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  • May20

    2 Comments

    I have been going back over some of my research lines lately and working on a few dead ends to see if I could revive them. One of my mysterious ancestors is my 2nd great-grandmother Margaret Tierney, whom I first learned about when I found her living with my great-grandfather and family in Manhattan in the 1900 US census.

    It took a fair bunch of research and microfilm spinning to find her death certificate as filed a few years after the 1900 census, and since then I have been trying to find her crossing from Ireland to New York.

    The 1900 census info for my Tierneys is particularly wonky, so is not of great help in providing a date I trust for her emigration. So I have been casting a wide net, logging all of the even-marginally possible records, and hoping I can trim them down to find the most likely one for her.

    Margaret Tierney, Grass WidowFrom a few clues, I find it likely that Margaret arrived before Ellis Island was operating, so have been looking through Castle Garden records. During that process, I found an interesting Occupation listed for one Margaret Tierney: Grass Widow.

    Well, that was a new one to me, so I began digging a bit more.

    Over on The Google Books I found an 1873 book entitled Long Ago, A Journal of Popular Antiquities, (Edited By Alexander Andrews, Volume 1, Issue 1 – Volume 2, Issue 17) with a few references to the phrase.

    In fact, I find the book as a whole very interesting, as it contains queries by researchers that are answered by other fellows in subsequent volumes. Kind of like an early Twitter Lazy Tweet asking for help from the masses.

    Grass Widow Inquiry, Pages 120-121 Beginning on page 120 of the book there is a request to others for more information about it by a Mister J.L.C.

    As you can see, he found burial entries, such as “1615-6, March 15. Anne Houghton, an oulde grass widow

    Good old JLC notes that in America, it is a slang term for a “widow of light character”, which is a description I love.

    He also references a work (by John Taylor, whom I am unfamiliar with) implying that a grass widow might be a woman left by a husband because she is unable to have children.

    Grass Widow - Responses
    Happily, in the next volume (Page 150 in this same compilation), a few learned gentleman provide responses.

    I leave you with the full responses at right, including the idea that a grass widow is a wife temporarily parted from her husband, some saying for innocent reasons, others not so much.

    Also, another description of the meaning that might apply to my great-grandmother – she is here in Manhattan, but I do not know what has become of her husband John. Did he remain in Ireland? Is he alive? Is she “a widow, whose husband is abroad and said, but not certainly known to be dead?”

    Perhaps one day I will find out. For now, I’ll just put the phrase “grass widow” in my pocket.

    For extra credit, a pre-published, postscript:

    After I had finished writing most of this post, I happened upon a short entry in the Irish Genealogicial Society International blog that also mentions the phrase.

  • Jan31

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    It is probably not news to genealogy folks who research that, as the New York State Archives site says, “Several New York repositories have formed a partnership with Ancestry.com to digitize family history records and make them available on line for free.”

    For several months I have accessed those records on Ancestry, probably most often the 1915 and 1925 NY State censuses. The only trick was that these records are officially free to New York State residents, and once logged into Ancestry, I would visit the URL http://www.ancestry.com/newyork, enter my NY zip code, and thus would get in.

    However, this weekend I found that no longer worked – it is still a search page titled “New York State Records”, but the zip code submission field is gone. If you use that search form, it returns results from the Archives partnership – but if you try to view the images it brings you to the ubiquitous “Choose a membership to get started” sign up page.

    Annoyed by that, a little follow up googling brought me to the NYSED.gov Archives page outlining the partnership. Thankfully, on this page the zip code form field exists. Using it brings you to Ancestry’s “New York: Where History Goes on Record” page, where you can again search the records and click through the results to view the images. (You are still required to have at a free Ancestry login to view images.)

    Again, here is the URL for the NYS Archives site:
    http://www.archives.nysed.gov/a/research/res_ancestry.shtml

    I think it is disappointing that this change occurred, since it makes original NY State landing page more of a funnel to the subscription page, and while there are “free for all” collections listed in the “New Collections” section at the bottom of the page, it does not mention anywhere that many of the collections are free to NY residents!

    More than a bit confusing.

  • Dec9

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    Can you say consanguinity? Sure you can.

    If unfamiliar with the term, or kind of familiar as I was before I dove headfirst into this whole genealogy world, The Wikipedia nicely defines it this way:

    Consanguinity (“blood relation”, comes from the Latin consanguinitas) refers to the property of being from the same kinship as another person.

    As one gets going with genealogy, the first real hurdle we need to get past is the whole “What is this ‘eleventeenth cousin thrice removed’ stuff all about?” So, being mostly a visual sort of learner I created a chart to help myself get the idea straight.

    Over time I’ve moved on from needing to reference that chart too often, but lately I’ve found I needed a new addition to that cheat sheet – Shared DNA percentages.

    Why on earth would one need such a thing? If you’ve had your autosomal DNA tested at 23andme or FTDNA, then you are probably getting hints for new cousins all the time. When the familial connection is not obvious (as it almost always is not), it is a good to know how much DNA one might share with a, say, 4th cousin, so you can start looking in the right part of the old family tree for them.

    Consanguinity Chart Now With More DNA Flavor!

    To give me the visual my brain needs to absorb the info, I created this chart at right. If you’d like a copy for your very own, feel free to click this link and download a full size copy from my Box.com account.

    However, shared DNA is not an exact measure of “relatedness” as it falls in the traditional family tree. Due to the random magic of recombination, there is actually a range for how much DNA actually gets passed on from one’s ancestors. For example, while on average one inherits about 50% of each parent’s DNA, the actual amount can be somewhat greater or lesser. As you can imagine – apply that inheritance wiggle room to a 4 or 5 generations between yourself and your match on 23andme and the number can vary quite a bit.

    (I suggest reading ISOGG’s Autosomal DNA Statistics page for a nice overview of this whole topic.)

    In fact, a recent relatively close match of mine on 23andme illustrates this point nicely – I had a new match show up in my results as a possible 4th cousin, among my highest. Nicely for me, this cousin was on my mother’s side, and she has been tested as well.

    23andme Cousin Match Comparison
    Using my handy-dandy consanguinity chart, at 0.27% shared DNA over 3 segments, one can see the result is a bit above the 4th cousin level. All righty! But, if you look at what my mother shares with this same cousin you’ll notice a disparity in the estimate – they share 1.04% over 6 segments. The other good news in this particular match was that she had an obvious surname and location in her profile that I knew about – and is the first person I have been able to find that I can tie directly into my known genealogical research.

    Her actual connection to my mother is as a 2nd cousin, once removed, and a plain vanilla 3rd cousin to me.

    As such, I should expect to share about 0.781% DNA with her – but because I did not happen to inherit 3 of the segments my my mother shares with her, we only have a third of that amount in common.

    Without access to my mother’s results in addition to my own and without the ability to connect to established paper-based research, I easily could have started barking up the wrong tree – and at the 4th or 5th cousin level there are a lot of trees.

    So, while I still think the chart is a nice reference to have as a starting point in the process, those shared DNA percentages need to be taken with a grain of deoxyribonucleic acid. or maybe some sodium chloride.

    Hope people find the chart useful – I have posted it under a Creative Commons license as listed below.

    Creative Commons License
    Consanguinity Chart Now with More DNA Flavor! by John J. Tierney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
    Based on a work at http://currach.johnjtierney.com.

  • May9

    22 Comments

    UPDATE (11 July 2013): It has been more than a year since I created this tool and process, and the 23andme site has gone through some extensive changes. I have not had time to test if the process in this post nor the spreadsheet is still working properly with any possible data format changes.

    Feel free to give it all a shot, but I recommend that you may first want to take a look at the DNAGedcom.com site, which has automated things in a much more user-friendly way!

    Ancestry Finder Drop DownIf you are a 23andme customer, you may have noticed that they updated their Ancestry Finder (AF) tool to make it possible to see the matches of the people with whom you share genomes. You can also download this data in comma-separated-variable (.csv) format.

    That. is. great. stuff.

    I’m sure that people will soon come up with interesting new ways to triangulate their genetic matches and learn more about their ancestry. But, there is one problem: If you are sharing your results with a few hundred people and want to get all of their AF data files, it takes a drop-down selection, wait a few seconds for AF to reload, then a button click and a Save File As click FOR EACH PERSON IN YOUR LIST.

    Holy carpal tunnel.

    I suppose 23andme might make it possible within their system to get them all at once which will make this all moot. But, I thought there must be a better way to get all of these data files and I found a slightly clunky, yet completely workable method.

    There may be more elegant ways to do this, but for now I created an Excel spreadsheet that will help you get you all the data with only a bit copying and pasting – along with some help from a Firefox add-on.

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  • Mar9

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    The resources linked below have generally made their way around the genealogosphere in the last week or so, but I just thought I’d post them for quick access later…

    Last month’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 has posted presentations and workshop handouts for your downloading pleasure here.

    You can find RootsTech 2012 videos online here.

    NARA has put Popular Know YourRecords Workshops Online for First Time!

    Duck On A Bike BookMy 5 year old daughter has drawn me a picture of a duck in a pond. (Not to be confused with the book at right, which is not only one of her new favorites to read, but whose title is my new non-offensive workplace interjection.)

    (OK those last ones aren’t genealogy-related, but I was on a roll.)