I Haven’t Been Counted

I haven’t been counted. In my genealogy research, census reports have uncovered many mysteries in the recent past of my family, yet I have not been in the past two or three censuses. ARGH. How did that happen?

The last one in 2010, I was in North Plains, Oregon, just west of Portland, living with my husband in our own home. We waited patiently for a census taker. I assumed one would come knocking or a letter would arrive in the mail. Something to allow us to be counted and found in decades to come by family history researchers finding me of some significance in their family tree.

No one showed up and nothing arrived in the mail, and I forgot about it, until last year when the numbers started coming out! Without me!

In 2000, we were living in Israel and no one contacted us about being counted in the states as we weren’t living there.

In 1990, where was I? I was living in Seattle alone. No census taker came by my place that I know.

In 1980, hmmm. Good question. I was in Spain or Everett, Washington. Depends upon when the census takers would have been out working. I was a vagabond, living out of a backpack, going here and there as whim, jobs, and life took me.

In 1970, am I listed? I was living with my family, a kid running wild in the woods. We were in Lake Stevens, Washington, out on our quasi farm/ranch in the once backwoods of Snohomish County.

What about as a baby. Was I in time for the census then? Am I listed?

Okay, 2020. You are a few years away, but I’m ready for you. I’m going to be on that census report hell or high water. I spend too much time pouring through census reports looking for lost relatives to not be among the counted when it comes to generations in the future digging through current census reports and finding me.

ME! That’s right! I want to be counted. Don’t you?

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The Genealogical Paradox

The Genealogical Paradox

In a BBC article, “Family trees: Tracing the world’s ancestor,” it talks about the process of building your family tree, and the problems associated with it.

The surprise comes if we look at inheritance from both parents. Here, the numbers change drastically as the generations go by. For instance, we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on.

Each generation back, we multiply the number by two. This leads to what is called an exponential increase: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 and so on.

It’s not long before we hit huge numbers. Take the specific case of Jesus and King David.

The number of generations between them is at least 35. Luke lists 42 generations down the male line, and Matthew gives an incomplete list of 27.

These numbers agree reasonably well with an average time between generations of 25 or 30 years – an estimate taken from documented historical records from Iceland and Canada.

So back in the time of David, Jesus would have had at least 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 (35 times); in other words 2^35 – or more than 34 billion potential ancestors. That’s far more than the total population of the world, of course.

This is a good illustration of what’s been called the “genealogical paradox”.

This had never occurred to me.

The path towards uncovering my ancestors had to specifically be narrowed down. On this site, I’m focused on my immediate and direct ancestors, following the West, Knapp, Anderson, and Vaughn lines, though branching out a little as interest and time allows, but I’m keeping my path narrow.

Now I understand why. If Jesus would have had 34 billion ancestors, how many would I have today, 2,000 years and many generations later?

Another fascinating point in the article is the concept of six degrees of separation, though in their example, it’s 20 generations degree of separation.

Even so, by that time, you will have collected a large number of people in your ancestry. So it’s not surprising that any two people in any one country probably won’t need to go back many generations before finding a common ancestor.

…If people in this population meet and breed at random, it turns out that you only need to go back an average of 20 generations before you find an individual who is a common ancestor of everyone in the population.

…In fact about 80% of the people at that time in the past will be the ancestors of everyone in the present. The remaining 20% are those who have had no children, or whose children have had no children, and so on – in other words, people who were genetic dead-ends.

That’s why everyone alive in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus would have been able to claim David for an ancestor.

Another reason why just about anyone alive today could claim King David (and Jesus if you believe he had children) as an ancestor. 😀

So the odds are high that 20 generations back, I might have a common ancestor with Barak Obama, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Prince Charles, even the Queen! And with you!

My family trees go back at most 11 generations, maybe 12 or 13 counting today’s generation. Hmm, I’ll have to get busy and go further to find those connections.

The article also states that in about 3,000 years, someone alive today will be the common ancestor of all humanity, and a few thousand years after that, 80% of the breeders today will be ancestors to all humanity…a frightening and exciting thought.

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Where Do You Draw the Family History Research Line?

In The Worst Question in Genealogy, genealogist Kerry Scott of Clue Wagon admits that the worse question ever asked is “What do you do?” For a family historian, the next question is “How far back have you gone?”

I love her response as I find it similar to my own, though I know I need to change my mindset.

Am I the only one who hates that question? Because here’s the answer: After nearly 20 years, I’m back to around 1800 or so.

Of course, they’re disappointed, because they wanted to hear that you were back to the Mayflower or Thor or Adam and Eve or something. Nope. Not me. 1800-ish.

Confession: I’m not even all that interested in getting all the way back to Thor. I like American history. I’m interested in research here in the United States, and as soon as they’re back in Europe, I’m…well, not entirely disinterested, but much more likely to wander off in search of ice cream. My original attraction to genealogy was about understanding The Big Move–why they came, what they experienced when they got here, and what happened as a result of their decision to come. I’ve been moving my whole life, so big moves are a big deal for me.

For her family history research, she is interested in recent American history as well as the current history of her family. She admits to gathering and preserving all the information she can on siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and all of the family members for multiple generations around her now, not just way back when.

For me, it’s a fine line between preserving everything I can now of now, combined with as far back as I can go, preserving the preservable before we lose it all.

My ancestor, Nicholas Knapp, has been researched thoroughly by historians yet they cannot seem to cross the Atlantic Ocean to properly uncover his true roots. There is much conjecture I’ve learned, but no proof other than genetics, of where he came from. For me, that is a stopping line until I have “proof,” whatever that is, of his past. Like so many, he arrived in the United States and was re-born anew, a truly fresh start. Hard for me to push past that.

Other family lines I can trace back to their European roots, but I’ve get to get enough information to quantify a trip over there with genealogy in mind. I need to do more, but I’m so busy collecting the information from the past four hundreds years and solving the mysteries of proximate relations, international feels like too much work.

An acquaintance, the family historian for their family, bragged that he had over 1300 entries in his genealogy program. I congratulated him but thought to myself, “How much does he really know about all 1300 people?”

Numbers can be impressive, but a part of me wants more. I want quality. I constantly want to know more about these people and rejoice when the research gives me just one more piece of the puzzle of who they were, why they did what they did, how they came to be who they were and what they did as well as where they lived.

For me, I want to stop my relatives in their tracks and ask them the worse question: “What did you do?”

Are you that way, too? Where do you draw the line in your research?

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DNA Could Prove to Be the Best Storage Option for Our Family History

DNA is being investigated for long-term data storage. Did you catch the news?

From the links listed below, I learned recently that scientists are investigating, and succeeding, in storing information on a string of synthetic DNA. They have succeeded in not just storing but retrieving the information without loss of data.

How does that impact family historians and genealogists?

So far, images, text, HTML (the code for web architecture and documents), words, and other information have been successfully stored on artificially created DNA. Since DNA is our base-code, if you will, the stuff we are all made of, therefore scientists and researchers will probably never lose interest in it, so says Drew Endy of Stanford University. “Human beings are never going to stop caring about DNA.” It is compact, light-eight, and could possibly remain intact if stored in a dark and cool environment for thousands of years, defying paper and current forms of data storage on computers.

Genealogy and history has been plagued by two key things, the lack of consistent preservation of our history and the lack of determination to share our stories so they can be preserved. Stories get passed on only so far and then, if not recorded, they are lost to time. The current generations have the greatest potential for culture and historical preservation of any that came before us, and we need to make the most of it.

Storage of historical documents, photographs, audio and video recordings, what history we’ve managed to preserve is critical going forward, as is recording our lives today. Instead of shifting with the latest and best storage technology, beta max, CD, DVD, 8mm, and other storage media of our recent archaic collections, DNA could prove to be a long term storage option with little obsolescence.

Imagine several hundred or thousand years from now, your life story and the history of your family to this point could be uncovered and studied by a descendant eager to learn about who you were and how you lived, and how you and your family came to this point in time. I’m not sure they could do much with our old cassette recorded interviews or images and papers stored on DVDs and CDs scratched at the least, crumbled to dust at the most, but DNA…that will last.

Right now, estimates are that the process will cost over USD $12,000 per megabyte to encode and $220 to decode, but if this works, the costs will definitely decrease, making it affordable as well as easy to do.

To me, this is very exciting news.

I also do not miss the irony. DNA research continues to lead us back through history, finding all those related to us from our gene pool living today, as well as to our past family history, tracing our family’s DNA around the world through history and cultures. The fact that it could be the answer to preserving our family history in the future…yeah, it’s somehow appropriate. Full circle.

For more information on this:

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Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Reading Room

The US Library of Congress has a Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building featuring more than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories among its many collections. According to their post discussing this, “Growing a Family Tree,” the strength in their collections lies in early US history, North American history, and British Isles and German sources.

These international strengths are further supported and enriched by the Library’s royalty, nobility and heraldry collection, making it one of only a few libraries in America that offer such resources. In addition, the vertical files in the reading room contain miscellaneous materials relating to specific family names; to the states, towns, and cities of the U.S.; and to genealogical research in general.

Next trip to Washington, DC, must include this!

Until then, consider their Local History and Genealogy Reading Room (Humanities and Social Sciences Division, Library of Congress) online site as it features a list of The Collections, American Memory collection of digitized materials on US History, and other online and Internet resources.

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WordPress Plugin for Citations, Footnotes and Bibliographies

In researching techniques for adding footnotes to posts in WordPress for “Creating Footnotes in WordPress,” I looked into several WordPress Plugins for footnotes. One caught my attention.

AcademicPress WordPress Plugin is ideal for a serious genealogy and family history site as it is designed for academic publishing.

This WordPress Plugin supports APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, and other citation styles for proper citation and formatting of reference material. It features a dynamic and customizable footnote feature making it easy to generate footnotes at the bottom of each published post.

WordPress Shortcodes are used for easy usage of citations, footnotes, bibliographies, and other formats.

A great feature is the ability to work with various data sets, allowing import and export of data to and from collections to other formats.

Written by Benjamin Sommer[1] , you can learn more about how it works on the AcademicPress site[2] .

I’ve just started experimenting with this powerful free WordPress Plugin on my genealogy site, as you can see from the footnotes in this article. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Table of Footnotes

  1. Benjamin Sommer ^
  2. AcademicPress site ^

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Where Were Turbans Worn in the World in 1925?

According to Wikipedia, the Turban first appeared in the history of clothing early on, highlighting turbans called phakeolis worn by the Byzantine army.

My question is where was my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr., that he captured this picture of men and a boy wearing turbans.

Men in turbans in unknown location - with boy and goats - from the scrapbook of Howard W. West Sr. circa 1925.

I know he traveled through Asia, sticking to the Pacific coastal lands as he was in the US Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. I know he traveled in the Orient, and possibly through the Panama Canal. Where would he have encountered turbans?

Encyclopaedia Iranica goes in depth on the history of the turban in relationship to religion, claiming Adam wore the first turban as a substitute “for the crown he had worn in paradise.”

History and information on turbans from Millinery Techniques identifies the name “turban” coming from variations of the tulip flower in English.

Is it possible he reached India? Or found a Muslim quarter in China, or maybe he reached Taiwan, Philippines, or other part of Indonesia or elsewhere where turbans were typically worn in 1925.

It’s another one on my mystery list, and another puzzle piece that makes up the life of my grandfather West.

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Musings of the History Queen of The Dalles, Oregon

Musings of the History Queen of The Dalles, Oregon

I’m trying to research information on news events that happened between 1958 and 1965 in The Dalles, Oregon, and having no luck on the web. However, I did find some resources worth sharing for future reference.

In particular is the blog by Winquatt called Musings of the History Queen with the tagline “Celebrating life in Historic The Dalles.” I’ve only scraped the surface of all the information on the site, but “On the Hunt for History” lists many local, state, and national resources for the area.

Guess it’s time to head down to the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon History Museum and library to dig through more recent archives and newspapers. I’m so used to digging through old historical stuff, this will be refreshing.

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Uncovering the Past on Place Names

In another brilliant family history and local history piece, Winquatt of Musings of the History Queen brings us “The mystery of Justin Chenoweth.”

In The Dalles, Oregon, Chenoweth’s name (spelled Chenowith by the locals) is plastered all over town. There’s the Chenowith area, meaning the west side of town. Chenowith Elementary School. Chenowith Middle School. Chenowith Rim Apartments. Chenowith Loop Road. Chenowith Creek. There isn’t a more recognized namesake in this town.

You don’t have to delve very deep into local history to run across the fact that Justin Chenowith/Chenoweth ran the mail between The Dalles and the Upper Cascades on the Columbia River in the early 1850’s.

As a historian in a town rich with history, I just hadn’t gotten around to researching Justin Chenowith/Chenoweth, beyond discovering the reason for the confusion about the spelling of his last name might have stemmed from the fact — a conclusion based on his signature — that you couldn’t tell WHICH way he spelled it.

So I was unprepared for the discovery of how little history on Chenoweth is in the normal local archives.

With the help of several other researchers, she uncovered almost nothing about Justin Chenoweth in The Dalles records. “For someone who has been feted with so much name recognition, we owe it to Justin Chenoweth, our community, and history’s children, to honor his contribution as a pioneer of the Mid-Columbia.”

She’s right.

What do we know of the names on the signs for places and buildings all around us let alone where our families lived throughout history. There is history everywhere, yet do we stop and really ask how these places came to be named and what these people did or how they contributed significantly to our communities to get name recognition on a sign.

The art and study of naming things is serious business. Onomastics is the study of the proper names and origins of names of everything. Toponymy or toponomastics is a branch of onomastics, which focuses on the study of place names. Continue reading

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Family History Blogging Tips and Resources

In anticipation of a series of workshops and classes I will be teaching soon on family history blogging, I’ve put together “Family History Blogging Resources and Tips” as a long list of family history and genealogy blogging tips, techniques, and resources.

I’ve included links to my articles on family history blogging as well as extensive basic tips for using WordPress and WordPress.com.

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