they would like. The photographs are then copied over to the associated profiles, preserving all useful metadata such as people tags, dates and place names.

“At MyHeritage we’re constantly brainstorming innovative new ways to make our industry-leading matching technologies even better,” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet. “Receiving a never-seen-before photograph of an ancestor is a delightful emotional experience, and one that we would like our users to enjoy as often as possible. Photo Discoveries deliver this and fulfill the promise of collaborative genealogy in a slick and gratifying one-click experience."

Viewing Photo Discoveries in thumbnail form is free. Applying Photo Discoveries to one's family tree requires a PremiumPlus or Complete subscription on MyHeritage.


Appointment of new CSO
They announced on Thursday the appointment of Dr. Yaniv Erlich as its Chief Science Officer. Dr. Erlich, a DNA scientist of world renown, will lead scientific development and strategy for MyHeritage DNA, the company's newly established DNA service for family history and ethnicity, and ensure that its products are built on a solid scientific foundation.

Dr. Erlich, nicknamed the Genome Hacker by Nature journal, brings to MyHeritage unparalleled experience in the field of genomics as Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computational Biology at Columbia University and as a Core Member at the New York Genome Center. He is also the former principal investigator and a Whitehead Fellow at MIT's Whitehead Institute, founder of DNA.LAND and the principal investigator of the Erlich DNA lab.

Dr. Erlich completed his Ph.D. at the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2010, and has won numerous awards as a cutting-edge scientist, including the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award (2013), the Harold M. Weintraub Award (2010) and the IEEE/ACM-CS High Performance Computing Award (2008). Dr. Erlich has a B.Sc. degree cum laude in Neuroscience from Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Erlich's research interests are diverse and cover many facets of computational human genetics, including population studies, DNA privacy, DNA storage and genetic research in crowd-sourced family trees.

“We're delighted to welcome Yaniv to our management team. Yaniv's expertise in computational genetics and its synergy with family history will provide the solid scientific foundation that is fundamental for setting apart our fast-growing DNA service from the others” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet. “We are committed to providing our users with the most accurate DNA results, and helping them understand more about themselves. Yaniv will lead a dedicated team of world-class scientists to help us achieve this.”

“I’m excited to join the talented team at MyHeritage and put my scientific experience to use by the millions of users on the MyHeritage platform,” said Dr. Erlich. “I've collaborated with MyHeritage since 2012 and have known them to be forward thinkers about building tools and platforms that enable massive scale scientific studies. I look forward to opening new horizons in consumer genetics in my new role, and further empowering our users with useful and creative tools that harness the latest scientific discoveries”.

MyHeritage DNA was launched in November 2016, offering simple DNA home-testing kits for determining users' ethnic origins and discovering new relatives. The service is offered in more than 190 countries worldwide, in 42 languages.

Discoveries Pages
The Discoveries pages provide a unified experience for all matches, organizing them into two main pages: Matches by People and Matches by Source. Now you can look at all matches that were found for a particular individual in your family tree, or all matches found in a particular collection of historical records or matching family tree. Whatever you choose to use, the new pages combine Smart Matches (matches with trees) and Record Matches (matches with records) into the same unified and consistent interface.

MyHeritage also will now display the new information that each match provides, and matches are arranged by the value that they add to your family tree, so that those matches that add the most value are listed first.

This saves you time and allows you to focus on the most valuable matches. You can easily save all new and improved information to your family tree.

MyHeritage is known throughout the industry for it's matching technologies, and they have just gotten even better with a great new user interface. The new pages are easier to use, more intuitive and much faster than the previous layout.

Please learn more about the Discoveries page in the official blog post: https://blog.myheritage.com/2017/02/introducing-the-new-discoveries-pages/

Thursday, February 9, 2017

RootsTech keynote gets a renovation with the Property Brothers

The kick off keynote for this years Rootstech was the Canadian twins Drew and Johnathan Scott, aka the Property Brothers.  Hosts of several popular HGTV home improvement shows, the pair had the audience in stitches with stories from their childhood and their family heritage.

If you follow them through social media you know they are passionate about their Scottish heritage.  Their father immigrated from Scotland to Canada as young man in search of the life a cowboy.  After an kind strange paid for his train ticket from Ontario to Alberta he worked on many ranches as a hand.  Then, as fate would happen, meeting the future Mrs. Scott at one of these ranches.

I was impressed with how young the entrepreneurial spirit hit them.  One of the stories they told was about how they made decorative coat hangers at 7 years old.  While many thought it was a cute arts and crafts project the Brothers quickly turned it into a very successful, and profitable, business.  they employed the family to help them keep up with the orders!  Do you think their parents knew then that they were going to be successful at whatever they attempted.



As a fellow history buff, and collector of odd medieval things, I was particularly interested in learning about their love of castles and... armor.  Yep, they even have a custom made suit of armor that is worn around the house.

Oh, and bagpipes!  How could I forget the bagpipes.  Truly embracing their heritage they wear kilts and play the bag pipes.  How could anyone go wrong by having those items in their life.


If you can't tell I had a wonderful time listening to them on stage, but an even better time interviewing them with a group of other bloggers in the media hub.  A variety of questions were asked in our session but here is the scoop on what I found out:

* They may be coming to Australia soon.  That made my friends from down under swoon a bit!
*  They shared a bit about what happened behind the scenes with their New Orleans Brother vs Brother.  One of the home owners told them that whatever they did would be wonderful because she would have her home back.  You see, she had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the last 10 years.
* This March they will be heading to Nashville and will be recording another round of songs.  What?!  You didn't know they sing??
*  Psstt... you did know that Drew is engaged... right?