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What I did on my Christmas Vacation. (It was working on my Research Trip Prep)

First of all, Happy New Year to all of you. My hope is that you all stay safe and healthy in 2022 (and that perhaps that long sought after ancestor will drop into your lap!)

For the first time since 2019, the family was able to visit this Christmas. We drove from Florida to Connecticut, stopping in Falls Church, Virginia to see our youngest daughter the weekend before Christmas. It was the in-law year, so they weren’t joining us this year in Connecticut. We arrived in Stamford on Monday, staying with my sister-in-law and the kids arrived beginning on Wednesday, staying with their cousins (all within about a mile). We all tested, and stayed in our “pod.” Our traditional 23rd of December pizza outing turned into delivery but was preceded by an outdoor Christmas Lights walk.

So back to the Genealogy Research Plan. In my last blog on December 13th, I ended with the need to do more collateral research. I use the online Trees primarily for hints as I keep my master database on my computer. My first step was to add the various Johnston connections I had found to my online trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage…and the hints started coming. I did create a comment on William Johnston, that this was preliminary research and the connection was not confirmed. Here are the Ancestry hints that appeared.

I did the same at MyHeritage and within 24 hours, I had an email with a new “Discovery.” The message in the email was, “Good news, we've found a new Person Discovery for you. It can add an entire branch to your family tree with 40 people, in just a few clicks!” That scares me…there is no way I’m going to click to add 40 people to my tree without knowing who they are and whether they are real, however, I am going to view the Discovery to see what’s there. The person named in the Discovery was in my tree as the husband of one of the Johnstons. In his tree, he identifies himself as the “ex-husband” of my Johnston. It is the correct individual as the children’s names and the locations match. It is clear from his tree, that he is not focused on his ex-wife, but on a Scandinavian line (which I don’t want to add to my tree, by the way). I immediately composed a message explaining my interest and connection to the family and asked if he could put me in touch with his ex-wife or one of her siblings. I’m now waiting for a response. I’ve got to cut some slack here since it is the holidays.

One of the things I realized as I was going through this, was that I hadn’t developed a good way to track my DNA/Tree contacts. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been embarrassed on occasion to have contacted the same person twice. So I created another spreadsheet to keep in my contacts file. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets as they allow me to sort the information in various ways depending on what I’m doing. I may eventually add additional fields, but right now it includes columns for Family, Contact, Date Message Sent, Response Date (notice a lot are blank). That works when I’m making the contact, but I also added fields for those who contacted me and my response date as well as the Platform through which the initial contact was made. I always try to move the conversation off the website’s messaging system so in my message I include my email address and ask for the person to contact me directly. If they do, I now have their email address for future correspondence. I will frequently then send them a chart of how we are related. Diahan Southard suggests setting up a separate email address for DNA contacts which I think that’s a good idea, but haven’t done it yet. I have email folders for each Family, so I file any responses there. I’ve also added a field for cM if they are a DNA match and any notes or comments. In the future as I continue to update the spreadsheet, I can sort on the Johnston Family and get all of my contacts on that or any other line.

DNA/Family Contacts

Here’s the takeaway from this exercise.

  • Family Trees online may or may not be correct [caveat emptor]. You need to verify the information, but they do provide amazing hints. With DNA hints, the person might have tested to find out their ethnicity with no interest in their family history. However if someone has spent a great deal of time constructing a family tree (right or wrong), they are more likely to respond.

  • You never know where the information you seek might come from. I frequently joke in lectures, that “the cousins got the good stuff!” Maybe they have the family Bible, or stories might have passed down in their line that you never heard. So find the cousins!

  • One of the “cousins” might have remained in the original location, even in the family home. What I’ve discovered with my Johnston family is that one brother went to Canada, and two remained in Ireland, one in the family home at least through the 1930s and died in England. My to do from that is to follow the property from Griffith’s through the Revision Books at the Valuation Office in Dublin to find out when the property was either sold or moved to another family member. The other lived in the neighboring County of Fermanagh. [My Johnston family was Protestant and some of those living in Leitrim after the partition wanted to remain as part of Great Britain and therefore moved just a few miles into Fermanagh.) Finding descendants of these families can move your research forward and if you’re lucky, you’ll find new cousins to visit in Ireland.

One other thing I did during my vacation…As I mentioned above, I keep a to do list (in a spreadsheet, where else?) that contains a master list of everything I need to do. Each time I add something specific to my Research Plan I add it to my to do list and note the location for that research. It could be the National Library, the Valuation Office, the GRO or even online. I can then sort the list by Repository. One of the places I needed to do research in vital records was in Greenwich, Connecticut, so while I was in Connecticut, I spent about four hours at the Greenwich Town Hall. In Connecticut, as well as other New England states, vital records are kept at the town level (not the County). Another unique thing about Connecticut is a law that if you are a member of a Genealogical Society registered with the State, you can access all vital records, without restrictions. After checking to make sure they were open and didn’t have COVID restrictions, I arrived at the Greenwich Town Clerk’s Office with my Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council membership card and was given access to the vault. In those four hours, I was able to find over 60 births, marriages and deaths where I had blanks in my database (and take photos of them).

To Do List (names are blocked out since many are living)

When I was creating my personal website last year I had run into a problem where I didn’t have birth dates for younger family members. This caused an issue where they would appear rather than being listed as “private or living.” I needed to fix that! Obtaining their birth dates, resolved the problem. Although this was not specifically focused on my Johnston family I was able to find a death date for my great grandmother’s brother (born in Ireland, but I had no death date for him). His death certificate read “Found Dead in Chair at 47 Church Street. Heat Prostration; Acute Cardiac Dilatation.” I know this was the correct individual since 47 Church Street was the home of my great grandmother, his sister. The informant was his niece. Just as a reminder, be flexible with dates for your Irish family members. The age on his death certificate was given as nine years younger than he actually was (I have his birth registration.)

If you are interested in using any of these spreadsheets, there are templates under the Links and Resources tab>Getting Started.

Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

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