Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ancestry DNA Tests - Samples and Resamples

I've read and seen in various forums the suggestion a person should give their Ancestry DNA sample (saliva) first thing after waking up.  The reasoning being there should be the maximum number of cells, formally part of the tissue of the inside of the mouth, suspended in the saliva.  This made sense to me until a met a person who followed this approach - twice - and had her sample rejected twice.  Upon inquiry with Ancestry, she learned this 'first thing after waking' approach can present too much bacteria in the saliva.  Yes, that makes sense too.  The suggestion from Ancestry was to eat a meal, wait 30 minutes or so, and then give the sample.   

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tick, Tack, Toe - or Time, Place, Person

Airplane pilots will tell you one of their basic skill sets involves the ability to determine Time, Speed, and Distance.  Each affects the other two when getting to a destination on time, and safely.  For the genealogist, we have something similar, Time, Place, and Person. 

The Social Scientist in me always strives to state the obvious.  So here goes.  I'm not at all certain I've heard this explained like this (directly) before, although the concept is omnipresent in the genealogical research process. 

When setting out to answer a research question, we need to know these three things (Time, Place, Person) and look for the intersection where each cross the other.  Think of a horizontal line representing Time, and a vertical line representing a Place.  On your horizontal line, you can establish the date 25 November 1863.  Intersect this with a place, say, Missionary Ridge Tennessee.  If you happened to find yourself at Missionary Ridge Tennessee on 25 November 1863, you would have witnessed a deadly battle during the Civil War! 
Time, Place, Person(s)

The Historian stops there.  Time and Place = History.  The Genealogist adds a person.  Now think of the third line, intersecting the first two; a participant in the battle.  Having these three items of
information the researcher can go forward and look for the information meeting the requirement of 1) 25 November 1863, 2) Missionary Ridge Tennessee, and 3) Colonel Augustus G. Tassin (Union, 35th Indiana). 

Without any one of these three pieces of data, our efforts at research are lost.  With each in mind, we can formulate a research strategy involving perhaps published works, government documents, etc. 

This can be expanded to more than one person or even a family.  In adoption and EPE cases, the intersection of these three is very necessary (think back to that awkward High School class for more information on the biology involved).  Two persons in the same place at the same time.  If one of the two can be shown to have been at another Place, at a given Time (like off to war for instance), then all lines do not intersect. 

By the way, Time and Place can be dangerous in some situations (like driving a car). The retired policeman in me cautions against sharing Time and Place with fellow motorists!       

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Secret Weapon.

I've posted elsewhere on this Blog my approach to visiting a research library...its all about the books and other written materials.  Anything on the computers I can get at home, and nowadays even information found on films (microfilm and microfiche) can typically be had either online or at the local Family History Center.  So when I'm in the library, every second is devoted to the stacks.

So what about all the time when I'm not in the library?  Well, I'm making a list of what I want to see when I go back.  Generally, I'm preparing for a visit to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, but there are other libraries I use, such as the Sutro in San Francisco and university libraries.

The time between library visits is where you will find me using my Secret Weapon - but it is not really secret at all.  Underused, perhaps altogether forgotten, but not secret.  I'm talking about the Inter-Library Loan, or ILL for short.  I use the heck out of this - two books at a time!

Most every book we encounter in mainstream genealogy can be found at the FHL.   Some are digital, but most are not at the moment; others will not be digital because of permissions and copyright.  Still, others can't me had at the FHL for some reason.   So for those hard to find books, I make an ILL request.  Likewise, books out of the mainstream of what we think of as Genealogy books, are not going to be found at the FHL.  History books for instance.  You will need the ILL if you're not taking a road trip.

In a recent example, the FHL didn't have the book.  The closest copy to me was in Fresno (four hours away by car) and it was in-library use only.  ILL to the rescue!  I think the copy I ended up getting was from St. Louis.

Even if I can see a given text at the FHL, my time there is limited.  There just isn't time to sit down and really read at the FHL.  Typically, I'm taking scans of what I need from the book, and moving quickly to the next.  Not so when I have a book on ILL.  In every case, I've been able to read - really read - and this always yields data I didn't even know I wanted.  In the research process, one item should move you forward to one or more other items.

So my process goes like this:
1) Research identifies a bound volume that may be useful or interesting.
2) Create a Task List assignment to view the item; tagged to a person or family in most cases.
3) Check WorldCat for the book's availability
4) Check on Amazon or eBay.  If the book is something I'd really like to own, I will buy it.

After these steps, I will eventually see each book on my list.  The ILL or short trips to local repositories could do all the work given enough time.  My visits to the FHL just puts everything into fast forward.

A few tips about ILL:
1) Turnaround time will be less for books you get from ILL.  Your local library needs to have the book back to the lending library by a certain date - so your time will be shortened.   For this reason, pick up the books as soon as they become available.
2) Drop any other research you are doing and focus on getting as much out of the time you have with the ILL book.
3) Return the ILL book as early as you can.  This shows the librarians you are responsible.  They will get to know you.
4) Have a new ILL request in hand when you make a return.  Keep the cycle going.
5) Keep track of the requests you've made.  I track them on my Task List.  Here is where I record the date I made the ILL request, when I got the book, and when I return it.
6) If you have to pay a fee (my library gets $3 a book) get a receipt.  At least in the case of my little local library, ILLs are not routine.  There seems to be some confusion as to when a patron pays for the book.  If I keep my receipt I can avoid the confusion.
7) Try to get a receipt for the return of the ILL book.  My library refuses to do this for me - though I always ask.  Things get lost and in an ILL transaction, there are several hands in the mix.  I always note on my Task List the date I returned a book.

So that is my Secret Weapon.  I've been working this system for about two years now; only once was a book unavailable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

According to Microsoft Excel, the World began on January 1st, 1900 - My Ancestors will disagree

In a previous post, I demonstrated the power of using the date format YYYY.MM.DD in Microsoft Explorer to place anything contained in one folder in chronical order.  This is a very powerful tool.  But, when working with Excel the rules change. 

Recently I added several Civil War battle dates to an Excel sheet wishing to sort them in date order.  Nope!  After troubleshooting this, I discovered something interesting.  Excel actually converts dates to serial numbers starting 1/1/1900.  These numbers are then displayed as dates (in various formats) to the user.  The result is no valid date can exist in Excel before 1/1/1900.  That's not good for the genealogist or course. So what to do?

Well, you could use 1900 dates.  Instead of 12/16/1863 one could use 12/16/1963 for the purposes of sorting.  Being 100 years off just seems weird to this genealogist.

Not wishing to have my Civil War dates in the 1900s, I dug deeper and found this fix.  Inasmuch as Excel refuses to recognize DATES before 1/1/1900, let's use simple NUMBERS.  For this workaround the date, 12/16/1863 is represented as 18631216.  Now Excel is forced to take your date; more precisely it doesn't know it is a date. 

Here is how is use this method: For every application where a date is involved I use the YYYY.MM.DD format.  For example, 1941.12.7, or 1961.7.9, or in the case of a Civil War date, 1863.12.16.  This is my standard, but using 12/7/1941, 7/9/1961, or 12/16/1863 works fine too.  Any date format that you like can be applied. 

First I create an Excel document and enter data.  Record #, date, event, etc.  Now, because Excel is not DATE friendly, we need a NUMBER column also.  I label this column as "Sort" and place it to the far right of the Excel page.  For me, the number 18631216 doesn't quickly translate into the date 1863.12.16, or 12/16/1863, or even 16 December 1863 (for you Purist).  But for Excel, in this application (pre 1/1/1900), it is required.

In practical application, I start out with my standard YYYY.MM.DD column and do a Cut/Paste to a far right column when all my work is entered.  I then painfully remove all the "." and add "0" before any month or day less than 10.  The result is a column of eight numbers per cell.  Now I label this column as "Sort" and try not to look at it.  It's ugly in my humble opinion.  Now I sort using the "Sort" column and if asked, Expand to the entire worksheet.  Now my "Dates" are sorted in date order - not under their own power (unfortunately) - and the product works for me.

I've read that OpenOffice's version of the Excel tool does not have this limitation but I have not tested it yet.