Looking back at 2016

What a year 2016 has been, with a many highs and some lows.

  • Moved my dad out of his home of 50 years into a personal care facility.
  • Cleaned out and sold dad’s home.
  • Kyra graduated from Grove City college with a degree in political science (with honors).
  • Paige graduated from Central Bucks East high school.
  • Paige was awarded 2 * $15,000 a year scholarships and began her college career as a freshman at Baldwin Wallace University and survived her first semester.
  • Kyra landed a job working for our PA State Representative, Representative Quinn, in her local office.
  • I attended GRIP Law School with Judy Russell for a week in June.
  • Fall elections with the country feeling more divided than ever
  • 2016 was a good year for genealogy research with several research trips to the National Archives in Washington, DC and DAR Headquarters; research at the Northampton, Westmoreland and Somerset County archives and the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, with breakthroughs on a couple of different family lines.
  • We founded a new DAR Chapter in Pipersville, Pa, the Margaret Gail Thornton chapter, with Kyra as the founding Corresponding Secretary.
  • Paige joined the Margaret Gail Thornton chapter as a new DAR Junior member
  • Cousin Jen joining a DAR chapter in NY
  • Cousins Elisa and her mother’s DAR applications pending at National to join the new Margaret Gail Thornton chapter.
  • Shadow and Lilly are still walking 2 miles a day as 10.5 year old black labs with Charlie & I each morning.

All in all, it has been a very good year, and listing the high and low points shows that it was a much better year than it feels.  I fear the political ill will and divisiveness from the 2016 elections is what has caused it to feel like a very depressing year.

May we leave this rancor behind as we start the New Year looking forward instead of carrying forward all of the bad feelings, poor reporting and negative views that has permeated the headlines and social media.

Shadow and Lilly

Shadow and Lilly

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The We’re Related App

The new We’re Related app by ancestry.com is a nifty free application that you install on an android or apple phone or tablet, and using your family tree, ancestry will match you to your famous cousins!

I have had the app installed for about a month now and can report on mixed success, with enough success that I can say, give it a shot. So far, my daughters have been matched to 39 famous cousins, with about 1 new match a day:

  • 11 Actors & Actresses
  • 5 Authors and Writers
  • 7 Musicians and Composers
  • 3 Politicians
  • 2 Social Reformers
  • 9 US Presidents & US First Ladies
  • 1 Facebook Friend
  • 1 Entertainer

While the app isn’t perfect there are upsides and connections to be made to cousins by using the application.  We’re Related pointed me to a breakthrough on Charlie’s Woolman/Reeves line (unknown parents, a lot of cousin intermarrying, and very common first and last names in Burlington County, NJ post Revolution).  By making a new cousin connection using the information in the We’re Related app,  I was able to find court records to confirm a parentage relationship, and move past a brick wall.  How often as genealogists do the floodgates open and we get to add 26 new “grandparents” over the span of 1 week?  I do so love the Quaker records!

On the flip side, remember that ancestry is using a lot of the “published trees” on their website, so if there is pervasively “wrong” genealogy out there your matches will not be “good” hits.  I offer 2 examples:

  1. Katherine Hepburn (actress, who wouldn’t want her as a cousin): Richard Wells (8th great-grandfather, abt 1694 Maryland – bef 24 Oct 1782, Harford Co, Md) is incorrectly identified as the son of one Col. George Wells and Blanche Goldsmith.  Never mind that Col George’s will written on 20 Feb 1695 makes no mention of a son Richard and mother Blanche also wrote a will on 20 Apr 1704 and her will makes no mention of a son Richard!  Because ancestry sees a parent/child relationship in almost every tree, a false match is generated.
  2. Randy Seaver (FB friend, blogger & genealogist).  My match here is generated due to confusion in the parentage of “my” Elizabeth Barnhart.  In the early 1800’s in Somerset County, Pa several Elizabeth Barnhart’s were born.  My Elizabeth’s parents were David Barnhart and Anna Maria “Polly” Kocher.  When I look at the lineage We’re Related displays, I notice Anna Margaret Spangler is listed as Elizabeth’s mother, and while Anna did have a daughter Elizabeth, but she wasn’t my Elizabeth.  The parents of my Elizabeth Barnhart, who married Henry Faith, are David & Anna Maria Barnhart (proven with church & court records).

To help me keep track of the unverified matches and debunked matches (the app lets you hide these) I created a spreadsheet to prioritize my research:

Spreadsheet to track We're Related matches

Spreadsheet to track We’re Related matches

The spreadsheet is sorted by the Odds of a Match column in descending order (odds are an off-the-cuff estimate I give each lineage of being accurate .. nothing scientific).  The confirmed matches are first, followed by the matches that I believe have the highest odds of being correct, all the way down to the, yeah, no way this is a match section.  My notes are in the Error Ancestor column: notes on research to confirm, the question that popped into my head while looking at the lineage, or why the lineage cited is wrong.

The one caveat to all of this: we are assuming that the lineage of the famous person is correct 🙂

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year ..

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Have you been a selfish FindAGrave user too?

I was looking at freeing some space on my computer yesterday and “rediscovered” the directory where I store digital pictures of cemetery markers for people that are not in my family tree!  This directory had just over 3,000 pictures, in 59 different cemeteries, and occupied a little more than 8 GB of disk space!  When I am walking around a cemetery looking for a specific grave, I usually have a mental list of the “last names” in the area that appear in my tree.  If I see a marker with that surname, I snap a picture.

My options include:

  • Delete the files (seems like a shame)
  • Ignore them (I want the disk space)
  • Add them to FindAGrave, then free disk space

Upload pictures it is.  In the first cemetery I worked with, Oakland Cemetery in Indiana, Pa., I started with 228 pictures.  Of those, only 7 were for people who were not already in the FindAGrave database.  Some of the people already had pictures of their makers attached to their memorial, so quick delete.

Along the way, I started to get a different sort of message pop up that told me I had filled a request someone had outstanding for a picture.  That made me stop and ponder a few things.  Some of these pictures have been sitting, ignored, on my computer for a few years, and people were waiting and hoping someone would go to the cemetery and take a picture of a loved ones grave.  Selfish, yes I have been selfish.  After all, I use FindAGrave as part of my usual genealogy research sites.

As part of my renewed effort, I am determined to upload the outstanding markers, and make sure that all of the people in my tree who have located markers also have memorials and pictures on FindAGrave.

To that end, here are my statistics on September 1st, 2016 1pm.  When I began on Wednesday (Aug 31st) I had uploaded approximately 450 photos.  I’ve since started on the second cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, Pa, and decided maybe I should chronicle my efforts.  It is somewhat gratifying to use this FindAGrave feature to chart my progress.  Especially the number of Volunteer Photos Taken.  Sadly, these are requests that I did not set out to deliberately fill, but were filled as a side effect of uploading older pictures, but filled requests they are.

FindAGrave Statistics

FindAGrave Statistics

When I finish uploading these pictures I will update this post to reflect my progress and effort to become a less selfish member of the broader genealogy community.

Do you have pictures taking up disk space on your computer that can be shared with the world?

I’ve finished, all cemetery photos of headstones for people not in my family tree have been uploaded.


Uploads end of the day Monday, 05 Sep 2016!


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As odd as many genealogists find it, I do not just chase down the military records of my direct ancestors, but also for the grand-uncle and the spouses of the grand-aunt, ok as long as I am confessing, and the 1st cousins.  Why?  Because military records including pension packets can be a gold mine of genealogical data.  In addition, a lot of these men served in units with each other, they married each others siblings, and frequently their children married.

David Tipton FaithIn looking at the pension packet for David Tipton “Tip” Faith, my 3rd great grand-uncle, I found several  exciting documents in the 200+ pages of material.  David served in the Civil War and received an invalid pension.  However, David did not serve alone, he served with a couple of brothers and a brother-in-law.  David, William (my 3rd great-grandfather) and Michael are the sons of Henry Faith and Elizabeth Barnhart (4th great grandparents) and Abraham is the husband of their daughter Elizabeth.

  • David Tipton Faith – Company F, 75th Pa Volunteers
  • William Faith – Company F, 75th PA Volunteers
  • Michael Faith – Company K, 105th PA Volunteers
  • Abraham Wallace – Company A, 78th PA Volunteers

ReputationsIn the case of David’s pension, a Special Examiner’s investigation was conducted, with depositions being gathered from several members of the community.  Notice the column labeled Reputations.  I’m not sure how these reputations were derived but William, his sister Elizabeth and her husband Abraham enjoyed a better reputation than father Henry and brother Michael.  Nice to know that William had such standing in his community in 1885. According to a newspaper article I found, father Henry was known for his drinking and storytelling, so I must say I’m not really surprised to see he only had a “fair” reputation.

Signature of Henry Faith

Even at age 86 Henry, who died at age 91, was able to appear in town and was judged mentally competent enough to provide a deposition to support his son David’s case and as was still able to legibly write his name!

In one Civil War pension packet for a 3rd great grand-uncle, I found the words of my 3rd great-grandfather William, his siblings, his brother-in-law, and my 4th great-grandfather, Henry.   Makes me very glad I pull all of those “uncle” pension packets!

Henry's deposition

Henry’s deposition

William's deposition

William’s deposition

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This and That

Random thoughts.

Have you ever searched census records on ancestry.com?  Ancestry.com has a neat feature where you can correct a name that has been mangled in the index, allowing other cousins to find the person.  This is a great feature but only works when the name is only slightly mangled allowing the search to find it.  When I can’t find a person by searching, I usually browse the individual census records for the town/township where I believe my relative was living.  What I haven’t figured out is an easy way to edit the index to correct the massively mangled name.  Does anyone know a way to do this?  And if it doesn’t exist, ancestry.com, can you add a button to support locating a family on the page that allows the correction to the index?

Registration for the first week at GRIP is tomorrow, February 10th.  Have you ever attended a week long genealogy institute?  I highly recommend the experience!  There are several different conferences available at different times of the year.  Registration is generally first come first served and many classes develop waiting lists (which is why I have an alarm set 60, 30 and 15 minutes out from go time).  GRIP is held in Pittsburgh, Pa and since I live in Pennsylvania, it is the only institute that is drivable distance for me.  The instructors at each conference are the same nationally renown speakers that you would see at a “regular” genealogy conference.

Each week long course is devoted to an in-depth exploration of a specific topic:  DNA, The Law, Advanced Research Skills, Pennsylvania Research, German Research, Military Research, etc.  From the outside, a week seems like forever, but time flies with sessions that delve deeper into a topic than can be covered at a shorter conference with 4 lectures, (or in a 60 minute session).  This year GRIP has 2 different week long sessions:

  • June 26 – July 1st (registration is tomorrow February 10th)
  • July 17 – July 22nd (registration March 2nd)

Additional information about GRIP can be found at http://www.gripitt.org/ .

Note, I am not affiliated with GRIP and do not receive any benefit or compensation from this post.


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Local Tax Records

On Friday (Jan 22) I made a trip to the Northampton County PA Archives.  The archives is located north of Easton in Forks township and the staff are wonderful.  It was not my first trip to this archive but it was the first trip for Jill Stephens and we had a great time.  In my local county records research, I have secured the deeds for our ancestors from Northampton county, Lehigh county (prior to 1812) and Carbon county (prior to 1843).

County Tax Spreadsheet

County Tax Spreadsheet

I assembled a spreadsheet listing the ancestors I was interested in tracing, by year and for each year listed the townships where I have deeds saying they owned land.  I used state abbreviations for people who had moved out of the area or elsewhere and as they relocated to other PA counties I identified the county (if known).  I used dashes for those who were too young to own land in a year or were deceased.

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

My spreadsheet starts at 1752 when Northampton county formed and ended in 1850.  Based on what we found at the archives, it appears that Northampton County has tax records from 1776 – today!  You read that right, they have approximately 235 years of tax records!  Year, after year after year.  Some of the early tax records are stored as loose papers in file folders (1776-1808) in 5 cardboard boxes .  A few years appear to be missing, but we found my ancestors in most of these years.  Years post 1808 are in bound books by town and township name, in stacks on the archives shelves.

Between Jill and myself we took over 320 photos in a little over 4 hours (flash off) as we divvied up the work and passed the camera.  These records are not indexed, requiring you to read each fragile page.  The good thing was that the records were usually in alphabetical order.  Below is the 1885 Northampton county tax record for Heidelberg township showing Johannes Rumbel and his son Johannes Rumbel, Junr (2 above last row).

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA -- Johannes Rumble

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA — Johannes Rumble

The years from 1809 – 1850 will need to wait for another trip.  Thankfully, I live within an hour of the archive.

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Connecting to Database Redux

Have you seen this message “Connecting to database ..” in GenDetective and been frustrated that it never goes away?  There has been a recent upsurge in this issue after installing GenDetective OR after running GenDetective for months and, after installing updates, GenDetective experiences this issue.  If you have seen this issue, the solution to this issue is simple and quick.

First, what is the cause of the issue?  There are multiple versions of  Access  available and GenDetective uses the most recent Access Runtime 2010.  Office 2010 was the last version to run on all of the older versions of Windows, which were still supported and in widespread use, at the time of the GenDetective v2 release.  Sometimes, updates to software will helpfully remove older versions and newer versions may discourage the installation of older software.

I understand that this can be very frustrating!  In the blog post #1 Question Asked About GenDetective I discuss the software that is installed by GenDetective during installation.

What’s the solution?  You can easily address this with a couple clicks of your mouse:

  1. Uninstall GenDetective 2
  2. Reboot to make sure no part of GenDetective is running
  3. Download the runtime version of Access 2010 from Microsoft here
  4. Install the downloaded Access 2010 runtime
  5. Reinstall the full version of GenDetective v2 and the issue should be resolved
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