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!

Roberts Family Cemetery

Before actually confirming anything with land records at the courthouse, the family story is that the Culbreath family obtained 220 acres in Walton County, Georgia around 1820.  When Absolem Roberts (1809-1893) married Mary Culbreath in the 1830’s, the land was transferred to Absolem, and then later to Absolem’s son Willoughby (1859-1938), who is Eric’s great grandfather.  Willoughby lost the land due to non-payment of taxes during the Great Depression, so the land was in the family for about a century.  That is the family story.

We do know that Absolem and Willoughby were farmers, and the 1860 Slave Schedule showed that Absolem owned twenty slaves.  The 1860 Agricultural Schedule indicates that the farm was prolific, producing 1,000 bushels of Indian corn in addition to wheat, oats and cotton, and 850 pounds of butter.

On the farm was a family cemetery, which currently holds nineteen graves in two areas with traditional tombstones, and at least another fifty which are marked by small, upright stones, many of the them pink-toned.  They definitely appear to be placed intentionally and not naturally occurring.  We don’t know for sure, but we suspect that the small stones indicate the graves of slaves.

One of many small, upright stones at Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia
One of many small, upright stones at Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia

A chain link fence was constructed around the cemetery; some of the smaller stones are within the fence, but most are outside of it.  According to the tombstones, the earliest burial was 1877; the latest was 1935.  If the smaller stones are slave graves, they must be earlier burials.

Absolem Roberts and Mary Culbreath, Eric’s second great-grandparents, are buried in this cemetery, along with several of their children, grandchildren, and other collateral relatives.  Several of the surnames are unfamiliar to me, and it’s my mission to identify the relationships of all the people buried here.  In addition to that, I need to photograph all of the headstones and add them to FindaGrave so others can benefit from the information on the stones.

The property is currently owned by a delightful elderly gentleman whose family purchased it in the 1930’s from the Roberts family.  Eric has been in touch with him in the past to obtain access to the cemetery.  Eric visited in 1999 with our two children and did some clean-up, and then on his own for a quick visit in 2010 and 2015.  This time, it was a bit more difficult to contact the owner in advance, and when we arrived, we found a locked gate across the property.   Even though we couldn’t initially drive in, we walked in to the cemetery, and this is what we found:

Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, before 2016 cleanup
Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, before 2016 cleanup
Small Section of Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, before 2016 cleanup
Small Section of Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, before 2016 cleanup

Painful to look at, but it had not been tended to in seventeen years!  We found a local Home Depot, bought a rake and loppers, rented a chain saw, and got to work.

Eric Roberts chainsawing at Roberts Family Cemetery, November 2016
Eric Roberts chainsawing at Roberts Family Cemetery, November 2016

We worked a couple of hours the first day, and then five hours the second day; this was the result:

Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, after 2016 cleanup
Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, after 2016 cleanup
Small Section of Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, after 2016 cleanup
Small Section of Roberts Family Cemetery, Walton County, Georgia, after 2016 cleanup

It felt really good to get it presentable again!  In the process, we uncovered pieces of broken headstones which had been buried beneath layers of leaves and dirt. Although we couldn’t repair them, we cleaned them off so they’re now legible.

Once we had the fenced-in areas cleaned up, we thought about all the souls buried under those smaller stones around the area.  If the descendants of those slaves knew they were buried there, they would be doing the same thing we were doing:  taking care of the graves of their ancestors.  I’ll be writing a separate post about the slave graves soon.

We did finally make contact with the property owner, and brought folding chairs to the cemetery where we sat with him for two hours and talked about the history of the property and the town.

Before we leave the area, we’re going to make the cemetery more official looking by putting a sign on the gate saying “Roberts Family Cemetery”, and providing our contact information.  And we’ll plan to come back here more often to take better care of it!

Cortland County Cemetery

One of my Patriot ancestors is Stephen Price (on my father’s side), who served for seven years in the Revolutionary War as a Sergeant in the Continental Line of the State of New Jersey.  He enlisted in May of 1777 when he was 19 years old.  He participated in the battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Germantown, Newtown and Yorktown.

When Stephen’s widow, Elizabeth, applied for a military pension based on her husband’s service, she included pages which had been ripped out of the family Bible in order to prove the date of her marriage, and the births of their thirteen children.

Page from Price Family Bible in Stephen Price Revolutionary War pension file
Page from Price Family Bible in Stephen Price Revolutionary War pension file

Affidavits of two of Stephen and Elizabeth’s sons indicate that the Bible record was written in their father’s own hand.  The Price Bible – priceless!!

After the war, Stephen and Elizabeth Price relocated from New Jersey to Homer, Cortland County, New York, and I recently spent a week in a campground near there so I could research the family.

On a sunny fall day, I visited Atwater Cemetery, where Stephen Price is buried.

Gravestone of Stephen Price, Atwater Cemetery, Homer, Cortland County, New York
Gravestone of Stephen Price, Atwater Cemetery, Homer, Cortland County, New York

Although I had seen a photo of his gravestone online, it’s an entirely different experience seeing it in person.  The cemetery was peaceful, with many old gravestones, and I tried to imagine the way it might have looked when Stephen was buried in 1831.  His wife Elizabeth was still living at the time of his death, and I imagine she surely visited his grave there.

There’s a large Price monument directly next to Stephen’s smaller gravestone which I didn’t know about.

Price Monument, Atwater Cemetery, Homer, Cortland County, New York
Price Monument, Atwater Cemetery, Homer, Cortland County, New York

At the foot of the monument there are two markers, one on each side, which are barely legible, but I could make out “Father” and “Mother”.  The monument itself has no words on it except for “PRICE”.

To the left of the monument are two tombstones, for Almira R. (d. 183?) and Sibyl M. (d. 1840), both of whom were 24 years old when they died, and both of which say the young woman buried there was the wife of Aaron L. Price (one of Stephen’s sons).  Another small tombstone near the two women is illegible; perhaps it’s a Price child.

I know very little about my 4th great uncle Aaron.  Most of Stephen and Elizabeth’s children left Homer to go to the western part of New York, including my ancestor, William.  But Aaron stayed; he was still living in Homer in 1850. The U.S. Census shows him living with Ann (probably his wife), and children ages 13, 8 and 1.

I had no idea that Aaron had been married twice before.  Now that I’ve seen the cemetery, I know that the 13 year old living with Aaron in 1850 is NOT the child of Ann, the presumed wife of Aaron in 1850.  Aaron could not have been married to Ann in 1837 when that child was born.  He was either married to Almira or Sibyl.  This is a really great example of the reason we can’t assume relationships based on census records.

As so often happens in genealogy, the more questions which get answered, the more questions arise.  Who are the Father and Mother buried under the Price monument?  Could they be Stephen and Elizabeth?  If so, why does Stephen have an additional stone?  Who is buried under the illegible stone?  What are the full names of Aaron’s two young wives?  What year did Almira die?  These are all research questions which need to be addressed in the future.  I’m definitely planning to come back to this place next year.

Cattaraugus County, New York

Cattaraugus County, New York, is where three lines on my father’s paternal side intersect in the early 1800’s:  the Dows, the Prices, and the Goodenoughs.  Below are the members of my family I’m researching there:

Families in Cattaraugus County, New York
Families in Cattaraugus County, New York

Revolutionary War Patriot Thomas Dow moved from Vermont to Cattaraugus with his wife Mary Barker late in life, to join several of their children already there.  Their daughter Elsie Barker Dow married William Henry Price in Cattaraugus County on Christmas Day in 1816.

William Price moved to Cattaraugus, along with several of his siblings, from Cortland County, New York.  They had all been born in Morris County, New Jersey, where their father had served in the Revolutionary War, and then the entire family migrated to upstate New York.  William Price was a prominent resident of Cattaraugus County, serving as Justice of the Peace, Coroner, and Associate Judge, as well as being elected the first Supervisor of the Town of Freedom.  He signed the minutes of the first town meeting.

William and Elsie’s daughter Malvina was born in 1820 in Cattaraugus County, and married Darwin Erasmus Goodenough in 1838.  Darwin’s parents David and Hannah, along with several of his siblings, had moved from Lewis County, New York to Cattaraugus County around 1835.  Darwin and Malvina left the area for Wisconsin in the late 1840’s.

On my first day in Cattaraugus, I easily located David and Hannah Goodenough’s graves in the Delevan Cemetery.  It felt really good to pay my respects.

Gravestone of David Goodenough, Delevan Cemetery, Delevan, New York
Gravestone of David Goodenough, Delevan Cemetery, Delevan, New York


Gravestone of Hannah Goodenough, Delevan Cemetery, Delevan, New York
Gravestone of Hannah Goodenough, Delevan Cemetery, Delevan, New York

It’s a shame that Hannah’s gravestone seems to have been cut off at the top so that her name is no longer present.

There were actually five Goodenough gravestones, all in a row:  David and Hannah, and three of their children.  Adoniram Judson Goodenough and Hannah Keene Goodenough were both single, and the third stone was for a married daughter, Dinah Goodenough Sage, and her infant child, who both died in childbirth.  Dinah was only 29 and left behind two very young sons.

The next day, I found Thomas and Mary Dow’s graves in the Arcade Rural Cemetery in neighboring Wyoming County.  William Price is buried there as well, but I wasn’t able to locate a gravestone.  Elsie was 52 years old when William died in 1844; she remarried and is buried in East Aurora, New York with her second husband.  I’ll have to visit her grave on another trip.

Gravestone of Thomas and Mary Dow, Arcade Rural Cemetery, Arcade, New York
Gravestone of Thomas and Mary Dow, Arcade Rural Cemetery, Arcade, New York

As you can see, Thomas and Mary Dow’s stones are illegible, and you would have no idea that a Revolutionary War soldier is buried here.  I’m going to remedy that.  Thomas Dow’s stone should be clearly marked as a Patriot and I will make sure it happens.

I also visited the Cattaraugus County Historical Museum, which had wonderful resources for genealogists, and very helpful people.  I asked if they knew where the records might be for the Town of Freedom.  They didn’t know, but referred me to the historian for the Town of Freedom, who I called the next morning.

My visit with this delightful woman, Lorna Spencer, was one of the two highlights of my trip.  Lorna is in her late 80’s, and a plethora of knowledge about the history of the area.  Among many other things, she helped me to pronounce some names which I was sure had been lost to history… can you say “Adoniram Judson”??  This was the name of a gr-gr-gr-uncle of mine, the single son of David Goodenough, one of the gravestones in the Delevan Cemetery.  I was pronouncing it ALL wrong.  The emphasis is on the long I sound in the middle syllable. I had no idea that it was the name of a Baptist minister of the time, who had gone to preach in Burma – apparently many families named their children after him.

Lorna was interested in more information on the Goodenoughs buried in the Delevan Cemetery.  I was really glad to provide it so that my family is not forgotten.  Now the folks taking care of the cemetery will have the information to pass on to others who might inquire, and Hannah will have a name!

The other highlight was my visit to the Cattaraugus County Courthouse.  I first went to the Office of the Surrogate Court, which has all of the original probates from the formation of the County, available for public inspection.  I was able to view the original probate file for my ancestor William Price – papers which my gr gr gr grandmother Elsie Price had touched and signed in 1844.  I literally had goose bumps while touching it.

I also saw, touched, and photographed the original probates (1860’s) for the two single children of David and Hannah in the cemetery, Adoniram and Hannah.  We often hear that the probate files of the unmarried siblings of our ancestors are an amazing resource.  Well, I can vouch for that.  Both files were filled with information about all their nieces and nephews, their married names, and their residences at the time.  But the piece de resistance and the highlight of those files: one contained a promissory note signed by my direct ancestor, their father, David Goodenough.  Any time you can see your ancestor’s actual signature is a real treat!!

But that was not the highlight of the day. After looking at the probates in the Surrogate Court, I was in the County Clerk’s office looking at Miscellaneous Records and Mortgages.  Across the room at the back was a clerk working at one  of the surfaces – I don’t even know what to call it – it’s where the big books are stored underneath, and you pull them up and put them on the surface to read them.

Well, it got to the end of the day, and the clerk was gone.  I was over in that area, looking for early mortgage books.  I got down on my knees in the area where the clerk had been, so I could read the titles of the books underneath there more easily, and I saw several very old books. Naturally, I took a look.

Here is the first page of one of the books:

Book of County Officers, Cattaraugus County Courthouse, New York
Book of County Officers, Cattaraugus County Courthouse, New York

If you are a genealogy researcher, you will understand how magnificent this is.  This is the original book of officers from when the county was formed in 1817, and my ancestor William Price is listed there – he’s at the bottom of the page.  He was sworn in as Assistant Justice, and Justice of the Peace, on 18 June 1817, almost 200 years ago.  AND, I believe that’s his original signature, which means he touched this piece of paper!

Looking further through the book, I found William Price over a half dozen more times, taking the oath of the County Coroner, Justice of the Peace, and Assistant Justice in subsequent years.

I really have no words to express how incredible this whole experience was!  All I can say is that I’m definitely coming back to Cattaraugus County to see Lorna, but also to continue my research on these families!

Land Has a Heart

I’m a really big believer in the use of land records in genealogy research.  Land records have helped me solve some of my toughest genealogical problems.  One time, I was able to get back several generations with the information in a single deed.  At the very least, land records help to locate our ancestors in a specific place and time.

My research into the land records of Washington County last week was especially personal and emotional.  For my entire life, I’ve heard the stories of the Fourth of July gatherings at my mother’s grandparents’ farm.  All of the aunts, uncles and cousins were there.  These were some of her most precious memories.  Below is a description in my mother’s own words:

Homework Assignment written by Mary Payne Furlong, age 17, 1 October 1948
Homework Assignment written by Mary Payne Furlong, age 17, 1 October 1948

In October of 1948, my mother was still heavily grieving, and you can hear it in her words.  She had lost both of her grandparents in the previous eleven months.

Below is a visual – my mother is on the far right, her sister Arden is to her left, and then her brother Jimmy.  The other two children are cousins.

Playing at Grandfather’s farm, Fourth of July, about 1940

So finding out when and how my mother’s grandparents acquired the farm where my mother spent so many happy summers in her childhood was really a very personal mission.  My great-great grandparents were James Furlong and Mary Ball.  Their son, James William Furlong, married Mary Payne; these were my mother’s grandparents and two of her most favorite people of all time.

Mary Payne and James William Furlong, 50th Wedding Anniversary, 18 November 1941
Mary Payne and James William Furlong, 50th Wedding Anniversary, 18 November 1941

As I‘ve mentioned before, many years ago I obtained some land records from Washington County using the “grab and go” method.  I had no citations for these records, nor did I know if they were all or only part of the collection of deeds for James Furlong and James William Furlong.  Reminiscent of Thomas MacEntee’s “Genealogy Do-Over”, I needed to go back and re-do everything the correct way.  Which I did, and I now have about twenty five deeds scanned on my computer.

What now?  Well, I have to abstract all the deeds, and organize them before I can start analyzing them.  I will read each deed several times, and then summarize the basic information into a deed abstract.  Then I’ll make a table listing the transactions in chronological order, to see if I can trace the path of the land parcels through time.  That will take many hours.

Deed Abstract, Walker to Furlong, 1883
Deed Abstract, Walker to Furlong, 1883

I’ve created a template that I use to abstract deeds, to make sure I don’t forget to note some critical piece of information.  I’m happy to send anyone a Word version of it if you’re interested – just send me a private message on the Contact page of the blog.

I’ve heard people say that for every hour spent doing on-site research, we should plan on five hours of documentation and analysis of the records retrieved.  I really think that’s true.  I spent a full day last week, about 5-6 hours, doing research in land records at the Washington County Register of Deeds Office.  But since I haven’t yet spent the 25-30 hours it will take to process and analyze it all, I don’t have any firm conclusions yet.  I do, however, have a few observations to report.

After a cursory review, the land records indicate that James Furlong, the coal mining immigrant from Wales who came to Washington County with his wife and two small children right around the end of the Civil War, was able to purchase four acres of land in 1874, and then another ten acres in 1883.  James died in 1896 and then his wife, Mary, in 1901, but the land wasn’t distributed to the heirs until 1906.  This was because James’ will stipulated that the executors “hold the property intact” until the youngest child turned 21, which happened in 1906.

Below is the top of one of the 1883 deeds and the subject of the above abstract:

Deed, Walker to Furlong, 1883
Deed, Walker to Furlong, 1883

And, I was able to see that the ten acres which James Furlong purchased in 1883 was the land which ended up with his son, James William Furlong, the same land that my mother loved.  There’s more work to be done to get the whole story, but I’m happy to know this much for now!

Delayed Birth Certificates

Delayed Birth Certificates are such a gift to genealogists.   They were created for many different reasons, but our ancestors especially needed them during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s when registering for Social Security, which required proof of birth. These documents can provide us with information which we might not be able to learn from any other source.

Back Row, Left to Right:  Thomas Furlong, George Lockhart Furlong, Edward Thomas Furlong, Frederick Waters Furlong.  Front Row, Left to Right:  John Frederick Furlong, Albert Harry Furlong, James William Furlong.
Back Row, Left to Right: Thomas Furlong, George Lockhart Furlong, Edward Thomas Furlong, Frederick Waters Furlong. Front Row, Left to Right: John Frederick Furlong, Albert Harry Furlong, James William Furlong.

I love this photograph of the seven sons of my great-great grandparents, James Furlong and Mary Ball.  The couple emigrated independently from Wales, settled in Maryland where they married and had their first two children, and then they migrated to Washington County, Pennsylvania between 1864 and 1866, most likely after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The seven sons were all born in Coal Bluff, Union Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, between 1866 and 1885.  They were all coal miners, beginning at a very young age.  We think the photograph was taken in about 1904.  My great-grandfather is James William Furlong, on the bottom right of the photo.  I like his attitude, with the little tilt of his head and the slight smile on his face!

It’s possible that all of these men might have needed to file a delayed birth certificate, since they were all born prior to the time when births were registered by the County (1893), and it’s very likely they all would have wanted to register for Social Security.  So I went to the Washington County Courthouse in Washington, Pennsylvania, to find out.

Washington County Courthouse, looking up through stairwell
Washington County Courthouse, looking up through stairwell

The Washington County courthouse is nothing short of magnificent.  It was built in 1900, and is still in operation today.  I absolutely love doing research there, especially because I can imagine my ancestors visiting the building and seeing the same structure as I do.

The vital records are in the Register of Wills office.  The counties in Pennsylvania kept records of birth and death from 1893 – 1906; after that, they were recorded at the State level.  Marriages were recorded beginning in 1885, and continue to the present.  In fact, when I was there this week, I saw several young couples come in to obtain a marriage license, much like young couples would have done 100 years ago.

The office has an index to the Delayed Births.  It’s the original handwritten index in the old style over-sized ledger book.  It’s organized loosely alphabetically, with each letter in its own section, but it’s not alphabetized within the letter section. I went directly to the F section, for Furlong.  I found three of the seven brothers listed in the index: John, Thomas, and Frederick.

One of the clerks then led me to a basement vault where the original certificates are housed.  It was literally a vault, with a big heavy thick door.  The clerk found the books I needed, directed me to a little desk in the vault, and told me I could take photographs of the documents.  She then left me alone to my work.


Look at the information on this document!  Not only does John name his parents, but he provides very specific locations of their birthplaces in the old country.  He also provides the ages of his parents when he was born, how many other children they had had at the time, and how many had died.  There’s also his original signature, and his current address.

I don’t know how the County handled registration of births that occurred elsewhere, either in another county, another state, or even another country.  But, as we all know, where there are rules, there are always exceptions, and it’s worth checking.  One of the seven brothers lived in Allegheny County, so I’ll look for his Delayed Birth Certificate there, just in case they allowed it.

Even though I already knew most of the information on the certificates I found, it’s important to have as much evidence from as many different sources as possible.  It’s great to have confirmation of what I’ve previously concluded.  And, if I had checked for these certificates earlier, the search for my ancestors’ origins in the old country might have been easier!

P.S.:  Just a note for anyone who might be reading this who’s interested in the Furlong family:  James and Mary Furlong had three daughters as well.  Sarah Furlong Crockett died at age 36 in 1899 of typhoid fever, but I did search the Delayed Birth Records Index for Mary Ann Furlong Walker and Martha Furlong Payne Castor, with no luck.


Gettysburg Battlefield at Sunset
Gettysburg Battlefield at Sunset

If you’ve never been to Gettysburg, I highly recommend it.

First of all, the countryside is stunning, as you can see from the photo.  As you look out over the battlefield, you see rolling hills, stone walls, green meadows, wooded areas, and mountains in the distance.

It’s difficult to juxtapose this peaceful and bucolic setting with the horrible fighting which took place here, resulting in 7,000 deaths, and many more wounded.  We attended an excellent ranger talk on the battlefield, which helped us to envision the soldiers, see the clouds of smoke, and hear the sounds of the cannon and musket fire, at times so loud that the officers’ commands could not be heard by the men.  We visited the cemetery where Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address was delivered, and where the Union soldiers are buried.  We watched various films in the very impressive National Park Service Visitor’s Center, and saw battlefield artifacts.   We purchased the auto tour CD from the Visitor’s Center, and drove to all the significant sites, which was an excellent way to get the full overview.

Eric has two great-great-grandfathers who fought at Gettysburg, one on his mother’s side and one on his father’s side, both from Elberton in Elbert County, Georgia.  They enlisted in the 15th Georgia Infantry on the same day in 1861.  Hosea Ballou Mattox was a Private, only 20 years old at the time of the Battle, and was shot in the neck and captured there.  Peter J. Shannon was a Major.  Certainly they would have known each other.

Hosea Ballou Mattox, 15th Georgia Infantry
Hosea Ballou Mattox, 15th Georgia Infantry

An online search yielded a fascinating account written by one of the officers of the 15th Georgia, Colonel DuBose, as well as a National Park Service blog entry, both of which described a battle near Devil’s Den on 3 July 1863, where the unit suffered great losses.  Our son isn’t much older than Hosea was at the time, and I can’t imagine what such a young man must have been going through, watching his comrades fall around him, and himself being shot and captured.

We located the place at Devil’s Den where they fought, and it was quite a feeling to stand there and know that Hosea and Peter saw the same rocks, the same hills, the same view, 153 years ago.

Benning's Brigade Sign at Devil's Den
Benning’s Brigade Sign at Devil’s Den

We stayed at Gettysburg for three nights at the Artillery Ridge Campground, which was very expensive ($60/night) but a comfortable and pleasant place.   So, we had two full days to explore Gettysburg, used every minute, and wished we had more time.