Sunday, February 19, 2017

Location, Location, Location

As in real estate, the specific details are important.

Many of my English relatives hail from "Manchester." I put it in parentheses for the reasons I explained last time - city size. If one is from London or Chicago or Beijing or Mexico City, having the city name, alone, might be good enough for most purposes.

But it definitely is not enough when trying to determine the location of an ancestor's past to validate that "this" Burke, for example, is the right one and "that" Burke is not.

As I have been working on that validation, I have come to realize that most of the 'hits' I have for my Manchester ancestors are in the east-to-northeast part of the greater Manchester area. Places with names like Huddersfield and Saddleworth and Ashton-under-Lyne and Mossley and Oldham. Some of them are a pretty good distance, considering the time of my investigation, the late 19th Century.

One of the characteristics of beginning a genealogical trip, I am learning, is that I will become much more aware of old geographical boundaries, old versus current place names, and, hopefully in this case, any possible reasons for population movement. So, as a retired investigator, I ask myself questions. Some will have answers, some might not.

  • Why would my ancestors only come from one general direction of a greater metropolitan area in the late 1870's to the early 1900's? 
  • Was there a disease or agricultural or manufacturing or other reason to move? 
  • What information am I missing that I need to find?
  • What do I not know that I need to know?

Perhaps all this seems like going overboard, like digging up too much information. And just to put a name on a list. I do not think so. As I have said, I have relatives with common names - like the 'Burke' example above - and I really want to make my tree as accurate as I can. My previous life as an investigator makes just picking any ol' name willy-nilly an unacceptable tactic.

Besides, so many online family trees are interconnected by the Big Four genealogy sites; having accurate information in those trees helps us all. Beginners like me should always be cautious and a bit suspicious, especially because, in my case, my hope is to give a product to my children and grandchildren that I never had -- information about their families.

So now, off to the history books to learn about population movements in northern England near the Scottish border beginning about 1870.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Challenge: How to Determine the "Right" Place

In past posts, I wrote about my challenges determining, for example, which "John Burke" is my grandfather and which is my 3rd great-grandfather and which is not a relative at all. Without having documentation like a family Bible or detailed photographs or even oral history, making sure I am satisfied that 'this one' is the right one and 'that one' is not has been the biggest challenge, along with the urge to pick 'this one' or 'that one.'

Another difficult and equally challenging task related to validating the correct person is location.

In the United States, we break down our geography into states, counties or parishes, and towns or cities. With very few exceptions, most of us live in a geographical location that can be determined by knowing these three locations. Take me as an example. How I would be located is as follows:
  • State: Michigan
  • County: Kent
  • City: Caledonia or Dutton
  • Street: Yes, there is one
I list two cities because the United States Postal Service has the authority and responsibility to determine the proper mailing address for every house or apartment. I live in a rural area outside the geographical boundaries of the Town of Caledonia, an incorporated city, or Dutton, an unincorporated cluster of buildings in Kent County. The Post Office authorized the use of either name for my home's mailing address.

Other countries have different geographical breakdown; England has been my focus for the past couple of years. (In the future, I will focus on Ireland and Scotland, the other two countries from which ancestors in different branches of my family tree hailed.) London, particularly, has been one of my focal points and I have learned that the breakdown is quite different. I will not go into details because, honestly, I do not have many - I am still learning - but there is a movie title that can give a clue to the complexity of my search.

Years ago, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant did a movie called "Notting Hill." Julia Roberts played a major American famous movie star; Hugh Grant played the owner of a small, not-very-profitable travel book store in the Notting Hill 'neighborhood' of London. The story is of the improbable and highly-unlikely love between them.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that one of my ancestors came from London, in the southeast part of England. Determining that s/he was from Notting Hill or not would be critical; just being from "London" would not be helpful in validating a name. It is a very large city with many neighborhoods with a high probability of finding like-named people all over England, especially during the late1800's and early 1900's, when a lot of international travel was taking place.

My ancestors hail from Manchester, another large English city and metropolitan borough, in the county of Lancashire, farther northwest, near Liverpool, with similar neighborhood or area names.

In situations like that, figuring out that 'this person' may be the right ancestor and 'that person' is not is critical. And challenging, sometimes seeming to be overwhelmingly difficult. I have learned much about how English cities are broken down and named and I have much, much more to learn. It is not easy keeping it straight, especially considering that changes have been made in the last 100 years.

But as I have said before, if genealogy was easy, there would be no field of study, no genealogical me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Basic Information: What Census Data Are Available?

From (even the cool tree):

"Although censuses are a source of genealogical information, the Census Bureau does not provide these data. The Census Bureau is not able to locate missing persons, or provide recent information on individuals.

My Very First "Found" Relative!

As a reminder to any new readers, I was born to a father who was an only child and a mother who had only one never-married-and-childless sister. I grew up the son of a USAID diplomat in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey for most of my early and teenage years. I know more about my high school chums than my own family.

Consequently, I never developed strong ties to my extended USA family that many, if not most, families enjoy. I miss having those ties. As I age, connecting with my past has become more important; that is the primary reason I started my genealogical climb up my own family tree. Though all of my ancestors, my parents included, are dead, I want to do what I can to reconnect them and where they lived.

I remember hearing many names of people I have little or no memory of meeting, places I have heard about and only vaguely recall. I remember certain events that I even wonder if they ever happened anywhere but my mind. My ancestors left no written records, no verbal stories, and precious few photographs, many of which have nothing written on the back to indicate dates, names, or places. All told, with the exception of my own immediate family, four siblings and two parents, I have almost no past.

Until this week.

I have been a paid member of for several years and have slowly and arduously working on my own tree in hopes of filling some of that empty past. This week, I got an email through the Ancestry site from a person who had a LOT of information about my past. Names, places, turns out she and I are cousins, the first one I have ever "met!" Her maiden name is the same as my paternal great-grandmother, Minnie Batty, to whom we are both related in different ways. She knew my father, FRED JAMES WILKINSON, who influenced her teaching/librarian career; they even went to the same Teachers College. She knows the name of a camp where he worked when I was just a toddler, of which I have only a vague memory, but a memory that includes a very strong image of me, a nap, a bed, a hornet's nest, and boys laughing. You probably can fill in some of the blanks pretty accurately.

My cousin has been working on her own family tree since 2008. She has siblings and many memories about our shared ancestors, starting with my Great Gramma Minnie. Already, many blanks have been filled in, many questions answered, and many points of confusion clarified.

And we have just started sharing information! She is a retire librarian and a much-more experienced genealogist than I am, so you can be assured I will pick her brain for those tidbits of information I need to fill out my tree.

After all, that is what it's all about. Well, and finding my cousins!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Oh, the Confusing Facts One Finds

Things can become confusing very quickly, if one does not pay close attention to the details and documentation as one goes along. Here is one example:

My great-grandmother, MINNIE BATTY, was born on 9 March 1898, in Manchester, Lancashire, England.

She appears for the first time in the 1901 England Census as a 3-year old living with her grandparents, my 3rd great-grandparents, WILLIAM and ELIZABETH RADCLIFF, and their children, ARTHUR, EMILY, FLORENCE, WILLIAM, and ELIZABETH, on Manchester Rd, Mossley, Lancashire.

But she does not live with her parents.

Her parents, my 2nd great-grandparents, SAMUEL and PAMELA BATTY, are also found in the 1901 England Census, but in an entirely different part of Manchester, the town of MINNIE's birth.

They live there with their other children (her siblings), ELIZABETH, HENRY, JAMES, ELSIE, ELY, and a couple of non-relative boarders at 17 Gibson St, South Manchester. The address is also confirmed with the baptism record for Elsie and Henry on 29 Aug 1900.

The clue is further muddied because MINNIE's grandparents' domicile on Manchester Rd, Mossley, has no house number listed on the Census, while the one in South Manchester does. I cannot determine if other people listed next on the Census list, but not related to the Head of the household, live there or next door.

One can only wonder why a parent would send a child to live in another part of Manchester with her grandparents, who already have a sizable family. One can guess, of course, that the reason is financial, but without serious digging, one might never know.

The 1901 England Census form does not include any indication if the houses are owned or rented, so this is one place an in-depth familiarity with the two locations at the time - or an in-person visit now - would be valuable. Without it, there are only guesses.

It will be interesting to track her living arrangements before her emigration to the United States in 1920. However, for a beginner, this is an important realization. Not all children live with their birth parents, even when both are living.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Entering Accurate Data Prevents Future Problems

One quickly learns that delving into ones past filled with immigrants who left no written records can lead to frustrating brick walls. As one who is new to genealogy, I regularly encounter brick walls relating to names of my ancestors and dates. I will cover both of those in this post.

Conflicting names

I watched a genealogy video this morning that gave me a hint of the possible reason for similar names. None of the records I found for my ancestors used the suffixes "Junior," "Senior," "II," "III," and so on, for their offspring (I am not even sure if these suffixes would appear in official documents) but I have lots of "John" and "Walter" Burkes with different middle names ... Edward, Francis, France, Henry, Michael and ... well, you get the picture. You probably have similar issues in your own tree.

Validating the names is critical to having an accurate tree. Making sense of them without specific validating documentation (things like property ownership, tax rolls, etc.) has proven to be challenging for me, making progress farther back into my history quite challenging. To recap:

  • My maternal grandfather is John FRANCIS Burke; born 1891, died 1963
  • His father, my great-grandfather, is John RICHARD Burke, born 1866, died 1941 (about age 25)
  • His father, my 2nd great-grandfather, is also John RICHARD Burke, born 1846, died 1882 (about age 20)
  • His father, my 3rd great-grandfather may be WALTER BURKE, born 1823 (about age 23); so far, I cannot validate any information about him, including his middle name.

Keeping the people and their names straight - to say nothing of accurate - requires special attention to my second focal area, dates.

Checking dates

Birth and death dates have to make some sense even to be considered, but they are often ignored as a beginner clicks and copies hints into ones tree. It is possible that a baby is born after the father died, but those facts should be rigorously validated. If an unvalidated name is put into a tree, the computer algorithms that generate possible hints will be skewed, inaccurate, or not found at all.

In looking closely at the one line of my family tree involving only one of my four direct grandfather ancestors listed above, I looked at the children born to ensure a true genealogical connection. What I found, instead, are seriously conflicting dates.

According to my tree, my 2nd great-grandfather, JOHN RICHARD BURKE (b. 1846, d. 1882) had these children. (The number in parentheses is his approximate age when the child was born.)

  • John Richard, born 1866 (20)
  • Michael Henry, born 1867 (21)
  • Thomas F., born 1875 (29)
  • Walter Edmund, born 1876 (30)
  • Agnes Allusia, born 1877 (31)
  • Catherine, born 1879 (33)
  • Bridget, born 1882 (36)
  • John, born 1883 (37)
  • James, born 1885
  • Bernard, born 1887
  • Michael, born 1889
  • Joseph, born 1892
  • Martin, born 1895, and,
  • Lizzie, born 1898

Checking the dates shows that all the names in italics are offspring that were born after their father's death in 1882.

While it is possible that Bridget and John were born after he died, in calendar years 1882 and 1883, whether that is true would depend on several factors falling neatly into place, including his June 1882 death and their birth months, which remain unvalidated. My investigator brain doubts the names after are related because I am pretty sure it is not possible for a child to be born of a parent three or more calendar years after his death, so I have more work to validate information and some "cleaning house" to be done.

Another suspicious entry is between MICHAEL HENRY, 1867, and THOMAS F, 1875. All other children are born a calendar year or two apart, but these are born eight years apart. It is possible there is a good reason for this, but for an Irish Catholic family, it would have to be related to the husband and wife being separated. It is possible, but this pair is also suspicious and needs additional validation to explain the difference in birth years.

I hope this gives a beginner a good picture into the dangers of adding names to a family tree and the importance of validating information before doing so. Be careful using those (or any other) hints!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

DNA: What should I do with it?

DNA is all the rage in genealogical research these days. The expense of DNA testing has dropped significantly while the accuracy has increased substantially. As more and more people offer their samples untilfor testing, the databases increase, thus presumably increasing the accuracy even more. Combine the voluntary samples that we family tree searchers submit with the not-so-voluntary sample submitted by law enforcement agencies worldwide and you have a very large database of information.

Information, however, does not become actionable (as a retired CIA officer I know called it) that information is assigned some value. Today, I will show you what information my DNA results have given me and what I do with it to make it actionable, if anything.

I grew up pretty much knowing my roots were in Great Britain and Ireland. Though my search has clarified many false understandings - whether of my own misunderstanding or from misinformation given by my ancestors - my general search has been and continues to be in that part of Europe. 

When I received my first DNA results a few years ago, results which continue to be updated, albeit with minor changes, as the DNA database increases, I was fairly surprised to read the information. 
  • Before I continue, let me tell you I am a retired federal investigator, not a DNA scientist. I have not spent a lot of time studying the whys-and-wherefores of genetic science, through I did take many related science courses in college.
Here is what what AncestryDNA says about my genetic past, by percentage, high to low.

Great Britain (34%)

  • Primarily in: England, Scotland, Wales
  • Also in: Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy

The history of Great Britain is often told in terms of the invasions with different groups of invaders displacing the native population. The Romans, Anglo-Saxon, Vikings and Normans have all left their mark on Great Britain both politically and culturally. However, the story of Great Britain is far more complex than the traditional view of invaders displacing existing populations. In fact modern studies of British people tend to suggest the earliest populations continued to exist and adapt and absorb the new arrivals.

Europe West (33%)
  • Primarily in: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
  • Also in: England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
The Europe West region is a broad expanse stretching from Amsterdam's sea-level metropolis to the majestic peaks of the Alps. Geographically dominated by France in the west and Germany in the east, it includes several nations with distinct cultural identities. From the boisterous beer gardens of Munich to the sun-soaked vineyards of Bordeaux and the alpine dairy farms of Switzerland, it is a region of charming cultural diversity.

Ireland (28%)

  • Primarily in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland
  • Also in: France, England

Ireland is located in the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, directly west of Great Britain. A variety of internal and external influences have shaped Ireland as we know it today. Ireland’s modern cultural remains deeply rooted in the Celtic culture that spread across much of Central Europe and into the British Isles. Along with Wales, Scotland, and a handful of other isolated communities within the British Isles, Ireland remains one of the last holdouts of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of Western Europe. And though closely tied to Great Britain, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character through the centuries.

The first thing that surprised me was that Ireland was not combined with Great Britain. The more I thought about it, however, it made sense. Millions of our ancestors, mine included, hail from Ireland, not England. Considering the expanse of the British Empire and the political nature of Great Britain over history, not separating them out would have skewed the numbers to an almost-meaningless degree.

But still, that leaves 5% of my DNA from what Ancestry's DNA calls "trace" areas: Africa (2%); Eastern Europe (2%); and Asia (1%). Though these percentages are low enough individually to be considered scientific chance, taken together, the 5% raises questions in my mind, especially considering the diversity of the findings:
  1. Why do I seem to have a greater "tie-in" to Africa than any other geographical area, including one very close to my primary area? As far as I know, I am 100% Caucasian.
  2. How can I have as much African DNA as Eastern European?
  3. If not by chance, which ancestors of mine began the journey from the African Continent to the European Continent? When? And why?
These are  two of the many questions I look to resolve. Perhaps the answer is related to mathematical chaotic behavior. Perhaps merely scientific chance. And because the nomadic nature of humans over time is more or less documented, perhaps some of my very-distant ancestors, those that I have not even begun to think exist, came from Eastern Europe or Northern Africa.

Who knows? The search is the reason for the journey!

Friday, January 27, 2017

It is like a journey in a foreign country, isn't it?

Sometimes, I divert to a far corner of my family tree just for a short visit. 
It is far from where most of my efforts are - validating what I know about my maternal and paternal grandparents and their parents - but I do from time to time to stay enthused.
In my research, I primarily use the huge databases at other connections (who, as I have written before, does not compensate me for any of my work; my blog is not monetized and I pay for the membership) and from time to time, I am contacted by someone else doing research on their own family trees. Some of them think we are related and I have never found that to be true. 
One fellow I met about 2 years ago keeps popping up because he appears to be related, though neither of us has figured out how yet. One of his close relatives is related to one of my grandfather's brothers. (I am not naming names to protect his identity; he does not know I write a blog and has not given me consent to include him.) 
This morning while I was scrounging around in that faraway, dusty corner of my family tree, I came across a name in my own tree who has his last name for the first time. You know the kind of "distant relative" because you have them yourself ... the daughter of the 2nd spouse of the son of my fourth cousin 3 times removed... 
My poor brain has no idea what to do with that kind of information, but the mere fact that I have seen a last name from modern time I recognize is enough to keep the spark going. Perhaps one day we will validate the information enough to call each other 'Cousin.'
It could happen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

More details, please!

I began this blog as a way to describe in some detail how I climbed the branches to my own family tree. So far, I have not done such a good job in the "some detail" department, so I will remedy that now as I describe how I hope to learn the middle name of the person I think is my <3rd?> great-grandfather, JOHN J BURKE in my tree.

In case you have not read my previous posts - and you should - I learned many facts that conflicted mightily with what I thought I knew growing up. For example, whereas I thought all four of my grandparents were early-1900's immigrants, I quickly learned that was not at all true. My maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, was a native-born Wilton, NH, citizen, and his wife, my maternal grandmother, NINA LILLIAN THOMPSON, was a native-born Canadian. Both do appear to have their roots in Ireland.

Digging up those roots is the journey I am on now, starting with his father, JOHN RICHARD BURKE, whose name is verified through several documented sources

My first step in any new clue is to investigate United States Census reports, if any. These are generally reliable sources of information as long as one understands the limitations that might exist because of name spelling, house occupants, census taker's penmanship, and legibility of the online document itself.

As an aside, recall that I use as my primary source, though there are many others, and I am not compensated in any way by them for using their databases; I pay for it all.

When I am there, however, I do not use other subscribers' trees and rarely follow those 'shaking leaf' clues because I have found them to be inaccurate and often full of information or merely copied from someone else's tree...often mine...and not verified. I have, however, found a few reliable member sources online; in fact, there are three with whom I share information and clues pretty regularly, but I prefer making my own judgements about those clues.

Knowing that my maternal grandfather was staying with one of his two daughters, my only maternal aunt, in Alomogordo, New Mexico, where she was working as a teacher when he passed away on 28 Jan 1963, at the age of 72, and that he was born in Wilton, NH, in 1891, I began looking for his father in the first census report where he would have appeared. That was the 1900 Census. I was successful finding JOHN RICHARD BURKE listed as the head-of-household, married to a woman named BERTHA JULIA BURKE, my maternal grandmother. Others in the household included:

An 8-year old boy named John F Burke;
A 7-year old boy named James E Burke;
A 3-year old boy named Edward H Burke;
A 53-year old woman named Mary Raymond; and,
A 32-year old woman named Annie M Raymond

Digging a little deeper into the actual census record itself, I learned more about those names.

The census report contains clues to help validate or fill in gaps in the information, like birthplace of the individual being recorded, marriage year, if any, years married, father's and mother's birthplace (particularly critical for early immigrants), citizenship for those not native-born, and home in the year of the census (1900). Neighbors shown in the census report can be a good source of validation, so I look there, too.

Using the three photos, I validated that JOHN R BURKE is my 2nd great-grandfather, that Mary Raymond matches the relative found elsewhere in my family tree, and since the name was not familiar to me before, it added ANNIE M RAYMOND to my search.

From here, I slowly and steadily make steps up my tree, validating information and following new name-clues as I go. I am still looking for validation of my 3rd great-grandfather because I do not know his middle name; that is the brick wall I have encountered on this side of the tree.

But you know what? It does not diminish my excitement or the fun of the search. That is what genealogy is all about!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New domain, no other changes

My new domain,, went into effect yesterday and my genealogy blog (this one) now appears there. I will continue to post updates with the link on Facebook because I have less knowledge about Internet domains than I do about genealogy!