May 31, 2011

Book Review: Genealogy as Pastime and Profession

Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, Second EditionI first heard about Donald Lines Jacobus and this book in a footnote to a blog post earlier this year, by Thomas MacEntee. He made an analogy to the Great Awakenings in American history, with the work of Jacobus as the first one for genealogy. Being new to the literature of professional genealogists, I looked it up. It sounded like an interesting book, so I added it my Amazon wishlist, to read someday. Later, I found a copy in the public library, and skimmed through it. It seemed even more compelling up close, so I checked it out. Now that I've finished it, I'm glad I didn't wait.

Most of the book is just as relevant today as when he first published it in 1930. The methodology of genealogical research and analysis hasn't really changed all that much. Although a wide variety of resources, instantly available at our fingertips online, have made research easier and more accessible today, the principles remain the same.

Only two sections of the book seem antiquated from today's vantage point. One is a rather quaint discussion of writing family history aimed for publication.1 Publishing has undergone such a radical transformation in the last few years that books about it from just ten years ago are obsolete and seem ancient today. Now, anyone with an internet connection could write and publish a professional-looking book from home, printed on-demand by one of several publishing firms.

The other is his chapter on Genealogy and Eugenics.2 As historians, we must remain disinterested in the subject at hand. If we're reading the book as history (both as a source of primary information about genealogical practices of the period, and secondary information on the sources and case studies included), we must remember the view he represents was widely accepted at the time. Recall the infamous statement of otherwise revered supreme court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."3 However, it's difficult to stay objective with repulsive paragraphs like this:
By learning how nature works, and by utilizing human reason in the deliberate application of natural laws, the process of elimination of the unfit can be hastened, and needless suffering reduced to a minimum. Experience with plant and animal breeding proves that the program of eugenics is definitely within the realm of the possible. The kindest way to eliminate the unfit, and thus raise the average of human efficiency, is to prevent the reproduction of the unfit when the family history clearly indicates that most of the progeny are almost certain to be defective.4
It wasn't until the horrors of the Nazi regime were uncovered, which had taken both positive and negative eugenics to their logical conclusion, that this pseudo-scientific movement began to lose support. Unfortunately, its application didn't end right away in America. That the chapter was even included in the 1968 edition shows the movement still existed–indeed, there are still remnants in contemporary society. Other places in the book have minor updates or added explanatory notes, but there are none in this chapter. Let its continued inclusion serve as a grim reminder and warning.

On a lighter note, there's much in the book still useful for the beginning or intermediate genealogist. As a specialist in New England research, the case studies and sources he discusses are mostly from that area. I've only recently begun seriously researching my colonial ancestors, so many of the examples he used were new to me, or revealing about information I've already found.

To summarize his advice on the use of published family histories: don't take them at face value. There might be lots of useful data, but it's important to have a critical eye. They're likely to be most accurate for a couple generations prior to those living at the time it was written. He even mentioned a specific work I'd already found on some of my ancestors. What Jacobus calls a "magnificent history of the Henry Whitney family" nonetheless included a falsified pedigree of the progenitor from another source, uncritically accepted as fact.5 (I already knew the purported English ancestry in the book was based on a fraudulent genealogy, but only because I read the front matter.6 There aren't any notes within the text itself to alert readers of this fact.)

Not only does the book offer good advice on research, analysis, and writing, but it's an enjoyable read. I particularly liked this humorous explanation for why ages in the census can often be wrong:
Do not feel upset if inconsistencies or errors are occasionally encountered. If you obtain a listing of the family in both 1850 and 1860, you may find that your granny's age increased less than ten years during the decade, for that is a woman's privilege.7
Aside from one minor, but not insignificant flaw, this book is still a valuable resource. I didn't even touch on many of the subjects covered by the book. Besides the aforementioned topics, there are useful sections on Puritan society, naming practices, royalty, the profession of genealogy, more on using sources, estimating the number of descendants, and a good explanation of the switch to the Gregorian calendar. It's only 120 pages long, divided into bite-size chapters, so it can easily be read in a weekend. I think I could get even more utility out of the book, so I'm going to buy a copy to keep on my shelf.

1. Donald Lines Jacobus, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, 2nd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1968), 93-95.
2. Jacobus, 102-105.
3. Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200 (1927), FindLaw ( : accessed 31 May 2011).
4. Jacobus, 104.
5. Jacobus, 37.
6. S. Whitney Phoenix, The Whitney Family of Connecticut, and its Affiliations; Being an Attempt to Trace the Descendants, as Well in the Female as the Male Lines, of Henry Whitney, from 1649 to 1878; to Which is Prefixed Some Account of the Whitneys of England (New York: privately printed, 1878), handwritten insert at the beginning of the book; online database, ( : accessed 31 May 2011), images 0_5 and 0_6.
7. Jacobus, 115.

May 30, 2011

Mystery Man

Edward William Click is my most elusive ancestor. He appeared, seemingly out of thin air, 16 Jul 1881, when he married Margaret Rebella "Bella" Parks (1861-1940) in Todd county, Minnesota. From that time forward, he's well documented, but his past is still an enigma. I know when he was born, which is mostly consistent in the sources, but not where. He's listed on several censuses, but the birthplace is inconsistent:
  • 1885 MN Census: 30, New York
  • 1895 MN Census: 40, California
  • 1900 US Census: Jan 1853, 47, Minnesota
  • 1905 MN Census: 52, Minnesota
  • 1910 US Census: 56, Minnesota
To top it off, his death certificate says he was born 14 Feb 1852, in Wisconsin. His children's listings in subsequent censuses give their father's birthplace as Wisconsin, probably reflecting the information on his death certificate. I know nothing about his ethnic ancestry. Messages on various online forums claim Click is an anglicized surname of German, Dutch, or Jewish origin. His family eventually settled in Elmdale township in Morrison county, near the town of Upsala. Most of his neighbors there were Swedes. The censuses that list his parents' birthplaces are equally unhelpful:
  • 1900 US Census: father Ohio, mother Pennsylvania
  • 1905 MN Census: father Kansas, mother Kansas
  • 1910 US Census: father US, mother US
On his death certificate, the names and birthplaces of his parents simply say unknown. His wife of 32 years reported the information, so I'm guessing he either didn't know his parentage, or else didn't want anyone else to know. There is some family lore that says he was raised by Native Americans, but you know how those stories go. The only other clue I have is a scrap of paper in my grandparents' papers:
Ed. Click. born in Okla. adopted lived by family Brown. Baptist cemetery Upsala, white church on hill.
Ed, Bella, & Bert Click
Both his sons are buried in that cemetery, but Edward either didn't have a headstone, or it's long since been covered up by soil and grass. And there were probably hundreds of Brown families in Oklahoma territory, and thousands elsewhere. I know, because I've probably looked at every Brown family with an Ed born around the right time period in the US Census from 1860 to 1880. (The only relevant, surviving census from Oklahoma is 1860, listed under Arkansas.) I've also found a few Ed Clicks, and several William Clicks in those censuses, but most of them can be followed in subsequent censuses in the same area. Plus, there's nothing to connect any of them with this Ed Click. Besides, I have no idea of the provenance of that information. It's quite possible Click wasn't even his real surname.

Ed and Bella had ten children, but only eight survived to adulthood, and neither son ever married or had children. That rules out a Y-DNA test, which would have been the most helpful to find paternal relatives. Autosomal DNA tests can find relatives from any branch, and I've already had one. But since he was my great-great-grandfather, I probably only inherited about 6.25% of my DNA from him. And absent another relative from that branch testing, so we can triangulate, there's no way to tell if any of my matches are through him.

May 19, 2011

Silly Movies with Genealogy

The other day I watched a cheesy, 1980s, sci-fi movie for some mindless entertainment, called Trancers. I'd never heard of it before. It must not have been in theaters very long, if at all. The special effects were bad, the acting wasn't great, and about the only person I recognized was Helen Hunt. But it had a decent story, and an ingenious plot device related to genealogy.

In the future, time travel to the past becomes possible, but only if you identify one of your ancestors who lived in the time and place you want to go back to. (I so wish that was possible. It would be great for research!) If you want a diversion from more serious matters, Trancers is available to stream on Netflix. It's only 76 minutes long, and there's plenty of unintended comedy.

Kind Hearts and Coronets: The Criterion Collection
The only other movie I could think of with genealogy as a major plot point (besides Roots) is another comedy, King Ralph. A brief search on IMDb turned up Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Alec Guinness playing eight different parts! It even has a literal family tree on the cover. I added it to my Netflix queue. Besides documentaries, are there any other "genealogy" movies? Silly or serious, suggestions are welcome.

May 18, 2011

Ethnicity in Minnesota (Another Chart, plus Commentary)

This is the promised followup to my post about making interactive charts, in which I used the example of ethnicity in America. For this post, I'll include the same type of chart for ethnicity in Minnesota, and say more about patterns of immigration and settlement.

Everyone knows the stereotypical Minnesota accent, performed to excess in the movie Fargo. (A movie I don't particularly like. For a better movie, see Drop Dead Gorgeous. It's another dark comedy set in Minnesota–a mockumentary of beauty pageants.) While some people in out-state Minnesota do talk similar to that, very few people in the Twin Cities area sound anything like it. But the essence of the accent is found here, due to the mix of immigrants to the state.

Americans with German ancestry (2000 US Census)
Like the US as a whole, the single largest reported ethnicity in Minnesota is German. For the overall country that amounts to less than 15% of Americans. The percentage here is almost double–more than 29%. Some parts of the state are well-known for their German heritage, like New Ulm, in southern Minnesota. The area where many of my ancestors lived, central Minnesota around St Cloud, is overwhelmingly German–both Roman Catholics and Lutherans. The Midwest in general was heavily settled by Germans, with Minnesota at the center, as you can see on this map from Wikipedia.

The next highest ethnicity in Minnesota is an anomaly from the rest of the country. While less than 2% of Americans report Norwegian ancestry, almost 14% of Minnesotans are part Norwegian. There are many counties with Norwegian majorities; a few in southern and western Minnesota, and the entire Red River valley along the border with North Dakota. I don't have any Norwegian ancestors, but they've contributed much to our common Minnesota culture. You can often tell when someone has Norwegian ancestry if they have a patronymic surname. If it ends in -son, they could be Swedish, English, etc. but a -sen ending usually indicates a Norwegian background. This doesn't always work, because many families Anglicized the spelling to the more familiar -son. (In fact, while Smith is the most common surname in America, it's not even in the top five in Minnesota. According to this interactive National Geographic map, it's beat out by Johnson, Anderson, Nelson, Olson, Peterson...)

The percentage of Minnesotans who claim Irish descent is a bit less than the rest of Americans (8.9% vs. 10.6%). They settled in several areas around the state, but nowhere form even a plurality of the population. However, the fightin' Irish have been punching above their weight for a long time. Despite their small numbers, the Irish have wielded a disproportionate amount of influence in our capital city, St Paul. From the ginormous St Paul Cathedral on John Ireland Blvd (named after a Roman Catholic archbishop), to the lively Irish cultural life, celebrated at the large, annual Irish fair, and passed on by organizations like the Center for Irish Music. The Irish Genealogical Society International (IGSI) is headquartered in St Paul.

I do have Scandinavian ancestors, from Sweden. Compared to just over 1% of Americans with Swedish ancestry, we have almost 8% here. Minneapolis is home to the American Swedish Institute. Swedes tended to settle in different areas than Norwegians, particularly in east central Minnesota. Vilhelm Moberg wrote a series of four novels about Swedish immigrants to Minnesota in the 1850s. Apparently they're quite well-regarded in Sweden. The English translations help understand the life of 19th century immigrants here. He also wrote a book of essays about his research for writing the novels (with an afterword in the current edition–he'd soured on America over Vietnam). For readers in a different target market [young girls], there's a set of books in the American Girl series on the same subject. However, I can't vouch for them, never having been a member of said demographic.

Minnesotans who claim English ancestry are lower than the national average, 5% vs. 8.5%. I suspect that's under reported, in both cases. The reason few people report English ancestry is probably because it was much easier for them to adapt to life in America. Without any real language barrier, it wouldn't take three generations to assimilate. They were some of the first European settlers in Minnesota, after the French-Canadian Voyageurs in the fur trade. Like much of America, many of the prominent citizens and civic leaders among early settlers had English (or more generally British) ancestry. My ancestor Isaac Parks, whom I've written about before, opened a brickyard in St Cloud the same year Minnesota became a state.

There isn't much difference between Polish ancestry in Minnesota and the country as a whole (7th place with 3.9% here, vs. 8th place with 3.1% for the US). Many Poles settled in central Minnesota, including my ancestors in Benton county. There, they lived intermixed with German immigrants of the same origin, namely East Prussia and other German provinces now part of Poland. Census records from the area can be confusing for that reason. For example, the 1900 US Census lists the origin of one of my great-grandfathers as Prussia. Then in 1910, it says Ger[many]-Polish, as opposed to the family next door, which said Ger[many]-German. In 1920 and 1930, he's also listed as a German speaker from Germany. Granted, he spoke both languages, but identified more as Polish. There was also significant Polish settlement in northeast Minneapolis, along with other east Slavic immigrants. "Nordeast" Minneapolis today still retains its East European character.

French ancestry is even closer to the national average in Minnesota (2.9% vs. 3.3%). The census has a separate category for French Canadian, but I'm guessing those are more recent immigrants, and I wouldn't know how to differentiate them, without asking. As I alluded to earlier, the first Europeans in Minnesota were the Voyageurs, who traded with the Native Americans for fur. As a result, many place names in Minnesota are French, and our state motto is also French: "L'√Čtoile du Nord."

Italian immigrants to Minnesota were far fewer than elsewhere in America (1.8% vs. 5.5%). Some settled in northeast Minnesota to work in the mines on the Iron Range, along with many other smaller ethnic groups. They also settled in St Paul with their fellow Roman Catholics. Now, there are many good Italian restaurants in St Paul.

That rounds out the top ten, except the 9th place entry of "United States or American." I suppose some people don't actually know their ethnic background. I've known mine in general since I was a child, but my research is revealing parts I didn't know, nor did my parents. It's exciting when you break through those brick walls, and discover another generation of your ancestors. I think it's even more so when they came from somewhere I didn't know much about previously.

The University of Minnesota library has some useful maps where people of different ethnic groups live in Minnesota, based on 1990 US Census data. Unfortunately, the site is a bit difficult to navigate, and some maps are missing, but they're useful. To see them, click on one of the listed ethnic groups. Then, click on the link to maps of America, Minnesota, or several regions within Minnesota.

May 15, 2011

Book Review: Shaking the Family Tree

Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental GenealogistI couldn't fit another big genealogy conference into the budget, so I'm following NGS vicariously through other blogs. It seems one of the highlights of the first day was a keynote by Buzzy Jackson, author of Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist. (See here, here, or here.) I read the book last year, so I'll write a brief review for those who didn't get a chance to hear her talk. (I meant to post this earlier, but the Blogger outage prevented it. At least it gave me some time to refresh my memory.)

She describes herself as an accidental genealogist, which is exactly how I found her book–accidentally. I was browsing the paltry selection of genealogy books at a Barnes & Noble, which mostly consists of "reference" books with URLs for genealogy websites. You know, the kind of book that's already obsolete the minute it's printed. I wasn't looking for anything specific, and the blurb on the back sounded interesting. Plus, she wrote a whole chapter on DNA testing, which I was then contemplating myself.

Shaking the Family Tree isn't a published genealogy, or anything like a traditional family history book. Nor is it a genealogy how-to book. But in the process of telling her story about getting involved in genealogy, she imparts quite a bit of her family history, and weaves in plenty of tips and tricks for the beginning genealogist. It's a light, quick read, and flows very well. I read it in just a few sittings over the course of a weekend.

When Jackson decided to start researching her family history, she dove right in, and hit the ground running (I know I'm mixing metaphors). Right away, she joined a local genealogical society–something I didn't do until I had years of research under my belt. Then she does the standard first steps of interviewing family, finding sources close at hand, etc. Next, she shows how committed she is to the pursuit, by going on a genealogy cruise. Probably not common among beginning genealogists, but it allows her to attend lectures from many of the luminaries of the genealogy world. Later, she takes a genealogy roadtrip with a cousin, and makes the obligatory pilgrimage to research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

The chapter on DNA is a great introduction to genetic genealogy. She covers all the bases: the science and technology of testing, possible medical implications, and even race and identity issues. Unfamiliar words are explained in terms the non-scientist will understand. The DNA sample provided by her father matched others in the Jackson surname DNA project, which ultimately led to a previously unknown cousin and a well-documented family tree for that line back to the 17th century! While I haven't had nearly the success she did, I love reading stories how DNA can complement traditional genealogical methods. I still highly recommend Smolenyak and Turner's book, but the chapter in this book is more than enough if you're not planning on starting your own surname project.

Overall, it's a well-written, fun book about her experience as a newcomer to genealogy. Admittedly, she was very well prepared to do genealogical research. She has a PhD in American history from a top-tier university (UC Berkeley), and already wrote one book (an adaptation of her dissertation on women blues singers). But Shaking the Family Tree isn't dense or dry, like many books by academics. The tone and substance almost remind me of reading good genealogy blogs, except with an overarching, coherent structure. If you like reading how others became interested in genealogy, and the journey that followed, you'll enjoy this book.

May 11, 2011

Slow but Steady Progress

In an earlier post, I described how I found the baptism record of my great-great-great-grandfather, Isaac Parks. It also allowed me to identify his parents and reconstruct the rest of the family, based on his siblings' baptism records. At the time, I still didn't know when he immigrated to America. He was born 1820 in England, and first shows up in Pennsylvania on the 1850 US Census, already married with four children. The oldest child was seven, and all their birthplaces were listed as Pennsylvania, but that still left a fairly large window: 1820-1843. And since he died in 1894, none of the censuses he was recorded on have a year of immigration or naturalization.

1827 New York
Over the past few years, I'd searched for his immigration record, but that period saw several men named Isaac Park(e)s immigrate–too many around the right age to be certain I'd found the correct record. Now, after a recent search, I was able to positively identify his record, only because his whole family immigrated with him. The ship's manifest matched his parents and all his siblings from baptism records. (Except they substituted the name Isabella for his mother Rebella, as I've found in other records.) I previously had no inkling he had other relatives who came to America–no records, letters, family lore, legends, or anything. But once I discovered that fact, it was relatively easy to trace the family in Pennsylvania. I found several census records that show the family settling in Cambria county and adding three more children to the fold. His father's naturalization petition was transcribed and uploaded to the Cambria county page on USGenWeb. His mother's grave was transcribed on Find A Grave. I'm now researching his siblings' descendants, and already made contact with a previously unknown distant cousin.

But the previous generation is going to be more difficult. Now that I know when his parents were born, I'm confident the baptism record I found earlier is his father's. His grandfather was also named Isaac, but I hesitate to label them Sr, Jr, III, IV, etc. because I don't know how many generations of Isaacs there were. His grandmother had a rather common name, Ann, and there were several Isaac Parkes in that area.

Three Isaac Parkes were married in the same parish the children were baptized in, within 5 years of each other: 1810, 1812, and 1815. The latter makes the most sense, as it was one year before their first child, and the bride is listed as Isabella. The names of the other two brides were nothing like Rebella. I haven't seen an image of the actual parish register yet, so it may actually say Rebella, and got indexed incorrectly. It wouldn't be the first time.

Now onto this Isaac's siblings and parents. I've found baptism records there for at least nine children whose parents were Isaac and Ann Parkes. The first was born in 1771, then a large gap until 1788 with two records, two more in 1791, one in 1793, and finally 1796 with three records, including Isaac. This must be at least two families, possibly three because of the spread. The only sibling of Isaac I know for sure is Sarah, born 1788, because she and her husband Joseph Haynes also immigrated to America, and a history book on Cambria county identifies Isaac as her brother.

May 5, 2011

George Washington's Beer Recipe

GW's beer recipe, 1757 (NYPL)
Genealogists are some of the most frequent users of old manuscripts at libraries and archives. But this post isn't about genealogy. Among the collections at the New York Public Library (NYPL) are a number of George Washington's personal papers. In a notebook from 1757, he wrote down a recipe for beer, of which a batch has been brewed for sampling at the library's centennial.

I hope they decide to make more of the beer to sell. It would be a good gift for beer-drinking history buffs, and probably less expensive than the limited edition whiskey made from his recipe at Mt Vernon last year: $95 for a 375 mL bottle. At least you can still tour George Washington's distillery.

May 2, 2011

Really Fancy Chart: Genetic Admixture

These are the kinds of graphics I was referring to in my first post on how to create interactive charts with Google Docs. They're based off Davidski's work in the Eurogenes Genetic Ancestry Project, which now includes DNA from one of the kits I manage.

I've now had DNA samples from family members tested with both Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) and 23andMe, which each has their advantages and disadvantages. (I'm going to post more on this subject in the future. For now I'll suffice to say, if you're interested in genetic testing for genealogical purposes, FTDNA is the way to go.) The raw data files from FTDNA's Family Finder test, and 23andMe's only product offering, can be downloaded and used for this type of analysis. Although I've played around with the genetic software Davidski used to produce this data, my understanding is still too limited to make my own charts from scratch. (The file format from each company use a slightly different format, so I've only been able to use 23andMe data in my experiments thus far.) I merely used the data in his spreadsheet to create these charts, including only the populations I'm interested in.

I'm not even going to attempt to explain what these charts really mean, except to say the software infers genetic ancestry based on DNA similarity. The samples shown in the charts are identical, but each of them was produced by telling the software to divide the dataset into K ancestral populations.