Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another immigrant's origin found!

It's fairly rare (in my experience) for a genealogist to make an "Ah ha!" discovery.  The kind that helps break through a brick wall.  I made one yesterday.

Every now and then I idly search Google for names in my family tree and seeing if anything pops up.  Yesterday I was searching for Gideon Moyer, an x-great uncle, specifically because his name is so rare.  One of the hits that instantly jumped out at me was from Google Books: Lebensbild aus dem Pennsylvanisch-Deutschen Predïgerstand.  It is a transcription (in German) of William Helffrich's journal as a pastor in the Lehigh Valley.  It has quite a few direct references to the Moyer clan, making it indispensable.  I made a few discoveries as I searched through it, but one made my heart race.

My 3rd great grandmother, Catherine Gerard (also spelled Girard or Gernard)--wife of Peter Moyer--came to America with her mother when she was a girl, and had to work as an indentured servant for years to earn their freedom.  I had established, from several sources, that she was born in Württemberg, but one of my main genealogical goals is to trace my ancestors back to specific European cities.  This is very hard.  And yet, there in Helffrich's journal, the city of Catherine's origin could not have been more exactly pinpointed.  Here is the original text:
Am 4. April beerdigte ich Mutter Peter Moyer in Lynn; sie war am 30. April 1804 in Sengach, Maulbronn, Württemberg, Europa, geboren. Mutter Moyer war ein Muster von einer christlichen Hausfrau und so lange ihr Gatte lebte, war ihr Haus mein stetes Absteigequartier, wo ich immer mit Liebe und Zuvorkommen aufs freundlichste eingeladen und aufgenommen wurde. 
And here is a pretty reasonable Google translation:
On 4 April [1876] I buried mother in Lynn Peter Moyer, it was on 30 April 1804 in Sengach, Maulbronn, Württemberg, Europe was born. Moyer mother was a model of a Christian housewife and her husband lived for so long, their home was my steady flophouse district, where I was always received with love and courtesy in the friendliest and invited.
Not sure about that "flophouse" part, but overall that paints a very nice picture of Catherine and her husband.  And she was born in Sengach, Maulbronn, Württemberg.  Maulbronn was easy to locate, but I had distinct trouble finding Sengach, meaning it was either an outdated name or a tiny hamlet.  It turned out to be the second.

I managed to find it listed on a weather site, with coordinates included.  It is right next door to Maulbronn, so I have high confidence that it is the right place.

Now I have a place to start looking in German parish records.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Time to get serious about DNA relatives

DNA tests are one of the most recent tools to aid researchers in the field of genealogy.  My own belief is that it will become increasingly (in fact, exponentially) more effective and important as the technology becomes cheaper and more widespread.  But even today, many casual DNA genealogists stop short of making truly effective use of their results.  To do so, you and your match must compare chromosomes and attempt to triangulate your matching segment with a third party.  Otherwise you are just guessing, and that's not good genealogy.

I was first introduced to this concept via a cute comic strip.  The crux of the problem is that people may share more than one line of genetic descent.  If Alice and Bob are related, a DNA test will show that.  But the relationship may be complicated: they can have multiple shared ancestors.  Many combinations are possible.  What's more, Alice and Bob may know of one shared ancestor, but their DNA connection might be through an ancestor that is unknown to one or both of them!

Congratulations, you found a DNA match.
You still haven't proved anything.
23andMe and Family Tree DNA both provide chromosome browsers to see where your genome connects to your matches.  However, neither provides a utility to triangulate segments, and both let you compare only a few matches at a time.  My solution was to meticulously download all the matching segment data into an Excel spreadsheet and do my own comparisons.  This works but it seems unnecessary in the 21st century.  Both companies should be doing this automatically and grouping matches together by shared segment.
  An example of shared segments in
  FTDNA's chromosome browser
The much newer AncestryDNA service is even worse in this regard.  It does not (yet) provide even a rudimentary chromosome browser.  I have taken to basically begging my Ancestry matches to download their raw data and email it to me so I can compare it using an excellent utility by David Pike.  I then use another tool, the Rutgers Map Interpolator, to determine a degree of relatedness (i.e. a centiMorgan measurement).

There exists a fantastic third-party website called GEDMatch that aims to make all this easier.  It accepts raw data from any of the aforementioned services and runs its own comparisons and triangulations.  Unfortunately, as I understand it, the site is run by volunteers on a shoestring budget who are currently swamped by all the incoming data: DNA comparisons are computationally intensive.  The site is not currently accepting new data, but is projected to start again in August.  I encourage everyone to make use of this tool when it becomes available and then to DONATE so they can continue to function.  I'm glad to see that they stepped up where the large companies didn't.