Fosket Brothers: North and South

Every last one of my ancestors lived in the northern states once they arrived in this country.  They ALL, on both sides, lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and all over New England, and then some of them went west.   But NONE of them went south.

At least I thought so until now.

For many years, I’ve been researching the ancestry of my mother’s grandmother, Sarah Fosket.

Sarah Ann Fosket, my mother’s maternal grandmother

I’ve traced her Fosket line back to her grandparents, Alexander Fosket and Sarah Ann Evans, who married in Troy, New York in 1837.  Alexander and Sarah had at least four children, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just two of them, Alexander E. and Alonzo.

Some descendants of Alexander Fosket

Sarah Fosket’s father, Alonzo, was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He enlisted in Michigan and mustered in at St. Louis.  It’s still a mystery to me what a  New York City man was doing out there!

Alonzo Fosket, Missouri Infantry

I have few records and even fewer clues for Alonzo’s parents, Alexander and Sarah.

There’s a family in the 1840 U.S. Census in Albany headed by “Alex Fosgate” (as you know, the 1840 census only names the heads of households).  The surname isn’t quite right, but the ages were correct for both Alexander and Sarah, and for their first child born in 1839.  There was also an older woman in the household, but of course I had no idea who she was, and I wasn’t even certain that this was the correct family.

I haven’t found the couple in any other census record.  They didn’t own land. Records are scarce.

Both Alexander and Sarah died young.  Sarah died when she was between 30 and 40 years old.  Alexander was a 45 year old widower when he died of consumption in New York City in 1858, leaving four children under 18.  The three youngest children were raised by one of Sarah’s sisters; the oldest, Alexander E. Fosket (Alex Jr.), was nowhere to be found until 1870 when he was in New York City, a single man, boarding with strangers.  He then purchased a house in Brooklyn in 1873.

One of the unusual facts about Alex Jr. was that his first child, Henry, was born in South Carolina in 1872 (see above chart).    And his wife was born in Germany, not South Carolina.

I couldn’t make sense of that: Alex Jr., who was single and living in New York City in 1870, suddenly traveled down to South Carolina where he married a German woman, had a child, and then came back to Brooklyn to buy a house in 1873? I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a confederate soldier in the Georgia Infantry by the name of Alexander E. Fosket, who was ultimately taken prisoner by the northern army.  There is quite a bit of correspondence between the Northern and Southern generals regarding his release.

Alexander Fosket in the Georgia Infantry

This didn’t fit with anything else I knew about the family, either.  Why would a guy from Albany and NYC enlist in Georgia?  Surely it was another man with the same name.  I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a death notice in an Albany newspaper about one Amelia Fosket, a resident of Albany, who died of cholera in 1849 at age 62 while visiting her son in Colleton County, South Carolina.  I had no idea who she was, but thought this could somehow be related to the other southern connections – you never know.  So I filed the information to be considered later.

Joel Munsel, Annals of Albany (Albany: J. Munsell, 1869), 373.

Now I’m finally in Albany, researching at the New York State Library, which has all of the Albany City Directories on microfiche.

The directory for 1841 lists three people at the same address:  Amelia (a widow), Alexander, and Sarah Ann.  There’s only one Fosket family in Albany.

Do you know the feeling when you’re staring at the new discovery on your screen, mouth slightly open, and you can hear the loud “CLICK” in your head as all the puzzle pieces fly together and connect as though a magnet is pulling them to the center?  That’s how it was for me.

The Amelia living with Alexander and Sarah Ann in 1841 is surely the older woman in the 1840 census record, and the same woman who died in South Carolina while visiting her son.  It’s also highly likely that she’s Alexander’s mother.

When Alexander died in 1858, Alex Jr. was about 19 years old.  I think the young man chose to go live with his paternal uncle in South Carolina, while his younger siblings stayed in New York City and lived with their maternal aunt.  Then the Civil War started, and Alex Jr. enlisted in the Confederate Army.  He was, after all, a southern boy at the time.

Why Alexander enlisted in Georgia when he was living in South Carolina is as much a mystery as the question of why Alonzo enlisted in Michigan when he was living in New York City.  But that’s what happened.  So you hear stories about the Civil War, where brother was fighting against brother, and it turns out to have happened in my family exactly like that.  I plan to examine the activity of each company in great detail to see if the two brothers were ever on the same battlefield, opposing each other.

Of course, I stayed up until all hours that night looking for the Fosket son/brother/uncle in South Carolina, and I found him.  Fosket is an old New England name, not a southern name, so there was just one candidate:  Don Alonzo Fosket, a.k.a. D. A. Fosket.   The fact that he was born in New York, and that his name was Alonzo, were both big clues that he belongs to my family.

Evidently, Don Alonzo was a rascal who stirred up trouble, was tried for murder multiple times, but was also a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service, and was elected Coroner of Edgefield County, South Carolina in 1870.  It’s going to take a lot more research to figure him out.

I also found a Miss Amelia Fosket in South Carolina who was born in 1819, and traveled with Don Alonzo from New York to Charleston by steamer just after Christmas in 1871.   I believe she is a sister to Don Alonzo and Alexander Fosket, named after their mother.

Here’s my working hypothesis now for my Fosket family:

Expanded Fosket tree with new relationship hypothesis

It’s amazing how one little line in a city directory could pull all of the other records together into a scenario that makes sense.  As is often the case, this new discovery raises more questions than it answers, but the important thing is that it moves my research forward.  One step at a time.





Research in Vermont

I’ve been yearning to go to Vermont for over five years, since I first communicated with the wonderful folks at the Town of Orwell over the Christmas holiday in 2011.  I was researching my 3x great-grandparents, Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch, who were pioneers in Whiteside County, Illinois in the 1840’s.

The records in Illinois weren’t clear about their places of birth.  Betsey died two years after arriving in Illinois, so she didn’t live long enough to be named in any census record. A Whiteside County history book stated that she came from New York and he from New Hampshire. Most of Clark’s census records state his place of birth as Vermont, but one says New Hampshire.

Clark and Betsey’s gravestone in Whiteside County, Illinois

One day, I was googling Clark and Betsey for the hundredth time, and finally got a hit.  Someone had posted an index of marriages in the little town of Orwell, Vermont, and there they were, married 6 October 1833.  That’s when I wrote to the town clerk.

Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch Marriage Record, Orwell, Vermont

The clerk’s office was amazing, sending me stacks of information which provided the names of Betsey’s parents, Captain John Crouch (War of 1812) and his wife Sally Jennings.  After further research, I was able to identify Sally’s parents, Joseph and Faith Jennings of Hubbardton, Vermont, both born in the mid-1750’s and settling in Vermont after the Revolution.  From there back, the Jennings line has been fairly well researched by others.

Joseph and Faith Jennings Gravestone, Mountain View Cemetery, Hubbardton, Vermont

But I still didn’t know Clark Abbott’s parentage, or Captain John Crouch’s, so these were the puzzles I hoped to solve during my stay in Vermont. Unfortunately, I didn’t make near as much progress as I would have liked.

I originally scheduled two weeks in the area, which was cut short by two days because of my “Adirondack Adventure” – instead of arriving on Sunday the 16th, I arrived on Tuesday the 18th of July.  And then my best friends from childhood came to visit, which was fabulous (more on that in the next blog post), but it also meant fewer days for research.

It took me a while to figure out where the records for Orwell can be found.  Land and vital records are at the Town level in Vermont, and probate records are in one of two probate districts in each County.  Orwell is in Addison County, which was created from Rutland County in 1785, and its Probate District is the Addison District of Addison County, which suffered from a fire in 1852 in which all the probate records burned.

Fortunately, the little town of Orwell wasn’t annexed to Addison County until 1847, and by then my ancestors had either died or left Vermont.   Since Orwell was still in Rutland County in my time period of interest, the probate records should be located at the Fair Haven Probate District.  After more digging, I discovered that the Fair Haven Probate District Court was closed a few years ago, and combined with the Rutland District Probate Court.  So I trotted off to the Rutland County Courthouse, where I was told that they only had records for the past ten years, and that anything prior had been transferred to the Vermont State Archives.

Dontcha love a good treasure hunt?!?

By the time I sorted all this out, I had one research day at the Vermont State Archives.  The best part about my day  was handling documents from the time of the Revolutionary War, seeing familiar historical names in correspondence, and touching the same piece of paper that my ancestor touched when he signed his name.  It literally gives me goosebumps.

Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1794
Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1811

I still haven’t solved any mysteries regarding Clark Abbott – I have no idea where he came from.  But I do have a candidate for the father of John Crouch, and I have a few new leads to follow.

It was absolutely thrilling to see the gorgeous countryside, visit the cemeteries, and imagine what it was like when my ancestors lived there 200+ years ago.  As my stay in Vermont came to an end, way too soon, I consoled myself with the reassurance that I can come back any time, and I most definitely will!

Second Cousins

For the month of June, I’m staying in the Pittsburgh area, where my mother grew up and where her family settled in the 19th century.   They were all coal miners from South Wales and Northumberland, England.

The list of people I’m researching is ridiculously long with many collateral branches, and I’m starting to feel a little obsessive compulsive about it.  I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of the facts I still need to confirm, and so far it has about 160 people on it.    At the Allegheny County Courthouse, I drove the clerks a little crazy because I requested documentation on 31 marriages!

I love the research, but the highlight of my stay so far has been meeting my cousin Melody for the first time.  She’s the daughter of my mother’s first cousin Grace, which makes us second cousins.

People often get confused when it comes to understanding the relationship between second cousins and beyond.  Here’s a visual which might help:

Relationship Chart, Melody and Chris

Since Melody and I are second cousins, that makes our daughters third cousins.  What about the once-removed part?  That just means it’s a different generation.  So Melody’s relationship to my daughter Caitlin is second cousin once-removed.  My relationship to my mother’s cousin Grace is first cousin once removed.

Melody and I spent several days going through pictures in her mother’s house.  I brought my Flip-Pal portable scanner and wore out the batteries over and over again!  Melody’s mother had pictures of my mother, my grand parents, and my great-grandparents which I had never seen before.  The most exciting one was an unidentified photograph which I believe is a picture of my great-great-grandparents, John Payne and Jane Weightman.

John Payne and Jane Weightman, maybe

Compare that to this one which I already had, and which was taken many years earlier:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871

It’s hard to tell if they’re the same people, but it’s certainly possible – I’d love to find another descendant with a photo so we can compare.  I have other photos of John Payne, and he’s always got that white beard so he looks like the same guy to me.

I loved seeing photos of my mother with her grandparents, who she loved so much:

Mary Payne Furlong, James William Furlong, and Mary Payne, about 1940

and I just love this one of my Mom:

Mary Payne Furlong, about 1947

Melody shared many, many other photos with me, none of which I would have otherwise had, and all of which I will cherish.  Researching your collateral relatives and finding second and third cousins is definitely worthwhile – you each might have different pieces of your family puzzle to share with each other!

NGS Annual Conference

It’s an incredible feeling to be in the same room with 2,000 other people who share your obsession with genealogy. The first time I attended the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference was in 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina, and I remember very clearly the initial thrill of being with so many like-minded people.

The following year, in 2012, I chose to use my vacation time to go to the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh instead.  In 2013, I was taking care of my sick brother.  In 2014, I attended the NGS Conference in Richmond, Virginia, which was also fabulous. In 2015, my mother had just died and I was putting the house up for sale. In 2016, my son was graduating from college the same weekend as the conference.  So I spent this week in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017, attending my third NGS Annual Conference, and I’ve been extremely happy to be here!

National Genealogical Society’s 2017  Conference Banner

The four day conference was jam-packed with classes from 8 in the morning till 5 at night, with visits to the Exhibit Hall in between.  There were lots of options for group luncheons and dinners, but I didn’t sign up for anything extra (frugal me).  I would have enjoyed them I’m sure, but they’re pricey and could easily double the cost of attendance.  I have my cool little pink lunchbox that I take with me on research trips, so that’s what I did here, too!

Raleigh Convention Center

J. Mark Lowe presented the Opening Session, which was extremely inspirational and moving.  Among other things, he spoke about his work with a high school history class.  These kids did genealogy projects which involved creating presentation boards, including QRC codes to access recordings of the students telling their favorite story in their own words and voices.  It really inspired me to consider working with young people in the future.

Lately I’ve preferred taking classes which involve technology because I feel that’s where I need to learn the most – DNA, using Google maps, scanning and organizing digital photo files, and that sort of thing.  I also like to attend presentations by nationally known speakers, including top genealogists Elizabeth Shown Mills, Thomas Jones, and Judy Russell.  And depending on the other choices in a particular time slot, I attend lectures on German research, since I have generally avoided those branches of my family tree!

I have to say that the conference overall was nothing short of incredible.  The choices of high quality lectures made it difficult to choose just one to attend.  It always amazes me how many extremely intelligent people are involved in genealogy – many of the speakers had PhD’s or were Certified Genealogists.

I think the sessions I enjoyed the most were the DNA lectures with Blaine Bettinger, Judy Russell, and Diahan Southard.  They all packed the room – I think DNA was the most popular topic at the conference!

I’ll miss next year’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because I’ll be over in England for the winter and early spring (more on that later).  In 2019, the conference will be held in St. Charles, Missouri, the same place it was held in 2015.  They say it was a great location, and that’s why they’re holding the conference again there so soon.  I’ll definitely plan to be there, especially because for years, I’ve wanted to go the St. Louis NARA location, where all the military records from World War I and II are kept – at least those which survived the 1973 fire.  It’s on my extended calendar!

It was NOT a great week from a camping perspective.  The closest campground to the downtown Convention Center was at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.  It was just not a very attractive place.

My site at the North Carolina State Fair Campground

There was virtually no shade, and I wasn’t able to get my awning to work to create some.  Fortunately,  I wasn’t “home” very much, the weather cooperated by not being too hot,  it was a terrific location for my daily commute to the conference, and the price was right at $210 for the week (versus the cost of a conference hotel at $120 and up per night), so it absolutely served its purpose!

Tomorrow I’ll drive about 200 miles to my cousin Betsy’s house near Richmond, Virginia, where I’ll stay a week in her beautiful home, and have some much-needed “sister time” – can’t wait!!

Research in Elbert County, Georgia

Eric’s ancestors, and thus my children’s, lived in Elbert County for over 100 years, from its formation in 1790 to the very beginning of the 20th century.  Representing fifteen different surnames, several were Revolutionary War soldiers, some were wealthy plantation owners, and many were well known and respected in their community.  So I knew that my research in Elbert County would be a bit overwhelming.  With so many prominent ancestors, there would be plenty of records.

I learned about Eric’s Elbert County clan through other people’s research.  I’ve done very little research on these lines myself, except for what I’ve found on  So my objective is to confirm these relationships by locating original documents and forming my own conclusions.  Some of this research can be done online, and some must be done onsite.  While I’m physically here in Georgia, I need to prioritize locating the records which aren’t yet online.

After some poking around on the internet, I determined that I should research in land records, so I went down to the Courthouse last week to see what I could find.

Elbert County Superior Court

Elberton, Georgia is a sleepy little town of 4,500 souls, and there wasn’t much going on at the courthouse.  The clerk led me into a vaulted room where all the old deed books are kept, and left me alone all day.

In addition to the usual manual indexes and the many huge deed books, there were three published books which contained abstracts of Deed Books A through W, including an index, which covered the time period from the inception of the county through about 1835.

Deed Abstract Book

These books were a lifesaver.  I didn’t think to check in advance to see whether they existed, but I will from now on for all future counties.  And I wish there were abstracts for deeds after 1835.  The books save a huge amount of time in three important ways:

  1.  The original deed index is very hard to read, so when I initially tried using it,  I wasted a lot of time guessing the book and page numbers for the deeds I needed to scan.
  2. I usually abstract all of my ancestors’ deeds, which is very time consuming.  The abstracts in the book make that unnecessary.
  3. The index includes every mention of the person’s name throughout the book, which means you also get all the deeds your ancestor witnessed, and all the deeds which name your ancestor as a neighbor.  This information helps to put your ancestor in a place and time, and it’s also a huge advantage when you’re trying to identify your ancestor’s relatives and FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) Club. It saves a tremendous amount of time compared to reading every deed yourself.
Example of manual index, which is faint and hard to read

So I used those books to locate all the deeds for ten of our surnames through the first two abstract books, and that’s pretty much as far as I got in that one day.  I took digital pictures of the original deeds and the corresponding abstracts from the books, and I’m in the process of cropping, sorting and filing them in my digital files.  I’m planning to return to Elberton as many times as I need to in order to finish the project.

One of the deeds which an ancestor witnessed is priceless and I had to share.  I’ve only seen the abstract so far:

Deed Abstract for deed witnessed by James Bell, found in the book pictured above

Some things don’t change in 200 years, eh?  She told on me?  It’s little gems like this that make our ancestors really come to life.  And why is this recorded with the deeds??  It certainly gave me a chuckle back there in the courthouse vault.  I’ll have to get a copy of the full deed to see what other details might be there!

It seemed like one of our fifteen surnames was mentioned on just about every page of those abstract books, and I felt like they would be incredibly valuable in my future Elbert County research, as I become more familiar with these families and all the collateral lines.  So I decided to buy them.  I would rather have digital copies, but they don’t exist. I ended up ordering them directly from the author, who lives in Texas.  He’ll be shipping them to my campground here in Georgia by the end of the month!


Norm and Sal

My grandfather’s longest relationship, and perhaps the love of his life, was with a man named Sal.  I knew that Norm, my grandfather, had lived with Sal for some period of time, but I didn’t know the full extent of the relationship until recently.   My first cousin has been in touch with Sal’s nephew Mark, who lives in Seattle, and she suggested I look him up while I was there visiting my kids for a week before going to China last month.

Sal died in 2005.  Mark is the one who took care of his estate, so he had photos and stories to share which I had never seen or heard before.  I was beyond thrilled to find out more about my grandfather’s life!

Some people might consider Norm’s relationship with Sal to be controversial, or maybe even a shameful “skeleton in the closet”, the type of thing better left alone, to fade into the mists of time until it’s forgotten.  On the contrary,  I embrace my colorful and unique relatives, and I want to know the truth about their lives, and who they really were.  It’s especially important to me to shine a light on this significant relationship in my grandfather’s life, which has pretty much lived all this time in the shadowy background.

Even though I was 29 years old when he died, I unfortunately didn’t know my grandfather very well.  Here’s a picture – how handsome was he?!?

My Grandfather Norm

Norm’s first marriage was to my grandmother, Viola, in New York City, where my mother was born in 1931.  Norm was a 21 year old hairdresser from Pittsburgh, and we’re not sure why he went to NYC, or how long he was there, but that’s where my grandparents met.  The little family moved back to Pennsylvania by May of 1932 when their second child, my aunt, was born. In the mid-1940’s, after fifteen years and four children, Norm and Viola were divorced, which of course had a huge impact on my mother and her siblings.  That’s a whole ‘nother story, but suffice it to say that Norm raised the children from then on.

In 1953, Norm married my mother’s high school English teacher, Ruth.   The children, mostly grown by then, embraced her as their new mother, and stuck by her when she and Norm divorced in 1963. I grew up on Long Island in New York, about 8 hours away, so we didn’t see the Pittsburgh clan often, and it was a long time before I realized that Ruth wasn’t my real grandmother.  She was the mother and grandmother of our hearts.

Ruth and Norm

And now I’ve learned that Norm and Ruth divorced because Norm had begun a relationship with Sal. At that time, Sal was about 26, and Norm was 54. I’d never seen a picture of Sal until Mark showed me this one:

Norm and Sal

Mark, who is the son of Sal’s sister, told me that Norm and Sal wanted a child, and they tried to adopt him in 1963, when he was a six year old orphan.  Unfortunately, a legal adoption wasn’t allowed.   Norm and Sal were members of the Christian Science Church, and there they were able to find a traditional couple willing to adopt Mark.  Mark visited Norm and Sal often throughout his childhood, so he knew my grandfather much better than I did!

Mark told me that Norm was into classic convertible cars, which I never knew.

Norm in his Impala

My mother had told me that he was into irises, so I was thrilled to see Mark’s picture of Norm’s garden, full of irises, which is also my favorite flower!

Norm’s Irises

Norm and Sal took an annual vacation to Florida in the winter.

Norm on the beach in Florida

They bought a lovely historic brick house on some property in Washington County, south of Pittsburgh. But, it wasn’t long before the nature of their relationship became known (they were seen holding hands), and they were kicked out of the Christian Science Church.  They had to move further out into the country because they were ostracized by that community.  They sold the brick house and bought a farm in the teeny town of Eighty-Four, where they lived a quiet life.

I’m sure I saw my Grandfather when I was younger, and in fact there’s a picture of me as a toddler at Norm and Ruth’s house in Pittsburgh, but my first strong memory of him was when I was 15 in 1970, at the farm in Eighty-Four.  The entire family had gathered – Norm’s four children and all of his grandchildren – because he had had a heart attack and everyone was sure he was going to die.  I must have met Sal then, but all I can remember is a vague awareness that he was there somewhere.  I can’t recall what I knew about his relationship to my grandfather.  I probably just didn’t care – I was much more interested in playing with my cousins, and the farm animals.

My grandfather came to my college graduation in Wisconsin in 1977, and to a family reunion in Los Angeles in 1981.  Then I saw him in 1982, when I stopped in Pittsburgh for a night on my way from New York to California.  And that was the last time; he died in 1984 at the age of 75.  I don’t remember why I didn’t go to the funeral/memorial service, or even if there was one, and if there was, whether or not I knew about it at the time.

Dad, Mom and Norm at my college graduation, 1977

So where was Sal all this time?  According to Mark, Sal took care of Norm until he died.  Mark says they had a 25 year relationship, about as long as both of Norm’s marriages combined, and if that’s true, then they were together well before Norm’s divorce from Ruth.  After Norm died, Sal never had another partner.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to be a gay couple in the 1960’s, and how much they must have loved each other to continue the relationship in the face of rejection from the community.  Norm’s children never really accepted Sal, either – it’s not that I heard anything negative about him, but I didn’t hear anything much about him at all.  It was as though everyone was pretending that he didn’t exist.   That was how it was back then.  I imagine that it would be different today.

As we genealogists often say, I wish I had paid more attention when I was younger, because I would have liked to have known Sal, and I have so many unanswered questions.  Now I’ve added him to our family tree, and when I’m in Pittsburgh next, I’ll find whatever documentation might be available in the public records to flesh out their life together.

You know how we genealogists tend to jump back in time as quickly as possible, without thoroughly researching the more recent generations?  That’s pretty much what I did.  It’s time to focus on my grandfather.

DNA Chapter Two: Testing Companies

We’ve all heard the advice that we need to test the DNA of as many relatives as we can afford to test, and upload our results to as many websites as possible so we can identify as many matches as possible.  In addition, the most important piece of advice for new genealogists is to test your oldest relatives as soon as possible, before it’s too late.

Fortunately, in the older generation, I’ve tested my mother and her brother, my uncle. There are none left in that generation on my mother’s side, and my father was an only child. Unfortunately, I no longer have any siblings to test, but on the bright side, I have six first cousins, two children, one niece and one nephew. Two of my first cousins, and my niece and nephew, have already tested on their own. I gave my children DNA test kits for Christmas.  So the only close relatives I need to test are my four remaining first cousins.  Then I move on to second cousins.

It seems that the primary three websites for autosomal DNA testing are Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and Gedmatch.  23andme doesn’t seem to be the website of choice for genealogists, but certainly we can find matches there as well.  MyHeritage has recently jumped into the DNA market, which means that database will be very small for awhile.  FamilyTreeDNA seems to be the one used the most by professionals because of its extremely helpful tools (that’s the one Dr. Thomas Jones uses for his DNA analytics, and he’s my hero!). I use the word “seems” because I’m not really qualified to make a declarative statement about these things – I’m just repeating what I think is true based on my limited knowledge and experience.

I’ve read that you should test at Ancestry first.  That’s because Ancestry doesn’t allow you to upload test results from another company, so unless you test with them directly, it isn’t possible to get your DNA results into the Ancestry database.  They do, however, allow you to download your raw DNA data, which you can then upload to FamilyTreeDNA and Gedmatch.

The list price for an Ancestry DNA test is $99, but it frequently goes on sale. Until the RootsTech conference earlier this month, the lowest sale price I’d ever seen was $69, and that’s the price I paid for the three tests I purchased for my two children and my ex-husband for Christmas.  But at the conference, Ancestry was selling the tests for $49 each – that’s 50% off!   I bought the maximum number allowed – five tests (watch out family, if I’m visiting you in my RV this year, you can be sure I’m going to ask you to spit into a test tube!).


Ancestry DNA test kits bought on sale!
Ancestry DNA test kits bought on sale!

Once you’ve tested at Ancestry, you can download the raw data and upload it to Gedmatch for free – so that’s a no-brainer.

As for FamilyTreeDNA, up until very recently, they couldn’t accept Ancestry DNA data if you tested after May of 2016, which was the case with my children and my ex.  If your Ancestry DNA was older than that, you could transfer it for $39.  They also have sales sometimes – in fact, in my recent transfer frenzy, I was all ready to upload my mother’s DNA from 23andme to FamilyTreeDNA, and mine from Ancestry, and pay the $39 for each test, when I realized I had already transferred it.

My mother tested several years ago at 23andme on a recommendation from her doctor, and I jumped right on it at the time (thank goodness I did). Then, two weeks before my mother died, evidently (I say that because I remember none of this) FamilyTreeDNA had a big sale on transfers – it was free.  So I transferred hers from 23andme and mine from Ancestry.  It’s amazing how grief will just wipe your brain clean.

Last week, when I was looking at the matches for my mother and I on FamilyTreeDNA for the first time, I discovered that there was a catch to this free transfer, which is that not all features of the standard “FamilyFinder” autosomal test are available to me.  To “unlock” those features will cost $19, which I’m not going to do, at least for now.  All I really need are the matches (which shows how closely you match by displaying the number of centimorgans you have in common), and the ability to communicate with the matches.

Then, just a few days ago, FamilyTreeDNA announced that they can now accept the more recent Ancestry DNA data, and the transfer is free, with the same limitations I found with my Mom’s DNA.  For the extra $19, you get access to the Chromosome Browser, myOrigins and AncientOrigins.  I think that the latter two are some type of ethnicity percentages and haplogroup information – but you might already have that from other websites.

As for the Chromosome Browser tool, that will create a chromosome map which shows which chromosome segments you share with your matches. It’s cool looking, but one thing I learned at the RootsTech conference is that it doesn’t matter which segments you share with your matches.  The chromosome maps are great and fun visuals, but knowing which segments you have in common doesn’t help in your research.  At least, that’s my understanding right now.

Plus, if you really want to see a chromosome map, you can create one for free using the chromosome mapping tool developed by genealogist Kitty Cooper.  I’ll do a separate post on that once I practice with it for awhile!

Chromosome Map from Kitty Cooper's Blog
Chromosome Map from Kitty Cooper’s Blog

To summarize, we should test on Ancestry first, download the raw data, and upload it to Gedmatch and FamilyTreeDNA for free.

So, I’ve now transferred all of the Ancestry and 23andme tests I administer over to Gedmatch and FamilyTreeDNA. In addition to those, I have my uncle’s Y-DNA at FamilyTreeDNA.  I was able to use the same saliva sample to upgrade to the FamilyFinder autosomal test, and upgrade to the 111 Y-DNA test at the same time, for a total of $169.  I could have chosen to test my uncle at Ancestry, but I really didn’t want to ask him to spit again, and I think if his autosomal DNA is at FamilyTreeDNA and Gedmatch, that will be enough.  And, in his case, I’ll have access to the full analytical tools on the FamilyTreeDNA website.  Once I understand those tools better, I can decide whether I want to upgrade the others for $19 each.

I’ve found that it’s really easy to get confused about whose DNA is where.  So I’ve created a table where I can track all the samples I administer, and the sites where they’ve been uploaded, along with kit numbers and passwords.  My ex-mother-in-law and sister-in-law are also testing, and then there’ll be the five tests I bought at RootsTech – so the administration tasks will become even more complex down the road.  It’s a good time to get a tracking system in place.

Lots more to come on this topic as I learn more!


DNA: My New Genealogy Obsession

I know I’m a little late to the party.  I’ve never been much of an early adopter for anything, whether it’s technology or fashion.  But if I’d jumped on the DNA bandwagon earlier, maybe by now I would’ve knocked down some brick walls by combining DNA results with my paper research.  On the positive side, in the time I’ve been procrastinating, DNA tests have become less expensive, and many more people have tested, so theoretically I can jump right in and find tons of cousins.

I had already tested myself on Ancestry and 23andme, my mother on 23andme, and my uncle’s Y-DNA on FamilyTreeDNA.  Then I gave my children and my ex-husband DNA kits for Christmas, and the results have all come in.  So, as I was deciding on classes to take at the RootsTech conference last week, I decided to focus on learning about DNA.  I already knew about the different types of tests, the 23 pairs of chromosomes, and how the X and Y chromosomes are inherited.  But I really had no idea what to do with all my matches on Ancestry and other sites. And then there’s all the jargon, like triangulation, recombination, and chromosome mapping.

At the conference, some of the classes were WAY over my head, and some were surprisingly too basic.   But I was able to absorb a few helpful tips, which is at least a start.  I know there are lots of online resources as well, so now I’m motivated to find those and take my beginner’s knowledge to the next level.  Here’s some of what I learned:

In your DNA matches on Ancestry, you can look at the number of centimorgans you have in common, as well as the number of segments.  All I know about centimorgans is that it’s a unit of measurement related to DNA.  The more centimorgans and the more segments in common, the more closely you’re related.  To find the centimorgans for a specific match, go to your matches list, click on “View Match”, and then click on the little “i” icon.  There you’ll find the number of centimorgans and segments for that match.

So what does it mean?  There’s a table by Blaine Bettinger at the International Society of Genetic Genealogists website here, about two-thirds down the page.  It shows the various relationships associated with ranges of centimorgans.  For example, the table shows that the range for the parent-child relationship is 3,266 to 3,720, with an average of 3,471.  My daughter shares 3,448 centimorgans with me, right in the middle of the range.  So you can compare the centimorgans in common with a match, and then refer to the table to see what the relationship might be.

You can make notes on all your matches, which can be a quick way to identify them from the summary page.  To make a note, click on “View Match”, and then “Add Note”.  Someone at the conference suggested that I put the number of centimorgans and segments there for easy reference, but you can use this feature for whatever you think will be helpful to you.  On the Summary page, you’ll now see a little note icon which you can click on to see the information.

Some of your matches will indicate “No family tree.”  Sometimes they really have no tree, but sometimes they just haven’t linked a tree to their DNA results.  To check this, click on “View Match” and if you see a drop down menu from which you can select a tree, then you can view a tree to see how you might match.  If there’s no drop down menu of tree names, then there’s no tree.

Even if there’s no tree to view, or if the tree is private, you can use a neat little tool called the Shared Matches feature.  Just click on “View Match” on the Match Summary page, and then click on the tab “Shared Matches”.  You’ll see a list of matches you share with the person, which could provide a clue regarding how you’re related.

Another helpful feature is the “Hints” tab at the top of the Match Summary page, which is a type of filter.  If you click on that tab, only those matches with shared ancestors will appear.  When you view these matches, Ancestry will show you the Most Recent Common Ancestor (“MRCA”) which you share with that match, according to your trees.  I went through all of  the “Hints” matches in my DNA results, and added the MRCA names to the match’s note, so I can see from the Summary page exactly how we’re related.  This is extremely helpful, too, when you use the “Shared Matches” feature for those with private or no trees.  If the matches with private or no trees share DNA with the matches which have the MRCA identified, then you know generally how you’re related.

As I went through this process, I found a couple of meaningful matches.  In my tree, I include some “Speculative Direct Ancestors”.  These aren’t yet properly documented as the parents of the previous generation, but I have them in my tree so I can test the hypothesis.  I use a big question mark as the Primary Photo so it’s clear that I’m not sure about the relationship.

So when I found matches with a Speculative Direct Ancestor as the MRCA, I thought that was pretty exciting.   There’s one in particular where the MRCA, Freelove Lamb, was married twice, and my DNA match descends from Freelove and her first husband.  The descendants of that marriage are well documented, but my paper trail to Freelove is weak.  So the fact that we match is pretty significant, and is an indication that I’m on the right track.

This match made me think of other brick walls I might be able to solve with DNA.  In order for Ancestry to find a MRCA, you need to have your Speculative Direct Ancestor in your tree.  So I added another speculative ancestor, Ishmael Furlong, to enable the Ancestry algorithm to identify him as an MRCA with a match who has Ishmael in his or her tree.  If I match with one of Ishmael’s descendants, then I may be able to conclude that my James Furlong was Ishmael’s son.

You can also search your matches by surname or by geographic location, which is going to come in really handy for me with my ex-husband’s matches – he has over 1,500 of them!

I learned a little about chromosome mapping and triangulation, but not enough to repeat it here.  I have a lot more to learn about all of it, but I especially want to understand better what constitutes proof when it comes to DNA, and how to organize matches and manipulate the data.   More to come as I explore this vast new arena!


Researching at the Family History Library

In addition to the ongoing delightful process of discovering Sarasota, my next travel adventure will be a week-long visit to Salt Lake City, Utah, where I’ll be attending an annual genealogy conference called RootsTech, and researching at the Family History Library (FHL) there.  I did the same thing in February 2016, except that I went by myself.  This year, I’ll be meeting up with a genea-friend I met there last year – which means it will be even better!

There’s no real preparation needed to attend the conference – I’ve already downloaded the app and the syllabi – but the planning involved in researching at the FHL is significant.  I’ve been there three or four times, which doesn’t make me an expert by any means, but it’s enough to have learned a few things which I’m happy to share with you.

As with most of us, I try my darndest to be efficient with my limited time, and frugal with my limited money.  A trip to Salt Lake City for a week can be expensive, so every minute there is precious, and I want to make the most of it.  This takes lots of planning.

The way I rationalize the travel expense is by comparing it with the cost of ordering microfilm at the local Family History Center at $7.50 a pop.  I can stay home and order 100 films at a cost of $750, which could easily take a year or more because of the wait time for each microfilm, or I can go directly to Salt Lake City and get it done in a few days.  And who doesn’t want to get their genealogy questions answered NOW? Plus, traveling is much more fun!!

Before Booking

Before you actually make flight and hotel reservations, it’s a good idea to see what’s going on in Salt Lake City.  You probably want to pick a time when there’s not a big conference going on, so the library isn’t as crowded.  Also, check the FHL’s holiday schedule and hours.  It’s generally open from 8 am to 9 pm Tuesday through Friday, with shorter days on Mondays and Saturdays.  It’s closed on Sunday.

If you only have a few days, you might want to plan your research trip for the days the library is open the longest.  When I had a full time job, I scheduled my travel day on Sunday when the library is closed.  Other people like to plan a week at the FHL with Sunday in the middle, taking a break from the crazy, sometimes overwhelming, research days.  You need to decide what works for you.


Once you’ve chosen your dates, it’s time to book your flight and hotel.  I try to use frequent flyer miles for the flight (I accumulate them by using a credit card which provides miles for dollars spent), unless I find a terrific bargain air fare, which I did this time:  $200 round trip, non-stop from Orlando to Salt Lake on JetBlue!  The catch is that I have to drive two hours to Orlando and pay for parking for a week, but it’s still worth it.

I researched all the lodging options before I went the first time, and since then, I’ve done the exact same thing every time, because it worked so well.  I stay at the Carlton Hotel, a few blocks away from the library.  It’s a small, older hotel, but for about $70 per night it provides everything I need:  a free shuttle to and from the airport, a free shuttle to and from the Family History Library, great wifi, a fridge and microwave in the room, and a full cooked-to-order breakfast. And the staff there is wonderful.  You just can’t beat that!

It’s about a 15 minute walk to the library if you’d rather get the exercise and fresh air, and a short walk to an excellent grocery store.  One of the terrific side benefits of the Carlton is that other solo genealogists stay there, and you end up sharing a breakfast table and making new friends.  It’s perfect!  And, it’s an even better deal if you can share a room with a friend, which I’m going to do this time.

Some folks might prefer a more modern hotel which may be more expensive, but closer to the library.  There are several of those, but I have no experience with them, so can’t comment.  It’s been more important to me to keep costs down.


To me, the whole food thing is a big pain in the neck in Salt Lake City – eating takes time away from researching.  Frankly, I haven’t quite figured out how to handle it.  Breakfast is covered at the hotel, and I make sure to get plenty of protein so it keeps me going through the morning.  But when it comes to taking meal breaks during the day at the library, I just don’t wanna. I know I have to eat, but I’m enjoying my research so much that I don’t want to leave!

The FHL has a lunch room with a slew of vending machines – that’s where I’ve had my lunch, and sometimes my dinner, in the past:  a pre-made sandwich, a soda, and maybe a couple of cookies.  It’s not a good solution, but it’s the quickest one.

If you’d prefer to take a break and leave the building for lunch, there are plenty of options within walking distance in the neighborhood.  Some people recommend asking at the front desk for a pass to eat in the cafeteria in the Church Office Building.  I’ve never tried it, so can’t comment.

This year, I’m going to try bringing my meals to the FHL, which will save money and help me stay on a healthy food plan.  If I’m very organized, I can shop at the grocery store behind the hotel, and prepare to-go meals in the room.  My friend Marina does a great job of planning ahead.  Last year, she brought everything she needed to support her food prep requirements, including plastic food containers.  I’m going to follow her example!

Research Planning

This is the fun stuff, and the hardest part as well.

First, you need to choose what you’re going to research. Sounds easy, but before you choose, consider the following:

  • Location:  You don’t want to spend time researching something at the FHL that you could also research locally.  That would be a waste of travel time and money.  For example, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I would NOT research at the FHL in any Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, or Maryland records.  These are all locations which I could access from home over a long weekend.  It made a lot more sense to research in Ohio, Oregon, California, or Wisconsin records.  These are locations I’m not likely to physically get to anytime soon.
  •  Where do you need assistance?  Think about areas where you might need help.  The plentiful staff at the library is generally extremely helpful, patient and kind.  Take advantage of their expertise by choosing areas where you might need help.  For example, consider researching in international records while you’re there.  Not only is it more difficult for us to get overseas to research in these records, but at the FHL, you’ll have help.  When I did some research in the German records there, the staff guided me every step of the way, and even translated some of the records for me – they are fabulous!
  • Should you focus, or grab and go?  Some people recommend focusing on only one family line, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  I follow more of the grab and go method:  I come prepared with a list so I’m organized, but I’m all over the place.  I don’t do much analysis there at the library – I just grab records for later analysis.  I feel like this is the most efficient way to use my time there.  For example, perhaps there’s a record I’m missing for a particular person but I’ve just not been able to access it easily anywhere else.  Maybe I know the record exists because I’ve seen an index, but the record itself isn’t online.  This might be true for ten people across family lines, so I keep a Family History Library list as I research at home.  My goal in Salt Lake City is to obtain these missing records.
  • What’s online?   Don’t make the mistake of flying all the way to Salt Lake City and doing research you could have done online at home!  When you’re deciding which family to research, take into account whether or not the records you need have been digitized and uploaded to the internet.  I’ve made this mistake enough times that I now check the internet the week before I go to Salt Lake.  As you know, new records go online all the time, so it’s worth a quick look to avoid wasting your precious time at the FHL.

Next, prepare a research plan.  Once you’ve decided which families you’ll research, prepare a research plan. The first step is to review everything you already know about the family.  Make a list of what you still need to learn, and what types of records would help to find the answers.  This process will refresh your memory and give you an opportunity to find out as much as you can online before you go.

Then, familiarize yourself with the floor plan of the FHL. You’ll need to know this when you’re organizing your microfilm list in the step below.  The five floors are organized as follows, from the bottom up:

  • Basement 2: British Isles
  • Basement 1: International
  • Main Floor: Family History and Canada Books
  • Second Floor: U.S. and Canada Microfilms
  • Third Floor: U.S. Books and Maps

Fourth, check the FHL catalog online to find the records you need to access. Make lists of the film numbers you need, along with what you’re looking for on that film.  I organize the film numbers numerically, and by floor – this will make it quicker to locate them when you’re there.  You might also choose to list the microfilm in priority order, to make sure you have time to view the ones most important to you.

Note whether any of the films you need to see are in the “Vault” (the catalog will indicate that if applicable); if they are, you’ll need to order them in advance, which can be done online.

You might want to prioritize films which are in a series, or films which require looking at an index in one film, and the record in another.  This type of research is more time consuming and expensive to do at a local Family History Center.  For example, with deed research, you need to look at the index first.  At the local center, you would pay $7.50, wait two to three weeks for the film with the index, then order the microfilm with the deed book for another $7.50, and wait two to three weeks again.  At the FHL, you can look at both right away.

A lower priority would be films which you need to search line by line, page by page.  Since this is so time consuming, it might be better to do that at the local Family History Center when you get home.

If in the catalog you find books that look useful to you, plan to look at them first.  Books can’t be circulated, so the FHL is the only place where you can view them (of course, they could be at other libraries as well).

Remember, you want to “hit the ground running” when you arrive at the FHL. The more you can do in advance, the more you’ll be able to focus on getting the records you need when you get there.

What to Bring

  1. A flash drive. The FHL has high-tech digital microfilm viewers which allow you to save the images directly to a flash drive.  These machines also allow you to adjust the focus and the brightness/contrast, and you can zoom in to the sweet spot.  If you bring your own flash drive, there is no cost to save documents this way.
  1. One or more notebooks. I’ve found that if I have one notebook, or one section in a notebook, for each surname, it keeps me more organized.  When I get home, I file my notes in the appropriate surname folder both in my physical and digital files.  My notes document which microfilm I looked at and what I copied to my flash drive.  This helps me to create the citation later as well.
  1. Your laptop or tablet. Everyone has their own way of keeping their information.  Some folks don’t even use paper any more.  I still use both, so I bring both a paper notebook, and my laptop.  Make sure you have access to your complete family tree and genealogy files, whether it’s on your computer, on paper, or on the internet, and don’t forget your passwords! Scan everything you have on the family so you have the information without having to carry a large pile of paper with you. If you’re like me, you’ll probably go back to your hotel room after a day of research, and do some online research with the new information found.

My laptop has all of my genealogy information on it, so as long as I have that with me, I don’t have to remember what information to print out for my research.  Another reason I bring my laptop is that the FHL has free wifi, so I can access the internet from my own computer right there at the microfilm station, rather than getting up to use the FHL computers every time I need to look something up.

  1. A research bag. You’re going to need a bag to carry to the library with you.  Stock it up with your laptop, notebooks, flash drives, snacks, pens and pencils, pencil sharpener, Tylenol, a magnifying glass, ruler, tissues, and so on.
  1. Digital camera. Instead of using the copy machine to copy pages in a book, take a digital picture.  If you take a picture of the cover of the book and the title page in the front, and then the internal contents you want, you’ll know what book your photos came from, and then  you can craft your citation.  If you do need to make copies, the library sells copy cards you can use – you don’t need to bring change.

At the Library

The library provides a ten minute orientation which you might want to watch first.  Also, check the class schedule to see what’s offered during the time you’re there.  The staff is very helpful, so don’t hesitate to ask if there’s anything at all you need.

I arrive at the library at opening time, go directly to the floor I want, and get started!  This time I’m going to the third floor to look at the U.S. books, where I’m sure I’ll spend at least a day.   I can’t wait!!

Research in Walton County, Georgia

I feel like I could spend a year in Walton County, and neighboring counties, and still not be done with the research I need to do here.  Thank goodness it’s a beautiful area, and I’ve found a terrific campground, because I will definitely be back!

Walton County Historical Marker
Walton County Historical Marker

Eric’s Walton County ancestors go all the way back to the formation of the County in 1818, on multiple lines.  It’s so overwhelming, it’s hard to know how to approach it.  Because Eric is very interested in the history of the land where the family cemetery is, I decided to start with deed research.

Walton County has an absolutely gorgeous courthouse in downtown Monroe, built in 1883. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some!), a new courthouse was built in 2005 which houses the land records, so I couldn’t research in the historic building.   Darn!

Walton County Courthouse
Walton County Courthouse

The first afternoon at the new courthouse, I focused on finding documentation on exactly how the Roberts family lost the property during the Great Depression.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the family story was that the land was lost due to non-payment of taxes, and the family of the current owner purchased it for pennies on the courthouse steps.

First, I searched the Grantor Index (the Grantor is the seller) to see if I could find a transaction in the 1930’s from Willoughby Roberts to someone named Thompson, the current owner’s name, but there was no such transaction.  I then checked for the City of Monroe or the County of Walton as Grantors, figuring one of those government entities might have seized the property if the taxes had not been paid, but there was no transaction to Thompson.  I did see that Willoughby Roberts had taken out a mortgage in 1923, so I looked for sales to Thompson with the bank as Grantor, with no luck.  Finally, I checked all transactions with Willoughby as Grantor, disregarding the Grantee’s name, starting with 1940 and going backwards, and nailed it.

Walton County Deed, 1938
Walton County Deed, 1938

As it turned out, the property was sold by the bank, acting as Attorney-in-Fact for Willoughby Roberts, six months AFTER Willoughby died in 1938.  Essentially, the property was foreclosed upon and auctioned off because of past due loan payments of about $511 on a $3,000 loan, representing three years of non-payment.  The Grantees paid about $4,000, and were two gentlemen whose names we didn’t recognize.

As is so typical with genealogical finds, we’ve generated more questions than answers.  Although we’ve debunked the family story that the land was sold to the Thompsons on the courthouse steps for pennies on the dollar, we wonder why Willoughby’s children, one of whom was an accomplished attorney and Eric’s grandfather, didn’t figure out a way to stop the foreclosure action.  The property had been in the family since 1822, and contained the precious family cemetery.  What were they thinking?  And how did the Thompson family eventually acquire the property?

A few days later, we met with Mr. Thompson, the current owner of the property, and learned the answer to that last question.  It turns out that the two gentlemen who bought the property at the foreclosure sale in 1938 were relatives of Mr. Thompson, who bought the property from his uncle in the 1970’s.

Have you heard the 80/20 rule about family stories which say that 80% of the story is true 20% of the time, and 20% is true 80% of the time?  That certainly seems to roughly apply in this case. The property WAS sold by auction, but not on the courthouse steps.  The property WAS sold to the Thompson family, but not to a family member with the surname Thompson.  The property WAS sold due to non-payment, but it was non-payment of a loan, and not non-payment of taxes.

I did a LOT more research in Walton County, including obtaining copies of about 75 Roberts family deeds.  These aren’t all of the Roberts deeds, and I didn’t even begin to touch the other Walton County surnames in Eric’s family.  As I’ve said before, deed research is quite labor intensive, because the digital images that I have need to be processed – I have to match the images with the book and page number in my notes so I can properly cite the deed, and then I have to abstract and analyze all of the deeds before I can move on in my research.

I’ve already made my reservation at the same Georgia campground for a month next April.  By then, I will have processed what I have, and I’ll be ready for the next round!