Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ancestry's We're Related - at 100 celebrities

Ancestry’s We’re Related app has now told me about 100 possible relatives. This is a good place to discuss some statistics.

Occupations (my categories)
  • Actors - 25
  • Presidents - 19
  • Entertainers - 13
  • Authors - 13
  • Politicians - 9
  • Athletes - 4
  • Science - 4
  • Business - 3
  • Military - 4
  • Activists - 2
  • Artists - 2
  • Vice Presidents - 1
  • First Ladies - 1
Note: The meaningful of this is is of course slightly dependent on the breakdown of the individuals they have in the database.

Furthest confirmed ancestor on my chart
  • Betts, Capt. Richard - 7
  • Chamberlain, Joanna - 2
  • Chamberlain, Robert - 3
  • Clark, Abigail - 52
  • Horton, Barnabas - 1
  • Horton, Penelope - 1
  • Meyer, Elizabeth - 2
  • Pitney, Mary - 16
  • Schauer, Michael - 2
  • Swazey, Joseph - 3
  • Van Tock, Hannah - 8
  • Wines, Sarah - 3
Note: Abigail Clark is definitely my 'gateway ancestor' to the most alleged celebrity kin. Mary Pitney a distant second.

Individuals for whom my research confirms my alleged ancestry (8/100)
  • John Kerry
  • Mark Twain
  • Jim Varney
  • Johnny Depp
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Tom Hanks
  • Stephen King
  • Theodore Roosevelt
I could say these are individuals for whom the relationship is very likely...if I trusted the research for the celebrities. But...

Individuals for whom my research confirms my alleged ancestry, and other research I trust confirms the celebrity’s ancestry (1/100)
  • John Kerry
Note: I haven't actively tried to research any of the celebrity ancestries. However, with the advent of Who Do You Think You Are and other genealogy shows, many celebrities have had some professional research done. And even without the shows, many politicians have had their genealogies well-researched.

Out of the 19 Presidents I'm allegedly related to – those for whom the alleged President’s ancestry is confirmed through Ancestors of American Presidents by Gary Boyd Roberts, 2009 edition. – 2/19
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
Note: There are 4 generations in my own ancestry I'd have to confirm to prove this relationship.
  • Barack Obama
Note: There are only 2 generations in my own ancestry I  have to confirm. I'll step out on a limb and say this relationship is the likeliest of all the Presidents the app has generated. If anyone can find sources for me to back up the ancestry on WikiTree linking Mary Pitney to Samuel Smith, that would be helpful. (Sources other than WikiTree, that is.) I discussed this possibility back in October.
                                                            
For the other 17 Presidents, the number of extra generations that are extended unto Gary Boyd Roberts' research

George Washington - 1
John Adams - 1
James Madison - 2
William Taft - 2
Richard Nixon - 2/3 *
Calvin Coolidge - 3
Theodore Roosevelt - 3
Harry Truman - 3
James Carter - 3
Thomas Jefferson - 4
Franklin Pierce - 4
Zachary Taylor - 4
George HW Bush - 4
George W Bush - 4
Abraham Lincoln - 5
William Clinton - 6
Ronald Reagan - 7

*App provides a different 6th great grandfather for Nixon, and then goes 2 more generations.

Note: Washington and Adams would appear to be the easiest for me to research to confirm/disprove. However, the number of unconfirmed generations in my tree are 7.
               
Celebrities whose alleged ancestry goes through an ancestor’s adopted parent (I'd have no problem with this if the app made it clear.) - At least 1/100
  • Robin Williams (his mother was adopted)
In Summary

The app is very entertaining. However, without sources to back up the ancestor charts, that's all it is. The percentage of alleged matches where I have been able to confirm the ancestry back to the shared ancestor for either myself, or the celebrity, is quite small.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Defining a Person by their Occupation

Most genealogy databases have a category field for Occupation, which can be entered similar to an Event with a date and place. And if someone was faithful in entering data into the field, and used consistent terms, it could be used to search the database. You could find all the tailors, or all the famers.

However, some tailors are called furriers, and some blacksmiths are called farriers, and there are subtle differences between musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters. It's difficult to be consistent with occupation titles without running into individuals who don't quite fit into your categories. And since the choices can be subjective, decisions will vary.

***

I wrote about how Ancestry's We're Related App categorized Richard Nixon as "Politician" rather than "President." While that was an obvious error, their simple decision to sort the results into occupational categories, and only allow one occupation per individual, means many of their choices are going to be debatable.

A simple example: William Howard Taft.

Sure, his primary categorization is easy - President.

However, the app's listing of categories (see right) currently tells me that I have no relatives who were U.S. Supreme Court Justices. And I know that isn't true. (And a good percentage of the Politicians and Presidents are/were also Lawyers.)

Below are all the "Possible Relatives" the app has currently suggested to me for whom I would categorize differently. [All my suggestions are used for other individuals by the app.]



  • Robert E. Lee - Military Figures
  • Ring Lardner - Authors
  • B.F. Skinner - Scientists 
  • Walt Disney - Artists
  • Britney Spears - Entertainers
  • Franklin Pierce - Presidents
  • Richard Nixon - Presidents
The last two are the most obvious mistakes. Classifying Ring Lardner as an entertainer also seems to be a mistake when he is known for his writing. Walt Disney was definitely entertaining, but I think not classifying him as an Artist is a slight against cartoons and animation. I'm not sure if B.F. Skinner's categorizing is a mistake or a slight against Psychology as a science. There are several people in the Musicians and Composers category that raised my eyebrows, but most of them have either played a musical instrument, or at least composed some of their songs. Britney Spears' name has appeared in conjunction with others in some of her song credits, but she is known for her performances.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day 2017

To A Lady
by Victor Hugo,
From Les Feuilles D'Automne

Child, were I king, I'd yield my royal rule,
My chariot, sceptre, vassal-service due,
My crown, my porphyry-basined waters cool,
My fleets, whereto the sea is but a pool,
For a glance from you!

Love, were I God, the earth and its heaving airs,
Angels, the demons abject under me,
Vast chaos with its teeming womby lairs,
Time, space, all would I give--aye, upper spheres,
For a kiss from thee!

translation by Thomas Hardy
photogravure by Goupil et Cie, from a drawing by Deveria, appears in a collection of Hugo's poetry published by Estes and Lauriat in the late 1800s.


Why is Valentine's Day on February 14th?

There is a theory that the only reason today is associated with Cupid is due to a poem Geoffrey Chaucer wrote.
In 1381, Chaucer was busy composing a poem in honor of the arranged marriage between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. This was a very big deal indeed, and Chaucer was looking for just the right saint to honor on May 3, the day Richard II signed the papers of engagement to his Bohemia beauty. 
His search ended, Kelly surmises, when Chaucer learned that a Saint Valentine of Genoa had an honorary feast day on May 3. Perfect! So he wrote the poem "The Parliament of Fowls" in the couple's honor. 
"The Parliament of Fowls" literally means "the meeting of birds," says Kelly. "Chaucer dreamed up the idea that all birds chose their mates on May 3rd," he says.

After Chaucer's death in 1400, Valentine's Day celebrations got pushed back to February.
Why exactly is unclear, however, if you forgot, and someone is upset, perhaps you can use this information to give yourself a few extra months.

Friday, February 10, 2017

We're Related App - Categorization Error

Apparently, Ancestry's We're Related app places Richard Nixon in the "Politicians" category and not the "U.S. Presidents & Vice Presidents" category.



I'm fairly certain this is a coding error and not a political statement. But it is humorous.
Almost makes up for the appearance of him as a possible relative.
I have informed Ancestry using the Feedback app.

Including Nixon, the app has now informed me of 17 Presidents to whom I may be related. I am unable to verify both halves of the ancestry on any of them.

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Barack Obama
  • Bill Clinton
  • Franklin Pierce
  • George H.W. Bush
  • George W. Bush
  • George Washington
  • Harry S Truman
  • James Earl Carter
  • James Madison
  • Richard Nixon
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • William H. Taft
  • Zachary Taylor

There are two other presidents - FDR and Grant - to whom I am fairly certain I am related, but the app, so far, hasn't found. For these connections, I am trusting the research done by Gary Boyd Roberts in Ancestors of American Presidents, and my own research for my own ancestors. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Are Not a Nation of Immigrants

"A Nation of Immigrants"
implies all our ancestors
were immigrants.

Some were Native Americans,
some slaves,
and some indentured servants.
Others were refugees.
Those that voluntarily came prior to 1789 --
mostly colonists.

Words matter.
Grouping all migrants together
erases differences.

Were our ancestors fleeing oppression?
Were they seeking a better economic future?
Did they arrive here under duress?
Did their nationality change?

The different paths followed
led us to where we are.
By celebrating these differences,
we honor all of our ancestors.

***

Back in November, I stated, in part:

I have immigrant ancestors from the following geographies:

  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • Great Britain
  • Canada
  • Lithuania
  • Transylvania
  • Volhynia.

That's not entirely true. I can't factually state that any ancestors immigrated from The Netherlands. My Vanevery ancestors traveled from The Netherlands to a Dutch colony (New Amsterdam). That's not immigration. Immigration requires movement from one nation to another nation. A colony is part of the mother-nation.

All the other countries in that list belong there. I have British ancestors who were colonists, and others who immigrated after 1791. All of my Canadian ancestors were descendants of Loyalists who fled to Canada during the Revolution.

Whether or not some of my ancestors were refugees is open to question. My Puritan and Mennonite ancestors might be classified as such, along with my Jewish ancestors. Though I think most of my Jewish ancestors were seeking better economic circumstances and weren't fleeing any particular pogrom. As I mentioned last week my Cruvant ancestors may have left Lithuania because their home was destroyed in a fire.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Amanuensis Monday: Čekiškė Conflagration - 1887

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J, Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, NYU Press, 2001, page 236.

CEKISKE (Yid. Tzeikishok) Kaunas dist., Lithuania. Jews first settled at the end of the 18th cent. a conflagration in 1887 left most Jews homeless. The J. pop. in 1897 came to 432 (65% of the total). In 1915, the retreating Russian army, together with local farmers, staged a pogrom against the Jews before expelling them to Russia. After WWI only some returned. The Zionist movement won widespread support. In 1940, there were about 60 J. families in C. After the German conquest of 1941, the Jews were killed on 4. Sept. 1941, according to a Nazi document, which reported the deaths of 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children.

Another source has more information:
In 1887, a fire broke out in Cekiske that burned all of its houses, including the two prayer houses and their valuable books. A young woman was burned to death. Only 3 houses remained intact. About 160 families remained without shelter and without any means. Among them was the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Avraham Levental, who was a wealthy man and who lost his entire property in the fire. Jews from the nearby towns of Vilkija, Seredzius, Raseiniai, Girkalnis and other towns were the first to bring wagons loaded with bread and foodstuffs to the stricken families, who were living under the open sky. A call for aid in their names was advertised in the “HaMelitz” on July 1887. It was signed by Eliyahu Gorland.

Notes:

When did my Cruvant ancestors immigrate from Čekiškė, Lithuania to America?

My second great grandfather's 1911 death certificate stated he had been in the US for 35 years, implying an immigration year of 1876. However, two sons appear in Lithuanian birth records for 1883 and 1885. I've theorized the death certificate was 10 years off, and 1886 is a more likely year.

It was said that my great grandmother, Bertha, was born in Missouri on the Jewish New Year in 1886 or 1887. In 1887 that would have been September 19. But no birth records have been found in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, or St. Clair County, Illinois. (Not exactly definitive since birth records weren't required in Missouri until 1910.) While she doesn't appear in Lithuanian birth records, either, could she have been born en route? If the fire occurred before July (when the call for aid was advertised), they may have been able to get to the US prior to September 19.

There were family stories told by some branches that they were escaping a pogrom. A home destroyed by a fire isn't exactly a home destroyed by a pogrom, but it's not difficult to envision the story being embellished upon. (And the neither description gives an indication of the cause of the fire.)

The earliest documentation of my ancestors being in St. Louis is a naturalization record from 1889.

There were cousins among the 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children who were killed on September 4, 1941.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: Dreams in the Mist

Several months ago I discovered Dreams in the Mist: Loyalist House Season I by Barbara Nattress

The short novel (156 pages) concerns a woman, Marilee, who after retiring from a teaching career opens a Bed and Breakfast in Niagara with her husband. Marilee starts to have dreams, populated by ghosts, through which we learn what happened in the home during the early 19th century.

I discovered the book in a Google Books search for my Van Every ancestors, who happen to be the ghosts. (Actually, the ghosts aren't my ancestors, but close kin.)

Noticing that it was self-published, I decided to save a few dollars with the Kindle version. I knew I was buying a work of fiction. However, I was hoping to enjoy a story set in a time and location of interest, with some characters closely related to my ancestors. I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.

The initial pages where the protagonist is retiring from her career, and seeking to purchase a B&B, go by slowly. However, when the house is purchased, and Marilee starts to have the dreams, the pace picks up.

The point of view switches back and forth between Marilee and the ghosts in her dreams. I was most interested in the dreams, and the description of Marilee’s research into the history of the house. The sections of the novel where Marilee describes the day-to-day business of the bed and breakfast were of less interest, and I found myself skimming those paragraphs for more interesting material.

The author is a retired teacher, who operated a Bed and Breakfast for eight years in Niagara, and is now a realtor. While those sections of the novel are written from experience, perhaps the author put a little too much in. I'd rather she had focused on  Niagaran history. However, someone with a passion for Beds and Breakfasts might feel different. There is a collection of recipes at the end of the book as well, which might interest some.

The author includes a short bibliography, for which I am grateful as well, indicating where she conducted her research on the family, time, and setting. Of the four sources listed, I've  downloaded a free ebook of one, found a copy of another at a local library, and can purchase the third - though it is also searchable via Google Books. The fourth only appears to be available from the Canadian Archives.

While I enjoy reading historical fiction and have dabbled with writing fiction myself, the idea of fictionalizing the lives of my own ancestors troubles me. I don't think I could do it. I don't mind reading it, but I think I would be unable to write it.