Five Tips

I often hear, “I just signed up for Ancestry to find my family!” and I always want to caution people without crushing their excitement. Ancestry is awesome, don’t get me wrong – but you need to be discerning.

I’ve put together some tips that will hopefully be helpful. I write these imagining that you have already uploaded a family tree (or plan to) and that you have a basic sketch of your grandparents and possibly great-grandparents.

Tip 1

Check sources. When you’re looking at a family tree entry on Ancestry, in the Facts view, there is a column in the middle for sources. If the only source you see is Ancestry Family Trees, you may want to move along. This does not mean the tree is incorrect, but you have no way to verify it.

If you see Ancestry sources such as the 1860 United States Federal Census, Alabama, Select Marriages, 1816-1957, or U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007—all with links to images on Ancestry, you’re in good shape. Alternately sources that link outside of Ancestry that are verifiable are also a good sign. I often cite historic books from Google Books in my tree.

Tip 2

Check sources. Wait, isn’t that tip number 1? It is, but this time I mean don’t just check that there are sources—go and look at those sources. Spend some time with the various census records the tree links to. Did the researcher get the data correct? Is it helpful to know who their neighbors were or what they did for a living? Open those census images and take a look, it’s worth it. I confirmed a great-great-great grandfather’s name because he was living nextdoor to the son I was researching.

Tip 3

Use the shoebox. So often when you’re researching someone you go down a rabbit hole of information. You’ll find records that you’re not sure you need, but you don’t want to close the window just yet. This is where the shoebox comes in handy. It’s a tool from Ancestry that functions as a digital shoebox in which to stuff notes, records, images, etc. It’s limbo for potentially useful content and data. Use it liberally and don’t worry—Ancestry never deletes it and you’ll never use too much space.

Tip 4

Don’t just stick to the global search box on the front page. Dig in deeper, browse records. Under the Search link in the top navigation, choose a sub-section of data and dive in. Check out the featured data collections in the right-hand side.

There will be information about each collection, search tips and sample images. Spend some time with those so that you’re prepared when you find a potential family record.

Ancestry also maintains a list of recently added and updated collections. Bookmark that page and check it out periodically. Better yet, make sure you’re subscribed to New Records Notifications in the Email Preferences section of your account profile.

Tip 5

Lastly, take a break from Ancestry and give some other sites a shot. As a part of the Mormon Church, FamilySearch offers (for free!) the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world.

Visit your local National Archives or your county’s records department. There’s nothing quite like seeing actual records and taking notes surrounded by other researchers. You’ll often find something that will surprise you.

Ancestry has been an amazing resource for those of us who used to spend hours at microfilm machines and leafing through books of indices. You can really build out a robust family tree on, as long as you don’t take everything you find at face value. Dig deeper and you’ll be happy you did.

Digital Organization

When I first started researching my genealogy, everything was on paper. I had notebooks, scraps of paper, and photocopies of records. I’m terrible at organizing paper records; I was always losing things.

My digital practices have evolved over time. At the beginning, I used software that lived on my Mac. It may have been some version of Family Tree Maker, I actually can’t recall. Once I signed up for my first Dropbox account, I started saving all of my notes there in various formats: Word, Pages, Plain text, Rich text and PDF. As you can imagine, this was a problem when it came time to search for things.

Now I have most of my data in TNG hosted on a Dreamhost account. It’s the best solution I’ve found for managing trees and exporting to gedcom. I still struggle with the idea of notes, however. In TNG, there is a notes field, but I don’t really like the UI and I also don’t know if it’s the most efficient in terms of searching.

I’ve tried to move all of my genealogy notes into Evernote and that just didn’t feel right, either. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Evernote and use it on a daily basis for work. I take all of my work notes in it, as well as copious web clippings. I love that it syncs across all of my devices. But for genealogy notes I want something that feels more like a notebook crossed with scratch paper.

As an avid Mac Power Users listener, I’m interested to see what David Sparks concludes in terms of using tags. I have a feeling that may be the direction I am heading in. Theoretically, then it won’t matter which file type I use—as long as I’m using the same tagging consistently—I should always be able to find what I need.

More DNA

Since I first tested my DNA using, they’ve updated their data and I’ve had both of my parents tested at 23andme. Lastly, I’ve also had my mtDNA tested at FamilyTreeDNA so that I could join the Armenian DNA Project. Additionally, I’ve spent a ton of time at and have asked Douglas McDonald, who performs BioGeographical Ancestry  testing on raw data from 23andme, to look at the data for both of my parents.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d done until I wrote it out all. It’s a lot and I still only understand small pieces of my results and how I may link with others.

Ethnically, I think I know what’s up, but there are a few surprises.

Doug McDonald said for my dad:

Most likely fit is 100% English (Western Europe)
which is 100% total Europe

The following are possible population sets and their fractions, most likely at the top:
English= 1.000
but with 0.3% African which is real, and other things seen on the chromosomes which are likely noise.

23andMe says for my dad:









None of this was a surprise, actually, but it was interesting to see that the 0.3% African wasn’t noise as I thought it could be, along with the Native American. Based on where his family has been geographically in the US and how long they’ve been here, I had always assumed one or both would show up.  Now how to find where or when that came into his DNA? That’s the hard part.

Doug McDonald says for my mom:

Most likely fit is 54.2% (+-  9.2%) Europe (various subcontinents)
and 45.8% (+-  9.2%) Mideast (various subcontinents)

The following are possible population sets and their fractions,

most likely at the top
Spain= 0.528   Georgian= 0.472 or
French= 0.509   Armenian= 0.491 or
Hungary= 0.502   Armenian= 0.498 or
Romania= 0.648   Armenian= 0.352 or
English= 0.449   Armenian= 0.551 or
Italian= 0.675    Iranian= 0.325 or
Spain= 0.621    Iranian= 0.379 or
Germany= 0.435   Armenian= 0.565 or
Irish= 0.414   Armenian= 0.586 or
Tuscan= 0.641     Adygei= 0.359

23andMe says:









So Doug is right-on with her being half-Armenian and half either German or English. I believe that 23andMe is seeing some of her Armenian DNA as Italian for some reason. I’m really 99% certain that she does not have any Italian ancestors.

On gedmatch, I’ve connected with a woman who shares a 5th great-grandfather with me.  In 1808 Thomas Roberson married Rebecca Clackler in Putnam County, Georgia.  Thomas was Scots-Irish originally from the  Abbeville District in South Carolina and Rebecca descended from John Clackler, who came from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Chevous Creek in Edgefield County, South Carolina. In Rotterdam he was called a “foreign Protestant”, so I’m not sure where he originally came from. My guess is England, Ireland or Scotland.

At any rate, Thomas and Rebecca had 10 children.  Their son Thomas Jefferson Roberson was my 4th great grandfather and another son, James Jackson Roberson was this woman’s 3rd great grandfather and… we swabbed our cheeks, had the data analyzed and met up on the internet because we had  matching spots on our chromosomes. How totally weird.

The cost of voting

Peter Manoogian's Poll TaxMy mother’s cousin recently found their grandfather’s record of poll tax. My Armenian great-grandfather had fled the draft of the Ottoman Army and sailed to America in 1910. He arrived in Boston on February 6.

The family story goes that he actually had no destination–just to get out of Ottoman-controlled Syria. He met a man on the boat who was going to Nashua, New Hampshire and knew of a shoe factory that was hiring.  Bedros Manoogian followed this man to New Hampshire and worked in what our family story tells as a damp basement factory. He saved his money and sent it to his wife and young daughter that he had left back in Aleppo.

By 1914, his wife and daughter had come to America and their first American-born son was almost a year old. Based on this document, his name was already being Anglicized to “Peter”.

He would have paid this tax to vote in the U.S. Senate and Congressional elections of 1914. New Hampshire reelected Jacob Gallinger that year. The $2 he paid in 1914 would be around $46 in 2012, per inflation. Bedros afforded this in 1914, but I wonder about several years later.  By 1924, Bedros and his wife had 4 children, that damp basement had made him sick (which led to TB) and unable to work. His 13 year old daughter had to quit school to help support the family. Could they have afforded a poll tax then? If not, does that mean  they did not deserve the right to vote?

Poll tax came about as part of the Jim Crow laws. They were created to disenfranchise. The 24th amendment to the Constitution got rid of the poll tax for federal elections and most states ratified it by the mid-sixties.

Ironically, and of course why the timing of this is so interesting, New Hampshire has enacted a voter id law this year. I believe that voter id laws are nothing more than poll tax in disguise, enacted for the very same reasons. One argument is that they help cut down on voter fraud. A recent study found that a person is more likely to be hit by lightening than commit voter fraud, so I don’t buy it.

The AAUW has a great blog postabout why voter id laws are bad.

Bedros, Armenouhie and Azadhui Manoogian

Meanwhile this post is about Bedros Manoogian, using some of his hard earned money to make sure he could cast his vote.  Unfortunately he died quite young (the TB mentioned above), so none of us know what importance this held for him.

This was a man who had named his first child Azadhui (“freedom”), as she was born right after the Young Turk revolution had given Armenians hope for equality. Of course  within 2 years those hopes were dashed and he fled. I can only imagine that he really valued the ability to vote for those who would lead his new country.





I’ve been interested in having my DNA tested for a while, but it’s been too expensive. has launched a new DNA testing service and as a subscriber, I was given a special deal… so I took it.

I received my results last night and at first I was surprised. I’ve read more into it and it started to make sense.

First, I have to say it’s pretty excellent to see the 27% Armenian blood. That can be detected from my saliva! It’s particularly amazing when you’re from a group of people who another group tried to wipe off the planet. They forced my people out of their homeland, but nearly 100 years later, I’m carring their DNA inside me! Crazy.

The large Central European percentage surprised me–I had imagined that I’d see more British Isles (rather than NONE).  So Central Europe includes places I know my family comes from: Germany and Switzerland.  Here’s the thing– this is also where the Celts originated. So I’m guessing a good amount of my percentage is Celtic and therefore British.

The 11% Southern European is a total surprise, but I do have people in my family I don’t know a lot about. It’ll be interesting to see how detailed that can get once Ancestry amasses more data. “Italy, Spain and Portugal” isn’t specific enough for me.

Finally, the 10% Scandinavian felt surprising at first, as well. I haven’t found anyone from Denmark, Norway or Sweden in my ancestry. Reading deeper I see this is where the Vikings started out and some ended up in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.  This would make sense for the Scots-Irish and Northern British people in my family tree.

Some people aren’t sure if they trust AncestryDNA, but my results seem like mostly they line up with my assumptions. The Genetic Genealogist  has a great post addressing Ancestry’s Ethnic Prediction, which makes sense to me.  I don’t think this is a perfect test and for me, it felt like a taste of DNA testing. I would like to test again, with another service, and be able to download the raw data of my results.

If my British/Scottish ancestors are represented well in these results it does make me hope the results get more detailed. For instance, are my British ancestors oringinally Anglo Saxons–originating in Germany? Or Normans originating in France? Or were they Celts? “Central Europe” covers all of these, so sure, they’re in there, but where?

None of this matters in a big way to me, except perhaps to pinpoint ancestors that I simply have not been able to uncover in other ways. It’s also just amazing to spit in a plastic tube, mail it away, have a lab analyze it and then tell you where your ancestors came from. Amazing and really weird.

How far is Ohio?

Couldn’t help, but name this post with words from a Damien Jurado song–I often think of it when I think of Ohio.

In a previous post, I mentioned that a genealogy of my family was done in the fifties and sixties and added to the Library of Congress. From that genealogy, I learned a lot about the family migrating to Ohio between 1828 and 1830 after years in Virginia.  One of my great-grandfathers, Jerome Drais, went to Fayette County, Ohio with his parents and married a girl from Ohio. Together they farmed in Washington Court House, Ohio where they lived in a log house until 1848 when a larger house was built.

That larger house is where my 3rd great grandfather, the Civil War vet, was born. He and his 5 brothers left from this house to serve in the Union Army during the war. While my great grandfather ended up in Gettysburg, PA, much of the family stayed in Washington Court House. I learned from this genealogy that his sister stayed on the farm and raised her family there and when this genealogy was researched, her grandson was still on the farm.

Since the farm stayed in the family from the 1830s until the 1960s, I wondered if perhaps it was still in the family. Thanks to the names from the genealogy and the Fayette County Assessor’s database, I’ve learned that the same grandson is living on the farm. Amazing.

So now what? I’m considering writing them a letter just to find out what’s up with the house that Jerome built and if any of the farm is still functioning as such. I think I’d regret it if I didn’t. It’s kind of amazing to find out your family is living in the same house after 180ish years. There is no other branch of my family where this is true