A to Z 2016: a Family History Journey

atoz-theme-reveal-2016 v2

After much deliberation I’ve decided to once again participate in the April A to Z challenge, despite having been in the blogging doldrums for some time, largely thanks to a relocation interstate and then internet challenges.

I participated in the A to Z Challenge in 2012 when I wrote about the places of importance to my family on this blog and in 2013 when my theme was places in Australia’s Tropical North and some Aussie vernacular. In 2014 I decided to take time out and as I’ve mentioned 2015 simply got away from me.

So what’s my theme to be this year? Well it won’t surprise my regular readers that it’s about how to pursue an interest in family history, or genealogy as its often known. I hope to show a balanced perspective between online research and offline, and how to be ethical in your research.

I hope it will be of some interest to readers, and will either encourage some to join the genea-addicted, but I’m also nervous it may frighten the daylights out of you <smile>.


Health inheritance

It’s all in the genes as they say (and I wrote about that here from a personal perspective). That being the case I have a fair chance of making old bones – provided I pass the next danger zone of the early 70s. I have no wish to last to 100 but quite a few of my ancestors have reached the 80s or late 80s, and some more distant ancestors even made it past 90 back in the 19th century. So much for the predictions that we will live longer today.

This pie-chart represents the distribution of my ancestors’ ages at death. The chart works clockwise starting with the over 80s.

Longevity percentage

Helen Smith is a huge advocate for doing a family health inheritance chart and after much procrastination I’ve finally done mine and will provide them here…it’s easier to see by splitting them into Dad’s line and Mum’s line. Comparing the places with the family tree on the previous blog makes it clear how many of my 2xgreat grandparents made the migration here from elsewhere.

Health chart Dads line

Health chart Mums line copy

Thanks Alex from Family Tree Frog blog for the Aussie descriptor “alive and kicking” which I’ve used for Mum and me. I was surprised when I downloaded my longevity details from my Relatively Yours program, that both my paternal grandfather and grandmother lived to the same age, and Dad was very close. Also my ancestor who died in London in 1926 was a world-traveller who had been living and working in Queensland and New South Wales for over 50 years.

Family Memorabilia and Ireland

As the Irish people commemorate the centenary of the Easter Uprising this weekend it seemed an appropriate time to share a piece of family memorabilia relating to Ireland’s fight for independence and self-government.

This brochure was found among my Irish-born grandfather’s possession. Published in 1921, long after he’d been in Australia, we don’t know how he came by it. Perhaps they were commonly available to patriotic Irish Australians at the time.

Irish proclamation page 1

Irish proclamation page 2

Irish proclamation page 3

For all I know these items are common as dust but I find it interesting because it shows my grandfather’s on-going interest in his place of birth which he left as a six-month old infant.

DNA – Place and People

Over the weekend I spent some time trying to make sense of a close DNA match that I have on Ancestry and GedMatch. I have a small private tree on Ancestry (reluctantly) and I was able to quickly add names, thanks to my prior research. On Family Tree DNA I use both names and places as my information, and again have added a basic family tree.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time and it seems to me that place is at least as important as names. That might seem strange when we are tracing family, and genetic matches will show we are kin. However, with marriage among extended families of siblings, it can be easy to overlook, or simply not know, all the relevant names.

I find that by being able to narrow down common locations, even counties and countries, it enables me to focus on more likely links. Not being a big Ancestry fan I was interested to discover that they have a mapping option on their match links which is actually quite useful.

One thing led to another and I prepared this fan chart which focuses on where children of any given couple were born (click to enlarge). So, if all the children were born in Australia, then it’s going to be beyond that time-frame if I have a US match (unless they have an identified link). This differs from a normal fan chart which identifies the person and may include where they were born – rather it’s where their children were born.

DNA People and Place

Once back to my overseas families, I can identify where their children may have migrated, and in some cases the dispersal can be quite extensive: US, Australia, England, Ireland, Canada. This helps me to focus on where my matches might overlap.

I’ve also added in the maternal lines which generate X-DNA, as that can narrow the search down as well. Because I’ve got Mum’s DNA tested, I’ve been able to phase Dad’s DNA using mine and Mum’s, again narrowing down which side of the family is relevant.

horizontal chart extract

Thanks to a suggestion from another blogger (sorry, I’ve forgotten now who it was – it may have been this one), I’ve also drawn up an extract of  my horizontal pedigree chart which basically maps geography and names in a similar way – the colour coding is in the bottom line. This extract excludes the dates that I send to DNA matches.

A similar, graphically simple chart, initiated by J Paul Hawthorne of Geneaspy blog, is doing the rounds among the Facebook genealogy community this weekend but that focuses on direct lines of ancestry. This is great for snapshot view of your ancestry but only illustrates where one branch of the descendants scattered to around the world, something my fan chart attempts to overcome.

Places of origin

Having said all that, it still often seems difficult to make those ancestral connections. It seems to me there are a couple of potential pitfalls with the matches:

  1. The DNA has recombined in such a way that one segment has been preserved intact for longer than expected transfers so we’re related more distantly than the testing company projects.
  2. The matched person may not have been able to take their research back as far due to more limited information on certificates and the like.
  3. Perhaps those shaky leaves have led to mistaken lines of ancestry. Yes, I’m being judgemental. Because I’ve used certificates and registers to take mine back, generation by generation, I’m 90+% confident of what I’ve documented. Furthermore, DNA matches confirm at least some of these lines….the rest I’ll work on progressively using known links.
  4. There’s a Non-Paternal-Event (NPE) ie an unknown illegitimacy or obscured parentage.

Have you found place to be valuable when making your DNA connections?

Can you add anything to the list I’ve put forward above as explaining why it’s difficult to make the ancestral linkages?

Does my fan chart make sense to you?