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Forensic Genealogy

When I first heard this term it made me take a step back and ponder what it actually means. Taking the added in-depth research step we are all prone to do, I immediately Googled it. The response links included leads to articles and people specializing the in the field. However, I came away knowing it is the area of genealogy using standard methods and resources; but, it also includes more scientifically based methods too.

Looking at a photo may lead people to know that what their ancestors looked like during a certain event. Forensic Genealogy shines more of a light on data-mining. It could offer the time of day, close or exact locations, the year, day, and time. Depending on the details of the photo, it may also give physical hints concerning the health of the people in it. I heard it defined as “CSI meets Roots.” Sounds odd, but it is valid.

One such forensic genealogist I’ve gotten to know is Colleen Fitzpatrick. She is a real-life genealogy detective. One niche she has in her background is being a consultant genealogist for the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. Her credentials don’t stop there.

Colleen holds a PhD in nuclear physics, an MS in physics, and founded her own optics company in her garage, so you know she is very much a self-starter. As a contractor, she has been affiliated with NASA, US Department of Defense, The National Institute of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Author is another role she has been successful with publishing several outstanding books and I’m proud saying they are in my library. FORENSIC GENEALOGY is a fantastic best-seller, viewed by many individuals and organizations as a reference document.

Colleen also offers training, of sorts. Nearly each week, she offers a challenge to those who visit her web page: http://forensicgenealogy.info/

She posts a photograph along with several probing questions. From there, you are free to analyze and decode it all you would like. Once you’ve done your research, send it in. She is generous with her comments guiding contestant/students along their path. My goal is participating more with it. I’m better armed with breaking down photographed elements than ever before; but, I have a way to go before I’ve reached a consistent pattern of success.

Consider visiting Colleen Fitzgerald’s site and trying a few of her picture puzzles. Go a step further and buy her book. I can tell you, you’ll be pleased with both.


Local Historical Societies

If you are a intent on researching your ancestors, consider joining your local historical society. Membership can offer you so many benefits.

1. Meetings lead to meeting others and networking can result in an informational hint you’d never receive any place else.

2. Awareness of local, state, and national workshops or conferences. Salt Lake City is mecca to those of us who partake in this venture. So many organizations structure events there or other exciting locations.

3. Newsletters inform you of lectures being held nearby.

4. You discover the endless connectivity of the organizations which are out there waiting for you, or the one that is waiting for your to charter it.

5. There are many more, but it really depends on you and your level of involvement. Go out there and participate!

Meanwhile, please join us for Ancestry Adventures on the online channel: NorthernLightsRadio.Com  on Wednesday, September 3, at 8:00 PM.

Can’t make the show time? Not a problem. Listen to all past shows posted on the radio web site under Ancestry Adventures.

You are also able to download them and listen to them like a podcast.  We’ll keep a candle in the window.

Logo for the radio show

Have Some Time?

Click Here to link to Smithsonian Transcription Volunteering

Remarkable as it seems, Smithsonian is in need of help transcribing historic documents. Your help. And you can do it from home whenever you like, as much or as little as you have time.

When I think of Smithsonian’s holdings, the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Arc quickly comes to mind.  Many documents were created during times when handwriting was the central form of preserving thoughts. Diaries, lab notes, log books, just about anything you can think of is in their archives. They have initiated a project, with some very clean software, providing a handy platform for transcribing pages of a document of your choice.

Once you are on their web site, Smithsonian provides you with a list of themes and projects within the theme. Mine was under the American Experience theme. The document concerned itself with notes from an artists detailing the influences and progress being made creating an artwork. One page is done at a time and there is an option for only focusing on a portion of a page, so massive time investment isn’t warranted. The guidelines for how to transcribe are there and it is a quick read.

After you’ve started, you’ll see the scanned version of the actual document page on the left. To the immediate right you’ll find the space where you enter in your transcription. Transcription not your thing, then pick a page and proof it.  Any help is appreciated and you’ve help provide digital access to part of history.

Give it a try. Spend ten minutes here or there on something of interest to you. Who knows, you just may find an entirely new hobby.  The link is at the top of this post. Good luck and let us know your experience.




If you are interested in starting your own research, this is a great place to start. Print yourself a few forms and jot down what you know, starting with the Family Group Sheet and you are on your way.

Family Tree Magazine serves up several great forms to get your started…. and they are free.  Happy hunting.



Greetings, All

Even though life has been slower around the ranch, new things still manage to find their way in.

A radio show has been started in lieu of a number of other activities and I can’t be any happier.  Please feel free to tune in to Northern Lights Radio tomorrow, Wednesday, August 20th, at 8:00 pm EST.  Each week the topic varies, but it is all focused on genealogy and all the wonderfully interesting turns it can take. Shows are recorded for later listening and can be found on the web site under the show title.

So, please join us at  www.northernlightsradio.com and submit a comment, question, or a good knock-knock joke.

Northern Lights Radio is the Internet radio station “for all good things.”    I’ll be looking for you there, folks.


Giving Proper Thanks

Departing from the world of wills, I wanted to explore Thanksgiving’s history. It isn’t what we’ve been taught.

When we were all children, art class was replete with pilgrim’s hats and turkeys of some variety. Facts surrounding it included:

  • Mayflower Pilgrims arrived in 1620 from England
  • They celebrated their first successful harvest in 1621
  • Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag Indians to join them
  • The feast was a departure from their usual thanksgiving service of prayer

The issue with this is that Virginia’s Berkeley Plantation had already offered the first thanksgiving on December 4, 1619.  A day for Thanksgiving services was codified in the Charter of Berkeley Hundred, which was the original name of the plantation.

There were other firsts associated with Berkeley. Built by Benjamin Harrison IV, two of his descendents became quite distinguished. Benjamin Harrison signed the Declaration of Independence while William Henry Harrison became president. Not being without their beverages, the first whiskey was distilled there in 1621 by a priest. The bugle music, “Taps” was written and played on the property by the James River.

In general, Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation set the day as the last Thursday of November as an attempt to offer a joint national event to the North and the South during the Civil War. The South refused to celebrate and a national holiday wasn’t realized until after Reconstruction. Later, In an attempt to bring an economic boost to the country, FDR’s 1941 proclamation reset the date to the fourth Thursday of November.

I visited Berkeley Plantation not all that long ago with a great group of colleagues and look forward to returning. There is a certain peacefulness enjoyed walking this property.

For further information, visit their web page; but, better yet, pay it a visit.  www.berkeleyplantation.com/

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


John F Kennedy’s Last Will and Testament

John F Kennedy’s Last Will and Testament

Although this may come as a great shock to many, John Kennedy is not up for sainthood. If anything, he was as flawed as any other president who had to deal with the pressures and stress accompanying the job that eventually killed him.

He lead a life of great privilege, yet somehow had us believe he was one of us, a regular guy. Recently I read “The Kennedy Detail” which is based upon the memories of several men who served as Secret Service Agents to President Kennedy. It was more than the same events from a different vantage point, it offered a more human side of JFK and how he interacted with those working closely with him and his family. It stressed that although Kennedy understood the human condition, work was work. In his will Kennedy presents himself in a similar light.

On June 18, 1954, Kennedy formalized 16 pages to speak for him in his absence. In these pages, he paints the usual introduction to his last will and testament in order to set the tone. Then, the document moves on directly to his wife, Jacqueline B. Kennedy. Although he grants her all his personal effects, it shocked me that a man of his means only bequeathed her $25,000.00 in his will.

Once I read on, I understood why in short order. The $25,000 was spending money for Jackie and the real wealth resided in his trusts. His will is a text-book example of the type of document exceptionally wealthy people of his tier would create. Short on sentimentality and long on financial management, it structures the approach he wishes in doling out his estate. It clearly directs the executors of his estate on the guidelines of how to proceed and manage the financial and material wealth this man once held, yet he also makes allowances for their own judgment in many areas.

His executors will not surprise you much: Jacqueline B. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy. Being a sports minded man, he also named his second string players to fill any vacancy: Eunice K. Shriver, Patricia Lawford, and Jean Kennedy. It was as if he understood that others would need to step in the time following his death.

The three staff members witnessing this document are common names in his White House days: T. J. Reardon, administrative aid; Theodore C. Sorenson, special council and speech writer; and Evelyn Lincoln, personal secretary. Amusingly, hers is the only postal zone listed in the addresses given, possibly speaking to her attention to such details.

Enjoy reading this will. You will find it by clicking on the link in the header of this article. In some ways it gives solid insight into Kennedy’s life by seeing how well he prepared for his death.