Ancestry.com Blog » Who Do You Think You Are? http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry The official blog of Ancestry.com Thu, 21 Aug 2014 19:13:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Who Do You Think You Are? Changes Kelsey Grammer’s Perspectivehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/20/who-do-you-think-you-are-changes-kelsey-grammers-perspective/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-do-you-think-you-are-changes-kelsey-grammers-perspective http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/20/who-do-you-think-you-are-changes-kelsey-grammers-perspective/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:56:57 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19774 Read more]]> We’ll let you in on a secret. Kelsey Grammer

When we do family history research for Who Do You Think You Are? we find all kinds of stories in each celebrity’s family tree. Our ancestors lived through amazing historical events, made decisions both good and bad, and went through hardships—some they overcame, and some conquered them. But sometimes we find that to tell one person’s story, we have to change perspective and tell it from another person’s point of view.

Kelsey Grammer is well acquainted with a change of perspective. After nine seasons on the hit television show Cheers, Kelsey’s story changed directions when his character, Frasier Crane, became the focal point of one of the most successful TV spinoffs of all time.

Kelsey Grammer’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? features the members of the Dimmick family. We were able to document the families of Joseph Dimmick and his son, also named Joseph, in records from Ohio and Illinois. Then we learned from census records that the family left Illinois shortly after 1850 and moved to Oregon. In fact, if you pay attention to the birthplaces of Joseph Jr.’s family—Illinois, Oregon, and California—a single 1880 census record painted a picture of a family who crossed the American plains more than a decade before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

But, as often happens, we found that Kelsey Grammer’s 2nd and 3rd great-grandparents didn’t leave behind as many records of that journey as we would have liked. So we looked to change our perspective. As family historians, we use this technique all the time, especially when it comes to finding contemporary sources. For example, not all of our ancestors were avid journal keepers or letter writers. But if you can find a written first-hand account by someone else who experienced the same thing your ancestors did, you can gain further insight into your ancestor’s life story.

So we set out to see if there was someone else who left us a record. On a website focused on residents in Schuyler County, Illinois, we found a list of people who traveled the Oregon Trail in the same company as the Dimmicks. One of them happened to be Joseph Dimmick Sr.’s nephew, Joseph Gragg.

When Joseph Gragg died, he left a large collection of papers now located at the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Oregon Library. Among those papers was his personal account of the experience of the Gragg and Dimmick families along the Oregon Trail.

Thomas Dimmick Quote

In his account, Joseph included descriptions of river crossings and the search for food. He also provided a detailed timeline of events affecting the entire party as they crossed the country.

Best of all, Joseph recorded stories about the people who traveled with him. Among these was the description of the tragic death of Joseph Dimmick Sr.’s son Thomas:

He [Thomas Dimmick] and two others had been out on a buffalo hunt … and the weather being very hot, he drank quite freely of poor water … . In the latter part of the night he was taken sick with the cholera and died about six or seven o’clock. … hasty preparations were made with his bedding and clothing and his body buried alone on the plains . . . .In the afternoon the train moved sadly on leaving the grave of this loved one – a grave never again to be looked upon by anyone who had ever seen him.

Thomas Dimmick was Joseph Gragg’s first cousin and was just a few years older than Joseph Jr.. The death of his cousin would have been a huge loss. It would have been hard to leave him behind on the trail. Joseph Gragg’s account serves as a reminder that our ancestors lived not just with their immediate families but among extended families, neighbors, friends, and associates. They were part of a larger community. And that larger group gives us more chances to find a first-hand account of our own ancestors’ lives. All we need to do is change our perspective.

Learn more about Kelsey’s journey or watch the full episode on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

For those of you who were following along on Twitter last night, here is a recap of the posts shared by us and other participants in the chat:

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Tamzin Outhwaite Discovers a Rags to Riches Tale on “Who Do You Think You Are?” (UK)http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/20/tamzin-outhwaite-discovers-a-rags-to-riches-tale-on-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tamzin-outhwaite-discovers-a-rags-to-riches-tale-on-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/20/tamzin-outhwaite-discovers-a-rags-to-riches-tale-on-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 11:09:01 +0000 Brian Gallagher http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19694 Read more]]> New Tricks actress Tamzin Outhwaite will be the next celebrity to discover her family history on  Who Do You Think You Are? tomorrow night. Tamzin has gained fame for playing London characters and her parents are from London’s East End. However, she is also aware that she has Italian roots.

Question mark

 

“I do know that there is definitely an Italian influence within the family. I’d like to get much more in touch with my Italian roots”, said Tamzin.

The former EastEnders actress remembers her Grandfather Remo but knows little about his family. The Who Do You Think You Are? team uncovers the genuine rags-to-riches story of her great-grandfather Adelmo. Although he started with nothing, Adelmo went on to become a successful business owner and ice cream maker. There was a time when he could not pay for the funeral of one of his sons. The community came together to pay for the funeral and this kindness was never forgotten by her great-grandfather. Later in life Adelmo bought some land and turned it into a playing field for the community who had been so kind to him in his hour of need.

Tamzin is shocked to learn that during World War Two things were not easy for the Italian community and that they often faced prejudice. Adelmo and his eldest son, Peter, were interned at a camp on the Isle of Man in 1940. Having spent twenty years raising a family in the UK, he found himself labeled as a fascist simply because he was Italian.

“My great-grandfather and great-uncle would have been made to feel like criminals. They made ice cream. Goodness me”, said Tamzin.

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

 

Image courtesy of Karen Ellot. Flickr/creative commons.

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Postcards from the Past: Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with Valerie Bertinellihttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/14/postcards-from-the-past-who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-with-valerie-bertinelli/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=postcards-from-the-past-who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-with-valerie-bertinelli http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/14/postcards-from-the-past-who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-with-valerie-bertinelli/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:20:00 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19572 Read more]]> Listen.

Valerie Bertinelli

Valerie Bertinelli

And I will tell you a story.

Sitting in a circle and listening to a storyteller recount a well-known and well-loved tale is one of the world’s oldest traditions. We’ve all sat at the feet of a storyteller—maybe even a grandmother or an eccentric uncle—who entertained, frightened, educated, and charmed us with their tales as they passed our collective history to the next generation.

One of the most powerful tools in family history research is reaching out to living relatives—both close and distant—to learn the stories that were passed down in their immediate family. While researching Valerie Bertinelli’s tree, we located a man named Pietro Possio who turned out to be Valerie’s third cousin, once removed. Pietro lives in Italy and had inherited the papers, legends, and legacy of the Possio family.

We had found a passenger list showing that Valerie’s great-grandmother Maria Possio left Genoa, Italy, on the S.S. Dante Alighieri on May 29, 1915, and arrived in New York on June 12. The same passenger list shows that the ship docked at Palermo, Italy, and picked up new passengers before leaving Italy for the open Atlantic Ocean on May 31. The passenger list provides critical clues for tracing Maria’s ancestry, but it gives only basic facts as she emigrated from her home country to an unknown land.

We got some insight into Maria’s experience when Pietro shared some documents that his family has kept over the years. Maria wrote a postcard to her cousin Pietro Possio on the day her ship stopped in Palermo. (Maria’s first cousin Pietro was the grandfather of Valerie’s third cousin Pietro.)

Maria’s postcard explains that she and her children stopped in Palermo and that they were going to be there from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. She says they were doing well, but it was very hot. She asks Pietro to say hello to another cousin and anyone else who was asking about her.

Maria Possio's postcard from Polermo, Italy

Maria Possio’s postcard from Polermo, Italy

Maria’s words were not particularly poetic or inspirational, but they reveal the common humanity that we share with our ancestors. Her postcard from 1915 is something that anyone today might write back home about a long vacation, but for her, it was also her last chance to send a message to loved ones before leaving her country and home. We know from the postcard that she and her children left the ship and spent time in Palermo, a fact that is not revealed in the passenger manifest. We also know a little bit about the weather.

Since Maria sent the postcard to her cousins, none of her own descendants knew it existed. This is one of the most important reasons for finding cousins—they may have documents about your ancestors that were passed down along their branch of descendants but not yours.

Pietro showed Valerie the postcard from Maria, but the sharing was not a one-way street. Valerie had brought a picture of Maria at her gelato cart with a group of family members. One of the people in the photograph was Dominica, Maria’s mother, who was Pietro’s second great-aunt. When you get in touch with cousins, be prepared to share information from your branch that might be interesting to them, too.

Cousins also may have heard an old family story that you were told, only with slightly different details that help you understand the events more clearly. If your branch of the family left an old homeland, like a European country or an eastern state in the United States, descendants of those who remained behind will often have a much stronger tie to the old stories and places.

How do we track down cousins? It begins by picking an ancestor of interest, then tracing their descendants and the descendants of the ancestor’s siblings and cousins. This process is most challenging when we reach the modern era. At that point we switch from using historical documents like censuses and city directories to finding people using online trees, phone books, social networks, and general Internet searches (which are especially useful for finding obituaries). With DNA testing becoming more popular, cousin relationships surface every day through genetic matches as well.

We all hope there is a cousin somewhere out there who has the family Bible with a complete genealogy inked in the end papers, or maybe the handwritten letters, journals, stories, or even creative works penned by our ancestors. Even a simple “wish you were here” postcard in your ancestor’s handwriting can have amazing impact. Finding a cousin can be like finding a voice from the past, one that’s got a story to tell that you’ve been waiting to hear.

 Learn more about Valerie’s journey or watch the full episode on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

For those of you who were following along on Twitter last night, here is a recap of the posts shared by us and other participants in the chat:

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The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) continues with Brian Blessedhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/13/the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-continues-with-brian-blessed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-continues-with-brian-blessed http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/13/the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-continues-with-brian-blessed/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:59:49 +0000 Brian Gallagher http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19509 Read more]]>  

Actor and adventurer Brian Blessed is next up in the new season of  Who Do You Think You Are? tomorrow night. He is not looking for crowns or prizes in his past, but he is looking for humanity.

Question mark

 

“The greatest dramas are about ordinary people, ordinary relationships. That is where you learn so much, that has great meaning and that is what I’m looking for” said Brian.

The legendary actor is hoping to find ancestors from humble backgrounds in his family tree and the show does not disappoint. The Who Do You Think You Are? team uncover a real life Oliver Twist in his ancestry. Jabez Blessed, who was born in 1817, is recorded as making a daring escape at the age of 11, running away from the church to make his own way on the streets.

Jabez was left an orphan when both his parents died in their early forties. As paupers, Jabez and his three siblings entered the workhouse. Martha, aged 14 died a week later and 22 month old Elizabeth shortly afterwards. Jabez’s only surviving sibling, 8 year old Charles, was left alone in the workhouse when Jebez was moved to a different poorhouse.

Eventually Jabez escapes and tries to survive on the streets, possibly making a living from running errands or as part of a group of boys performing street entertainment.

Wiping away a tear at Jabez’s graveside, Brian said: “I don’t think I’ve ever cried in my life. Never cried, not even as a baby.”

 

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

 

Image courtesy of Karen Ellot. Flickr/creative commons.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: Rachel and Kayleen McAdams Discover Land Grant for a Loyalisthttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-rachel-and-kayleen-mcadams-discover-land-grant-for-a-loyalist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-rachel-and-kayleen-mcadams-discover-land-grant-for-a-loyalist http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-rachel-and-kayleen-mcadams-discover-land-grant-for-a-loyalist/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 17:50:00 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19420 Read more]]> Rachel and Kayleen McAdams

Rachel and Kayleen McAdams

 

One of the best parts of creating a story is getting to pick where your story takes place. Is it on Seabrook Island, in 1800s London, or jumping throughout time? But when it comes to the stories in your family tree, you don’t get to pick the setting. You have to discover where your ancestors lived, and when you do, you may learn that where they lived adds another dimension to their story and leads you to possibilities you hadn’t considered. One way to leverage that setting is through land records.

Land Grant Petition for Charlotte McDonald July 1824

Land Grant Petition for Charlotte McDonald July 1824

 

In the episode featuring Rachel and Kayleen McAdams, two of the ancestors highlighted were the sisters’ 4x great-grandmother Charlotte McDonald and Charlotte’s father, James Gray.

We made good progress tracing Rachel and Kayleen’s maternal ancestry through vital records and Canadian censuses, but the earliest census was taken in 1851, and Charlotte was born much earlier, probably in the late 1700s. We were not able to find any birth, baptismal, or marriage records for Charlotte, so we turned to land records for the area where she had lived. At the Ontario Archives, we located a land grant petition that Charlotte McDonald had filed in July of 1824. She was requesting 200 acres of land in Ontario as the daughter of James Gray, a Loyalist who had fought for the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War. It was only through this record that we were able to conclusively connect Charlotte to her father, James Gray.

Land records are sometimes your only option to help prove family relationships—especially in the days before census records and compulsory vital registrations. Examining land grant petitions, plotting where pieces of land sit in proximity to each other, and tracking the selling and buying of specific parcels of land can give surprising insights into a family’s structure.

With the knowledge that James Gray was a Loyalist who had fought against the American Patriots we were able to delve more deeply into the records of the Loyalists and their families to learn about the Grays’ experiences during that turbulent time. When we found James Gray in a list of volunteers that gave his residence as Machiche—a refugee camp in Québec not too far from Montréal—an emotional and touching story really took shape. There were more than 1,000 refugees at Machiche—and about 600 of them were children. The camp was occupied from 1779 through 1783, which means the residents lived through several harsh Québec winters in primitive and unhealthy conditions.

WDYTYA_McAdams

List of volunteers for the Queen’s Loyal Rangers

Knowing that James and his family spent time in the refugee camp, we pieced together a story that specifically highlighted the hardships the Grays faced at Machiche, including the absence of James while he was fighting, the loss of a young son, and the birth of a daughter (possibly Charlotte). These facts gave depth to the story of Charlotte McDonald and her birth family during a highly disruptive time in Canadian and U.S. history and helped show the suffering they endured after leaving their home in New York.

Focusing on land records gave us insights that led us in an unexpected direction and made for a more interesting and emotionally compelling episode for Rachel and Kayleen. Taking the time to learn everything you can about the setting of your story can do the same for you. Land records can add amazing details—or even lead you to the story itself.

Learn more about Rachel and Kayleen’s journey on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

For those of you who were following along on Twitter last night, here is a recap of the posts shared by us and other participants in the chat:

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The White Glove Debate Continued: What’s Up With the Purple Gloves?http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/the-white-glove-debate-continued-whats-up-with-the-purple-gloves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-white-glove-debate-continued-whats-up-with-the-purple-gloves http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/the-white-glove-debate-continued-whats-up-with-the-purple-gloves/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 17:43:27 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19430 Read more]]> If you saw the recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Rachel and Kayleen McAdams, you might have noticed them wearing some special accessories. When they visited the Archives of Ontario, they had to don purple gloves when handling a map of land grants in Ontario. So, what’s up with the those?

Dr. Jane Errington with Rachel and Kayleen McAdams at the Archives of Ontario

Dr. Jane Errington with Rachel and Kayleen McAdams at the Archives of Ontario

The purple gloves weren’t intended as a fashion statement. Some archives use nitrile gloves instead of white cotton gloves for handling materials that could be harmed by the oil on your fingers. Nitrile gloves allow for better feeling and often fit better than cotton gloves. This helps reduce the chance of inadvertently tearing or creasing the document when you’re handling it. Nitrile gloves are also disposable, which means that they aren’t holding the dirt and grime from previous research sessions.

You might be wondering about latex gloves. Some people have allergic reactions to latex. Nitrile gloves have gained popularity over latex for that reason.

White gloves, nitrile gloves, bare hands – which is it?! As researchers, it comes down to this: Always have clean hands (even with gloves), use common sense, and follow the rules of whatever archive you are in.

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The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) opens with Julie Waltershttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-opens-with-julie-walters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-opens-with-julie-walters http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/08/07/the-new-season-of-who-do-you-think-you-are-uk-opens-with-julie-walters/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 11:14:43 +0000 Brian Gallagher http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19372 Read more]]> Actress Julie Walters kicks off the new season of  Who Do You Think You Are  tonight. She is hoping to find some skeletons in her closet and the show does not disappoint.

WDYTYA

In researching her Irish ancestry she makes several discoveries. Her great grandfather Anthony Clarke was one of the early founders of The Land League. It was formed to protect farmers from being thrown off their land in the 19th century. The Land League eventually went on to win the right to buy land for the tenant farmers and in later years, many had their own plots of land. However, she is shocked to hear that he was accused of murder after attacking a man with a knife.

But while her great grandfather Clarke fought for the land rights of farmers, Ms Walters discovers another relative -  great great great grandfather Cummins Buchanan, stole land from others for his employer when they fell behind their rent and also voted against any reforms which would have helped the poorest in Ireland.

 

Julie goes through a range of emotions as she is confronted with the good and the bad in her family history.

 

Who Do You Think You Are? Returns to BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: Jesse Tyler Ferguson Fills in the Gaps in Multiple Actshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/31/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-jesse-tyler-ferguson-fills-in-the-gaps-in-multiple-acts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-jesse-tyler-ferguson-fills-in-the-gaps-in-multiple-acts http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/31/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-jesse-tyler-ferguson-fills-in-the-gaps-in-multiple-acts/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:18:56 +0000 Jessica Murray http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19215 Read more]]>

 

JTF_WDYTYAScreenwriters, playwrights, and storytellers have been using the three act structure to tell their stories for generations. Any story requires a setup, rising action, a climax and a resolution. When we’re researching the family histories of the celebrities for an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? we also look at how we can tell the story in a narrative arc. And to fill in the events and scenes for each act of an episode, we create timelines.

For Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s episode, we created multiple timelines to follow the story of Jesse’s great-grandfather Jesse Wheat Uppercu. Jesse Tyler Ferguson was named for his grandmother Jessie (Uppercu) Ferguson, who was named for her father, Jesse Wheat Uppercu. And when we looked at Jesse Uppercu’s life on the timeline, patterns and stories emerged.

The timelines we created for Jesse Wheat Uppercu served multiple purposes. First, they let us quickly see what records had already been found. Seeing all the information displayed in a timeline format exposed holes where information was still missing, which showed us years and places where research still needed to be done.

JTF_WDYTYA_TimelineSecond, we used the timeline to track Jesse W. Uppercu through his various moves. It was vital to track Jesse’s moves to know where to look for more records. And when you consider that as an adult Jesse had at least nine residences (Baltimore, Evanston, Chicago, Fargo, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and New York City) before he settled on his farm in Ramapo, New York, pairing a timeline with a map made a powerful combination.

Third, the timeline was a communication tool. We had several researchers in multiple states involved in discovering Jesse’s story, and they could easily access the timeline, identify any new information, and see the research next steps at a glance.

Timelines can be designed to fit the needs of the research or preference of the researcher. They can cover an entire life or be used to solve a problem by focusing on a specific time span. They can focus on one character, an entire family, or even a larger community or nation. We created one timeline just for Jesse Uppercu’s gold-seeking expedition. It spanned from February 1898, when the company left Philadelphia, to August 1898, when Jesse left Alaska. Jesse’s adventure lasted only seven months, but we logged plenty of entries for records we found along the way. [Note: For more on creating timelines, please check out this research guide]

JTF_WDYTYA_Timeline2

Detail of the Jesse Wheat Uppercu timeline.

Another timeline we created for Jesse W. Uppercu’s entire life started with his birth in 1850 and marked his activities until his death in 1937. As expected, there are large gaps during Jesse’s childhood and adolescence, but during the trial for his aunt’s murder and the probate of her estate, the timeline contained daily entries as we followed newspaper articles. He also managed to fit in a marriage during this period. We discovered this marriage to his first wife through a newspaper article titled “A Remarkable Wedding” while tracking news of the trial and estate. When our research wrapped up, Jesse Uppercu’s timeline had 112 entries on it.

Jesse W. Uppercu’s life was filled with court cases, moves, three marriages, and a Klondike adventure before he settled down in Rockland County, New York, and raised his two daughters and two-step daughters whom he adopted. Our timelines helped us put these events in phases—an early phase in which he struggled with ethics and morality, a middle phase where he embraced adventure, and a final phase where he settled down with his family. You can do the same thing to help guide your research or share the story of your own amazing ancestor.

 

Learn more about Jesse’s journey on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

 

For those of you who were following along on Twitter last night, here is a recap of the posts shared by us and other participants in the chat:

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Behind the Scenes: ProGenealogists Joseph Shumwayhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/29/behind-the-scenes-progenealogists-joseph-shumway/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=behind-the-scenes-progenealogists-joseph-shumway http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/29/behind-the-scenes-progenealogists-joseph-shumway/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:03:23 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=19058 Read more]]> joseph-shumwayMany people wonder how to get the youngsters in the family interested in genealogy. Joseph Shumway’s grandmother figured it out. When Joseph was 12, she invited him over so he could help her learn her new genealogy software.

“I was always the kid who enjoyed listening to the family stories,” Joseph recently told me. But working with that software and helping his grandmother enter the names is what really got him thinking about it and sparked an interest in learning more about his ancestors.

Joseph is an Accredited Genealogist and is a researcher at ProGenealogists. You might think that with such an early start, he always intended to be a professional genealogist.  “When I was younger, I never knew you could be a professional,” he said. As he became more experienced, people hired him. His clientele grew to the point where he needed to decide whether to pursue genealogy as a career or to follow the path he originally intended. “With the encouragement and support of my mentors, I chose genealogy.”

Joseph enjoys digging deep into challenging research problems. For that reason, African American research is his favorite. A lack of records certainly makes it challenging, but ultimately the most rewarding. “The smallest piece of new information can mean the most” in the research, he told me.

You never know what you’re going to turn up when you begin a research project, whether it’s for a client or for something like Who Do You Think You Are? (one of several television shows on which Joseph has been a contributor).  One of his favorite discoveries involved a project that started with a man who lived in South Carolina with an aunt. The goal was to identify the man’s parents, who were believed to have been from England. Joseph found the connection to England – and to a group of three sisters who were passing themselves off as Tudor heiresses to scam wealthy men.

For those who are getting started climbing their family tree, Joseph advises not to jump too far ahead too quickly. “Talk to everyone who is still living. Get their stories and find out all you can from them.” While it’s tempting to gloss over this, Joseph assures that it is a crucial step.

In case you’re wondering, yes, he does get asked regularly if he’s related to Gordon Shumway of Alf fame. (“Though people are sometimes surprised that I actually remember the show!”) As for the actual relationship between Joseph and Gordon, all he would tell me was “We’re proud to have the family name out there.”

 

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: Mapping Cynthia Nixon’s Ancestorhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/25/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-mapping-cynthia-nixons-ancestor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-mapping-cynthia-nixons-ancestor http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/25/who-do-you-think-you-are-recap-mapping-cynthia-nixons-ancestor/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:48:15 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/?p=18990 Read more]]> CynthiaNixonFor the television show Who Do You Think You Are? our job is to tell stories we find in family trees. And a good story needs good characters, the more well-rounded and dynamic, the better. So when we research an episode for Who Do You Think You Are? we look to learn everything we can about each “character” in the episode. The story is always better when you understand details such as where each person comes from, their family relationships, their economic situation, their political leanings, and their motivations. Two important characters in Cynthia Nixon’s story were her 3x great-grandmother Martha Curnutt and Martha’s husband, Noah Casto.

Noah Casto was certainly a character—and he wasn’t one to stay in one place. Noah lived his adult life in the early 1800s and apparently embraced the idea of westward expansion because he always seemed to be moving on to the next opportunity. His habit of perpetual migration made picking up his trail complicated work, and we had to track his movements meticulously. We did this by using one of the family historian’s most basic and useful tools: a map.
Maps are often critical for piecing together a genealogical puzzle. They can help a researcher see whether various records fit a pattern of migration or suggest additional counties or states to investigate. As we were researching Noah Casto, maps helped us follow and understand his movements and provided evidence that we were on the right track.

Noah Casto’s name appeared in records scattered across multiple states. These included:

  • 1820 census, Greene County, Pennsylvania
  • 1830 tax list, Guernsey County, Ohio
  • 1835 and 1836 land records, Shelby County, Indiana
  • 1839 marriage to Martha Curnutt, Cole County, Missouri

Because of his uncommon name, it seemed possible that all these records were for the same guy, but would one man’s records really be spread across so many states over such a relatively short time?

We created a map detailing the movements in all the documents that mentioned a Noah Casto. If he was the same person, it turns out that his route closely follows the National Road established in the early 1800s, which stretched westward from Maryland through the southwest corner of Pennsylvania; onward to Guernsey County, Ohio; and through Indiana, north of Shelby County. Using this map, it is easy to see that Cole County, Missouri was connected to these eastern states by river, suggesting that Noah’s movements from Greene County, Pennsylvania all the way to Cole County, Missouri were very plausible. Additional research proved that almost all the records were about the right man.

CynthiaNixonMap

With any family you’re researching—and especially for difficult research problems—it’s wise to study a map to see exactly where their county was situated and what counties or states were adjacent or nearby. Knowing what jurisdictions were within easy traveling distance can lead to records about people you are looking for. For example, we found several records naming Noah Casto in Ohio and Indiana, both of which border Kentucky. If we had ignored all Kentucky records, we would have missed an earlier marriage bond naming Noah Casto.

CynthiaNixonKentucky

Maps can also inform you about a county’s physical environment, which can influence where you find records. For example, if a river separates a family from the county seat, a couple may have chosen to get a marriage license from a more convenient courthouse even if it was located in a different county. Taking time to create maps for the people in your family tree can be an invaluable tool to help direct your research—and it can also turn your own ancestors into characters in your family story.

Learn more about Cynthia’s journey or watch a clip from the episode on TLC.com.

Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

And if you missed our live tweeting of the premiere episode, check out the Storify we put together with some of the key tweets and comments shared on Wednesday night.

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