Saturday, May 31, 2014

Online site for death records and indexes is a must visit for genealogists

I'm a firm believer in using vital records and their substitutes whenever you can find them in your genealogy research. In fact, they are so important that several years ago I compiled a guide that I handed out to my students that was a comprehensive listing by state of online vital record links. Many found that guide useful in digging out obscure and important vital records in their research.

The death certificate is the most commonly used record to record the death event. This is the death certificate issued by the city of New Orleans in 1905 for my 3rd great grandfather, Captain Thaddeus Damascus Van Horn, CSA Cavalry. It contains a wealth of genealogical information.

Like anything else in our lives, mine got real busy and I haven't had a chance to update that guide in quite some time.

An example of another type of death record, the obituary. This one is for my great-great aunt Belle Randolph Van Horn (one of my all time favorite relatives).
But I had in my list a really cool little hidden genealogy gem for death indexes and records online at It is still there and active. Since the death event is such an important part of our research, I highly recommend you save this site for future use in your research. There are a lot of death records and their substitutes and I have put some of them here in the post to illustrate some things you should looking for.

And who knows maybe that vital record research guide may pop up here in the blog someday in the near future.

Another death record substitute is the tombstone. This is my Van Horn family tomb in Lafayette Cemetery #1 in the Big Easy - New Orleans, Louisiana. There are eight members of my family buried in this one family tomb. Due to its unique gothic architecture, this tomb and the one next to it have been seen in various Hollywood movies and are also featured in the tours conducted in this cemetery.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Genealogy Tip: Sourcing

I could not have said this any better.
Courtesy of Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

AncestryDNA Database Exceeds 400,000 Genotyped Members

Blog Editor Note: From first-hand experience I can tell you the best move I have made in my genealogy research in recent years was taking this particular autosomal DNA test. I highly encourage anyone who has not to take it. It will change the way we do genealogy in the future.

From the Blog: Developed by a team of genetic scientists, bioinformaticists and data scientists, the AncestryDNA test provides users with a personalized genetic ethnicity estimate from 26 global regions and also connects them to a growing network of genetic cousins and their family histories.

AncestryDNA kit
The test analyzes a person’s genome at over 700,000 marker locations and provides customers with an easy and affordable way to help explore their ancestral background and discover their family’s past. AncestryDNA also cross-references an extensive worldwide database of DNA samples with documented family histories. This reference collection, acquired by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, includes samples from more than 100 countries on six continents, which enables new levels of discovery about people’s family backgrounds.

The growing database and network effect has enabled AncestryDNA to begin constructing a genetic graph of the US population. To date, the Company has identified more than 15 million cousin relationships across the 400,000 members. This includes 3 million relationships where a distant shared ancestor has been identified.

For example, the grandfather of Senator Henry Clay who ran for President twice and negotiated the treaty of Ghent, is the shared common ancestor of more than 280 AncestryDNA members. This genetic graph is expected to be a unique and valuable resource that will become the cornerstone of future product developments and differentiation for AncestryDNA in the market.


  • Tim Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of ”We’re excited with the growth of AncestryDNA. In less than two years we have built a database of 400,000 customer samples, and with that scale and growing network effect, we’ve created a product that is really valuable to our existing subscribers while also providing new users a fast and easy way to start learning about their family history. AncestryDNA is emerging as an essential part of our core value proposition and an incredibly engaging new way for us to deliver on our mission to help everyone discover, preserve, and share their family history.”
  • Tim Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of “While we’re thrilled with our early success with AncestryDNA, we’re even more excited about how we anticipate advancing and improving this service going forward. We’re at the very beginning of a revolution in personal genomics, and we think that AncestryDNA can become one of the more interesting consumer genomics applications worldwide.”
For more information about AncestryDNA, or to join the 400,000 customers that have taken the test and made discoveries about themselves, visit

Sunday, May 4, 2014

I Guess You Just Can't Fix Stupid in the Oklahoma State Legislature!

Politicians! In my book they rank right up there some where between a used car salesman and hookers. Oops - I guess I just gave used car salesmen and hookers a bad name.

If I had a politician in my family tree, I might be forced to commit "Seppuku" (a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment). Talk about black sheep, while they make them look good.

In that light, what the rest of us in this country would like to know, "Hey Oklahoma, where the hell do you get all your stupid state politicians from?"  I have determined that I don't want to go there, live there, or associate with anyone from there for fear some of that stupid might rub off.

The home of state legislators who do not read bills -- Oklahoma State Capitol
Now for some background. I wrote back on March 16 (FRB Genealogy Editorial) about the state law in Oklahoma that made it into law that the only person who can request a death certificate from the state of Oklahoma is . . . wait for it . . . the dead person listed on the death certificate.

This is now a rarity for OK state researchers. Only the dead person listed in the certificate can get one.
I know you folks are probably laughing falling out of your chairs right now, but this is actually sort of serious. So I'll take the genealogy hobby slant out of this and be practical. How are estate administrators and executors able to do business if they can't get a death certificate for the deceased they are handling the probate process for. The ban on obtaining a death certificate for ANY period of time prevents heirs from claiming any kind of death benefits. The way we read it, under that law even a probate judge can't order the release of that death certificate. They even made it a felony for state employees to release a death cert to anyone but the deceased.

But never fear our faithful state servants from the Boomer Sooner state were determined to fix stupid they wrote in the first bill. They would pass a new law that would take care of everything wrong in the old law they passed. R-i-g-h-t!

So now I will continue this saga courtesy of this little piece from my good friend Dick Eastman and his newsletter (if you don't subscribe and you call yourself a genealogist you should subscribe). I'll quote this directly from Dick's article so there is no confusion in the reporting.

Oklahoma SB 1448 Signed Into Law By Governor Mary Fallin

"You may remember the controversy surrounding a recently-enacted law in Oklahoma that restricts access to vital records for many years. Amongst other provisions, the law requires copies of death certificates to be issued only to the person who is listed on the certificate. That’s right, for the first 75 years following a death, you can’t order a death certificate unless you are dead!

"Now the state legislature had a chance to fix the problem, but failed to do so. The following was received from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

"Oklahoma SB 1448 was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on April 30, 2014. It becomes effective November 1, 2014. The bill was supposed to correct the legislation enacted several years ago that addressed vital records. Last year when a professional genealogist tried to obtain a copy of a death record it was found out that the law only permitted the named person-the deceased to request their own death record. The law also made it a felony if a Department of Health Services employee provided the death certificate to anyone other the named person. Instead of “fixing” the glitch, the state incorporated the Model Vital Records Act provisions which closes records for 125 years for births, death records for 75 years, and marriage and divorce records for 100 years. Unfortunately, the new law retained the same language – permitting only the “named person” to obtain the record during the embargo period. Therefore, for death records only the deceased may request their own records within the 75 years from date of death. The Oklahoma Genealogy Society decided that this was better than never having any access as was included in the original law from several years ago. To read the enrolled version see:
"HB 3028 which was reported upon earlier and would merge the Oklahoma Historical Society into the Department of Tourism, History and Cultural Affairs has had no further action—heard in House Government Modernization Committee in early March. However, as the legislature does not adjourn until May 30, it is always possible that it may be appended into another bill. The genealogical community will continue to monitor."

My, my what fools they grow in Oklahoma. The whole thing has to be the dumbest damn thing I have ever heard of. Maybe it is a failure of the Oklahoma state education system. They just didn't teach any of their legislators in their schools to read and reason with any sort of intelligence. Let me say this slowly so the Okies can understand it, "Y-o-u  a-r-e  s-u-p-p-o-s-e  t-o  r-e-a-d  t-h-e  b-I-l-l-s  b-e-f-o-r-e  y-o-u v-o-t-e  o-n  t-h-e-m!"

So this all leads to another logical question that I have to ask (that means with common sense for those of you who live in Oklahoma City). What good reason would any of the Oklahoma state law makers in good old Sooner land have for sealing a marriage or divorce record for 100 hundred years. Have you ever heard of a public record? Have you ever seen a marriage event published in the newspaper? Divorce proceedings published in the newspaper? Are divorce hearings now conducted in a private court setting? Are marriage ceremonies now considered private? What now wedding crashers?

And for you guys who have attended my genealogy classes, I have changed my mind. Oklahoma is now the worse state in the United States for genealogy research. It now has overshadowed the previous worse state of South Carolina. We have a new genealogy looserville.

So my message to my friends and family in Oklahoma is simple:-

Does anyone in Oklahoma get this? I guess not!

Woman Claims She’s the Virgin Mary’s Cousin 65 Times Removed

Oh, you know I can't resist this one. This sorta thing falls along the same lines as the "I have traced my genealogy back to Adams and Eve" type of claim.

From Dick Eastman's April 18 newsletter: Woman Claims She’s the Virgin Mary’s Cousin 65 Times Removed

"A Pennsylvania woman claims she is the 64th great-granddaughter of Saint Joseph Ben Matthat Arimathaea, who was the paternal uncle to the Virgin Mary. Ashlie Hardway of WTAE Television reports that Mary Beth Webb, of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, said she began searching her ancestry in 2010 after years of “communicating” with her deceased mother, father and brother. While doing the research on over a two-year period, Webb discovered the connection to Saint Joseph."

Dick wouldn't offer any opinion about the accuracy of this article, but I certainly will. Here is another case of a name, date and place collector. She just got started in 2010 doing genealogy on (can you say a trees only researcher), is certainly is NOT a real genealogist, and I would love to see her source citations. Oh my, I sure hope she and me are not DNA matches!

Bottom line, this is just another example of some of the poor research being done under the umbrella of genealogy within many of the trees posted at and yes, even FamilySearch.

But heck you can decide for yourself after reading the article and watching the video at

AncestryDNA Research Tip - The Leaf and the Private Tree

If you are an AncestryDNA autosomal tester then I bet the graphic above looks familiar. Yes, you want to review that leaf match but the match's tree is private. Right now I hear your frustration level rising.

It is one of the most frustrating aspects of researching your AncestryDNA autosomal results -- you have a leaf indicating a MRCA (most recent common ancestor) match, but the tree is private and you won't be able to even see the MRCA results. Then you send Ancestrymail to your match and hear nada. Now you are really frustrated.

So what can you do besides questioning the heritage of your DNA match (don't go there Al Swint)? ;-)

While this won't work in every instance, you may find that the tree may be hidden in almost plain sight.

Click on the graphic above to expand the view

So let's take a look at my match header above as viewed from my dad's DNA page. See my name up there at the top. If you click on it that will take you to my Ancestry profile. If you view that page you will see a list of all the public trees I have attached to my account.

In what I can only describe as a "weird computer thing" (that is a cool computer geek term), even though the tree linked to the DNA test is private, some of those trees are in fact public on the match profile page. I have found that about 25% of the private tree matches I have looked at have a public tree link on the profile page.

Case in point, in the example I have posted below, I was doing a search for the family surname Witt and I got a match with a DNA cousin with a private tree. When I opened her profile page up I found this.

Click on the graphic above to expand the view

If you look below the graphics there is a header that says "Ancestry Public Member Trees" and a link to the Ruhlands family tree. Now I can exam her tree and see if we have a MRCA match.

As I indicated above, this technique doesn't work every time, but something is better than nothing.

Bottom line, slow down, take your time and examine each AncestryDNA match closely. Looking at your match's profile page for clues is just a good genealogy research technique.

If there is a tree attached you should not only check out the list of surnames you have in common, closely looking at locations and dates (think cluster genealogy), but look down the entire list of your match's ancestor surnames and see if any other surnames look familiar. There may be some smoke in this list that could lead to fire.

Well over half my fruitful MRCA matches did not have a leaf, but I recognized a surname or two from the match's surname list and was able to connect us that way. Again, you should be thinking cluster genealogy! If it works on the paper side of genealogy research, it will also work on the DNA side of things.

Also you need to orient your thinking in terms that each of your DNA matches is a genealogical record. If you got a new paper record for your ancestor (i.e., census, vital, etc) would you not take your time and look at each element of that record and mine it for genealogical information you can use in your research?

You should doing same thing with each of your DNA matches. You are looking at a genealogy record that has no equal. You need to dig inside the information that your DNA match has on their page, in their tree and in their Ancestry member profile. Just because there is no leaf doesn't mean you cast that match aside. Think cluster genealogy just like you do on the paper side an dig into those results.

There is fire there because you both are a DNA match. Now you have to take the time and make it part of your genealogy research to go look for that fire!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What's Your Ancestor Score and How Does it Relate to Your DNA Test?

I usually judge the quality of any genealogy by how well it is sourced and researched, and not the number of people in a given genealogy. It is not about the number of people in a genealogy, but the quality of the research, what is known about those family members, and how well the genealogy has been documented.

Yesterday, I came across an article by Randy Seaver that had an interesting methodology I thought I would try. And when I did the little exercise a little light bulb went on. I thought about it in the context of the autosomal DNA test I took at two years ago. The author of this exercise didn't have what I have used it for in mind when he wrote about it at Geneanet, but I have discovered another use for it when you think about it in terms of your AncestryDNA autosomal match results.

First, here is what Randy Seaver posted up at the Geneanet Blog on 28 April (What's Your Ancestor Score?)

"How to know how complete your family tree is?  This question may sound strange. What should we talk about? Quantity or quality?  Randy Seaver gives us a simple solution in a blog post entitled "What's Your Ancestor Score?".

"Genealogy is a long term hobby and we need to collect as many sources as we can to build our family tree. The following is not an encouragement to accept mistakes and poor quality work but, from time to time, it can be interesting to evaluate the job already done and to motivate ourselves.

"How to:  This is simple and efficient.  Compare the number of possible ancestors with the  number of identified ancestors on a 10-generation report.  The percentage is your Ancestor Score.  Here is an example with my own family tree."

The reason why I find this interesting is because the AncestryDNA test results presented to you on your matches page actually looks at up to the first ten ancestor generations when it compares your tree with the tree of your autosomal DNA match.

So I've added a bit more information to Randy's original table so that I can get a better feel generation by generation of where my tree actually stands through each of the 10-generations that would be compared to my matches 10-gens if they have them.

As I have pointed out in my DNA classes, you may have a lot of quality matches that do not show up as a leaf at Ancestry because either your tree or your matches tree has not been built out fully to at least the 10-generation level. Think about all those "low" and "very low" confidence matches you have. Those lower quality matches will normally equate to more distant common ancestors with your DNA matches and they are further back in time on your family tree.

Another way to think about this is do you know the names and have information on all 1023 of your ancestors that would appear in your 10-generation tree? Does your DNA match at Ancestry or FTDNA know all about their 1023 ancestors in their 10-gen chart?

As you can see from my chart below I do not know who over 25% of my ancestors are starting at generation seven. By the time I get back to gen nine, I do not know over half my ancestors that I would have at that generation level. I only know 320 of the 1023 or 31.2% of the ancestors that I would have at 10-generations.

Larry's 10-Generation Ancestor Numbers

Generation  Possible     Identified  Percentage  Total          Total          Total
                    Ancestors  Ancestors                     Ancestors   Identified  Percentage
1                  1                 1               100%          1                 1                100%   
2                  2                 2               100%          3                 3                100%
3                  4                 4               100%          7                 7                100%
4                  8                 8               100%          15               15              100%
5                  16               16             100%          31               31              100%
6                  32               24             75.0%         63               55              87.3%
7                  64               37             57.8%         127             92              72.4%
8                  128             53             41.4%         255             145            56.8%
9                  256             76             29.6%         511             221            43.2%
10                512             99             19.3%         1023           320            31.2%

I have added Gayle's info and it is comparable to what I found in my chart above.

Gayle's 10-Generation Ancestor Numbers
Generation  Possible     Identified  Percentage  Total          Total          Total
                    Ancestors  Ancestors                     Ancestors   Identified  Percentage
 1                  1                 1               100%          1                 1                100%   
 2                  2                 2               100%          3                 3                100%
 3                  4                 4               100%          7                 7                100%
 4                  8                 8               100%          15               15              100%
 5                  16               16             100%          31               31              100%
 6                  32               26             81.2%         63               57              90.4%
 7                  64               41             64.0%         127             98              77.1%
 8                  128             61             47.6%         255             159            62.3%
 9                  256             54             21.0%         511             213            41.6%
10                 512             45               8.7%         1023           258            25.2%

Add into the mix what my autosomal match at Ancestry, FTDNA or 23andMe may or may not know about their tree, and now you see why many matches (the names of the "Most Recent Common Ancestors" or MRCAs we share with our autosomal matches) remain a mystery to us.

Quite a few of my fellow genealogists that I have talked to equate the lack of matches in their test to flawed DNA tests, lack of cousins testing, or just the whole thing being bunk science, etc, and consider DNA testing to be a waste of time.

Really? Have you really sat down and taken a hard look at your ancestral lines in your genealogy? Are you convinced that your paper trail is accurate and complete in every respect? Are you absolutely sure that there is not a "not parent expected" (NPE) event in your tree at some point? Remember my old saying in class, "mom's baby, daddy maybe." Do you have all 1023 ancestors identified in your 10-generation ancestor chart?

I would submit that the more you dig, the more useful that DNA test you took really is. I like the thought that an autosomal DNA test can help me prove or possibly disprove a lineage paper trail.

I look at my test, first as a genealogical record that has no equal anywhere else in the my mountains of research that I have down over the last 35 plus years. I use it not only to verify my paper trails, but as a research aide to open up possible new lines of ancestor research. Everyday as I spend more time working with my results I discover important new ways to utilize the pages of DNA matches I have at Ancestry, FTDNA and GEDMatch.

As I have said many times over the last semester in my classes at Tri-County Community College, build out that ancestor tree as accurately as you can and also build it back towards you as well. That will go a long way to helping you spot potential matches that may not be obvious between your tree and your DNA match's tree.

Bottom line: That $99 test at Ancestry is the best money I have ever spent in my genealogy research and glad that I tested not only me, but my parents as well. IMHO my AncestryDNA test has been the most important genealogical tool I have used in my 35 years of genealogical research. As V. Utt said during DNA Day 2012 in Estonia, "The best book that has ever been written is in us and nowadays we have (the) opportunity to read it."

Have you read your book yet? Do I have your attention now? Go create your genealogical record today by ordering an autosomal DNA test.

DNA Cousin cM levels for relationships
Cousin Rel     Ave cM     Relationship                     Generation     Total AncestorsYou                                                                              1st Gen
Sibling           2350 cM     Parents                               2nd Gen       2
Half Sibling   1600 cM     Parents                               2nd Gen       2
Parents           3580-
                       3585 cM     Parents                               2nd Gen      2 (2)
First Cousin     800 cM     Grand Parents                     3rd Gen      4 (6)
Second Cousin 200 cM    1st Great Grand Parents      4th Gen      8 (14)
Third Cousin    100 cM   2nd Great Grand Parents      5th Gen    16 (30)
Fourth Cousin    50 cM    3rd Great Grand Parents      6th Gen    32 (62)
Fifth Cousin       25 cM    4th Great Grand Parents      7th Gen    64 (126)
Sixth Cousin      12.5 cM  5th Great Grand Parents     8th Gen   128 (254)
Seventh Cousin   6.25 cM  6th Great Grand Parents    9th Gen   256 (510)
Eight Cousin       3.125 cM 7th Great Grand Parents  10th Gen  512 (1022)