Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Spiraling Down the Double Helix

I feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.  I’m trying to get a handle on using DNA to find more cousins.

First  hurdle is understanding the terminology.  What defines a segment? What’s a Centimorgan; and why are all Centimorgans not the same “length”? SNPs? Phasing?

The good news is that every testing company has basic information about DNA and its use in Genealogy.  They’re very helpful. The user forums on these sites can be even more helpful.

And there are other great online resources for learning

Angie Bush administers a Google+ community called DNA Genetic Genealogiy Interest Community.  In August, 2015 she’ll resume doing videos and Google+ Hangouts.

23andme tested my DNA a couple of years ago when they still delivered health information gleaned from their testing. At that time, it was the health info that prompted me to test.

What’s both interesting and frustrating is that the three testing companies all use different algorithms to analyze the raw data, find matches in their database, and also show you the probable ethnic origins in your DNA. (According to 23andme, I’m 3% Neanderthal.)  You may find that a person who is high on the list of matches on one site doesn’t show up as a match on another site even though their DNA raw data is on both.

Then there’s GEDmatch which allows you to upload raw data from any of the three testing companies. You can also upload a gedcom file that will be associated with your data. also permits you to upload your raw data from Ancestry and 23and me.

I’m on a steep learning curve trying to reconcile the analyses from three sites.

My head is spinning! I still have more questions than answers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Quick Update to "Let's Talk About It"

Maybe it is Nature, after all.  Interesting article about genetic links to depression

I sure hope this is the start of a better understanding of this problem.

Monday, July 13, 2015


This is like work!!

I’m beginning to plan my next StoryPress story and also preparing a presentation for the Polish Interest Group of Indian River Genealogical Society (IRGS); and I’m awaiting the arrival of microfilms from LDS.

I committed to do a presentation on ordering and using LDS microfilms. There are quite a few people in the Polish group, but it seems that not many make use of the films from their ancestral Polish villages.  Some are comfortable viewing films from US sources but are put off by the language issues of international sources.  There are plenty of online language aids for genealogical research. My goal is to ease their anxieties and help them take advantage of these resources.  I am still in the process of finding the right balance – enough information to make them comfortable with the process; but not overwhelming the ones who are more timid.

I won’t be doing this presentation until October, but I started now to give me plenty of time to tweak it.  I work best by working intensely to get a good start then letting it sit for a while and then go back to it later with fresh eyes.

The next StoryPress project will take a look at what my ancestors faced on their voyages across the Atlantic.  From what I’ve read so far, it is difficult for us today to understand the conditions our ancestors faced traveling in steerage in the 1800’s. StoryPress is a very visual medium so I’ll have to find images to suit the story. So far I’ve been researching, and building a mind map.  Love mind maps.

And I’ve finally ordered microfilms of civil records in Poland.  There won’t be very many because Prussian Poland did not keep civil records until 1874.  Still, I’m hoping to find corroboration of some of the church records I’ve found. 

Fortunately my only deadline is a few months away and I can work at my own pace.  I love being retired.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Another Story Published

My new favorite medium for publishing family history stories is  It is incredibly easy to use. It’s still work to develop the story and find the right images, but it is an order of magnitude easier than doing the same thing for a Youtube video.

The biggest problem is my narration – voice, enunciation, and delivery.  I haven’t won a lottery yet, so I can’t afford to hire a professional reader. And I cannot seem to produce a narration that is more than just adequate. It eventually gets to the point where it’s either publish or go on redoing and revising forever. So it is done – for now.

This story is about my great grandparents Michael and Elizabeth Schipp in Prussian Poland.   You can find it here.  If you watch it, I’ll appreciate your comments and suggestions for improvement

On to the next project

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Let’s Talk About It

 Does clinical depression have a genetic cause? There’s no answer yet, but geneticists are studying it. My personal experience makes me think that it does. No one expects to find a specific gene related to depression; but there may be some combinations of genetic traits that makes a person predisposed to this problem.

The general reluctance to talk about any kind of mental disorder has kept it out of more than one family tree and published family history.  In my family, I think I can trace it back 3 generations.

I was diagnosed in the mid 1970s. My internist referred me to a wonderful psychiatrist who did a battery of tests. The terminology was different in those days and the diagnosis for me was “manic depressive depressive” meaning that my highs were not very high but my lows were very low. Medication helped and the Doctor taught me to cope with the up and down swings.  I will always be on medication.

My mother suffered with depression but she would not seek treatment.  Without going into details, I’ll just say that there were some difficult times when she was at her lowest. And her up times were not really “up”.

Nature or nurture?  Is my depression inherited or is it the result of living with my mother?

When I began genealogy research, I discovered that one of my mother’s maternal great uncles was committed to an insane asylum in 1895. I know only what I’ve read in his probate record, but he apparently knew he was not well. Years later his son was declared incompetent.

Is genetics at play here?

I suspect that my mother was not the only one of her generation to cope with depression nor am I the only one in my generation.  Too bad that I’m the only one willing to be open about it. I think we could learn from one another.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Schipp Surname Issue

Since I began family history research in 1999 there has always been an issue with the surname Schipp. It was very frustrating for several years. My mother’s maternal grandfather – my great grandfather - was Michael Schipp.

My research began at the NARA (National Archives) branch in Denver; then moved to The Minnesota Historical Society and to St. Adalbert Roman Catholic church in St. Paul, MN.

At NARA I pored over microfilms finding federal census records for my ancestors on both sides.  I traveled to Minnesota and found a wealth of information in state census records, city directories and newspapers. All of this data corroborated and hugely expanded information I had from my parents.

Then I went to the church.  Both my paternal and maternal families attended St. Adalbert which was one of two parishes serving the Polish community in St. Paul, Minnesota.  That’s where the Schipp surname became an issue.

Michael Schipp and his family emigrated from Poland in the 1880s. Schipp is not really a Polish name.  The priests at St. Adalbert who recorded baptisms, marriages and deaths apparently decided to “correct” the spelling to what they thought it would be in Poland. Variations include Szyp, Szypinski, and Sipinski. Szyp was the most common.

Civil records at the same time, all read: Schipp.  So when the priests were presented with birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, etc. in the name Schipp, they chose to apply their own ethnic bias and record it as they thought it should be.

Over time, as more and more data collections became available online, I searched for Schipp. I found the passenger list that showed Michael’s arrival; and also the passenger manifest listing the later arrival of his wife, Elizabeth, and their children.  These confirmed, in my mind, the accuracy of the surname.

Unfortunately, when I searched records from Poland, I found a very few instances of the name, but none that I could connect with my ancestors. But more Polish records continue to come online; and I’ve become more adept at using the Polish web sites.

Thanks to the flexibility of The Poznan Project web site, I finally found people and dates that matched my family.  But the surname was Sip. On that site I found Michael’s marriage and also that of his brother Stanislaus.

After reviewing many LDS microfilms of church records from Poland, I was able to determine where they lived: Grabow nad Prosna. On these films I found Baptism records for Michael and Elizabeth’s children born in Poland.

How did Sip become Schipp?  Here’s my theory.

In the 19th century, the Province of Poznan was in the Prussian partition of Poland. There was a concerted effort to erase Polish culture and impose German language and culture. Civil authority was German and all civil records were in German. Schools taught only the German language and classes were in German.

In Polish the name Sip would be pronounced: ship or szip. 

My current thinking is that the German civil authorities wrote the name as it was pronounced.  The family were farmers in the boondocks of a relatively small city. I have no idea whether they were at all literate at the time.  Did they not understand that the spelling had changed?  Did they simply submit to the authorities rather than make a fuss?  I’ll never know.

I do hope to eventually find civil records for this family to prove or disprove my assumption.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Long Time No See

WOW!  I didn’t realize it has been so long since my last post.  It’s been 2 months! I’m not sure why, but I guess I just got saturated.  My research activity always has it peaks and valley and I’ve been in a wiiiiide valley.

By early March, I had 7 LDS microfilms at my local library, and I was diligently going through all of them. My March 13 post was about my success in finding my Ganas ancestors in Poland. What a rush that was!  Then I set about trying to understand and organize what I’d found.

I’d also just discovered as a means of publishing my stories. It was great fun creating my first story.  You can find it here.  Another one is a work in progress.

Then, I guess I just ran out of steam for a while.  So after an unplanned break, I’m finally back at it concentrating on organization for now as well as producing my next Storypress project.