sifting through Grandma’s Sexy Data, war children worldwide can reclaim ethnic heritage when rare records are digitally archived

Authors note: This article is long, my apologies. But I think if you can make it through the first couple of paragraphs, you’ll understand its value… 

Take your time with it, and ponder about the ramifications of the loss of collections like this. Share it with your tech friends, converse about it. There’s much to digest.

On the counter of the printing office of a pacific northwest genealogical society sits a collection of metal drawers on loan from a local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars. Inside are thousands of brittle and delicate 8×5 cards, many created more than 70 years ago, containing the administrative information of long since deceased members.

70 year old membership cards, Veterans of Foreign Wars

70 year old membership cards, Veterans of Foreign Wars


From the VFW website

The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans’ pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves.

In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000.

The society has been granted permission to scan, index, and share this information with its membership, but there’s a problem. Their volunteers are not particularly technologically savvy, and finding individuals to lead digital archive initiatives is difficult. Grants for such projects can be found, but society members skilled enough to scan, create databases, manage a website, and deal with the ongoing maintenance of such a collection aren’t available.

The cards are delicate, often with obituaries attached and news clippings.

The cards are delicate, often with obituaries attached and news clippings.


Why should anyone care about these and other records in the care of genealogical societies? The reason may shock you.

While the genealogical society will claim no specific value for the data, leaving that determination up to the persons researching, in a round about way, information on or attached to the cards is invaluable to individuals who have been disconnected from or are seeking knowledge about their family’s military service, or in fact, even knowledge about their own origins.

Tens of thousands of adoptees and persons of unknown birth family worldwide have turned to DNA testing meant for genealogical purpose to help them understand better their ethnicity and genetic heritage. A portion of them are the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of U.S. military personnel. Conceived and left with their mothers overseas, the majority end up in orphanages, and then are adopted back out to international homes. They are known as war children.

From an Economist article published in May of 2015, “Pity the Children”

After the end of the Korean war in 1953, biracial children who were the product of fleeting wartime unions between foreign servicemen and South Korean women in the 1950s were abandoned to drift in South Korea’s ravaged cities. The waifs—“dust of the streets” as they were called—were shunned by a Confucian society that prized bloodlines and could not countenance raising another’s child. Thousands of foreign homes began to take them in—probably the largest exodus of infants from a single country into adoption.

For about the cost of an AppleTV (or about $100), they can DNA test through companies like Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe, and then receive access to a database of cousin matches — individuals with whom they share an ancestor.

If a significant number of relatives have also tested, it is possible to determine the identity of that ancestor by cross referencing family trees.

When 2 or more of the trees match up, it’s likely that the location is also an ancestor of the adoptee.

“X” marks the spot.

It’s also possible to single out specific DNA segments on chromosomes shared between cousins and to assign them to an ancestor when pedigree is well known. This segment can be passed to several descendants off-shooting from that ancestor and travel far and wide as those branches migrate around the U.S. and the world. If cousins share a DNA segment more than 10cM (centimorgans) long, it’s extremely likely that they share an ancestor within 7 generations. About how long ago was that? 100 to 150 years. Cousins sharing longer segments are likely to be descended from more recent ancestors.

In this way, adoptees and abandoned children are able to learn about their ethnic and family heritage. What they choose to do with that knowledge is a matter of personal choice and also may be regulated by local laws. To explore the issue is matter of prerogative, but for some the impetus can be as serious as familial genetic disease which should be traced and understood for a better quality of life.

While the process of proving an ancestor can sometimes be laborious, there are FB groups, some with as many 20 thousand members, who have rafted together in solidarity around a unifying belief.

Abbreviated from articles 7 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),

Children have a right to a nationality (to belong to a country). Children also have the right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents. Children have a right to an identity – an official record of who they are. Governments should respect children’s rights to a name, nationality, and family ties.

Many interpret this to mean that all persons, independent of circumstances of conception, have the right of knowledge of origin — who their parents were, their medical history, and to have a knowledge of their genetic and social heritage.

At this time, the adoption community in the U.S. is widely oppressed and refused access to information by closed-adoption laws and obtuse avenues for inquiry. Even simple medical history is impossible for many to acquire. The only way through is to find birth family by DNA testing meant for genealogical purposes, and to learn about that family through public and rare archive collections held by genealogical societies and state and national archives.

Once a person has identified an ancestor within about 5 generations (2nd great grand parents), they can begin to research relatives in a contemporary time period. In some cases, they can even be reunited with birth family — the process is collaborative, and may end in rejection. However, for a lucky few, a good reunion is possible and reciprocally favorable.

“Army Veteran Reunites With His Twin Children for the First Time in Over 40 Years”, ABC News special interest story (video)

It’s not just possible, it’s not even just likely or probable, there absolutely *are* clues and truthful facts concerning the the identities of the birth family of adoptees and war children in those cabinets. Access to that information is endangered every day that collections like it linger in boxes and on shelves as it deteriorates further with each passing year. Also, genealogical societies are closing their doors and losing their repositories in record numbers as membership declines.

What can be done for it?

An amazing amount. With mentoring and a commitment to transparency, technical professionals and hobbyists can put those skills to great charitable use by helping genealogical societies and family history libraries bring their physical archives ONLINE.

How to help.

Do you have experience with CMS, databases, graphic design, scanning and photography, online community organizing, information security, cloud and subscription based services administration and support citizen science and social justice? I want to hear from you.

Contact, Lisa Chan for more information about volunteer opportunities, or to share ideas.

– The opinions and interests expressed in the article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the opinions of any organization she may belong to or consult with.

Browsing North Carolina and Tennessee

Each visit to SGS, I arrive with some vague research goals and head to the shelves for inspiration. Last week, I was getting familiar with the Seattle Genealogical Society’s Massachusetts section for researching my maternal grandmother’s lines — Whitcomb. This week, the goal was to get familiar with North Carolina and Tennessee collections for my maternal grandfather’s lines — Rhodes.

Our Rhodes are purported to have spent some time in Orange County, North Carolina and afterwards Bedford and Henderson County, Tennessee. These locations are supported by the pedigrees of 5th-8th Rhodes cousins from my DNA matches. However, there is much debate concerning which Rhodes of Bedford-Henderson and Orange counties we belong to.

Some claim William Rhodes (1745) m. Mary Poteet, and others John Rhodes (1743) m. Sarah Standiford (1750). Each hypothesis has compelling merits and problematic challenges, and also fascinating DNA evidence in support! Eventually, a collective of us will come together, present the evidence for the arguments, and perhaps reach a consensus on the likeliest couple. It is for this eventual meeting-of-the-minds that I plan to evaluate the research of all past and present Rhodes family historians. An ambitious project to be certain, but rewarding all the same.

Into the fray!

Shelf directions
Not surprisingly, the North Carolina and Tennessee shelves contain many indexes in book and paper-file form which are discoverable online. I am looking amongst these standards for unique and rare offerings.

North Carolina Genealogy Journal

A serial publication with a cover of bright orange beckons from the shelf. They are the North Carolina Genealogy Journals. I can return at a later time to evaluate the completeness of SGS’s collection. Perhaps there will be some interesting articles about Orange County that I will want to browse at some future time.

Court Minutes of Orange County

I almost missed these. The binding is black and conspicuously unmarked. Pulling them out, I discover that they  contain the transcribed Court Minutes of Orange County from 1752-forward. I believe there were four volumes present. Court minutes can be fascinating, and you’re in luck if ancestors enter into a legal squabble or break the law at some point. Even if your ancestors are not represented in court documents, you may find that neighbors are and from them you can learn all kinds of interesting things about the properties or issues surrounding ancestral lands and businesses.

Now on to Tennessee. Disappointingly, although the Tennessee shelves where 3-long, there were few Bedford and Henderson County centric offerings.

Cemetery Records of Bedford County Tennessee

The Cemetery Records of Bedford County Tennessee seemed promising, although I knew that their time in Bedford was brief, it’s possible that peripheral family could have died and been buried there. Worth a look. This one came off the shelves, and made it into my browsing pile.

And finally, a book with a spine simply stating “Henderson” also went into the browsing pile.

History of Henderson County

At my table, I opened my laptop to begin taking notes. Cemetery Records of Bedford County Tennessee by Marsh, 1976 was up first.

Remember last week I talked about adopting the intention of approaching books with an eye for understanding as opposed to simply fact skimming? Here was a great opportunity to begin.

First question to ask — What kind of book is this? Reading the introduction, I learned that the authors are a married couple who spent 8 years traveling all over Bedford identifying both large and small family cemeteries.

This book represents the culmination of those efforts. In the introduction, they describe that cattle and land improvements are some of the greatest threats to family cemeteries in the area — much more so than the wearing away of the headstones from natural weathering. As a consequence, the family cemeteries were disappearing at an alarming rate and many only exist in the memories of the eldest members of the community.

Now curious about the authors themselves, it was time to finally do a web search. Using discipline, and avoiding looking for an online index or version of the book, I googled the Marshes instead.

The first hit was a 2013 obituary for Timothy Marsh. And far from his passing being a sad affair, Timothy had achieved an enviable age of 92, and I learned that the Marsh couple were well known for over 70 published genealogical works concerning West Tennessee. Timothy and Helen are obviously authorities in the regional areas of my Rhodes ancestors, and it’s likely that their other publications will inform future research.

Now that something had been learned about the book and its authors, the right to check out the index had been earned. On the way to it, there were wonderful maps detailing the exact locations of the cemeteries. In the index though, there was disappointment — just two entries for RHODES. Looking them up, they represented burials in the 1900s, and my interest lay in the early to mid 1800s.

However, just the information in the introduction made pulling this book off the shelf worthwhile. Adopting the new reading guidelines is paying off.

I’m going to break here. I would love to go into what was discovered within Tennessee County History Series: Henderson, G. Tillman Stewart (1979), but dinner time is approaching, and chores must get done.

If you’re curious, you can look through it yourself. Here’s an online transcript of the publication.

From the first pass, I did learn that fossils abound in the area. My second great love, the origins of life on earth! That makes Henderson County an absolute must-go destination for the bucket list.

Distraction in the Stacks

Return. Yes, I think I will.

Return. Yes, I think I will.

Another fun day at SGS.

I have a general goal to make it into the Seattle Genealogical Society’s library at least once a week for the next few months. The day and time are blocked out in my schedule, so now it’s up to me to make that time meaningful and productive. And how to do that?

Away from the library, I’m studying a book called How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. It’s providing all kinds of valuable prompts for efficient skimming. And it certainly is a classic. As I read through the first four chapters I had mini flashbacks to reading comprehension classes from middle school.

1: State what kind of book it is. 2: Summarize the unity of the book in one sentence, or as short a paragraph as possible (check the introduction or publisher’s blurb for clues). 3: Skim the table of contents and take note of its structure and parts. 4: Read the first and last few pages. Okay, now you’re set to start exploring the index and are then welcome to dive in and skim-away.

For today’s visit, I had planned to follow these guidelines, but soon discovered that distractions abounded.

After browsing the shelves, I brought back three Maryland-centric titles to my reading area. I was looking for a few specific surnames for fresh leads on repositories to query or documents to seek online. I also had a general goal of familiarizing myself with the early families of certain counties — Anne Arundel and Baltimore.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, as I readied to practice the above guidelines, nagging thoughts interrupted. Were these books already online somewhere? Could I save some time by searching an online index of them?

Apparently, I have no self control. Laptop swung open, browser was pulled up, first book title was entered into the search field, and sure enough, at least the first book was available through Ancestry.

Well, if this one was there, were the others as well? Check. Yes. Check. Yes.

All three had been scanned, and digitally indexed (searchable). I had to wonder if it would be worth the effort to practice my pre-skimming skills with the physical titles in front of me, because I could easily accomplish that from home in my PJs.


I flipped through one of the books, I looked at the searchable book online. Back to the physical book, once again with the digital book.

The Ancestry reader seemed a bit cluttered, scanned pages were sometimes a little askew, I couldn’t get a full page up on my screen because the navigation bits seemed to get in the way. But then I switched to the search portal for the book, and I typed in my surname… and BAM! There were some names I recognized! And there was a small image and summary of what was being indexed — do I want to see tracts, tax records, or other? Choices!

Looking at the book, I flipped to the back of the index and slowly shifted through pages trying to find the “R”s. Once, I got there, it was just a name of course, and no context for what the page number was going to lead me to. The surprise had been spoiled by the searchable index, but I didn’t resent it. I sort of resented that I was being slowed down, and would possibly get distracted again on the way to finding my page.

Yet, the book seemed to be begging me to flip through the pages and read randomly as well, in a positive way. To get that “bigger picture” that my new guidelines for evaluating books required. I had been so distracted by the immediate gratification of the searchable index, that the foreword was overlooked, didn’t check table of contents, or read the first and last few pages. Did I really know overall what this book was about? Something was missing from the experience of understanding the author of this work too — why it was compiled, what goals it hoped to accomplish, and under what context it had been written. I didn’t know the structure, and I was missing aspects of how that could inform me about what records were available from the region in general. I understand that sometimes what’s NOT THERE is as telling as what is, particularly when thinking about geography, economy, and world events.

This divergence into distraction was actually teaching me an important lesson. I should have more respect for the searchable titles that online database providers serve. It wasn’t that the online version was inferior, it wasn’t. It was the EXACT same content. It reminded me of my struggle with candy binging vs choosing a good fruit. The fruit won, I haven’t touch processed sugars in a year. There’s good flavor in both, but the fruit sustains and nourishes. The candy, not so much.

I don’t want to be a grab and run kind of genealogist. I’m not a Navy Seal with a timed and critical mission, or a burglar in the night, taking what I want and then running off into the shadows. I care about this stuff, right? I feel nourished by it when it makes sense, when facts are in context, when understanding is achieved.

Conversely, I’m not a romantic about physical books either. I’m glad they’re out there, I know others really love them, but I can do better research and remember more, and be more accurate with my transcription with digital content. With my laptop, I can research at convenient times for me. After doing some metrics, I realized that I read more books and understand them better when I can control more about the environment in which I read. For example, I can’t take notes with pen and paper without aggravating RSI in my hands, holding a book is bad for my wrists, hunching over a table is bad for my back. It’s healthier for me to read and research on my laptop overall.

But I have become spoiled, and I realize now that zipping to my info using searchable indexing without first carefully reviewing the structure of the work, while saving time, is not enlightening. I’m getting facts and all that, but I didn’t really come to terms with the authored work, and there’s valuable things that I’ll completely miss because I wasn’t following good reading hygiene.

Time to clean up!

So, thank you physical books. Even though the exact information can be found elsewhere in a form that is healthier for me, you still had a great lesson to teach me. I’m glad that there’s a place that we can still go and be with physical records and objects.

I don’t think the world is ready to go completely digital nor think that it should, but it’s also important to understand that digital improves and increases accessibility – particularly for the disabled, and those with limited mobility, or means for travel, or who have limited time.

Digital collections are a good thing — a responsible, wise and noble thing — because they increases access to information.

Physical books are a just as good, but in a different way. They ask us to slow down — to savor, to appreciate, to look at the whole — and offer an opportunity to digest and ruminate precisely because we can’t circumvent working with their pages and linear first-nature.

I will have both, please! Not one or the other. They are complimentary.

NEHG and Maryland: Exploring the Shelves at SGS

I was greeted this afternoon by the lovely desk attendant Chris Schomaker. A volunteer with Seattle Genealogical Society for many years, she delights in helping intrepid researchers find just what they’re looking for among the stacks, and often resources of value that they weren’t expressly seeking.

I hadn’t set out this early afternoon with specific research goals. However, I did have a general desire to browse and see what goodies could be found amongst the Maryland section, maybe find something to inform my RHODES of Maryland research.

Before settling in, I stopped at the open seating area just inside the door of SGS. Comfortable chairs face a welcoming coffee table adorned with local society bulletins, Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter (Plus Edition), and various journals.

Prominent and tempting, The NEHG Register: Winter 2015 (produced by the famous New England Historic Genealogical Society) called out for a casual thumb through. Curious about the overall-size of SGS’s collection, I wandered over to Chris and she graciously directed me to the treasure trove. 3 full shelves of products produced by NEHG!

NEHG publications are well organized, and easy to find at SGS.

NEHG publications are well organized, and easy to find at SGS.


“Is The NEHG Register collection all there?”

Chris explained that it was almost complete. I found Vol. 1-60 looking great, but then around Vol.s 70-96 things got a little dicey. I can imagine that at some future point, those small voids will get filled. But after Vol. 96, I believe the collection looked solid (I didn’t count every single one).

Theres a small section where the NEHG Register collection isn't complete, but not significant.

Theres a small section where the NEHG Register collection isn’t complete, but it’s not significant.


“And how do I find things?”

Chris pointed out several bound volumes representing the printed indexes. Overwhelmed, I wondered out loud if there might be an online searchable database.

There is!

We journeyed over to the visitor work stations, and Chris pulled up NEGH’s American Ancestors website (accessible for FREE through the SGS library). With a little poking about, we found the portal for searching the NEHG Register.

Of course, this is me. After 2 minutes, I got side tracked away from searching the index and sucked into outlying pages. I happened upon the Town Guides — covering Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — which had resources detailing how to find records for Windham, Green, New York (important to my WHITCOMB line).

Chris was handily standing nearby to suggest that I could save the information into a thumb-drive. That would have been lovely had I remembered to bring one.

SGS had me covered though, they sell 8GB thumb drives for $10+tax. Great time saver, and I didn’t go home empty handed.

SGS branded thumb drive!

I opened up a text editor, created a text file to copy bits of an article, plugged in my newly purchased thumb drive, and saved the notes and a few pdfs offered through the website for future sorting and analysis. Success.

Smartly, I also took a moment to create a file that included my name, phone number, address and named it “! IF_FOUND.txt”. The exclamation mark at the front the filename ensures that this file will always be listed at the top when the drive is opened.

Finished at the computer, and remembering that I had a goal of eyeballing the Maryland section, I wandered back to the stacks and easily found my area with clear labeling. SGS kindly provides foot stools in the aisle to sit upon while you’re searching through the bottom shelves.

Get comfortable with the floor.

Get comfortable with the floor.


Started exploring near the beginning of the shelf, and wasn’t disappointed. Found Inventory of Maryland Bible Records: Volume One published by The Genealogical Council of Maryland in 1989 and prepared under the supervision of author and historian Robert Barnes.


Right there on page 1 — A023/24/25, STANDIFORDs of Baltimore County. Great find. I have yet to delve into the world of Bible records research, I’m not sure what to expect, and don’t yet know how to get access to these records, but I now know that they exist!

Index listings of Bibles with Baltimore County, Standifords.

Index listings of bibles with Standifords of Baltimore County .


Hearing my enthusiastic mutterings, Chris wandered back to see what I was celebrating about. I explained a little bit about my RHODES lines from Fayette County, Illinois which are suspected to descend from colonial Maryland lines, and the possible intersection with the STANDIFORD family. After a quick chat, I asked her a little bit about her interests, and she shared with me that she enjoys researching HARRIS lines from Virginia.

Hey! Aren’t my HARRIS from Virginia? I know what you might be thinking, there are Harris everywhere (almost as bad as Smith), and the odds of a mini-Harris Reunion in the stacks at SGS would be slim. But on a whim, and hopeful, I pulled up my AncestryTree, and she instantly recognized our Wooten Harris (1759-1840, b. Virgina d. Fayette County, Ill.).

HARRIS lines from Fayette County, Illinois which originate in Virgina.

HARRIS lines from Fayette County, Illinois which originate in Virgina.


She’s run into our line collaterally in research. When asking if I was certain of descent, I brought up the existence of plenty of supporting autosomalDNA evidence. Which reminded her of the Harris Y-DNA Project results page. I plan to go back and look closely to look for leads on which group we may belong to, although first pass shows no obvious Wooten Harris or relevant Isaac Harris leads.

By this time, I had been at the library for about 3 hours, gabbed for about 2.5 of those, and it was time to head home and review notes and think about future research strategies.

In all, it was a fine day. Made a new friend, learned some things, and am eager to go visit again real soon… maybe tomorrow. 😉

Wish I'd spent more time thumbing through the books rather than getting distracted with the online index!

Wish I’d spent more time browsing the hardcopy books rather than getting distracted with the online index!

Ancestry’s Shared Matches Tool

Ever since Ancestry released it’s Shared Matches feature, I have fallen down several rabbit holes.

I’ve been consumed with exploring both paternal and maternal leads.

Previously, I had been using Gedmatch and contacting cousins for possible triangulation projects. It was slow going, response rate was pretty good, but so many didn’t have Gedcoms attached to their kit profiles and getting an invite to trees was laborious.

Prior to the ICW release, the reputation for testing through Ancestry for genetic genealogy has been poor — criticisms about a lack of a chromosome browser for analyzing matches, etc.
However, because FTDNA allows for a $39 import to their database, it’s most cost effective for those interested in fishing in bigger ponds to test at Ancestry first, upload to FTDNA (to save $50) and be in two databases at once… with the goal being to connect to FTDNA because there is a reputation that users are more genetic genealogy friendly.
Interestingly, my experience to date has differed from the common belief that Ancestry is practically useless for those serious about genetic genealogy. Because the emphasis is on trees at Ancestry, I’m able to more quickly determine Common Ancestors with my matches there than at FTDNA and 23andMe.
And even though the Mirror Tree technique has been terribly throttled by caching issues and bugs at Ancestry, I am still building speculative trees and have been able to keep working on several triangulation projects there.

Another bonus, Ancestry seems to be much faster than the other two companies at processing kits. I tested in July at FTDNA, and didn’t get my results for nearly 3 months. Being impatient, I tested at Ancestry and things were processed in less than 6 weeks. So, I was able to start working with matches at Ancestry much faster. Sure, I gave up a $50 discount at FTDNA by testing there first. However, the matches at Ancestry were invaluable in busting through the paternal black hole in my tree. Utilizing Mirror Trees, I was able to discover paternal matches and then close family within weeks. Of course, every case is different and results will vary for others.

Even without detailed segment analysis through Ancestry, I’ve been able to identify important migration patterns for my surnames of interest simply by using the location search feature in conjunction with surnames queried against matches.

Analyzing paper trail clues and trees not connected to DNA kits, I knew that it was possible that certain branches existed in neighboring states to my primary branch of interest. Within our branch of the Rhodes surname, we long suspected that we came out of Maryland in the late 1700s and spread across the US through Tennessee, Kentucky, and North and South Carolina. For example,  by searching “Rhodes” “Kentucky”, I am able to see distant cousin matches in those areas, and by closely examining their trees, we can make informed guesses as to our shared ancestors above our regional patriarchs.

 In this way, I was able to identify prominent families and origins in Maryland — thereby, adding a bit more evidence to support that long held suspicion. I am also utilizing Ancestry to find cousins from these neighboring branches, and soliciting them to upload to Gedmatch. These queries to persons with kits at Ancestry are better informed and response to upload to Gedmatch has been good.

There’s still much more to be researched, and segment analysis is going to be a big part of that. However, with Ancestry’s ICW clues, we now know that our future-forward Maryland research is not in vain and a worthwhile continued focus.

More writing, less digging

I need to cool my jets. Recent projects have been so interesting and consuming, that I haven’t taken the time to slow down and write them up.

Documents and photos are piling up. Some cursory analysis has been done, but just enough to catapult me into the next challenge. I think writing can wait, more discoveries! Discoveries to be made!

Might be time to slow down and embrace the famous admonition: It’s the journey not the destination. Who said that anyway? (focus, focus!)

I know there are drives for directed blogging prompts and some people really like them, but do I really need them? Don’t think so. I have enough material to last me several lifetimes.

So what have I been working on?


In spring of this year, I felt a desire to communicate more with Seattle Genealogical Society members, but felt it hard to get down to the library. So, I have volunteered to moderate the SGS Networking Facebook Group. After a slow start, we now have about 20 members and growing everyday.


In November of 2014, my grandmother passed forward my second great grandmother’s genealogical notes. What a treasure! Therein, I discovered a 7-decade old brickwall that at least a dozen people have been working on. We wish to know the origins of the patriarch Alexander Rhodes (1790-1840) of the Rhodes in Illinois. So, I decided to aim my genetic genealogy skills at the problem, and now we have a thriving project well on its way to connect the Rhodes to the long suspected Rhodes and Standiford families of Anne Arundel, Maryland. Illinois Rhodes from Maryland.


Along with that mystery came the knowledge that we also do not know much about the Dodson families of Fayette County, Illinois. It’s Anna Dodson’s search for her husband’s family patriarch (Alexander Rhodes) that brought to light that we also do not know who her father’s parents are. James Knox Polk Dodson (1850-1905), who were your parents? Speak up! I’m now in contact several Dodson families outside of Illinois that look promising. We’re comparing our chromosome segments looking for commonalities, and I hope to be able to close this cold case within a year.


And finally, the holy grail. I discovered a year ago that I am the NPE (non paternity event) in my generation after a DNA test to contribute to a health study revealed some anomalous (but not entirely surprising) results. The journey to get to the heart of the how, why, when, where and who… intense, exhausting, at times troublesome. It’s been so challenging to get my head wrapped around, and such a sensitive issue, that I find it difficult to write about publicly. However, I still feel a desire to do so. My nature is to want to be both transparent, and yet kind and fair concerning the privacy and feelings of the living still connected with the issue. The decision to share about it always comes down to wrestling with some core issues of ethics… am I entitled? To discover, to talk, to question, to continue to seek? Whose feelings are more important… mine? Or the extended family who may feel some shame, discomforts, or insecurities about my drive to know the truth? And what about the others like me? The people I know who can benefit from what I’ve learned, how I’ve struggled, and what I’ve discovered about the nature of acknowledging that I do have a right to know the truth. They matter, they are deserving as well. I’ve learned that there are protected places that we can gather to have these conversations… so I have been taking my questions and contemplations there.

If you are a person considering trying to discover birth parents, or the nature of an NPE in your family tree, I highly recommend visiting DNA Adoption for how-to articles and support in your quest.

Great. This is a good start, and an opportunity to start fresh.



German Interest Group at Seattle Genealogy Society

It’s a grey, spring day in Seattle. What better way to spend a few hours than enjoying the company of other fellow genealogy researchers?

Checking the Seattle Genealogical Society website, I saw that there was a special German interest group meeting today. Arriving a few minutes behind schedule, I was welcomed to a full table of about 8 other hopeful family historians.

If I had been better prepared, I would have written down the host’s name. However, I was so caught up in the great tips and researching options that it slipped my mind. I’ll remember to be better about that in the future.


Make note of the name and contact information of hosts at all group discussions or workshops, you never know when you’ll want to contact or reference them in the future.

Discussion started with a round robin introduction and a request to share the surnames and locations of our German research subjects. Some folks knew a lot, others had just started their quest. I landed somewhere just above beginner, but not yet intermediate.

I know the full names of my half dozen ancestral immigrants from Germany (KAISER, SPRINGER, OBERNOLTE, ALLINGER). For a few, I even knew the small villages of their births. For others, just the provinces or port of departures.

There’s still a lot of research yet to be done, and I know (from a previous workshop) that I have some special challenges regarding the Northern German Ostfriesen branches of the family due to their unique geographical location and limited access to Ortssippenbuch (OSBs, community lineage books).

I was having a purposefully casual day. However, next time I plan to be prepared with family sheet reports or some kind of summary on all my German ancestors to make remembering the details easier during introductions.


It’s helpful to sit down for a few minutes before study groups and organize summaries and notes about your research subjects for easy recall.

The primary focus of the talk centered around exploring Family Search’s German Genealogy Wiki.


Beyond hitting up Google for possible research avenues, try visiting Family Search’s Research Wiki and RootsWeb .

Because I knew that I could go back and research everything that was talked about concerning exploring the wiki, I only took notes on side conversation suggestions. This allowed me to focus more on the conversation and less on note taking.

You’re much better served by doing your research close to home at a Family Research Center, rather than spending all your time in an archive. That way you can enjoy experiencing things on your trips abroad.

Overall, it was a pleasant few hours learning about the challenges of my peers and listening for the gems of insight dropped by the woman who had over 20 years experience researching her German heritage.