Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Obituaries – Who should be listed?

My daughter asked my opinion about an obituary for the father of a friend of hers recently. She commented on how much information there was in that particular piece that, in her view, could be helpful for identity theft.

In the one she cited, the names of the deceased’s parents, sister and children were shown, as well as those of his grandchildren and a nephew. Included were married names and current places of residence. Even the name of an ex-husband of his daughter was there, in order to properly identify two of the man’s grandchildren.

Now this is not unusual. Most of us regularly read obituaries that have names of extended family members. Unfortunately we don’t think about what the consequences might be in publishing all of this information. My daughter thought this was “identity overshare.”

I am sure we are all aware that when addresses or at least the names of communities are shown, thieves might well target the residents while they are attending a funeral. More serious is listing full names, particularly of minor children. It won’t take much searching to find more data on these people with the possibility of someone using their names in fraudulent activities. The old security standby of using a mother’s maiden name is now frowned upon as they are usually well displayed on many obituaries.

As genealogists we prize published obituaries as places where information on many now deceased family members can be found. I will write about a good example of this in my next blog post. Having access in one place to all those relationships described in the second paragraph above assists us in constructing a comprehensive family tree. We don’t think too much about the privacy or security issues, mainly because we are usually dealing with people who, along with their direct survivors, have long since passed.

It’s a different world today, though, when rogue elements of our society use all manner of media to search for private information about individuals for their own unlawful means. We all need to take precautions with personal information about ourselves and our families and that includes the publishing of names and addresses, especially without the approval of those other family members.
From Albuquerque Journal - 4 October 2013
While people might wish to show how much the deceased will be missed by a large family, I think care should be taken not to give the general public inadvertent access to a large family tree. Information about children should certainly not be published without the full approval of their parents. (The same applies to social media and blogs, of course.)

I wonder if funeral directors, who mostly control or even write obituaries, advise their clients about the potential for misuse of information they publish.

I surmise that, if my daughter has anything to say about it, she will write my story as a much shorter than normal, such as: “Wayne came, Wayne saw, Wayne died!” 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Family History in the making…and seen Live!

In our concentration with the past, family historians often forget how history is being made today. This highly technological world allows us to experience events as they happen many of which affect our own families.

We had the great pleasure of seeing our granddaughter dance at a prestigious ballet competition in Hong Kong this past week – LIVE! This was the Asian Grand Prix where over 300 young people came together from all over the world to show their excellence in ballet.

Not only could we watch them all dance we got to experience the joy of our granddaughter when she was awarded the Bronze Medal in her age category of 13 to 14 year-olds.

This is the age of Facebook, live streaming, Skype and WeChat, terms completely unknown to our parents (and barely understandable by many people my age). From the comfort of our living room in Calgary, Canada we saw the dance performances in Hong Kong, over 6,500 miles away and 14 hours ahead, in Real Time! We got to see and share this piece of family history happen with many other family members, in their own homes, at the same time.

Our parents, who raised their families when home television was developing, would have appreciated seeing such an event as it was happening. They understood live broadcasts even in the 1950s. I remember watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, transmitted via undersea cables. That was a day that changed television history itself. Since that time we have witnessed thousands of similar major historical events unfold as they occurred in all parts of the globe.

I remember when my parents were able to come out to my schools and other venues when I received awards and other certificates of recognition, as well as when I performed in various concerts. These were important times of sharing experiences. My grandparents could never make it because they lived so far away. Copies of what photos that might have been taken were mailed to them instead along with those old fashioned letters people used to write.

We are way past letters, even telephones. Messages are transmitted instantly via electronic means (with all their spelling, grammar, punctuation and construction errors and often without thought given to how the words might be received).

It does give one pause to think how such immediate communication might be viewed by ancestors from several generations back. There were times when news from one family member to another might take weeks to travel from place to place – months if they lived across an ocean from each other. The telegraph allowed short notes to be sent between localities that could then be delivered by hand to recipients. It was slow, expensive and did not allow the exchange of much news.

The late 19th century saw telephone usage expand around the globe although many families could not avail themselves of the technology, again because of cost and infrastructure. Eventually phones were everywhere which must have affected letter-writing activities.

Today we have “smart phones” – instruments capable of exchanging voices, written communications, images, videos and all manner of other data. We are able to visit with family and experience their joy and achievement no matter where they are in the world. Our gadgets can do complex calculations as well as entertain us with the latest movies. I am quite sure my 6th great-grandparents, living in the 18th century, would never have been able to even comprehend the idea.

These modern tools allow us to search historical records quickly and easily as we follow our genealogical research leads. Just as importantly they let us see for ourselves what our children and grandchildren are doing and saying. And they get to share important moments in their lives with some of their ancestors (us) like no generation has ever been able to do.

So for us to be able to live stream a dance competition – even though it was at 2:00 in the morning – was very exciting. We got to see family history being made live.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we could look back a few centuries and see in a similar fashion how our ancestors’ lives were unfolding and share in their moments of achievement?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Our Common Immigrant Origins

We all descend from immigrants!

That’s not really an astounding or radical viewpoint. Humans have migrated to areas where they could find better conditions to live and survive since there were humans. Whatever we might think in North America, everyone here descends from someone who moved here, whether during last year or in the last 15,000 years.

I am a second generation Canadian. My ancestors, not so far back, were immigrants. I am just starting to learn why they packed up and moved themselves and, in many cases, their entire families to North America.

Most of us don’t usually think of English-speaking people (or early French-speaking people in Canada) as immigrants but they were – every bit as much as more recent additions to our national mosaic of Asians, Africans or other Europeans. We reserve that distinction to those displaced by wars or Mother Nature. Some of them we have called them refugees.

When I was growing up, people coming to Canada were mainly from Eastern Europe, parts of which had been devastated by a long and dirty war. Many were fleeing despotic, primarily Communist regimes set up following the conflict and that inflicted even more calamity. The migrants sought safety, opportunity and freedom.

Recent arrivals to Canada and the US in the 1950s were often given unflattering labels, first because they did not speak the common language of the regions they settled in, but also, I suspect, from locals’ fear about how their communities might change and whether jobs would be lost to those who might work for less. Or maybe just from plain bigotry.

What we refer to as aboriginal groups – or First Nations in Canada – did not actually originate in the Americas either. They migrated from Asia when conditions permitted during the last major Ice Age. That only makes their ancestors immigrants of a much earlier period, not different or better. In many parts of the New World, existing societies were demolished by invaders, largely from Europe, who came much later.

Of course present-day Europeans also descend from immigrants who came into the region from Southwest Asia and Africa a few hundred thousand years ago, as the climate and physical environment of those regions changed for the worse. East Asians also originated in Africa.

Within Europe there has also been a great deal of internal migration during the past few thousand years again, when degradation of habitat necessitated moves. The event called the Migration Period or the Barbarian Invasion occurred when climate changed from warm (Roman Climate Optimum) to cold (Dark Ages Cold Period).

Some newcomers made uneasy peace with groups that were inhabitants of the lands wanted for settlement; most, though, took the areas by force. That’s not unusual in terms of human history. There have always been conflicts between migrants and inhabitants going back thousands of years. Perhaps distrust of people coming later is ingrained in our DNA, as part of a survival mechanism. Or maybe it’s just that fear factor humans seem to have in abundance. Such attitudes are certainly part of many cultures around the world. These days, established citizens use the ruse that newly arrived groups will be a burden on social programs.

The facts are clear for North America in particular, though – incoming groups of people have always added to the culture, wealth and development of regions in which they have settled.

Family history studies, besides incorporating analyses of genetic relationships, are really the study of immigration – when did people move, why did they move, where did they go, what method of travel did they employ and how long did they stay. While this is more apropos for the Americas or Australia, even local regions in Europe share similar stories as people migrated within their country of origin to places where work was more plentiful and life might be better.

So – we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. The only distinction between us in that regard is when our forebears arrived in the places where we live.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Stories from people I know

We don’t often think about the stories our contemporaries might share when we are looking at our genealogical research. But people my age have lived long enough to have heard about and possibly been around when important historical events happened, as well as those that touched their own families. Family history is not only about who was alive hundreds of years ago but also about who we have been in contact with during our own lifetimes.

How often have you seen or heard the phrase, “Where were you when….?”

You may remember details of things that are now reported as important historical events, such as the shooting of a US President, a war fought in some far off place in the world or the births of future Kings. Such events may have had some personal impact on a member of your family – or yourself. Perhaps you or someone close to you was in the wrong place when a major natural disaster occurred (see my previous blog posts about Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes). Maybe a special trip or birthday comes to mind because it happened at the same time as an important and newsworthy occasion.

I was reminded of this aspect when a friend asked if I had seen a piece he published recently in The Devon Family Historian (May 2017 issue). It was titled Memories: A Country Boy. Alick Lavers related his experience as a small boy of the bombing of Plymouth during the early years of the WWII and, in particular, when a German plane crashed in the countryside on 24 November 1941 not far from where he lived.

It is a poignant story, one that still lives vividly in his personal memories. I recommend reading the piece if you can (If you send me your email address in the comments section, I will forward you a copy. I won’t publish your email contact details.). His article serves as an example that we do not always need to look in books or newspapers for information about events and how they impacted people. Sometimes we can just ask our friends and relatives. Many of them are now of similar (advanced) age as ourselves.

I do confess that I have not written much about my own life and those people I came in contact with. To my descendants, my personal recollections and story will, of course,be part of their family history. Perhaps this blog post might be a start in that direction, if I can remember what happened decades ago. Good thing I have photos and many documents that go back through several generations.

When recording your family’s history, remember to contact friends and relatives to see what they remember about significant events within your and their living memory as well as what they may have been told by their parents.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Is there a hero in your family tree?

I use the word here generically – that is, it may be equally applied to either gender.

We tend to associate the term hero with courage in battles – to individuals who show exceptional bravery in saving others from harm. But my Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines the word primarily as: a person distinguished by courage, noble deeds, outstanding achievements, etc. There is no mention of fighting, combat or conflict of any kind. So what really defines someone as a hero?
More than 3,500 Canadian soldiers (all of them heroes) died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. There is always a flower blooming next to every headstone, no matter how remote a corner of the site it may be located. Vimy graves: Paul Kinsman blogsite; Vimy trench image: Vimy Foundation webpage; Vimy monument image: Reflections on Canadian History webpage
In their search of military records, many genealogists may find individuals in their families who were awarded medals for their acts under fire during the many wars in which countries and their people were engaged in over the centuries. We make great efforts to remember these individuals in monuments and in naming of public buildings, parks or streets.

I live in an area of Calgary that was part of a military base during the last two great wars. Street names include descriptions of military significance, such as: Valour Circle, Victoria Cross Boulevard and Burma Star Road. This is not surprising given the area’s history but it tends to reinforce our perception of heroes as being connected to armed forces activities of the past, not to everyday life.

Families can and do have other people who must be considered heroes:
·         a physician who administers to a community even at his own personal risk from contagions
·         a single mother whose focuses her entire life on the well-being of her children;
·         a wife or husband who dedicates her/his declining years to ensuring that her/his partner does not suffer unreasonably from a debilitating health problem
·         a volunteer for a local or foreign charitable organization who offers time and talents to help others with lessor means or opportunities
·         an individual who moves to a far-off, or sometimes not-so-far-off location in order to build a better future for their present or future families (sometimes enduring great physical hardship and deprivation in the process)
·         a relative who takes in and takes care of children of a sibling who may have fallen on hard times
·         an individual who dedicates themselves to their community, acting as a volunteer or elected official but who assists those in need through charitable efforts or his wealth
·         a person who, in spite of his own mental or physical limitations brings joy and inspiration to others by their selfless acts

These kinds of people are true, every-day heroes! They certainly fall under that category of noble deeds.

I have found a few people in my family tree that conform to some of the descriptions I have just listed. I will also say that I have not found any that were awarded medals for bravery under fire in any battle although there were many who enlisted when wars came along and served with honour and distinction.

Engaging in the study of family histories hopefully means learning about the activities in which our ancestors took part. These are not part of the dates and places we normally search for, except for how that information might relate to historical events. We always hope we will find something written directly by family members that will comment on their lives and families. Letters are rarely preserved, even those written by our closest ancestors. Parish records might contain snippets about people from which we can discern details of their actual experiences or relationships.

One example I discovered in my genealogical research was a minister who spent weeks assisting residents in Plympton St. Mary parish in coping with a cholera epidemic which spread primarily through the urban community beginning in July in 1832. Reverend William Isaac Coppard later wrote a book on his experiences, laying out the causes of the spread of disease and the methods he and local health officials devised to treat the afflicted. The book is title Cottage Scenes During The Cholera: Being extracts from a diary written in July and August, 1832, originally published by a number of firms in 1848. The book is available in reprint and scanned versions from several sources but is also available for free download from Google books. Rev. Coppard details his time spent in the homes of families who contracted the disease from notes he kept during the epidemic

Apart from military options, family historians might ask themselves what other heroic deeds have been be unearthed in constructing their family trees.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A little trick in finding people whose surname was changed

Most genealogists may know most of the tricks in finding people whose surnames have changed formally or when they have been recorded under the wrong name. Many years ago someone showed me one of them by finding my wife’s grandfather and great-grandmother. 

I used it myself to find first cousins who I had never met. I don’t think my mother, their aunt, ever saw them as her brother divorced their mother in 1927 when they were less than three years old. I believe she knew about them. The children of a half-brother of these individuals grew up never knowing about them either.

When small children are part of a divorce, they often end up with one parent and never see the other one again. That may be especially true if the divorce was bitter and full custody of the children was obtained by one parent. In past times it was usually the mother who got the kids. Not that that was in necessarily unreasonable for many of those cases but it was most common.

My Uncle Randall Miller was married a few times. In between marriages, he lived with another one or two women. He was not a mean or nasty individual. In fact he was quite gregarious, kind and well-meaning, at least as far as we knew him. He just couldn’t seem to settle down for a long period with one partner.

Randall was born in Oklahoma in 1902, on a homestead near Yukon, OK. The family moved to Kansas in 1904. Randall’s parents, my grandparents, rented and operated several farms around the region before finally moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1914. They settled in Oregon for several years, where my mother was born.

Randall’s first marriage was to Violet Marie Gosney, on 10 June 1922, in Bend, OR. They had two children together: Richard, born in 1924 and Betty Jean, born in 1925. The records stop there for the Miller children. The next we hear of Randall is when he married Dorothy Tyler in 1928.

There is no record of Violet Marie, Richard or Betty Jean with the surname of Miller. I looked as well for them with the name Gosney, thinking perhaps she had taken back her maiden name after the divorce. No luck there either. Then I tried the trick of looking just for the three people with their forenames. Very quickly I found them all on both the 1930 and 1940 censuses, living in Oregon, but with the surname of Conner. By 1930 there were two other children in the Conner family: Clarence Dale, born in 1927; and Peggy Marie, born in 1929. Another arrived in 1935 - Patsy Lee. Later information found indicated another son, William, was born sometime after 1940.
Portion of 1930 US Census showing the Clarence LeRoy and Violet Marie (Gosney) family living in Portland, Oregon
Now there is some conflicting information on the census about the second marriages of Randall and Violet Marie. The 1930 US censuses show the ages of the parties at the date of their “first” marriage. In both cases it appears that Randall’s and Violet’s ages correspond to the married people on the census rather than a previous union. From that information one would normally assume that any children were of the parents shown. A search for the later Conner children resulted in finding death records that confirmed their mother’s maiden name was Gosney, though, essentially tying the circle back to Randall. Whether or not Richard and Betty Jean were formally adopted by Clarence Conner I do not know yet.

Tracing the family members through their first names only resulted in finding valuable information about my first cousins and their half-siblings. I still do not have all the data I would like but I have a good start.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 6: Floods

Natural events that will come to mind for most readers, and that many may have been affected by, are floods – whether of the rapid overnight or slow-developing over weeks type. Floods are normal things; they happen every year and in almost every river valley. Sometimes they are minor events; other times they are devastating – to people and communities. But they have been part of natural phenomena forever.

Historically most farming communities have benefited by river flooding that brought moisture and deposited rich new sediment across fields.

Seared into human memory, though, are the major, disastrous varieties, when infrastructure and human lives were lost on a grand scale. For family historians, again, such events may have ended up forcing people to migrate or left chaos among the lives of survivors.

In any year, as far back as records exist, one may find descriptions of floods that disrupted communities and took lives.

Naturally occurring floods are almost always a result of major storms. Exceptions are those that arrive as tsunamis (see blog post of 20 June 2017). Along shorelines floods may arise from sea surges, those also produced by storms in the open ocean. Every continent has had its share of large-scale flooding. Those with very extensive river systems or large collection areas may suffer through floods extending over vast areas.

In Europe the greatest disasters from flooding resulting from storm surges, coming ashore mostly from the North Sea. The 1287 St. Lucia flood is reported to have killed 50,000 to 80,000 people in the Netherlands and northern Germany. What had been a large fresh water lake surrounded by farming communities and fronted by barrier islands and peat swamps was turned into an extension of the North Sea – the Zuiderzee. There were undoubtedly many similar floods in the region as sea level rose following the last major ice age. There would be many more such storms in succeeding centuries, particularly during the Little Ice Age (AD 1315-1850), until residents learned to mostly control them with dams, dykes and surge barriers.

A major flood hit north-central England in November 1771. A storm broke over the highlands of the Pennines with heavy rain for several days combined with melting of snow in the highest reaches. All rivers flowing out of the region, to the north, south, east and west overflowed their banks, from the source areas to the tidal inlets, over 60 miles in the cases of the Tyne, Tees and Wear Rivers.

In many areas the water arrived in flash-floods with water levels rising over the eaves of houses within minutes. Buildings of all types, ships tied up along the wharves, goods left lying on quays, farm animals and implements and, of course, people were swept away in the raging currents. Bridges, including the 500-year old Tyne Bridge at Newcastle, were unable to withstand the onslaught of water and were destroyed. In some areas, water levels in the lower reaches were over 12 feet above normal, high spring tides.
Gaps through Pennine Mountains; Topographic Map of the UK; Mercator projection
Etching of Tyne Bridge at Newcastle after the 1771 flood; source – Newcastle Libraries
In North America, the Mississippi River and all of its major tributaries have consistently inundated lands adjacent to their water courses. They are not called floodplains for no reason!

The drainage area for the Mississippi encompasses 1,245,000 square miles. From its source in Minnesota, it takes on the flow from 10 major tributaries, eventually dumping millions of tons of sediment into its delta area in the Gulf of Mexico. During frequent floods it also delivers substantial volumes of new soil to surrounding farmland in all the river valleys.
Mississippi River tributaries, from USGS data
There have been dozens of major flood episodes in the Mississippi basin, from upriver storms, hurricanes arriving from the Gulf of Mexico or exceptional snow melt from the Rocky Mountains and runoff in the tributaries coming from there. The lower Mississippi always seemed to get the brunt of the excess water. The earliest report of a flood is from 1543 when Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto arrived at the confluence of the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers.

The most disastrous flood in recorded history in the United States happened in 1927 as exceptional amounts of rain fell along many of the major tributaries of the central part of the basin. Over 27,000 acres were covered with water, with depths up to 30 feet, primarily in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. More than 700,000 people were left homeless; 500 people died. Many of the displaced, particularly those in the labouring class, gave up on the region and migrated to northern and Midwestern cities. Following this event, the US Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, charging the US Army Corps of Engineers with the task of establishing controls on the flow and flooding of the river system.
1927 Mississippi River flooded areas - Records of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, RG; source – Public Domain
In China, major rivers have also experienced widespread flooding over the centuries. The best documented are, of course, the most recent. In 1931, a combination of melting of large snow accumulations in the western mountain ranges, exceptional and heavy rain in the central regions and cyclone activity from the eastern ocean saw substantial more volumes of water in the system than normal. In addition, “[e]xcessive deforestation, wetland reclamation, and the over-extension of river dyke networks transformed regular flood pulses, which were an integral feature of the fluvial ecosystem, into destructive inundations, which wrought chaos upon human communities.” (DisasterHistory.org)
Great flood at Gaoyou, Jingsu province; source - The Great Floods of 1931 at Gaoyou website
Rebuilding of dykes following the disastrous flooding in 1931; Sampans transport the soil to Gaoyou Dikes on the Grand Canal, Jiangsu Province. Source - The Great Floods of 1931 at Gaoyou website
The cumulative causes, both natural and manmade, resulted in a devastating event that affected 52 million people with two million deaths. Following the event many programs were initiated to build new and better dyke systems and institute flood control measures. These were built largely from manual labour of thousands of workers.

Such large-scale floods are not unique to modern times. No doubt all river systems have seen excessive precipitation that resulted in widespread inundation. Where no people were around
to witness the events, they would not be considered as disasters. Today most regions are highly populated meaning that even minor flooding can do significant damage and affect many communities.

Family historians may well find some of their ancestors were affected by floods. Such evidence can be found in newspapers of the day, written up in parish or estate accounts or detailed in many books and other publications.

Monday, 3 July 2017

My Ancestors in Canada in 1867

In a June 27th blog post, Canada’s 150th Genealogy Challenge, on My Genealogy Life, Patricia Greber posted a list of her ancestors who were in Canada at the time of Canada’s Confederation in 1867. She then challenged others to list their ancestors who were also here at the time. It was an interesting exercise, one I not thought of doing before – looking at who was present in one region at one point in time in the past.

Following is a summary of some of my direct ancestors who came to, came through or had been born in Canada when the British North America Act, 1867 was passed.

For reference, Upper Canada colony merged with Lower Canada colony and became Canada West, in the Province of Canada, with the British Act of Union 1840. At the time of Confederation, on July 1st, 1867, each region became provinces on their own – respectively, Ontario and Quebec.

Many of my ancestors came to Canada directly from the British Isles. Gilbert and Margaret (Maitland) Anderson, my 3rd great-grandparents, arrived in Lanark County, Upper Canada from Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1832, with five children. They had another seven, all born in Lanark. From there they moved to Huron County. Gilbert died in Kippen, Huron County in 1871; Margaret also died there in 1886.

My Scottish-born 2nd great-grandfather, Robert Anderson, met his wife, Susan Phillipo, my 2nd great-grandparents, in Brant County, Canada West. They married in Brantford in 1854. Susan’s parents, John and Mary (Manson) Phillipo, also my 3rd great-grandparents, had come over from England in 1838 with three children. They had another four in Brantford. John and Mary died in Brantford in the 1880s.
Robert Anderson ca 1900
Susan (Phillipo) Anderson ca 1900

My great-grandmother, Margaret Mary Anderson, was born in Goderich, Huron County, Canada West, in 1857, as were her ten siblings. The family moved to North Dakota Territory, USA, in 1881. Robert and Susan died and were buried in Ransom County, North Dakota, she in 1905 and he in 1912.
Margaret Mary (Anderson) Thompson ca 1895
Margaret Mary Anderson met Newton Isaac Thompson, my great-grandfather, in North Dakota and they married there in 1884. Newton had been born in Dunnville, Haldimand County, Canada West, in 1859, and had come to the US with several family members in 1879.
Newton Isaac Thompson ca 1895
Newton’s father, John T. Thompson immigrated to Upper Canada from New York around 1835. He met his wife, Elizabeth Emerson, near Thorold, Welland County, where her family lived.  John and Elizabeth, my 2nd great-grandparents, married in 1848, in Niagara County, Canada West. Elizabeth died in the year of Canada’s Confederation, and was buried in Dunnville.

Elizabeth’s parents, George and Mary (Tyler) Emerson, 3rd great-grandparents, had come to Canada in 1836 with four children, including Elizabeth. They had six more in Thorold. Mary died in Thorold in 1845; George lived to 1880 and died in Dunnville in 1880.

The Newton and Margaret Thompson family came back to Canada in 1910, with my grandmother, Carrie Jane Thompson, who had been born in North Dakota in 1889. Their four living children came with them and all settled near Keoma, Alberta. Carrie met my grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard in Keoma, where he had emigrated from England in 1907. They married in Calgary, Alberta in 1914.

At the time of Canada’s Confederation, eleven of my direct ancestors, in three generations, lived in southern Upper Canada, which became the Province of Ontario. The lines eventually connected in North Dakota before coming home to Canada in the early part of the 20th century.

If I had done this summary for my grandchildren, there would be a few more names to add to the list. Perhaps that will be a post for another time.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

DNA Matches

I have had my DNA analyzed at 23andme, MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA (Y-DNA). My wife also did hers at 23andme.

Periodically we get emails about matches in their databases. The 23andme list alerted me to several cousins from my mother’s mother’s line. The highest match in terms of percentage of DNA was 11.1% on 31 segments and that was my first cousin who I know very well. Five of the next seven highest are his children.

My maternal haplogroup is H; the chart looks very much like my wife’s with branches spreading out through Europe. The one that runs through central Europe makes sense as I know we have German and likely French connections. Apart from the generalized depiction, it is not much use to me. My paternal haplogroup, R-P311, a subgroup of R-M269 which is the most common haplogroup in western Europe. Again it does not add much to our family history.

I contacted a few of the other cousins on the list and we found more about each other’s branches. I did not learn much more about the line that we did not already know from years of normal family history research, particularly that my aunt did in the 1970s. Nevertheless, having more contact with distant family members was interesting.

There have been no matches on my father’s side on any of the databases.

On my wife’s side, 23andme has provided no family contacts although there have been several individuals who think they are related. The highest shared match is 2.22% on eight segments, so this individual could be a cousin. A message sent to her has not received a reply yet. All the rest of the 1,277 “relatives” have less than 1% match which I think is within the margin of error and likely few are members of any family line. Her haplogroup, H3g, indicates her line came through Europe. One branch goes through the northern part of the continent which fits as all of her ancestors we have traced are from northern Scotland and the Shetland Islands.

From the FamilyTreeDNA database I have no hits. Not that I expected many. I know my male line back pretty far in Devon and I did not think there would necessarily be too many members of my Shepheard family that would have taken a Y-DNA test.

I did persuade a cousin from my mother’s family to take the Y-DNA test (the first cousin I mentioned above). We thought he would be best positioned to be able to reach members of our common 2nd great-grandfather (maternal to me, paternal to him) who had migrated to the US from Germany in the early 1800s. We have no information about where specifically this ancestor came from, when he arrived or who his immediate or ancestral families were. So far we have had no matches for our Miller line that go any further back than we do. My cousin died earlier this year but his daughter and I will continue to monitor his information on FTDNA to see if anyone shows up.

I get regular notices form MyHeritage about matches. There are 85 so far. They give you a range of relationships but they are generally so broad, such as “1st cousin twice removed to 5th cousin” that they seem either not reliable or not meaningful. Only three have more than 1% shared DNA, the largest 1.7%, which may only be within the margin of error and not a true familial match.

The ethnicity description has me all over the place with 97.3% as Europe (that works) and 61.2% of that as British or Irish (that works, too). That’s ok, but Sardinian at 8.3%? South Asian at 1.9%? Or Native American at 0.8%? I have doubts about those.

As I indicated I have sent messages to a few cousins. Some have replied; many have not. A few did not have a valid email address. There have been some messages sent by individuals who have absolutely no connection to our families. I always wonder why people have their DNA analyzed and then do not follow up with possible family members who share a significant amount.

I guess, overall, our experience is limited in learning about other lines of the family. We are still better off with information gleaned from the traditional sources through the normal research methods. But I hope we eventually make a breakthrough with the Millers. It will all have been worth it then.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 5: Tsunamis

I briefly mentioned tsunamis in my last post about earthquakes. They are spawned from major earthquakes that occur around the margins of the oceans, in particular the Pacific where the most active crustal plates are present.

2011 Japan – Earthquake and Tsunami

We were on a cruise ship on 11 March 2011 when a major earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It did not impact us in any way, other than delaying the ship leaving Manilla harbour, but other family members were worried when they heard the news. Our daughter actually phoned us while we were on a bus coming back from shopping to find out where we were exactly and if we were OK. We relayed the news of the event to other shocked passengers.
A tsunami reaches Miyako City, overtopping seawalls and flooding streets in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area; source The Atlantic
As it turned out the wave that hit Manilla was no more than a foot or two in height. Other areas around the margins of the Pacific were not so fortunate, particularly the coastline of Japan. The confirmed death toll in Japan is estimated to have been around 16,000 with another 2,500 people missing. An earthquake and tsunami in the same region in 1896 killed 27,000.
Graphic of Honshu Tsunami energy flux and deep water wave heights – image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Scientific American 

2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami

Our family was also sitting on a beach in Cuba when the 2014 Boxing Day (26 December) tsunami destroyed many communities in the Indian Ocean. We wondered then what might have happened if the earthquake and wave had originated somewhere in the Caribbean. Around the Indian Ocean, over a quarter million people perished!
Map of Indian Ocean showing location of the major 9.1-9.3 (Richter Scale) magnitude earthquake on 26 December 2004, death toll and damage from the resulting tsunami (Reuters) 
The district of Banda Aceh in Aceh province, located on Indonesia's Sumatra Island, just days after the earthquake and massive tsunami of 2004; source Australian Geographic

Tsunamis in History: 1607 Bristol Channel, England Earthquake and Tsunami

These are, of course, very recent events and may have little to do with family history research. They do illustrate, however, what might have happened when such events occurred in the past.

A major flood was reported in southwest England in 1607 that is believed by many researchers to have been a tsunami. No technology, of course, existed at the time to record a seismic event, nor was any such event reported. In the absence of any evidence of tectonic activity it is difficult to rationalize the flood being a tsunami. Differing meteorological accounts support either interpretation. Flooded areas extended 250 miles along both sides of the Bristol Channel/Severn Estuary in place spreading inland almost 30 miles. Flood heights reached over 25 feet in some localities with water covering nearly 400 square miles (250,000 acres). Parish registers and other local accounts attest to the damage done by the flood. From a variety of sources and publications it has been suggested that the death toll was between 500 and 2,000.
Depiction of the 1607 flood from a pamphlet printed in London
1755 Lisbon, Portugal Earthquake and Tsunami

On 1 November 1755 Lisbon, Portugal was rocked by an earthquake probably in the magnitude of 8.5 to 9.0 on the Richter scale. Three distinct shocks were occurred over a 10 minute interval. The quake was felt as well 400 miles to the south in North Africa; Algiers was totally destroyed; Tangiers suffered significant damage. Many of Lisbon’s major buildings collapsed, killing thousands under the debris. Fire broke out in many areas gradually spreading until most of the city was engulfed in flame. Over 80% of Lisbon’s buildings were destroyed.

The earthquake was centred about 120 miles to the southwest of the city, along a major fault in the Earth’s crust. The movement between tectonic plates resulted in a major tsunami that rolled over the coastline, trapping thousands of people that had fled from collapsed and burning buildings. It has been estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people died from a combination of building destruction, fire and flood. The tsunami wave was recorded in many places along the European coastline.
A copper engraving made in 1755 shows the city in ruins and in flames. Tsunamis rush upon the shore, destroying the wharfs. The engraving is also noteworthy in showing highly disturbed water in the harbor, which sank many ships. Passengers in the left foreground show signs of panic. Original in: Museu da Cidade, Lisbon.
1960 Chile Earthquake and Tsunami

The 1960 earthquake in Chile was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, at 9.4–9.6 on the moment magnitude scale. It lasted approximately 10 minutes. A resulting tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia and the Aleutian Islands.

Waves as high as 82 feet battered the Chilean coast; waves up to 35 feet were recorded 6,200 miles from the epicenter. Estimates of the death toll range from 1,000 to 6,000. About 40 percent of the houses in Valdivia were destroyed and 20,000 people left homeless.
Using historical data, NOAA plotted the maximum amplitude for the tsunami waves generated by the 1960 Chile earthquake.  (Image:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Tsunami Research)
Downtown Hilo, Hawaii, was left devastated by the tsunami. Photo Credit: The Honolulu Advertiser
The main quake on 22 May was preceded and followed by other major events. There was also a volcanic eruption about 150 miles to the southeast two days later that is likely related to the earthquake event.

1964 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami

Readers may remember the earthquake that hit Alaska in 1964. The 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck near Anchorage causing significant damage and 139 deaths. It was the most powerful earthquake recorded in North America. Several tsunamis were produced, travelling across the Pacific. The largest wave was recorded in Shoup Bay, Alaska, with a height of about 220 feet.
Chaotic condition of the commercial section of the city of Kodiak following inundation by seismic sea waves. The small-boat harbor, which was in left background, contained an estimated 160 crab and salmon fishing boats when the waves struck. Tsunamis washed many vessels into the heart of Kodiak. Photo by U.S. Navy, March 30, 1964. 

Like the earthquakes they are related to, tsunamis have had devastating consequences on communities they have struck throughout history. Family researchers who had ancestors living in coastal areas, particularly in tectonically-active regions might think about whether such events impacted their families.