Genealogy in the Works: The Genetic Genealogist

This week we are interviewing one of my favorite genealogists and genetic experts, Blaine Bettinger author of The Genetic Genealogist. I first came across Blaine’s work with his book The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy that my mother purchased me for Christmas this last year. On a quest to understand more bout what makes me, well, me, I delved into the science behind DNA and absolutely loved what I found. Read on to find out more about the man behind the genes.

Blaine Bettinger

How do genealogy and DNA intersect for you? 

Although I was a genealogist for many years before DNA arrived on the scene, it was DNA that really made me a genealogist.

In 2003, I was in grad school studying biochemistry and I somehow saw an ad for a DNA test. It combined science and genealogy, the two things I love the most. It was actually an autosomal DNA test, unusual at that time. The results came back, wildly inaccurate I now know, but that started my obsession with genetic genealogy. mtDNA and Y-DNA testing soon followed, then asking family members, and much more.

A few years later I found that there were no online resources available for genealogists who were taking these early DNA tests, so I started my blog, The Genetic Genealogist, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. I didn’t know it at the time, but starting that blog would change the entire future direction of my life.

How did you get started in genealogy?

In middle school, my English teacher assigned a short family tree, just 3 or 4 generations. This was before the days of the internet, so I had to actually call up relatives to ask about our family tree (thank goodness for the “good old days”!). I called my grandmother to help, and she recited numerous generations entirely from memory! I attached the extra paper to include all those ancestors.

Hamilton Caldwell/Colwell - my most Irish-looking ancestor photo!
Hamilton Caldwell/Colwell

She’s the reason I’m a genealogist. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, and I had little knowledge of or interaction with the very few people that remained. My grandmother was a
gateway to that family and she gave me so much.

Needless to say, I was hooked on genealogy after just one phone call.

What is your current study or area of passion?

It’s probably no surprise that it’s DNA. I spend every spare moment of every day thinking about, writing about, or teaching others about DNA. Thankfully I don’t see any end in sight!

Blaine + his sons
Blaine + his sons

Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

In the 1890’s, my 3rd-great-grandmother was elderly and mostly blind. While visiting her daughter and son-in-law, they had her dictate and sign a will. However, the document she signed was actually a deed turning over the entire family farm to the daughter. The trick was soon discovered when the daughter’s brother – who lived on the farm – saw the transaction in the newspaper. Following a short court action brought by the mother and the brother, the deed was overturned. I have some of the court records, and they are fascinating. They contain a transcript of testimony, almost allowing me to “hear” my ancestors’ words. For example, my 3rd-great-grandmother gave the following testimony in court:

“I remember the day I went from my home to New Haven to visit my daughter Betty Van Alstine. My husband had been buried the 30th day of August, which was on Sunday, and two weeks from that day I went to visit her. It was about the middle of September….After we got there, Betty said something about my making a will or disposing of my property. I was there two weeks. William and Betty thought I had ought to do it, or wanted me to do it—make a disposition of my property. They didn’t say much the first week; it was the second week that they importuned me. Betty had told me never to deed away a foot of land while I lived; she said that just a short time before I went there. She was out to my house, back and forth, while her father was sick—both before and after his death. She told me never to sign a note; if I did I would have it to pay. I said to her: “Betty, don’t worry. I shall never deed away a foot of land while I live. If my children can’t trust me, I can’t trust them.” That was the first conversation.”

Some years afterward, the daughter apparently wrote several heartbreaking letters to her mother, apologizing and begging her to forgive her. They never reconciled and the mother died a few short years later. Although those letters existed as recently as 30 years ago, they’ve since been lost. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to see them.

What advice would you give to genealogists?

If at all possible, go to a conference or an institute. The educational opportunities are unparalleled, and it is so affirming to see other people as crazy as you are! These are gatherings of hundreds of people that also yearn to explore the cemeteries they driveby, and have boxes of family heirlooms they’ve been meaning to catalog and preserve for years!

Why is genealogy important to you?

I can’t begin to list all the ways that genealogy is important to me.

Our lives on earth are so fleeting. Studying and recreating the lives of my ancestors gives us a perspective that others may not ever gain. I think we see life as relationships, as friends and families and acquaintances, and we realize that although we may leave a legacy behind, it is over all too quickly. All too soon, the two dates on either side of the hyphen are filled in.

Blaine Bettinger

I think that some people have a genetic drive to be the story collectors and storytellers. Genealogists preserve and share the past to help future generations. Maybe there’s even an evolutionary reason we have this drive. For most of human history we collected these stories mentally and shared them orally, and now we use paper and software.

And to me, one of the most important aspects of genealogy has nothing to do with dead people. It’s about the living, the many friends I’ve gained since immersing myself in genealogy. For whatever reason, most genealogists tend to be the friendliest and most fun-loving people I’ve ever met. I’ve found my people, as someone recently said to me, and I am loving every minute of it!


A big thank you to Blaine! You can find him at the wildly popular The Genetic Genealogist website here and on Facebook + Twitter. 

You can find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory

Genealogy in the Works: The Ultimate Genealogist Blogger

Genealogy waits for no man (or woman) and it’s been a few weeks since I was able to get an interview for Genealogy In The Works out on the blog. But wait no longer, today’s interview is with Thomas MacEntee from Geneabloggers.

Thomas and I met when I posted my first Genealogy In The Works with Patrick Barrett — you can view it here. Through friends, I was introduced to him and other like-minded genealogy bloggers and quickly came into a deep appreciation for what he does. I’ve even done a few of his prompts with Tombstone Tuesday.

Without further ado, here is Thomas MacEntee, founder of GeneaBloggers.

1. Your website, GeneaBloggers is one of the most well-known in the social media community of genealogists. How did this start and what did you/do you hope to get from that?

In late 2008, I was able to step back and see the coming convergence of Facebook, Twitter, improved Internet access speeds and genealogy to realize there would be a need for a site such as GeneaBloggers. I know I wasn’t the only genealogy blogger and there was a small hardcore group of bloggers who were also passionate about family history. So I decided to organize these bloggers into an online community to promote the concept of blogging family history, to promote various blogs, and to provide resources to get people started on blogging.

Thomas MacEntee, 2016
Thomas MacEntee, 2016

2. How did you get started in genealogy?

My first taste was in 1977 when the mini-series Roots appeared on television. I watched the series with my great-grandparents, and after each episode, we’d discuss our family history. I was told there was a “book” about our genealogy that had been printed.

Sure enough, in the late 1980s, I received a copy of this “book” when my great-grandmother died – it was printed in 1916 and traced my mother’s Putman line back to 1645 in New York.

I really didn’t pick up the genealogy bug until the mid-1990s when Family Tree Maker software gained in popularity as did Ancestry.com

3. What is your current area of study or passion?

As a business owner of a small genealogy company, I’m trying to figure out how to communicate and create a sense of “urgency” to current and future family historians. Historically, genealogy has been something that older people pursue when they retire. We need to preserve family stories and artifacts NOW, not later and get all generational levels of the family passionate about family history.

4. Tell us a quick story about our family!

My family can be traced to Rhode Island (Robert Austin of Charlestown, b. 1628), New York (David Putman, arrived Schenectady 1645) and New York (Hugo Freer, founder of New Paltz, NY, arrived abt 1675). I’m sure there are scandals like any family but I haven’t found too many of them so far!


5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

Go slow – this is not a race.

Be accurate – you want to leave a solid legacy, not sloppy work.

Cite your sources – know how you found information.

Connect with others and share – you are a steward for your family history

6. Why is genealogy important to you? 

Genealogy helps understand certain familial traits and behaviors and it also helps me put my family in the context of history overall.

7. What is your favorite thing about genealogy? 

I love problem-solving and cracking open mysteries about my families.

A big thank you to Thomas! You can find him at the wildly popular GeneaBloggers website here and on Facebook + Pinterest. Be sure to follow The Hipster Historian on Facebook here.

Genealogy in the Works – Reuniting Families

Happy President’s Day! It seems like this month has gone by so quickly – but most February’s do. We here at The Hipster Historian were able to get out to a cemetery in the county and take a few pictures (see here) as well as interview our newest member of the Genealogy in the Works family, Karen from the British Home Child Group International (BHCGI).

The British Home Child Group International is a group of genealogists and historians seeking to help those families who are searching for their long-lost loved ones.  As the website states,

“From the early 1860’s up to the 1970’s, children who were institutionalized in ‘Homes’ across the UK, were sent, to countries across the British Empire to be used as indentured farm workers and domestics. The majority of the up to 120,000 British Home children sent to Canada, arrived between 1869 and 1939. Mostly, they ranged in age from four to fifteen.”

The BHCGI  is something I hadn’t heard of and I just had to interview with Karen to get to know more about the hundreds of thousands of home children who have been lost to history. Read on to learn more.

1. What is the British Home Child Group International and how did you get involved?

The BHCGI is an organization that myself and 3 others founded in 2015. Our mission statement is to provide free research and genealogical tips and to reunite families of British Home Children world-wide. Through our Facebook page and website we help those seeking information. We have some amazing researchers who are always willing to help.

2. How did you get interested in genealogy?

From a young age I was always interested in my family history.  My dad started in 1969 when he learned that our surname had been changed from Gandley to Stanley.

3. What is your current study or area of passion?

I have a few areas that I enjoy researching, of course British Home Children, but I find the history of my Province (Ontario) quite fascinating. I am a volunteer with the Sharon Burying Ground which contains members of the Children of Peace, an offshoot of the Quaker’s. They played an important role in the area.

They built the Province’s first homeless shelter, started the first civilian band in Canada and developed the first farmer’s co-operative. The Children of Peace also played a critical role in the development of democracy in Canada. I also enjoy researching the First World War. I am quite proud that Lt. John McCrae, the writer of In Flanders Fields, went to my high school.

Sharon Burying Ground
Sharon Burying Ground

4. Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

I enjoy researching the “black sheep” of the family. As I said earlier my great grandfather changed our surname from Gandley to Stanley upon entering Canada in 1906, but after he came back from serving in the First World War, he disappeared never to be seen or heard from again.

Eventually I found that he went back to England, changed his name back to Gandley, married another woman and had 4 more children. I thought the story of my other great grandfather Thomas Shorter who was a butler in England and Ireland was a pretty simple story, until a few years ago I was contacted by a gentleman in England whose grandmother was a parlor maid in the same household as my great grandfather in the 1901 UK Census.

A year later, she had a baby boy, naming him after the butler. Why did she name him after the butler, was he kind to her in her time of need, or was he the father? Well, it turns out the Butler did do it and I have a new great uncle and family.

 

5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

My advice to genealogists would be to think outside the box, not everything is black and white and to have an open mind while researching. I would also encourage people to talk to their more senior family member’s, they can be a wealth of information that may help you in your research.

karenmahoney

6. Why is genealogy important to you?

Genealogy is important to me as it reminds the living of those who have passed. It honours the struggles and joys of your ancestors and what they went through to where you are now. It’s a passion that can be very rewarding.

Give a big thank you to Karen for her interview. Check out the British Home Child Group International website here and be sure to check back next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview.

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Genealogy in the Works: Being Gay in Genealogy

It’s been a couple days since we’ve gotten to blogging, but in that time our transcription service, Life Stories was published in WhatcomTalk.com (thank you!!) and had a chance to attend a family reunion for Grandpa’s 93rd birthday — what an age! But we were eager to get back and share with you another interview in our Genealogy in the Works Series,  to read more of click here.

This week’s interview is with my good friend Patrick Barrett. I met Patrick years ago on an online discussion forum and we’ve been friends ever since. Read on to find out more about Patrick and why genealogy means so much to him.

1. As a gay man, how do you think your experience in genealogy differs from others?

I think the thing about being a gay genealogist is that, naturally, you wonder who was gay. Most of the time, you can’t really know. You can’t assume that the old spinsters and bachelors in your family were gay, not at all. People stay single for lots of reasons.

Up until within my lifetime, most gay people married people of the opposite sex, brought up children, and had their same-sex companions ‘on the side’ — if at all. Because of bigotry and anti-gay laws, they were usually very afraid of being found out, and they tried not to leave any clues.

Patrick Barrett, Christmas 2016
Patrick Barrett, Christmas 2016

They could be targets of violence, and they could be imprisoned. They could easily lose their jobs, their families, everything. Even in the 1990’s, I had a gay landlord who warned me never to mention anything about gay bars or gay people to his son. ‘I’d just die if my grandchildren found out I was gay.’

Sometimes there seem to be clues. Sometimes you think, ‘Well, he may not have been gay, but he seems to have known all the gay people in town.’ Or, ‘He really seems to have been unusually affectionate toward that one friend.’ But it’s mostly guesswork, and I don’t guess in writing, especially if the people involved have children or grandchildren still living.

Most people, even today, don’t want to hear that Mama was a lesbian, or that Grandpa was gay, and when you speculate without proof, I think you’re in danger of stirring up ill feelings that can be detrimental to both your family relationships and your research. I wouldn’t bring it up except with a relative I knew to be open to the subject, and even then, I’d be cautious.

It’s tragic to me that these people’s stories are lost because of the bigotry they faced. Not just the stories, either. Most of the time we don’t even know who they were. They survived by keeping their true selves secret, and now all they’re lost to us. We know about people like Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, but most of the gay people of past are secret people, and we’ll never know about them.

2. What is your current field of study or passion in genealogy right now?

For the last ten years or so, I’ve grown very interested in houses and neighborhoods. Not just local history, but neighborhood history. It’s not genealogy, strictly speaking, but I think it helps flesh out our ancestors’ lives. I’m not just interested in names and dates; I want to know who my ancestors were, and what life was like for them. Neighborhood history is easier in cities, and until relatively recently most of our ancestors lived on farms, but either way it’s interesting to me.

Families now are more insular than they used to be. For many families, all the adults work outside the home, and everybody goes everywhere by car, so you might not even know your neighbors, but it wasn’t that way until recently.

When I was a kid in the 1960’s, we knew everybody on our street and most of the people on nearby streets. Kids played and roamed unsupervised. We made our own social connections, without play dates and apart from organized activities, and our parents, too, socialized with the neighbors. Neighbors were much more significant in our lives than they usually are now.

So I ask questions like:

1. Who lived next door? Down the block?
2. When was this house built? What families lived there over the years?
3. What businesses operated in the neighborhood?
4. How far was it to church? Who was the priest or minister?
5. How far was it to the grocery? To the park?

Sometimes — quite often, in fact — you find that a neighbor down the street was an aunt or a cousin, but mostly it just helps you understand the setting in which your ancestors lived. It gives you a better sense of what their day-to-day lives may have been like. For me, that’s what it’s all about: Understanding who they were and what their lives were like. It’s all about stories.

3. When did you first get into genealogy and what spurred that?

When I was ten years old, we had to make a simple pedigree chart, back to great-grandparents, in school. I had to get my parents to help, and I learned that my maternal grandmother wasn’t just Edna, but Stella Edna. I learned that my paternal grandmother wasn’t just Hulda, but Hulda Hedwig Barbara. I learned new names and surnames I’d never heard before, and it all seemed intriguing.

Hulda Hedwig Barbara Kleist
Hulda Hedwig Barbara Kleist

My father’s mother took me to the newspaper office and showed me how to find obits on microfilms. (The local paper had been indexed, so it wasn’t just scrolling through microfilms for hours.) She also took me to the courthouse and showed me how to look up vital records, and she took me to the cemetery and showed me where her father and her grandparents were buried.

She had already done some research on my grandfather’s family. When my great-grandmother was dying, she placed her four youngest children in Catholic orphanages, and they were eventually discharged to three separate homes. Grandpa’s brother Ray was adopted by a couple named Stutz, but later resumed the surname Barrett. When he died in 1966, my grandparents weren’t sure if his legal name was Barrett or Stutz. They never did find any evidence that he had legally changed it back, but it turned out not to be a problem. Along the way, Grandma found out a lot about Grandpa’s family.

So suddenly there was all this new information, all these things I had never known, and there were still lots of loose ends and mysteries. I felt I had to find out more. I still feel that way. I’ve been doing this for forty-six years, and I guess I’ll do it as long as I’m able.

4. Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

I like the stories about people who pushed the boundaries of propriety a little.

My great-great-grandfather, Maney Rominger, was the son and brother of Methodist preachers, but he was never baptized. When he was a little boy, they held a baptism at the river, and Maney was supposed to be baptized, but he ran and hid in the rushes instead. He never did get baptized. He died young, in his late thirties, and when he was on his deathbed his mother begged him to be baptized before he died. Maney refused, declaring, ‘I’m a close to heb’m as any ob ‘m.’

Maney Rominger & Wife Margaret Hicks
Maney Rominger & Wife Margaret Hicks

Maney’s wife, Margaret, had a sister called Josie. Josie was never married, but she had six children — which, as you can imagine, was pretty scandalous in the late nineteenth century. A neighbor once brought up Josie’s situation to my grandmother’s Aunt Martha, who was Josie’s niece. Aunt Martha replied, ‘I don’t agree with the way she’s a-livin’, but she’s my aunt, and I’ll stand by her.’ Josie died a few years before I was born, so I never knew her, but I’ve talked to relatives who knew her. One of my Mom’s cousins told me, ‘I admire Aunt Josie. Anybody can have one child out of wedlock, but when you have six, you just don’t care what anybody thinks.’

5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

Talk to your old people, and do it soon.

They know the stories, and when they’re gone you might not get another chance. Ask questions, too. If they say, ‘My cousin and I … ‘ ask them which cousin that was.Who were his parents? (At the same time, don’t get in the way of the stories. Let the narrative flow, and ask follow-up questions.)

Sometimes you might be surprised at what you don’t know. Sometimes people go through their whole lives never thinking to mention to their grandchildren that they had a brother who died young, or that before they met Grandpa, they had a fiance who died in the war.

All our lives mingle. There's no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. - Patrick Barrett
All our lives mingle. There’s no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. – Patrick Barrett

When you get older, you say, ‘I wish I’d asked … ‘ But then it’s too late.

Also, don’t limit yourself to just your grandparents. Their siblings and their cousins have stories, too. Maybe your grandmother didn’t know her grandparents, but she had a cousin who knew them well.

Even younger people might have stories about your ancestors. Maybe your great-grandfather didn’t talk about his family, but he had a brother who did, and that brother’s grandchildren know stories that are lost to your branch of the family. Try to find those people.

You can only push it so far, of course. When your relatives are telling you that your ancestor from 250 years ago was the younger son of a duke, or that he was one of seven brothers who came to America after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie — well, those stories might be true and they might not.

If you take them too seriously, they can lead you down a lot of false trails and impede your research. But write them down, anyway. Even your family’s myths are part of your family history. Sometimes they even turn out to be true.

6. Why is genealogy important to you?

The stories are very important to me, of course. You also gain a much greater understanding of history when you see how it played out in the lives of your ancestors, and when you find that things were never as simple and clear-cut as what you learned in school.

Beyond that, genealogy teaches you, and then constantly reminds you, that we’re all connected. We really are all biologically related, and beyond that, we have all kinds of other connections. I’ve heard from a woman whose ancestors owned the factory where my great-grandmother worked. I’ve heard from people whose ancestors came over in the same ship, on the same voyage, with my ancestors. I’ve run into people whose ancestor was a close friend of my sixth-great-grandfather. My great-grandfather’s cousin was a nun, and I’ve corresponded with a nun who knew her.

All our lives mingle. There’s no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. They’re part of you. It’s more like gradual shading and blending.  All our lives blend into other lives.

Once you get enough perspective, you see that humanity really is one big community and one big family and — in a way — one big organism. We’re all parts of one another.

Thank you so much to Patrick Barrett for this interview. Be sure to check in next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview. Follow The Hipster Historian on Facebook and Instagram.

Genealogy in the Works: What it Means to be a Genealogist

Genealogy. When you hear it most often images of older folks or Mormons come to mind, but put that aside for a moment. Genealogy is so much more than dates and places. It is people, it is lives, it is stories that we shouldn’t forget.

In this series, Genealogy in the Works we will be interviewing genealogist of every background. This includes gay and queer genealogists. What it means for the family tree when you are a transgender individual or how to approach issues of sensitivity like slavery and indigenous tribes. All of this comes together to create an intersectional  view of genealogy and family history.

This series really wouldn’t make sense without explaining who I am first, so here goes:

Becks Campbell
Becks Campbell at one of her favorite local restaurants, 2016

Who are you?

I’m Becks Campbell. I run The Hipster Historian blog and am the sole owner of Life Stories Transcription Services.  I’ve been an amateur genealogist for most of my life and in the last year have decided to go into my favorite hobby professionally.  I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 12 years and live in the Pacific Northwest.

Becks Campbell and Spouse
Becks Campbell and her Husband, 2016

 

Why genealogy?

My mother is a professional genealogist and has been for well over twenty years. As a child growing up in the Mormon Church family ties and genealogy was emphasized heavily to me and after I left the church the passion for genealogy still stuck around. I’m completely obsessed with the stories of the past and who we were and who we will become.

Donna Mae Blocher
Becks late paternal grandmother, Donna Mae Blocher

What does it mean to be a genealogist?

Loaded question. Genealogy, by definition, is the study and research of ancestral lines. But in reality, it is so much more than that. We as genealogists, are tasked with finding long-lost loved ones, records that may not exist and people that don’t want to be found. We pour through years of directories and censuses, and in some cases, it can be quite sobering what you’ve found.

In my narrative writing project Forgotten Women of History I’ve found stories of domestic abuse, child abandonment, and murder — to name a few. We need to be aware that when we are researching a family line either for ourselves, for friends or for clients that there needs to be sensitivity and ethics involved.

What is your favorite genealogy blog to follow?

Right now there are so many amazing blogs to follow but I would highly suggest checking out Geneabloggers by Thomas MacEntee. It is the biggest source of networking and genealogy related blogs on the web right now.

What is your current field of study or research?

After several friends with Italian heritage asked me to research their history, I got hooked. I’m currently researching the Sorrentino’s, Serago’s, Pescatore’s and Bugni’s. In addition because most of my work has been coming from that area I am slowly (but surely!) learning Italian. It is a big task, but I’m ready for it.

Where else can we find you?

I’m all over the web, but my favorite places to hang out are here at The Hipster Historian, working on transcriptions at my business Life Stories Transcription Services and my narrative writing project, Forgotten Women of History.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check by next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview!

-xoxo

Becks