The GEGs of IGHR Course 2 became very animated and inquisitive as two of genealogy’s most respected thinkers gave today’s lectures. John Philip Colletta taught us about ship travel and naturalization records. Blaine Bettinger took up the question of DNA in genealogical research. We had questions and more questions. (This diary began at Sunday’s Orientation.)
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
I got on the road to Birmingham about 6am, lulled by the swish of windshield wipers. It was an umbrella kind of day. Most of us got to class a half-hour early, coffee mugs in tow, and the animated chatter began. This happens when GEGs gather.
They came in ships: passenger arrival records
I count John Philip Colletta as one of the best genealogy teachers in the country. I was thrilled to know we would have two Colletta lectures. The first lecture was drawn from his book They Came in Ships: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record.
I have not yet taken any of my ancestral lines back “to the boat,” so virtually everything John covered brought new knowledge for me. I have some familiarity with what ship records look like, but I had no idea how many different places you could look for them.
Covering the colonial period to the mid-twentieth century, the possibilities become vast. He told us that, in addition to the five major ports of entry we usually think of, there were 66 smaller ports.
He also provided a substantial bibliography, which will hopefully guide me to the best sources when I do get my people back to the boat. Certainly before that happens, John’s book will be in my library.
They became Americans: naturalization records
John Colletta also taught us the nuts and bolts of locating naturalization records. With no family branches traced back to the boat for me, I have not been seeking naturalization records yet. Neither have I looked at any, so I was surprised by the richness of the information that can be drawn from them.
If I learned nothing else from this lecture, I needed to know this: officials at Ellis Island were not renaming everyone. If a family took on a new name there, they came by it another way.
John offered one other truly surprising lesson in this hour. A woman born and raised in the USA could lose the privileges of citizenship if she married an unnaturalized alien. I find myself wondering if this reality prevented any women from marrying. What a decision!
For the GEGs who love audiobooks, as I do, I also recommend John’s Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy. One of “The Great Courses,” it pulls off something I doubted it could do: keeps you enthralled and following the narrative from beginning to end, on audio. That’s not an easy feat for a genealogy book, but he manages it beautifully.
And on that, a note to all genealogical authors. For those of us carrying a heavy career load and adding the practice of genealogy into the cracks of space left in our schedules, we have one beautiful space for reading in our lives: our daily commute. While genealogy is easier with pictures, please try to find a way to teach some subjects that can stand on an audio script.
Genetics for genealogists
This afternoon, we turned our attention to the brainteaser of 21st-century family history research: genetic genealogy or DNA. We were fortunate enough to have “The Genetic Genealogist” himself, Blaine Bettinger, as our lecturer.
Long known for his blog on this subject, he has a brilliant grasp of the intricacies and complications that are multiplying as DNA becomes an essential hub of genealogical research.
Of the many, many things he taught us in this session, one thing stuck out. The genealogical field now considers DNA to be an essential component of the “reasonably exhaustive search” standard. I’m glad to hear it said outright. We’ve all seen it coming.
DNA tools and basic analysis
After our afternoon break, Blaine Bettinger gave a second lecture. He examined the tools and analysis of genetic genealogy. Most helpful, he detailed the specialties, strengths, and weaknesses of the major genetic DNA companies.
Most of us in class had struggled with the nuanced service offerings of Ancestry.com, 23 and Me, and Family Tree DNA. Quite a few were also dabbling now with the wonders of GEDmatch.com. The questions began before he was two sentences into his lecture.
His skill at managing the constant barrage of questions impressed me. I have no idea if he delivered even a fraction of his planned lecture. We created the lecture with our curiosity, and we never ran out of that.
I absorbed all I could manage. I filled the margins of my course text with notes for later reference. Most importantly, though, I’ve signed up for his blog. This field is going to change faster than any of us can get a hold of it, and I want to keep up.
The more I listen to these experts, the more I realize that genealogy grows more highly specialized every year. I suppose it has always had its specialists. But as the students of genealogy become more advanced, we are demanding ever more complex instruction. I like this development.