It’s that time of year when people look back to reflect and look forward to wonder. I began the year 2022 with an internal pledge to blog regularly. I set up an every-other-week reminder within my task-management software, Omnifocus for Mac (based on Getting Things Done by David Allen). I exceeded my goal and published 33 blogs here in 2022. I focused on the things I care about:
History and Identity
My Family History
In my first post of 2022 I wrote:
I study family history because it forms the foundation of who I am and how I think and act. An understanding of where I come from gives me strength and gives me pause. I have discovered inspiring stories and tragic ones. I have marvelled at the steps my ancestors took (literally) that led to my presence and wondered at their inhumanity. Curiosity and the quest for meaning shape my journey. And sometimes that meaning requires action. The action can be reporting on what I’ve discovered or taking steps to address historical wrongs.
The blog that most clearly captures that theme is this one from February. I expect to continue uncovering and facing my family’s past and sharing it here and on WikiTree.
In September I embarked on several journeys. One I wrote about here. I volunteered as a peer group leader for Family Locket’s Research Like a Pro Study Group. Genealogy is good for your brain (another theme of my first blog entry of 2022), and one way I do that is through continuing education. As a peer group leader, I read many other people’s research as well as working on my own. And as is more common than not, it will take several phases of research until I consider the project “done.” (Done in a genealogical sense, meaning that new evidence could lead to a reassessment and new conclusions.)
Another journey took me on a new path. I was invited to join the team at Your DNA Guide. This launched an intense period of getting to know all the amazing offerings at Your DNA Guide and figuring out how I could support the mission: “Strengthening personal identity so people can connect to their families and communities.” I’ve contributed a couple of blog entries (you can find those here and here.) I’ve started coaching students in Your DNA Guide courses. And I’ve taken on project management for the Academy courses. It’s an exciting time in a growing company whose mission I care deeply about.
A third journey is one of friendship. A genealogy joy of 2022 is an ongoing relationship with two genetic genealogy buddies. We have plans. We have dreams. And we have real lives. Some of our plans may come to be, who knows?
So what does all this mean for 2023? I think I’m going to pause that reminder on blogging. I want to write when I feel moved to write. One recent blog was inspired by a new client who is enthusiastic about learning genealogy to face their own family’s history. I continue to be drawn to and repelled by my family’s contribution to colonization and slavery. I expect to continue to share what I learn about that here and on WikiTree. And when new and exciting things come around, I might be inspired to write. But as a task, I don’t think blogging serves me well.
Thanks for being here. And doing what feeds your soul.
Genealogy can be serious work. Searching for unknown parents, trying to untangle twisted bits of information, and checking everywhere a reasonable genealogist would check for evidence…it all takes time and dedication.
For a diversion, I recently used MyHeritage’s AI Time MachineTM to imagine myself in other places and times. The program asks you to upload as many as 25 photos of yourself: portrait, profile, upper body and full body. Tip: Hats seem to throw if off, so upload your photos of yourself without hats! I am almost always wearing a baseball cap when outdoors, and ended up with some distorted images. I wear glasses and did have a recent passport photo of me without glasses which seemed helpful. In some images there are ghosts of my glasses. I did use the photo program on my Mac to clean up a few with weird blotches that were ghosts from either my long hair or my glasses. The program takes some time and uses Artificial Intelligence (that’s the AI part). More about the technology here. When the program is ready, you then choose various places and times and have yourself placed in the style and clothing of that era.
Here are some of my favourites starting with the furthest back in time:
The fact that so many of the choices provided in the AI Time MachineTM involve royalty reminded me of this quote from the movie, Bull Durham: “How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? How come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?” –Crash Davis
I’m pretty sure my family were serfs.
This one from 18th Century France was kind of fun. This would be the last part of the 18th Century when hairstyles were tall and exotic. The hairstyles of the day sometimes made political statements or included a ship model. If you decide you want do your hair like this, here’s a tutorial.
By the time we get to the Civil War Era, it’s possible that photos of our own families have survived. I do have a copy of a photo of my 2x great-grandfather, Jesse Workman, in his Civil War uniform. He served in the 119th Regiment of the Illinois Infantry. There are also photos of some of my 2x great-grandmother, Sarah Jane (Ellis) Davis around this time period.
By the time we get to the 1920’s, I have more family photos. It’s fun to see some family resemblances start to come through. The MyHeritage models were much better off financially than most of my ancestors, though!
And since it is a Time Machine, we can go forward into the future. My husband and I often talk about the fact that we really thought space travel would be common in our lifetime. Here is my fantasy future:
If you aren’t on MyHeritage, consider giving it a try, not just for the fun AI Time MachineTM but for all the other benefits. You may find additional DNA matches (especially from Europe), helpful genetic communities, great DNA tools, and additional records you might not find anywhere else. And do have fun imagining yourself throughout history!
In August, FamilySearch added a new feature: the capability to link non-relatives to someone in their Family Tree. The FamilySearch Family Tree is a shared family tree where everyone works on the same tree. WikiTree, one of my favourite genealogy websites, is another.
This feature benefits anyone doing FAN Club research. The FAN Club are a person’s friends, associates, and neighbours. Elizabeth Shown Mills coined the term and it revolutionized genealogical research. One of the best ways to solve documentary genealogical mysteries is to focus on others who interacted with our ancestor. Seeing the same neighbours, witnesses, bondsmen, and chain crews (people involved in surveying property) can help us be sure the person we are researching is the person we are interested in, or help us distinguish two people of the same name. To see another post on FAN Club research see here.
The feature can also associate people linked through slavery. The best effort to do this is the US Black Heritage Project at WikiTree, which I’ve written about here. The WikiTree effort differs from the current “Other Relationships” Feature at FamilySearch because there are standards and project teams working to support the effort. Nevertheless, FamilySearch’s “Other Relationships” Feature will benefit researchers.
Here’s where you find “Other Relationships.” First you need to be using the “New Person Page.” To find that, click on the upper right “Go to New Person Page” when viewing any person in the FamilySearch Family Tree as shown below. I’m using my 3x great-grandfather, Thomas Adam Walker, as an example.
The New Person Page features a new banner, is organized differently, and provides easier navigation. In the view below, I’ve collapsed the sections so that the “Other Relationships” is visible (red arrow).
When you click on “Add Other Relationship,” a dialogue box appears.
Clicking the “Relationship” drop-down menu provides the following choices, shown below: apprenticeship, employment, godparent, household, neighbor, relative, slavery.
My ancestor was an enslaver, so I wanted to add a slavery relationship. (I’ve already done this on WikiTree, which has a more robust system to describe relationships and categories. I decided to put it on the FamilySearch Family Tree because many people use it for their research. Thomas Walker’s WikiTree profile with the link to Mary Jane is here. ) When I choose “Slavery” from the drop-down menu, I see the the linkage shown in a diagram, below.
When I click on “Save” at the bottom right, I get a new dialogue box and I can either add a new person, or use the FamilySearch Family Tree unique identifier to link to them. Since Mary Jane doesn’t seem to be on the Family Tree (and I don’t know if she survived to emancipation, or the surname she used after emancipation if she lived); I will enter her as a new person. She can be merged later if a duplicate entry in the Family Tree is found.
The next step is to enter what I know about Mary Jane, which isn’t a lot. It is enough to help someone who might be searching for her.
I’ve filled in the details I know below. I used Walker as her last name. WikiTree has the ability to provide multiple last names, which is another reason to make sure this information is on WikiTree. I decided to not guess that she was born or died in Tennessee, which is likely.
When I click “Next,” FamilySearch has checked their database and found someone with a similar name and dates.
Since I’m sure Mary Jane was not born in Ireland and I know Walker is a provisional last name, I click “Create Person” as shown by the red arrow. Another box comes up, providing me an opportunity to make sure I have the linkage done properly, showing Thomas Adam Walker as the “Slaveholder” and Mary Jane Walker as the “Enslaved Person.” (Perhaps FamilySearch will reconsider their terms at some point. Slave Holder doesn’t begin to convey the nature of this relationship. “Enslaver” would be a better term. I acknowledge they may be using this term to allow search engines to find this information. Our terms will continue to evolve over time. WikiTree has an explanation about terminology, and why they use the terms they have chosen here.)
When I click “Save” in the lower right of the dialog box, I am taken back to Thomas Waker’s profile and I can now see the relationship to Mary Jane.
I haven’t been asked to add a source at any time, so I need to do that. The Bill of Sale between Thomas Walker and Holloway Key, another of my 3x great-grandfathers, is on FamilySearch, so I navigate to the document. The “Attach to Family Tree” button in the upper right is what I need.
This opens a bar on the right.
I next add in some details about how this record is linked to Thomas Walker, as shown in the upper red arrow in the image below. When I’m satisfied, I click the blue button to choose the person in the FamilySearch Family Tree that I want to add this record to.
FamilySearch then asks me to enter the person’s ID (their unique identifying number, which appears near their name on their page) or if I’ve been working in FamilySearch, I will see a list of people below. Note: I’ve placed a grey box over the rest of the list to preserve the privacy of clients I am currently working with.
I’m almost done. FamilySearch asks me to check my work and asks for an explanation next to the red arrow. This is an important step. Linkages form the foundation for genealogy.
I write about the enslaver-enslaved relationship in the box provided.
I like to check my work, so I go back to Thomas Walker’s profile and check the Sources list. The date for the Bill of Sale is missing! It doesn’t show up in order in the Sources list.
This is a quick fix. I click on “Add” (circled above) and a dialog box appears.
I add the date and recheck. It’s now in the right place.
My final task is to add this document to Mary Jane. Since she is linked on Thomas Walker’s page, I can repeat the above process for Mary Jane to create a source, and on Holloway Kee’s page, I can add the “Other Relationship” along with the source. It’s much faster the second time since I have a model to follow.
The result is that Mary Jane now has a Page on the FamilySearch Family Tree, shown below.
This is a great step for FamilySearch and will help researchers in many ways. The functionality on WikiTree US Black Heritage is superior. For example, the category search that would allow anyone looking for an enslaved person in Benton County to find Mary Jane. A person could also search the Benton County Tennessee Slave Owners (see note about terminology above.). The ability to give her multiple provisional surnames also aids any researchers looking for Mary Jane.
This week, the WikiTree Family News (an optional newsletter for WikiTreers) highlighted a blog by Kathleen Hill Tesluk with the following quote:
Elizabeth Shown Mills reminds us to study in depth each friend, associate, or neighbor our ancestor interacted with in order to learn more about the context of their lives and break down brick walls. WikiTree is the perfect platform to record this information in a convenient place. … it combines the power of analytical narrative with the visualization of a tree.
Kathleen Hill Tesluck, “WikiTree and the FAN Principle,” Voices from a distant past (https://voicesfromadistantpast.blogspot.com/2022/08/wikitree-and-fan-principle.html : accessed 9 August 2022).
That had my attention right away. I recently started a Free Space Profile (FSP) on WikiTree to share the letters my 3x-great grandfather wrote in the middle 1800’s. Throughout the letters he mentions neighbors and colleagues, particularly from his two chosen fields of endeavour, medicine and religion. (He also farmed, and I suspect his wife Elizabeth kept that going!) As part of my certificate in the University of Washington’s Genealogy and Family History Program, I researched the letters and created a spreadsheet of everyone mentioned and did preliminary research on them. The final result is available here. (Note: This project was written when the Genealogical Proof Standard and Elizabeth Shown Mill’s amazing contributions around citation and evidence were just beginning to take hold.)
Uploading the letters to the FSP will take time, since I need to adjust the images of the letters, turn them into PDFs and review my transcriptions. Creating the FSP gave me the opportunity to learn some new formatting techniques on WikiTree and I am grateful for the opportunity. And thanks to Kathleen’s blog, I can begin to link the people in the letters or his biography to other WikiTree profiles. I connected the first one today, Col. Thomas Baker, who was a California Senator.
I am simultaneously working on upgrading Thomas’ WikiTree profile to Level 3. For more about WikiTree biography standards, check out this post from the Profile Improvement Team.
The power of WikiTree to capture information, share knowledge, and connect people continues to grow.
Coming to the Table (CTTT) is a U.S. non-profit “working together to create a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past, from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” The Linked Descendants Working Group includes CTTT members who “want to know the truth about their ancestors, discover their connections, maybe even heal a bit of the wounded past.” Members descend from enslavers and enslaved and some are connected through slavery and some as family. Members discuss how to make connections including genealogical research methods, practical matters regarding communicating with potential linked descendants, and the emotional aftermath of slavery. Members descended from enslaved people are searching for their family history. Other members seek to share the information they’ve uncovered about enslaved people through researching their own family history. That’s where the U.S. Black Heritage Project comes in.
The U.S. Black Heritage Project’s mission is shown below.
The similar interests of the two groups have provided me an opportunity to support the Linked Descendants to begin using WikiTree. Once they feel comfortable with WikiTree, they can join the many projects within the U.S. Black Heritage project (such as the Plantations Project, or the one I am involved with the Heritage Exchange Profile Improvement Team.)
If you would like to know more about using WikiTree to support your family history, including your Linked Descendant journey, I’d be happy to share resources if you contact me. An introductory video I created is available via the Virtual Genealogical Association.