Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tracking your 19th Century Ancestors using 21st Century Technology

MyMaps - GoogleMaps
Finding your ancestors is like finding a needle in a haystack - and decades ago, it was even harder.

Today we have geosynchronous satellites using GPS, 24x7 access to knowledge across the globe, databases with index's to help us find the elusive document, and Googlemaps.

In all genealogy or family history trips, I use googlemaps (among other features, tools) to help preplan the trips.   One important element is in locating hotels, families, cemeteries, historical societies, court houses, and more.  The benefit of googlemaps is that you are able to also create your own personal map, showing details that are important to your research and it also helps you to really connect the past with the present.

One powerful feature lets you overlay an image, like an old map and this can be useful for locating forgotten places or helping paint the landscape of what it looked like so many years ago.   In one case, I was able to use the overlay feature to help me to locate an old cemetery from the 1800's that was no longer on any present day maps. The local families remembered a cemetery but it seems it was moved 75+ years ago. Of course, this happens occasionally, but when and where are sometimes harder to determine if records are sparse.

Another unique feature of googlemaps is that it allows you to use terrain to help visualize what you can see today and what your ancestors might have seen. Using google's Sketchup, I was able to render a 3d image of my great grandparents home, based on homestead records and old pictures. I actually integrate the 3d home into googlemaps and was able to get a 360 degree view of what it looked like, including time of day and time of year.

These powerful features help us truly visualize the places our ancestors lived to make a life for themselves and for their future generations. Future posts will tell more details about how to use these tools. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Isolating a Common Surname

Wiley & Martha (Maloney) Johnson
Some families get all the luck - THEY have ancestors with unique surnames that sound and spell like they are supposed to, which means finding them is a census search can be a little bit easier.   With a common surname like Johnson, Smith, or others, doing searches for quality data nuggets is always a challenge.   But there are a few simple tricks to help isolate, identify, and confirm your genealogical ancestors, cousins, inlaws and outlaws.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family Heirlooms Everywhere

Ever wonder what happened to all your ancestors' family treasures?  Your great-great grandmothers picture, the family bible, the old wooden spinner or even all the original marriage, birth records?   Don't be surprised if they are still around.   It's happened to me.   Some distant relative usually has them tucked away, and someday plans to give them to a close family member who will admire them for their sentimental value as much as they did.    

Grandpa Hamar
I have been fortunate and lucky to have located many of my family heirlooms, through near and distant relatives.   How did I find them?    

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Lost Your Ancestors? Get an Old Map!

1872 - Illinois, Prophetstown Township
Maps are wonderful works of art and technology.  Imagine not having a map or GPS navigation system today. We would still be able to get around, but when we had to travel "long" distances, this would prove to be a challenge, if we had not been there before  (or were unable to stop and ask for directions, like most men have been stereotyped).

Having a map helped our ancestors get from the east coast to the west coast, but early on, before maps existed, people hired a guide".   These intrepid early explorers actually followed paths they had taken, but also along the footsteps of the native Americans, over terrain that had been used for hundreds of generations.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What Did My Ancestors Look Like?

For some people, we will never know how our ancestors looked - they just never stepped in front of a Camera Obscura or had a painting done.   For those who did, we can get a good idea of features, but it is tough to know exactly what their eye, hair color was.   

Pictures from the 19th century were black and white, so if you had dark eyes, they would appear dark, so brown and black eyes look the same.  If you had light eyes, like blue or hazel, they would appear very light in the photos.    For hair, the same is true: black, red, brown, looks like shades of black with blonde hair pretty easy to tell.

But, if you have NO pictures or paintings or would like to know exactly what your ancestors hair or eye color was, you might have another source.   If they served in a war, many details about their physical appearance were recorded.

For example, records from the American civil war contains physical details about the person enlisting, including eye, hair, skin color, height.   WWI draft cards showed weight, eye, hair color and build. 

These finer details are important as they are what make up you and me, if they are direct descendants - those genes are in you and that may be why you have the color of eyes or hair.   It also tells another dimension about our family.   

Here is an example:
Charles Foy c1891

My GG grandfather, Charles Foy, served in the Illinois 34th Union Army.   I have only a few pictures of him, but they are important for telling his story.  He lived from 1844-1918.

As you can see from the picture to the left, he had light colored hair and eyes.   I would guess he had brown or light black hair and possibly blue eyes, just from this black and white.

His registration record shows his hair color was light, his eyes were blue, height 5'10" and his complexion was "sandy".   He was single, 19 years old, and entered as a private in 1864.

Of course, getting these records is not as easy as one might think as not everything is listed on the internet, yet.

In the course of finding your roots, it is always great to have those connections with a picture or image.   Finding them, can be the challenge.   I will have another post about that in the near future.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Who's in YOUR Closet?

We've all heard the expression regarding "Family skeletons in our closet".   Sometimes there are stories that you just don't want to repeat, because they embarass you or other relatives.  Well, if something happened a long time ago, then why would this be something to be ashamed of?   You didn't do anything wrong.

We all have them - skeletons.  In fact, I have one that I will share, but before I do, I always consider the context and impact to the individual, that family, and of course any descendants.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Twitter, Facebook, and Sanders Family Genealogy

Yes, it's true.   You can now follow me on Facebook and Twitter.   I recently setup accounts to allow everyone to track my updates, making it even easier by a factor of 42.  

If you are familiar with social media accounts, then you know what to do - click and enjoy, please.  I welcome your dialogue as I move through the netverse with social media.  

If you are not familiar with Twitter or Facebook, then please read on. 

Note: To encourage people to follow me on twitter and Facebook, I will be running an awesome promotion where one lucky person will get their family tree researched for FREE!   This will go for 30 days and whoever is following me on Twitter and Facebook has the chance to win (details and condition to be posted soon).    Follow me now, before its too late!  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Genealogy, the Family Frontier...

Imagine a future, in a galaxy, far, far away.... and a voice sounding like William Shatner saying
Genealogy, the Family frontier.
These are the voyages of the Genealogists.
Their continuing mission;
To explore strange new locations,
To seek out new relatives and new ancestors,
To boldly go where no Genealogist has gone before!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cousin President Andrew "Andy" Johnson

Cousin President Andrew "Andy" Johnson
President Andrew Johnson
From a young age, I was told I was related to President Johnson and a famous actor - perhaps that's why I sometimes get the urge to Act like a Politician?   Growing up, I felt a sense of pride as I often wondered about this unique connection to history, after all, I thought, how many people can say they are related to a President of the United States?

My search for the connections to President Johnson started in earnest around 2001.   The challenge was the limited access to sources of reliable information. I kept pushing on.  “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth", as Sir Conan Doyle would state in the Holmes stories.  This line of thought applies to fictional thriller mystery cases in 19th century England as well as stories about your cousin President Andrew "Andy" Johnson.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Enhancement to Ecosystem - Update

WEBSITE:  After 5 years, a fresh new look and new features to the Sanders Family Genealogy website.  www.SandersFamilia.com/index.php   The plan was to have this finished by December (end), but completed way ahead of schedule. 

TWITTER:  Tweet, tweet - you can now follow me @thatGenealogist!    And to help encourage more followers, I'm offering a special promotion, starting 11/28/11.  This will be a free genealogical basic package to one lucky person, if you are one of the first 1000 people to follow me.  This promotion will be for 30 days or until I get 1000 followers on my twitter (@thatGenealogist).   Details will be posted on a separate blog, but don't wait!   Get started now!!!  Tell your friends too.

FACEBOOK: Social media is what it's all about and now, you can see the latest on Sanders Family Genealogy Facebook page.    Help spread the word.... while your here, head over to the facebook page and LIKE it... go on, it won't hurt.

The cousin you thought was missing

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

May your day be bright and your burden light.
Honor memories of the past and present.
Live in the moment as you won’t have another chance to experience it again.
Have a Wonderful Happy Thanksgiving


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ehancements to Ecosystem

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving,
The Sanders Family Genealogy space is getting a few changes over the next few months. This should only help enhance your experience.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Get to know your Family Stories

If I asked you to tell me a story about your family, what story would you extol and who would be the center of that story?   Your parents, grandparents, or someone else?

Henry and Clara Sanders Family
The challenge with family stories is like fables and myths, they merge into the fabric of the past generations.  Over time, the story becomes filtered and tend to ameliorate the plot line and unfortunately, many stories get "lost", so we end up telling fewer of them.   

A story doesn't have to be moralistic or have a valiant outcome.   Today, we are all more hurried in our actions, work, eat, family time, sleep, repeat.   Our ancestors didn't have the same technology we do, so their family time was spent telling stories. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Signing at Tampico Historical Society - Dec 5 2012

Tampico Area Historical Society and Ronald Reagan Birthplace will host author Peter Hannaford for a Book Signing of his new book: "Reagan Roots". The signing will take place on Monday, Dec.5 at 2 PM in the Historical Society Museum located at 119 S. Main St.: Tampico, IL. 

Tampico Area Historical Society - Tampico, Illinois
Author, Public Relations Expert, Former Aide to President Reagan, Peter Hannaford's career spanning over four decades, includes a long association with Ronald Reagan; representation in Washington of foreign heads of state and some of the nation's and world's largest companies; senior roles in presidential campaigns and Republican National Conventions; and authorship of numerous articles and seven books. Four of his books are about Ronald Reagan (1983 - The Reagans; A Political Portrait) (1994 Remembering Reagan) ( 1997 Recollections of Reagan) and (1998 The Quotable Ronald Reagan).  

Joan Johnson, Director of Ronald Reagan Birthplace and President of Tampico Historical Society cordially invites the public to come meet Mr. Hannaford on Dec. 5.  

For more information, call 815-622-8705 or e-mail - garyjoan@thewisp.net.

Written by Joan Johnson
Reprinted with permission

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Phrenetic Phonetic Phoenician Nose

Most people may already know the meaning of their names, but did you know that many were (mis)spelled differently several generations ago?   

Take for example the name SANDERS.
Sanders is a patronymic surname derived from the given name "Sander," a medieval form of "Alexander." Alexander comes from the Greek name "Alexandros," meaning "defender of men" from Greek alexein "to defend, help" and aner "man."  source: about.com
Alexander the Great was widely respected and known throughout ancient times.  His name was used for cities across the lands he conquered from India to Egypt and Greece, with many still in existence today - over 2000 years later.  

SANDERS ranks as the 87th most popular name in the USA; the most popular surname is SMITH, followed by JOHNSON, according to the census of 2000.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hit a Family Road Block? Take a Family History Trip

For those who have hit a road block in their research and exhausted their search on the internet as well as their immediate area, what do you do next?  

You take what I call a Family History Trip.

Details about your family are not going to come to you, although in the past decade, there have been incredible changes in this industry and information that previously would take months to get (if at all) is now at your fingertips.

The benefit of a Family History Trip are the new doors that will open as you uncover facts that you couldn't (or wouldn't) find online or easily through snail mail/email correspondence.   This type of trip is really not a last resort, but a critical step in the ongoing search for answers, especially when you reach a road block. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Family History with Veterans

Today we Honor the memory of those United States military men and women who gave of themselves to protect and preserve our Republic.   This is a duty that many do without question and some who give the ultimate sacrifice.   We can not forget what this country was founded on and how it has shaped us.   The rights we cherish today we owe to so many men and women of our past who defended our freedoms.

The words written on paper over 200 years ago still show the brilliance that were our founding fathers.
From the Declaration of Independence:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." 

From our US Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."
Many countries around the world look to us for leadership and inspiration.   We have a lot to be proud of and thankful for.  

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

How I got started in Family Genealogy

I am usually asked how I got started doing family genealogy and my quick answer is "I caught the genealogy bug".   This bug has been fairly virulent and hard to get rid of.  

As a child, I was a little bit different growing up (according to some sources, with questionable intent).  I had loving parents and grandparents and 2 younger brothers.  

How exactly I caught this "bug", can be traced back to about 1975, when I was 10-11 years old.    Fortunately, I was held back in kindergarten, because I couldn't color within the lines so in the fall of 1975, I was starting 5th grade.   At that time, we were living in North Dakota, which is VERY close to the north pole than most would think!

Like most 5th graders, my interests were diverse:  I liked riding motorcycles & snowmobiles, building forts, watching cartoons on Saturday, playing sports, astronomy, archeology, math and the general sciences.

My curiosity about my origins was also somewhat skewed, probably because my folks sometimes joked I was adopted, simply because I had blonde hair, and the rest of my family had dark hair.  Well I have no doubt I am my father and mothers son, but this might have had something to do with why I wanted to know more about "who I was". 

In the spring of 1976, we moved to Kentucky, where I finished 5th grade and started growing more interested in collections, like coins, stamps, and books.  We lived in Kentucky for more than a year and in the summer of 1977, we moved to Colorado.   

My "bug" was becoming more infectious, as I started interviewing my grandparents about my history.   I would write down questions, about each ancestor, and then do a regular interview with a living family member, while recording the interview.  Even today, the digital recorder is by far an invaluable tool to collecting stories about my past, and it helps when you are on the move, to have it on, because memories can often be triggered by something indirectly that you might miss.

By 1977, before personal computers, I had amassed a good deal of information on my families past, and was considering how to best put this into a format that would help people see it.  That same year, Roots came out: a TV mini-series about Alex Haley's family history and I was enthralled with the story and how he was able to trace his family back so far.   I had only traced my line back to the mid 1800's and the details about those grandparents were very sketchy at best.  

In the fall of 1977, I started 7th grade in Colorado and likely because of the Roots TV mini-series, one of my teachers had all of us do a family tree.   I couldn't wait to get started and worked on it for several days.  My "family tree" was hand written on butcher block paper showing all the connections, that ended up being 16 feet long, by 3 feet wide (and wider still with an extension in the middle).  I had over 300 names, going back 5 generations, with over 33 hand written double sided 8x11" biographies of each person.  I still have this family tree coiled up in my archives.  Needless to say, I was fully infected by the "bug" at this point.

Today, I still have that same passion to pursue my family roots.  It is very rewarding and certainly helps me understand more about who I am.  I also find a lot of my family through the wonders of technology, when they happen onto my website, at SandersFamilia.com.   In fact, I have made connections with 5th and 6th cousins through facebook even!

If you are interested in finding your own roots, you just need to be a little curious.   Ask questions about your family from those people in your family, such as your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  It is also important to record the stories about who your ancestors were, not just the dates, as they can help guide you.  Personally, I have many family stories that are part fact and part fiction, so it is up to you to determine the truth, but finding it is half the fun!

You may be the family genealogist in your family, and just don't know it yet.  If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact me for advice through my website.  

Until the next post. 

Your likely cousin, a few times removed.

What part am I??

I was thinking about the Math part from my previous blog, Math & Genealogy - it does a family good, and hoping I didn't put anyone off, even though it is amazing.  Still, I am going to risk it one more time...  with some more math - fractions.    YEAAAHHHH!

Considering many people always want to know "where they came from", I hope I can help you answer this question.  This fundamentally means we want to be able to trace back our roots to some geographic location and/or ethnologically unique place in time, and literally, you can do this in a few simple ways.

First, you can start filling in the blanks of your family tree, by digging into history of your past, with as much as you know, and/or talking with your relatives.

Second, you can have a Genealogist (like me), do a family tree for you (if interested, contact me).

Lastly, you can get a DNA test, and see where your genes really started, going back thousands of years.   I can tell that a DNA test is going to really tell you details that your great Aunt Ninnie can not!  

So, once you have the family tree, we just need to know the country your ancestors were born in and what generation they came from.   To keep this simple, I am going to demonstrate how this works for only 3 generations, to my great-grandparents.   Mine is actually very easy, at least to identify, since in the last 3 generations, I have only 1 great-grandparent who was born in another country, Germany.   To figure out what fraction of German I am, I simply use the 2^n formula for the generation.   When I do this, I get 1/2^3 or 1/8 German.   That's it...  I am 7/8's American and 1/8 German - WOW!   That explains why I can only speak German 1/8 as good as English ;(

Its easier to see the math in action, if you look at the table below.  GGMa is German.







G Parents

G Pa
G Ma
G Pa
G Ma
G G Parents


One condition I would apply is that in order to consider your "origin" and therefore, your paternal birth countries, you should at a minimum, expect the family to be living in that country for no less than 3 generations.   Therefore, for me, my great-grandmother, and her parents, and her grandparents, would need to also have been born in Germany.  To do this helps eliminate cases where grandparents were born in county A, then their children were born in country B, and their grandkids were born in yet another country C.   It makes the fractions a bit impossible, not to mention really confusing the grandkids when you get a number greater than 100%.   For example, if you do this and you get a number like 150% Swedish and 25% French, you know something didn't go right...in the number calculations!

Lets take a look at a hypothetical example, to see how easy it is.   Lets say my paternal GGPa was born in Brazil and GGMa born in Peru (and have 3 generations past).  In addition, lets say my maternal GMa was born in Germany, and my paternal GPa was born in the UK, we would have the following table.  







G Parents

G Pa
G Ma
G Pa
G Ma
G G Parents


This means I would be 1/8 Peruvian, 1/8 Brazilian, 1/4 UK,  and 1/4 German.    Notice I didn't include the maternal GGPa/Ma?    You want to count the "latest generation", in this case my maternal Gpa/Ma.

As you start looking at trees going back further, you may see that each generation gets smaller and smaller since we keep using the formula, 1/2^n.   In fact, the 4th and 5th generations are just 1/16 and 1/32, respectively.   Either way, we are still a fraction of those ancestors from hundreds and thousands of years ago and it is important to remember them and realize we wouldn't be here without them. 

As always, your cousin.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Did you say 4.3 billion people - are you sure?!?

One of my favorite movies is "Back to the Future" and one of my favorite scenes was when Doc Brown realizes the enormous power required to make the Time Machine work.   He starts getting really excited and repeating the amount of energy, or 1.21 gigawatts, while Marty asks what a gigawatt is.   

gig·a·watt/ˈgigəˌwät/ - A unit of electric power equal to one billion (109) watts.


Just like Doc Brown, I was really a bit concerned when I determined in my last post that I have nearly 4.3 billion ancestors, starting from 100 AD..  That just sounds a bit large, so I started looking closer at the numbers and the assumptions.  I kept getting the same number, and even better, the Population Reference Bureau, determined that around 100AD, the earths population was about 300 million.    Further still, the total number of people who have ever lived since the beginning of time, is only estimated to be about 108 billion!

So how is this so far off?    

Well, if we start with the assumed total of 300 million around 100 AD, that means we get about 28 generations.   But even that seems a bit small, since that means each generation is about 70 years, and that is a huge stretch and for now, I am going to look into this further, as something is off.

In showing this analysis, I hope the point hasn't been lost in the math.   While researching your family line, it is important to make assumptions about the story being told, but to be clear and document it in detail, for you to later review and or others to follow.   It is a good practice, to always annotate your sources, state your assumptions and keep clear notes for reference.   This helps others in the future, as well, and they can either confirm or refute what you published.   .
I hope my example was helpful and beneficial.  Stay tuned for more about the mystery of the "overpopulated" world in 100 AD.

Your cousin, Brian

Friday, November 04, 2011

Math & Genealogy - it does a family good!

If you were born on this planet, in the last 80,000 +/- a few years, you may not know it, but we are all pretty much the same.   In fact, we are 99.5% genetically the same..  And rather than bore you about the birds and bees, and genetics, let's talk about something really neat - math!   A subject we can all "relate" to in terms of genealogy and families.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The LIFE of EDGAR and JENNIE Foy - by Margie Wood

I am pleased to announce that after many years of preparation, The LIFE of EDGAR and JENNIE FOY is available in paperback, through LULU.com.

This is a biography about my great-grandparents, Edgar and Jennie Foy, told from the view of my grandmother, Margie Wood. They were Irish and German immigrants, who settled in the Midwest during the 1800's. It's compelling and rich in detail about the trials and tribulations, the successes and most importantly, the family.