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[Table] IAmA Professional Genealogist AMA!

2012.11.04 23:24 tabledresser [Table] IAmA Professional Genealogist AMA!

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Date: 2012-10-26
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Do you believe your work contributed to grassroots of racism? Ie genealogical differences leading to fueds between ethnic groups. You know that's genuinely the first time I've heard that! I'd argue the contrary. I've managed to help people trace their cultural and ethnic heritage to places they had no idea they originated from. Anyone who discovers they are linked to another place through blood would naturally be curious and start to learn more about that culture and history.
When you realise just how intermixed we are it's very hard to still see yourself as an isolated ethnic group.
So what's up with the whole 3 wishes thing? I'm not sure what you are referring to, can you clarify a little for me?
He's asking a question about Genies, you know? Infinite cosmic power! Itty bitty living space you would know about that being a Genealogist and all. I can't believe I missed that! Never ask for more wishes. Three is a nice round number, any more and you'd never fit it into a heartwarming 120 minute animated feature.
I once read that if you have traces of red in your hair (or red hair) - that this could be a trace for having celtic ancestors..any genetic studies done on this? There have been actually - It's quite an interesting subject when you start throwing in DNA to find out more about your own history. Red hair is a mutation that arose 20-40,000 years ago and although its not a "Celtic" gene it's almost exclusively European and prevalence is overwhelmingly highest in the Celtic nations.
Worth noting though is that there are significant minorities of redhaired people from the Basque Country in Spain, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. If you've got the Red headed gene then I'd say you've got a fair chance of having genetic origins in any one of these places.
I am blond, just my beard tends to get reddish. Ancestors are dutch and polish but our family trees dont go back TOO far, so i was interested what was before,, i.e. if it is a deep rooted dutch/polish tree or if the roots lie in reality somewhere else. If you've got Dutch ancestors I'd say it's entirely possible the red hair came from there - but you know how easy it is for migration over hundreds of years, so I wouldn't want to say its a 100%. The Dutch were quite the seafaring nation!
My question is, how do you think the future of Genealogy (say, in fifty years time) will differ from today? And then again another fifty years after that? Will it just be a case of Facebook becoming a museum to track your ancestors and monopolising the industry, or do you think companies like yourselves will be able to compete? Great question! Without a doubt it's going to be easier. fifty years ago if you wanted to learn about your ancestors you had to visit the places they lived and rummage through town hall and church records, archives and libraries handling or viewing on microfiche thousands of documents in the hope you find something of note. With the rise of digitisation, you can sit at home wherever you live and automatically search through billions (without exaggeration) of records at the touch of a button and sift through only those matching locations and details that you require. The pace of this digitisation (one of the best way to preserve these delicate records for all time) is speeding up on a daily basis - huge projects are being entered into by volunteer transcribers/scanners or commercial companies that mean it just gets easier and easier to find things you would never know existed. A personal example would be that I found a full physical description of my greatx4 grandfather in a merchant navy record (5 foot 5, 32 inch chest, 28 inch waist, grey eyes, blonde hair and "slightly pockmarked") that a few years ago I'd never know existed (I just had his occupation as "ships captain" in a census). I found a woman's greatx3 uncle in a newspaper archive that we've just digitised, he disappeared with no explanation and it turns out he was kidnapped by a German secret society for breaking their rules (quite a scandal at the time that again we just wouldn't have even imagined without such rich contextual content automatically suggested to help us). I dread facebook being used as a museum...I don't know if I ever want my great grandchildren viewing my "look at this dog wearing clothes" statuses. It's possible that you could use facebook to go back a little way, but I think without getting into the world of pre-internet official documents you'll never be able to really fill in the story. I'm pragmatic - There are several large companies operating in this space, we have records nobody else has, our rivals have the same, you can get access to a fair few for free from some specialist sites (I'm here because I love Genealogy, not to give you a hard sell) - but no matter who has YOUR personal records, you can't beat that emotional response of finding something connecting you with someone you know is a part of you personally.
Say that if my family tree is well documented, going as far back as the 1600's, could you take that from there and find out the region of France they're originally from? They were persecuted as Huguenots and fled to England, and how much would that cost me? I'd applaud you first of all for being able to get that far! I'd say that it's possible to go further, particularly as some of the records in French archives are VERY well preserved (Montauban would be your best bet as it was the nexus of the Huguenot movement) but you'd want to employ someone who could both speak fluent French to understand the records fully and could physically visit the archives to go through them and photograph them for you (very few are digitised). I've come across a few organisations that have agents in the field so to speak - I'd get in touch with these guys (the national huguenot society) to see if they can point you to a reasonable one who could take you further Link to www.huguenot.netnation.com
Alright so I messaged you, and am awaiting reply. I'll take a look shortly and see what I can do - Give me a few days and fingers crossed I can dig something up for you!
How much do you rely on the work of the LDS (Mormons) in your daily research? Do you frequent their family history centers? It's impossible to deny that the LDS work is invaluable, thanks to them we've progressed so much faster than otherwise would be possible. They've been instrumental in transcribing some of the largest projects in the industry. I have used their site before and they've got a range of records that simply put, nobody else has.
I don't personally get to visit their centres as much as I'd like to as I'm based in London but I've heard nothing but good things about the advice they can offer and the free assistance they can give both from colleagues and customers. If there's one near you I very much recommend paying them a visit!
Where would you start with a family tree? How many generations can you expect to go, reasonably? Start with your surviving family. Get a notepad and pen, talk to as many as you can to find out what they know about their own parents and grandparents/relatives - It's rare to not be able to get back 2-3 generations just with this information. Once you've got that you can start delving into records with the furthest back you've got, either using census information (you'll need to get back to 1940 in the US to start using those, 1911 in the UK/Ireland) or birth registrations that will document the parents of your last known ancestor to get things back a little further. Give me a little more specific background on your heritage and I'll happily give you a proper helping hand to start you off!
I have traced my family back to 1900 Lithuania (part of Russia at the time). How do I continue going back? I can go to Lithuania to search for records, but I'm assuming those records are not in English. A lot of the time it was quite dependent on who was on duty at the time your ancestors got to their port of arrival, even something like an officer mishearing a name can result in a complete rename (though uncommon). Places like Ellis Island were frequently staffed with translators who would translate for the great multitudes of men and women who arrived without a word of English between them, smaller ports weren't so lucky. People frequently changed their names to fit in later on as they considered themselves more "American" - As daft as it sounds you'd do worse than to look at baby name sites, they tend to list the different national versions of each Anglicised christian name.
EDIT: How do firstnames translate between languages? (Like "Carlos" is "Charles" in English.) How do I find the Lithuanian, or possibly Russian, translation of my ancestor's firstnames? You can contact the Lithuanian national archives for a genealogical search but they are VERY overworked and currently have up to a three year delay for requests! You'd be better off maybe contacting a Lithuanian Genealogist who could go to the archives for you? I'd say you've got a great chance of getting back further though!
What kind of educational background/training do you need to become a professional genealogist? There ARE courses offered and professional certifications that you can take - The Association of Professional Genealogists for example or the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives for example, not to mention there are a couple of universities that have started to offer recognised postgraduate courses. I've found most of the professional genealogists I've worked with so far though have fallen into this accidentally by doing their own family tree and getting so hooked that they start doing friends and relatives too, branching out from part time hobby to full time passion.
I wouldn't say that you need any kind of actual training other than a keen investigative streak and a love of puzzles! If you get accurate results then you're as good as anyone else!
Is there anywhere specific or books that you can recommend? I'd fall into that category of people who who done a lot of research around their family, but I'd eventually like to go professional like yourself! If in the US I'd recommend these people - Link to www.ngsgenealogy.org
They are a non profit society that can help you with both paid and free guided learning & home study to help improve your skills, in addition to giving you support along the way.
My question is: How do you charge people for your services? Is it per generation, or a flat rate, or perhaps hourly? It seems like a hard thing to quantify. I personally have a rather unique setup in that I don't have to charge, It's my job to make things easier for people to do it themselves through the website I help to run, which they can pay a subscription to for unlimited access to records or buy pay as you go credits to browse. I've seen both arrangements professionally though, I'm currently working with an Italian Genealogist who I'm paying an hourly fee for their time (as they have to physically go to a very small village in Italy that I could never get to to get hold of the records) but I know that takes a little trust. Quite a lot of genealogists either assess what someone wants and what information they have (some projects take weeks of solid work, others you can get together in an afternoon) to give a "job rate" or offer a sort of "package" rate where they guarantee to do the research for three or more generations, present all the research and documents in a folder and with a neat family tree at a particular cost.
My question is: if I really wanted to make the tree again-- is my only realistic way of doing it asking elders again? (I live in the US, I did this in 2006 when I visited for the second time.) Or will online resources like a family history site be helpful? There are sites with public family trees that if you can find a relative on you could easily link yourself to many thousands of people, the issue with that though is you are relying on other peoples research that may not be as thorough as your own. If you are happy with that then I'd say go ahead, but Ideally I'd still say asking your elders is the best way. Many sympathies for the loss too, I don't know what I'd do if that happened to me!
Is the future of genetic sequencing on an exponential rise? I understand it is becoming more and more convenient and cheap per base pair, but would you see babies being sequenced 5, 10, 20 years down the road? Is it ethical in your perspective? I deal with the past rather than the future - but here's my go at this question anyway - Sequencing is cheaper yes, and can be a great way of discovering genetic likelihood of developing certain forms of cancers, diseases and other things that can be avoided much more easily with changes to lifestyle and diet. I can't see that as a bad thing.
The darker area is in sequencing an unborn child, if you knew a child would be born disabled somehow then would you then be more likely to not give that child a chance at life? What if as now in some societies where boys are valued more than girls you learnt that it would have blue eyes instead of brown. Would you do the same thing? I'm all for sequencing that will aid long and healthy life, I'm dead against anything that could be used to potentially extinguish it in the name of personal preference or societal fashion of the time.
Whats the basic start once someone has come in wanting their family tree? I know mine back 4 generations, but after that, you hit the turn of the 20th century, and things get fuzzy quickly. What do you do to trace lineage beyond the 1900's? Where are you looking and how much do you know? Your greatest resource both in the US and UK is Census information. The detail on these censuses covers everyone who lives in a household, their birthplaces and relationships & then as they are every decade you can usually pick up the parents of children and keep running backwards (US censuses go back in detail to 1850 and before then still record heads and demographics till 1790, UK censuses are detailed and currently released go from 1841 to 1911). Give me a little more information and I'll gladly give you a nudge where to look and dig out maybe a few for you to get you started.
Hi Myko! My great grandparents came to America from Greece in the early 1900s. I've found their ship manifest, and all of their records after arrival, but I have no idea how to go about finding anything from before they left Greece. Any suggestions? Ah Greeks, a lot of the time original Greek surnames were changed or shortened meaning locating older records in Greece is foften a big ask. Original surnames can give clues to lineage though, lots of the prefixes and suffixes indicate geographic areas within Greece. The suffix "akis" often designates Crete for example. Similarly, the suffix "ellis" often means a family from the island Lesbos, and "oudas" means from northern Greece (Macedonia). The prefix "Kondo" often designates an island (kondo is Greek for short").
Before 1925 all Greek records were recorded in the church - so you'd have to look there to get what you needed. I'd recommend enlisting the services of a professional who can visit the church and read their original records, it's difficult yes, but not impossible!
I see the site you work at is British. Is there much difference between searching family history for Britains, Americans, etc.? Is one easier or harder? Americans for the most part are a little luckier, their publicly available censuses go up to 1940 which covers a great many parents and grandparents already - here in the UK thanks to privacy laws we only have up to 1911 released (and after 1921 it gets hard as 1931 was destroyed and 1941 was never taken thanks to the war). Passenger lists on ships leaving and arriving the states are a great resource and so it's usually quite easy to cover someones history from arrival in the US to the current day. Where you back to your ancestral home results are different - European wars have often caused the destruction of records (particularly in Ireland and Germany/the Soviet Union).
A lot of it though is down to chance. sometimes you'll find someone with an easy to find name who's from a region with very undamaged and complete records, others it can be an absolute nightmare (there are over 50,000 John smiths in the UK). That's half of the fun though!
Speaking of passenger lists, I have an ancestor who came to Connecticut around the 1630's. But nobody has been able to find a record of him outside of America. I'm assuming he probably came from Britain, so if that's true how complete and available are passenger lists from that era? In honesty at that point near nonexistent. If the name is rare enough you may be able to pick them up in parish records in the UK and hope it disappears at about the same time yours appears? Drop me a name and some further details and I'll try to take a look for you.
1) What websites do you recommend other than ancestry.com and familysearch.org? I'd say every website has its own unique record collections, if you've exhausted those ones then naturally I'd recommend findmypast.co.uk as the next biggest to take a look at (I do work there, but there are thing that may well help you out) - perhaps dig around a free search and see if there's anything that might fill in a gap you might have before taking the plunge and investing.
Is findmypast geared toward UK records, or does it also have records from America? I ad considered looking there and signing up, but I thought it was just UK. If not, I might have to give it a go to find some info on a small branch of my tree from Ireland. We have a relatively new world collection that you probably didn't see last time you were on there, that runs with the .com, .au and .ie sites, they cover British, Irish, American and Australian/NZ records - If you are looking at Irish records which I'm sure you know are quite difficult with the destruction of many of them we've got the most complete Griffiths' valuation (which is still growing) that should help a fair bit in addition to some amazing petty sessions and court records (I love the petty sessions, the detail in those and the prison records can be fantastic if you are lucky/unlucky enough to find your ancestors in them).
As I said I'd never recommend buying without trying first, so take advantage of the free trial and see if you can break through any brick walls before you leap in. Hope that helps you out.
Is it more difficult or impossible researching the history of immigrants? I am assuming Eastern Europeans backgrounds are harder than Western and Asian/African histories are more difficult than European? It's never impossible - You'll actually find that the most full and accurate genealogy in history is Chinese, covering the descendants of Confucius (they were given a special status in Chinese civil service) There are more than 1.3 million living descendants and it's still incomplete! here's a link to a little more info - Link to www.chinadaily.com.cn
African history is unfortunate, records of families were passed orally and so were lost quite easily - that is a difficult one.
Almost every government in Europe had a vested interest in keeping track of their citizens for taxation and demographic purposes, together with other sources - so I'd say that again you'll find records everywhere, just some sets of records in different European places will be far more complete than others.
How could you look for your family tree in countries like France and Germany? Are there sites for those countries too? Digitisation is still relatively new but it's ongoing - Depending on where you are going back to you've always got national government archives, plus I'd try a site like Link to www.familysearch.org and see what they have.
Once you've done that then start to broaden out to more specialist sites or locations to get a a better picture.
We're most records lost in the last 100 years or so? For the most part yes, as all these records were vast mountains of paper it's just all too easy for a spark from a bomb or fire to send the whole lot in flames. A great amount were lost across Europe during the reformation too though, burnt along with the monasteries and churches that kept them in the 1500s.
I saw earlier you pointed out how Germany lost quite a bit during the Wars, and I know here in Ireland during the civil war in the 1920's we lost a 1000 years of documents! The Irish records are a genuine tragedy. It's not just the civil war that caused that - whoever gave the order to pulp the 1881 and 1891 census for paper during the first world war should have been shot. That's just awful. Having spent a weekend in Dublin this month at the Back To Our Past family history show my heart goes out to how hard it can be with Irish ancestors.
We're there many copies made of them at all or we're they pretty much stand alone? Like was there any more centralized hub's so to speak or we're the churches and monasteries at the time the most central it got? I never knew about the first world war pulping. It does make your blood boil alright. It's quite interesting though how certain events can be so damaging to history. On my mother side, we can trace it back to the early 19th century if not the end of the 18th century. On my father side however we can trace it back to the 16th century where they came from Summerset in the UK. How difficult would it be to trace back family history's in non western nations? I'm assuming area's that had a imperial presence from Europe benefited somewhat more with records. But if not or even before that was there much if any records kept? When you talk about non western nations are we talking about colonial nations or places like China and Japan? Give me some examples and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction.
Well both actually hah. Japanese village records going back to 709 have actually been digitised already, not to mention clan genealogy.
The Chinese take their family heritage seriously, so you'll quite often be lucky and find immaculate genealogies passed from generation to generation - Try this site and it might give you what you need Link to www.familysearch.org
My mother was adopted. We have no idea who her parents were. How would I go about determining what ethnicity I descend from on her side? Is there genetic testing for this sort of thing? There is, it's come on remarkably in recent years - I've not used any of the competing companies and I'm by no means an expert on that (it's still quite a new field) so I can't personally recommend you one to use, but you should be able to get a full breakdown of where your ancestors most likely came from fairly easily.
Google for Genetic Genealogy testing and compare a few, one of those should more than be perfect for what you need.
Have you ever searched someone's family history and had the pleasure to tell them that they were decendents of royalty? I have! You'd be surprised how often that happens you know. Everyone has two parents, four grandparents, multiplying by two for each generation meaning you have more ancestors than people who have ever existed on earth once we get to the 8/900s. Anyone who's line hasn't died out from that era you can be quite confident of being related to in some way. It's statistically a near certainty that if you are of European heritage you are a direct descendant of the emperor Charlemagne.
You can't brag about that though until you found the proof! I refer to one time a month or so ago at a family history show in Dublin, where I met a lady who started tracing her family tree a few weeks earlier out of curiosity and found she was a descendant of a "Clement Winstanley", a fairly well to do man from the late 1700s. Clement had ordered a personal genealogy in the past (This hobby has been going on for a long time!) which was located and a full pedigree listed going right the way back to King Edward III! That was quite the find for an unassuming lady from the Irish countryside!
It's statistically a near certainty that if you are of European heritage you are a direct descendant of the emperor Charlemagne. There has been a lot of research about that actually - 8-10% of asians are direct descendants and as many as 1 in 200 men worldwide!
Damn, that's cool (although it would be far cooler if one's a distant descendant of Genghis Khan) Take a look at this - Link to blogs.discovermagazine.com
I thought it was something like 30% for all asians. Interesting. I find genealogy very intriguing, also language genealogy. The fact that in the end very human is related to another is very humbling. And, in some ways, fun. The research into "Adam and Eve" is quite strange if you ever look into that when reading up. The notion that there actually was an Adam and Eve (though not in the religious depiction, they lived thousands of years apart) that we all share our lineage from many tens of thousands of years ago always blows my mind.
How much easier is Genealogy now that many web sites have transcribed handwritten records all over the place? Infinitely! I'd say it's the singular biggest development in the industry since its inception. In the past (and I work with people who've been doing this their whole lives and remember this) you'd have to book days in archives that could be up to thousands of miles away and spend your whole day wearing white gloves delicately leafing through thousands of documents in the hope you might find something of use. now you can sit at home and search billions of records at the press of a button, examining only those that are likely matches and even being shown matches from sets of records you would never have even known to look at. The value of that just..can't be overestimated.
How accurate are the websites that claim to give you your family crest? Family origins are well and good but quite often surnames derive from a profession (as the case of Smith or Cooper), an ancestor (like Anderson or Jones). You could quite reasonably accurately pinpoint a national origin based on surname, but I'd say the rest would be more speculative and wouldn't go into too much detail.
There are surnames that have derived independently in opposite sides of the country as corruptions of very different names (as literacy was often not great in the past spellings would change sometimes from generation to generation, I've found three different spellings of my surname in previous proven ancestors myself).
Do you believe in evolution? If so can you believe that so many people don't? If not, why not? I do believe in evolution, though I try not to judge others on what they believe as much as possible - we've both got access to the same facts, if they choose to come to a totally different conclusion I guess that's their look out. I'd happily debate the issue with them over a drink though all night long.
Ohh ok, I've heard that, my last name is Pottle, so it probably came from potter right? But that's not really what I meant, maybe I worded it wrong, what I meant was the images like what would have been on my shield if I were a knight. Coat of arms were granted to a person and their descendants, so you'd have a "Pottle" coat possibly, but you'd then have to find some way to link yourself to those particular Pottle descendants as opposed to a different group of people with that surname. That will be A Pottle crest definitely, but if it's your ancestors you'd have to prove with research. Who knows..you might find someone even more worthy of a coat of arms!
Do you have tons of people always asking if they were related to royalty? I'd say it's one of the more common requests. People quite often want to find that link because we know so many stories about royals, the things they did, the lavish places they lived and how they went about their business.
It is powerful enough to find that link, but I've seen so much more moving stories from pit miners and travelling salesmen, people who didn't live in palaces but through the records we've managed to illuminate their whole lives and show the hardships they endured & the fantastic things they managed to still do.
Can I know if the son of a girl is mine or my brother? Maybe the DNA is to alike. You'll have different markers in your DNA that are unique to you - the chances of having an incorrect DNA match are 1 in millions, no matter how closely related you are. A modern DNA test can quite accurately tell you parentage of anyone if you've got proper samples from everyone concerned.
Hey! Is it possible to make a full-time living as a geneaologist? How much do they charge per hour? It is, I know a great deal of them - rates per hour vary wildly usually depending on the difficulty of a project and how much specialist knowledge is required. The best paid ones tend to be able to visit archives and get records that other people can't, coupled with skills in that area to know what to look for if the trail goes cold. You'd be surprised how many experts can be completely stumped for another to stroll over and instantly solve a mystery!
What are some tricks that you might have for researching matrilineal lines of descent? Marriage certificates! You quite often find the father of the bride listed in these, which gives you a maiden surname and a new line of inquiry straight away!
Icelandic here, so I can trace my ancestry back to the 800's (yay I'm inbred). So along with being of Norse ancestry, I have quite a lot of Celtic/Irish ancestors as well. I find their ancestry quite interesting, do you know more about them? As in did they all look the same? (Reddish hair, freckles, their eye colour etc.) and from what regions have they (my celtic ancestors) originated from before they even found the British Isles? We are all pretty inbred when you go that far back! I wouldn't worry about that. There was no uniform look in the British Isles, though Red hair was far more common here than elsewhere definitely. Over 40% of Irish carry the gene for example.
Celts originated in North Africa and migrated through Iberia (you'll still find a significant minority of redheads in the Basque country) and Britanny before crossing to the British isles. You'll find a lot of genetic similarity between these peoples, together with a degree of closeness of language too!
Which way are you supposed to go with the genealogy stuff? With who was married to whom (and therefore legally father), or with the real father (or mother if different) if the legal and social father did not match the biological father? Social or biological ancestry? Genealogy is an open field - Some people research only direct ancestors, some build a picture of an entire family, others build in the trees of people who married into a family to make the biggest interconnected picture they can!
Who is the person you know who can track their family tree back the farthest? How far back does it go> Professionally that would be the descendants of the philosopher Confucius - Anyone related to Confucius was offered special status in Chinese civil service and so his genealogy has been recorded now since 500bc. There are over 1.3 million living descendants in the last published edition, going right up to his 79th generation.
Personally I know a few people who can get back to the 900s thanks to being related to nobility. To get past the dark ages is near impossible thanks to record destruction so I'd be very impressed if you could get much further. Some of these dark ages kings wrote their own genealogies to legitimise themselves that were less than honest..One I remember boasted being a descendant of not only Julius Caesar but the Viking god Odin. So make of that what you will.
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