Archive for February, 2013

February 26th, 2013

How Important is DNA to Genealogy? Just Ask the Ancestors of Richard III!

The skeletal remains that were found beneath a parking lot in Leicester, Englandin September, 2012 have been confirmed to be the remains of Richard III, one of England’s most reviled kings. The search for King Richard’s remains was conducted by researchers from the Universityof Leicester, who were led to their possible location by records from a local monastery. The researchers worked from historical maps, and deduced that the remains were located under the small municipal parking lot. Ground-penetrating radar confirmed that there were bones there, and they were consequently excavated.

The amazing part, especially genealogically speaking, is that DNA samples from known living relatives were used to confirm his identity, more than 500 years after his death! One of the relatives that donated DNA was a man descended from King Richard’s sister which produced an almost perfect match. This is conclusive proof of the value of, not only maternal DNA testing, but the entire genealogical process. Richard’s descendants could not have been located for testing if traditional genealogical records did not exist, or if there were not sound genealogical methods and qualified researchers to carry them out.

How DNA Testing Works to Locate Ancestors and Descendants

The samples that the Scientists from theUniversityofLeicesterused to confirm Richard III’s identity were taken from his bones. They performed a maternal DNA test and compared the samples from the bones with the DNA of his known living ancestor, Michael Ibsen, the son of Richard’s sixteenth generation niece. The other donor chose to remain anonymous, but the results were overwhelmingly conclusive.

Maternal DNA or lineage testing allows both males and females to trace their ancestry through the DNA inherited from their mother. The father’s mitochondrial DNA is destroyed at fertilization, and so children inherit only the mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Because of this unique inheritance phenomenon, the maternal link to the past is preserved in both men and women, which inevitably made the son of Richard’s niece, even after 16 generations, an ideal subject.

DNA testing for genealogical purposes can be very valuable to family historians. It can be used to confirm your ethnic or even geographical origins as well as whom you are related to. Genealogy will never rely solely on DNA testing, without the written records, King Richard’s descendants could not have been found or confirmed, nor would the team of researchers from theUniversityofLeicesterhave known where to look for his remains.

Besides, one of the most rewarding aspects of an ancestor search is locating their records and enjoying a bit of historical nostalgia along the way. DNA research and modern DNA testing will never take the place of finding a love letter that your great-great-grandmother wrote to your great-great-grandfather, but it can help you to locate relatives you didn’t know you had. If you’d like to know more about the mitochondrial DNA testing the researchers used, please read our article Understanding Mitochondrial DNA Ancestry Tests

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February 19th, 2013

5 Fantastic Resources for Finding Irish Ancestors

Close to ten million Irish have immigrated to other countries since the early eighteenth century, over half of them going toAmerica. Others moved toAustralia,New Zealand, theUnited Kingdom, andCanada. Some even ventured as far south toArgentina,Brazil,Mexico, andSouth Africa. This vast movement of the Irish has led to close to 80 million people globally claiming Irish ancestry. Following is a summary of the best resources for finding Irish ancestors.

Civil Registrations 

January 1, 1864 saw civil registration introduced to Ireland. Since then all births, deaths and marriages have been recorded, at least theoretically. Some events went unrecorded, especially in the early stages of civil registration and especially with country folk who might have needed to travel long distances to register. Many vital records do exist however, and they are a valuable source of genealogical information.

Irish birth, death, and marriage certificates can be obtained from the General Registers Office in Roscommon, while records for Northern Irelandthat were created after the separation can be found at the GRO Office in Belfast. has an extensive microfilm collection of Irish civil registers which can be ordered online.

Parish Records

Parish records generally contain information about baptisms and marriages. They can provide you with the date of a person’s baptism, the maiden name of their mother, and the names of sponsors or witnesses. Sometimes the family’s address is given, or at least the name of the area they came from, but not always. Marriage entries contain the names of the bride and groom, their witnesses and the marriage date.

Some parish records have been indexed and digitalized for the convenience of family historians. The National Library of Ireland has also microfilmed the majority and has made them available to the public at their location inDublin. InNorthern Ireland the Public Record Office has copies of the Catholic registers for its counties. Because they are not public records, Irish parish registers are not available online.

Land Commission Records

The Land Commission was developed to fix fair rents and settle disputes between landlords and tenants. An estimated six million documents are in its archives and they have been arranged by county and filed in volumes. The Commission was additionally entrusted with making loans to tenants who wished to purchase the farms on which they worked and lived. As you can imagine, this vast archive has the potential to yield a wealth of genealogical information.

The collection contains wills, deeds, mortgages, witness statements and sureties, as well as other documents containing information about the land involved. They date back to the 1600’s and can be found at the keeper of Records, Land Commission, Agriculture House, Kildare St, Dublin.

Poor Law Records

The Poor Law Act was passed in 1838 and wasIreland’s first statutory social service. It was incorporated to provide for the poorest and most destitute inIreland. Its workhouse records date back to the nineteenth century and are a rich source of information about both the poor and the wealthy middle class and gentry who “supported” them.

The main problem with workhouse records is that they haven’t been well maintained and are scattered throughout Irelandand kept in a variety of locations. The workhouse records of CountyMayoare housed at the National Library in Dublin, while those of the North and South Dublin Unions are kept in the national Archives. Those concerning Northern Irelandare better organised, all of them being centralised and deposited in the Public Record Office inBelfast. For other areas ofIreland check in the county libraries, while others are kept in county courthouses.

Griffith’s Valuation

Completed in 1865,Griffith’s Valuation is most likely the richest source of genealogical information regardingIrelandin the nineteenth century. The valuation is well documented, and contains incredibly detailed information.

Griffith’s Valuation can help you to find where your ancestor lived in nineteenth century Ireland, and also shed some light on their social status and economic standing. In Northern Irelandyou may find the valuation in the Public Record Office in Belfast, while in the Republicof Irelandit can be accessed in Dublin’s National Archives.

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February 12th, 2013

The Polish Genealogical Society of America

For those with Polish ancestors, there is no better place to begin your research than the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). The society was founded in 1978 and is based in Chicago. They are completely dedicated to the preservation and sharing of Polish and Polish-American ancestral history, and in helping its members to apply that information in their research. If you are researching ancestors from the old Commonwealth of Poland, the society has a plethora of books, bulletins, newsletters, workshops, and a variety of printed information that can help. This is a genuine genealogical society that perpetuates a genealogical attitude of sharing resources, leads, and communication among members.

Although the society provides information to help with research, they hold no repositories of records other than the ones published in their own books and periodicals, and in the databases of their members. The staff are all volunteers who are not able to research for you, but are only too happy to assist with pointing you in the right direction or pairing you with someone who can. Keep in mind that the society has no permanent address; they use the main offices of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America as their mailing address and telephone contact point. There are PGSA volunteers available one day per week to answer phone calls and enquiries. The best way to contact them is via post or email.

The Rodziny

The Rodziny is the quarterly publication produced by the PGSA. It provides a wealth of information designed to help those researching their Polish ancestors. There is an extensive amount of material covered in the publication, but its emphasis is on items not usually available to researchers and well written and researched articles. Some of those items include:

  • Translations of rare materials by European experts
  • An information Exchange where members can post inquiries and have them answered for free by other members or volunteers
  • Book reviews on important polish genealogical publications and tips on how to get the most out of them
  • Articles on specific Polish research related subjects written by professional and expert amateur genealogists

Additionally the society hosts translated historical documents on their website. One section I found most interesting and could have spent hours reading was the one regarding Polish life in the late 1800’s. There is also a searchable database of Polish troops who served in France during WWI and many links to other databases and important resources for Polish genealogical research.

The PGSA also has an online store which is used to support the efforts of the volunteers. Some of what you can purchase online from them is:

  • Books and CD’s
  • Research Services
  • Obituary Indexes
  • Military Record Indexes
  • Insurance Records Index
  • Instructions on Requesting Polish Records From Specific Towns

The web page of the PGSA is well maintained and updated on a regular basis. You can find information on events, workshops, research advice and instruction, Polish history, heraldry, Polish culture, and there are even some Polish songs if you’re feeling especially celebratory! The PSGA is closely affiliated with The Polish Museum of America Library, also in Chicago, which houses over 60,000 books of Polish interest, including genealogical research and reference materials. If you’d like to join the PSGA, you can fill out their online membership application.

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February 5th, 2013

A Jolly Good Genealogical Jaunt – The Lord of the Rings Genealogy Project

If you’re familiar with the family names of Baggins, Brandybuck and Bolger, visit the Lord of the Rings Genealogy Project, where you can have fun, and demonstrate your genealogy skills at the same time!

Yes, you read correctly! There is an ongoing project to chart and discuss the genealogy of Middle Earth, the society created by J.R.R Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Silmarillion novels. As you might imagine, the project is a huge undertaking, and those involved face similar challenges to anyone compiling an actual genealogy. There are also some aspects that are unique to charting a fictitious family and world history. Perfection and innovation are important to the creator of the project Emil Johansson, who has expanded the project to include several interactive features to satisfy his creative energies.

Emil Johansson is a Chemical Engineering student who lives in Gothenberg, Sweden, and who is obviously a huge J.R.R Tolkien fan. He is also a fan of people having a creative outlet, even if it is conceives as frivolous or fanatical by others. Johansson had read all of Tolkien’s works before they were made into movies, so his conceptualization of Middle Earth is unique to him. The subjects of the genealogy however are as real and accurate as their characters in the books. In addition to the genealogy of Middle Earth, the project also charts statistics such as the world population during the times of specific novels and events, and even the make-up (male – female ratio) of that population.

The Lord of The Rings Genealogy Project is relatively young, only started in January, 2012. Since its release however, many people have contributed to the project in the form of corrections or suggestions. It has truly become a community project, not surprising with the popularity of both genealogy and Tolkien’s works. Some of the individuals who have hopped on board to help with the project are Tolkien aficionados such as Shaun Gunner, who is Deputy Chair of The Return of the Ring, an organization which in its own words is “a celebration of Tolkien in its purest sense”, and is also the administrator of Tolkien Gateway and Trustee and Publicity Officer of The Tolkien Society.

The expertise of such individuals such as Shaun Gunner definitely lends credibility to the site, and a visit to the website shows just how much work has been done already.  There are hundreds of characters already charted, though not all have information about them as yet. The website itself is a bit difficult to understand, there is no real description about how to help or contribute, except in the About section, and that is specifically about how to donate money or purchase the Android app they have developed. It was by pure luck that I found the individual family trees for dwarfs, hobbits, trolls, elves, birds and men under the More tab. If you go to another page, it is also difficult to navigate back to the page you left from.

This is not meant as a criticism, but merely a statement of fact. This project is financed almost single-handedly by Johansson, who is also a dedicated student in a very difficult field. He can’t be expected to maintain a fully functional user-friendly website; it’s a treat that he has started this project at all. Perhaps if you have IT skills you could contribute your talent and help with the website design and function. If you’d like to donate money towards the project or download the Android app you can do so from their website Here.

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