Archive for May, 2017

Chasing Genealogical Rabbits

So the project was progressing well. I was pulling the data from www.FamousKin.com into a spreadsheet and getting the columns massaged for analysis. I had set up a separate database in my Family Tree Maker software in the past, seeded with GEDCOMS of presidential lineages and I brought over my royal ancestry, which was fairly sparse at the time, concentrated on direct lines of descent. I started looking up some of those familiar names that set off that Surname Alarm. In many cases, I had the family name but not the generation that would give me the link I was looking for. It was time to cross the pond and look at siblings and marriages. Time to chase a rabbit. Besides, the spreadsheet work was getting rather tedious.

I found a wonderful web site, www.thepeerage.com, “A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe.” More about that website on Saturday. I was finding all sorts of relations and marriages that set off even more surname alarms. Basically I was filling in my family tree back to my 30th great grandparents! I quickly realized that I did not want to be doing this data entry in my presidential “playground database” but rather in my master genealogy database. 11,500 names and growing rapidly.

The information I was finding was fascinating. We happened to be watching the Downton Abbey series at the time and I found myself running down bits of historical information, even doing a quick run-through of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I actually found ties to elements of that wonderful PBS series which I will write about next week. Lots of rabbits to chase.

I am going to continue to write about my experiences doing this project, making this a true daily journal of my research. Supplemented with my Family Friday stories.

Next installment: Downton Abbey, Part 1


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I love spreadsheets! Ever since they came out with MultiPlan, I have been using spreadsheets to organize data. I especially like the custom report feature of Family Tree Maker to generate a comma separated value export that I can load into a spreadsheet and work with my tree data.

For The Presidential Project, I have been copying the list of famous kin by President to identify my list of Gateway Ancestors. I have processed what is available through Lincoln, our 16th President, and am well on my way of building my list of Gateway Ancestors for Famous Kin.

I have also considered building a data base using the spreadsheet data. More on that later on in this series. So the project continues but there was a little detour along the way.

Next installment: Chasing Genealogical Rabbits

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Yesterday I wrote about the rigor applied by lineage societies when reviewing membership applications. I also mentioned that there is no “settled science” when it comes to genealogy. The same should apply to your family tree. Don’t simply pull down someone else’s work off Ancestry.com and consider it to be anywhere near accurate. Look for appropriate sources yourself, primary sources if they are available.

Once in a while, you will come across a data-point that has the potential to undo all that you thought was a certainty. It is not unheard of for published works to be wrong and in need of correction. Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 has three supplements, for example. And several lineage societies have rejected certain published genealogies due to questions about the accuracy of the information.

I mentioned that Percival Lowell is a gateway ancestor for the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne. I have him in my tree as my 10th great-grandfather. My Lowell line goes down to my 6th great-grandmother, Hannah Lowell (1707-1778). She married Thomas Cottle on January 6, 1725/6. Or so I thought. The marriage is noted in several publications and I have 5 sources cited in my database. But it is the latest source that has me worried. It says “January ye 6th 1725.6 Mr. Thomas Cottle of Newbury and Mrs. Hannah Lowell of Amesbury.” Oh, oh! Mrs. Lowell? That might indicate that Hannah was a widow, married to a Lowell and in fact, has a different maiden name! I’m not really into tree pruning but I cannot ignore the record.  Better put that membership application on hold.

It would be great to dismiss that record as an anomaly and go on thinking that I traced back to Percival and that famous Lowell family. But that wouldn’t be cricket. Further research is needed and I flagged that as an open task in my Family Tree Maker database.

So what am I to do? I looked at the whole page in the Ancestry.com image and it is the only record where Mr. and Mrs. are applied to the names of the bride and groom. But on another record the bride and groom state widow and widower respectively. Can I assume the writer simply decided to be a bit more formal? No. You cannot infer anything like that. You just don’ know and need to find further proof.

So I decided to browse the volume on Ancestry to look at the title page to find the publication information and what was the source of the information. Lo and behold it turns out that the typewritten section was a transcription of a handwritten volume and those images were in the database as well. But, alas, the written page matched the typed page. However, I did note that the handwritten volume was all done in the same beautiful handwriting with no break in style. Ah, ha! This was not a contemporaneous record but must have come from another source.

What I need to do is prove that the Hannah ______ that married Thomas Cottle was in fact the daughter of Capt. Gideon Lowell as shown in Hoyt’s The Old Families of Salisbury and Amesbury and Delmar Lowell’s The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899. And the best way to do that is to find Capt. Lowell’s will. Hopefully it was written after the marriage and he bequeaths something to his daughter Mrs. Hannah Cottle.

Searching further in Ancestry, I do find a will. In fact 3 wills, one for each of three Gideon Lowells. And to top that, the scanned images are part of a 155 page set which was performed in random order. And that is where things stand, me digging through the images, hoping to save myself a trip to the Essex County Courthouse or the Massachusetts State Archives.

One thing is for certain, your family tree is never done.

Tomorrow’s installment: Time to Open a Spreadsheet.

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Gateway Ancestors

Simply put, a Gateway Ancestor is an ancestor of known, well-documented descent such that if you prove connection to that particular ancestor, then you have proved descent from all who came before.

I was first introduced to the term through a chance meeting with an officer of The Order of the Crown of Charlemagne [OCC] (http://www.charlemagne.org/) while researching at the Indian River County Library. (They have a wonderful genealogical collection, ably managed for years by Pam Cooper, who has since retired. Hi, Pam!)

He asked me to name some of the surnames I had found and when I mentioned Lowell, he told me that Percival Lowell was one of their Gateway Ancestors. To be eligible for membership, all I had to do was prove to their satisfaction my descent from Percival. If I was descended from Percival Lowell, ispo facto I was descended from Charlemagne. If you go to the OCC’s web site, you will find a list of scores of gateway ancestors that they accept to meet their membership requirements.

There is no definitive master list of gateway ancestors and your tie to the pedigree is only as good as the underlying research into the pedigree. Lineage societies such as the OCC or the Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR/SAR] have staff genealogists who review membership applications and ensure the accuracy of the submitted lineage. The DAR and SAR do not have gateway ancestor lists as such but rather you can build upon the approved application of a member, documenting your lineage from an accepted common ancestor. Interestingly enough, the SAR will accept an approved DAR application as a source but the DAR will not accept the same from the SAR.

For purposes of The Presidential Project, I am synthesizing my own list of gateway ancestors from the data presented on FamousKin.com. So, for example, if George Washington is related to Dick Cheney through King Edward I, it follows that anyone else having Edward I in their family tree is related to both parties.  It looks like each gateway ancestor will lead to many relationships.

But again, the relationships are contingent on the rigor applied in establishing the underlying family trees. There is no “settled science” in genealogy (or in any other science). Subsequent discoveries can invalidate previously accepted lineages. The OCC has a list of books that are not considered acceptable for proving lineage. The DAR and SAR will close off a line to further applications should the data come into question.  They also will not accept certain publications as proof.

Which brings me to tomorrow’s installment: One of these Things is not like the Others.

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The Surname Alarm

The surname alarm is a common affliction among genealogists. It’s that little mental “ah ha” that happens when you encounter a last name that matches one in your family tree. The more work you do with your lineage, the deeper seated is your alarm. It’s benign if not beneficial but tends to make spouses roll their eyes.

For example, walking by the local Little Caesar’s shop (anyone’s alarm go off for Caesar?), I noticed a group of men in identical blue tee shirts, the one closest to the door with “Smith” across his shoulders. The non-genealogist might think “sports team” but my first thought was “are their any Smiths in my family tree?” Turns out it was the Palm Bay PD, probably stopping for lunch after a morning at the pistol range. Grin.

So how does this relate to my Presidential Project? As I scanned down the list of famous people related to the first few Presidents, I noticed a trend when it came to the ancestor they had in common with the President. And very soon, my Surname Alarm was ringing to beat the band! “Hmm,” I said to myself, “if George Washington is related to Dick Cheney via King Edward I and I have him as an ancestor as well, I must be related to them both!” Thus my project was born.

What I recognized is that I had a potential list of Gateway Ancestors that would let me identify likely relationships. Time to open a spreadsheet …

Tomorrow’s installment: Gateway Ancestors

PS yes, Kevin Bacon is listed in FamousKin.com and yes, I am related via Robert de Ros.

PPS So far, I have identified relationships to 17 Presidents.

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I can’t say for certain what started this quest to identify how my family is related to the past Presidents of the United States. Perhaps it was from looking up Mayflower Ancestors to compare with a classmate and I was reminded of the Delano line which, of course, brought FDR to mind. In the past I had identified our family ties to the Bushes: George Herbert Walker Bush is my 10th cousin which makes George Walker Bush my 10th cousin one time removed. But whatever the trigger, I started doing some digging and quickly found a wonderful web site that has led me back to writing again about family history and genealogy.

The web site is FamousKin.com, hosted by Rich Hall. Do read his about me page to see what prompted Rich to create such a great resource. I apologize in advance for the many hours you will spend rooting around there. What caught my eye about FamousKin was not the presidential genealogies themselves but rather the link for each President that showed a veritable Who’s Who of people past and present who are related to that President. Actors, actresses, poets, authors, scientists, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and on and on.

For each presidential relative, Mr. Hall lists the name, claim to fame (or notoriety), the relationship, and most importantly, the common ancestor. If you click the relative’s name, you are presented with a relationship chart that shows the lines of descent and how they are related. The nodes in the chart are themselves links to another page that shows details about the person, details such as dates of birth and death, parents and children, marriages, etc.

It soon dawned on me from looking at the kin page that certain names of the common ancestors sounded familiar and that set off what my fellow researchers will recognize as The Surname Alarm. And that will be my next installment.

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Back to the Blog

Well, it is definitely time to start writing again. Being home-bound, I’ve turned back to my genealogical research and have started a project that I will be writing about in subsequent posts. It is definitely giving me much to write about! And it is my latest discovery that convinced me it is time to do this.

Recently, I’ve made a few posts on FaceBook, prompted by discoveries found along the way. Posts such as “OMG, we’re Norwegian” or “Imagine doing your genealogy and you come across an ancestor who held the position of the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire.” Fortunately the latter was 100 years before Robin Hood’s time! But yesterday’s find eclipses them all.

How about discovering that your 29th great-grandfather was famously murdered in Act II of a play written by none other than Shakespeare? Yep, Duncan I, King of Scotland, is offed by Macbeth in the play of that name. How is that for bringing history up close and personal?

But that is what I love about genealogy. Aside from the obvious satisfaction of discovering one’s roots, it inspires a thirst for knowledge as you walk back through time in the process of tracing your ancestry.

So that is my plan, to write daily about my current research project, sharing interesting discoveries stumbled upon along the way. But also sharing about the methodologies I’m using, shouts-out for the wonderful resources I’m discovering along the way, and perhaps inspiring a reader or two to start discovering their own ancestry. And here we go …

Next installment: The Presidential Project.

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