Sunday, August 31, 2014

Genes and Genealogy from Naked Genetics

In this edition of Naked Genetics from University of Cambridge listen to Professor Mark Jobling discuss how academic DNA sequencing intersects with genealogy research. While he understands that people want to know where their ancestors come from, the reality is that our ancestors didn't come from one specific location - they came from everywhere. The only ancestors we can trace with any confidence are those that passed down their Y chromosome and their mtDNA which represent only two individuals. This segment opens the program.

Then unless you are super keen on genetics, skip ahead to 18:07 to hear Dr. Turi King discuss her research on the Y-chromosome. She uses this chromosome in connection with surnames to trace Norse Viking migrations.

image credit: Zephyris

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Extra! Extra! Research all about it

Newspapers are a great source for information. I have not made wide use of them in my own research, but I know they are out there. They are becoming easier to use as an increasing number are being digitized and indexed. You will find that some papers like the historic Cleveland Plain Dealer archive are available via a subscription held by your local library and others like the New York Commercial Advertiser are available through a subscription service available anywhere.

Here is a sampling of sources for newspapers. I have not used many of them and can offer no endorsements. Many of the fee sites offer short trial periods, which might be worth taking advantage of. If you intend to use the site for a research project for work or school, it is probably worth getting a subscription especially if they offer terms of less than a year. Also check to see what is available vie a your local library or university.

Subscription Sites: **Read this article published in June 2104 before subscribing to NewspaperArchive. There have been complaints about billing, but not about content.**

Check to see what papers these sites have.  NewspaperArchive and GenealogyBank have maps on their homepage and a list of states; click on state to see city; then click on city to see newspapers and dates of publication included on the site. has a similar process, just click on “see papers by location” first.

These aggregate sites exist primarily to serve the family historian, but there is no reason why students and historians cannot use them. Don’t be put off by the phrase “enter ancestor’s name.” Simply enter in the name of the individual you are interested in, like “John Witherspoon.” Or leave the name section blank and enter a term in the keyword section, like “slavery” or “immigrants.” The search can even be limited to state, city, or even a particular newspaper.  

Free Sites
Google’s United States Online Historical Newspapers here or here. Visit this page from for tips for using newspapers on Google.

ChroniclingAmerica from the Library of Congress 

Lists of Digital Newspapers 
Historical Newspapers Online from the University of Pennsylvania  This is an enormous list . It is organized by state; the first column begins with Alabama, the second column begins with Missouri.

Wikipedia: List of online newspaper archives  This is a world wide list organized by country. You can skip to the USA (organized by state) by going here.

Your Local Library 
Check you local library to see what sources the offer. Here is what is available from the Cleveland Public Library. Most of their newspaper databases require a Cleveland Public Library card to access from home.

Articles on using  newspapers in genealogical research:
Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research
Family History in the News: How to Find & Use Newspapers for Genealogical Research

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Genealogy is as popular as what?


Earlier this summer Time Magazine republished an article by Gregory Rodridgez entitled "How Genealogy Became as Popular as Porn." This breezy piece recounts the history of genealogy from would-be DAR applicants, to Roots, to modern DNA testing, to his own family history.

What I like about this piece is that it engages with some of the unsavory origins of genealogy in America - using it to confirm one's "whiteness." I haven't seen this addressed in any introduction to genealogy books I've read.

The article also points out that during and after the Civil Rights Movement all minority groups felt encouraged "to embrace their previously marginalized identities." This led them to begin researching their own family histories. At the same time historians began to investigate the historic experience of the marginalized in America and around the world. Now side by side with studies of Popes, Presidents, and Pilgrims you will find works like The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller and Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier. (none of which I've read yet...)

Thanks to the social changes of the past half-century historians have chosen to document the lives of non-elites and those same non-elites have been empowered to learn about their own histories. However, until recently genealogical research has meant travelling to distant archives and courthouses, combing through indexes and transcribed records. Now, thanks to the increasing number of digitized sources and entities like FamilySearch and Ancestry that index these records, genealogy research is now much more accessible. It's still not cheap, but it is accessible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Article: Cleveland's European Ethnic Heritage Online

Cleveland was greatly impacted by the “new immigration” of late 19th and early 20th centuries. As many of these immigrants came from regions of Europe that have been greatly impacted by war and boundary changes, they can be difficult to trace. I share sources for researching your European ancestors who settled in Cleveland in the August/September issue of Internet Genealogy.

Get your issue today at Books-A-Million, Barnes & Nobles, Chapters, through the app on iTunes, or a PDF version from the publisher.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Immigration Restriction and Genealogy

China Pavilion, Epcot

For the past several years I have pitched a talk to genealogy conferences on "unwanted ancestors" which would provide an introduction to anti-immigration feeling in the United States and how that might have impacted an ancestor's life. As an immigration historian, I know that as a country we have not always been so welcoming to immigrants and the present difficulties are really more of the same. I've always thought such a talk would provide family historians with a greater understanding of the world in which our ancestors lived. This talk has been routinely rejected, although perhaps I'll see a change this year since I have given the talk a new title and a spruced-up outline. 

In the meantime, I am heartened (or disheartened depending upon your viewpoint) by this story from NPR's Code Switch which demonstrates that American anti-immigration laws have had a direct impact on the ability of Chinese families to accurately document their family histories. 
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