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29 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Genealogist's Fairytale Come True

Chris Pattillo is collecting "Quarantine Quests," stories of genealogical projects and discoveries made by our members while sheltering at home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This story is from CGS Member Ron Madson.

Ron Madson’s Quarantine Quests story began in the Summer of 2019 when he traveled to France and Switzerland to attend the Women’s Soccer World Cup. While there he visited a cousin, Claire Daams, who is an attorney in Bern and happens to be conversant in seven languages, including Old German. Recognizing an opportunity, Ron asked Claire if she might help him with his second-great-grandfather Niklaus GlaĆ¼s. Ron had attempted to read the records that are available online at the Bern StateArchives but with little success.

Claire agreed and within minutes had identified Ron’s second- and third-great-grandparents. Even better, she gave Ron a personalized lesson in how to read Old German. Ron refers to the script as nothing more than "squiggles" but with Claire’s help, he quickly began to be able to decode the information contained in the documents. These records typically include the basics – birth, death, and marriage. Marriage records sometimes include the bride and groom's places of origin, the names of their parents, and sometimes the dates that the parents were married. Some death records include the date and place of birth. Some do not include date of birth, but include exact age at death: years, months, and days. But many of the older death records do not contain this vital information, although they may have "extras" added by the priest or officiant. "I try very hard to read this 'extra stuff,'" Ron says. "And it kills me that ninety percent of the time I can’t, while knowing that beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is 'good stuff' there."

After his lesson, Claire asked if Ron would like to visit the village where his ancestors were from – “a genealogist’s fairy tale come true,” he says. Ron’s ancestors lived in a small village in the foothills of the Alps in the Interlaken District of Bern. While there is no way to know the exact home or farm where his ancestors lived, Ron did recount the pleasure of eating lunch in a local restaurant right on the lake. He ordered fish that had been caught in the lake and knew that his ancestors had fished in that same lake generations before.

Fast-forward nearly a year and now while Ron is quarantined at home he is working feverishly to find, decipher, and document new ancestors and more records. Ron reports that he has added hundreds of new ancestors since he learned to decode the Old German text. Each time he thinks he has found a new ancestor he says “I look for other records to shed light on the found record, to prove or disprove that this is the correct record. Depending on the circumstances, the names, area, year(s), record information, what, and where I look varies.”

For each new person he tries to find birth, marriage and death records. He then enters the data into his Family Tree Maker genealogy program. Like most of us, he makes copies of every document he finds. He then imports the digital file into Adobe Photoshop and extends the page at the bottom and top to add research notes. At the top he includes the name of the document and a summary of what it says. At the bottom, he adds his source information.

Ron has identified the two oldest living people on this line: Florine (Lee) Glaus, now 93 and living in South Dakota, and Clare Leone Glaus, who is 102 years old and lives in Seattle. He was able to interview both of them and has fifteen hours of recorded interviews plus stories, documents and photographs.

When I asked, “Have you established a particular routine for doing this work during the shutdown?” Ron explained, “my wife and I have dinner, then we watch a movie, after which I spend several hours each day – sometimes into the wee hours – working on my genealogy.” Ron is also planning to listen to a podcast to learn more about how to read Old German so he can continue his research on a different family line.

Have you made any big discoveries while you have been staying at home? Let us know and we will share your story. You can reach me at

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

27 April 2020

Message from the President

CGS President James Sorenson

I hope you are all weathering the COVID-19 storm. These continue to be extraordinary and unprecedented times for all of us. I know most of us want to return to “normal." For CGS, normal would be resuming our classes at the library. Although we closed our library and canceled classes before it was required, our continued closure is a function of county health mandates. We will not be able to open our library or resume classes at the library until some time after there is some relaxing of general restrictions. Phase One of relaxed restrictions will still prohibit gatherings of people greater than some number (say 10) people. I have not heard anyone say when Phase One will start in Alameda County, and certainly no one can say when the later phases will occur. 

We have decided to cancel classes which were scheduled as part of a series, if the front end of that series has already been canceled. That doesn’t mean those classes will not take place this year but they will not take place as currently scheduled.

CGS has been working with remote-access technology and we had our first remote-access class on April 9. We are working on having other remote-access classes and they will be posted on our website and in our blog as they are developed and scheduled. This is new territory for CGS and we are working diligently to bring these classes to our CGS membership and other members of the genealogy community who look to CGS for guidance and instruction. 

James Sorenson, President

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

26 April 2020

Online Genealogy: Week of April 27-May 3

Each week we will share news of upcoming online genealogy events. Most of them are free. Check our previous post, “Genealogy Learning in theTime of Coronavirus,” for a list of archived classes at Ancestry, FamilySearch, RootsTech, and more.

Heads up: The National Genealogical Society will hold a Virtual Family History Conference this year, beginning May 20. Visit their website for details.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society continues its series of webinars. Next up is a presentation by CGS member Grant Din!

April 28: "The Joys and Challenges of Chinese American Research" by Grant Din
April 29: "German Records Online" by James M. Beidlar
May 4: "Using Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA" by Blaine Bettinger

Legacy Family Tree and MyHeritage continue their ongoing series. This week:
April 28: "Working with DNA segments on MyHeritage" by Ran Snir
May 1: "The Future is Still in the Past: An Introduction to Online Parish Clerks in the United Kingdom" by Wayne Shepheard

Conference Keeper lists most of the above, as well as these webinars:

April 27: "Jersey Roots Genealogy" presented by Michelle Tucker Chubenko
April 29: "Break Down Brick Walls" a Zoom chat with Illinois librarians
May 1:Getting Done Your Family History Projects” a four-part class by Heirloom Films
May 2:  "First World War Internment Camps" with Hannah Bell via the BYU Family History Library (link takes you to the list of classes; you can click to enter the class at time specified)

Stay safe, and happy learning!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

24 April 2020

DNA Day test kit sales!

the famous double helix

Saturday, April 25, is National DNA Day, commemorating the day in 1953 when molecular biologists James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and chemist Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers describing the double-helix structure of DNA. Many DNA testing companies lower their prices for "DNA Day" sales every year. Ancestry DNA, the most popular test with the largest database, does not appear to be participating at this time (watch them for discounts around the holidays), but many other leading companies are offering deep discounts on their test kits this weekend; some are extending their sales into next week. Here's a partial listing:

Living DNA is selling its ancestry and health kits at a discount of up to 30 percent.

23 and Me offers discounts of 20 to 25 percent off their ancestral DNA and genetic health test kits through April 26.

Family Tree DNA has discounts up to 30 percent on their Y-DNA, autosomal, and mtDNA tests through April 26.

MyHeritage's ethnic DNA and health test kits are half off through April 29.

Confused about which test is right for you? You may want to check the DNA Testing Guide website, which offers detailed information about and comparisons of the best DNA tests on the market today. The site's blog is full of information about the basics of DNA and covers topics including Asian ancestry, African American ancestry, Native American ancestry and much more.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

22 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Lifetime of Postcards

Chris Pattillo is collecting "Quarantine Quests," stories of genealogical projects and discoveries made by our members while sheltering at home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This story was shared by CGS Board Member Arlene Miles.
Jamaica is one of the places in Long Island, New York that
Arlene Miles lived
I telephoned Arlene Miles, chair of the CGS Library Committee, a few days ago with a question about the library. While chatting I learned about Arlene’s Quarantine Quest project. After thinking about it for three or four years Arlene has now begun to scan her collection of postcards, partly because she now has extra time to do so.

The collection was started by her husband Ted – a regular visitor to the CGS Library. In his youth Ted had a vision problem that made it difficult for him to take photographs so his mother agreed to let Ted buy postcards of the places he visited and things he saw. Before he and Arlene married in 1984 Ted had already compiled a sizeable collection of postcards that reflect his life and his personal interests in trains, historic homes, streetcars, sailing ships, lighthouses and more.
Ted Miles's collection includes many historic buildings such as
the Wading River Congregational Church on Long Island, New York,
where he and Arlene were married
After Arlene and Ted were married the two of them continued the tradition and the collection has continued to grow. Now their two collections tell the story of their lives in postcards. Arlene has postcards from the schools she attended, from St. Francis de Sales Church where she was confirmed, and from St. John’s Church in Riverhead, New York, where she and Ted were married. They have post cards from their vacations and cards from every place they have ever lived. Arlene is considering starting a blog where she could use her postcards to illustrate her family history – “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Arlene considered several scanner models before deciding on the Brother DS-720D, a small, compact unit that sells for $129 (she found one on sale for $109 at Office Max). “It is easy to use, will scan one or both sides, does full-color scanning and is self-feeding,” she says. She estimates that she can scan about 400 postcards in two hours. Images can be saved as either a PDF or JPG file.

The scanner comes with software that helps you organize, label and add information for each card. Arlene and Ted are maintaining the same organizational system that they created for the original cards – so they are grouped by subject matter. After the cards have been scanned Arlene uses Picasa software to crop, straighten, adjust the brightness, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

St John's Church in Riverhead, Long Island, New York
I asked Arlene, “How many have you finished scanning?” and was impressed when she said she had scanned about 1,600 postcards. But then I asked “How many cards do you have in your collection?” and I was truly speechless when I heard her answer. Arlene estimates they have 60,000 to 80,000 postcards in their combined collection! Hopefully the quarantine will not last long enough for the project to be finished. It seems Arlene is making good use of her at-home time while staying healthy.

The Miles collection includes postcards from 42 towns in
Long Island, New York
Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society