Sunday, April 29, 2018

Oh Canada...Join Us At OGS!

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The Shamrock Genealogist has been conducting her lectures this past year, with the most recent one done at the Salina Library in Syracuse, NY this past Monday. I covered how to use NextGen tools to get the younger generation interested in research (such as social media, blogging, mobile applications). I will be giving a variation of this lecture (which will focus more on how to use NextGen tools to further your research) as well as a new lecture on Prince Edward Island repositories and records at the upcoming Ontario Genealogical Society conference, 6/1 - 6/3 at the University of Guelph. I'm very excited to be presenting at an international conference.

Before this conference starts there will be all sorts of tours and events going on starting on that Thursday, May 31st. Do you have ancestors that travelled by train? You may be interested in the Palmerston Railway Heritage Museum Tour. Want to sneak away to do some research? You may want to check out the tour at the University of Guelph McLaughlin Library? Find yourself a foodie? There's a brewery tour as well as an olive oil tasting tour. Want to check out the city? Check out the bus tour going to the McCrae House, Guelph Civic Museum and Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate.

There are some wonderful workshops on Friday presented by speakers like Amy Johnson Crow and Kirsty Gray. Mags Gaulden (from Grandma's Genes) is giving two DNA workshops that will be of interest if you're looking for help on locating your DNA matches and how to connect them to the global family tree.

Saturday and Sunday are when the majority of lectures are occurring. There will also be an expansive Marketplace where you can check out vendors. The platinum sponsors for the conference are LivingDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry and Pass It Down. You will have the opportunity to check out the new swag offered by the NextGen Genealogy Network, who will be in attendance at the conference.

The last day to register online and order meals is May 11th. Don't delay and register!

Will I be seeing you at the conference? What lecture(s) are you looking forward to attending?

GEDMatch: Helping You Find Family and Solving Crimes

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I started using GEDMatch a few years ago after I started testing my DNA and wanting to find more cousins and learn how to better analyze my results. Genetic genealogy is an important part of the genealogy tool kit to verify your paper trails. And sometimes you uncover a surprise like an NPE, a non-paternity event (ex. a parent isn't a match to a child). In my case, you find out about a child that you never knew was in the family. Check out my blog post about Thomas Corcoran. 

The process to add your DNA profile is fairly simple. You can register for a free account (or pay $10/month to be a Tier 1 subscriber for some tools). You download your DNA file from the site (usually a commercial one like Ancestry, 23andme, FamilyTree DNA, MyHeritage, etc.) and upload it. Note: GEDMatch has created a generic upload that will work for other kits as well. Then you usually wait a couple of days before you can run the one to many matches to see the DNA cousins you have. Suffice to say I have a lot of DNA matches b/c of my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

You can also add a GEDCOM file, which contains information from your family tree. This can be useful in conjunction with your DNA profile to search across your DNA matches and help narrow down cousins and hopefully find your most recent common ancestor (the one you both have in common).

GEDMatch has been in the news recently with a new suspect arrested in the "Golden Gate Killer" case. Law enforcement used GEDMatch to conduct familial DNA testing, where they locate relatives of the unknown DNA sample found at one of the murder crime scenes. This helps narrow the suspect fool to a specific family. The officers then constructed a very large family tree based on DNA matches' trees (possibly their GEDCOM files that were uploaded) to narrow down potential suspects.  When a suspect was identified that lived miles of many of the murders, the police put the suspect on surveillance, gathered evidence that had his DNA (ex. like disposed trash), and confirmed it was a match. A second DNA sample was taken from the suspect and he was arrested the following day after the match was confirmed. 1

When news spread of the arrest, discussions started occurring within the genealogy community in regard to how the police conducted their investigation to identify the suspect based on DNA. One of the main concerns was that law enforcement used GEDMatch without a warrant and that in doing so violated the rights of users who upload their DNA to GEDMatch for genealogy reasons and probably had no idea their information would be used in a police investigation. I think it's going to be an interesting trial as we learn more about the investigation.

GEDMatch's terms of services don't prohibit use of the site by law enforcement and warn users that the site could be used for "other purposes". 2 Now is the time to make terms of service crystal clear on what private web sites can be used for so that users can understand any potential risks of having their DNA uploaded, whether it's an unknown relative or a possible criminal investigation into someone related to you. I do want to encourage everyone not to panic and purge your data from GEDMatch. DNA is being used more frequently to clear suspects of charges and it's in our benefit to assist law enforcement where possible to solve these horrible crimes. We do need to make sure that our laws are up to date as technology is evolving to make sure that any necessary procedures are in place (ex. search warrants) before police start searching in a pool like GEDMatch (especially if they are not versed in constructing family trees like us genealogists).

I'm hopeful that with these changes, we can continue to capture the bad guys and help guarantee a conviction. It would be very sad if police went to such lengths to identify a killer and the case is dismissed due to improper handling of evidence.

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2 - See 4/27/2018 announcement on

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Finding Ancestors: The Ultimate Scavenger Hunt

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Genealogy is like a long version of a scavenger hunt. You get some clues and you have to figure out what they mean to get to the treasure. Maybe you have an oral history passed down, a document you found at an archive, perhaps a photo without your ancestors labelled. And your next goal is to find out more about your ancestor and then you hit a brick wall. No records found in the location you expect. If your ancestors are like mine, they pick up and can move quite far away.

Let's look at my great grandfather, Thomas James Corcoran. He grew up in Dillonstown, County Louth and was then sent off to America at the age of 26 to meet a cousin. The rest of his family stayed behind in Ireland.  You can read up more about why he left here. He never came back to Ireland so the record trail would run cold if I only continued to research him in Ireland. My 3rd great uncle Peter Dougherty also left for America. He was born in Ireland but went with his family as a young boy to Prince Edward Island, Canada and then ultimately came to America to homestead.

I then think of our current generation where it seems like nobody really lives in the same place for long. From my personal experience, I grew up on Long Island, NY until I was 18. Then lived in central, NY at college and then back to Long Island for two more years following graduation. I then went back to central NY to live in Syracuse for the next 10 years. I'm now about to make another big move and go to Boston, MA. I wonder sometimes if anyone researching me years after I pass if they'll be able to trace my migration pattern. They would need to understand where I went to school and look at the FAN club to see that I had college friends in Syracuse, NY area (maybe one day Facebook will be archived and give some clues to who we associated with). Then I wonder what they think when they're looking for me in 2018 and I'm not in NY. I'm probably not listed in any city directory or phone book. And who would think that I would make a jump to Boston from central NY?  I don't have any close family there.

Let's throw another wrinkle into this equation. I lived in Onondaga County, NY but my marriage actually took place in Madison County, NY in a small town called Canastota. We found a wedding venue there and there was no restrictions on where we got married in NY. My marriage certificate is actually filed at city hall in Dewitt, NY (in Onondaga County in a neighboring town near where I lived).

To leave a lasting legacy we need to leave some kind of paper trail. Type up the family history and include yourself before you donate it (or leave it set up for donation after you pass) to go to a historical society. Blog about your experiences while you're still here on this Earth and share the history. Oral history is such a valuable resource and the stories passed down capture more details than most manuscripts. There are people who knew your ancestors. Record their memories and say their names to keep them alive. Leave those bread crumbs so your story can be found.

What does your scavenger hunt look like for your descendants?