Fun with Time Travel, AI style

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:

16th Century Royalty

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.

18th Century France

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.

US, Civil War Era

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.

1920’s

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:

Future Me

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!

Research Like a Pro Week 2: Timeline and Citations

This is the second entry about my experience doing a research project while I serve as a peer group leader for the Research Like a Pro Study Group hosted by Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer of Family Locket.

Updating the Research Objective

With the assistance of my peers, I revised my research objective to be:

This project seeks to uniquely identify each James Stoker in Bourbon County, Kentucky from approximately 1820 to 1880. 

  • James Stoker filed a bond to marry Polly Ross on 9 December 1822 in Bourbon County.
  • Jas. Stoker, age 79, lived in the household of his son-in-law, Silas. Cleaver, in 1880 in Millersburg, Bourbon County. 
  • James H. Stoker, presumed age 40-50, lived in Bourbon County in 1830.

The task this week was two-fold: create a timeline of known facts and to cite them properly.

Timeline

Creating a timeline involves taking everything already known about the research topic and arranging it in order. This provides an opportunity to see new patterns and identify gaps in the research. I am using Airtable to organize my research.

I entered the documents I had about the various James Stokers into the timeline tab in Airtable. My timeline has the following fields (columns): Event, Stoker as named in record, Stoker sorting tests (more on this later), Date (text field YYYY-MM-DD with as much information as is known), Place (Single-select field type written State, County, Town using 2 letter state abbreviations), Type (of event, another single-select field with choices like birth, census, death), URL (to the source document), Source citation (yes, the entire citation. This is the master location for the citation), Details (an abstract of the information in the source), FANS (link to the FAN Club table), Notes (thoughts about the source).\

I included all the known events for my ancestor James Stoker since I had eight census records for him (two are state censuses). I have a birth state, birth date calculated from his cemetery marker, marriage date and place, death and cemetery information.

Since this is a project to distinguish different people of the same/similar name, I am testing using two columns for name, one as it appears in the record, and the second column to try different ways to sort the James Stokers. Place and time will guide the sorting.

Citations

Complete source citations form the foundation for genealogical analysis. Fortunately, I formed good habits citing my sources starting in 1998 when I was enrolled in the certificate program in Family History and Genealogy at the University of Washington. Citations weren’t as exacting then as they are now. Citation is also required in my other field, health care, and I worked in research for several years and co-authored scientific publications. Transitioning to the professional genealogist role meant switching to humanities-style citations and meeting genealogical standards. I frequently refer to the Chicago Manual of Style to manage the mechanics of humanities writing and citations. I refer to Elizabeth Shown Mill’s comprehensive book, Evidence Explained, and Thomas Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Documentation as needed.

Using a template for genealogical citations made it easier for me to meet the genealogical standards. I have an Airtable Citation Guide accessible from my bookmarks bar. It is based on the Research Like a Pro templates. The fields in my base are Name (type of source, like Birth Certificate Original, FindAGrave, Pension File), Category (birth, cemetery, military, for example), template (see example below), Citation Example (a completed citation of that type), Short Form (when citing the source multiple times.) I tend to put more in citations than others (like complete dates instead of just years and complete stable URLs) because I can always shorten the citation if needed.

Here is an example of a template for FindAGrave:

Find A Grave, database and images ([Stable URL] : accessed [DD Month YYYY]), memorial [NNNNN], [Name As Appears], ([BBBB-DDDD]), gravestone photographed by [Contributor], citing [Name of Cemetery, Town, County, State].

And the 1921 Canadian Census at Library and Archives Canada:

1921 Census, [Province], [name] District [#], Enumeration Sub-district [#], page [#], dwelling [#], household [#], [Name as Written]; database with images Library and Archives Canada ([stable URL] : accessed [DD Month YYYY]); citing LAC microfilm [#].

Creating the timeline and the source citations supports the next part of the research process, analyzing the evidence.

Research Like a Pro Week 1: Getting started and the Research Objective

This fall I am volunteering as a Peer Group Leader for the Research Like a Pro Study Group hosted by Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer of Family Locket. Making the transition from family historian to professional genealogist required me to become a more disciplined researcher. The team at Family Locket supported me on my journey through their podcast, books, courses, and presentations at conferences. I’m a process person likely due to my background in quality improvement. Throughout my healthcare career, the Model for Improvement guided our efforts with the message “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” (Paul Batalden, often quoted by Don Berwick). To improve as a genealogist, I needed to change my system. In this case, that’s the research process. For the next ten weeks, I will share my insights into the Research Like a Pro process. This course is focusing on documentary research. As a peer group leader, I will be completing a project with the participants. It’s a great opportunity to work on my own family history.

Pedigree Analysis

Identifying potential areas for research is the first step in making the most of your research efforts. Analyzing your pedigree accomplishes this step. DNA Painter provides multiple ways to visualize your family tree. The first thing I checked was my tree completeness. This tells me where I have gaps in my tree and also reminds me about pedigree collapse, which is a subject for a different blog.

Tree Completeness Report from DNA Painter

I’m missing two 3x-great grandparents and sixteen 4x-great grandparents. A fan chart, like this example from DNA Painter is another way to look at the gaps. On DNA painter, hovering over each colored shape brings up the name of the person represented in that space on the chart. That feature isn’t shown in the image below since I can’t capture the hovering. You can use this link to see it for yourself. My father’s side of the family is on the left and my mother on the right. I’ve coordinated these colours to resemble the coloured dots I use on Ancestry to mark my DNA matches.

FAN Chart from DNA Painter Showing Location of Mattie (Childres) Fisher Pike Adams

The arrow indicates the location of the most recent ancestor whose parents I don’t know. Many refer to this as a “Brick Wall.” I could continue documentary research on Mattie for this course. During the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course I completed, I identified several families that could be Mattie’s parents.

Another opportunity is my 3x-great grandfather, James Stoker, shown below.

James Stoker in DNA Painter Fan Chart

My grandmother believed he was the son of Edward Stoker, a Revolutionary War Veteran. During ProGen 46, I took a look at the link between generations from Edward Stoker to my 3x-great grandfather James and realized there were multiple men named James Stoker who could have been his son James, as noted in a Stoker family Bible. Several of them left records in Bourbon County, Kentucky around 1820 where my ancestor James Stoker married Polly Ross on 9 December 1822. I also noted that the birth date of James Stoker in the family Bible of Edward Stoker (found in his Revolutionary War Pension file) did not match the birthdate of my 3x-great grandfather. Many family trees shared on Ancestry confuse the James Stokers, and the Ancestry hinting algorithm points to Edward Stoker. WikiTree has my James Stoker linked to Edward. The FamilySearch Family Tree has a note about the confusion: ” Be aware…. Another Individual, ‘James T Stoker’ was born in Kentucky and resided most of his live [sic] in Nicholas County, KY. Married Sytha Ann McDonald 20 Dec 1827 in Nicholas Co KY.” I didn’t fully analyze the same-name people when I first discovered the confusion. Thoroughly researching the men and writing up the results would be a contribution and help me correct the WikiTree entry.

Another way of analyzing my pedigree and determining where I could focus is using Yvette Hoitink’s Level Up Challenge. I started working on improving my genealogy based on her approach after she published this idea in her blog in January of 2021. The levels describe the completeness of your research for each ancestor. In some cases I’m not sure which level to give because I write a biography for everyone on WikiTree. I may not have researched all property records (some parts of my family were very mobile) or know every church denomination they attended over time. I used DNA Painter’s Dimensions “Research Level” feature to create this chart.

Research Level at DNA Painter

Based on this diagram, my efforts would be to continue researching my mother’s family, particularly Andrew Jackson Pike and Mattie Childres that I designated as Level 2. (Note: See the YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups? That’s a neat feature of the tree on DNA Painter, and another project is to complete my YDNA and mtDNA tree like Roberta Estes does). I spend a lot of time researching my mother’s family and have neglected my paternal grandmother’s family including James Stoker.

I haven’t written up a same-name case before, so that’s my choice for this project. I expect that writing clearly will be the biggest challenge. For reference, I have two National Genealogical Society (NGSQ) articles I reviewed during my NGSQ Study Group. One is by Shannon Green, who was my mentor in ProGen 46. The other is by Allen R. Peterson and Stephen J. Allen. Both are found in the December 2019 NGSQ

File Organization

Our assignment this week also asks us to describe how we name and organize files and how our choices support our research.

I organize documents in two ways depending on where I am in the research process. My basic family history files structure relies on folders for the surnames of each of my sixteen 2x-great grandparents. Within those folders there are sub-folders for individuals. Women are filed under their maiden name, since it is the only constant. While I am working on a specific project, I create a project folder within the surname or person. Project folders start with a number like 01-Mattie Childres Father so that it will sort at the top. Within each project folder, there is a sources folder.

I use the following naming conventions for files (.jpg, .pdf, .docx, etc.) so that the folder becomes a timeline:

YYYY-MM-DD_LASTNAME_Firstname_Middleifpresent_STATE_County_Town_type.file

  • Dates: YYYY-MM-DD format keeps them sorted. I include as much detail as I have. It could be year only, year and month, or all three. If I don’t have the exact date, I use the best information I have and put “ca” after the date so I know it is approximate and the sorting order is maintained.
  • Names are written as they appear in the record with the surname in ALL CAPS. The caps help me scan the files for surnames and variations.
  • State is the two-digit state or province abbreviation.
  • Type is the type of document
  • File is the extension (pdf, jpg, docx).

Examples:

1840_STOKER_Jas_KY_Bourbon_census.jpg

1882-11_SMILEY_James_KY_Floyd_court.jpg

1955ca_DAVIS_Alvon_AK_Kodiak_letter_to_DAVIS_Edna_transcription.docx

When I complete a project or identify a document I know I want to cite in Reunion (family tree software for Mac) I make a duplicate and add the source number that Reunion assigns to the beginning of the name and file it in a a digital folder in my Reunion folder.

Filed in Reunion:

2622-1882_11_SMILEY_James_KY_Floyd_court.jpg

I keep any useful paper copies in plastic sleeves in 3 ring binders in numeric order of the Reunion citation. I should invest in some archival safe plastic sleeves for the few originals that I own.

Research Objective

A possible research objective is:

The goal of this project is to identify which of multiple James Stokers known to have been in Kentucky was the son of Edward Stoker. Edward Stoker served in Capt. John Lemon’s Company during the Revolutionary War and died 7 May 1846 in Nicholas County, Kentucky.

Another option is:

The goal of this research project is to clarify the identities of men named James Stoker in Bourbon County, Kentucky from approximately 1820 to 1840. James Stoker filed a bond to marry Polly Ross on 9 December 1822 in Bourbon County. Jas. Stoker, age 79, lived in the household of his son-in-law, Jas. Cleaver, in 1880 in Millersburg, Bourbon County. James H. Stoker, presumed age 40-50, lived in Bourbon County in 1830.

I have additional information about the men named James Stoker in Kentucky but I think it would confuse the objective. I can put it in the next section of my research project document, summary of known facts. The objective identifies Edward Stoker, because I realize he is the person I can identify at present. I look forward to receiving feedback from my coursemates!

FANs and WikiTree

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.

Ordinary People

“The reality is that most of our ancestors were nobodies. Most of them died without fame or fortune, most of the people in the past could not read or write and they didn’t leave all those wonderful records that historians can find for the elite. And yet, their lives have merit. They have more ability in my view to teach us about the past than we will learn from the lives of the rich and famous.”

Elizabeth Shown Mills, 13 June 2022, Coddington Award of Merit, New England Historical and Genealogical Society Lecture

On June 13, 2022, Elizabeth Shown Mills received the Coddington Award of Merit from the New England Historical and Genealogical Society. The award “recognizes the highest standard of excellence in American genealogical scholarship and lifetime achievement in the field.”

Mills’ lecture addressed the value genealogical research holds for society. Lessons we learn from every life provide insight into history. Elizabeth Shown Mills goes beyond sharing genealogy and history through scholarly work. She also wrote a historical novel based on the history she discovered.

A novel by eminent western author Wallace Stegner reminds me of my paternal family’s history. In Big Rock Candy Mountain, described as a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s life, Stegner recounts the Mason’s family boom and bust relocations throughout the west. Stegner’s story parallels the lives of my grandparents, Edna (Workman) Davis and Walt Davis, although our family’s story has a happier ending. My grandmother taught me more about the Great Depression than a history book ever could. Her memoirs describe her marriage to my grandfather in 1931 and the farms and businesses my grandfather and grandmother started and failed at before they finally found financial security in the crop-dusting business. Their story of following a dream, hopes being dashed, and moving again is the real story of the middle of the last century.

I share my family’s history through their profiles on WikiTree. It’s one way I can contribute to history, one person at a time, preserving the past.