Category Archives: Research Tips

3 Tips For Getting Started with Ancestry DNA

If you’ve taken an Ancestry DNA test with the idea of using it to further or enhance your genealogy research you might be wondering just how to get started. Looking at page after page of cousin matches can be overwhelming to say the least.

dna-dog-web

Maybe you’re feeling a little like the dog in the above photo!? Well, if you are, here are some tips which have helped me. Maybe some of you will find them useful as well.

I. Get Known Close Relatives To Test.

I am putting this first not because it is the first step in analyzing your matches if you are new to AncestryDNA, but I feel that it is the most important thing you can do to in order to gain better insight into your matches in the long run.

Who do you test? If you have living parents or grandparents they are the first priority. Remember, you only got half of your parent’s DNA. So they will have matches that you don’t – and they only got half from each of their parents. No living parents? Then get siblings to test. Unless you are identical twins, at least some of the DNA your sibling(s) got from each parent is different than what you got. Therefore, siblings will have some matches you have, but also have some matches that you don’t. No living siblings either? Then ask half-siblings, aunts, uncles, and/or first cousins if they would be willing to test. The more the merrier! Each person’s unique combination of DNA adds additional data and matches. (The exception being, of course, if both parents have tested, testing their children won’t add new information.)

I personally manage 11 kits for various relatives, These include myself, my brother, my mother, a maternal aunt and a maternal uncle for researching my ancestors. For research on my husband’s side, I manage kits for him, his mother and one of his sisters. One of his paternal uncles has tested as well.

I have found that there are at least three benefits to having close relatives (i.e. parents, siblings, aunts, uncles) test. First, they will have matches that you don’t. This expands your pool of matches for breaking through brick walls and testing theories. Second, having close relatives test could help you sort (or phase) your matches. For example, matches you have in common with a parent indicate a common ancestor on that side of your tree.  And a third benefit is that you may gain a better perspective as to how closely a match is related. Because the combination of DNA that you and a sibling inherit from each parent is different, Ancestry may classify a match as as third cousin to your sibling but a fifth cousin to you. Knowing that your sibling has a closer genetic match may indicate you need to look for a closer genealogical connection than you would expect if you only had your own test to go by.

II. Using AncestryDNA Star and Notes

Ancestry does not provide much in terms of letting the user catalog, classify and annotate matches. Basically, you have the star and the notes field. The way I use these is to star the matches for whom I have found a genealogical connection. In the notes I first put the amount of shared DNA (so I don’t have to open the match to see it) and and then the common ancestors if known. If the common ancestor isn’t known, I sometimes add brief notes that will help me pick up the analysis later. As an example, if the shared matches I have with the unknown match include matches I that I know connect on my Dilliplane/Weidner line, I’ll add that to the notes as a possible connection. If I’ve found the match on gedmatch, I also try to add that information to the notes. It does get a little tricky, because the notes are of limited length.

I would love for Ancestry to implement a user-defined tagging system (similar to say gmail) or even user-defined color-coding. It would be great to have tags for various family lines, whether or not you’ve been in contact, etc. But for now this is all they have – stars and notes.

III. Incorporate Your DNA Matches into your Family Tree

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m a little fanatic (i.e. obsessive) about finding the genealogical connection(s) to my close genetic matches! When I log on to check out my new matches, my process is to start with the closest unidentified match. The easiest case is that the match has a fairly well-developed, attached tree and our common ancestor(s) are readily apparent. In these situations, I add any missing generations between our common ancestor and my DNA match to my research database. (I use rootsmagic for that, but any desktop family tree software would work equally well. A private research tree on Ancestry is another option.) If I don’t know the match’s real name, I use an initial or the ancestry username in place of the first name.

Unfortunately, the more common case is that the match has a small tree or no tree. In this case I will often start researching and building the match’s tree within my rootsmagic research database with the hopes of being able to eventually connect it to my main tree.  I obviously don’t do this for every match, but if there is a small tree or an unattached tree from which I can get some starting clues, I will give it a shot and see if I can make any progress. This is especially true if they are a close match — i.e. third cousin or high confidence fourth cousin match.  I should note that if they are an active user, I will try messaging them to collaborate, but if they haven’t logged onto Ancestry for months (or years) I don’t feel it’s worth sending a message that probably won’t even be read, much less answered.

When I add a person who is DNA match to me or one of my close relatives to my database, I add a user-defined fact/event to them which I’ve called aDNA. This fact uses only the description field and the notes field – no date or place fields. Since I manage multiple kits on Ancestry for various close family members, the description field contains either my name or the name of one of my relatives whose kits I manage. The notes field contains the match’s ancestry username, the number of centimorgans and matching segments, the predicted cousin relationship and any other pertinent information. If the person also matches my brother (or any of the others for whom I manage kits) I add an additional aDNA facts to capture that information. (Much like you would add multiple census/residence facts for different years.) Recording autosomal DNA matches within my rootsmagic database is a system that works really well for me. I can use the features built into rootsmagic to search for matches, calculate relationships, etc.

 

I hope that some of you find these tips useful, but keep in mind that this is just for starters. I find the combination of GEDmatch and Genome Mate Pro essential, as well as creating descendancy charts. I will blog about these topics in the future.

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Is Mary (Keeley) Lapp a Descendant of Valentine Keely of Skippack??

One of my research projects involves the identification of the descendants of Valentine Kiehle/Keely/Keeley who immigrated in 1728 and settled in the area of what is now Skippack, Montgomery County, PA. (He is my 6x’s great-grandfather.) So a couple of years ago when Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp showed up in the then new Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records on Ancestry.com, I immediately looked for her in my database. The Ancestry record provided the information that she was born September 12, 1838, died Oct 7, 1919 and was the daughter of Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley. Unfortunately, not only was Mary missing from my Keely/Keeley database, but I had no Henry Keeley-Mary Poole couple either. Nor could I find her in the census under either her maiden name or married name. Vexing. So Mary went onto a back burner for a while.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. As many of you may know the early years of Pennsylvania death certificates (currently 1906-1944) are available online at Ancestry. (Note to researchers: This collection is available as part of  the US subscription but is also free to Pennsylvania residents when accessed through the PA portal.) While mining this collection for Keely/Keeley records I once again came upon Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp. Some key information gained from the death certificate was that Mary and her father Henry were born in Pennsylvania and her mother Mary Poole was born in Massachusetts. The death certificate further stated that prior to being admitted to the hospital in Norristown (where she died) she lived in Graterford, Montgomery County, PA.

Armed with the information that she supposedly was born, died and had a residence in Pennsylvania prior to her death, I once again I looked for her in the US Federal Censuses. And although I tried all sorts of spelling and misspelling variations of Keeley and Lapp, I was still unable to find Mary. Not in 1910, 1900, 1880, 1870, 1860 or 1850. Rejecting the possibilities that she avoided being enumerated in the census because she spent the bulk of her life abroad or that she and her family were somehow skipped over each and every decade, I went back to the death certificate to look for more clues.

The informant on the death certificate was Mrs. Samuel Koons of Graterford, PA, and she was identified as a daughter. Hoping to find more about Mary by finding out more about her daughter, my first goal was to determine Mrs. Koons’ first name by locating her in the 1920 census. I was really hoping that since she lived in Graterford in October of 1919 that she would still be there (and be enumerated) when the 1920 census was taken. The closest match was Samuel Koons, aged 68, and his wife Mary C., aged 60, of Perkiomen. They were also in Perkiomen in 1930 with Samuel aged 76 and Mary C. aged 71. But in 1910, Samuel, aged 56, is enumerated with wife Lizzie C., aged 54. And here I hit a snag — not only is the first name of the wife different, but the age is inconsistent.

Taking a step back, the 1930 census indicated that Mary C. was first married at age 19, which would have been about 1878 and that Samuel was first married at age 38, which would have been about 1896. Thus Mary C. was married to someone else prior to marrying Samuel. Based on the 1910 census Samuel had a prior marriage as well. This, of course, leaves a window of between 1910 and 1920 for the marriage of Samuel and Mary C. In searching further the Philadelphia marriage index shows a 1915 marriage between Samuel Koons and Mary C. Mishler.

A census search for Mary C. Mishler yielded a 1900 census for a widowed Mary C. Mishler, aged 41, living in Philadelphia with a son Herbert, aged 20. Going back, the 1880 census had a Silas Tucker, aged 40, with son-in-law Thomas Mishler, aged 25, Mary Mishler, aged 21, and Herbert, aged 1 in Lancaster, PA. In 1870, Silas Tucker, aged 36, Mary A., aged 30, Mary C., aged 11, and William H., aged 9, are enumerated in Lancaster.  And in 1860 Silas Tucker, aged 24, Mary A., aged 21, and May [sic], aged 1, are once again in Lancaster, PA. So presumably, Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp has been now been found in 1860 and 1870 living in Lancaster with her first husband, Silas Tucker. A little more digging shows her living in Philadelphia in 1880 with second husband Samuel Pearson and son William Tucker, aged 19. She is also in Philadelphia in 1900 as a 59 year-old widow and in 1910 as a 71 year-old widow. (Yes, the ages are a little off, but I am fairly certain it is her.)  In addition, the Philadelphia Marriage index shows a 1911 marriage between Mary Pearson and George W. Lapp.

So to recap Mary’s timeline:

  • 12 Sep 1838 – born in PA to Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley
  • est 1857 – married Silas Tucker
  • 1860 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and daughter
  • 1870 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and children
  • bet 1870 and 1880 – divorced Silas Tucker, married Samuel Pearson
  • 1880 – in Philadelphia with Samuel Pearson
  • 6 Aug 1897 – death of husband Samuel Pearson in Philadelphia
  • 1900 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1910 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1911 – married George W. Lapp in Philadelphia
  • by 1914 – living in Graterford, Montgomery, PA
  • 7 Oct 1919 – died in Norristown, PA

So although part of the mystery of Mary (nee Keeley) Tucker Pearson Lapp is solved, questions still remain. Where was she in 1850? Where in Pennsylvania was she born? Is she a descendant of Valentine of Skippack? If you have any further information on Mary, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking and hopefully I will soon be able to get a handle on her parents and ancestry.

Finding Enumeration Maps for Southeastern Pennsylvania Counties

This is an update to my previous post “Tuesday’s Tip – Finding an Enumeration District in the 1940 Census” [link]. In response to that post, I received an email from Ken McCrea who has added a utility to his GermanNames website to aid researchers in finding the ED maps for various southeastern Pennsylvania counties and their population centers (cities/town/townships).

Go to his website [link] and at the very top you can click go to “Guides to the 1940 Census for Southeastern Pennsylvania.” From there it is pretty self-explanatory. He is providing direct links to the maps at the NARA Online Public Access site, eliminating the need to formulate a search query. It makes finding the maps a little more straight-forward.

Tuesday’s Tip – Finding An Enumeration District in the 1940 Census

In just 34 days (April 2) the 1940 census will be released.  I have already signed up with FamilySearch.org to be an indexer. If you want to help too, you can get more information at the 1940 Census site: [link].

But what if you don’t want to wait for volunteers to build the name index? With a little effort and persistence there is apparently a way you may be able to find some of your relatives sooner. According to the National Archives site [link], NARA will be releasing  the digital images indexed to the enumeration district level. I wanted to check into this to see how feasible it would be to locate some of my relatives using the this method.

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived in Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1940 and I have the exact street addresses. I wanted to see how easy (or hard) it is to find the enumeration district(s).

I started with the Steve Morse Unified 1940 Census ED Finder page [link]. I entered the state and county, but as it turns out, Pottstown was not one of the options on the city/town drop-down list. I had to chose other and enter Pottstown in the adjacent box. Clicking on the “Get 1940 ED numbers” box resulted in the screen below. The red box shows where I had to choose “Other” from the drop down box and then enter the town name. If the city I wanted had been available on the drop down menu, I could have entered the House Number and Street and pin pointed the ED. As it turns out, I got a list of all the ED’s in Pottstown.

In order to get more information about the EDs returned on the search screen displayed above, I clicked the 1940 ED Description radial button and the then the “More Details” button. The result is displayed below:

In reading through the ED descriptions, the boundaries are described in clock-wise rotation. I drew the red box around ED 173, which is the one containing both my paternal and maternal grandparents’ homes. You can get more information (such as the number of residences included in that ED) by clicking on the view button on the right.

The reason I was able to hone in on ED 173 is because I am familiar with the street layout in this area of Pottstown. It would, however, be easier to visualize the EDs if they were drawn on a map. So finding the map was my next step.

As it turns out, you can get an ED map display from the NARA 1940 census research site: [link]. Follow the instructions under bullet 3 on that page. It will advise you to go to the Online Public Access Page [link]. I entered “1940 census enumeration district maps pottstown pennsylvania” in the search box on the Online Public Access page, and got the following map:

By zooming in using the controls at the bottom of the map, it’s easy to confirm that ED 173 is indeed the one containing the addresses that I am interested in. So now, come April 2nd, I have the option of either waiting for the name index or browsing through the images of ED 173.

Tips and Tricks for Searching Ancestry.com

I have to say that between the new “Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, 1708-1985” Collection on Ancestry.com and the “Pennsylvania County Marriages, 1885-1950” on FamilySearch.org I have been filling in so many “blanks” that I’ve lost count! I’ve been finding exact birth, marriage and death dates, names of parents and maiden names of spouses! I’ll probably blog about some of my specific finds soon, but for now I wanted to post a quick tip on searching the Church and Town Collection on Ancestry.

So, I started out doing a search for “Daniel Ecker.” The following is a screen shot of a portion of the results that were returned: (hint: if a screen shot is too small to read, click on it to see a larger view)

Search Results

I then click on the top result and view the image. It turns out to be Daniel’s marriage record in the church register of Christ Episcopal Church in Pottstown, Montgomery Co, PA. Now I’m thinking I want to see what else I can find in that particular church register. Unfortunately, there’s no direct way to search just that register – the best you can do is limit the search to the entire “Pennsylvania Church and Town” collection. But there is a way to get almost what you want by setting the search parameters appropriately.

First, limit the search to the “PA Church and Town” collection. You can do this through the card catalog feature, but I find it a lot easier to do by clicking on the banner as shown in the image below.

Now you will get the following search box:

The key thing here is to use the advanced search, then on the “Any Event” option, set the location of the church and “restrict to exact.” You could also set the year and range and click “Exact only” to further limit the scope of the query. As I have the query set up, Ancestry will only return results from Pottstown, PA.  This limits the number of churches to only those in Pottstown and greatly increases the chance that the results returned will be relevant.