Ancestry.com’s Newest Mobile App Identifies Iconic Ancestors and Relatives


An End to Years of Tedious Research?

Over the course of my 35+ often tedious years of researching and documenting family histories, obviously I have discovered many ancestors and even living relatives who I wasn’t aware were connected to our family.  Nevertheless, during their lives for whatever reason(s), they left indelible marks on our world’s history and in some instances our “pop” culture.

If we look back at my blog over the past 5+ years, we can see that many of my 325+ posts have focused on the more famous characters–those who made an impact on me or society because they attained great knowledge or fame through their leadership, their bravery, their innovation and perseverance through difficult times, their specific skills and contributions to a particular field or study, or their God-given callings and talents that helped make them extraordinary persons in the eyes of their peers.

We’re Related App

To both my joy and sorrow, Ancestry recently released a new FREE mobile app, “We’re Related.” The ease of this app quickly puts new and interesting relationship details in your hands that once took decades to uncover.   It finds discoveries that you never would have expected; i.e., you are related to famous people, or you’re related to friends within your social media circles.

I allowed the app to access to my already public ancestry tree that goes back generations.  Almost instantly it started notifying me of new finds about possible relatives through shared common ancestors.  While I haven’t yet shared any new relationship discoveries on Facebook, Snapchat or other social media, the capabilities and options to do so are there.

The app’s look and feel and overall navigation options are outstanding –  easy, simple, intuitive, with options for feedback.  It is loads of fun and may be “for entertainment only,” but for a serious genealogist it can be a tool for research, too.

This is a screenshot of one of my suggested relatives, former Sex Symbol of the 1950s and 1960s: “Marilyn Monroe.”  While not shown here, there are icons below the narrative, to allow you to check the branching of relatives from you back to a relative in common with the notable person; a button that links me back into my tree for further exploration; a share button to allow you to share via the usual social media sources, an emoji heart-shape to recommend the app to others; and, opportunities to select and/or invite friends to join in on the fun or to see if you are related to the friend.  There’s also a statistical chart that breaks down all suggested relatives by their occupations; e.g., I have 14 identified relatives.  The breakdown is as follows:

  1. All – gives you the total count of relatives suggested, in my example – 14
  2. Favorites – indicates those that you marked as “favorite” upon reviewing them
  3. Facebook – tells you how many of your relatives are from Facebook – 1
  4. Nearby – How many relatives live nearby- 0
  5. Actors & Actresses  – In my example, I have 5
  6. Authors & Writers – In my example, 2
  7. Business Magnates – 1
  8. Musicians and Composers – 2
  9. Politicians – 3
  10. US Presidents & First Ladies – 1
  11. Arts and Architects – 0
  12. Crime Fighters and Lawyers – 0
  13. Criminals, Eccentrics, and Oddities – 0
  14. Educators – 0
  15. Entertainers and Magicians – 0
  16. Historical Figures –  (this should be 2, but it says 0) what would you call Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill?
  17. Journalists – 0 (Ben Franklin was also a journalist)
  18. Medal of Honor Recipients -0
  19. Military Figures – 0
  20. Philanthropists – 0 (this should say 1) Bill Gates
  21. Religious Figures – 0
  22. Royalty – 0
  23. Scientists and Inventors – 0 (again, Ben Franklin)
  24. Social Reformers – 0
  25. Sports Figures – 0
  26. U.S. Supreme Court Justices – 0
  27. Victim – 0

The following link takes you to the list I created by extracting an individual relative’s information from the app.  I hope you enjoy and will send me your thoughts and feedback.

Famous Relatives Identified by Ancestry.com’s -Possible Relatives- App – Sheet1

Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker


I responded to Ancestry the very instant I finished reading their announcement to retire Family Tree Maker.  If, after reading this story, you feel compelled to do the same I encourage you to do so at: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/12/08/ancestry-to-retire-family-tree-maker-software/.

Our Families and their Untold Stories

Posted by Susie Higginbotham on December 10, 2015 

The genealogy community is all a buzz due to the announcement two days ago by Ancestry.com that they would be retiring and no longer supporting their software program, Family Tree Maker.  As a FTM user, this news was very upsetting to me. I have spent many hours of my life building my family tree online with Ancestry.com, using FTM. You can view their announcement at their blog site, http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/12/08/ancestry-to-retire-family-tree-maker-software/.

Since the announcement, I have calmed down and the initial panic has worn off.  I have decided to sit this out for a while before I make any major changes to the way I do my genealogy work.  After all, we have until January of 2017.  I know other family tree software companies will use this time of panic to make sweet offers for the panicked masses of FTM users to switch to their products, which is tempting I admit. But for now, I will wait it out and see what else happens or comes about.

First though, I have to say to Ancestry.com that your timing on this deal is pretty crappy.  You won’t be offering FTM for sale after Dec 31, 2015 and you announced this on Dec 8, 2015.  Seventeen days before Christmas.  I’m sure most people, like myself, are already budgeted to the max.  I bought the program and downloaded it to my laptop, without ever getting the setup disk.  So of course I would like to now buy the disk so that if my laptop crashes, I can at least add the program back to a new computer.  That would be $79 I wasn’t expecting to spend with such short notice, right in the middle of the holiday season.  My children thank you.  They will now have to believe again in Santa Claus if they want their stocking filled up.

The reason I use the FTM program is because I need to print my work out, run reports, see cousin relations, etc. I also use the program, to catch errors, and make mass changes at once.  Here is an example of a report I always use when researching.  I keep this right in front of me when working on a line, this way I know all the players and dates for reference.

Me to John Floyd Ball

The main reason I will sit this out before switching to another software program is the tree sync feature that FTM offered with Ancestry.com.  I spend many hours working on my family tree.  Sometimes I work from Ancestry.com, and sometimes I work directly in the software, offline.  When I go back online, FTM automatically syncs my data from the software to my tree online.  That means, any changes I made on Ancestry.com is downloaded and updated to my software program, and any changes I made in the program is uploaded to Ancestry.com and my tree there is updated.  This means I do not have to do double the work, and my tree is exactly the same in both locations, online and offline.

At this point if I switch to another software program, any changes I make to my tree, will have to be manually made in two places.  In the program, and on my ancestry.com tree. In the past, before I used FTM tree sync, this meant I would get on a roll, working away on Ancestry.com and not even really remember what all I had changed, and then have to remember to make the same changes in the software program. Inevitably, this meant I would forget to make one or two of the changes and then my data is comprised and not correct, and doesn’t match in both places.

And yes, I know I can just do my work on Ancestry.com and then extract a gedcom, upload in my program and then they match.  I don’t want to go through that every time I make changes.  I want a program to sync withAncestry.com.  Hopefully, one of the other programs will step up and make the sync with Ancestry.com a possibility, and if they do, that is who I will switch to.

The other major problem with them discontinuing the program, is all the reporting that the software program has, that Ancestry.com does not have.  I use these reports daily, in one way or another, and ancestry.com only offers reports that you have to pay to get.  I’m definitely not paying them to print out a copy of the work I have done myself. Never will that happen.  In fact, if they would just add the reporting abilities to their website, then I would be more than happy to do most of my work online on their website and then back up my tree to my computer any time I make changes.

This announcement two days once again fostered my fear of what will happen to my family tree when I am gone?  How do I keep my work up to date, all together, less confusing and easily accessible to my descendants or any family members that are interested? What if the one way I have decided to keep my information becomes obsolete and all my work is lost before another family member becomes interested?

I know for a fact, all this paper work I have lying around, will probably just get trashed when I am gone.  My kids are not going to look at all the data I have collected in these binders and boxes.  My hope was to get all this information, photos, maps, letters, diaries and etc, integrated into my tree, easily accessible on the computer and then maybe someone would be interested if it was all easily searchable and organized all together.  I know, I know, you are laughing at me right now.  No family historian ever really accomplishes this.  But I had planned to die trying.  LOL!

So, my new goal for 2016 will be to come up with a plan for all my work, and figure out the best way to save all this for future generations so that it doesn’t end up in the dump when I die, or better yet, die out with an obsolete computer program.

In a way, I guess this is a big thank you to Ancestry.com for waking me up enough to realize that my work will not survive solely in a computer program, with reports lying around in binders.

 BRAVE NEW WORLD: JOHN SMITH


In my research on  Pocahontas, the  Rolfes, Bollings, Branches, Lewises, and Randolphs of Virginia…

I happened upon the following blog post from Life – News, articles, and information on family life and entertainment: Brave New World: John Smith. Unfortunately this Blogger website has no history, author, or contact information other than the article being posted (without any images) by “Zaman.”  I chose to add images and share this writer’s rather long but interesting December 2007 post with you anyway because it beautifully compliments and expands upon other posts that I’ve written about our families of Colonial Virginia and their histories, and I truly enjoyed the author’s style of writing:

On the threshold of American history stands one of our most controversial heroes

captain-john-smith

Captain John Smith

Although he barely had a toe hold on the New World, he has not been budged by the heaviest scholarly attacks. So enmeshed was colonial America in European folkways that we could hardly have expected an enduring hero before Plymouth Rock was settled. Yet we have Captain John Smith. One of the most fascinating American heroines, Pocahontas, comes with him.  Subjugator of nine-and-thirty kings, by his own say-so, John Smith aroused derision as easily as he made legends. “It soundeth much to the dimunition of his deeds,” Thomas Fuller wryly complained, “that he alone is the herald to publish and proclaim them.” More recently, Professor Walter Blair irreverently noted that ” Smith could hardly go for a walk without saving a beautiful damsel, or having one fall head over heels in love with him.” But Smith’s admirers have not been fazed. “To set him down as an arrant braggadocio would seem to some critics,” observed historian John Fiske, “essential to their reputation for sound sense.” A. G. Bradley found in the Smith saga “nothing to strain the credulity of anyone with a tolerable grasp of historical and social progress.” Hero or faker, Captain John Smith has held the popular imagination so firmly that he and Pocahontas are our best known colonial couple.Smith’s checkered career was distinctly susceptible of the heroic. He spent so much of his life acting the part of the swashbuckler that he came to play the role expertly. Son of a prosperous English tenant farmer, he left home in 1596 at sixteen to seek Adventure. If his own account can be trusted, he performed marvelous deeds in the Mediterranean and the Near East. He served with the Austrians against the Turks in 1602, saw duty on the Hungarian border, and was still young when he set out for the New World in 1607. After spending two and a half years in Virginia he was returned to England. Chagrined by the treatment he had received and embittered by those who had ejected him, he induced influential enemies of the men in control of Virginia to sponsor his “authentic” account of the New World. His not too ulterior motive was to prove that the actions of certain Englishmen interfered with colonial enterprise, and that the colonies prospered more under royal control than under corporate management.

Title: The Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith Author: E. Boyd Smith Illustrator: E. Boyd Smith

Illustrator: E. Boyd Smith

The spectacular Pocahontas rescue story (whether or not is was true) was a means of bringing the Captain back into the limelight he so enjoyed. In consequence, when Pocahontas arrived in England in 1616, she got much attention. As Lady Rebecca she cut quite a figure, and of a style the Elizabethans appreciated. In his Generall Historie ( 1624), Smith recorded that “In the utmost of many extremities Pokahontas, the great King’s daughter of Virginia, oft saved my life.” People of his day wanted to believe it; people of ours do too. Adopting a hero is basically an act of faith.The literature about the English adventurer is so extensive that it forms a separate chapter in American historiography. Although his contemporaries had some doubts about Captain John Smith’s veracity, his role as savior of the Virginia colony, and Pocahontas’s action at the execution block were widely accepted up to the midnineteenth century. In 1791 Noah Webster included Smith’s story in The Little Reader’s Assistant. “What a hero was Captain Smith! How many Turks and Indians did he slay!” Seven years after Webster’s book appeared, John Davis, an English traveler, made his first voyage to the New World to gather material for his highly laudatory books entitled Captain John Smith and Princess Pocahontas, and The First Settlers of Virginia.

Preservation of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas, 1606 by Antonio Capellano, 1825. Sandstone. U.S. Capitol Rotunda, above west door.

Preservation of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas, 1606 by Antonio Capellano, 1825. Sandstone. U.S. Capitol Rotunda, above west door.

Smith’s story, it should be noted, is immortalized in bronze on the west door of the entrance to the Capitol rotunda in Washington.

John Chapman's Baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown, Virginia, completed in 1840, hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.

John Chapman’s Baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown, Virginia, completed in 1840, hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.

A painting conspicuously displayed inside the building shows “The Baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown.” No one has objected to their being there or doubted their justification.

James Kirke Paulding, Knickerbocker Poet

James Kirke Paulding, Knickerbocker Poet

Traveling through Virginia in 1817, the Knickerbocker poet James Kirke Paulding observed, “Fortitude, valor, perseverance, industry, and little Pocahontas . . . [are] tutelary deities.” George Washington Parke Custis, whose loyalty to things colonial was unsurpassed, wrote Pocahontas, a play first produced in Philadelphia in 1830. This was followed by Robert Owen Pocahontas ( 1837), John Brougham Po-ca-hon-tas, Or the Gentle Savage ( 1855), and other plays built around the Indian rescue plot. Pocahontas poems appeared in many pre-Civil War journals. Those by Mary Webster Mosby, Lydia H. Sigourney, Margaret Junkin Preston, and William Waldron were especially popular. Even William Thackeray wrote one, to the gratification of Americans who revered English literature.

By the Civil War, most Americans looked upon John Smith and Pocahontas as splendid representatives of their colonial times. If Smith, who had shown little sympathy towards Yankees (their “humorous ignorancies,” he observed, “caused the Plymouth Pilgrims to endure a wonderful deale of misery,”) found his chief admirers in the South, he at least had few defamers in the area he himself had named New England.

Henry-Adams-c.-1858

Henry Adams, Circa 1858

In 1863 a Boston merchant and historian, Charles Deane, commenced the attack on John Smith. He called the colorful captain a notorious liar and braggart who had invented his dramatic rescue after the lapse of many years. Deane insisted that none of Smith’s contemporaries knew of the Pocahontas episode and he concluded there was little truth in it. But the North and the South were then too busy fighting each other to notice Deane. Sectional bitterness still ran high when in 1867 another New Englander, youthful Henry Adams, leveled at John Smith a much more telling blow, Scion of one of America’s most tactless family of worthies, Adams had just returned from the seminars of Germany and was anxious to gain attention. His article on Smith in the North American Review ( January, 1867) set off a war of words which echoed down the corridors of the twentieth century.In his article Adams printed parallel passages from Smith’s A True Relation and his Generall Historie for textual comparison. He found the Pocahontas rescue story spurious and labeled Smith incurably vain and incompetent. The readiness with which Smith’s version had been received Adams found less remarkable than “the credulity which has left it unquestioned almost to the present day.” While the Nation doubted “if Mr. Adams’ arguments can be so much as shaken,” the Southern Review thought historians dealing in black insinuations were “little worthy of credit, especially when their oblique methods affect the character of a celebrated woman.” The Southern Review proceeded to place the Smith-Pocahontas fight on a sectional plane where it stayed for a half century: “If Pocahontas, alas! had only been born on the barren soil of New England, then would she have been as beautiful as she was brave. As it is, however, both her personal character and her personal charms are assailed by at least two knights of the New England chivalry of the present day.”The Yankee knights had only begun their attack. Noah Webster’s account for school children gave way to Peter Parley’s, which drew as a moral from Smith’s escapades “that persons, at an early age, have very wicked hearts.” Moses Tyler, John Palfrey, and Edward Channing saw in Smith more bluster than greatness.

Charles Warner

Charles Warner

In his 1881 biography of Smith, Charles D. Warner of Connecticut observed that the Captain’s memory became more vivid as he was farther removed by time and space from the events he described. Edward D. Neill Captain John Smith, Adventurer and Romancer was devastating. It discredited the Turkish adventures, pronounced Smith’s coat of arms a forgery, found the Pocahontas rescue story laughable, and called Smith’s literary works “published exaggerations.” A second study by Neill, Pocahontas and Her Companions, flatly stated that her marriage to Rolfe was a disgraceful fraud. North of the Potomac the rescue story began to be called the Pocahontas legend.

Southerners rallied to the defense of their dashing Captain-and of Southern honor. Their counter-attack was so effective that by the middle of the twentieth century Captain John Smith and Pocahontas were generally thought of as human embodiments of epic colonial heroism.

Since Smith, a figure of masculinity and firmness, made an admirable partner for the Indian Princess whose femininity and softness conquered two continents, it is not surprising that their stories were blended into one. The tyranny of historical facts crumbled before the demands of popular fancy and the literary weapons of William Wirt Henry, Wyndham Robertson, Charles Poindexter, and John Esten Cooke.

William Wirt Henry

William Wirt Henry

No one was in a better position to express regional indignation than William Wirt Henry. Patrick Henry’s grandson, he was born in 1831 on a plantation in Charlotte County, Virginia. Lawyer and historian, he served as county attorney, state legislator, president of the Virginia Historical Society, and president of the American Historical Society. To his fellow Southerners he personified the Tidewater planter-aristocrat. At the 1882 Virginia Historical Society meeting, he read a paper called “The Settlement of Jamestown, with Particular Reference to the Late Attacks upon Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe.” He came directly to the point: “The more generous task of making their defense will be mine.” With care and ingenuity he evolved explanations for the questionable parts of their stories. In a flourish that honored his grandfather’s memory, Henry concluded, “We need not pursue this charge of inconsistencies further, as time would fail us to notice every inconsistency charged by the numerous and ill-informed assailants of Smith.”

To Henry there was no doubt whatsoever that the success of the Virginia Colony had depended on the Captain. “The departure of Smith changed the whole aspect of affairs. The Indians at once became hostile, and killed all that came in their way.” To the Indian Princess Pocahontas he assigned a religious role and mission. She was, in Henry’s opinion, “a guardian angel [who] watched over and preserved the infant colony which has developed into a great people, among whom her own descendants have ever been conspicuous for true nobility.” On that exalted note, the defense rested.

Wyndham RobertsonEqually qualified to fight for “Captain Jack” was Wyndham Robertson, who was raised on a plantation near Petersburg, Virginia. Educated in Richmond and Williamsburg, he became Virginia’s twentieth governor. Northern attacks on John Smith disturbed him so much that he prepared a detailed study: Pocahontas and Her Descendants. Taking the marriage of Pocahontas and Rolfe in 1614 as a focal event, Robertson traced the subsequent family to “its seventh season of fruitage.” His work was unabashedly presented as “the vindication of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas against the unfriendly strictures of modern critics.” Because Pocahontas’ descendants were so notable, so was she; this simple a posteriori argument ran through the whole book. Among those who turned out to be related to her were the Bollings, Branches, Lewises, Randolphs, and Pages — the very cream of Virginia.

How, asked Robertson, could anyone speak lowly of the Princess when the King of England and the Bishop of London were her devotees? Her natural charm had captivated Mother England. Leaders of society competed for her favor; she had a special seat when Ben Jonson Twelfth Night masque was staged at Whitehall; her portrait revealed a truly aristocratic countenance. “With festival, state, and pompe” the Lord Mayor of London feted her before death cut short her dazzling career. “History, poetry, and art,” wrote Robertson, “have vied with one another in investing her name from that day to the present with a halo of surpassing brightness.” His argument by association, like that of descent, was persuasive. To ridicule Pocahontas was to deny the importance of family and ancestry in society. Most Americans and practically every Southerner were not prepared to do so.

Charles Poindexter, a more scholarly defender of Smith, was educated at the University of Virginia; he joined the Richmond Howitzers during the Civil War. Long interested in Old Dominion heroes, he published in 1893 John Smith and His Critics. At the time he was State Librarian in Richmond. It was in a distinctly fresh light that he viewed the colonial controversy: “Smith’s History has been standard reading for 250 years, acknowledged and practically unquestioned, unless by some in these latter days. We may be a simple and uncritical people, but when our belief and judgment as to an historical character are challenged, and we are told our admiration has been wasted on a charlatan, whose boasting has deceived us, then may we raise a question as to the amount of wisdom behind the critic’s utterance.”

Poindexter explained that Smith was engaged in “a piece of work of transcendent interest and importance, as we know now-namely, the founding of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” The whole controversy could never be decided by documents and scholarship. “And yet they tell us, the legend must go; but when it goes it will be time for this people to be gone; to be driven from this fair portion of God’s earth, made sacred by that brave man’s heroism, and by the gentle pity of that Indian maid . . . Smith’s History has established itself as a tradition in the popular mind more lasting and potent than any written page or printed book.” Poindexter saw plainly that Smith had moved beyond mere documentary fact.

John Esten CookeJohn Esten Cooke, one of the South’s most popular novelists, promoted Smith vigorously. Born in Winchester, Virginia, Cooke wanted “to do for the Old Dominion what Cooper has done for the Indians, Irving for the Dutch Knickerbockers, and Hawthorne for the weird Puritan life of New England.” He buried his spurs at Appomattox when Lee surrendered–a gesture in the tradition of Captain Smith. Cooke My Lady Pokahontas ( 1885) is still the best novel about the lady. Purporting to be writing in the seventeenth century, he furnished “notes” to a True Relation of Virginia, Writ by Anas Todkill, Puritan and Pilgrim. Todkill revealed how Smith fell in love with the Virginia Princess, converted her to Christianity, and strolled hand in hand with her along the James. The lovers decided it was best that they not remain together. In England with her husband John Rolfe, later on, Pocahontas attended the Globe Theater, where William Shakespeare’s The Tempest was opening. She promptly recognized herself as Miranda.

What Cooke did in My Lady Pokahontas was to superimpose trappings of a Victorian romance on the story. It is a landmark in the literary treatment of Pocahontas and of the American Indian. In pre-Civil War America the only good Indian was a dead one. As long as the aboriginal was an active threat to settlement and progress, he was given little consideration. For Pocahontas to be a heroine this attitude had to change, and the savage had to become the vanishing American. In the generation after the Civil War this transition took place. A few years later came Helen HuntJackson Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor, which called our record in Indian relationships “a shameful one of broken treaties and unfilled promises.” Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book’s effect was far out of proportion to its literary merit. A Century of Dishonor and the ascendancy of the Pocahontas legend coincided.

The influence of Cooke’s interpretation of Pocahontas was both direct and indirect. Southern text books adopted his colonial romance; subsequent writers have turned to it nostalgically. Partly through his own books but more particularly through his influence, Cooke fostered the popular conception held by many today.

William Henry gave Pocahontas a religious mission; Robertson set up a patriotic affront; Poindexter put the legend above the documents; Cooke made of it a Victorian romance. Smith and Pocahontas returned to high standing.

In 1907 came the much publicized Jamestown Tercentennial. In preparing for the festivities, the Pocahontas Memorial Association undertook a program of glorification which included a poem by Paulding suggesting Pocahontas’ religious role:

“Sister of charity and love, Whose life blood was soft pity’s tide. Dear goddess of the sylvan grove Flower of the forest, nature’s pride, He is no man who does not bend the knee And she no woman who is not like thee!”

William Ordway Partridge, sculptor

William Ordway Partridge, sculptor

Jamestown Tributes and Toasts contained seven Smith-Pocahontas poems. Little had been done to commemorate the grave of ” Rebecca Wrothe, wife of Thomas Wrothe, gent, a Virginia lady born” at Gravesend, England. So the Society of Colonial Dames donated memorial windows to the tiny church in which Pocahontas was buried. At Jamestown, William Ordway Partridge’s statue of the Indian princess was erected, flanked by a bronze Captain John Smith.

Lyon G. Tyler unveiled a new Pocahontas tablet at Jamestown, and asked: “What words must I use to express my feelings on this occasion? Her memory brightens with the years and comes to us today as a soft, clear light that shines from a distant shore, where all else is shrouded in darkness.” Pocahontas statueAs he spoke, the audience gazed at the statue of the princess provided by the Pocahontas Memorial Association–her hands outstretched to aid the starving Virginia colonists, her eyes appropriately looking toward heaven.

If the preliminary plans for the 1957 celebration of the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the settling of Jamestown come to fruition, Smith’s reputation will continue to rise, for he is to be the hero of the program.

Captain John Smith Statue

Captain John Smith Statue

Another, less ephemeral, multi-million dollar enterprise, only a few miles from the place where the Captain first set foot on the New World, has kept green the memory of seventeenth century things in contemporary America. This is Colonial Williamsburg. While it has not been directly concerned with promoting Smith, his renown has benefited directly and enormously therefrom. The Rockefeller fortune has salvaged reputations as well as buildings.

Williamsburg History Marker

Williamsburg History Marker

Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin, late rector of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church and incidentally an admirer of John Smith, is generally credited with having persuaded John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to reconstruct the colonial capital. No restoration in history has received such elaborate and painstaking research; none in America is so frequently visited. Representing an expenditure of over $45,000,000 and a yearly operating budget of $2,000,000, Colonial Williamsburg by 1954 had a staff of 1,000 and plans for further capital outlays exceeding $15,000,000. No one could have foreseen such expansion and such influence. The restoration found itself in the position of Lord Byron’s teacher:

“She taught the child to read, and taught so well That she herself, by teaching, learn’d to spell.”

Jamestown Seawall at Fort James

Jamestown Seawall at Fort James

Rockefeller himself realized that the project would reawaken interest in those he called “great patriots of our American past.” Many of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come every season make the short pilgrimage to Jamestown, to see “the spot where the Anglo-Saxon history of America begins.” They find on the small island, which was saved from disintegration only by a seawall put up for the Jamestown Tercentennial, nothing so elaborate as Colonial Williamsburg. But they do view the statue of a handsome, dashing adventurer, whose hand rests near his sword and whose eyes look out on the vast expanses of America. They see Captain John Smith; and they carry him away in their memories as the first great American.

Though the Captain’s account does not appear to be based upon undiluted historical fact, it is not totally false. Whether or not Pocahontas really saved Smith at the execution block, and whether or not they actually fell in love, Pocahontas unquestionably visited Jamestown while he was there. These visits ceased after Smith had departed. She evidently took some interest in him and he in the girl he called “the nonpareil of Virginia.” Still, it is hard to believe that Smith, who considered the aboriginals as inferior savages that blocked Britain’s path, ultimately would have married her. His deportation (resulting from the return of Ratcliffe and Archer, who allied themselves with Smith’s enemies Percy and West) ended abruptly any ideas he might have had of a future life with Pocahontas. In his attitude towards the Indians, as in so many things, Smith revealed his English heritage. Always strongly Anglo-Saxon, Virginians have not found it difficult to give him the benefit of their doubts.

Smith’s was no crafty, subtle mind. Contemplation was not his forte; he usually acted first and thought afterwards. If he had any philosophy, it was to meet things as they came. His egocentric world was unmarred by indecision, weakness, or indifference. He saw strange seas, dreamed of empires, and lived through an epic. Whatever one thinks of some of his actions and accusations, one must admire the loyalty and enthusiasm he displayed while exploring the New World. He loved Virginia as “my wyfe, to whom I have given all.” No matter how much he exaggerated on occasions, he was telling the truth when as a dying man he wrote, “All the dangers, miseries, and incumbrances and losse of other employments while in Virginia I endured gratis.”

After his deportation from Virginia, Smith was dogged by constant failure. In 1615 he convinced Sir Ferdinando Gorges to outfit him for another try at colonizing the New World, but his two small vessels were driven back by storms. Again he set sail, with only a small barque of sixty tons at his command. This time he was captured by pirates, wrecked off La Rochelle, and returned home penniless. When he died he was a poor, weary man, leaving only eighty pounds, twenty of which (in a typical gesture) he directed to be spent on his funeral. The only relatives mentioned in his will were a cousin and the widow of his brother. London’s Great Fire of 1666 wiped out St. Sepulchre’s Church, in which his body was buried, and his epitaph with it. The last earthly trace of John Smith is gone forever.

The New World for which “Captain Jack” fought has adorned his memory with honor more enduring than all the treasure won by others on the Spanish Main. For many Americans he is today the last of the Knight-Errants, a cross between the medieval crusader and the Jacobite Cavalier. Because his pageantry seemed so incongruous in the vast wilderness of the New World, there is a Don Quixote-like pathos about him. Had he not been so earnest about his schemes of colonization, they would have been ludicrous. He never doubted, up to his dying day, that he could accomplish the impossible. His ambitions were so lofty that inability to consummate them did not destroy their appeal. With all his faults, he set the heroic pattern in colonial America.

Smith has been at the core of controversy; John Rolfe, who actually married the Indian Princess Pocahontas, has not. Little is said of this gentleman of moderate means who came to Virginia in 1609, experimented with the growing and curing of tobacco, and perfected the plant which was the foundation of Virginia’s economy. His marriage to a native brought peace at a time when the Indians might have driven the colonists into the sea. But he did not catch the popular imagination, and he did not become a hero.

That Pocahontas, an Indian girl who died at twenty-two, became a legendary figure is extraordinary. Virginias are proud to have her blood in their veins. But they would hardly admit to a drop from any other member of her race. What is it about her that has so appealed to posterity? Not the savage, but the feminine quality. She is the fairy-tale princess come to life; a flesh-and-blood Cinderella in Indian disguise. Her story is full of romance and excitement. She rescued Smith by risking her own life. After a sad separation from him, she was wooed by a white knight from overseas, John Rolfe. She brought peace to the struggling colonists. Best of all, Little Wanton went as a princess to the Mother Country, where she outshone all the celebrated English beauties. Virginia, loyal to Charles I when even England rejected him, thrilled at this. Finally, she suffered a premature and unexpected death. What more could a romantic heroine’s story contain? In November, 1952, a “Chapel of Unity” was opened to her memory at Gravesend, England. It has already become a pilgrimage spot.

Attacks on John Smith and Pocahotas have become fewer and less bitter in recent years. Dr. Charles Andrews, the New England colonial historian, supported the rescue story. The 1927 biography of Smith by E. K. Chatterton, and the 1929 book by John Gould Flecther, revealed a far greater man than earlier accounts. Admittedly “Captain Jack” was given to far-fetched phrases, and to veering off the narrow road of truth. But most of us forgive him. After all, this was his prerogative in the Age of Elizabeth. The same tendencies can be found in other colorful figures of the period –Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Kit Marlowe, and William Shakespeare.

The John Smith-Pocahontas story, with its epic quality and scope, has appealed to us because it re-affirms the validity of the American experience. Aided by an Indian Princess, John Smith founded a great nation, and made the dream of a permanent English colony a reality. O brave new world, that has such people in it!

Occasionally a skeptic comes forth claiming that Smith’s story (in a phrase of his contemporary Will Shakespeare) has “a very ancient and fish-like smell.” But the furor that accompanied the Deane-Adams articles has passed. In 1951 George F. Willison argued (in Behold Virginia: The Fifth Crown) that Smith’s surviving his almost incredible follies was the real miracle of his life; that the Virginia records reach “almost to the point of madness, as in Captain John Smith’s account of his exploits and accomplishments in that colony, which, so he came to believe, he had founded and sustained almost singlehandedly.” The Historical Society of Manatee County, Florida, has challenged historians to prove the truth of Pocahontas’s rescue. The story, it was suggested, was probably devised by a press agent of an earlier day. The Indian maiden Hirrihgua, who saved the life of Juan Ortiz in Manatee County, has–or should have, it would appear–a much better claim to fame.

James Branch Cabell

James Branch Cabell

Americans have ceased to worry about the absence of historical authenticity in this matter. The Captain and the Indian Princess have been accepted. No mere documents can unseat them. As James Branch Cabell contemplated them in their aloof majesty, he remarked: “And yet, to the judgment of the considerate, Captain John Smith True Relation does not in any way affect the ranking of Pocahontas in the official history of Virginia; her legend, the more thanks to Virginia’s good taste in mythology, has been made immortal.”

Genetically Speaking, Could We Be Cousins?


Genetic RelationshipsHard to believe, but we just might be near or distant cousins, or cousins once or more removed.  When I started my genealogy research about 35 years ago we may never have been able to answer my question about being cousins with any certainty in a single lifetime.

However, 11 years after (on August 6, 1991), my initial genealogical research, the launch of the internet, known as the world-wide-web, changed information management and information mining dramatically as never before when historical documents and information were first digitized, published, and made available to the public for free.

What is Genetic Genealogy?

DNA assignmentIn the past, genealogy for me has been simply the study of my ancestry via a family tree. To date, I have documented my paternal and maternal sides of my family, and traced documentation back to the first century even.  However, genetic genealogy uses DNA testing to determine the genetic relationship between individuals.  So now, I am starting a new approach to my genealogy by moving forward from this expansive family tree compilation (about 10,000 people), to explore my ancestry through genetic research. Genetic genealogy begins with first understanding deoxyribonucleic acid, aka DNA, and then using resources available to map it and learn even more about my family history.

You might ask yourself, why would I want to use DNA for my genealogy research?

Here’s a few of my reasons:

  • To learn more about my ancestry
  • To prove that my family tree reflects my actual ancestry
  • To prove or disprove relationships between two people
  • To prove or disprove theories about where people came from
  • To break down a brick wall in my genealogy research
  • To find relatives for those who were adopted or gave up a child for adoption
  • To learn from which ancestor(s) I inherited certain traits

DNA chromosonesTherefore, in future posts I plan to share with you some stories about my exploration and discoveries through my DNA testing and genetic research.  To launch this project I first purchased a set of 50 presentations on video made at the 2014 International Genetic Genealogical Research Conference that was held August 15-17, 2014, in Washington, DC.

To get us started, I included below Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D.’s 10 DNA Testing Myth Busters:

10 DNA Testing Myths Busted
Posted by Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D.
(c) 25 October 2007

1. Genetic genealogy is only for hardcore genealogists. Wrong! If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of your DNA, or about your direct paternal or maternal ancestral line, then genetic genealogy might be an interesting way to learn more. Although DNA testing of a single line, such as through an mtDNA test, will only examine one ancestor out of 1024 potential ancestors at 10 generations ago, this is a 100% improvement over 0 ancestors out of 1024. If you add your father’s Y-DNA, this is a 200% improvement. Now add your mother’s mtDNA, and so on. However, with this in mind, please note the next myth:

2. I’m going to send in my DNA sample and get back my entire family tree. Sorry. DNA alone cannot tell a person who their great-grandmother was, or what Italian village their great-great grandfather came from. Genetic genealogy can be an informative and exciting addition to traditional research, and can sometimes be used to answer specific genealogical mysteries.

3. I would like to try genetic genealogy, but I’m terrified of needles. Good news! Genetic genealogy firms don’t use blood samples to collect cells for DNA testing. Instead, these companies send swabs or other means to gently obtain cells from the cheek and saliva.

4. I would like to test my ancestor’s DNA, but they died years ago. You don’t always need your ancestor’s DNA to get useful information from a genetic genealogy test. If you are male, you contain the Y-chromosome (Y-DNA) that was given to you by your father, who received it from his father, and so on. Both males and females have mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which was passed on to them by their mother, who received it from her mother, and so on. Everyone of us contains DNA (Y-DNA and/or mtDNA) from our ancestors that can be studied by genetic genealogy.

5. I want to test my mother’s father’s Y-DNA, but since he didn’t pass on his Y-chromosome to my mother, I’m out of luck. Wrong! There is a very good chance that there is another source of that same Y-DNA. For instance, does your mother have a brother (your uncle) who inherited the Y-DNA from his father? Or does your mother’s father have a brother (your great-uncle) who would be willing to submit DNA for the test? Sometimes there might not be an obvious source of “lost” Y-DNA, or no one in the family is willing to take a DNA test. The secret to solving this problem is to do what every good genealogist does – use traditional genealogical research (paper records, census information, etc) to “trace the DNA”. Follow the line back while tracing descendants in order to find someone who is interested in learning more about their Y-DNA. This applies to finding a source of mtDNA as well.

6. Only men can submit DNA for genetic genealogy tests, since women do not have the Y-chromosome. Wrong! Most genetic genealogy testing companies also offer mtDNA testing. Both men and women have mtDNA in their cells and can submit that DNA for testing. In addition, women can test their father’s, brother’s, or some other male relative’s Y-DNA to learn more about their paternal ancestral line, even though they did not inherit the Y-chromosome.

7. My genetic genealogy test will also reveal my propensity for diseases associated with the Y-chromosome and mtDNA. Wrong, thank goodness. Most of the information obtained by genetic genealogy tests has no known medical relevancy, and these firms are not actively looking for medical information. It is important to note, however, that some medical information (such as infertility detected by DYS464 testing or other diseases detectable by a full mtDNA sequence) might inadvertently be revealed by a genetic genealogy test.

8. I don’t like the thought of a company having my DNA on file or my losing control over my DNA sample. This is, of course, an understandable concern. However, most testing firms give a client two options: the DNA is either immediately destroyed once the tests are run, or it is securely stored for future testing. If the DNA is stored, the firm will typically destroy the DNA upon request. If the long-term storage of DNA is a concern, be sure to research the company’s policy before sending in a sample.

9. If my test reveals Native American ancestry, I plan to join a particular Native American affiliation group. Although genetic genealogy can potentially reveal Native American ancestry (for instance, my mtDNA belongs to the Native American haplogroup A2), it is incredibly unlikely that this information will be sufficient to positively identify the specific source of the lineage (such as a tribe) or allow membership in a particular Native American affiliation.

10. My DNA is so boring that genetic genealogy would be a waste of time and money.Very wrong! A person’s DNA is a very special possession – although everyone has DNA, everyone’s DNA is different (okay, except identical twins – if your identical twin has been tested, you should think twice about buying the same test!). As humans settled the world, Y-DNA and mtDNA spread and mixed randomly. As a result, it is impossible to guess with 100% assurance that a person’s Y-DNA or mtDNA belongs to a particular haplogroup (a related family of DNA sequences) without DNA testing.

BONUS MYTH: My genetic genealogy test says that my mtDNA belongs to Haplogroup A2.Juanita the Ice Maiden, a frozen mummy discovered in the Andes Mountains in Peru also has Haplogroup A2 mtDNA. Therefore, she must be my ancestor!

Unfortunately, although genetic genealogy can reveal that a person is RELATED to an ancient DNA source, it cannot prove that a person is a DESCENDANT of an ancient DNA source. For instance, perhaps you are descended from Juanita’s sister, or her 5th cousin. Thus, although Juanita might be your great-great-great-great…great-grandmother, she might instead be your great-great-great-great…great-aunt. And since Juanita died when she was just 12 to 14, it is unlikely she has any descendants.

If you understand the risks associated with genetic genealogy (such as the detection ofnon-paternal events and other risks) and are ready and willing to embrace the results to learn more about your genetic ancestry, then genetic genealogy might be for you. I recommend that you read archived posts here at The Genetic Genealogist, and do some online research through one of the many companies that offer genetic genealogy testing.

How Well Does Your Family Know It’s History?


How well do you think you know your family’s history?

Story Telling2More importantly to me, I’d like to confirm that there is practical value in my documenting and sharing my family’s story.    I sure hope so, because this blog site, as my legacy to future generations of my family, is intended to provide accurate reflections from my family’s past and to hopefully create mirrors to future generations that instill in them a sense of pride, well-being, self esteem, a true belonging to a greater and more in depth personal family history that inspires them in their life’s pursuits.

brucerfeilerI have been looking into and compiling our family’s history since 1980.  I have been writing posts on this blog from this genealogical research since 2011. Family history and genealogical research fascinate me—but beyond just being interesting, exploring family history is an activity that can be traced back to both the Old and New Testament eras. (If you have read the New Testament, you may recall that the story of Jesus opens with a lengthy genealogy that traces all of his human ancestors–not the famous Christmas story that you may have expected.)

I mention this because Bruce Feiler, (New York Times columnist and author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers), published a new book in January 2014,  The Secrets of Happy Families.   In it, is a section on the value of passing on family stories to children. This section gets at the heart of why I started this blog.  And, when Bible Gateway shared an excerpt from it on their blog, I felt compelled to also share it with you:

Guest Post by:   NY Times Best Selling Author, Bruce Feiler

Adapted from The Secrets of Happy Families.

I hit the breaking point as a parent a few years ago. It was the week of my extended family’s annual gathering in August. My parents were aging; my wife and I were straining under the chaos of young children; my sister was bracing to prepare her preteens for bullying, sex and cyber stalking.

Sure enough, one night all the tensions boiled over. At dinner, I noticed my nephew texting under the table. I knew I shouldn’t say anything, but I asked him to stop.

Ka-boom! My sister snapped at me to not discipline her child. My dad pointed out that my girls were the ones balancing spoons on their noses. My mom said none of the grandchildren had manners. Within minutes, everyone had fled to separate corners.

That night I began to wonder: What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?

I spent the last few years trying to answer that question, meeting families, scholars and experts ranging from peace negotiators to online game designers to Warren Buffett’s bankers. After a while, a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

I first heard this idea from Marshall Duke, a colorful psychologist at Emory University. In the mid-1990’s, Dr. Duke and colleague Robyn Fivush developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests. Their overwhelming conclusion: The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome something as minor as a skinned knee or as major as a terrorist attack?

“The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” Dr. Duke said.

Psychologists have found that every family has a unifying narrative, he explained, and those narratives take one of three shapes.

First, the ascending family narrative: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you. …”

Second is the descending narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”

“The most healthful narrative,” Dr. Duke continued, “is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “inter-generational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Religious traditions do a particularly good job at conveying this message. Many Bible stories including overcoming suffering and bouncing back from difficult times. One reason religious communities are so tight is that they understand one of their roles is to help people who are experiencing pain and hardship.

Dr. Duke recommends that parents convey similar messages to their children. Any number of occasions work to convey this feeling: holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers, even a ride to the mall. The hokier the family’s tradition, he said, the more likely it is to be passed down. “These traditions become part of your family,” he said.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.


For more information, please visit www.brucefeiler.com.

Hello Again, World – My 145th Post


My First Post – Eight Months Ago

salem-witches 1692-1693

salem-witches 1692-1693

Eight months ago on November 15, 2012, I published “Hello World“–my 341-word first blogpost ever, under the category of Witches and Witchcraft.  I wondered then if some of my family from among the 40 generations I have traced back could have been among those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut or Winston-Salem, Massachusetts.  I noted that most women and men who were accused in the 15th-19th centuries were feared for their nonconformist ways more than anything else.  And, I wondered if I inherited my self initiative and personal drive from anyone of those accused. By the way, the jury remains out on those issues.

So, despite only six people reading my first post, I went on to write 144 others on a variety of categories over the next eight months; making today’s post number 145!  And today, I took to data mining my blog’s statistics to see just how readership and visits stand at my 100th post.

Understanding my blog’s readership demographics

On April 25, 2013, Our Heritage:  12th Century and Beyond, captured its largest number of readers in one day–totalling 74:  as you can see, many people that day were drawn to my Home page/Archives (24), and the Plymouth Pilgrims, Puritans, The Great Migration…post (10).

April 25-2013Stats

On June 19th, one of my most popular posts was about a  “dragon boat racing event” to end hunger in Calvert County.  It received 39 views, but a total of 66 views were made of the blog site that day.  This post had nothing to do with my family genealogy but did hit a home run on topic and history of a little known sport for a good cause.  And, today I have 88 blog followers and the following keeps growing, too.

The United States’ State Department recognizes 195 independent countries from around the world.  The U.S.Census Bureau posts today’s world population at 7,097,725,000 and counting.   My blog’s readership in comparison is small, but steadily growing.  To date, 3,350 people from 64 countries–one third of the world’s countries, have read at least one of my posts.  Below are the top five countries based on overall readership, with the remaining 190 countries making up 6.1 percent of the world’s remaining readers to visit my site.  The Census Bureau’s total estimated population for today (and counting) is 316 million. That means a little over one percent of the U.S. population has read a post from my blog during the past eight months.

Blog Readership

Googling for other genealogy-based blogs

I then googled “genealogy blogs,” to see just how many I might find out there.  There actually is a site Genealogy Blog Finder that tracks 1,782 blogs worldwide.  It lets you filter by:  recently updated, what’s new, and who’s blogging where in the world:Genealogy Blog FinderSo, it made sense to me when I learned that nearly 86 percent of my readership is in the United States. Pingdom.com’s study of blog readership states that there are actually over 157 million blogs on Tumblr and WordPress, alone.  Comparing the 157 million blogs number to the 1,782 genealogy blogs, I see that just 1.14 percent of all of those blogs are genealogy-based posts.  

And finally, according to Blogpulse.com; “No wonder many bloggers have a hard time getting noticed.  There are more than 144 million blogs in the world, publishing 1 million posts per day. So there is some competition.”

When I reflected on these staggering facts, I can only feel very appreciative for all readers who have taken their time to find and read my posts.  Happy blogging and reading.  Hope you will visit with me again!