Sunday, August 30, 2015

AncestryDNA Ups Its Genetic Matching Game

Have you heard the good news? Genetic genealogists have cause to celebrate! took a step in a very positive direction this week by adding two new features to AncestryDNA that will help immensely with your genetic genealogy research.

Genetic Matches
With the addition of a "Shared Matches" button, you now have the ability to click on the profile for a DNA match and view a list of AncestryDNA users who are also genetic matches between you and the selected profile.

Why is this so cool?

Let's say that you've recently uncovered a non-paternal event (hypothetically) and  you want to zero in on only paternal line matches. If you've been fortunate enough to identify a potential biological paternal line cousin, you can now click on said cousin's profile and select the "Shared Matches" option.

A list will generate and you're off to the races. You no longer need to trawl through your own list of matches and then a cousin's list of matches to find the few shared common matches. The comparison is automated. Efficiency is cause to celebrate.

Of course, this isn't a chromosome browser. You can't, in this current format, verify which chromosome blip the matches all share in common. Subsequently, you can't identify - with 100% certainty - the common ancestor. It remains incumbent upon the diligent researcher to scrutinize the shared matches in order to suss out a likely common ancestor.

But let's not nitpick, for now, and celebrate this victory.

Mother and Father Filter
AncestryDNA also unveiled a new filter for users who have had either or both of their parents test. Once your parents' tests are in the system, a Mother and Father button will appear in your match view.

Click on either button to see matches that you share with your mother or your father. Again, another mighty helpful feature if you're looking to focus on a particular line of your ancestry.

To learn more, check out AncestryDNA's Anna Swayne as she walks users through the new features.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family Mystery Part III: Are You My Grandpa?

After uncovering an 81 year-old family secret (see A Family History Mystery Revealed) and then identifying that secret's possible protagonist (see Family Mystery Part II: Identifying the Watchman), I set out to learn more about Sam Kirk - the mysterious watchman.

Could I identify clues that would help confirm whether Sam was my biological paternal great-grandfather?

I turned my sleuthing abilities to Sam's life to map out every documented detail. Mindful that any clue could help shed light on this family mystery, no record was too small or insignificant. This would be the definition of an exhaustive search.

Timeline of Sam Kirk's Life
1895 Iowa State Census

  • The 1895 Iowa census is the earliest document I was able to locate for Sam Kirk. His age is given as two years old.
  • He's living in Polk County, Iowa with his parents William F. and Nancy (Weeks) Kirk along with seven siblings.
  • Curiously, both father and son are enumerated by their middle names. William F. Kirk is listed as Frank Kirk and Sam J. Kirk is listed as ... drum roll please ... James S. Kirk. James!
  • Sam's middle name could explain the father's name of Jimmy Kirk that appears on my grandfather's birth certificate. 
  • Now would also be a good time to mention that my grandfather's first name was Frank. Was he named after Sam's father?
  • While this information is not conclusive proof on its own, it's certainly eyebrow-raising and may help tip the scales as we weigh the preponderance of evidence.

James S. Kirk in the 1895 Iowa state census

1900 U.S. Federal Census

  • Sam appears in Grant Township, Dallas County, Iowa. Dallas and Polk counties border each other, so the family didn't travel far between 1895 and 1900.
  • Sam is enumerated as Samuel Kirk and is now seven years old. His birth occurred in February 1893 in Iowa.
  • His parents, William F. and Nancy E. Kirk, have nine other children (ten in total).

Samuel Kirk in the 1900 U.S. federal census

1910 U.S. Federal Census

  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated with his parents living in Edgewater, Jefferson County, Colorado.
  • He's 17 years old, can read and write, but is not attending school. He is now working as a laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1910 U.S. federal census

World War I - Draft Registration

  • On June 5, 1917, Samuel James Kirk completes his draft registration card for World War I.
  • His full birth date is listed as February 23, 1893, and he says he is a natural born citizen born in Granger, Iowa.
  • He's employed by John Evert as a bee keeper.
  • He is single with no dependents, and described as short, slender, with blue eyes and black hair.

Samuel Kirk - WWI Draft Registration Card
  • A list of drafted men is published in an issue of the Colorado Transcript on February 14, 1918, indicating that Sam was pulled into service.
Colorado Transcript February 1918
  • His headstone engraving and a list of enlisted men held at the Denver Public Library indicates he served as a Private 1st Class in the Army's Motor Transport Corps.

1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated living at home with his mother and five siblings. His father is now deceased.
  • He is 26 years old, single, and working as a farm laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1920 U.S. federal census

1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • Sam J. Kirk is listed as single at the age of 36.
  • He continues to live at home with his mother and several siblings.
  • He works as a laborer completing odd jobs.
  • This is the year that my grandfather would be conceived. Sam is living in the same neighborhood as my great-grandmother. They live a 2-minute drive or 11-minute walk apart.
Samuel Kirk in the 1930 U.S. federal census

1940 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel J. Kirk is living in the same home, but his mother is now deceased. His brother William is the new head of household.
  • Samuel is 47 years old and still single. 
  • He's working as an overseer for the Industrial School for Boys in Golden, Colorado.
Samuel Kirk in the 1940 U.S. federal census

World War II - Draft Registration
  • In 1942, Samuel J. Kirk completes a draft registration card following the outbreak of World War II.
  • For the first time, he's no longer living with his siblings in the Edgewater family home. He's living in Lakewood.
  • He lists Minnie Kirk as the person who will always know his address. This is the first time we see the name of Sam's wife.
Samuel Kirk - World War II Draft Registration
  • Samuel J. Kirk died April 24, 1970 in a military hospital in Fort Lyon, Bent, Colorado. He was buried in the city cemetery in Golden, Colorado.
  • His obituary states that he was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
  • His obituary also states that he married Minnie on June 7, 1940. That date would make sense. Sam is single in the 1940 census, which was enumerated on April 1st of that year, but by 1942, Minnie is listed with the Kirk surname on his WWII draft registration card. Curiously, I was not able to locate a marriage record for them in that year. In fact, their civil marriage record is on file with the city of Denver and took place on December 5, 1963. Had they previously been married in the church and were only now - 23 years later - filing that marriage with the state? Perhaps there was a legal need that necessitated the move.
Excepting my grandfather's birth certificate, there is nothing in written record that I've uncovered to-date linking Samuel James Kirk explicitly with his son Frank. 

The documented sketch of Sam's life suggests similarities to the father on the birth certificate: he was a man of the right age, with a middle name that could be construed as the father's, and lived and worked in close proximity to the mother. 

I felt like I was researching the right man, but I wanted proof. I wanted something that could confirm whether Samuel James Kirk was my biological paternal great-grandfather. Perhaps there was a role for DNA to play in confirming a genetic link.

[To be continued.]

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Looking For Bisnonna

In October, I will travel to Italy for a three-week jaunt down the peninsula.

I plan to visit the comune of Potenza where my great-grandmother Ancilla (Ruota or Route) Colacci's parents were born and where their parents died (or at least three of them did).

I would like to visit the Potenza cemetery where Ancilla's grandparents are buried. While I'm familiar with the European practice of eventually disinterring the dead to accommodate the newly deceased, there's typically a communal grave where the remains are deposited. I want to visit that site and see where they rest eternally.

As I book hotels and map out my itinerary, I still have important research questions to tackle before I leave.

For example, how do I locate the particular cemetery where they're buried? Do burial indexes exist? Unfortunately, burial information isn't included on the Italian civil death records.

Also, I have death records for three of Ancilla's grandparents confirming they each died in Potenza. However, I'm still looking for the death record for one of them: Ancilla's paternal grandmother Vincenzia (Raimondi) Ruoti.

Did she die in Potenza? Is she buried there, too? I need to find that record to determine what happened to her.

Ancilla's Parents
Ancilla's parents were Giuseppe Route (an Anglicized iteration of the Italian Ruoti) and Maria Filomena La Rocca. They settled in Colorado where they are buried beside each other.

Giuseppe and Maria Filomena (La Rocca) Ruota
A year ago I wrote about using their marriage records to locate where in Italy they were born, when they immigrated to the United States, and to identify their parents.

With the help of fantastic researchers on the forums, we found death records for Giuseppe's father and Maria Filomena's parents. Those records indicated that they passed away in Potenza.

The remaining question about Giuseppe and Maria is when did they arrive in the U.S.? I've still not found an immigration or naturalization record for them. The 1900 and 1910 census suggest Giuseppe arrived in 1880 and 1883 respectively. Maria arrived in 1890 or 1889 according to the 1900 and 1910 censuses. Alas, this is another search (and blog post) entirely.

Maria's Parents
Maria's father was Pancrazio La Rocca. He was born in about 1829 in the comune of Tricarico to parents Rocco Vincenzo La Rocca and Maria Vincenza Mobilio. Pancrazio died in Potenza on March 7, 1887.

Pancrazio La Rocca Death in Potenza - March 7, 1887

Maria's mother was Maria Giuseppa De Melio. She was born in about 1837 in the comune of Pignola to parents Saverio De Melio and Angela Spatuzzi. Maria Giuseppa died in Potenza on March 3, 1885.

Maria Giuseppa De Melio Death in Potenza - March 3, 1885

Giuseppe's Parents
Giuseppe's father was Vincenzo Ruoti. He was born in about 1827 in the comune of Potenza to parents Rocco Felice Ruoti and Margherita D'Bello. Vincenzo died in Potenza on August 9, 1883.

Vincenzo Ruoti Death in Potenza - August 9, 1883

According to Vincenzo's death record, it appears that his wife Vincenzia Raimondi survives him. When and where did she die?

As I continue to trawl through Potenza's civil records searching for her, I'm considering the following possibilities:
  • My Italian is poor and the script can, at times, be difficult to decipher. Perhaps I've overlooked her name in the indexes. 
  • Perhaps she moved away from Potenza and died elsewhere, and I'm not searching records in the correct comune.
  • Her death record was overlooked and not included in the index of names.
  • She had multiple first names and was not indexed under Vincenzia. Although, I've been reviewing the records for any female with a surname of Raimondi.
  • She did in fact pre-decease her husband Vincenzo.
The clock is ticking down and the search continues for bisnonna Vincenzia Raimondi. 

Do you have research tips for locating my bisnonna, or confirming Italian burials? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Grazie!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Climb Your Family Tree

Genealogy is a fast growing billion dollar industry ranked as America's second most popular pastime (only behind gardening).

Its internet dominance has also scored it a position as the second most frequented category of website (right behind porn).

With the introduction of DNA testing to its research repertoire, genealogy has gone high tech. New researchers are attracted to the hobby thanks to the introduction of science and its more dynamic experience.

Continuing to attract new users is in the interest of all genealogists. More researchers mean new cousins who may hold the clues to the answers we're after.

To help lure these budding genealogists, Family Sleuther compiled a listicle over at BuzzFeed. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Grandpa Was Not Alone: The Jucket Brothers

What were the circumstances that led George Henry, my 4th great-grandfather, to change his surname from Jucket to Hawks?

Over the course of several posts, I've mapped out the chronology of known facts, which support the claim that he was the son of Daniel and Lucy (Hawks) Jucket and raised to adulthood by Lucy's sister.

He Can't Be The Only One
In the early phases of my research, a genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society advised that I look for siblings.

If Daniel and Lucy were married in December 1820 and George wasn't born until 1828, it was reasoned that there were very likely other children. Perhaps he had siblings who could help direct future research.

To get me started, the genealogist shared an 1864 death record for a possible sibling named Alonzo Daniel Jockett (sic) who was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts to parents Daniel and Lucy Jockett.

Alonzo Jockett 1864 Death Record

The surname's spelling of Jockett was different, but not so dissimilar to throw in the towel. 

Daniel Jucket and Lucy Hawks were married in Deerfield, so Alonzo's birth location indicated we were looking in the right place. 

He was 43 years old when he died, also suggesting we were looking at someone born at the right time (in 1821). 

Based on these facts, I'm inclined to believe Alonzo Jockett was a son of Daniel and Lucy (Hawks) Jucket.

A War Hero
Alonzo Jockett was a shoemaker (boot cutter) in Amherst and enlisted as a Private with the 27th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Infantry in November 1863. 

In September the following year, he was stationed near New Bern, North Carolina. A regimental history recounts that on "September 5th, New Berne (sic) found itself attacked by a force more subtile and deadly than that of the Confederates; no less a foe than yellow fever in its most malignant character."

Fifteen members of the regiment went into New Bern as "nurses and assistants during the epidemic," including Alonzo. The history notes that he fell victim to the scourge, and praised his courage.

Photo by Phil Weller. Used by permission.

"Men who will take their lives in hand and go into such a plague-stricken city to rescue their unfortunate comrades, are worthy of a lasting monument. We gladly record their noble act as reflecting honor upon themselves, the regiment, and the State..."

Grandpa Was Not Alone
The 1830 Federal Census for Daniel Jucket's family suggested that George did have siblings. There were five children (four boys and one girl) living in the household. Of course, the census didn't provide their names or define relationships. However, I strongly suspect that George is the youngest boy enumerated and the others are likely siblings, including Alonzo.

1830 U.S. Federal Census for Daniel Jucket family

Another Brother
Searching under the Jucket surname (and spelling variations), I was able to locate a death certificate for another likely brother. 

Edmund Blodget Jucket died in April 1879 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was born in August 1825 in Massachusetts to parents Daniel and Lucy Jucket. 

Edmund Jucket death record

I was hopeful the record would give Lucy's maiden name. It did not. However, Edmund's middle name of Blodget is a telling link to Lucy Hawks. Her mother's maiden name was Blodget. The evidence suggests we've found another brother.

I connected with a great-great-grandson of George Hawks (through his son Henry), who shared with me a photograph of a gold pin passed down through their family. It affirms the link to Edmund Jucket. The pin depicts a small fire engine and is inscribed on the back "E.B. Jucket 1870."

Jucket Fire Engine gold pin

Edmund was the inventor and manufacturer of the Jucket Steam Fire Engine. 

December 1870 Springfield, MA newspaper advertisement

The grandson shared family lore that said the "pins were given to Jucket employees to commemorate the first engine produced by the company. Given the material (gold) and workmanship, I believe it more likely that pins were made for Jucket family members."

A Jucket-inscribed pin passed down through the Hawks family is a strong indicator of a connection between the two surnames.

What's in a Name?
The evidence is strong that Alonzo Jockett and Edmund Jucket are brothers to George Hawks. The question remains, though, why did they keep the Jucket surname and George took Hawks? 

I can only speculate based on the facts currently available to me. I believe that Alonzo and Edmund were old enough when their mother passed away that their identities were rooted in the Jucket name. George was younger and wouldn't know the difference if the surname was changed.

Whatever the circumstances, if you're going to uncover siblings, you can't go wrong with a Civil War hero and an inventor. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Family Reunions in the Digital Age

Growing up in Colorado, I always looked forward to spending Memorial Day weekend in Kansas for our three-day family reunion. The carnival-esque atmosphere with odd characters and activities were thrilling.

The annual reunions began as a birthday celebration for my 2nd great-grandmother Minnie (Hawks) Lumpkins Barber. Born in April 1881 in a Kansas prairie dugout, Minnie was married twice (first to John Lumpkins and, following his untimely death, to Joseph Barber). She had ten children - eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Minnie Lumpkins Barber pictured center with her children

As her children grew and married, her descendants climbed into the hundreds. To celebrate her birthday, aunts, uncles, and cousins would convene at Webster Reservoir for camping, karaoke, bingo, fishing, and a Memorial Day potluck dinner.

The reunions were immensely popular, drawing hundreds of family from across the country, and continuing unabated for nearly 40 years after her death in 1973.

Lumpkins Barber Reunions Drew Headlines

As Minnie's children began to pass away, attendance at the reunions started to decline. Eventually the gatherings became less frequent and the location switched to church basements or local restaurants. It seemed that the headline grabbing strength of the reunions was bound to be lost, proving the Legal Genealogist's point that family history is typically lost within three generations.

Leveraging the Power of the Internet
Last year, after my grandmother was diagnosed with and dying from cancer, it occurred to me that I was losing my link to this family. The person who I relied on to tell me stories and answer questions about the many aunts, uncles, and cousins that made the reunions a weekend of wonderment wouldn't be around forever. I felt compelled to salvage the family link and preserve the family bond.

Facebook was my go-to tool because it is ubiquitous and easy to use. I created a closed group and began inviting family to join. In the span of a couple days, membership had climbed to over 100. There was an appetite for the group.

Family History With A Purpose
To give the group a defined sense of purpose, I drafted and posted a brief mission statement. I wanted to make it clear from the outset that the group would be a safe place to share stories, genealogy, and photos.

Despite the sizable membership and articulated purpose, the group's initial postings lacked focus and frequency. I needed a game plan to infuse energy into the group and bring the family's history to life in a way that better engaged members.

This Day in History
I created a Google calendar that included birth, marriage, and death dates for Minnie, her parents, her husbands, their parents, and her children.

When an ancestor's birthday would roll around, I would create a succinct Facebook post with photos and a brief blurb that celebrated and informed about their life. Check out the sample post for my 3rd great-grandfather William Lumpkins (Minnie's first father-in-law).

Group engagement numbers shot up. Posts began to gain dozens of likes and elicited comments from relatives recounting their own memories and stories.

Most recently, I've started farming out the updates. When a particular aunt or uncle's birthday rolls around, I now reach out to one of their children and ask them to take on the responsibility for posting the commemorative blurb. They love it, engagement numbers continue to climb, and comments are effusive with praise and excitement to see the family's history.

Reunion Again
The group celebrated it's one year anniversary in July. Since its inception, membership has grown to nearly 130, the group's photo album is bursting with family pictures (many of them new to me - the family historian!), and memories are being logged (and jogged, for that matter!) in comments. It's a true family reunion in the digital age that's preserving our history for at least another generation. I hope.

Facebook Group Event for Family Reunion
Perhaps the group's greatest success to-date, was the reinstatement of a family reunion in Kansas. Restored connections and renewed interest in our shared heritage led to creating a Facebook event for a Memorial Day family reunion. It was the first in years and drew family from several states for an afternoon dinner and fellowship.

As the group continues to gain its footing in the coming year, I'm hopeful for an even stronger showing in 2016.

What about you? Have you had luck with any of these strategies for keeping your family connected and engaged in family history? What tips do you have?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hike-and-Seek (Graveyard Edition)

Have you ever visited a cemetery in search of your ancestors' graves and felt like you were playing a game of Hide-and-Seek?

During last year's family history road trip, a visit to the Rossville Cemetery in eastern Kansas revealed that two 3rd great-grandparents (each from a different family line) did not have a headstone. Let me tell you, Hide-and-Seek isn't any fun if there's nothing to find!

Where were William Lumpkins and Iva Elzina (Haworth) Hawks James? The cemetery had no record of where they were buried. At least no record by name. The cemetery's map did include information on occupied plots, but, unfortunately, record keeping from the time of their passing didn't demand the inclusion of the occupant's identity.

Creating Stones - a Family Remembers
About ten years ago, descendants of both William and Iva began collecting funds to pay for the creation of headstones. Enough money was collected and the stones were created. The cemetery required a professional to place the memorials. Busy schedules prevented that from happening in a timely fashion. Eventually, the headstones were forgotten in storage and sat unnoticed collecting dust for years. The graves remained unmarked.

Locating Graves
After my visit to the cemetery last year, I was reminded that stones had been created and was determined to have them placed.

From published obituaries, I was able to confirm that William and Iva were in fact buried in Rossville.

William's 1909-published obituary noted that he was laid "to rest beside the wife in the Rossville Cemetery to wait for dawning of The Morning." His wife Phoebe (Howerton) Lumpkins had pre-deceased him in 1887. Her grave is on a hill and marked with a beautiful obelisk that towers above nearby monuments.

The cemetery's map indicates a burial beside her, which (based on the obit) we deduced must be William Lumpkins. Put a stone on that grave!

Photo by Linda Mitchell. Used by permission.

I was able to employ the same strategy to locate Iva's burial. Iva remarried after her first husband Edmond Oscar Hawks, my 3rd great-grandfather, passed away. Her second husband was Robert James.

Was she buried beside her first or second husband? Her 1951 obituary held the answer, stating simply, "Burial was in Rossville Cemetery." Robert was not buried in Rossville. In fact, he was buried in another cemetery beside his first wife.

An empty plot was beside Edmond Hawks' marked grave. Cemetery records confirmed that it was occupied. The most likely occupant was Iva.

Photo by Linda Mitchell. Used by permission.

It's gratifying to finally have their graves properly marked. In some small way we've restored their identities and affirmed their existence. They're no longer forgotten.