Prove it

Many of us use DNA for clues in our genealogy. A DNA match may connect us to a cousin or a location where sources exist with the answer to our kinship mystery. Yay! But what about those times when we don’t find a document with the direct evidence; maybe we find more pieces to the puzzle, and we want to use the DNA as part of the solution. If you ever want to say that you’re confident that A is the child of B because of one or more DNA matches, I’ve got a website recommendation for you!

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DIY

It’s been a busy summer!

I’ve been lucky to be able to participate in a couple virtual genealogy institutes, as well as some individual webinars. While I miss the face-to-face networking, there’s a lot to like in this virtual model: no travel costs, no lines for the restrooms…. ;D  This past month, I also discovered firsthand how challenging it can be to deliver a remote presentation, when you aren’t able to see your audience and tell whether they are nodding in comprehension, or nodding off!

So, I’d like to offer huge thanks here to everyone who works so hard to continue keeping the genealogy community engaged and supported lately!

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PPAS

Sometimes, you find inspiration in the least expected places.

In 2015-2016, I participated in a peer-guided study program for genealogists called ProGen. Most months, I knew what I was getting into and looked forward to gaining expertise and practice and feedback as I advanced my genealogy skills. But I did have lower expectations for the usefulness of one particularly short assignment, and it ended up surprising me with its enduring value.

We were prompted to create a personal mission statement for our genealogy ‘business’ – even if we were only planning to work on our own genealogy and not take clients. After much thought, I decided on this:

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Remote learning

I’ve gotten both my Covid vaccines, and I am so looking forward to gathering in person again this year. At the same time, though, I’m very grateful for all the opportunities we now have for remote learning. It’s certainly a perk to be able to attend presentations that aren’t local, and my education budget stretches a lot farther without travel expenses!

Here is a sampling of some upcoming genealogy events with DNA programming you may be interested in. (Many offer lots of awesome non-DNA tracks too.)

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sharing the level-up challenge

Yvette Hoitink, CG® has introduced a useful and fun ‘Level Up’ challenge for genealogists. See it here: https://dutchgenealogy.nl/levelup .

Both Yvette and I like the idea of having a snapshot of seven generations of our genealogy at a glance. Last year, I blogged about my process here: https://dnasleuth.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/7-gen-1-sheet/, which uses a Word template to track whatever elements I want to focus on at a particular time, with room for names too.

Yvette goes a step further. She uses Excel, with an automated (conditional formatting) feature to color-code specifically the research status on each ancestor for ahnentafel numbers 1 through 127 (that’s back to 4x-great-grandparents). She’s defined various levels to indicate how complete her research is and then assigned a level to each of those direct ancestors. Now she can see at a glance—and quickly share with others if she wants—which lines show the most progress and which ones need attention. She has made her spreadsheet available for anyone to download too—see her blog in the first link, above.

I was intrigued to join her challenge! I’ll summarize Yvette’s levels here, with added notes about how I am trying to make those levels work best for me. And for those readers who are particularly interested in genetic genealogy, note that level 0 and level 1 are good candidates to consider for your DNA projects.

Image 1 shows my genealogy status, with corresponding ahnentafel numbers.

Image 1.

Here is how I understand Yvette’s levels. (But do check her blog to read her explanations yourself!)

Level 0: when we don’t know even the name of that ancestor. In Yvette’s chart, those are the rare “fathers of illegitimate children”. In my chart, my 4x-great-grandparents were all born before 1800. I don’t know even the names of any of my Irish Catholic ancestors in that generation; they are all level 0.

Level 1: when we have a name, but almost nothing more. Maybe it’s a name of parent on someone’s death record. In my spreadsheet, I may mark a profile as a level 1 if it’s just a hypothesis. (Even if I have vital events for that person named, which is normally level 2; if I haven’t sufficiently proven he/she is the parent of my ancestor, I think I’ll leave that name set at Level 1.)

Level 2: the profile has a name and birth/marriage/death dates and places. Sometimes my information is not very precise – maybe census records suggest only that my ancestor was born between 1781 and 1790 somewhere in Virginia. I still log that as level 2. (What if you know some facts, e.g., a death date but not their age or birth date? This spreadsheet is for you to use however best meets your needs – you decide!)

Level 3: this level is a simple bio. In addition to the level 2 data, we know their occupations, the names of their children, where they lived over time, other marriages….

Level 4: Yvette defines this as a level where she has obtained more biographical details, e.g., from courts—deeds, probate, criminal records, etc.— as well as military and church records. When I reach this stage, my goal is to begin to assemble content for a family history narrative, including photos, maps, social history context, too.

Level 5: For Yvette, this means her research on the individual meets the Genealogical Proof Standard. These are detailed standards for documenting (i.e., identifying our sources), researching, and writing, “to measure the credibility of conclusions about ancestral identities, relationships, and life events. The standard addresses completed research, not research in progress.” — Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd edition (Washington, D.C.,  Ancestry.com, 2019), p. 1. These are best practices for everyone working on our family trees, not just professionals.

Level 5 is such an important milestone that I will quote Yvette directly: “These are ancestors for whom I’ve finished reasonably exhaustive research and have proven who their parents are. I feel like I have gotten to know them. I have finished researching them in a wide range of records, such as newspapers, town records, and tax records. I’ve documented them according to current genealogical standards, analyzed everything properly, resolved conflicts, written up my conclusion, and met the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).”

My goal for Level 5 is perhaps a bit less comprehensive than Yvette’s. I have a minimum goal that for every direct ancestor possible I make the following information available to others, for example in a public online tree or certain lineage society archives:

  • birth, marriage, and death dates and places, with citations provided so that others can see my sources and judge how reliable they are
  • proof of parent-child connection, with citations provided so that others can see my sources and judge how reliable my conclusion is

This evidence may be a proof statement: one or preferably at least two citations that directly answer the question. Or it may occasionally be a PDF containing a proof summary or argument, if I needed to resolve conflicts or draw conclusions from indirect evidence. I may not have checked agricultural censuses yet to see if they grew potatoes, or checked for dog licenses, or looked for military pension papers for the siblings. I’ll probably get around to that later. For me, Level 5 covers the data that people put in pedigree charts, and my goal is knowing that if I unexpectedly get abducted by aliens one day, at least that vital information and kinship proof for Level 5 people in my tree is correct and has been made available to others. The GPS applies to completed research, and I wouldn’t necessarily say my research on these ancestors is complete, so my definition of Level 5 is not quite the same as Yvette’s.

Level 6: Biography. Yvette and I both aspire to tell our families stories. When we have completed the preceding levels, we can write it all up (“complete with historical context,” Yvette notes and I agree). This is such a huge goal of mine that I am tempted to split it into Level 6 and Level 7. Level 6 is when I have a draft-in-progress of this narrative. I have a template I have created for these family stories, and to-date I currently have drafts underway for nine different ancestral couples. Each draft runs about 15-30 pages. Like Yvette, I don’t enter this level until I’ve completed my research and believe that I’ve met the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Level 7 (just me): I’ll mark an ancestor Level 7 when I have finished Level 6 and ‘published’ the narrative somewhere where it can be available to anyone. Perhaps I’ll attach this family story to a public online tree as a PDF. Or maybe I’ll self-publish it. I suspect Yvette is more efficient and organized than I am and doesn’t need a separate step for this. But she invites us to define our own levels to best suit our goals and research methods, and this is how I plan to explore how I track my progress.

Yvette’s inspiration really resonated with me, when she wrote, “I have been working on my tree for thirty years, and not all of the work on my ancestors is up to my current standards.” Me too! I think the conclusions I make these days when I identify ancestors and their stories are pretty reliable, but I know some of the names and data I put in my tree decades ago may not be right. Especially data I may have gotten from other people’s research without vetting their sources myself.

I added country of origin to my chart, just to show at a glance where my challenges might be. (Those lines almost all emigrated in generation 5.)  

What did I learn?

  • My Level 4 profiles could probably move to Level 5 with a just a little concentrated effort. I mostly have the data; I just haven’t created citations and put it online. This is a priority for me; now it’s easy to see who needs it.
  • My Level 2 profiles (where I have vital events but haven’t fleshed out the whole family unit) could probably easily move to Level 3; in some cases, it might even be low hanging fruit, the kind of quick research successes I sometimes crave.
  • And Level 0 and Level 1 ancestors  are good candidates for DNA projects and research plans.

I’m glad Yvette shared this exercise with us! I hope you enjoy it too!

© Feb 2021, Ann Raymont, CG®