Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: The Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth

Bill Griffeth photo from his Twitter profile
Bill Griffeth is a long time financial journalist with a impressive list of cable and TV programs to his credit, including his current gig as the co-anchor of CNBC's "Closing Bell". He has also written four books, the latest being The Stranger in My Genes 

Bill caught the genealogy bug in 2003 and had previously written "By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism". Written in 2007, that book chronicled his research and his impressive family history going back to the Salem Witch Trials, during which one of his ancestresses was accused and executed.

In 2012, his cousin and fellow family historian, Doug, urged him to take a DNA test to learn what else they could discover about their family. He was not prepared for the results.

What he uncovered turned his world upside down. It truly rocked the foundation we all rely on; the intrinsic belief that we know who we are, who our family is, and where we fit into that family.

It also made 50% of his genealogy research inmaterial.

Bill  recorded his emotional roller-coaster as he integrated this new information into his identity. And he keeps the reader absorbed throughout. It was riveting from beginning to end.

If you are looking for a good, fast-paced, genealogical & DNA read, this is the book for you. I finished it in less than one day.

Borrow it from the library here.

And if you are interested in trying DNA testing for yourself, most of the companies are having sales for the holidays right now. See Judy Russell's post HERE.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Truth: a Perspective

Years ago, my cousin Becky and I were comparing notes about my grandfather who spent time in prison for attempted manslaughter. He was Becky's step-grandpa, having married her grandma as his second or third wife. We discovered that we grew up knowing two completely different versions of the tale. As we were both toddlers at the time of the incident, we only had family stories, or hearsay, to go by.

Being the researcher, I settled down to discover the truth! And of course, anticipated that "the Truth" would support my version.

NOT my grandfather! But 2 of his 4 children
are pictured; Uncle Don is on the far left and
 Aunt Martha is on the far right. This undated 
picture was probably taken before Grandpa
 went to jail. It would't have been funny after.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections could only send me an outline of his time behind bars. The Court he was tried under never transcribed his trial and the cost of the transcription was way beyond my budget. So I turned to newspapers. And the tale I discovered there was worthy of an episode of "America's Dumbest Criminals." And it did not jibe with either Becky's or my version of the case.

That set me to wondering, just what was the truth of the matter? Certainly, Grandpa's version would have painted him in a more flattering light. Della, his then-wife and Becky's Grandma, would have had a version that downplayed her culpability in the event. And the man he shot would have had his own version. They would have all sworn they were telling the truth. And they were. At least, their version of the truth.

It was a very personal revelation for me into the nature of truth. How fluid it can be. How inconstant. I was reminded of this revelation this past Friday.

November 11th all of the branches of the Medina County District Library system closed for a staff development day. In the morning we attended different educational sessions depending on our department and in the afternoon we were allowed to choose from a large selection of topics. One of my afternoon sessions was on the nature of truth, titled "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives".

The speaker was an Associate Professor at Tri-C
and an incredibly talented photographer, Daniel Levin, M.F.A.. He used his photography to illustrate that our perception of truth could be altered by different factors. He reminded us that, as a library system, we are a collector and distributor of truth. Most of his “talk” was a series of slides of his work chronicling the devastation that hurricane Katrina wreaked on the Gulf coast of Mississippi and on his travels in the Middle East. Occasionally, he would point out how the “truth” of a photo was manipulated, either by his own artistic editing, or by his own preconceived interpretations.

As genealogists, we are on a quest to discover the “truths” of our ancestors lives. But the “truths” we discover can be tainted, and we need to be aware of this. Here are some of the factors that can skew the truth:

1.Time. Over time, our perception of an event can alter. Slavery was once an accepted fact over a large part of our country. As time passed, larger and larger parts of our population grew to believe it was incredibly, terribly wrong. We went to war over it. Today, many genealogists are horrified when they discover slave owning ancestors and will try to suppress that information (Ben Affleck and Finding Your Roots). We cannot view past events using our mores and standards. They have to be viewed and interpreted within the context of the beliefs and customs of that time period.

Also, as more time passes between the event and the recording of the event, the memory of the recorder can become faulty, or inaccurate.

2. Our own cultural heritage, preconceived ideas, and prejudices. Dr. Levin showed several photos where he had taken several images from different time periods and juxtaposed them to create a new image, or new “truth” that meant something to him personally, and that he hoped would elicit an emotional response from his viewers. As genealogists, we have to guard against doing the same thing. We can't ignore an avenue of research because we don't like where it is leading us or because it challenges family lore. We can't create new “facts” to support our version of the truth, or because it makes our history more interesting.

3.Objectivity. We love our ancestors and are excited to share information about them. But it is not our job to make either heroes or villains of them. For our work to stand the test of time, we must be objective in our recounting of the facts we have discovered.

4. Perspective. The police have a saying. “When you interview five different witnesses to an event, you will get five different stories.” Each of those witnesses are telling the truth, from their perspective. Perspective can be physical, as in their vision of the event from a certain angle. Or it can be more personal, as in their relationship to either the victim or the perpetrator. Or from personal prejudice, as in a long held believe that certain groups of people always act a certain way. As genealogists, we have to be aware of the perspective of our resources (as in, the US censues were never collected for genealogical researchers, but were tabulated as a way to calculate statistics on the population for the government). We also have to examine how our own perspective has impacted our research. For example, did I ignore Lucinda Tillman Sartain WILLIAMS in my First Family Of Ohio application because I was so focused on a single ancestor, her husband, that I was blind to everyone else, or because as a society we undervalue and under report the contributions of women? I prefer to believe it was the first reason, but was it? Really?

Dan Levin reminded us:
  • That we have to use mulitple resources to find the truth, because so many resources are subjective.
  • Too many people use too few resources to determine their truth.
  • There is not always a single truth, or a single "right" answer.
Elizabeth Shown Mills in Evidence Explained (p.22) has this to say about truth:

Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Historian Robert Winks once wrote, The past was real, but truth is relative* It is also intangible and indefinable. Unlike Justice Potter Stewart's famed definition of obscenity, we cannot say, "I'll know it when I see it."+ We won't. Historical truth is physically pliable. We begin every research project with a vision of that pot of truth awaiting us at the rainbow's end. When we reach that end, we have only a mound of dough--dough that will be manipulated, stretched, shaped, and flavored by our own experience and standards."

*The Historian as Detective; Essays on Evidence, New York, Harper Colphone Books, 1968.
+Jacobellis v. Ohio,  378  U.S. 184, 197 (1964).

P.S. Just this morning when reading the news on NewsNet5, this article caught my eye. Check it out:

Levin, Daniel, "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives", 11 Nov. 2016, MCDL Staff Development Day.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Better Next Time...

Last week, I shared with you the approval of my application to the lineage society, First Families of Ohio (FFO).

In the interest showing you that even someone who has been researching their family for many years can learn something new, or can just plain make some mistakes, I want to share with you what I did not do completely, or could have done better.

Margaret Cheney was very kind in her review of my application. She wrote "This application was well presented. The applicant signed the application and put their name on each document. Source citations were used." This is expected of every application. Margaret was being kind.

She goes on to say "Kathy, this application is very good, but I think you can take it a step further."

And boy, was she right!!

First of all, I was using the 1818 Gallia County Ohio marriage record of John and Lucinda WILLIAMS to prove residency prior to 1820. But my application only submitted John WILLIAMS for FFO. I completely ignored Lucinda's claim for eligibility! I was so focused on proving John's claim, I was blind to his wife's contribution. It is mind boggling! NO EXCUSES! I messed up.

Now comes the really incredible part. Margaret researched Lucinda Tillman Sartain WILLIAMS and quickly came up with an online obituary, and the 1820 Census for Gallia County that reveals Elijah SERTIN, aged 26-45, living right next door to John WILLIAMS. This Elijah is a prime candidate to be Lucinda's father. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Courtesy of Margaret Cheney. 

Margaret did not have to do the extra research. She  goes on to suggest that early land records, tax records and estate records might prove the relationship. And gives me until 31 December to submit the additional papers to include Elijah.

I HAVE THESE DOCUMENTS ON LUCINDA IN MY FILES! I just failed to incorporate them.

Now comes my second genealogy fail.

I had water in my basement in September. Did you know that a basement is only considered to have "flooded" if it has at least 5-6 inches of water in it?

Of course, that is where all of my genealogy research is located. Luckily, none of it was damaged. But I had to pack everything up in boxes and remove it from the basement while the insurance company repaired the damage caused by the water. Also, did you know that insurance companies will pay to repair the damage caused by water in the basement, but will not pay to repair the problem that caused the water to enter the basement?

So my genealogy research is safe, but inaccessible BECAUSE I HAVEN'T SAVED IT TO THE CLOUD!! This is a basic tenent of genealogy research. Back it up and save it in multiple places. I have several CLOUD accounts, iCloud, Google Drive, Drop Box. But that doesn't help if you don't actually upload your documents & research! DUH!

The repairs on the basement are almost complete, and access to all the research & documentation will soon follow. Then I will submitt the additional information.

If you want to see how to do it right, Margaret just posted some guidelines for applications to a Lineage Society on the Ohio Genealogical Society Blog: OGS Blog  Also, I consulted with other genealogists from the Medina County Genealogical Society for assistance.

BTW, I have tried using  early land records, tax records, and estate records to establish who John WILLIAMS parents were, but haven't been able to narrow down the multiple possibilities.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

First Families of Ohio

First Families of Ohio (FFO) is a Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) lineage society. "It is open to any member of OGS who is a direct descendant of an individual who settled in the area now encompassed by the State of Ohio by the end of 1820. Applications must first be approved by the appropriate lineage society committee and then by the Ohio Genealogical Society's Board of Trustees." 
First Families of Ohio
Ribbon and Pin

Today, I received an email from Margaret Cheney, the current President of OGS, informing me that my application had been accepted and approved for my 3X great grandparents John WILLIAMS and Lucinda Tillman (SARTAIN) WILLIAMS. I am very touched and humbled by this recognition. In fact, I am moved almost to the point of tears, even now. This emotional response has left me perplexed. Certainly, I thought my application would be accepted and that my research and my source citation would hold up to scrutiny, or I wouldn't have sent it in. So why was I so moved?

I replied to Margaret's email to thank her and told her of my reaction. This is part of her response: 

"It is a rather overwhelming experience to know that your hard work and research pays off with a form of recognition. I have had many people tell me the very same thing. You are in great company!"

So others have had similar responses. But something about this explanation just didn't ring true for me.

Later, I was sharing the news with my friend and co-worker, Lisa Rienerth. She repeated Margaret's words about recognition of my work but added "and it recognizes the contribution your ancestors made."

NOW, I get it! YES! I wanted that recognition for my ancestors! Because of what they dared and what they contributed and what they endured.

Picture of Johnson Cemetery of Gallia County, showing the
hilly country side. This cemetery is on a partially graveled,
very steep lane. Photo courtesy of Paul Clary on
They came to Ohio when it was still a wilderness. They came here seeking opportunity and cheaper land than could be bought back east. Specifically, they came to the Applachian area of Ohio in Gallia County along the Ohio River. It is still very rough country, with gravel/dirt roads and grass covered lanes. Rocky hills that are good for grazing animals, but not for producing crops. In the 1882 Hardesty's History of Gallia County, their son Elijah had this to say about those early days:
"They had to grind their own corn by hand, and had to grate and pound it to make bread; all the schools they had were supported by subscription; wild beasts were very plentiful, often destroying what little stock the farmers  had; game, such as deer, turkeys, and wild hogs was abundant." But they persevered. These days, Gallia County's biggest exports are timber and coal generated power. 

John and Lucinda had 11 children, most of whom grew to adulthood. In the 1800's, 20% or one in five babies would die before their first birthday.* They did lose two of their sons in the Civil War.

John lived to be 80+ years old, and Lucinda, 73. This at a time when the average life expectancy hovered around 40 years of age.* They survived the many epidemics that swept through the area, such as, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. Additionally, Lucinda survived giving birth to at least 11 children at a time when childbirth resulted in death for many of her contemporaries. So they were hardy people who had a hard life. BUT THEY SURVIVED!

Not only did they survive, but they did well. By the time of John's death, he had already passed on a lot of his land to his sons and daughters, but there were still some plots and the "homestead" to be divied up to his survivors. And they donated the land that the Good Hope Baptist Church and cemetery still sits on today.

Good Hope Baptist Church
Family lore says that John Williams donated the land.

When I first visited the cemetery many years ago, John and Lucinda's original tombstones were still standing, blackened from coal soot, the inscriptions totally eaten away and unreadable. A few years ago on a return trip, the old stones were piled up under the branches of a bush and new granite stones had replaced them.

The replacement stone

Old discarded tombstones

So next April, I will attend the lineage banquet at the OGS Conference and I will accept the ribbon and pin. And I will be remembering John & Lucinda WILLIAMS. For that is what we do as genealogists - WE REMEMBER AND HONOR OUR ANCESTORS.

Next week learn how I could have done a better job with my application. (i.e. - learn from my mistakes!)