Book Review: “History for Genealogists”

Book Review "History for Genealogists"
"History for Genealogists" book cover

When I envision a commercial for this book, it would have to be a full infomercial rather than a short spot between segments of a favorite program. Timelines are well known tools for genealogy, and are my go-to tool for unraveling mysteries. This book contains historical timelines and so much more. Ms. Jacobson gives context to the timelines, which in turn add context to the genealogical research of individuals and families.

Using history in our genealogy is that extra step to bring our research to a higher level by understanding our ancestors’ lives in the context of the world around them. It is common to hear others suggest going out on the web to find events to add to our timelines. How do you choose what to add? What timeline do you look at? Our ancestors made changes for a reason, and this book provides us with matter and timelines about the reasons motivating those changes.

Among the many things discussed in the book was the role of Europeans coming to the US to farm. Since my ancestors lived in cities, I had not previously investigated this topic in depth. Railroads received large grants of land from the federal government, and so set up a system for Europeans to purchase land and then travel to occupy it. More than transporting people, they had actually streamlined the process of coming to the United States.

The chapter about oral histories impressed me. It was a succinct but rich outline of how to conduct them. The author’s motivating words say it best: “Oral history can put the soul and flesh on the skeleton of a pedigree chart.” This quote applies to the intent of the whole book.

This book is a good starting place with historical timelines relevant to genealogical research. This book contains a timeline for the history of each state and the District of Columbia, from its first beginnings to the 1940s for most locations. The book expands to discuss other geographical regions around the world.

The chapters “Why Did They Leave,” “How Did They Go” and “Coming To America” were thought provoking. Brief case studies show the role of timelines in interpreting an ancestor’s life when viewing it in the context of a bigger history, or if too many events have been attributed to one individual. At all times we are reminded of the interconnection between different counties, and the fluid borders between countries, states and counties.

The 2016 Addendum by Denise Larsen is a separate part of the book, positioned after the original book’s timeline, bibliography and index. The Addendum covers the context and events of the early 20th century in the US up to post-WWII, followed by a timeline about fashion and entertainment.

I read this book cover-to-cover, and can recommend that approach to open a reader’s horizons. However, this book is structured so that it can be used by the chapter applicable to your current research question.

My recommendation is to have maps nearby when reading or using this book. Online maps would be a perfect accompaniment to use when comprehending the interactions between locations and their populations.

“History for Genealogists” provides key historical context and usable information for your research. It also lives up to its subtitle of “Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors.” As well as being a resource to support your research, it is a solid foundation to jump off from to dig deeper into the more detailed history of a place and time that you are researching. I can see this book being used to complement locality research, by introducing time and events to your research.

The book is available at Genealogical.com and other booksellers.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher

This blog post is copyright ©2022 by Margaret M. McMahon, Teaching & Training Co., LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews. All copyrights and trademarks mentioned herein are the possession of their respective owners and the author makes no claims of ownership by mention of the products that contain these marks.

Book Review: “DNA for Native American Genealogy”

DNA for Native American Genealogy - Genealogical.com

When the esteemed Roberta Estes of the DNAeXplained Blog writes a book about DNA, there is a justifiable expectation that the work will be accurate, informative and definitive. Among Ms. Estes many accomplishments are launching the Million Mito Project and being a National Geographic Society Genographic Project affiliate scientific researcher. This is a very thoughtful book, intended to put actionable information in the hands of readers that will guide them through the process of learning about Native American genealogical research.

Determining Native American ancestry from DNA testing is not necessarily the easiest task. Ms. Estes takes the reader through comprehensive steps to examine how to work with ethnicity estimates, autosomal (atDNA) matching, mitochondrial (mtDNA) and Y DNA in identifying Native American DNA.

Part 1 is informative, containing an overview of the concept of tribal membership and asks readers to consider their goals for determining membership. Ms. Estes’ thoughts about cultural appropriation are well advised, and challenge each reader pursuing this research to think about the topic.

In Part 2 readers experience topics in ethnicity and population genetics. As both a professional scientist and genealogist the author is able to take readers as deep into genetic topics as they want to go. Her goal is for readers to understand the topics at a comfortable level, and she provides examples with clear illustrations.

Part 3 gives specifics about how to use the autosomal tools at major vendors in the search. The mitochondrial DNA portion of the book (Part 4) and the Y DNA portion of the book (Part 5) discuss the relevant ancient and modern haplogroups, sharing in detail which occur in Native American populations, and their tribal affiliations. These parts include maps of where the haplogroups are found. Part 6 is a roadmap and checklist which guides readers through the journey of investigating Native American ancestors through the use of DNA.

As with every book I review, I read this book from cover to cover. Given that my ancestors’ paper trails and our family’s genetic results show no indication of a Native American ancestor, a friend stepped in to help. His family history contains a story about an ancestor who was a member of a specific tribe, without any evidence. The story of this ancestor is currently unknown prior to a marriage that took place in Colonial America. He was willing to let me use his test results to see if any information could be found in his DNA that might potentially shed light on this family story, with his goal being genealogical information. The ancestor was not in his direct matrilineal or patrilineal line, so I turned to Part 3 of the book. Given how many generations back this ancestor had lived, the existence of identifiable regions of Native American DNA was doubtful. The history of the area suggests that the ancestor may have been a descendant of a tribal member rather than a tribal member, which lessened the chances of uncovering a segment.

My friend had tested on Ancestry, and then transferred his test results to FamilyTreeDNA, then had unlocked his autosomal transfer in order to use the ethnicity tools. First, I used the FamilyTree DNA myOrigins® (version 3) as shown in the book. As we had anticipated, his results showed 0% origin in the Americas. (His results also showed 0% Asian origins.) Opting in to Compare myOrigins® showed some interesting information for him to consider with his other matches. Part 3 also clearly walked me through the options within the Chromosome Painter to see a visual representation as well as how to view the locations of the chromosome segments. Next, the book took me through the features of using ethnicity information on Ancestry, with explanations about the Genetic Communities. Ancestry provided European matches, but no other traces of matching other parts of the world. Had Native American DNA segments been identified in my friend’s DNA, I would have known what to do next and how to do it. Although DNA may end up a part of the solution to my friend’s question about his ancestor, this family story will take more time and effort to prove or disprove.

Even though this particular case was not successful, there is clear value of this book to educate readers and  guide them through identifying the appropriate steps they need to take to research known and potential Native American ancestors through the use of DNA.

This book picks up where the theories end and your work begins. The book contains references to source material, including Ms. Estes’ DNAeXplained blog, for those who want to go deeper into learning about the topics that are presented. For those who want to incorporate genetic genealogy into their Native American genealogical research, this book will be a complete introduction and will also serve as a reference during the research process. Readers will find the haplogroup references to be very useful in their research. The completeness of this book truly is, as Ms. Estes describes it, a labor of love.

The book is available at Genealogical.com and other booksellers.

This blog post is copyright ©2022 by Margaret M. McMahon, Teaching & Training Co., LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews. All copyrights and trademarks mentioned herein are the possession of their respective owners and the author makes no claims of ownership by mention of the products that contain these marks.

Book Review: “New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy”

New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy cover

Being the owner of the Second Edition of the “Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” (2002), I was glad to review this all-new, revised and expanded version of the book. Irish genealogy can be challenging, and Ireland’s history has had an impact on researching Irish ancestors.

As in previous editions, the book contains a concise outline of the history of Ireland and how it applies to genealogical research. The book contains the maps, as well as definitions of geographical and administrative areas that you will need to know while researching Irish ancestors.

If your ancestors emigrated from Ireland, your research needs to begin at home. The book gives brief insights into how to start in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

The author asserts that using seven (7) major record sources, a researcher should be able to go six or seven generations back in their family tree in Ireland. This distance may be impeded when ancestors in the same place have the same or similar names, or the records may not exist. A beginning researcher would benefit from learning of these sources; an intermediate researcher is probably aware of them, but might benefit from knowing more details about how to access and use them. There are also a variety of other records, some of them potentially less obvious, that are introduced and may prove useful for placing an Irish ancestor at a place during a certain time.

The “Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” was originally published in 1991, revised in 2002 and revised again in 2008. This new 2020 edition is expanded from previous editions, and Irish researchers may find it worth the investment to upgrade to the 2020 edition.

This 2020 edition represents a major effort to include the ever-growing number of resources that have become accessible online. Although the Second Edition did have a chapter about “Irish Genealogy and the Internet,” this new edition contains more timely and relevant information. A new section that organizes “Insights and Strategies” includes expanded and new content. There is a three-step guide to tracing your Irish ancestors, which is followed by a case study demonstrating how to employ the steps. In the new content includes a brief chapter about when and how to DNA. Identifying genetic cousins and collaborating with them to pool records and held  family is definitely a way to pool

The book includes specific details and expands on how to use the strategies with ample examples. Included in the examples, the author embeds a demonstration of how to extract data from the available records, which readers might find helpful to organize the data they collect during their research. The case study of a Scots-Irish ancestor may be especially helpful if this is an area of your research.

This book is dense with usable information, and it may take a while to digest. A researcher might choose to work through this book as an instructive text. A researcher could benefit from taking the time to read through the book slowly, focusing on a record set or strategy, and then applying what was read to their own research. This approach could be more useful than sitting down and reading the book from cover-to-cover. The book can also serve as a reference for a researcher building a family tree.

The term “pocket guide” is a bit of a misnomer; you would need large pockets to carry this book around with you! Cosmetically, I found the font in this latest version was easier on my eyes than that of the Second Edition.

Mitchell’s work to revise and update this book was worth the amount of work he so obviously invested. With its updated and relevant content, it is worth considering upgrading to the 2020 edition in your genealogical library.

“New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” by Brian Mitchell is available at Genealogical.com.

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.

Book Review: “How To Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records”

I was excited at the opportunity to review “How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG. The book contains specific resources for researching ancestors in major Christian Denominations before 1900 in the United States. That excitement lasted throughout the whole book.

While censuses are great for providing us with a backbone of an individual’s or family’s timeline, Church records can help us learn the web of connections between family members and those who were close to them. The choice of Church may also give us the underlying motivations for major stories in our ancestors’ history. At the very least they provide us knowledge of the important institution and tenets with which our ancestors allied themselves.

This book is a game changer for religious research. Up until now, genealogists may have or may not have known the importance of church records, but conquering them was a hit-or-miss effort. These skills were usually taught by an experienced genealogist. A genealogist would learn a little about whom to contact and what to ask for, and that could still be a hit-or-miss effort. Experience was the only teacher.

In Section 1, Chapters 1 through 5 take the genealogist through the basics of researching Church Records. Section 2 addresses specific Christian denominations in the United States: Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America, Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), Lutheran, Mennonite and Amish, Methodist, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends), Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. Each chapter contains a short history of the religion, important facts about it, followed by information about the records and how to find them. Every chapter also includes a section with resources for learning more.

One unexpected hidden gem in this book is that this approach may prove useful for those researching enslaved African-American ancestors. Some church records for them may exist in the Anglican/Episcopal Church, covered in Chapter 6.

I read this book from cover-to-cover, impressed by the amount of research put into each topic. The authors were clearly focused on putting useful and actionable information into genealogists’ hands. The authors are knowledgeable researchers, but put forth the additional effort of having experts in each religion review their material.

If you are thinking about trying to find your Christian ancestors in Church records, and you should be, this book is for you. This is an invaluable reference for those researching Christian Churches in the United States.

“How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG, is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.