If you’re searching for an unknown…

As I’ve been working with friends and clients to find lost family members. Whether put up for adoption or adopted themselves. Whether you are a child of a brief relationship. Or the parent of a child of a brief relationship. Whatever the circumstances that have led you to search for someone. I have some advice, if you want to be found.

  1. Get on Social Media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. All of them. Post information about you, and your vital stats (you don’t even have to be exact and should still protect you PII.) If you are a parent who is searching, include that in your profile. For example, if you have a child up for adoption, you might put, “I lived in X county in 19??, and am searching for a baby girl/boy who was born mm/dd/yyyy.” Put as much information as you can: your information (birth year, birthplace, heritage information, parents’ surnames and residences, grandparents’ surnames and residences.) Consider including a link to your family tree that you’ve posted online.
  2. If you are a man looking for a child that you suspect was adopted without your knowledge. You should follow #1, and include all of that information as well. Also, consider listing your residence at the time of the physical relationship or pregnancy. Generally, parents still have to be in the same place and the same time to make a baby.
  3. Return to the adoption agency and request information. Leave word there, that you will welcome contact from any inquiries. Leave several means of contact: address, phone, email and next of kin contacts. Keep this up to date.
  4. Take a DNA test. This is sometimes a searchers only option. Leave contact information in your profile. Create a tree on the site, with as many generations back from you as you can. At least to your grandparents.
  5. If you were born in the U.S. to American parents start at Ancestry. It has the largest database of U.S. testers.
  6. If you are European, a recent immigrant or the child of recent immigrants, start at FamilyTreeDNA or My Heritage. Both of these sites seem to have more international testers.
  7. Then Upload that DNA test to Gedmatch and FamilyTreeDNA. Gedmatch is free, but FamilyTree will cost you a few more bucks.
  8. Use those DNA test results! Ignore the admixture/ethnicity results. Really! Go straight to the share ancestor matches. Start with the closest family members. Check out DNAAdoption.com and follow their process. It works.
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Book Review: “The Stranger in My Genes” by Bill Griffeth

It’s a regular source of conversation among genetic genealogy testers: NPEs or Non-Paternal Events. Somehow, someway, a parent on paper is NOT the parent via DNA. ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogists) defines an NPE as: “An event which has caused a break in the link between the surname and the Y-chromosome resulting in a son using a different surname from that of his biological father (eg, illegitmacy, adoption, maternal infidelity).”

Bill Griffeth, a financial news reporter and long-time genealogy hobbyist, took a y-DNA test at a family member’s prompting. He discovered that his father wasn’t his biologically. He recalls his experience in his book, “The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir.”

Have you ever had a moment in your life, when you thought to yourself, “Things will never be the same again?” For me, I can name two. When my father died and 9/11. When dad died, I remember leaving the hospital and on the drive home I crossed a bridge over the interstate that runs through my city. I vividly remember seeing all of the cars and wondering out loud, “Why are all of these people out, don’t they know that dad just died?” My personal universe was fundamentally different. Then there was 9/11. By the time the plane crashed in the Pennsylvania field, I knew. And over the next few days as the whole of the U. S. stopped working and moving, it was obvious. Life was going to be different. Fundamentally.

For Bill Griffeth, a favor for his cousin, taking a DNA test, fundamentally shifted his identity. His book is an account of the emotional rollercoaster that is an NPE discovery. It is not a textbook on genetic genealogy testing. It’s a recounting of his own journey.

Here’s what I loved about it:

-Bill is a genealogist himself. He mixes his own DNA story with family stories of how traditional paper genealogy research uncovers family secrets as well. Bottomline, DNA testing is not unique in it’s ability to cover what people have tried to hide. Bill makes it clear that his experience is only unique to him.

-His story is paced. The DNA results are the tip of the iceberg in uncovering the story. It’s the beginning and the journey is long, sometimes dark and at times, frightening. Answers never come all at once. This isn’t bad. The slow burn allows a searcher to reconcile themselves to each new bit of information a little at a time. Surely, it would be overwhelming to know everything all a once. And while a searcher is rightly impatient for answers, Bill’s living-in-the-moment style is a valuable model.

-He’s thoughtful about how his discovery effects others. A discovery like Bill’s effects his entire family, family friends and unknown numbers of people that he’s never encountered. His mother, his siblings, extended family, his own children, family friends, and co-workers. And that’s just his family. There’s a biological father, who has parents, siblings, children, friends, and co-workers. He is not living this experience in a vacuum, but in a context of relationships, some of which are very complex. Some require a sensitivity that demands caution and forethought.

-Bill never appears to be “entitled” to his story. Many in the NPE search community communicate their deep, compelling desire to know their birth story as a fundamental right. I confess that I bristle at this. There are always others to consider – their experiences and their feelings. There are right ways and wrong ways to go about finding a birth story. Barreling over people like a Mack truck isn’t it. A searcher may finding themselves having alienated all family including the one they’re trying to discover. Bill appears to be hesitant to discuss his discovery with his mother and I’m sure that would frustrate many other readers. For me, I admired his respect for her and his sensitivity to just how hard the situation must be for her. He’s carrying a big stick of a secret, yet he walks softly.

-Bill avoids the temptation to sensationalize his story to up the drama-quotient. It’s a quiet story.

Overall a great read for those working with DNA testing. Lay people may not find the story compelling and exciting enough.

NOTE: I have not received any payment in any form for my review. I purchased the book from Amazon.com with my own cash!

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Top 5 Ways to Recognize an NGS Conferencee #NGS2017GEN

I love people, dead or alive. People watching is even more fun. So, here are my observations on the recent NGS Conference in Raleigh. The top 5 ways to recognizing someone who attended:

  1. One shoulder is higher than the other. We walk a little lopsided, not because we’re injured or frail. It’s the books. One of a kinds or limited printings that aren’t digitized online. We love them and buy a lot of them. They’re heavy. Hence the lopsided.
  2. We’re a strange mix of history nuts and tech nerds. Give us a one-of-a-kind, handwritten in cursive, 100 year old document and we’re in heaven. For weeks, we’ll be in heaven. We also love new technologies and will pay any Hadoop programmer a $1M for quick DNA match scraping tool that auto-connects cousin matches with tree similarities. Can I get an “Amen?”
  3. We are forward-thinking. We love history, but we know better than most the mistakes of the past. We love historical research, but we don’t want to live there.
  4. We have heroes. I personally would love a t-shirt with Judy G. Russell’s face on it. Maybe an Andy Warhol-inspired head shot of her. I’d wear it to the library. I’d wear it to bed. I’d wear it to church.
  5. You can trust us. Promise. But… we love a good secret. Dog with a bone. Bloodhound on the scent. CNN on a Trump scandal. We’re better keeping the secrets and discovering them.

How do you recognize a genealogist?

 

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NGS Conference – Day 3-4 #NGS2017GEN

I had a plan. In the middle of it, I changed it. Friday morning I decided that my brain was in danger of exploding, so I headed to a fun lecture to just relax and enjoy. And my head exploded anyway.

I had planned to hit up the well-known speakers and thought-generators. I did and they were great as expected. Let me tell you about the unexpected.

Lisa Louise Cooke, of Genealogy Gems, spoke about using a mash up of Google Earth Pro and genealogist’s favorite map collector, Dave Rumsey. Can I tell you how much I appreciate a woman who knows her tech? It was might have been the only lecture that I gave an all 5-star review. (I don’t hand them out often not because speakers aren’t doing a great job, but because all 5 stars aren’t helpful.) I also loved that whomever was running her powerpoint for her, was step by step alongside her fluidly thru the session. Great job being so well-rehearsed and prepped – much appreciated! This was the only session when I immediately went online afterward. Get the audio on this one. Or subscribe to her site and track down the tutorial. It was jaw-dropping.

My favorite track for the conference: African American.

For my own research, Tim Pinnick‘s session on “Reconstruction 101 for African Americans” gave great resources for my great, grandfather, James Morrissey, a Radical Republican representative to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, but also gave a detailed history of the Reconstruction Era. Andre Kearns also did a great job recounting how he’s combined DNA and paper research to trace his family’s history in remarkable ways. Both of these sessions were also recorded.

I had hoped to make some new connections with other genealogists.  But, I’ve made some new friends in addition. The conference exceeds expectations!

 

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NGS Conference, Day 2, #NGS2017GEN

I attended some great sessions today. There’s a lot to process and a lot that I could say. I have my own filter for this information though. The session content filters through my own experiences and intellect and personality and passions. So, let me tell you what I heard today and how I’m processing it. There’s a thought thread here, I promise.

One speaker commented on her mother, who’s an adoptee. How, although raised in a loving adoptive family, she never could complete her medical history forms. How her mother was adamant about medical check ups and mammograms. How finding out her maternal haplogroup gave a sense of identity for the first time. Her mother had no biological past before DNA testing helped her uncover it.

Another speaker was an expert on a particular set of records that were created immediately after the U.S. Civil War in the South. She challenged the audience to begin thinking of the word, “slave,” as plural. Not “slaves,” as plural. Because even without the “S” at the end, the word still implies a large group of people.

The BCG Luncheon speaker was a homerun for me, though. The speaker, an African-American, dared to whisper that genealogy can be an agent of social change. She gave examples of how our African-American community, historically, as been left out of our narratives. Her example of a state’s World War I memorial that only recently added it’s African-American soldiers was most stunning.

I sat by a librarian from Virginia Beach at the luncheon. She expressed frustration that she couldn’t find a newspaper article about a family member’s death. In the early 1900s he was murdered in his home in Richmond. She’s looked online and at the Library of Virginia, but couldn’t find any notice of it. My new friend is African American, you see. Richmond newspapers during that time frame, probably wouldn’t have reported his murder because he was black.

Ultimately the speaker called the genealogical community to include African-Americans in their research case studies and in their lectures. Don’t simply note that the your ancestor’s owned slaves. Record those enslaved ancestor’s names, ages, locations, bills of sale, or other transfers of ownership. Uncover their identities and experiences in order to bring those stories into the light.

What must it be like to not have a story?

What must it be like to have your story ignored?

As a native and lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia, these ideas are powerful in the light of my hometown’s history. They light a fire in my own heart. Because genealogy (either paper or DNA) is a force to uncover what has been hidden. Because we cannot change in ourselves that which we don’t acknowledge.

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NGS Conference – Day 1 #NGS2017GEN

Today was the start of the National Genealogical’s Society’s Annual Conference.

Good news or bad news first?

They are tricky things, conferences. So many moving parts! Not everything can be absolutely perfect. Such was the opening session. Technical difficulties, poor transitions from one speaker to the next, speakers who shouldn’t be speakers…  Sorry NGS, but it was a dud. Even the main speakers message (a worthy one!) was overshadowed by a video with sound problems. The video’s production was painfully amateurish. But, maybe my expectations were too high?

The in-house conference center food vendors closed up shop shortly after lunch. For those of us who need an afternoon caffeine hit, it was deadly. There were at least a half dozen others longingly looking for coffee for the few minutes I stood at the counter.

On the other hand. Volunteers are friendly and helpful.

The conference app is awesome, though I’ve had trouble uploading to multiple devices. I caulk that up to user error.

The conference location choice has been tricky, as it appears that there haven’t been enough hotels close to the conference center. Veteran attendees tell me that the hotels near the conference center sold out in minutes. My hotel is … maybe I’ll leave that review for TripAdvisor.

The exhibit hall was busy and crowded. A good thing! And attendees were polite and courteous. Genealogists are some of the nicest people that I know! So navigating the masses was about as easy as possible. Conference goal #2 failed before lunch. I’m not sad.

Speakers. Genealogy giants speak at this conference. I saw two of them today, and they delivered. Start to finish, they were top notch. Content, slides, delivery, humor, engagement: out of park! I did attend 3 sessions though. Great content and slides for the third, but the speaker’s dynamic, while professional and polished, was not approachable. I have a great deal of notes, and plan acting on the new ideas I’ve learned from all three speakers when I get back home.

There is a “pig pickin'” scheduled tonight that I won’t be attending. See my goals for the conference from my previous post. I’m quietly hanging out in my room with my sore feet up, and a glass of wine getting warm as I type. That’s my signal to end for now. Warm wine = bad.

Looking forward to tomorrow. Particularly the lunch session by LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson titled, “Condemnation of Memory: Recalling that African American Genealogy is American Genealogy.”

 

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I’m a Newbie: NGS Conference, May 9-13, 2017 #NGS2017GEN

I’m attending my first conference by the National Genealogical Society and I’m pretty excited. Follow along as I give my first impressions of the conference experience, and as I reflect on seminars I’ve attended. I have a few goals:

  1. I will improve my professional skills. Some of the giants in genealogy will be there. I intend to listen early and often. I will attend the BCG Certification Seminar.
  2. I will set a spending budget and stick to it. I won’t blow my budget on the first day in exhibit hall.
  3. I will focus other time on African-American and Virginia-focused lectures.
  4. I will meet some new friends and network with other Richmond area genealogists.
  5. The conference is non-stop for 4-5 days with over 2,000 attendess. I will take breaks to find a quiet place.
  6. I will exercise and make healthy eating choices.

The car’s gotten a tune up. A playlist is forming. Phone and tablet chargers are ready. Comfy shoes are packed. The schedule is uploaded. I’m ready.

 

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Virginia Genealogical Society – Spring Conference, 22 April 2014

I was a first-time attendee this past Saturday at the Virginia Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. So, I thought I’d record a few thoughts.

First, a caveat. The conference took place in the greater Richmond area. I’m a local, so there are parts of the conference that I did not attend. For example, VGS set up a research time at the Library of Virginia with a archivist on Friday afternoon. I’m a frequent visitor to the Library, so I didn’t participate.

VGS did a great job. They were organized and all directions were clear. Volunteers were well-trained and helpful. The venue was praised by several of those at my table.

Saturday was dedicated to 4 sessions with Shannon Combs Bennett who spoke on “DNA and Social Media Search Strategies.” They sessions were “Genetic Genealogy for the Beginner,” “Creating a Research Plan for DNA Testing,” “Organize Your DNA Data,” and “Crowdsourcing Your Genealogy to Break Down Brick Walls.” Shannon is a scientist and genealogist, so her command of the DNA material was obvious. She is a well-rehearsed and well-edited speaker with a winsome and approachable style that creates a wonderfully easy and engaged audience. What a great choice to lead this conference!

It was difficult to measure the attendee experience with genetic genealogy. Most had already tested. Many administered more that one test. Questions from the audience ranged from the basic to the highly complex.

If I had a criticism, it would be very minor. Shannon is a scientist. My experience is that most experts have trouble drilling complex ideas down to easily understandable concepts for the layman. This is always a challenge for science and math-types because there is a line where simplicity overcomes accuracy. Scientists are trained to be bulls-eye accurate. Shannon was able to, in most cases, and especially during Q&A to overcome the expert-layman barrier.

Any historian-type (genealogists included) walking in cold would have to be prepared to activate the dusty parts of their brain, that haven’t been accessed since high school biology class. A great place to start are the short video series on the University of Utah‘s site on “Introduction to Molecular Biology.”

After the lunch break, VGS honored Peter Broadbent. A former director of the the National Genealogical Society, former Presidents of VGS, and Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. This was absolutely deserved. His tireless, effective and widespread work on behalf of the genealogical community in Virginia is laudable. While his accomplishments are many, the most recent was a successful Virginia state budget lobbying campaign for the restoration of funds on behalf of the Library of Virginia.

Finally, these events are always great for meeting new folks, learning with them and from them, hearing their stories, encouraging their work, and enjoying your common passion together. My new friends are a highlight.

Join VGS. Visit their webpage. Fall Conference brochure.

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Photo: Robert James Sanner

My father-in-law brought a large, blue Rubbermaid storage box to the house a year or so ago. It was filled with his father’s genealogy research (there’s one in every family, right?) It was unorganized, but filled with fantastic family information … and a Nazi flag.

When I saw it, I had to walk away. I had a hard time even touching it.

I only knew Grandpop Sanner briefly. He had a wonderful smile. I’m 5’10’ and had a nice view of his shiny bald head. He liked to keep his house warm; hot, really. He was a hit at my wedding because at 85 years old, he was cutting some serious rug! I wish that I had spent time getting to know him better before we lost him in 2002.

Robert James Sanner enlisted in the U. S. Army in Feb 1937 when he was 21 years old.1)Robert J Sanner I, personal journals and research, privately held, [address held for private use.] All Robert Sanner’s military records are from his personal files, unless otherwise noted. He was assigned to the 34th Infantry Band out of Fort G. G. Meade in Maryland. Grandpop Sanner was a great musician and played in bands throughout most of his early life. He served through World War II (hence the flag), Korea and ‘retired’ in 1959. Then he started work for the N. S. A. Yep, that N. S. A.

But, let’s get back to World War II. Robert Sanner organized and led the 6th Armored Division, 68th Armored Regiment Band. Grandpop himself noted that band musicians, while ETO played various roles including, combat infantrymen, truck drivers MPs and prison guards.

Robert J. Sanner, band leader is on the far left.

Among the many photos, newspapers and research files was hidden this one page, typed letter.2)W. A. Meehan, U.S. Army, Camp Chaffe, Arkansas, to Robert James Sanner I, letter, 11 May 1942, inquiry into Sgt Band Leader’s female acquaintance; Robert James Sanner I, Personal Genealogy Research, privately held, [address for private use.] It’s one of my favorite items.

It’s a letter from William Aloysius Meehan of Bronx, N. Y. He enlisted in Oct 1941 at Fort Dix, New Jersey and served as a clerk in the Army.3)“U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records,  1938-1946,” William A. Meehan, enlistment date 2 Oct 1941, Fort Dix, New Jersey; online database, Ancestry, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Mar 2017), citing U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, National Archives and Records Aadministration, College Park, Maryland, Record Group 64.

Mr. Meehan writes to inquire of the sargeant who lead the band regarding the beautiful woman at his side (my grandmother-in-law, Hazel.)  Her refers to her as a “bundle of loveliness who has so captivated me.” She apparently turned him down for a dance 3 times. He notes the ring on her left hand, but calls himself a “patient waiter.” He closes his letter with the plea: “in the interest of better morale among the soldiers. ” It’s an incredible letter… humorous and sassy, bold and articulate. It’s a classic representation of the Greatest Generation.

These two great items, a photo and a letter: I can almost hear Glenn Miller playing in the background. My foot is tapping and my head might be bobbing a little while I type. And while both Grandpop Sanner and William Meehan survived the war, their service and sacrifice weren’t trivialities. The soundtrack to their lives might be closer to “Taps,” than “In the Mood.”

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References   [ + ]

1. Robert J Sanner I, personal journals and research, privately held, [address held for private use.] All Robert Sanner’s military records are from his personal files, unless otherwise noted.
2. W. A. Meehan, U.S. Army, Camp Chaffe, Arkansas, to Robert James Sanner I, letter, 11 May 1942, inquiry into Sgt Band Leader’s female acquaintance; Robert James Sanner I, Personal Genealogy Research, privately held, [address for private use.]
3. “U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records,  1938-1946,” William A. Meehan, enlistment date 2 Oct 1941, Fort Dix, New Jersey; online database, Ancestry, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Mar 2017), citing U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, National Archives and Records Aadministration, College Park, Maryland, Record Group 64.
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