So, what about those genetic DNA tests you can take nowadays?

Do you know who your ancestors are? Do you know which countries they came from? Did you know that taking a DNA test will help you discover your own ethnicity estimates?

I’d like to briefly highlight five major DNA testing companies in order to acquaint you with what each company has to offer. There are many more DNA testing companies available, but this article will compare five major companies. But first, let’s briefly talk about the basics of DNA. I’m not a science person, so this will definitely be a very basic explanation. I went into a DNA test without any knowledge of DNA except that I knew it as the carrier of genetic information and that our DNA is arranged into chromosomes, grouped into 23 pairs. I could also recognize the double helix images of DNA structure.

It’s important to keep in mind that siblings in a family do not inherit the exact same DNA from their parents as another sibling inherits. When I first had my DNA tested it was after my sister had hers tested. Remember now, I told you I’m not a science person, so I assumed that my ethnicity estimates from my DNA would be the same as my sister’s ethnicity estimates. We have the same mother and father, so I thought we would have the same ethnicity estimates. Wrong! I’ve been hooked and fascinated with DNA genetics ever since.

I later learned that everyone gets half of their DNA from their mother and half from their father. Which DNA is inherited from each parent is totally random. Inherited DNA is reduced each generation, as you can see by a table from 23andMe, “Average Percent DNA Shared Between Relatives,” that summarizes both the average percent DNA shared for different types of relationships, and the expected range of percent DNA shared. For example, we inherit 50% DNA from each parent, about 25% DNA from each grandparent, about 12.5% DNA from each great-grandparent, and so on.

Ancestry has a great article on understanding inheritance:

“By understanding how DNA is inherited, you can see how and why you have some DNA segments that match your relatives, and others that do not, why you may or may not have inherited DNA segments associated with a certain ethnicity, and why getting multiple people in your family tested can help you discover more of your family’s genetic tree.”

Let’s talk ethnicity estimates. To date, no ethnicity gene has been found in the human genome. Your own ethnicity estimate is just that, an estimate. It is based upon comparing your DNA with known members of different ethnicities in the testing company database. By this comparison they will estimate how closely your DNA matches with each ethnic group. All of the testing companies I’m comparing will give you ethnicity estimates. The picture below is a screenshot of my own ethnicity estimate from Ancestry. I took my DNA test from Ancestry about eight years ago. The screenshot shows that my DNA is about 70% from Ireland. On the right side of the screenshot and directly underneath Ireland, there are particular regions and towns of Ireland where they estimate my ancestors lived. Then it estimates that I have 20% DNA from Scotland, 8% DNA from England and Northwestern Europe and about 2% Germanic Europe.

My sister and I had researched our genealogy long before we each took a DNA test. Plus, with family history and stories passed down, we knew we had strong ties back to Ireland. With the maiden name of McNamara, that’s a given. We also have these very Irish surnames on our family tree: Murphy, Farrell, McKeown, Kelly, MacMeehan, Flannery and Murray. We also have our great, great, great grandfather Patrick MacDonald born in Glencoe, Argyll, Scotland around 1790. As a young man he went to Ireland and married Susan Murray. They lived and raised their family in County Monaghan, Ireland before emigrating to Ontario, Canada. You’ll note that County Monaghan is one of the areas mentioned in my ethnicity estimate above.

Below is a screenshot from Ancestry that shows a comparison of the ethnicity estimates for me and my sister. There are some very real differences here. She has 8% DNA from Germanic Europe, where I only have 2% in my DNA. It’s interesting to note that we also have many German names in our tree, including Metz, Demer, Spitzmesser and Burkhardt. She seems to have inherited more of the German DNA and about twice as much English and Northwestern European DNA in our family than I have inherited.

Along with ethnicity estimates, all of the companies I will be comparing also name relatives that are genetic DNA matches. My matches include thousands of people on Ancestry that share some of my DNA, thus we are related to one another. This was mind boggling to me! They are listed from closest relation – my sister – to matches that share less than 1% DNA with me. Unfortunately, I have not had much time to explore these matches other than the cousins I already know about. Interestingly though, a distant cousin, unbeknownst to us, contacted my sister a few years ago and they’ve been emailing ever since. This distant cousin lives in Ontario, Canada and is related to our Scottish MacDonald clan that emigrated there in the 1800’s. She has been able to fill us in on a lot of that family history that we had not known before, along with sharing some photographs too. It’s up to each individual as to how much you want to pursue the DNA matches you find out about.

According to Genetics Digest, there are three essential tips you must know before buying a DNA Test.

  1. Buy from a company that protects your data.
  2. Find a test that reveals when and where your ancestors appeared.
  3. Follow the science and genetic experts.

I would like to add that it’s important to look over each company’s website and learn about what they offer. Read the FAQ’s and comments from users. Also, decide what is important to you and what you hope to learn by having your DNA tested. The price of the kits range from $79 -$99, but keep an eye on their websites around different holiday times for sales on the kits.

One more thing to consider before taking a DNA genetic test is that there might be information disclosed to you that you weren’t expecting: adoptions, illegitimacies, name changes and non-paternal events, where parentage may be unexpected. It is suggested to be emotionally prepared for whatever the results of the testing shows.

I have prepared a chart that compares these five different DNA testing companies: MyHeritage, Ancestry, Living DNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. The comparison chart covers such criteria as the number of geographic regions each test company covers, health and well being upgrade availability, personal traits upgrade availability, exploration of ancient ancestry, advanced DNA testing availability, ability to upload DNA test results to other company sites, ancestry timeline, tracking possible migration routes, cost and other features.

Additionally, here is just a sampling of some of the DNA related books we have in our Genealogy Collection. Come visit us sometime and take a look at them. As of this writing in April of 2021, we are open, but require patrons to make an appointment first. You can make an appointment by calling us at 317-232-3689 or through our Ask-a-Librarian service.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, we invite you to attend our “Virtual DNA Workshop” scheduled to take place in May of 2021.

The Indiana State Library Genealogy Division and the Central Indiana DNA Interest Group are partnering to present a “Virtual DNA Workshop” from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 8, 2021. This is a free event, but registration is limited to the first 200 people. It will take place via Zoom.

The workshop will focus on using various DNA tools to understand how people are connected to their DNA matches. Speakers from CIDIG will cover topics on understanding genetic genealogy; reviewing DNA results; comparing shared matches; building family trees based upon DNA matches; and using various DNA tools to analyze matches. Using the Zoom chat feature, attendees will be able to submit questions during the sessions and during the panel discussion at the end of the program. You will find a full description of the three sessions at the registration link below.

If you miss this May workshop, don’t despair. The State Library and CIDIG will be partnering again in the Fall of 2021 to present another DNA Workshop.

You can register for this free event here.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog and the Indiana State Library in no way endorse any of the DNA testing companies referred to in this blog. The existence of the provided links do no imply endorsement of the services or products of these companies.

Bibliography:
23andME
Ancestry DNA
Central Indiana DNA Interest Group
Family Search Wiki. DNA Basics
Family Tree DNA
International Society of Genetic Genealogy; Genetics Glossary
International Society of Genetic Genealogy; Wiki, Autosomal DNA statistics 
Living DNA
My Heritage DNA

This blog post was submitted by Genealogy Division librarian Alice Winslow. For more information, contact the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3689 or submit an Ask-a-Librarian request.

Genealogy research in print materials

Genealogy research is so much easier than it’s ever been, thanks to the many subscription services and free databases available to researchers in their homes at any time of day or night. These databases, however, contain only a small fraction of the genealogical information available to family historians. If you have exhausted the online resources available on your family, or if you are looking for new and interesting sources for research, it may be worthwhile to look at print materials.

This series of books documents the descendants of the Mayflower passengers.

Genealogy libraries have a wide variety of print materials, and not just books. Our collections also include vertical files, maps, family trees, Bible records, manuscript collections, photograph and more. All of these materials contain family histories, indexes to records, research notes and all sorts of information on individuals and families.

If you visit a genealogy library, there are so many books and materials available that it’s easy to lose track of what you’re looking for as you browse through so many interesting-looking books. So it’s helpful to have a research plan, even before you visit a library.

As part of your research plan, you can identify which ancestors you want to research, and in what time period and geographic area they lived. That way, you can more easily identify which books and reference materials will help with your research and which ones will not. You may also want to consider books about families that are connected to yours.

Researchers of connected families may have written about your family in their books.

You can also search a library’s catalog online before you visit to see if they have books on a specific family or topic. If you are interested in a broader search for potential research materials, WorldCat is a great place to start.

WorldCat main page.

WorldCat is a shared library catalog that includes libraries from around the world. You can search by title, author or any subject or surname that interests you. Not every library participates in WorldCat, but many libraries are included. This can help you find if anyone has ever written a book on your family, and if so, which libraries own it.

When you visit a library and begin to research in the books that interest you, also take a peek at the books shelved around the books you want. While searching the catalog definitely helps you find the books you want, you may also find something on the shelves that you didn’t know you needed until you see it. You may also find books with alternate spellings of your family name that you did not consider while searching the catalog.

Names often changed spelling over time, so considering alternate spellings may lead to resources you otherwise might have missed.

To make organizing your library research easier when you get back home, as you take notes on the materials or make copies from the books, copy the information from the title page so you know what book you got the information from. And if you check a book and do not find anything relevant to your research, note that as well.

So, if you are interested in expanding the scope of your genealogy research, consider branching out into print materials. There is so much more that you can discover about your family tree!

This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, Genealogy Division supervisor.

Using food as a cultural touchstone in genealogy

I have a cookbook that was my grandmother’s. The cookbook, “Food for Two,” was acquired during her engagement to my grandfather. I also have handwritten recipes from another grandmother. These items are among my most treasured family heirlooms.

I have memories of my grandmothers making gingerbread cake, johnny cakes in the pan – fried in lard, beef and homemade noodles. Saturday evenings I watched my great grandmother make communion bread for Sunday’s service.

Though my life is surrounded by living memories of sharing food and life with family, I have also wondered what my ancestors’ lives were like. What their occupations were, what their environments – the places they lived – looked like, what music they listened to and I wondered what did my ancestors eat? All the things that make a life full.

My family has no sheen of the gentry on it and some of them lived in London. My ancestors who lived in London lived near the river Thames, and the river provides. And what does it provide? Eels. Eels from the Thames river. Cooked eels, eel pies and jellied eels.

Like many Midwesterners, I have plenty of Irish heritage, too. I have wondered: What did the Irish eat?

Even though corned beef is often associated with our Irish ancestors, it was not beef they were eating – that was for the wealthy British landowners. Potatoes – also often associated with our Irish ancestors – were brought in to feed the poor, Irish tenant farmers. Of course, when the cheap food source of potatoes failed in Ireland; many Irish migrated to America.

But when families have plenty of food, they use food to show love, celebrate, tell stories and heal.

Recently, foodways were used to bring healing to the native peoples in Minneapolis during the COVID pandemic.

Family foodways can turn into family businesses and then influence and change the surrounding culture as the Chili Queens of San Antonio did.

Food can be about survival, too. Michael W. Twitty explored his family’s experience of slavery through food.

Sometimes the recipes and the food are a clue in family history, as it was for Cuban-American, Genie Milgrom.

What will your family foodways tell you about your family history?

Books about foodways in the Indiana State Library’s collection to explore:
“Dellinger family : American history and cookbook,” ISLG 929.2 D357M
“Keaton Mills family cemetery, Egeria: an era: family stories and cookbook,” ISLG 929.2 M657MA
“Weesner family favorites: a recollection of old and new recipes,” ISLG 929.2 W3983R
“The cooking gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South Twitty,” Michael W., available as an e-book
“Historical Indiana cookbook,” ISLI 641.5 K72H
“Farm fixin’s: food, fare & folklore from the pioneer village,” ISLI 641.5 F233
“Aspic and old lace: ten decades of cooking, fashion, and social history,” ISLI 641.5 B295
“Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook of fine old recipes: compiled from tried and tested recipes made famous and handed down by the early Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania,” ISLM TX721 .P46 1971
“Quaker cooking and quotes,” ISLI 641.5 B655q
“Cooking from quilt country: hearty recipes from Amish and Mennonite kitchens,” ISLI 641.5 A215C
“The Catholic cookbook; traditional feast and fast day recipes,” ISLM 641.5 K21C
“Consuming passions being an historic inquiry into certain English appetites,” ISLM TX645 .P84 1971
“Rappite cookbook,” ISLO 641.5 no. 29

Online Sources about foodways to explore:
Jellied Eels
What the Irish Ate Before Potatoes
Is Corned Beef Really Irish?
Medieval Cookery
The Sifter A Tool For Food History Research
Historic Cookbooks on line
Generations of Handwritten Mexican Cookbooks Are Now Online
Mexican Cookbook Collection
Recetas: Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus

This blog post is by Angi Porter, Genealogy Division librarian.

A year in the life of a librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library, part deux

Last November, I wrote about some of the research and activities we partake in as librarians in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library. I asked the question, “Have you ever wondered what the librarians do all day and all year long?” Do you think we get bored or get tired of researching? Actually, working in the Genealogy Division is a very interesting and fun job! Let me tell you about some of the interesting research we’ve come across throughout this year. 2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least, and our patron’s queries did not disappoint.

Newspapers
Many times we try to find articles about ancestors in the different newspaper databases we have at the State Library. Hoosier State Chronicles offers free, online access to high quality digital images of Indiana’s historic newspapers. We also have other newspaper databases that are free to use within the library. Those include Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive and the Indianapolis Star, which covers 1903 to the present.

Sometimes it’s the non-related articles on a page that truly catch the eye! Take for instance the article below, titled “Duck eats yeast, quacks, explodes; man loses eye.”

Here’s an informative article found in the Indianapolis News about a cyclone demolishing the towns of Jasper and Huntingburg, Indiana in June of 1890:

In Vincennes, The Western Sun wrote about an earthquake that hit on Dec. 16, 1816, just five days after Indiana became the 19th state of the United States.

One might also learn through advertisements in the newspapers that an ancestor was the owner of a local distillery supplying corn whiskey, rye whiskey, gin, etc., for Knox and the surrounding counties in Indiana. This ad is from the Dec, 30, 1816 issue of the Western Sun:

City directories
City directories are another useful tool used in locating information about ancestors. Since the federal census is conducted every ten years, that can leave a gap in knowing the location of an ancestor, especially if the ancestor lives in a different state listed on the subsequent census. A city directory usually includes an individual’s address, their occupation, spouse’s name and other helpful information. Be sure to take a look at the Table of Contents of a city directory. There is a wealth of information contained within the first 100 pages before the name and address listings. Many of these sections contain names of people. For instance, the fire department section names the captain of each fire station. The police department section names all of the current policemen that year and their specific job assignments. Looking through these first sections can also give you a flavor of the time period in which your ancestors were living. Here are examples from the 1890 Indianapolis Polk City Directory:

The advertisements within the city directories are also helpful in giving the flavor of the period. Sometimes you might just find an advertisement for a business that your ancestor owned or was working as an employee. We found advertisements of M.H. Farrell Monuments and Statuaries and McNamara, Koster & Co. in several Indianapolis City Directories. These were companies owned by ancestors of one of our patrons. Imagine their delight in seeing these from 1894, 1895 and 1897 Indianapolis Polk City Directories:

Very basic patron question opens up a can of worms
One of our genealogy librarians was assigned a basic question, which was to find the parent names of a man born in Indianapolis in 1883. The patron had a small bit of pertinent information that was helpful. This basic question ended up uncovering a wealth of information about his ancestor the patron had no idea about. Through the database Fold 3, our librarian found internal letters between FBI agents pointing to FBI files on this ancestor. The files related to the time the ancestor was a yeoman in the U.S. Navy during World War I and were also related to his involvement being a very strong and vocal advocate for an Irish Republic. The Irish Republic came into being in 1916. It then became the Irish Free State in 1922. The ancestor also believed in and marched with the Suffragettes.

The ancestor died in 1925 at the early age of 42. An obituary stated: “Episcopal divinity student; ordained Episcopal clergyman; yeoman in the United States Navy during the war; ardent advocate for an Irish Republic when moral and physical courage were the essentials; National Counsellor and co-organizer of the Friends of Irish Freedom in the United States; Archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America; Graymoor Friar and student for the Catholic Priesthood: death.”1 Despite the pleasantries of this 1925 obituary, the ancestor had a brutal and tragic end to his life under mysterious circumstances.

Frankford Yellow Jackets football team
This year, we received an emailed photo of a 1927 Yellow Jackets team. The patron was pretty sure the team was from Indianapolis and was asking for help with identifying the building behind the steps where the team posed for the photo. One of the pictured players was an adopted ancestor of his wife. After discussion about the photo and not coming to any conclusion, we referred the photo to the librarians in our Manuscripts and Rare Books Division. Unfortunately, they were not able to identify the building either. As hard as we try, sometimes we are not able to find the answer to every question we are asked.

Through our research though, we found that this team was actually the Frankford Yellow Jackets, an NFL team from Philadelphia during the years of 1924-31. Frankford is a neighborhood in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. The Frankford Yellow Jackets won the NFL Title in 1926. Unfortunately, the team began to decline mainly due to financial hardships brought on by the Great Depression of 1930. Another reason for their decline was due to a 1931 catastrophic fire that damaged the Frankford Stadium. The team then had to find a different location to play their home games.

The 1931 season, which would be their last, ended on a good note, though. The Yellow Jackets defeated the Chicago Bears 13-12 at Wrigley Field on Oct. 26, 1931. As an added tidbit, this apparently marked the last time a Philadelphia-based NFL team would win an away game over the Bears until the Eagles beat them in 1999. The Yellow Jackets were involved in another piece of history in that during their short time in the NFL, their player, Ignacio Molinet, became the NFL’s first Latino player. In 1931, the Frankford Athletic Association was unable to find a buyer for their team; thus, they returned the franchise to the league. In 1933, the NFL granted an expansion franchise and the new owners named the team the Philadelphia Eagles, and as they say, the rest is history.

Marriage records
The past few years, and especially this year, we have received hundreds of phone calls and emails from patrons and county clerk offices requesting information about marriage records. This is due to the Federal Real ID Act that was passed in Congress in 2005. “Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, a Real ID-compliant driver’s license, permit or identification card will be required to board commercial airplanes or enter certain federal facilities. A Real ID is indicated by the star in the upper right-hand corner of your driver’s license, permit or state identification card.” The Real ID documentation checklist can be accessed here.

If your current name does not match the name on your identity document (e.g., birth certificate) additional government-issued documentation will be required. This is where marriage records come into play. Any person who has been married and changed their name will have to acquire a certified copy of their marriage record(s) as part of the documentation needed to obtain a BMV Real ID. All original marriage records are kept within the county where the couple applied for their marriage license. The County Clerk Offices are the only place you can obtain a certified copy of your marriage record. We do not have any original marriage records at the Indiana State Library, nor can we certify a marriage record. What we can do is look up the couples names and year of marriage, usually on Ancestry’s Indiana Marriage Certificate Collection, and view a digitized copy of the marriage record. By viewing this copy we can help patrons and county clerk offices verify in which county the original record should be, along with verifying the exact date of marriage. Again, the marriage record is kept in the county clerk’s office where the couple applied for the marriage license. If the couple were married in a different county, the record goes back to the county where they applied and is filed there. For a complete county listing with contact information access the Directory of Courts & Clerks in Indiana.

COVID-19 quarantine time
During the COVID-19 quarantine time, we worked remotely at home five days a week. In addition to answering patron questions over the telephone and through our online Ask-A-Librarian service, we worked on some of our yearly projects. One of my projects is to find free online books that match the books in our Genealogy Collection. When I find an exact match in an online copy of one of our books, I send the link to our Cataloging Division and they add the link to the catalog record of that book. As you can imagine, it is a slow-going process, but well worth making books more easily accessible for our patrons.

Another project that a few of us in the Genealogy Division are working on is editing some of the records in the Indiana Marriages Index through 1850. There are 4,000-plus records in this index where the actual marriage date is unknown. Through research and a bit of sleuthing, we can usually locate the exact date of marriage and edit the record in the database so it is correct and will help our patrons.

One activity that all of us in genealogy took part in during the quarantine was watching pertinent genealogy webinars to learn as much as we can about different genealogy-related topics. One of the areas of interest that I felt I needed to know more about was World War I. Through The United States World War One Centennial Commission and The Doughboy Foundation, I was able to view several free and very informative webinars. The webinar “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers” was excellent! This was the first time I had heard of these brave women. There is also a book by the same title authored by Elizabeth Cobbs. I highly recommend viewing any of these free webinars if you have an interest in World War I.

Fun names
As I shared in my November 2019 blog entry, we always run across interesting names during our research. Here are a few more to entertain you: Jacob Earpouch, Poeta Whitcomb, Minervabel Moof, Cyrenia Shurp, Bazil Liles, Ebenezer and Thankful Puffer, Permelia Agee, Colon Presser, Blandena Bumpus, Abner Flummerfelt, Harlem Pentecost, Daisy Buster, Erastis Colip, Pinkie Berry, Floyd Iven Buffenbarger, Goldy Tash, Siragusa Gandolfo, Weeney Feeney, Fred R. Begun and LaVona Vivien Pombert.

We never know what kinds of interesting topics we’ll receive from patrons who need our research help. We get a very wide variety of questions. This certainly keeps us on our toes and gives us lots of research adventures!

This post was written by Alice Winslow, librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library.

1. The Tablet, Brooklyn, NY 6 Jun 1925

Newspapers, a great source for family history… and other tidbits

Newspapers are a great source for genealogy and history information. They can provide new details about your family through obituaries, human interest stories and the society pages. Newspapers can also provide background stories and unexpected context that flesh out your ancestors’ lives and experiences. So, here are some examples of the family history information to be gleaned from newspapers.

Indianapolis Times, March 21, 1936, page 12

Vital records articles cover birth, marriage and death information. These can include vital statistics columns from local hospitals, marriage announcements in the society pages and obituaries. Those columns give you biographical details on specific ancestors and can help you outline familial structures. Obituaries are a particularly good source for details, as they often name parents, siblings and children. They are especially useful prior to the use of birth and death certificates.

Jasper Weekly Courier, June 1, 1894, page 4

Legal notice articles also provide insight into your ancestors’ lives. Court notices may list all the cases being heard in local courts or they may list cases where public notice is required, such as name changes. These columns also include listings of land transfers, so if you are researching property or trying to figure out exactly where your ancestors lived, these articles can help.

Richmond Palladium, June 29, 1921, page 4

Society pages document the doings of the members of a community. In big cities, these columns often focus on the lives of the rich and famous, but in smaller communities everyone is covered. Do you want to know what they ate at the annual community picnic?  Interested in what your great-grandmother got at her wedding shower? These articles are for you! Beyond knowing the minute details of your ancestors’ lives, those who attended momentous life events were often close friends and family, giving you an idea of who your ancestors knew and with whom they associated.

Indianapolis Times, February 23, 1934, page 30

Even advertisements tell us about our ancestors’ lives. Grocery ads, clothing ads, car ads, etc., show us the products people of the past bought and used. Some products are still on the market today, but many are things that are no longer available. Relatedly, columns covering fashion, cooking and housekeeping also show how people lived.

Daily Wabash Express, November 24, 1889, page 6

Local news columns show details about the past, from weather forecasts to crime reporting to local election results. These articles show the day to day events our ancestors experienced as well as local responses to and state and national events. They provide a contemporaneous perspective on past events.

Looking for newspapers? All the images used in this article were taken from Hoosier State Chronicles, the Indiana State Library’s free digital newspaper database. We also offer access to several subscription newspaper databases in the library, as well as the world’s largest collection of Indiana newspapers, accessible on microfilm.

This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, Genealogy Division supervisor.

Sharing your family story

When my oldest brother was a toddler, my grandfather would prop him up on his lap and spoon feed him a concoction he liked to call “coffee soup.” It was made from soaking soda crackers in sugary coffee. My grandfather lived through the depression and dishes like this were popular because they made the most out of a few kitchen staples when times were tough. Grandpa Harold passed away before I was born but the coffee soup story just happens to be one of my brother’s favorite memories to share.

I heard so many stories of my grandfather’s exploits growing up that he became sort of a folk hero in the family. I’m grateful to be a part of a family of fantastic storytellers. In fact, every time my family is together we tell stories. We dig up our most precious, most hilarious and special memories and recount them together. The facts may change as we age and our memories fade, but we all work together to put the important moments of our lives into context and bond over our shared history.

I never realized the true value of these stories until recently. Research has shown some surprising psychological benefits to family story telling, particularly with the younger generation, but the advantages last through all stages of life. Stories that focus on overcoming or facing challenges build resilience and fortitude when we are faced with difficulties of our own. Strong family narratives have been shown to help mitigate both stress and anxiety during tough situations.1  They help us to form our identities and find a sense of belonging.

Right now, as we manage the challenges presented by COVID-19, many of us are searching for ways to connect and make meaningful use of the time spent with family members. One way to do this is to plan some multi-generational bonding through sharing your family story. Stories can be told almost any time and in any place. Even mundane activities, like car rides, can be opportunities to share a story. If you are looking for some inspiration here are a few storytelling project ideas you may want to try with your family.

Interview a family member

David and Margaret Worton wedding, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Interview a family member and record their story to pass along for generations. With just a little preparation and time you can uncover the challenges, triumphs and adventures that make up your family member’s life story. If you need help, the UCLA library has a Conducting Oral Histories with Family Members guide. This is a fantastic resource for each step of the project from preparing for the interview, organizing questions and making a recording.

Family Tree Magazine has a list of 20 open-ended questions to ask your relative during a family history interview. For an even more extensive interview, the My Heritage Blog has a list of 117 questions. You could use these lists for inspiration by creating some questions of your own based on what you want to know most about your family member’s life. You may get more out of the experience if you send the interviewee the questions in advance so that they can think about their answers ahead of time. Always respect their decision if they choose not to share certain information. This builds trust and will make them more comfortable sharing the rest of their story with you.

For those who would like to interview a family member that doesn’t live in the same household, there are a number of technological solutions like smartphone apps that record telephone calls to recording a video interview. Just be sure that the person you are interviewing approves of being recorded first. You don’t have to have a recording device, though. A piece of paper and a pencil to write down responses is all you really need to capture their story.

Work together on a family tree craft project
If you have some paper and old magazines on hand, Kinderart offers a tutorial on how to make a family tree collage. Since trips to the craft store may be a challenge right now, it’s convenient that most of the supplies required are items that many people already have handy. As you craft the tree you can tell stories about each person represented. Discuss their lives, pass on stories you’ve been told, or talk about any memories you have of them. This is a fantastic project for all ages and the end result is a work of art that could be displayed and cherished for generations.

Explore family photos

Nancy H. Diener collection, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Open up your photo albums, digital photo gallery or those boxes of photos hanging out in the closet and go through them together. Talk about the people in the photos and tell stories about their lives. Some families have many of photos going back generations that they can share while others have more recent family photos on digital devices, like phones or computers. Recent memories are just as important for story building as those passed down over time. So don’t worry if you don’t have access to older family photos. Either way, this is a great opportunity to pass on and make memories.

Through email, text or social networking sites you could share the photos electronically with those you live apart from to create a connection and conversation across distances. For example, my grandmother has been adding her family photos to her Facebook newsfeed. She recently shared photos of her grandparents and later told me stories about the pictures. I would have never heard those stories if she hadn’t added these photos on social media. An added bonus is that now multiple family members have digital copies of these pictures, too.

Share your own story
Begin journaling or sharing your own life experiences. You have many irreplaceable family memories that only you can share with your loved ones. If you need help getting started the FamilySearch has a blog post with nine writing tips on how to tell your personal story.

As author Robin Moore says, “Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.” Our memories are some of the most valuable gifts that we can share with one another. They are free, easy to pass on and they have the power to connect generations of family members together. Now is a great time to think about how our family stories have shaped and guided us throughout our lives and to create new stories for the future.

1 Feiler, B. (2013, Mar 17). “The stories that bind us: Children who know their family’s history are better at facing challenges.” New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.ilibrary.org/docview/1815060551?accountid=46127

This blog post is by Dagny Villegas, Genealogy Division librarian.

You joined what?! Not your average lineage societies

People choose genealogy as a hobby for many different reasons: to find out how an ancestor was involved in history, to explore family stories or to honor and preserve family culture and heritage. Some, however, pursue genealogy in order to join a lineage society.

What is a lineage society? A lineage society is a group that has requirements to join based on your ancestry. To join a society you will have an application to fill out, a membership fee to pay and you will need to provide genealogical documentation for your ancestor. Some lineage societies operate by invitation only.

To help a new potential member, many lineage societies will provide a list of qualifying ancestors on their web page.

A (very) brief history of lineage societies in the United States
After the American Revolution, Americans reveled in the newness of their country and rejected old world ways, including the elitism of genealogy and pedigree.

So, it should not be surprising that the first lineage societies, in what was to become the United States, were military based, such as the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

However, after the centennial celebration of the nation in 1876, Americans were eager to demonstrate their patriotism by showing their family involvement in the history of the nation. This resulted in the founding of the some of the best known genealogical lineage societies. For example, the Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in 1890, and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, founded in 1897.

Today, for many Americans, the idea of a lineage society may be old-fashioned and stuffy, but that isn’t necessarily the truth. After the recent popular culture explosion of genealogy from the 1970s to present – where all ancestors of all types are celebrated – there is now a lineage society for everyone.

I hope you enjoy perusing some of the more unusual lineage societies I have discovered. Please visit the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library if you would like to explore your own curious lineage.

A Collection of Curious Lineage Societies
Associated Daughters of Early American Witches
This society was founded in 1987. A potential member must prove descent from an ancestor who was officially accused, tried, convicted or executed for the practice of witchcraft in Colonial America prior to 1699. The society website includes a list of qualifying ancestors.

Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain
This society was founded in 1950. A potential member must prove descent from an illegitimate child, grandchild or great-grandchild of a king of England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Flagon and Trencher
This society was founded in 1963. A potential member must prove descent from an individual who conducted a tavern, inn or ordinary in the American Colonies, prior to 1776. The society website includes a list of qualifying ancestors.

National Society of Saints and Sinners 
This society was founded in 2010. A potential member must prove descent from a saint. The society website includes a list of qualifying ancestors.

Society of Descendants of Lady Godiva
Established 2014, a potential member must prove descent from Lady Godiva. The society website includes a list of qualifying ancestors.

For more Information
The Hereditary Society Community of the United States

For further reading:
“The History of American Lineage Societies” by Kathy Petlewski, MSLS; Lineage Societies: Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations, by Kimberly Ormsby Nagy, MD, PLCGS; NGS Magazine April–June 2019, available in the Genealogy Division reading room.

“Your Guide to Lineage Societies” by Lynn Betlock, American Ancestors, vol. 19, Summer 2018, available in the Genealogy Division reading room.

“Family Trees : a History of Genealogy in America” by François Weil. ISLG 929 W422F. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“Roots Quest: inside america’s genealogy boom” by Jackie Hogan. ISLG 929 H7148RO. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

For further research:
“Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: true stories of scam, scandal, murder, and mayhem in Boston,1630-1775,” by D. Brenton Simons. ISLG 974.402 B747si. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“Tracing Your Ancestors from 1066 to 1837: a guide for family historians,” by Jonathan Oates. ISLG 929.12 O11tr. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“A Who’s Who of Your Ancestral Saints,” by Alan J. Koman. ISLG 929.102 K81W. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“Magna Carta Ancestry: a study in colonial and medieval families,” by Douglas Richardson. ISLG 929.72 R522m. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“Plantagenet Ancestry: a study in colonial and medieval families,” by Douglas Richardson. ISLG 929.12 R522p. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“The Taverns and Turnpikes of Blandford, 1733-1833,” by Sumner Gilbert Wood. ISLG 974.402 B642W. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

“A Sketch of Fraunces’ Tavern and Those Connected with Its History,” by Henry Russell Drowne. [Pam.] ISLG 974.702 N567 NO. 1. Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library.

This blog post is by Angi Porter, Genealogy Division librarian.

New year; new genealogical you

The start of a new year generally means new goals, usually dealing with health goals or organizing one’s life in one way or another. If you’ve been thinking about how you could apply that to your genealogical research or want to try new things here are some suggestions for genealogy resolutions for 2020.

Photograph of Olive, Iris, Zula, Bernard and Eunice Chambers, children of Fred H. and Gladys (Sinnett) Chambers from the Indiana State Library’s digital collections.

Back up your data
If you’ve been putting off backing up your genealogy research for “later,” 2020 is a good year to tackle backing up your research. Losing genealogy data due to a hard drive crash or from an unexpected event like a house fire can be devastating. Whether you decide to back up your information in the cloud or with a hard drive keeping copies of your research in different places will help eliminate the chance of massive loss of one’s research.

Visit an institution that you have not been to before
As most researchers realize after doing genealogy research for any amount of time, not everything is available on the internet. Many materials can only be accessed in a library, archives or other local organizations since they are often under copyright and cannot be digitized. Often, regional or local institutions may have materials relating to local families in the area that larger institutions don’t have in their collections. Taking the time to visit area libraries or historical societies where your ancestors lived may yield new information or new clues if you’ve hit a brick wall.

Attend a genealogy conference
Attending a conference is a great way to pick up tips and new research techniques. Many regional and national conferences offer a wide variety of topics and presenters for a fairly reasonable price. Or perhaps attend a conference with a more narrow focus, generally on one specific topic or field of genealogy.

Some larger conferences offer a virtual pass, where, for a reduced rate, you can watch a selection of talks from the comfort of your home. The National Archives has a yearly Virtual Genealogy Fair that is free, the videos are available on YouTube and you can download the handouts to your computer.

Take a DNA test
Genetic genealogy has become a popular area of research. DNA kits from Ancestry and 23andMe are popular gifts for people wanting to learn more about their ethnicity or to connect with family members. The three big companies are the aforementioned Ancestry DNA and 23andMe, along with MyHeritage. For more information about the field of genetic genealogy check out the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

Prioritize your resolutions
After you’ve created a list of things you would like to accomplish go through and identify the ones you want to tackle first. Perhaps you weren’t able to get through everything you wanted to last year, or you have one goal you really want finish, like scanning and organizing your family photos and other genealogical materials. Create realistic goals and timelines for completing each task, and have a plan in place on how you are going to accomplish everything you want to finish in the coming year.

Blog written by Sarah Pfundstein, genealogy librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3689 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

A year in the life of a librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library

Have you ever wondered what the librarians in the Genealogy Division at the Indiana State Library do all day and all year long? I sometimes get a glazed over response from people when I tell them what I do for a living. Most times, though, people react with great interest and they have many questions. I feel like I could talk about genealogy and what I do for hours! There are always new and interesting questions we receive from patrons who are inquiring about one or more of their ancestors.

We recently researched individuals who were performers in the travelling circuses and vaudeville acts of the late 1800s. Talk about a challenge in trying to research people who were constantly on the move and went by several different stage names! We are definitely always up for a challenge and happy to guide and help any patron with their research. Due to time constraints, we are sometimes unable to conduct in-depth research, but we are most definitely available and happy to help with less comprehensive research on ancestors.

In this case, we were able to find information about a particular travelling circus they were performing in throughout the states of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio around the year 1900. With the ancestors using stage names sometimes as their real names, it has been difficult trying to track down their places of death and burial.

Sometimes we uncover unfortunate incidents, like when we learned of the demise of two-thirds of a 12-generation family tree chart that included an ancestor who arrived in America on the Mayflower in 1620. A rodent that may or may not have been the family pet escaped his caged home and was thought to have gone on to rodent heaven. However, several weeks later said rodent was found living the life in a cozy little nest of shredded family tree material! He was most assuredly on a mission to erase 12 generations of a family tree. Thankfully, though, those brave people aboard the Mayflower have been well documented along with five to six generations that followed after them. Piecing together the names on the one-third of the salvaged family tree chart and researching in our numerous books about the people on the Mayflower has made this research not as daunting as one might think.

Speaking of books in our Genealogy Collection, we have some very intriguing books to complement our death record index books. Several of the Indiana counties have published coroner record books. Most of the entries I’ve read in the coroner’s reports are descriptive and they don’t mince words. For example, one ancestor I researched this year has an entry in the Decatur County Indiana Coroner’s Inquest Record Book 1, 1873-1900. Herman Demer, born June 9, 1852 in Germany, came to America and made his way to Indiana where he married and eventually became the father of six children. He died on April 1, 1896 in Greensburg in Decatur County, Indiana. The coroner’s entry reads:

“Report and verdict of the Coroner of Decatur County as to the cause of the death of Herman Demer at crossing of Vine Street and the track of CCC & S & L Railroad in the city of Greensburg, Indiana on May the 1st 1896 after hearing the evidence of 10 witnesses in this case…

 

“I do find that as the mail train No 11 from Cincinnati came into this city on said date running at the rate of 20-25 miles an hour and at the crossing above named the engine of said train struck the deceased Herman Demer together with his horse and wagon, killed the horse instantly and demolished the wagon, and so injured and mangled the deceased Herman Demer that he died in a few minutes after being hurt and I do find that the accident was due to the fast rate the train was being run by engineer William Nagle at the time of the accident.

 

Would call the attention of the authorities to the fact that all trains are being run at to great speed through this corporation. May 7, 1896. Signed, George W. Randall, Coroner Decatur County Indiana.”

Old newspaper articles also could be very blunt in their accounts of events. There was another ancestor research I helped with that became quite a gripping tale as I searched in our online newspaper databases. The female ancestor had been a well-beloved fixture in the community for years. One morning on the farm, sometime in the 1880’s, she went out to feed the pigs and had her apron pockets full of pig feed. The newspaper article stated they believed she suddenly had a heart attack and collapsed in the pig pen. In the process of collapsing, the feed was scattered all over her upper torso and hands. I’ll leave it at that and let you figure out the rest. The newspaper article went into very gruesome detail, as was the custom of the times.

Another book we have with an entirely fascinating title is “The Georgia Black Book: Morbid, Macabre & Sometimes Disgusting Records of Genealogical Value” by Robert Scott Davis. The title either grabs your senses and pulls you in or it repulses you as you firmly say, “No thank you!” The contents include names of horse thieves, liars, convicts, murderers, murder victims, insane asylum inmates and more. It covers the period of 1754 through 1900 mostly. A few chapters on murders cover the 1823-1969 time frame. It contains the names of over 13,500 people. I haven’t actually researched inside this book for any patrons, but earlier in the year I got pulled in by the title alone. This is just one of many intriguing books we have of genealogical value.

As librarians in this division, we are always searching different types of indexes looking for particular ancestor names for our patrons. Reading through these lists of names can sometimes be quite amusing and charming at the same time, along with coming across some tongue-twisters, too. Here is just a small sampling of the names we’ve come across: Mr. Orange Lemon, Methusala Stickie, Mrs. Pearl Wilkymackey, Thomas Batman, Mary Popsichal, Cincinnati Meek, Pierre A. Poinsette, Balthazar Zumwald, Reason Shook, Adonijah Rambo, Rosebud Alcorn, Sophronia Boeckelman, Waty Winkler, Hannah Hairclipe, Fergus Snoddy, Permelia J. Threldheld, Dorman E. Stufflebeam, Thomas Cottongin, Lucy Meltaberger, Landrum Leak, Woods Cotney, Orval Fifield Upthegrove, Knotley Tansel, Peyton/Paten Tansel and Stark Tansel.

I think it’s safe to say that librarians who work with genealogy love history. Having the opportunity to research during different time periods of our country’s history and also learn about the history of countries where people emigrated from makes history come alive. Learning about history from our school books is one thing but then delving into the lives of real people that lived through particular times, makes history more authentic and palpable. For instance, in researching an American Civil War Soldier from Putnam County, Indiana who died of dysentery in a makeshift hospital far from home, brought a human realness to history for me. In this research I also learned that during the American Civil War, 95,000 soldiers died from dysentery.

We all learned long ago in school that the pilgrims came to America in search of a place to live peacefully without religious, and other forms, of persecution. Later, people came to America fleeing cultural persecution, political upheaval, land and job shortages, famines and continued religious persecution. When I research actual people that left their families and homes in the only country they probably ever knew, it most definitely makes history come alive. It has brought a new sense of awe and utmost respect to all of the immigrants that came here in search of a better life. I can’t even begin to imagine the bravery it must have taken to leave everything they ever knew for the dream of a better life.

We have the following book, and many more like it, that are great history and genealogy resources: “History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time-Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors” by Judy Jacobson.

In the preface of this book, I fully agree with what the author states about the importance of seeing ancestors in the historical context in which they lived:

“…In my research I try to understand why people made the choices they made, what type of people they were, and how they came to be that was. I like to see their world through the eyes of those ancestors. … This book is designed as a handy reference to provide researchers with what I consider to be a critical but often overlooked dimension to their genealogical research: an historical context.”

For example, hundreds of years ago, and even more recently, there were many occupations that no longer exist today. If you would like to read through an entertaining list of occupations from yesteryear, you can access that link here. I am including a small list of some of the more curious names of occupations below.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about a few of the interesting research topics and related items that we conduct year round in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library. There’s always some new topic or ancestor that is fascinating and intriguing.  Come in and visit us sometime or send us a question through the Ask-A-Librarian interface on our library website. We are happy to help.

This post was written by Alice Winslow, librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library.

Using genetic genealogy to advance your research at the Indiana State Library

The secrets to untold stories, answers of the past and tales of exciting and dangerous journeys unfortunately live in the past; or do they? There are many ways to perform research to discover the past, and in the process, better understand one’s genealogy. One of the most exciting ways to further your research is to have a DNA test done. This aspect of genealogy can provide you with the key that unlocks the secret door to the past and the lives of your ancestors.

DNA testing provides you with all sorts of new and interesting information. You now possess the unrefined gold mine of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine which form this wonderful thing called a chromosome! But, what does all this mean? How do you know what these types of chromosomes mean and how do they play into your genealogy? The most important thing when gaining new information is to understand what it means and how to appropriately use it.

To help make sense of it all, the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library collects books pertaining to DNA research. These books are on display in the Genealogy Reading Room and cover a wide variety of topics, from making sense of your test results to researching specific ethnic and national groups through DNA. The library also partners with the Central Indiana DNA Interest Group to offer DNA consultations on the second Saturday of each month. These consultations, which are made by appointment only, allow patrons to receive practical research advice from genetic genealogy experts. Visit the library’s events page for more information!

This blog post was written by Sara-Elisa Driml, University of Indianapolis student.