“DNA Detectives”

“DNA Detectives” is a New Zealand genealogy program that presents the DNA stories of two celebrities per episode. Two seasons of the program were created, in 2015 and 2017.

Host Richard O’Brien introduces each celebrity, asks about the anticipated DNA results, then briefs the celebrity on the DNA testing results. Finally, he hands the celebrity a device to stay in communication with him. The mysterious device is a smart phone.

The celebrities are given cryptic and entertaining clues as they are sent on missions around the world based on their DNA results. On those missions, they travel all over the planet to meet people with whom they share DNA to explore the stories locked in that DNA. These people sharing DNA matches have information about their shared ancestors.

While not all the celebrities may be recognizable to US audiences, the host may seem a bit familiar. He wrote the musical stage show, “The Rocky Horror Show” and co-wrote the screenplay of the film adaptation, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” in which he appeared as Riff Raff. Additionally, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is featured on an episode in Season 2.

This program differs from other genealogy programs because of its focus on the personal connections with living people as well as the shared stories. Even when a celebrity visits an archive, personal connections are involved. Even though the majority of the celebrities may not be recognizable to US audiences, the stories are entertaining, interesting and at times very touching. Thinking about the connections we all share around the world can be inspiring. The forgotten stories are also thought provoking. I am not sure that I had heard the word “grancestors” (ancestors of grandparents) used on a genealogy program before.

Two seasons are available on Amazon Prime (2015, 2017), with Season 2 having commercials.

Book Review: “Guns and Gods in My Genes”

Cover of "Guns and Gods in My Genes"

Disclaimer: I have always considered Canada to be our neighbor to the north. It is more than the fact that we share the longest undefended border in the world. It could be all the years I played ice hockey, or all the Canadians I met both on the ice and professionally. Maybe it was what the U.S. did for Canada in the world wars, even serving in their military. Maybe it was the favor Canada did for the U.S. when the Iranian Revolution began. More than these reasons, of all the people I have met from around the world, Canadians and Americans seem to have the most in common. They share a history of leaving their ancestral homelands and struggling to settle in the new cities and frontiers in North America.

As a writer and documentary film maker, Mr. McKee weaves the themes from the title in the narrative of the book. He considers his feelings about guns and potential U.S. citizenship as someone approaches leaving the faith of one’s forebearers.

Mr. McKee took an interesting road to uncovering the stories of his ancestors. His research trips are the stuff from which legends are made. Fate certainly does favor the prepared, as he had worked to increase the odds of putting himself in the path of the cousins he met, and those people willing to share their passion for history with him.

In the book, the author shares his ancestors with us, complete with themes of sacrifices, successes and chance meetings. Chance meetings are another thing in common for North Americans, because so many couples might not have met had they stayed in the Old World. Among his ancestors we meet some who did serve God as religious leaders. Others fought in wars and hunted with guns.

The book includes the author’s research and travels, as well as highlighted vignettes based on the source material he uncovered. He takes the time to explore the context of his ancestors lives, and presents summaries of the historic events and battles. These historical sketches do bring depth to the lives of his ancestors and those who shared the times. There are boots-on-the-ground insights into the history that shaped his family and his two countries. If your ancestors crossed paths with his, these stories will be more relevant and deepen your understanding of their lives and times. (My husband’s ancestors crossed paths with Mr. McKee’s on a ship (the Mayflower), living in Colonial Connecticut and serving in Albany’s Third Militia.) He also reminds us that the times of our troubles with England caused the U.S. and Canada to be at odds.

The views into the real lives of people living in both Canada and the U.S. are interesting. Family historians may be motivated to Mr. McKee’s persistence and dedication. He traveled over 15,000 miles in North America in pursuit of his ancestors’ stories. He did his own research, but also leveraged the use of expert researchers to solve specific problems he experienced. His friendliness and willingness to ask questions were often rewarded with new cousins, or at least, new stories and understanding. The story of these ancestors illustrate how the author is undeniably a product of both Canada and the U.S.

I especially enjoyed the metaphor of stripping down the outside layers of a family’s farmhouse and finding letters in the walls. Isn’t that what all family historians seek to do, and seek to find, as they work backwards through the generations?

There is no doubt that this book will make you want to jump in your car to hunt for your ancestors, but always prepare before you leave!

Find out where to buy “Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American search through four centuries of history, to the Mayflower” by Neill McKee at: https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/buy-the-book-2

Book Review: “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists”

"The Sleuth Book for Genealogists"

For those who have been genealogists for many years, the name of Emily Anne Croom is recognizable. With books like “Unpuzzling Your Past” and “The Genealogist’s Companion & Sourcebook,” she has written several genealogical library fundamentals.

Although first published in 2000, this latest publishing of “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” is as valuable to genealogists as it was when it was first published. The difference between the two versions is that the 2008 version is printed on thinner paper and has an errata notice about unavailability of the catalog and rental program of Heritage Quest.

While the book’s content has not changed, the concepts taught in the book are absolutely timeless; they do not rely on a current set of links to websites. In fact, taking a step back from clicking on links can encourage genealogists to develop skills and approaches used by detectives to locate and analyze data about their ancestors.

The hunt is on for the “missing persons” who are our ancestors, guided by quotes from famous literary detectives and real people. This is a full-strength guide to genealogical research, written in an approachable manner that even a beginning genealogist can appreciate. The book takes genealogists through important concepts in research, potentially brick wall-busting strategies and examples. It contains important topics, such as census research, but digs into deeds and the complications of dates. One appendix reviews the basics of genealogical studies, while the other appendix contains a guide to documentation that steers a genealogist through the important task of citing sources with extensive examples. Although the book is thorough, the information in it is not presented at the potentially intimidating depth of other comprehensive books about genealogical research.

From planning, through a variety of techniques including cluster research, to reporting results, this book walks you through the research process. An important part of meaningful research is asking questions, and throughout the process a genealogist is presented with sets of meaningful questions to ask at each stage of solving a mystery. The book also stimulates the critical thinking process by covering what a genealogist can do with what is found, no matter how it is found.

Three thorough case studies are presented in the book to illustrate the research methodology. Each begins with an inventory of what was known prior to beginning the research, then shows the questions that were asked, how they were answered and what was learned at each step. Genealogists can follow along with Ms. Croom investigating these cases to experience the process, think about the questions that should be asked and how to organize, interpret and analyze the results of each step. After studying this book, genealogists can take what they have learned and apply it to their own research problems.  

For all the useful content in this book, there is some matter that could benefit from being updated. The idea that a computer is only useful in genealogy for storage and presentation of results is outdated. The use of computers to support genealogical research has been transformed by valuable software programs written to organize and analyze data. In addition to family tree building computer programs, even common applications such as word processing and spreadsheets programs are useful to a researcher. Sadly, for newer genealogists, an anecdote about using Soundex codes to look up a census entry may not be meaningful in this age of online databases.

I was relatively new to genealogy when I read the first version of this book, and rereading it reminded me of the many good practices that I still follow in my own research. It was good to review those example questions to ask at each point of the research process. It would be great to have an automated system with this knowledge that would help me throughout my research activities, but until that happens, I am happy to have this book on a nearby shelf.

“The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” by Emily Anne Croom is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

Speaking at RootsTech Connect 2021!

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This year RootsTech is all virtual and free to register! Have you registered?

I hope you will have a chance to check out my lecture: “Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book” (Lecture Session 471160). 

For RootsTech Connect 2021, each lecture session will be 20 minutes long. My lecture will be split across two 20-minute sessions.  I hope you will join me!

Session ID: 471160
Session Title: Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book
Session Type: Lecture Session

When more details are shared, I will post them on Facebook, too.

See you at RootsTech Connect!

Travel to Where Your Ancestors Worshipped (Virtually)

The pandemic has affected every part of our lives, including how people are able to attend religious services. Many people are attending virtual religious services on the web. That means that many places of worship are uploading videos of religious services to the web.

This may be a way that you can attend a religious service where your ancestors worshipped! The services might be hosted on a variety of websites for video services. They might be found on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook.

Use Google, or your other favorite search engine, to locate the place of worship that your ancestors attended. You may know the place, or may find it on marriage or other records of events. If you are still unsure, a Google search around their residence may shed light on possibilities. When you visit the homepage for the place, there should be a link to services, or other information leading to how worship is being shared.

It is worth learning some of the history of this place of worship. You may find that it has been renovated since your ancestors worshipped there. It may also be that parts of building were preserved and have remained unchanged.

Last week, I attended Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, RI. This is where my great-great-grandparents were married, where their children were baptized and where their funeral Masses and that of their oldest child were held. It is also where John F. Kennedy wed Jaqueline Bouvier. Being able to virtual attend a Mass there was a virtual trip to a place that is definitely a future destination. The homepage for St. Mary’s has a link to where you can view “Mass Online at St. Mary’s.”