Is DNA a genealogical miracle?

DNA imageIs DNA a genealogical miracle?  Is DNA the answer to all your genealogical problems?  No. And no.  So, why send your DNA sample off and pay someone to work-up your profile?  Because DNA is solid science and fast becoming an invaluable option in the genealogist/family historian’s toolbox.

I sent my DNA samples off last January.  I did some research first.  I decided on an autosomal test and chose two companies.  One sample went to Ancestry.com.  The other went to Family Tree DNA.  The results reached my inbox about eight weeks later within a few days of one another.  Here are some benefits I experienced in the first week of having the results:

  • Confirmed the family identity of the male DNA contributor to my grandfather and therefore confirmed my suspicion of who did not contribute DNA to him.
  • Confirmed we have yet to identify a family surname in another line of our pedigree chart. (Some researchers think they know but the DNA says it isn’t so.)
  • Confronted (and for me settled) the family lore of having Cherokee descendants in our specific family lines.
  • Confirmed my connections to cousins I met in “the old fashion way” of doing genealogy AND connected me to new cousins across America.

Sound like a miracle?  Maybe, but it’s not.

Here are some things DNA cannot do for you.

  • Build a family tree. (At least not yet!)  If you’re hoping to use DNA to breakdown your genealogical brick walls, you had better get to work on your tree!  Your DNA results may tell you you’re related by DNA to another contributor but good luck on knowing who, how, when and where without doing the hard work of genealogy.  I’m amazed at the number of people I match and they have no tree uploaded.  I can see some applications of DNA which would not need a tree but not if you’re doing genealogical/family history work.
  • Go to the library, research center or courthouse for you. Your DNA results can’t travel on your behalf and make the connections that help tell your story.  Where did the people with my DNA live?  Who were their neighbors?  When and where did these DNAs “marry”?  How did somebody with my DNA get where I am geographically?
  • Fill in the gaps and make your family history rich. Your DNA results cannot interview family members.  They cannot take you to a home place and fire your imagination.  They cannot show you a picture to put a face on that contributor.  They can’t tell you the stories of a 95-year-old great-aunt.
  • They can’t do the footwork of emailing, messaging or calling the other matches to compare notes. And if the two of you don’t have well-built trees, you may not accomplish much when you do visit.
  • They can’t interpret themselves. You or somebody else must interpret your results if you’re going to get the most out of them.  For me, this has been a steep learning curve.  I’m in my 8th month and some days feel as if I haven’t learned a thing!  DNA results 100.  Gary 0.  I like learning new things.  I like a challenge. But, honestly, I’ve got my hands full with this one.

And so you ask, would I do it all over again?  Would I spend about $100 per sample to have my DNA tested?  Absolutely!  As I write this post, I can’t wait for my sister’s mtDNA test results to come back!  It’ll be a wonderful addition to our research.  I just have to do the hard work of understanding and using the depth of knowledge and insight it provides to better tell our family’s full and fascinating story.

Here are some steps you can take if you are serious about using DNA.

  • Go online and do a search using the terms “Genealogy” AND “DNA”. Do it just like I typed it with the quotation marks.
  • Go to the YouTube site and plug in the same terms. Watch a couple of videos on the basics.  (BTW, if you’re not using YouTube in your genealogy “how to” learning, you’re missing a great tool.)
  • Now, spend some time. Do some research.  Don’t be discouraged by the complexity.  Visit with someone who loves the science and technology of it.
  • Find and read blogs specific to the subject of DNA testing. Most of the people on my Blogroll (to your right probably) have written on this subject.  Go to their blog and plug the letters “DNA” into their site search box.

Once you get your tree built, gedcom file ready to upload and DNA results available, use these two other wonderful free online tools:  Gedmatch and Genome Mate Pro.  The future is here.

Here’s how I could use your help.

  • If you have family with the surname “Roberts” who’s ancestors have lived in Lunenburg, Charlotte or Mecklenburg Counties, Virginia since the 1760s please put us in contact with one another. I’m laughing as I write this.  It sounds so crazy and presumptuous!
  • If you know a family with the surnames “Wray”, “Ray”, “Rhea”, “Whitson” or “Eagan” and they had relatives in or around Wilson County, Tennessee ca 1799 – 1840, please put us in contact with one another. (Use the comment section.)
  • And, if you have old family photos, please do not destroy them before some family member can identify them and get them up on the internet to bring joy and context to some future researcher. You may possess the only “bread crumbs” leading to your family’s past.  Treat them as treasure.

Happy Hunting!

Now, where is that Genome Mate Pro instructional video…?

Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938

Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938 near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  Dad joined the Army Air Corp in 1935.  He served as a DI for the 26th General Hospital Group's military training in 1941.  He then joined the unit and trained with them in their hospital/medical training eventually serving in North Africa and Italy during WWII.
Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938 near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Dad joined the Army Air Corp in 1935. He served as a DI for the 26th General Hospital Group’s military training in 1941. He then joined the unit and trained with them in their hospital/medical training eventually serving in North Africa and Italy during WWII.

Unwrapping Family

When it comes to present day family, we’re generally pulled in one of two directions.

  1. The family I grew up in was near perfect and that’s the way family should be.
  2. The family I grew up in was a mess and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

These are not correct but they’re the directions in which most of us are pulled.

Our twenty-four year old neighbor ran up to Dee and me while we were standing in our front yard last week.  We’ve known him since he was in the 3rd grade.  He blurted out something like, Mr. Gary, Miss Dee I’ve just got to know, do you ever argue?  Do you ever have disagreements?  I’ve known you most of my life and I’ve never seen you fight or disagree with one another.  LOL!  We assured him we have had many “lively discussions” through our married life.  We intentionally left our children and others out of these by having them in private.  We may have made a mistake.  For example, our friend was relieved to know we “fought”.  The idea of an ideal family is a myth.

Family dynamics can be a strange animal.  What is right to some can feel wrong to others.  What is normal to us is very abnormal to others.  Does that make us right?  I don’t think so.

These thoughts began to churn in my mind after visiting with a distant cousin and fellow family history enthusiast.  I “met” her after putting an ad in the Murray County, KY newspaper two years ago.  I was looking for Roberts’ family connections and knew next to nothing about them.  My cousin’s friend’s husband saw the ad and brought it to his wife’s attention.  His wife passed the information on to my cousin in another city.  She contacted me and the rest is as they say, family history!

She and I visited on the phone again last week and she shared an insightful nugget.  She said the Roberts family she knew could be cliquish.  They tended to stay to themselves and rarely had high regard for their mates’ families.  I thought about the family in which I grew up.  We knew so little about either side of our family and rarely saw or interacted with them, especially my mom’s.  I’m not sure of all the reasons for this.  I know Dad and his father, who had been raised as an orphan, rarely agreed.  He left home at 16, lied about his age and joined the military.  I’m not sure if it was always this way, but it seems that if you disagreed with dad or made him mad (not very difficult) he could just do without you.  He didn’t invite you to visit and he didn’t make an effort to visit you.  We rarely saw family.  My brother once correctly pointed out to me that if dad had not left his Veteran’s check coming to his parents address in Fort Worth we would have seen them even less.  I can’t remember ever meeting my mom’s father.  I thought I had a faint memory of meeting him once but after a conversation with her, I now realize it was actually my Grandfather Burns.  My memories are rare and cherished.

Is this the way our family is today?  No.  Not really.  I have some similar traits but we’re different in many ways.  I have tendencies but Dee helps me fight them.

Here is one way I’m very much like my dad.  If you can’t come see me or don’t want to come see me, I’m entirely okay with it.  I want you to do what you need to do.  I want you to do what you want to do.

Our ministry obligations early in marriage kept us from seeing our family as often as we would have liked.  I was no doubt primed and ready for this by my upbringing.  My parents understood this and were really great with it.  I never felt any pressure to visit them or perform in any way to meet their expectations.  They had a wonderful “come when you can” and “you’re always welcome” attitude, but don’t put yourself out.  I absolutely love this about mom and dad and believe it gave me the freedom to spend more time with my children.  Did I mention I love my mom and dad?

I’ve “given daughters away” and encouraged my sons to “leave their father and mother and cleave unto their wives”.  I often feel misunderstood and rarely ever (maybe never) asked to clarify my thinking.  I’ve told my grown children I’ll stay out of their lives unless they choose to invite me in.  (I know this doesn’t sound much like community.)  I want them to know they’re always welcome but never obligated.

Dee and I saw the conflict in families when you have hard fast traditions your children are expected to follow.  We chose not to have any.  We did holidays different, never doing them the same two years in a row.  Our grown and married children feel no obligation to be with us on the actual holidays and rarely ever are.  They’re usually off with their in-laws.  Good.  We took our kids on “nuclear family” vacations so we could have time away just to ourselves.  Was this good?  I don’t know.  We had regular meals and family discussions.  Was this good?  I think so.

We did things the way we did them.  Were they all right?  No.  Would we do some things different?  Yes.  Should you do things the way we did them?  No?  Should you consider doing some things differently?  Yes.

What part is nature and what part is nurture?  The good genealogist is always willing to consider both.

 

 

We’ll be at 100% after August!!

My son Caleb informs his mother we’ll be at 100% after the wedding in August.  His wife, my daughter-in-law Amber, has German heritage on her biological dad’s side of the family!  That’s both wonderful and amazing!  It’s hard to believe this happened.  Each of our son’s mates has the same heritage.  If Dee doesn’t find some German in her family lines, she’s going to feel left out.

I paid little attention to genealogy until a few years ago.  It’s fun to find out new facts.  My other daughter-in-laws informed me today that they’re going to look at their heritage to see if we might be cousins!  LOL.  Thanks ladies.  I’m glad all of you are part of this crazy family.

Something for my grandchildren and a reminder for my fellow family historians

It happened on April 23, 1973.  Forty two years ago today Dee and I had our first date.  We refer to it as “the deal”.  We’ve had many dates since that day but never another one just like the first one.  I’ll explain in a minute.100_6530

I thought about that first date Tuesday night.  We had tickets to attend a classical piano concert at the Bob Bullock State History Museum in beautiful uptown Austin, Texas near the University of Texas campus.  The concert was part of the Texas Art and Culture Series.  Renowned Texas pianist and director of the Round Top Festival Institute James Dick performed.  Dick is a graduate of the University, winner of the Texas Medal of Arts, the Chevalier des Arts et Letters, and an Honorary Associate of London’s Royal Academy of Music.  He played several classical pieces from French composers in honor of the Museum’s new La Belle exhibit.  Dee and I particularly enjoyed the pieces composed by Claude Debussy.

Earlier in the evening we took advantage of our museum membership, parked in the parking garage and walked to dinner.  El Mercado provided the perfect fix for a couple who had a taste for Tex-Mex.  After dinner we strolled by beautiful old homes and gardens in the early cool of the evening.  We eventually found ourselves seated under the giant Star of Texas in front of the museum, talking while waiting to go inside.  I think she mentioned the approaching anniversary of our first date and it raised a question in my mind.  How many times had I taken her to a classical music concert?  She said this would be the first.  Surprised, I asked if she were sure.  (I think our memories are a little faulty these days.)  But I agreed it could have been me and the girls at those Stephen F. Austin concerts.  (No, wait a minute, I’m sure our whole family went to at least once.)  Well, it’s a good thing her favorite music’s not classical!

I thought about how much I enjoyed our conversation and how much I always do.  We spend more time together now than we ever have and would not want it any other way.   We enjoy being together and never have to force ourselves to find something about which to talk.  I’m glad.

Now about that first date.

I was a senior in high school in Denton, Texas.  Dee was a freshman at Texas Women’s University.  We met through friends at church.  I never really gave her much thought because she was “so much” older than me.  But one night she pulled me aside at the

Yes, those are the same two people.
Yes, those are the same two people.

Christian Student Center and asked if she could ask my advice.  That conversation, hearing her heart, opened my heart to hers that night and boy did I take notice!  About two weeks later, while working on a class project, I decided to use it as an excuse to ask her out.  I told her I would make a deal with her.  Help me on my project and I’ll take you out for pizza.  I’ve been asking her ever since and she’s been saying, “Yes”.  But, I’ve never asked her to help me on a high school project.  That was a one of a kind date.

We saw each other almost every day for four months and then I was off to school.  We would spend very little time together the next two years.  We were both very busy.  We “dated” long distance which I think helped my grades but wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Less than a week after my 20th birthday and at a time of the year when we were the same age, we were married.  It hasn’t always been easy or fun but it’s been a lot more fun than it’s been uneasy.  I think we would start it all over again today.  Who knows, with a little bit of experience, it could be even better.

Now, you’re wondering, why this story?  Why all the detail?  Well it’s like this.  As a family historian I’m sure some of you have regretted not asking you grandparents more questions or listening to their long-winded details?  My hope is that when one of my grandchildren ask the questions, I wonder where Pop and Memaw met or I wonder what they did on their first date, they will find this firsthand account.  What I would give for some firsthand accounts.  How about you?

 

The Family Addiction We ALWAYS Talk About

The sun is shining again.  The birds are singing.  Hope springs eternal.  Baseball is back!

Grown men are playing a child’s game and loving ever minute on the field.  Baseball is the greatest game and sport ever contrived.  It’s a “thinking man’s game” and you have to be mentored into the intricacies of it, but when you are, when you know, it’s magical.

Our family enjoys baseball.  No, let’s be honest.  Our family loves baseball!  Some of the Gary Astros headshotgirls love it more than the boys.  (And know it better too)  The opening of Major League baseball is bigger than New Years and the Fourth of July rolled together.  It’s cause for celebration and we celebrate!

In the interest of family’s history, I thought I would take a few minutes to trace the origins of this fanaticism.  It’s time I take responsibility for the “mess” I’ve made and explain the origin of the disease.

I honestly can’t remember which came first.  Was it watching Saturday baseball with my big brother on Television? Or, was it looking at the baseball cards he got out of bubble gum packages?  Or, was it watching him play little league baseball while I chased foul balls to be traded for free snow cones at the concession stand?  Hey, come to think of it, I’ve found a new scapegoat for my addiction.  David did it!

By the time I was 7 I was fully hooked.  I listened to the St. Louis Cardinals on clear channel KMOX radio.  Only they were not always so clear in North Texas.  In 1965 the Houston Colt 45s changed their name to the Astros and moved into the Astrodome.  They also signed a new radio contract that brought them to KDNT in Denton, Texas.  I was in business!

Now I could hear the entire game without interruptions.  Except for my mom, who was telling me to go to bed.  That’s when my first transistor radio became my favorite all-time gift.  The little beauty had an ear piece.  I could plug it in, turn on the Astros’ game and appear to be sleeping.  I really was in business!  (Don’t tell my mom.)

And so the disease was well established at an early age.  The more I learned the game, the more I loved it.  I even played the game for a few years and had wonderful coaches and teammates.  But I must have been born to love the game because I was certainly not born to play it!  And so I talked it, taught it, watched it, took my kids to it and exposed them all to this wonderful game of baseball.  All of them caught the bug.  Some are in remission but most are still as ill as their father and infecting their kids.

The Astros played their way into the World Series in 2005.  It was their first and only time in their now 52 years they made it to the biggest of baseball stages.  I had tickets to game 4 of the Series!   But they were high up and a great distance from the field.  I managed to trade them in for box seats for game 5!  Only the game never happened.  The Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in 4 games.

Hope springs eternal.  The Astros are going to the World Series this year!  (Ok, that’s a little too hopeful and I know the game a little too well to be that hopeful, but they will be more competitive and they will return to the baseball biggest stage soon.)  They opened the season last night by beating last year’s Cy Young Award winner and the Cleveland Indians 2 – 0.  Hey, this could be their year!

The New Book on My Coffee Table

My new coffee Table bookDavid Lee Roberts did something many of us talk about – but most of us never get around to doing.  He wrote his life story.  He put it all down in a book.  And, he has a PDF version on disc.  (Available for my children)

David is a decorated Navy veteran.  He served 27 years active duty and 3 years reserve for a total of 30 years service to the United States.  He has now “retired” to serve as a patrol officer at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.  He and his wife Cheryl live in Keller, Texas and have three grown children with growing families of their own.  Daughter Amy and her husband Matt serve overseas in Dubai.   Son Bryan, now retired from the Air Force, is launching a second “tour of duty” in the ministry.  He and his wife Lori are presently in seminary in the St. Louis area.  Son Matthew also serves as a DFW patrol officer.  He, his wife Mandy and their children live in Keller, Texas.  David and Cheryl’s children and their children’s children will enjoy this book for generations to come.  It will be a family treasure.

David’s my older brother of whom I am rightfully proud.  God has been good to both of us and given us wives “way above our pay grades”.  I remember wondering when David went off to basic training in 1971 (Uncle Sam would finish raising him) what would happen to him.  He seemed so lost and adrift on life’s sea.  Well, God and Cheryl are what happened to him and I know for a fact he’s grateful.  He writes about it in his book!

Kingsville Air Station
Gary, Bob and David Roberts in David’s Kingsville Air Statiion quarters

David’s first duty station out of air traffic control school was the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas.  My dad and I visited him there on my 16th birthday.  I enjoyed watching him work and hone his tower skills.  It wasn’t my first time in a control tower.  Our uncle Ralph Reed retired from the FAA.  He used to allow us in the control towers when we were just little squirts.  Watching David work in the same environment, I began to think of him as a “traffic cop” for pilots.  Much later in his career as Senior Chief on base at Meridian Air Station in Mississippi, he would serve as the traffic judge for the entire base.  I tell him now he’s just a cop.

The book is large.  270 8 ½ x 11 pages.  Lots of pictures.   A good look and a good read.  A PDF version is available.My Journey book cover

Thanks David for the treasure you have given our family.

Why Genealogy?

Why Genealogy?

If…

  • you enjoy a good mystery
  • solving difficult research problems
  • the thrill of the chase
  • history, or
  • unraveling puzzles

You’ll probably be a sucker for the hobby (obsession) of genealogy.  If you don’t want to be trapped, back away.  Leave now and don’t ever look back!

Genealogy is like filling in the blanks I didn’t know I had.

I wish I could remember who said that.  I would love to give them credit.

There are many reasons we enjoy genealogy and family history.  Each family historian or would be genealogist will have their own explanation or perhaps not be able to explain it at all.  I recently came across one person’s take on genealogy and I wanted to share it with you.

Kris Williams has loved history since her childhood.  She “blames” her father.  She was a sucker for genealogy and was hooked by a school class assignment when she was 11 Kris Williamsyears old.  Her love for family history and background in research helped her land a job as the historical researcher for Syfy’s Ghost Hunters.  She’s also served as a contributor to Ancestry.com for over a year.  You can follow Kris and gain from her knowledge at The Key to You Tree.  The link is in our blog favorites list to the right.

I’ve asked Kim’s permission to link to a recent blog post she wrote on the “why” of genealogy.  I like her “take”.  Check it out.  Genealogy:  What’s the Point?  Thanks Kris!

 

 

Recognizing one of our own: Congratulations Shelly Grace Williford!

I’m one of the world’s worst when it comes to bragging on my children.  I do it a lot, and I’m especially grateful when they make it easy.Shelly headshot

Four of our seven children work for the third largest property management company in America.  Lincoln Property Company manages residential,  commercial and international properties around the world.  The website Rainmaker describes the company.

Lincoln Property Company was founded in 1965 for the purpose of building and operating quality residential communities. Consistently listed as one of the largest apartment developers in the United States, Lincoln has developed more than 182,000 multifamily residential units. Lincoln is currently ranked, in terms of size, as the third largest property manager in the U.S., with more than 140,000 apartment units under management. In addition, approximately 70% of Lincoln’s apartment management portfolio is comprised of fee management accounts for third-party investors.”

All of our children working for Lincoln have won multiple performance awards.  Our youngest daughter Shelly Grace Roberts Williford becomes the second to win the Gold Medallion Award.  She follows her oldest sister Shannon in winning this prestigious award.  You can only win it once in a career and all of our children know it’s a big deal.  Congratulations Shelly!

I want to express to the middle and upper management of The Lincoln Property Company the appreciation of a grateful parent.  You invited four of our children to join your team.  You trained them and allowed them to advance at their own pace.  You recognize their achievements.  You pay them well.  Thanks!  To those in the company who have had the most “hands on” influence in our children’s professional development, you are the real champions here.  What they have achieved has been done on the shoulders of their managers and supervisors.  They could not have accomplished what they did without your unselfish contributions.  Thanks!

Here’s a copy of the letter read last Friday at the annual award ceremony.  It was held this year in San Antonio, Texas.  (Click on the link below the photo to read the actual letter.  If you know Shelly, you’ll enjoy the read!)

God Medallion Letter

Gold Medallion Letter