Sunday, November 27, 2016

What is AncestryDNA Helper

Those of you who have read this blog for a while and have done a DNA test at AncestryDNA are probably wondering what AncestryDNA Helper is and if you should be using it.

Maybe. It's not for the faint of heart.

If you are comfortable working with spreadsheets, do look into it. If you have more than one DNA test that you manage at Ancestry, it definitely holds potential for you. If you are willing and able to dig deep into the data and follow advice from the online group and from me, then go for it.

The AncestryDNA Helper is an extension for the Chrome browser. When I first installed it, it had fairly major problems, so I uninstalled it. It came up on a blog I follow earlier in 2016 and so I tried it again. It still has problems, but with nine DNA tests in my account, I decided to work with it since I have the technical ability to deal with the data.

The Helper will scan all your matches and all the ancestors that you can are able to view in their trees. It puts all that information into a database on your computer. The data holds a lot of power and potential, but getting to it and using it is where you may become frustrated.

Assuming you want to check it out, install the Chrome browser if you have not done so. Then add the AncestryDNA Helper extension from the Chrome Store.

Once installed, when you bring up the DNA test results, you will see new buttons. Your main page will add the following section near the top. Before you can do anything with the data, it has to be scanned into the database. Expect to spend about an hour for every 20 pages of matches.

There is documentation at Before you do anything, do go read that page and download and read the PDF that is linked near the bottom of that page.

If you decide to explore this tool, be sure to join the Yahoo Group where the discussion of issues and solutions takes place. It's a moderated list and many of my messages seem to get dropped, probably due to ending up in the moderator's spam folder. If it happens to you, don't feel alone.

Let me know if you join the journey and have questions. I'll do my best to help.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Getting Wild with Mary and Her FAN Club

When last searching for Mary, we considered that facts such as a birth date could be misstated or misinterpreted. But what about her name? By limiting a search to exact spellings, it is possible that the creative spellings used in various records can be missed. It's important to use every trick in your toolbox to find those hidden records.

One extremely useful tool is the wildcard search. Both Ancestry and Family Search allow wildcard searches and many other sites do also. Be sure to read the help pages for wildcard searching and also review them every once in a while, as the rules change over time.

There are two wildcards you can use and there is one big "gotcha".

First the "gotcha". Both sites require three letters in addition to one or more wildcards. If you are searching for a short name such as Lou Day, then wildcards are not going to be of any help at all. There are a few other rules that you'll want to know, so do read the help pages.

For an example of the two wildcards, let's look at Mary Maddox Neff and her sister-in-law, a member of Mary's FAN club. The wildcard that is used makes a huge difference in these searches.
  • Mar? Madd?x
  • Mar* Ta*m*g*


The Question Mark

I'm not a fan of the question mark (?). It represents exactly one letter. So the first search will find Mary Maddox or Marg. Maddux, but not Maria Madox. There are so many creative spellings for names that limiting the matching to one exact letter seems wasteful to me, though you may find it useful in some situations.


The Asterisk

The second search is far more powerful, as the asterisk (*) represents zero, one or several letters. Searching for Mary's sister-in-law is tricky, as the surname is spelled several different ways, as is her first name, which is Mary on her tombstone and Maria on the marriage record. The family name is spelled as:
  • Tammage on the tombstones
  • Tallmadge in the 1850 census
  • Talmadge in 1860
  • Talmage in 1870
  • Tammadge on the 1853 marriage record of Maria and David Maddox
You can see how all these variations would match to a search of Mar* Ta*m*g*.

Here are examples of the many varied results from Ancestry and Family Search. You'll notice that some results, such as the first one, match the wildcards, but don't match the name you want. That's expected and you'll have to just ignore them. It's a case of seeing too many results rather than too few.

Ancestry Results

Family Search Results

Be sure to try out wildcards for yourself to look for those elusive ancestors.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Did My Grandparents Cheer for the Chicago Cubs?

One of my co-workers asked how an Arizona native living in the American South had become a fan of the Chicago Cubs. Of course, it's all tied to family.

Thinking about my family's Chicago roots led me to the realization that sports affiliations are not a part of my family history knowledge. I failed to ask about sports when I interviewed an elderly cousin some 16 years ago. Now he's gone -- the last of a generation who knew my grandparents and great-grandparents through the eyes of a teenager.

It's hard to think of all the questions we should ask of our family, so this is just a little reminder to ask about sports if it's something you'd like to know.

Reminiscing about our Chicago history, I realized that the 1907 and 1908 World Series wins by the Cubs would have been a part of the fabric of the lives of my grandparents and their families. They lived in neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago, a few miles north of Wrigley Field. In their championship seasons, the Cubs played at the West Side Grounds, which was further south, but they were still the hometown team.

My grandmother, Ruth McFarlane, was a girl of nine in 1907. Her father had been badly hurt in a work accident on the Chicago street car system and the family struggled through financial difficulties. Her schoolmates and church friends would no doubt have been excited about the accomplishments of the home team and perhaps she and her younger sister were also. Did her parents have the luxury of enjoying the wins for a brief moment? By 1910, Ruth had dropped out of school and gone to work to contribute to the family income. I imagine that baseball was, for her, a background thought of no consequence.

My grandfather, Oliver Ekstrom, was four years old in 1907, and lived a life of financial comfort in the Andersonville Swedish-American community. He was the youngest of five living siblings and would have shared the excitement of his siblings and friends when the team brought home the championships. Were his immigrant parents also caught up in the excitement? Did they rejoice at the wins?

Nine years later the Cubs moved to what is now Wrigley Field. I'd like to think that Oliver was able to attend some of the games with his brothers or with his brother-in-law, a Chicago policeman. After Oliver and Ruth married, they went to Central America as missionaries, weakening the strong Chicago ties. With their early deaths, their children grew up in boarding schools in other places.

By the time the Cubs suffered the Curse of the Billy Goat and lost the World Series in 1945, Ruth and her parents were dead, as were Oliver, his father and two siblings. Only Ruth's sister and Oliver's mother and two siblings remained in Chicago, along with three of Oliver's nieces and nephews. That extended family still has members who live in the Chicago area; however, Oliver's children scattered, with three brothers eventually landing in Arizona.

Regardless of Oliver's connection to the Cubs, many of his descendants have embraced the Cubs and have enjoyed visits to the historic ballpark. I've been to Wrigley Field only once, though I've seen the Cubs play at other ballparks. I celebrate their 2016 World Series win as I reflect on the history of my family and our Chicago roots.

Quick drop page and elements from Digital Scrapper's Liberty (2009) and  Sports Mad (2012) kits