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Storage of historical documents, photographs, audio and video recordings, what history we’ve managed to preserve is critical going forward, as is recording our lives today.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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Identifying Old Photographs with the Photo Detective

Photo Detective is the blog of photo historian Maureen Taylor, author of “Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.”

She helps readers play detective with their photographs for free. The details are usually in the photograph such as the hairstyle, clothing, location, signs, and the tiny details we often miss.

In her post, ““Downton Abbey” and Family Photos,” she discusses the popular television show’s dedication to emulating the period clothing. The show depicts the struggles of an aristocratic family from before World War I through the war. The clothing styles for both men and women shift and changed during that time period, as did class lines and values.

While she (and all of us) talked about how much she is enjoying the visual and historical eye candy of the show, she brings it back around to the details that are so important to dating and researching a photograph for family history.

Photo identification and dating an image relies on information. What a person wears is helpful, but not the whole story. Pictorial context is important–where was it taken, who took the image and what else is visible. Adding up the clues can solve the mystery, date the image and identify the person.

Taylor has published several books on preservation and researching family photographs, as well as historical fashion styles. If you have a mystery photograph, consider submitting it to her or studying her site for tips and tricks to help you identify your own.

I’ve got a few that I’m struggling to identify, including those in my Do You Know These People? category. Lately, I’ve been working on identifying photographs of the USS Arizona from my grandfather’s scrapbook and Coast Guard Insignias and Ranks to help me identify the rank and time period of photographs of my grandfather in military uniform. Identifying photographs goes beyond just faces and places.

Here are some other articles of Taylor’s worth reading.

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Puget Sound Navy Museum, Bremerton, Washington

Puget Sound Navy Museum, Bremerton, Washington

Bremerton Naval Base in Washington State - unconfirmed - photograph by Howard W. West Sr circa 1926.

This is an unconfirmed picture of what I think is the Naval Base at Bremerton, Washington, circa 1926. It was taken by my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr.. He was on the USS Arizona during its stay there for refitting and maintenance. I have photographs I’m trying to identify from his scrapbook of the base, ships, and area. My father may have been there for a short time as well.

The Puget Sound Navy Museum is in Bremerton, Washington, and is another place on my research list for the next time I head up towards Seattle.

The location of the museum is 251 First Street, Bremerton, Washington, and it is open Monday through Saturday from 10-4 and Sunday from 1-4, though closed Tuesdays during the Winter (Oct – April) so scheduling during the week needs to take that into consideration.

Hopefully they can help me identify some of the images from that time period and they may have more information on my grandfather’s time there.

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Seattle Coast Guard Museum – The History of the Coast Guard and Pacific Northwest Maritime

Seattle Coast Guard Museum - The History of the Coast Guard and Pacific Northwest Maritime

There is a Coast Guard Museum in Seattle, Washington. This will be invaluable as I dig more into the lives of my father and his father, both serving in the Coast Guard in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

The address and information is found on the official web page for the museum, a simple static web page on one of the volunteer or organizer’s websites:

Coast Guard Museum Northwest
1519 Alaskan Way South
Seattle, WA 98134
(206) 217-6993

Hours: MWF 9-3

According to the description the museum features thousands of Coast Guard historical items including a Lighthouse Service clock from about 1860, uniforms, ship parts and pieces, a piece of the HMS Bounty and USS Constitution, models of the various Revenue Cutter Service and Coast Guard Cutters, and more paraphernalia of the Coast Guard’s history.

What is even more important are the over 2,000 books and periodicals covering Coast Guard and Northwest maritime history which will serve me in researching two branches of the family, the West and Knapp families.

It also includes 2500 historical documents, clippings, and vessel plans, and over 15,000 photographs dating back to the 19th century.

These maybe the folks who can help me identify all the ships in the scrapbook of Howard W. West Sr!

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