Category Archives: Technology

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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Time for a Change

I am in the processing of doing something that I never thought I would do — that is porting my genealogy database to a different software package. After using Legacy Family Tree since 2004, I have decided it’s worth the pain to switch to RootsMagic.

Don’t get me wrong — Legacy is a great program. But lately I have been feeling an ever growing disconnect between the features I want in a genealogy program and what Legacy provides. So I decided it was time to take another look at the competition to see if there was a better fit for me.

The first time that I took a close look at the competition was when Legacy V6 was released without the much anticipated “witness” feature which would have provided for shared events. We (the users) were told that the programmers wanted to include it, but it required too much “restructuring.” At that time I looked at RootsMagic as well as other products. My perception was that RM did not support tagging, and that was a Legacy feature that I did not want to give up. After evaluating the competition,  I decided to stick with Legacy and hope shared events would be addressed in the next release.

Fast-forward about 7 years. Legacy is now on Version 7.5. It still doesn’t support shared events, and, as I blogged about before, it also doesn’t support shared source detail (citations). These 2 pet peeves, coupled with some other minor annoyances, caused me to really give RM a good look when I got the email about their Version 6 release. And the more I looked, the more I liked!

The more I looked into RM’s implementation of shared events – or as they call it, shared facts – the more I decided it was a must-have. First and foremost, this feature allows you to create, for example, a single census event/fact and have it attached to all the members of the household. As a software engineer who specialized in database design, I personally feel this implementation is much better than having multiple copies of the event – as Legacy would have you do. (Or my work-around which was to create the census event as a marriage event and basically ignore attaching it to the children.)

Additionally, shared facts allow for the capturing of relationships beyond spousal and parent/child. For example, a baptismal or christening fact can be shared with the godparents and even the officiating clergy. RM did an excellent job implementing shared facts in a very flexible and powerful way, including user-definable roles and sentence structures.

Sadly, RM does not support shared source citations, but shared facts are a step in the right direction.

And what about tagging – the lack of which stopped me from switching to RM all those years ago? I have found that the named groups give me about 80% of the functionality of tagging — and I can live with that. I am also liking the interface now that I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks.

On the other hand, there are certain things that Legacy has that I miss – like hovering the mouse over a child in the family view to see the spouse list and all the shortcut mouse clicks. But all in all, I think (hope) that I’ve made the right choice – for me, for now.

I am now going through the tedious process of cleaning up – changing the christening facts back to baptism, fixing up the place list, changing the census (family) fact to a shared census fact, etc. And then there’s sources.. That can of worms probably deserves a separate post!

Legacy Family Tree Mapping – Can Anybody Help?

Okay, I’ll admit it. When Millennia, makers of Legacy Family Tree, first introduced mapping I looked at it, but for a variety of reasons never used it much. So when I got a new computer about six months ago and noticed that the Legacy mapping component wasn’t working, it wasn’t high on my priority list to troubleshoot. BUT (there’s always a but, right?) after seeing some of the RootsTech videos I started to re-think mapping and its usefulness.

One of the things that upped the usefulness of mapping (for me, anyway) is that I’ve changed how I input locations to be more specific. For example, I now include things like church names and cemetery names directly in the location as opposed to the address field. (Address are not displayed in the family view, and I wanted to be able to see this information without a bunch of extra clicks.) I even got rid of displaying the burial date so it would be easier to see the cemetery name as well as it’s location. Check out the screen shot below.

Back to the mapping issue. I’m running Legacy on a Windows 7 (64bit) HP laptop with 6 gig of RAM. I have installed IE9 (and Silverlight), but mostly use Chrome. The mapping feature actually did work last night after installing the latest version of Legacy. But upon booting up this morning (which included a windows update install) I am back to getting a blank panel where the map should display, but no error codes or messages. (See screen shot)

I still have the old computer (with a six-month old version of Legacy) and decided to see if mapping works on that. It’s running XP and also has IE9 installed but not as the primary browser. It has less memory and disk space and more installed programs, but mapping works?!  Google searches have yielded no solutions. Legacy support has no further ideas since the re-install fix was not permanent. Anybody have any ideas? I would love to get this resolved!

UPDATE: I am very happy to report that the suggestion by jupiterthreeEd Thompson, which was to run Legacy as administrator, has fixed the problem!

Recording both Historical and Current Locations

There has been a lot of traffic on the Legacy Family Tree Users Group email list (aka the LUG) regarding recording historical vs.current locations for a given event. As several people have pointed out, genealogical best practice is to store the location as it was at the time of the event. But others have valid points when they state that this makes for confusion when reports are generated for non-genealogist family members, hinders mapping and makes for a “messed up” master location list. (If there are multiple entries that point to the same geo-location, is it really a “master” list? Guess it depends on your definition.)

To be honest, in my own Legacy database I’ve been a little wishy-washy and inconsistent with this. Wanting to do the “right” thing, I have in some cases recorded the historical location. Other times, I have just gone ahead and put in the current location, particularly when the source I’m using records the “current” location. (Like a book of records for a church in what is now Montgomery Co, Pennsylvania but was previously Philadelphia Co., in which case some of the earliest data recorded in the record book happened in the Philadelphia Co. time period)  I also have to admit that, although I have intermingled current and historical locations in the master location list, it really bothers me to do so. Why? Well there is no clear and highly visible way to distinguish historical from current. Nor is there a way to link historical to current other than adding a note – and that isn’t readily visible.

It seems to me a more logical implementation would be to allow both a current and historical location to be added to an event – and also to distinguish between historical and current locations. After all, an Historical Location is really a specialization of a Location. It has all the attributes of a Location, with the additional attributes of a date range and a pointer to the current. Of course, if Mellinnia Corp. (makers of Legacy Family Tree) were to provide something like this in the future, a user would have to go back and identify the historical locations already entered into the master list, add the relevant dates and identify the associated current location. Once that task was completed by the user, Millennia could probably provide an automated utility to go back and determine if the originally entered location was historical and if so find the associated current and make the appropriate updates in the event data record. Going forward, entering the current and historical locations (if necessary) would be up to the user.

Just tossing this out to maybe get some people thinking. It really does seem like a problem that could use a solution!

RootsTech observations from a Home Viewer

It seems that the whole genealogy community is buzzing about the recent RootsTech conference – and with good reason! I was one of the unfortunate many who could not attend the conference live, but was able to catch a bit of the excitement by watching several of the presentations that were streamed live on the internet. So here goes with some general observations.

Cloud computing was a huge topic in the sessions that I saw online. This included using the cloud for backups, synchronization, collaboration and storage of family trees. I’ve always been a little distrustful of “the cloud,” but I was convinced to take a few more steps in that direction – or at least check it out in more detail. As an example, I know that a lot of people use dropbox for their genealogy data, but I’ve been hesitant. Hearing all the conference talk, however, prompted me to do a google search which showed a product called SecretSync that encrypts files prior to uploading to dropbox. This gets around some of the concerns people are expressing with the dropbox privacy policy. It probably isn’t necessary to SecretSync every file before adding it to drop box, but I will probably do this for any information I consider personal or sensitive. On the other hand, I didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling about Geni. I still plan to keep my primary genealogy database on my PC and upload a subset to the various tree sites.

In viewing the presentations, I also realized that I’m under-utilizing some important resources – especially maps. LegacyFamilyTree has built-in mapping based on Bing. But I have been unable to get it to work on my relatively new Windows 7 computer. The LegacyFamilyTree website says that their mapping requires IE7. I don’t use IE, but have version 8 installed on my computer. I am reluctant to go back to version 7. After seeing some of the RootsTech presentations, I’m going to look into using GoogleEarth tours and possibly some basic mapping with GoogleMaps. It won’t be integrated with Legacy, but I guess you can’t have everything. :(

While I enjoyed each and every presentation that I saw, the topic that got me most excited was the Google presentation segment on Historical-data.org. In a nutshell, this is a way to add semantic information to a web page in order for the search engines to better assess it’s relevance to a “genealogy search.” I even went so far as to start to update one of my obituary web pages by defining my ancestor Augustus Bechtel as an HistoricalPerson. I did this after the Historical-data.org schema definitions were touched upon in the Day 1 keynote address. I wasn’t sure how to define the HistoricalDates and felt vindicated when watching the Google presentation on Day 2, when the speaker said even the large companies they were working with struggled with this. They  (Google, et al) are promising to add examples to the Historical-data.org blog, and you can just bet that I am now subscribed and waiting for that post! I even put in a product enhancement suggestion for LegacyFamilyTree to add this to the webpages that Legacy generates. (Crossing fingers that they at least consider.)

That’s about it for now. As I try out some of the software and concepts, I may post follow-ups!