The Sky Is (Not) Falling

Ancestry succeeded in rocking the world of a large number of genealogists today with their surprise announcement that they would be retiring Family Tree Maker genealogy software at the end of 2015.  Cue Chicken Little and hoards of unhappy genealogists bearing pitchforks and flaming torches.

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

But hold fair citizens of Genealogy-land!  All is not lost and, nay, the sky dost not fall today!

First dear reader, I strongly encourage you to go read Ancestry’s blog post here.  Knowledge is power and Ancestry spells out exactly what their short-term plans are for Family Tree Maker software.  If you didn’t run off to read their much-discussed blog post and are still with me, dear reader, here’s a short recap of what Ancestry said:

  • Ancestry will stop selling Family Tree Maker software as of 31 December 2015.
  • Ancestry will continue to support the Family Tree Maker software at least through 1 January 2017.
  • All software features (including TreeSyncTM) will continue to function and Ancestry will offer support, bug fixes and compatibility updates at least through 1 January 2017.

So take a breath, dear reader, your Family Tree Maker software will not turn into a pumpkin at the end of December.  As a user of Family Tree Maker myself I freely admit that losing FTM sucks.  A few years ago I reconsidered whether I wanted to continue using FTM, tried out some other programs and discovered I was still happy with FTM so I dove into learning to utilize all available features in FTM.  I recently had started going through and making sure I had all my sources attached and properly cited (a project that I’m still currently working on).  Having put all that effort into my FTM file I was initially devastated when I read about Ancestry’s intention to discontinue FTM.  Genealogy isn’t just a hobby for many of us.  It’s a very personal crusade to find and remember our ancestors.  When we partner with organizations and allow them to be a part of our genealogical passion it becomes the ultimate betrayal when said organization doesn’t behave as genealogists feel it should.  But no matter how personal of a relationship we believe we have, these organizations are still businesses in the end and must do what they can to survive and thrive.  And there’s always another side to every story, though we may never know what it is.

At this point you may be grabbing your pitchfork or flaming torch and asking yourself what the point of this post is.  Quite simply the post is merely my opinions and intentions as a user of Family Tree Maker.  Change is never easy, but sometimes it’s for the best.  There are several other programs and apps on the market to try and choose between.  And here we arrive at my first opinion: there is plenty of time to research, review and choose new software.  There’s no need to dive headfirst into purchasing new software right away.  Many of the companies that are still offering genealogical software provide a free trial of their software.  Go download the trial versions and use them to the fullest capacity allowed by the trial version.  Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy is writing an ongoing series called “Plan ahead for genealogy research without Family Tree Maker ~ Part 1 of an ongoing series” that I highly recommend following along with.  She lists several good resources that have already been posted on the WWW.

Which brings us to my second opinion: look at this as an opportunity…an opportunity to wrangle those loose ends and clean up your genealogy.  Thomas MacEntee started a great, free program called the Genealogy Do-Over.  There are different ways to participate in this program and it’s an excellent way to check your research, make sure everything fits the way it’s supposed to, cite your sources and (in general) clean up your genealogy.  Besides the Do-Over website, Thomas has created a Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group which is a great location for discussion and resources (even if you don’t plan to participate in the Do-Over!)

And for the trifecta, my third opinion: continue learning and trying new things.  Sometimes as genealogists we get stuck in a rut.  Running the same searches, looking at the same databases, checking the same sources over and over hoping to find some new information.  We must be careful to avoid becoming stagnant and try hard to remain flexible.

Also keep in mind, Ancestry hasn’t really made mention of long-term plans.  While they may be choosing to discontinue FTM at this point in time, there may be another idea currently in development.  Or they may choose to focus on other things instead.  New technology isn’t an overnight creation.  It takes time, effort and manpower.

So, dear reader, take a breath and look to the future.  It has a bright and beautiful sky.

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

Questioning My Sanity

Currently, the prevailing thought in my head is “What did I get myself into?”  I couldn’t help it though, the timing was perfect and it seemed like a good thing to do at the time.  I’m sure you’re wondering what I got myself into this time.  Well, I signed up for ProGen.  For those who don’t know what ProGen is, the ProGen Study Group is a book study group that focuses on the book Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians (edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills).

progen_book

Each month course attendees are given reading and written assignments related to the material.  They also participate in online discussion groups to talk about the current topic and offer constructive feedback to their peers.  This study group is not for the faint-of-heart, however.  It’s an 19-month commitment and formatted for genealogists who have professional level research experience.  Hence me currently questioning my own sanity.  I’m not a professional genealogist by any means.  But after attending NGS and speaking to a number of ProGen alumni I began to realize that ProGen would be a great opportunity to learn to be a better genealogist.  I have no doubt that it will be hard.  Probably one of the hardest courses I’ve ever taken.  But in addition to being intimidated and completely overwhelmed by the thought of spending 19 months taxing my brain and my skills, I’m also extremely excited.  I’m pushing myself to learn more, be better and gain experience in a field that has become a great love for me.  I heard a TED speaker the other day that I think really said it best: “I think the thing that stops people from doing it [being creative] is always exactly the same thing, which is fear. And what I’ve discovered over the years is not that you have to be fearless…I think instead what you have to do is recognize that fear and creativity are conjoined twins.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, “Where Does Creativity Come From?” http://www.npr.org/2014/10/03/351554044/where-does-creativity-come-from).

Alright then, let’s do this.  Fear, your twin Creativity and I are going for a ride.  We know you’re coming along so hop in back but you’re not allowed to make any decisions on this trip, you’re only allowed to come along for the ride.

Saving the Squalus

In May 2014 the spousal unit and I paid a visit to the Iowa kin en route from Nebraska back home.  I was working a conference in Nebraska and it was a great opportunity to stop in, see family, and talk some genealogy.  They were gracious enough to let me photograph and scan some items in their care that belonged to my Uncle Frank.  I haven’t had a chance to write much about the Conwell side of my family because I’ve been concentrating my efforts on lesser-researched branches of my family and the spousal unit’s family.

I think the Universe is trying to tell me to start writing about them.

Rewinding to March 2014, I briefly wrote about Uncle Frank (who is technically my great-uncle) in Christmas Came Early in Genealogy-land when a gentleman from Oklahoma contacted me about some Conwell family items that had come into his possession.  Several of these items belonged to Frank.  So I devoted part of a blog post to the excitement of first contact but didn’t pursue writing about the Conwell side.

During our visit the Iowa kin mentioned they planned to take some of Frank’s items to Bismarck, North Dakota where Antiques Roadshow was going to be filming.  We thought that was pretty cool and shared their excitement about the trip but it didn’t really enter our mind that they would really make it on the show.  But they did.  So what did they take?  They took items from Frank’s Naval career.  A very basic explanation of a salvage diver is a Naval diver who assists with any type of salvage operation.  They also have other job duties like construction and demolition but Frank’s 10 minutes of fame related to his work in salvage.

On May 23, 1939 the submarine U.S.S. Squalus set out on her final test dive.  Her final dive began well but ended in disaster when she sunk with her crew aboard.  In an unprecedented rescue, 33 of the crew who survived the initial disaster were rescued from the Squalus, which rested 240 feet below the surface.  As with any heroic effort, there was a great deal of publicity about the rescue of the Squalus crew and the divers involved in the rescue operation.  It was an effort worth the recognition it received.  Much less publicized was the salvage of the Squalus after the crew’s rescue.  This is the part of the diving operation Frank participated in.  Diving in 1939 was a very dangerous activity.  The environment was unpredictable and the equipment was cumbersome.  Ascending to the surface too quickly meant serious medical complications for the diver.  An incorrect move or calculation by a diver or sailors assisting the diver could mean an untimely end.

Diving Suit
                 Diving Suit (Pixabay)

So what does any of this have to do with Antiques Roadshow?  Frank was awarded the Navy Cross for his participation in the salvage dive.  His Navy Cross and citation along with a photo album of the salvage of the Squalus, a wooden carving of a diver (hand carved by Frank while on ship), and Good Conduct Medal were pieces of the collection which the Iowa kin took to the Antiques Roadshow taping.

Frank never talked about his medals that I can remember.  I don’t recall him mentioning the Squalus, nor do I remember him ever talking about having saved the life of a bystander watching the Squalus salvage operation but he made the newspaper for both of those acts.  I heard about all of it from my grandfather.  I also heard about the medical issues Frank had because of his diving activities from my grandfather.  My uncle was a man who enjoyed the company of family and thought the world of my son, nicknaming him “The Boss” when he was just a toddler.  I always equated him with the carvings which held real estate in my grandparents’, and then my parents’ homes.  They’re absolutely gorgeous carvings and each one was hand carved by Frank while he was ship-bound.

Conwell Frank Russell Deep Sea Diving Suit Carving
Deep Sea Diver carving by
Frank R. Conwell

The episode of Antiques Roadshow featuring Frank’s items aired on February 16, 2015 and can be viewed here for you dear readers who are interested.  A follow up article entitled “Saving the Squalus” was posted after the episode aired.

The Universe’s final knock on the door came recently.  A fellow researcher contacted me through Find A Grave asking if I was related to Frank.  When she found out how I was related she generously offered to send me copies of the diving log from the Squalus rescue and salvage operations, which not only had entries made by Frank, but also contained his signature and an entry regarding his treatment in a decompression chamber.

Frank was born 1 August 1912 in Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri to Edward Bell Conwell, Sr. and Zella May McCabe.  He joined the Navy in 1931.  During his time in the Navy he completed training for Carpenter’s Mate Second Class, Carpenter’s Mate First Class, Deep Sea Diving (attaining a dive depth of 300 feet in 1939), was awarded numerous swimming medals, a Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Navy America Defense Service Medal and Naval Cross.  He re-enlisted several times and obtained apprenticeship training as a plumber.  Frank married Maybelle Victoria “Mabel” Boileau on the 19 November 1940 in Norwich, New London, Connecticut.  They didn’t have any children together but Mabel brought one child into the marriage.  Mabel died on the 27 May 1988 in Jamul, San Diego, California.  Frank lived several more years and died on the 13 April 2001 in El Cahon, San Diego, California and is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in San Diego, California.

On my lengthy list of genealogical documents to obtain is Frank’s military service record.  I’ve seen some of the photos he took while in service and am very curious where he sailed and what ships he served on.

DNA Pie…Charts That Is

I’m obviously really excited to have been able to do my DNA.  My problem now is that I really want to understand more about my DNA, not just take the pie chart Ancestry provided and be happy about it.  I know I have DNA that didn’t show up on the Ancestry pie chart and I’ve heard other genealogists raving about what a great tool GEDMatch is.  So I decided to try my results at GEDMatch and see what happened.  Wow, am I ever overwhelmed right now!  There are so many tools at GEDMatch and uploading my raw data has provided tons of information that I neither understand right now nor do I know what to do with it, LOL.  So it’s time for me to look around and see what information I can find about using GEDMatch.

It must be my lucky month because among the many blog posts that appeared in my Feedly feed and I had tagged in Pocket to read later was a post from Randy Seaver at Genea-musings called My First Look at GedMatch Autosomal DNA Analysis.  It was totally perfect timing.  I still don’t understand a lot of what I’m seeing but it was great to find someone who was stepping through the process of uploading to GEDMatch at the same time I was.  Randy’s post inspired me to start clicking on links in GEDMatch to see what I could find.  And what I found was pretty interesting stuff.  In my post Surprisingly…No Surprises! I shared a clip of my Ethnicity Estimate from AncestryDNA.  I knew the AncestryDNA test tools weren’t the best out there and that the estimates weren’t necessarily the most accurate but it was a good place to start.  Now that I’ve completed the upload of the raw data and a GEDCOM file to GEDMatch I have quite a few more tools at my disposal.

One of the items I clicked on was the MDLP Ancient Roots K18 Admixture Proportions.  My first reaction on seeing the title was “Whaaaa????”  So, I did what any researcher would do and I Googled it.  What I found was a great blog post and presentation by Kitty Cooper about GEDMatch Tools which helped me understand the functionality of some of the tools at GEDMatch.  The MDLP Ancient Roots K18 Admixture Proportions basically just tells you your ancestral composition.  Each of the different Admixture calculators gives you a different breakdown of your ancestral composition.  On her presentation Kitty explains that “…the number at the end of each name is the number of reference populations the result is divided among.”  Okay, so that helps me understand the pie charts that are presented with each calculator I select.  So back to the calculator I clicked on, this is the chart I was presented when I clicked on the MDLP Ancient Roots K18 Admixture Proportions calculator:

MDLP Ancient Roots K18 Admixture Proportions
GEDMatch MDLP Ancient Roots K18 Admixture Proportion

Well that’s really interesting!  My Ethnicity Estimate on AncestryDNA said I was 97% European (36% Europe West; 23% Europe East; 17% Great Britain; 8% Scandinavian and 7% Ireland) which, according to my maternal grandparents and what I know of my paternal family is correct.  But, oh ho!  Look at how much more specific the GEDMatch data set is.  According to GEDMatch I’ve got something called Melano-Austronesian and Volga-Uralic in my DNA…whatever THAT is!  I really wanted to know what these terms meant but I haven’t had much luck finding any definitions online.  I was excited to see the teeny tiny bit of Native America I was rumored to have had shown up.  I haven’t been able to prove or disprove the stories about the Native American heritage that my Grandda told until now and while this isn’t 100% written-in-stone proof, it does give me a reason to keep looking for that heritage.

I kept playing around with the different calculators on the GEDMatch site and got some pretty interesting results…maybe one of these days I’ll actually figure out what all these terms mean!

MDLP World-22
MDLP World-22

 

MDLP World
MDLP World

 

MDLP K=12
MDLP K=12

That was my fun for this evening.  Kitty mentioned some calculators in her presentation that either currently aren’t available on GEDMatch or have been discontinued.  I’m a little disappointed about that because a couple of them looked like fun but maybe GEDMatch will bring them back.  So far I’ve been very happy with the tools I’ve tried at GEDMatch.  I just wish there was more information out there on how to use the tools and what everything meant.  I’m sure the information is there somewhere, I just haven’t looked in the right place yet.  If you have any suggestions, dear readers, throw them my way because I’m very curious now!

Genetic Genealogy…First Contact

I’ve been on such a genealogy-high since getting my DNA results back.  I honestly didn’t think I could get much more excited until…first contact!!!!!  I had pages of hints to review from AncestryDNA and as I was beginning to review each match on my DNA profile I received an email through Ancestry from one of my matches!  And…poof!  Just like that I was conversing with a fourth cousin through a branch of the family I hadn’t done hardly any work on because most of the line had already been traced.  And if that wasn’t exciting enough I learned that he was located only about an hour away from where I live (near where some of that family branch were buried) and some of his family actually lived in my area as well.

Until I received first contact I’d been a little hesitant to contact anyone.  Once first contact had been established I started going to town sending Ancestry messages to close matches.  And now it’s a waiting game to see if anyone responds back to any of the messages I sent out.  Meanwhile I’ll continue to explore the DNA profile to see what additional information I can gain from the DNA test.  Not one to remain idle, I’ve been working to get my raw data and GEDCOM file uploaded to GedMatch.  I’m still in the early learning stages of GedMatch and how to use it but I’ve heard it’s a very good resource.  And, of course, I’m also starting to explore the DNA, Genetics & Family Health section of Cyndi’s List, which has a dedicated section for GEDmatch & Other Analyzing Tools.  There is so much information on Cyndi’s List alone I’ll be occupied for a good, long while.
MGP

On a slightly different note, I’m also very excited to have been accepted into one of the upcoming Gen Proof Groups!  For those who don’t know the Gen Proof groups are small study groups who meet in an online forum and study the book Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, GG, CGL, FASG, FNGS.  I’m looking forward to fine tuning my current genealogical skills as well as adding new skills.