Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mentoring in Genealogy

I was awakened early this morning by a text message arriving from a local news media outlet announcing Pat Head Summitt's death. Although the news of her imminent death came to us a couple of days earlier, it really did not mitigate our sense of loss when the news of her death was received.

Former Vol football player and NFL star Peyton Manning spoke of her friendship and support in a statement he released. He mentioned seeking her advice when he was trying to decide whether to turn pro early or to complete his final year of eligibility at University of Tennessee. He also spoke of the impact she had on players both on and off the court. Perhaps the most touching words of his entire statement came near the end of his statement. He said, "It would have  been a great experience to play for her. She could have coached any team, any sport, men's or women's. It wouldn't have mattered because Pat could flat out coach." As I looked at these words, I thought about the role of mentoring in genealogy. Are we as genealogists truly mentoring the next generation of genealogists in the same way Pat Summitt impacted her players? Pat kept her standards high, but her players learned so much. I think Elizabeth Shown Mills is a genealogist who fits the description. She continues to emphasize the "fundamentals" of sound genealogical research while taking her students to the next level. (I use "students" in the sense of those who took courses from her at IGHR or similar venues and those who attended lectures by her at national conferences or at regional or local venues.)

I am concerned because I see so many younger genealogical speakers emphasizing tools rather than fundamentals of sound research. I admit I sometimes have been guilty of the same thing, but I recently modified a couple of my presentations emphasizing tools (because they are in demand with societies) to include examples of sound genealogical research being presented in these tools. I do not know if everyone picks up on what I am trying to do, but I know from comments that some do. I hope all of us are conscious of our role in mentoring the next generation of genealogists and continue to emphasize the fundamentals in such a way it leads our mentees to reach the next level in their own research. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Case Studies Demonstrating the Use of Mitochondrial DNA in Genealogical Research

This past weekend a researcher using a Facebook group asked a question about which DNA test to take. One person quickly chimed in that Ancestry DNA was the best. I came back and qualified it by asking for what goal the person hoped to achieve through testing. I explained that if it was a patrilineal question, a Y-DNA test might work better and that FamilyTreeDNA was the only American company currently offering such a test. I said Ancestry DNA and FamilyTreeDNA both provide good results, but suggested taking the Ancestry DNA test and then transferring the results to FamilyTreeDNA for $39. I also mentioned GEDmatch's usefulness.

Then I made a comment that in some very specific situations a mitochondrial DNA test might be useful. The other commenter thought mitochondrial DNA tests were a total waste of time. I reiterated that it is quite useful under very specific circumstance. I did, of course, mention my own reason for doing a mitochondrial test. Initially I wanted to learn the mitochondrial haplogroup to put to rest one of those full-blooded Indian rumors in my line. The haplogroup came back Western European so my goal was achieved. I also hoped it would help identify my 3g-grandmother's mother. That result is currently on hold as I need to work much more with the results to achieve it.

However, the discussion made me realize I needed some good examples of how mitochondrial DNA solved genealogical problems. My mind immediately went to Elizabeth Shown Mills' great article, "Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi," which first appeared in National Genealogical Society Quarterly in June 2014 and is now available on the author's Historic Pathways site. This case used all types of DNA, providing genealogists a great model for DNA research. I am sure I saw another published case study demonstrating mitochondrial DNA as a genealogical tool, but I could not remember it.

However, I did find a blog post by Roberta Estes, "Mitochondrial -- the Maligned DNA," which shows how mitochondrial DNA was used to resolve of which wife of a male ancestor the tester was a descendant.

I also found a somewhat technical but useful post by Blaine Bettinger, "An mtDNA Journey -- Discovering My mtDNA in a Research Paper," describing some of the surprises discovered in his own mitochondrial DNA and how he discovered his mtDNA in a research study defining his haplogroup.

I thought I'd toss the question out for others. Do you know of another example of a published case study involving mitochondrial DNA in DNA research? Has mitochondrial DNA been useful in your own line?


Bettinger, Blaine. "An mtDNA Journey -- Discovering My mtDNA in a Research Paper," The Genetic Genealogist, 30 July 2015 ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

Estes, Roberta. "Mitochondrial -- the Maligned DNA," DNAeXplained - Genetic Genealogy, 29 March 2014 ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 129-152; image copy, Historic Pathways ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

Friday, June 24, 2016


Yesterday, one of my friends from high school posted on Facebook that she had the song "Rhinestone Cowboy" stuck in her head. Most of us from that era know how difficult it is to remove that one from "auto-play."

I replied back that now it was stuck in the heads of all her friends except that I was singing a slightly different variation.

My brother's wife died, leaving behind an 18-month old son. For several years, I picked up my nephew from the babysitter's house after school let out and kept him until my brother returned home from work at Walmart, which was often late since he received a promotion to assistant manager and transferred to a store about 45 miles away. I would often play the radio, and sometimes it would be on as we were eating. I can still picture my nephew, sitting in his booster seat singing along with that song. He really only sang one phrase -- the phrase that was repeated often throughout the song and bore the title words. The problem was his vocabulary did not include the word "rhinestone" so he sang what he thought he heard. Yes, that song will forever be etched in my brain as "Macaroni on a Cowboy."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One More Quick Post - Mount Rainier

I'll try to resume my regular blogging schedule later in the week, but for now, I leave you with a photo of Mount Rainier that I took while in Seattle.

I leave for home tonight, arriving in the morning. I suspect the kittens (10 months old so almost officially cats) intend to keep me occupied tomorrow, but I should have time to think through a blog post the following day and get back to my blogging schedule.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Having Too Much Fun to Remember to Post

I should have scheduled a post for this morning, but I'm having too much fun on my trip to Oregon and Washington to remember to do so.

Because I don't have lots of time at the moment for a long post, I'll leave you with a photo I took last Sunday afternoon at the Portland Japanese Gardens showing Mount Hood.

Mount Hood as seen from Portland Japanese Garden. Photograph by Lori Thornton, 12 Jun 2016.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Civil War Weapons

Springfield Model 1842. Photograph provided by "Older Firearms." Flickr Creative Commons ( : accessed 9 Jun 2016). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Last week my nephew asked a question on my Facebook page about my second great grandfather's military service in the Union Army during the Civil War. A third cousin once removed from the line private messaged me about the post. Her father left her the muzzle loader that was said to belong to James M. Thornton. She knew the gun was manufactured in 1850, but she knew little else about it.

I'm not exactly an expert on firearms, but my nephew knows much more about them. He served with the Army National Guard for two tours of duty in Iraq and is much more interested in them than I am. I put the "fourth cousins" in touch with one another in such a manner that I was copied on the messages.

After what seemed like a live Internet version of Antiques Roadshow, it was concluded that the gun was a Springfield Model 1842 and that it was one of the guns used in the war and issued with a modification that was present on the one in the family. When Union soldiers mustered out, they were given an option of purchasing their weapon. While we cannot guarantee this was the rifle issued to James M. Thornton, it seems likely that it was.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Just the Facts, Please

Michael John Neill started a "rant" on Facebook the other day about Find A Grave. His basic wish is that Find A Grave would return to being a place to transcribe what is on the marker and provide a photograph without all the extra data provided.

It wasn't long before other genealogists were chiming in. Concern was voiced about the undocumented nature of much of the information being supplied. Many also knew of incorrect family connections. (I know someone had my maternal great-grandmother attached to the wrong man once even though they were in cemeteries in completely different parts of the state. Fortunately I was able to get this corrected.)

In the past I found instances where someone provided a citation for a grave recorded when the WPA inventories were made which is no longer marked. I appreciated the information.

However, I agree that much information being added is not useful. Some is completely erroneous. The contributors think they are being helpful, but they are likely being harmful. I know cousins who contact me about a person in my tree who "jumped" at the first match they found, making an incorrect conclusion concerning a person's identity based on a same name. The "reasonably exhaustive search" requirement was not met. This information gets propagated and sometimes creates situations where more incorrect information is available than correct. I spent a great amount of time trying to track down the source of erroneous information in one case so I could really address the error in a proof statement providing the correct analysis.

For the most part, I use the grave marker photograph as my source with Find A Grave. I make a note in my citation as to whether or not an accompanying photograph documents the evidence or not. In some cases, the accompanying photograph provides alternate information than the transcription. In those cases, I go with the photograph.

One person commenting on Neill's post said she likes to add death certificates, where available.

Of course, many persons are violating copyright when posting obituaries at Find A Grave. That has been a source of discussion among genealogists for a long time. That problem was around even before Find A Grave when persons would post every obituary in the local paper to Rootsweb Mailing Lists. At one time I was administrator for some of the boards. I contacted the papers involved to see if they claimed copyright on the obituaries or not. In one case, they did and wanted them removed. In another, the paper said they were created from form sheets filled in by the families so they did not. The question then became whether the family owned the copyright or if it was just "facts." After consultation with others, the decision was to remove those as requested by families only. Generally speaking, newspapers do claim the copyright to obituaries so they should not be posted.

One person said he did not mind the extra information. It placed it in one place, and he could evaluate it himself, much the same as he does with trees.

One person suggested Find A Grave needs to provide a section for the extra information that is separate from the main memorial.

I tend to agree Find A Grave is becoming too cluttered with all the extras. I do like the suggestion of a separate section for the additional information. I would also support requiring additional information to be cited. When an edit to that section is made, a box for a free-form citation could appear and not be accepted unless the citation was entered. Am I dreaming?

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Cumberland Gap Genealogy Jamboree

The Cumberland Gap Genealogy Jamboree begins today in the area through which so many people had ancestors travel. This is a more relaxed genealogy event than many. Outside are crafts, re-enactments, and a few other events. Inside the National Park Visitor Center's auditorium are presentations by known regional and national speakers. The event runs through Saturday.

I won't be attending today's festivities as I'm using the time to do laundry and pack. I have a work-related conference for which I'm leaving as soon as I finish speaking Saturday. Because I plan to attend most of Friday and Saturday, I needed today to get ready (and to spend a little time with my kittens who are quickly becoming full-grown cats).

I'm looking forward to visiting with many friends at the event, but this year's event will be a little sad as Connie won't be there. Connie was from the Evansville, Indiana area and always came. I always enjoyed visiting with her and Lyn at the booth they set up to sell "extra copies" of genealogy books to benefit the Willard Library. A distant "cousin" Mary also usually came and visited. [I say she's a "cousin" even though the connection is not proven. We know it will be there once we discover from which line my ancestor descends. Regardless of the line, we'll end up being related.]

Things will be different, but are things ever "the same" again?

Monday, June 06, 2016

Handy Mississippi Genealogy Handbook

Morris, Gary L. Handy Mississippi Genealogy Handbook. s.l.: s.n., 2015.

As I was browsing at Amazon this week, I discovered an entry for a book on Mississippi genealogical research previously unknown to me. Even though the book was described as being 38 pages and costing $5.99, I decided to purchase it. When the book arrived, it really only had 36 pages. The book relies heavily upon Access Genealogy resources. Most other information is a listing of URLs or addresses.

The layout and formatting is confusing. The author uses the same heading style for sections as for the actual resource, making much of the information seem duplicated. Descriptions are not very useful and information provided is not complete enough to be useful at even a basic level.

The final section of the book provides a listing of common Mississippi surnames -- or what is SUPPOSED to be a listing of common Mississippi surnames. Instead, it is a listing of counties.

Don't waste your money on this volume! What little useful information included can be found easily on the Internet. Those wanting a book on Mississippi research are better off purchasing the dated Tracing Your Mississippi Ancestors by Anne S. Lipscomb and Kathleen Hutchison.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Genealogical Filing Systems Over the Years

When I first began doing genealogy years ago, I had little rhyme or reason to my filing. I had a bunch of folders that had paper in them. They were roughly sorted by "broad" family groups.

I quickly discovered that didn't work very well and broke them into smaller groups and into counties and such.

I think I visited a cousin who was into scrapbooking and saw the merits of notebooks. I created notebooks for most of the families. I made individual and/or family group sheets for each person. I filed documents pertaining to each behind the sheet. Unfortunately that didn't really work either, but for a long time I really didn't know a better way to do it. I still had a lot of stuff in folders that never made it to the new system. I probably began filing in either the notebook or a folder.

When talking with another genealogist, I learned his system was filing by the record. So if it was Monroe County, Mississippi Deeds, with his system, I'd put them in a folder (or folders) arranged so book 1 deeds were inserted by pages, then book 2, then book 3, etc. This meant that as long as I had my citation, I could find them. Correspondence folders could be arranged by the correspondent instead of by the family or families to which they pertained, which really helped when it came to e-mails that covered multiple families. Although I've begun rearranging my folders, I've got a long way to go on the project.

You may wonder why I chose to post on this topic. It's really simple. I planned a post to discuss evidence and reach a conclusion based on the genealogical proof standard. Additional information came to my attention tonight. It doesn't seem all that reliable on the surface, but it adds a new twist, and I need to look at documents again that are under multiple filing systems in my house. I cannot even remember which records are in some of those older files that may not be in my database. If certain ones are not present, I need to retrieve those from several locations before the reasonable exhaustive search has been made. Most of the documents I need will be in Monroe or Itawamba County, Mississippi or Fayette County, Alabama. Some may not exist, but I need to be certain of that and make sure that my search has been written up so I don't forget what I've done. It's been a long time since I really worked on this line (until recently), and it is finally being written up as it should have been 20 years ago.

We all need to revisit our old research and make sure it meets standards. I find that too much reliance on a database is not good for me. I do use one, but I need to write research reports to myself and then write a documented narrative. That is what works best for me!