Current Affairs

Advice to White Supremacists: You Might Not Want to Test Your DNA

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend speak for themselves. The various news media are full of stories about bigotry, racism, and fringe far-right political activities that resulted in murder and also in a lot of embarrassment to the American people. However, there is one genealogy issue that might affect the motivations of these extremists:

Are these white supremacists really “all white?”

I suspect that many white supremacists won’t like to learn the truth.

A geneticist at the University of California at Los Angeles ran a project for months that culminated in the presentation of a paper in Montreal this week at the annual gathering of the American Sociological Association. It seems that DNA testing of many members of one white supremacy organization indicates that a number of those who were tested have mixed racial ancestry. In other words, these white supremacists are not 100% white.

Update on “What is Going On at the Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Office?”

Last week I published an article entitled What is Going On at the Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Office? I described an abrupt reduction in services announced by the Northamptonshire (England) Record Office. The article also mentioned an online petition asking the folks at the Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Office to cancel the announced reduction in hours. The article is still available at: http://bit.ly/2hxafOu.

Now there is an update and it appears to be good news: the Northamptonshire County Council reportedly has dropped the plan to reduce available hours!

I am guessing the 3,862 signatures collected on the petition so far may have influenced the management at the Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Office just a bit.

In an addition posted to the online petition’s web site, Mary Ann Lund wrote:

What is Going On at the Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Office?

The Northamptonshire (England) Record Office reportedly has made drastic reductions in their services, all without any public consultation. My information is all second-hand. However, I am told that the Record Office management announced last week that they are cutting free access to the public search room to three mornings a week. Previously, it was open three days per week.

Free access is now available only on Tuesday-Thursday mornings, 9am-1pm, and on 7 Saturdays in the year.

If anyone wants to use the archives outside those hours they have to pay £31.50 an hour (roughly $41.37 US per hour).

As you might expect, this announcement caused an uproar amongst genealogists, historians, and others who use the services of the Northamptonshire Record Office. There is an online petition to Save Northamptonshire Record Office at http://bit.ly/2u54klq.

The page for the online petition states:

The History Of Westborough – a CrowdSourced Collection of Historical Digital Photographs

The folks at the Westborough (Massachusetts) Public Library had a wonderful idea: let’s ask local residents to bring in their old photographs taken around town over the years and scan them. Then we will add them to Digital Commonwealth to keep these images safe for years to come.

Old Ford Truck – Click on the above image to view a larger version

The project apparently has had great success.

The idea of the program was to bring out the history of Westborough that is hidden away in attics, basements, or in plain sight, and make it available to the world.

Other Westborough Public Library collections available in the Digital Commonwealth include historical town administrative records, documents relating to Westborough’s participation in the American Revolution, records from the Lyman State Reform School, and a World War II Memorial Scrapbook.

Wouldn’t this be a great project for YOUR town’s library or historical society or some other civic-minded group?

Westborough vs Shrewsbury – 1939 – Click on the above image to view a larger version

International African American Museum receives $500k donation from Michelin

The International African American Museum announced a $500,000 corporate investment from the Michelin Corporate Foundation. According to a statement released by the museum, there now remains $12.5 million in private fundraising left to go before they reach their goal.

“Michelin has long exercised its leadership in South Carolina since opening its first plant here more than four decades ago,” said Moore. “This generous gift fortifies and expands Michelin’s commitment to our state and further demonstrates its value for diversity.”

Israel State Archives Deadlocked by Legal Restrictions

An interesting legal problem has arisen in Israel. In fact, the Israel State Archives is almost at a standstill. In most cases, genealogists and family historians are not allowed to look at the various documents stored at the The dispute centers on who is empowered to allow researchers, or anybody from the general public, to access and read unclassified documents kept at the archive – the entity that deposited the material (such as the Foreign Ministry or Israel Police) or the State Archives itself, which holds the material.

State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lazowick recently stated, ““A week ago, we really stopped the services of the Archives, according to the instructions of the attorney general. To a great extent (not completely), we have stopped providing service. A researcher who wants to see a file will now have to wait for two months, or half a year or two years. The last is the most likely.”

You can read more in an article by Ofer Aderet in the Haaretz news service at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.804409.

Grace A. Dow Memorial Library in Midland, Michigan Sustains $1.5 Million Flood Damage

Here is still another example why we cannot depend upon paper documents alone to be accessible in the future. Homes, streets, businesses, parks and city buildings in Midland, Michigan got soaked in a flood several weeks ago. In the city alone, more than 1,000 homes had some type of damage. Of interest to genealogists, the hardest hit city building was the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library. The early estimate puts clean up and repair work for the library at $1.5 million.

The library had never flooded before.

Hard Drives and Storage Space Continue to Become Cheaper and Cheaper

The following isn’t directly related to genealogy but it is related to something that concerns all genealogists: storage of information that we have found. Today, it is easier and much, much cheaper to save information in our own computers or in the cloud than ever before. Saving things in digital format is also much, much cheaper (and safer) than storing paper. However, there are signs that consumers are saving less and less these days.

For the past 35+ years or so, hard drives prices have dropped, from around $500,000 per gigabyte in 1981 to less than $0.03 per gigabyte today. See http://www.mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update for details.

Somewhat surprisingly, manufacturers are selling fewer disk drives to consumers these days than they used to. Consumers are not downloading and saving as many files as they used to, be it text information, music, videos, or anything else. Why not? It appears that the primary reason is that all those things are increasingly more available upon demand in the cloud. There is less need than ever to save things yourself when you can retrieve those items again and again in the future at any time. Even better, the version you retrieve in the future may be updated or be an enhanced version, such as a higher-resolution image or video or contain higher-fidelity sound.

Live Cannonball (or is it a Mortar Shell?) from the Battle of the Plains of Abraham found in Old Quebec

A cannonball fired by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 has been unearthed at a building site in Old Quebec. The rusted, 90-kilogram projectile was unearthed during excavation work last week at the corner of Hamel and Couillard streets and still contained a charge and gunpowder.

One person took the cannonball back to his home, and noticed it still contained a charge. A team of army munitions technicians was dispatched from CFB Valcartier to collect the ball and neutralize it.

Fire Damages Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana

Fire caused extensive damage to Eckhart Public Library early Sunday morning, July 2. The fire appears to have been intentionally set. The damage will force the 106-year-old main library building to close indefinitely, according to the library leaders.

The library’s entire collection of DVDs and audio books was lost. However, the library’s digital collection of eBooks and downloadable audiobooks remain available along with the many online databases. Luckily, the library’s extensive genealogy collection appears to have been spared.

Details may be found at http://bit.ly/2vooPdb and at http://www.epl.lib.in.us.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) Announce Collaboration

The following announcement was written by the New England Historic Genealogical Society:

NEHGS to Digitize the Fifth Generation of Mayflower Descendants from GSMD “Silver Books” and 50 Years of Mayflower Quarterly

Mayflower Databases to Be Searchable on AmericanAncestors.org

GSMD Members to Enjoy Discounts on Membership in New England Historic Genealogical Society

July 13, 2017—Boston, Massachusetts—New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has partnered with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) to bring invaluable genealogical resources to their members. New searchable databases—to be found on AmericanAncestors.org—will be created from authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies and from 50 years of published Mayflower passenger scholarship from the Mayflower Quarterly as the program advances. In addition, GSMD members will enjoy generous discounts on new memberships in NEHGS, the founding genealogical organization in America.

BYU-Idaho Genealogy Library to Relocate

On July 18 the Family History Center in the David O. McKay Library at Brigham Young University-Idaho will be shutting down. Everything in the present genealogy library will be moved to the Rexburg Family History Center.

The Family History Center has been in the McKay Library since the 1960s.

You can read more in an article by Adam Jacobs in the (Rexburg, Idaho) Standard Journal web site at: http://bit.ly/2suD7qN.

Australians Provide Fake Names Amid Census Privacy Fears

In the 2016 census, many Australians provided fake names and withheld their date of birth. A sharp drop in the number of respondents allowing authorities to keep their data archived for 99 years was also noted.

The first batch of data from last year’s bungled census was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday with authorities insisting the information collected is useful. Privacy concerns plagued the half-billion-dollar exercise in the lead up to Census night on August 9 with several politicians, including independent senator Nick Xenophon, vowing to risk a $180-a-day fine by refusing to provide their names and addresses.

FamilySearch to Discontinue its Microfilm Distribution Services

This announcement shouldn’t surprise any genealogists. The end of microfilm has been predicted for years. Microfilm and microfiche has become harder and harder to purchase. Most of the manufacturers have stopped producing microfilm and microfiche so the companies and non-profits that release information on film have been forced to abandon the media.

Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide. In addition, many records that FamilySearch has not yet published can be found online on partner or free archive websites. FamilySearch plans to finish microfilm digitization by 2020.

The following is an extract from the announcement from FamilySearch:

On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services. (The last day to order microfilm will be on August 31, 2017.)

The change is the result of significant progress made in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology.

Unclaimed Persons Celebrates Ninth Anniversary and Launches New Website

The following announcement was written by Unclaimed Persons:

Every life is worth remembering, and this month Unclaimed Persons (UP) celebrates its ninth anniversary helping to unite the remains of deceased individuals with their next of kin.

Alone in death and tucked away on dark shelves or cold gurneys in morgues across the country, thousands of deceased individuals whose names are known to coroners, medical examiners, and a handful of friends have no known family members to claim their remains. Homelessness, mental illness, long-term estrangement, deaths of all apparent next of kin, and other circumstances have severed familial connections. Ever-increasing caseloads and shrinking budgets make it nearly impossible for many medical examiners, coroners, and investigators to find these individuals’ relatives without help.

Reclaim The Records Wins Another Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request: New York State Department of Health Concedes the New York State Death Index is to become Available to the Public under Open Records Laws

I often write about bad news in which legislators and bureaucrats keep blocking genealogists from accessing records that legally qualify as public domain. Therefore, it is great to report another victory from Reclaim The Records!

An announcement from Reclaim The Records states:

“After seventeen months of work, we have now forced the New York State Department of Health to concede that this data is, and should be, available to the public under open records laws. We secured the first ever public copies of this important state death index, which the Department of Health has digitized for us, scanned from the original vault copies. They are high-resolution greyscale images, with the entire set comprising about 3/4 of a terabyte of data on a portable hard drive. (That’s a lot of dead people.)

How Private is Your Genealogy Information?

A newsletter reader asked a question that I think many people are asking. I replied to him in email but thought I would also share may answer here in the newsletter in case others have the same question.

My correspondent wrote:

I am relatively new to genealogy technology. Are there tips you can provide to ensure the security of personal information? Would building a family tree in software only [in] my computer be more secure than syncing it to a webpage (like MyHeritage)? Is it a good idea to not include details (name, date and place of birth) for all living relatives and maybe back a generation or two? Thanks.

My reply:

No. In fact, quite the opposite.

The End of an Era: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Closes

The “Greatest Show on Earth” is no more. For many of our ancestors and even for our children and grandchildren of today, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus provided entertainment not found elsewhere. Perhaps we should all take note of the passing of this once-gigantic entertainment enterprise. The founders were the epitome of American entrepreneurship, an excellent example of why America welcomes immigrants.

The Ringling brothers were the seven American-born sons of harness maker Heinrich Friedrich August Ringling (originally spelled as “Rungeling”), (1826–1898), an immigrant from Hanover, Germany, and Marie Salome Juliar (1833–1907), an immigrant from Ostheim, in Alsace (now a part of Bavaria, Germany). One Ringling sister, Ida Loraina Wilhelmina Ringling also was part of the family although she apparently was not involved in the circus business. [Reference: “Ringling brothers” on Wikipedia.org]

Genealogist Who Helps Heirs Obtain Fortunes in Estate Cases Accused of Using Forged Documents

Every year, millions of people die worldwide without making a will (called dying intestate), often leaving substantial cash and property estates which, if not claimed, goes to the state. Worth billions, this provides vast income opportunities for genealogists who trace missing beneficiaries to these valuable estates.

Heir tracing is the business of seeking living descendant relatives who often have lost touch with their distant kin and, in most cases, have no idea of their family link. Many professional genealogists also are heir hunters, also known as probate researchers. Heir hunters are the ones who start with the information of a wealthy deceased person and then find the previously-unknown relatives who stand to inherit the estate.

In return, the heir hunter charges a percentage of the inherited wealth, typically 30%, 40%, or more. For some, heir hunting has turned out to be a lucrative business, paying much, much more than traditional genealogy research. Vadim Tevelev is one such heir hunter.

Remains of a Little Girl in a Forgotten Casket are Identified

This story combines detective work, genealogy, DNA, and public records.

A little girl about 3 years old died and was buried about 140 years ago in an unmarked metal casket in a wealthy San Francisco neighborhood. When workers recently discovered her elaborate coffin beneath a concrete slab, there were no markings or gravestone to say who she was. A team of scientists, amateur sleuths and history buffs worked tirelessly to solve the central question in this Bay Area mystery: Who was the little girl in the casket?

She has now been identified. The girl’s DNA was matched to that of a relative now living in San Rafael.

The story of the investigation is intriguing. Investigators found a scale plan of the cemetery development in 1865 at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. That provided an approximate location of the grave.