Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book: "Swabbed and Found" Fuels my Damn Nasty Addiction (DNA)

If you need inspiration or encouragement on your DNA journey, you should read Swabbed and Found by Houston TV Weatherman, Frank Billingsley. I read the book in anticipation of his upcoming visit to the Bay Area Genealogical Society.  The book and the presentation will provide us with many insights on the true meaning of family.

We set up a special meeting on Saturday, January 27 to accommodate Frank's broadcast schedule. He is busy at our normal Friday night meeting time performing his duties as Houston’s KPRC 2 Chief Meteorologist.  He will make a presentation, have books available and will autograph them at our special meeting on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 2 pm at University Baptist Church, 16106 Middlebrook Drive, Houston, TX 77059 (Clear Lake City).  Check out the BAGS website or you can contact me for more details.

Frank always wondered if he got his personality, his bright blue eyes, or his love of people from his mother or his father. But he was adopted, so he never knew. Swabbed and Found is a fascinating story of how he combined cutting-edge DNA tests and genealogical programs in combination with his investigative skills to put the pieces of his Ancestor Puzzle together. You do not have to be adopted to appreciate this story of a lost and found identity.

As a teaser to get you to attend the presentation on January 27 and to encourage you to buy a copy of the book, here are some the passages that I found enlightening or amusing:

Page 24- A deck of playing cards is used to give a DNA lesson.

Page 55- "...you have to be a Hensley." This was intriguing as my wife has a Hensley ancestor.

Page 82- "Dogs are all adopted, and they don't wonder about their biological parents. Maybe I should take the hint."

Page 91  NPE is defined as a Non-paternal event. Later on in the book NPE is defined as "Hoosier Daddy."

Page 107 Frank wrote to the State of Arkansas to obtain a Non-Identifying Information Letter about his adoption.  I was amazed at both the useful facts and the confusing fictions contained in the letter.

Page 151 Frank asks himself this existential question: "How many parents can one man handle?"

Page 180 The acronym DNA actually stands for a "Damn Nasty Addiction."  🌝

I hope to see you on January 27 and please read the book either way.

Frank Billingley, KPRC 2 Chief Meteorologist

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sicilian DNA Match- Nicholas Roccaforte

My DNA Match with Nicholas Roccaforte encourages me to "Invite Nicholas Roccaforte to Add a Family Tree."

My evening recreation lately has been browsing my AncestryDNA matches on my iPad while we watch TV.  I came across the name Nicholas Roccaforte as a DNA match and was immediately intrigued. There was no family tree attached to his profile so  I sent him an Ancestry in-house email as follows:
Hello Nicholas Roccaforte,
We are DNA cousins. I have several Roccaforte ancestors. I would like to help you build a family tree so we can figure out how we are related. 
I am a professional genealogist but I am offering my services to you for free because we are related. 
If you want to check out my credentials read one of my recent blog posts about another DNA cousin with an Omaha connection:
I hope you will allow me to build your family tree so we can both figure out how we are connected. 
I quickly got a reply by email:
Nick-Where did your family come from? My father was born in Lentini, Sicily in 1889 and came to this country by himself' (we never knew why) at the age of 22. Nick Roccaforte
Then I replied back:
My great grandfather, Anthony Cimino came from Carlentini and his wife, Maria Ossino came from Lentini. They went to Omaha where their family was living.
What was the name of your father and mother?  I can look them up in the 1940 census and passenger lists. 
Mr. Roccaforte replied:
Nick-My father's name was Concetto Roccaforte and my mother was Eleanor DeFinis. Thanks, Nick
I was able to find a 1953 passenger list which appeared to show Concetto Roccaforte traveling back to Sicily. In 1953, he resided at 37 Bayview Ave, Norwalk Connecticut.  The 1953 passenger list appeared to show that he was either traveling to Lentini or he was born in Lentini.  He was on the Andrea Doria in Tourist Class in December 1953.

1953 Passenger List for Concetto Roccaforte on Line 13 for the S.S. Andrea Doria.
Response from Nick Roccaforte: That is my father and we lived at that address when I was in Jr. high school. He went to Italy to sell the family orange orchard left to him and his brother when their father died. All this info is part of my life. I turned 80 this past Sept. so I too go back a ways. My mother and father are both on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. Thanks, Nick Roccaforte
Further research led to the original passenger list which shows when he first arrived to the immigration station at Ellis Island. In 1912, Concetto Roccaforte traveled from Sicily to New York on the S.S. Principe di Piemonte.  The ship sailed from Palermo on the 6 July 1912 and arrived in New York on 20 July 1912. The ship had originally sailed from Genoa on 4 July 1912 and had hundreds of passengers already on board when it arrived in Palermo. In addition to Italians, there were lots of Greeks and Turks on the ship.

It took considerable effort to locate this particular passenger list as it is not indexed on Ancestry.com. The name of the ship and the date of arrival was identified on the Petition for Naturalization.  I had to browse the year 1912 for the passenger lists, then the month of July and then arrivals on the 20th and finally found the passenger lists for the S.S. Principe di Piemonte.  There were 171 images from this passenger list and Concetto Roccaforte was found on image 130.

The blue arrow shows where you can browse passenger lists on Ancestry.com
The passenger list shows Concetto Roccaforte on line 25 of the Ancestry.com image number 130 of 171 for the S.S. Principe di Piemonte. There also appears to be a grease pencil number 204 in the upper left of this image. Concetto Roccaforte is listed as age 22, single, male, last residence: Lentini. The name and complete address of nearest relative in Sicily is: a brother in Lentini but the name is hard to read.  It looks like it begins with an L.  The middle name of Nicholas Roccaforte is Lorenzo and that looks like one possibility for the name of the brother. Concetto Roccaforte was bound for New York, NY.

1912 Passenger List showing immigration of Concetto Roccaforte on Line 25.

Concetto paid his own passage to New York.  He was planning to join a cousin named Alfio Valenti at 326 E. 26th Street in New York. His personal description for height was 5' 2" fair complexion brown hair and brown eyes. His birthplace was Lentini.

This view of my family tree starts with my paternal grandfather and
it shows where the Roccaforte surname appears with a blue arrow.
More work needs to be done but it seems likely that my Rosa Roccaforte on the family tree above was possibly a sibling of the father of Concetto Roccaforte.  A visit to a Family History Center will give me access to all of the civil registration records for Lentini.  Stay tuned for an update on this case.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Watch Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings

If you like Finding Your Roots on PBS, you will absolutely love Finding Your Roots: the Seedlings.  I have been following the PBS genealogy series very closely this year.  Finding Your Roots airs on Tuesday nights at 8 PM Eastern Time and 7 PM Central Time.  The series schedule for the next three weeks features "Encore" episodes from previous seasons.  If you would rather not watch reruns for the next three weeks or if you are just curious about what Henry Louis Gates means by "Seedlings," you can watch three short videos online about Finding Your Roots: the Seedlings by clicking on the numerous hyperlinks to the Seedlings website in this paragraph.

It takes about 30 minutes to watch all three videos.  If you share my enthusiasm for the Seedlings program, please let me know by commenting on this blog or by sharing this post via social media.  I plan to share this information about the Seedlings with anyone who will listen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Genealogists Beware of "Fake News"

Fake news is making headlines recently but journalistic inaccuracies are nothing new.  Genealogists searching for newspaper stories about elusive ancestors in the 19th and 20th century will need to be careful and search for additional evidence before jumping to an erroneous conclusion.

Here is one small case study involving the Glynn Family of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. James Glynn was born in January 1834 in Ireland. He immigrated to the U.S. about 1848. He married Bridget Dunn probably in New York in 1856. They had 15 children in 21 years in New York and Pennsylvania. James Glynn and his family are found in census records in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1880 and 1900. He died before 1910 given the fact that his wife was a widow in the 1910 census of Old Forge.

Death certificates became required in Pennsylvania in 1906.  Nothing was found in the Death Certificate database for James Glynn.  He is also not found in any of the early death records of Lackawanna County.  The next step was to look for an obituary in one of the nearby Scranton newspapers.  Chronicling America has digitized images of the Scranton Tribune from 1891-1910 but no obituary was found for James Glynn.

Newspapers.com has several other Scranton newspapers in their collection including the Scranton Tribune (1894-1902), the Scranton Republican (1889-1936), the Scranton Truth (1904-1915) and a German language newspaper called the Scranton Wochenblatt (1869-1918).

Two articles were found describing funerals for John Glynn and James Glynn of Old Forge, Pennsylvania in April 1904:

When you look carefully at these two articles, you will see that all of the details are the same except for the names John and James.  I believe that the first article was a misprint and that it should have stated James Glynn instead of John Glynn.  Fortunately, there were two articles that allowed for comparison and analysis of the facts.

In addition two articles were found regarding a guardianship for James Glynn.  It appears that he may have become incapacitated and his wife, Bridget requested that her son, Joseph Glynn, be appointed guardian for his father.

Unfortunately, Family Search only shows the following available regarding Lackawanna County probate matters:

  • Lackawanna County (Pennsylvania) probate files, 1878-1885

These additional facts concerning the guardianship of James Glynn help to accumulate a preponderance of genealogical evidence indicating that the death of James Glynn of Old Forge, Pennsylvania occurred on 18 April 1904.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thurgood's Grandpa was a Buffalo Soldier in TX

Famous people fascinate us. Does their family history help to explain how they were able to achieve great things? The lives of the rich and famous continue to capture our attention and our imagination. The history of the ancestors of Thurgood Marshall is woven into the fabric of our nation's history.

An episode in the legal career of Thurgood Marshall is featured in the movie, "Marshall" that is currently playing in theaters across the country. Last week we explored some of the facts and the fictions portrayed in that movie.  This week we take a peak at the back story which helped to form a crusading civil rights attorney and Supreme Court justice.

The definitive biography of Thurgood Marshall is entitled Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams published in 1998. In Chapter 2 of the biography, entitled "A Fighting Family," Williams states:
"Any attempt to know Thurgood Marshall had to start with his family and his hometown. His defiance of segregation, his willingness to stand up to powerful whites and his insistence that he was the equal of any man were rooted in his Baltimore family."
One of the illustrations in the biography is this family tree for Thurgood Marshall:

Juan Williams is not the only one interested in the genealogy of Justice Marshall. I created a profile for Thurgood Marshall so I could search for records about his genealogy.

My Ancestry profile for Thurgood Marshall had 23 hints for records about him.

Ten Ancestry Member Trees contained records for Thurgood Marshall.
The Love family tree by Ancestry user jelf45 had 15 sources and 5 photos attached.
The Ancestry Profile of user jelf45 reveals quite a few details about the person and her family history experience.

The Thurgood Marshall family tree prepared by Ancestry user jelf45 is missing some of the details
from the biography by Williams but is quite extensive with many records and images attached.

I like the fact that this Ancestry user has noted the source of this photo from Google images.

The 1940 census shows Thurgood Marshall residing with his wife Viven
in an apartment building at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in New York
Thurgood Marshall began working for the NAACP in 1936 but curiously the 1940 census lists his occupation as "lawyer-Social Services Dept."

Thurgood Marshall was the son of William C. Marshall and Norma A. Williams.  The 1918 Draft Card for William C. Marshall shows that he was working as a waiter on the railroad and living in Baltimore with his wife Norma at 1632 Division Street. Not shown on this card is the fact that William and Norma had two boys named Aubrey and Thurgood.

William Marshall, the waiter, followed in the footsteps of his father who is shown here in this list of Stockholders of the Lexington Savings Bank published in The Afro-American newspaper published 13 Jun 1896 in Baltimore.

Thorney Good Marshall is the paternal grandfather and name sake of Thurgood Marshall.  Justice Marshall's birth name was originally Thoroughgood Marshall and he shortened it to Thurgood.  Thorney Marshall was also known as Thornton Marshall as shown in this record from the Baltimore City Directory.

Name: Thornton G Marshall
Residence Year: 1898
Street address: 433 Short
Residence Place: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Occupation: Waiter
Publication Title: Baltimore, Maryland, City Directory, 1898
Notice how the persons of African ancestry are denoted with an asterisk in the City Directory above.

Thorny G. Marshall was enlisted in the U.S. Army on December 5, 1870 in Baltimore, Maryland by Captain Randlett. His birthplace was Accomack County, Virginia. He was 21 years and 3 months old. His occupation was waiter. He had brown eyes, black hair and a yellow complexion.  He was five feet and nine inches tall. He enlisted in the 24th Infantry, Company H.  He was discharged on November 30, 1874 for disability at Fort Brown, Texas near Brownsville.  SOURCE: Source Information
Ancestry.com. U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The website for the Buffalo Soldiers Museum here in Houston states that the 24th Infantry was organized in 1869 after the consolidation of two other Black units, the 38th and 41st Infantry Regiments. For more than twenty years, the regiment occupied military posts in the southwest, protecting and maintaining peace on the turbulent frontier. In addition to battle engagements, the members of the regiment built roads, guarded stage stations, constructed and repaired telegraph lines, guarded waterholes, and escorted supply trains, survey parties, freight wagons and mail coaches, as well as performing scouting patrols.

The biography by Williams describes Thorney Marshall's military experience in detail [Page 20].  Fort Brown had a reputation as the "the most unhealthful and unpleasant U.S. Army outpost in the nation." Thorney's job was to ride shotgun for the paymaster as he traveled to various Army encampments on the Rio Grande every other month.  Thorney Marshall received praise from his superiors for his performance but he began to experience a series of illnesses culminating in "Chronic Hepatitis" which led to his medical discharge. After a period of recovery in Baltimore, he went back to work as a waiter and married his neighbor Annie Robinson in 1879.

One small part of the Thurgood Marshall story is that a Supreme Court justice was descended from a Buffalo Soldier that served in Texas. There are enough stories from the life and ancestors of Thurgood Marshall to make a thousand movies. If you have not seen the "Marshall" movie, please go see it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Marshall: A Life Defined by the Rule of Law

M_09752 Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in MARSHALL.Photo credit: Barry Wetcher / Distributor: Open Road Films
Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in a scene from Marshall SOURCE: Time.com crediting Barry Wetcher / Open Road Films
I hope that you enjoy the "Marshall" movie as much as I did.  I am always intrigued by the challenge facing Hollywood when they try to portray historic figures like Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights crusader and Supreme Court Justice.  This biographical movie only features one case in an epic legal career. The movie does take a few liberties with the historical record but on the whole, I found the movie to be both highly entertaining and revealing of a "legal super hero."

One of the most admirable things about Thurgood Marshall was his absolute faith in the Constitution and our legal system.  He believed that the law not protest was the best route to change hearts and lead to equality.  One of the scenes in the movie shows Thurgood Marshall drinking from a "Whites Only" water fountain in a train station.  This is not something that Marshall would have done.  He was not a protester or a law breaker.  He believed in following and enforcing the constitution to eliminate unjust laws at the local, state and federal levels.  Marshall knew without a doubt that enforcing the constitution with a stellar legal defense was the best tool to achieve the aims of the NAACP.

Marshall carefully selected cases and plaintiffs like the one featured in this movie to bolster the NAACP Legal Defense fund.  He started his career at the NAACP as a one man band.  At the time he left his post at the NAACP he had recruited a small army of lawyers to carry the banner of freedom and justice for all.

The movie also gives a peek into Marshall's character as a man and a husband. He lived in Harlem during the 1930's Renaissance period and socialized with leaders in the arts such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston and his college buddy, Cab Calloway.

Time magazine has an article online about the Marshall movie that gives some historical context about the particular case that is featured:    http://time.com/4972645/marshall-movie-true-story/ If you want the Cliff notes version of this article you might like this quote from the Time.com:
"At this point in his career, Marshall was better known to the public for his defense of criminals than for his attacks on Jim Crow," Juan Williams writes in his biography of Marshall. "He stood as a living, breathing shield for black people against the lynch mob as well as the judge's death sentence."
Juan Williams is interviewed extensively in an online documentary of the life of Thurgood Marshall: https://www.biography.com/video/thurgood-marshall-full-episode-2192395509. I am adding Mr. Williams biography to my reading list. One of the other quotes from this documentary that helps to give context to the movie was "Thurgood's coming!"

A New York times review of the movie explains why that phrase gave hope to a persecuted people:
In "Devil in the Grove," which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, Gilbert King wrote about Marshall’s heroic trial work. “Across the South,” Mr. King wrote, “in their darkest, most demoralizing hours, when falsely accused men sat in jails, when women and children stood before the ashy ruins of mob-torched homes, the spirits of black citizens would be lifted with two words whispered in defiance and hope: ‘Thurgood’s coming.’” (A film adaptation of “Devil in the Grove,” which focuses on a different case, is in the works.) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/movies/thurgood-marshall-movie-chadwick-boseman.html
This image of Marshall at the defendant table was used in the documentary at Biography.com. This photo shows Jack Greenberg, second from left, in 1952 during the second trial of Walter Lee Irvin, third from left, who had been sentenced to death in a rape case. Thurgood Marshall is at the far right. This is not the same case as the movie but this image has some similarities to the one featured in the move. When Mr. Marshall joined the federal bench in 1961, he named Mr. Greenberg to succeed him as director-counsel of the defense fund.
"Thurgood's coming" to a theater near you.

This is an encore presentation of Thurgood Marshall on this blog.  Please take a look at my first blog post entitled, Showdown: Marshall vs. Scalia which is featured on the list of top ten blog posts in the left hand column here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Defy Disasters: Digitize

Americans are reeling from the succession of disasters that we have experienced in September and October 2017, both natural and man-made.  I spoke to my brother, Faran, yesterday and his family was evacuated safely from their home in Santa Rosa, California.  Fires are still burning out of control in Santa Rosa but at least 1500 structures have been destroyed.  His house is safe right now but we know several others that suffered horrible tragedy in recent weeks.

Debris pile in front of a house in Dickinson, Texas that belongs to a member of my genealogical society.
The need for disaster preparedness for family historians has become more urgent than ever.  For those of us who have accumulated massive collections of genealogical papers and books, the dilemma is clear.  Paper records do not survive in a flood or a fire. Members of our Bay Area Genealogical Society lost their papers and books in the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. One way to defy these disasters is to digitize our genealogy papers as much as possible.

I use this SD card with USB and type-C connectors to quickly download pictures from my camera phone.
I use several devices to digitize records and photographs but a few of my favorites are my camera phone, my sheet-feed scanner and a micro SD card reader with USB 3.0 and type-C connectors.  I do not claim any technical expertise, but these are devices that work for me.  If you have other suggestions on how to approach the digitization challenge, please feel free to comment below.

I love using my camera phone to digitize because I always have it on hand.  Camera phones make it possible to quickly make a snapshot of a family photo at a reunion or a page in a book when you are visiting  a genealogy library.  One technique to record the source of these photos is to write down the date and where you are or who you are visiting on a piece of paper and then make a quick snapshot on your camera phone to reference later. When copying a book, I also copy the title page, table of contents and the pages on how to use the book.

I have tried a few mobile phone apps for scanning but generally I just use the camera app.  My camera phone synchronizes with iCloud in an automatic back-up process. I pay Apple $.99 per month for 50 gigabytes of storage. So far this has been sufficient for my purposes.  The only down side of accessing photos on iCloud is that it takes a little while to download them to my PC.

If I am in a hurry to access images from my phone, I use my I-drive device from Omars.co. Here is a hyperlink to a similar product description: SD card reader with USB 3.0 and type-C connectors.  This device works with Iphone, Ipad and Android products.  One end of the device fits into the type-C connector on most phones.  When I am using my device, I select the images from the camera roll that I want to transfer to the SD card. Then, I transfer those images from the phone to a folder on the card.  I give the folder a unique name that I will recognize when I plug the card into my PC. I used this device today to get images for this blog post.

This SD card is the perfect bridge linking your type-C devices to computers. Direct plug-in  allows for speedy transfer from smart phones.  The product literature says that you can transfer files in high speed: USB 3.0 connector: maximum reading speed at 85 MB per second; maximum writing speed at 60 MB per second.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500

The ScanSnap unfolds to reveal the sheet feeder on the top and the receiver tray on the bottom.
I am attempting to purge all of my binders and file cabinets full of genealogical papers.  My favorite device for that purpose is my Fujitsu Scan Snap S1500 scanner.  I am sure there is lots of competition to this  device so use this as more of an example of a method than a product endorsement.  I have been very happy with its ability to scan both sides on one pass.  I try to limit the stack of papers to 15-20 pages so some documents have to be done in several parts. 

The Fujitsu website says that the Scan Snap S1500 scanner has been replaced by the  ScanSnap iX500 but it appears that the S1500 is still available for purchase at some locations.

The scanner creates a pdf document that can be edited with the bundled pdf software. If you are scanning ruled paper, you will have to delete the back side of the page if there is no writing on it.  One of the advantages of this pdf editing software is that it allows you to convert the document to text using optical character recognition.  When the text on your original document is pretty clear, the OCR works really well. When you are scanning text from a newspaper clipping, it is usually easier to make a transcription rather than use OCR.

Perhaps your local library or genealogical society could purchase a scanner for patrons and members to use.  For example, the Clayton Genealogical Center of the Houston Public Library has a variety of scanning devices available for use. On October 18 the Clayton Library is offering a class on how to use their photo scanner.  The details are here: Scanner Class.

Don't miss the latest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS:

Tonight at 8/7c on PBS
Finding Your Roots | Episode Two "Unfamiliar Kin"
Featuring Fred Armisen, Carly Simon and Christopher Walken

For more information: Finding Your Roots