Tuesday, June 20, 2017
For years I've had a love/hate relationship with the New York State Department of Health. From taking forever, and I'm talking a YEAR here, to fulfill requests for vital record certificates, to finally putting a few death indexes online, but making it as difficult as possible to ascertain where the death occurred, they have earned my ire. Apparently I'm not alone in this regard.
You may have heard of the non-profit group, Reclaim The Records -- made up of genealogists, historians and researchers-- in other words, my kind of people. Near the top of their website is this sentiment, "Tired of restrictions and paywalls around public data? So are we." And they are doing something about it by filing Freedom of Information requests for public data and posting that data online---for free! They filed a FOIL request to New York State and won access to the entire set of NYS death record indexes from 1880-1956. Ridiculous as it seems, it took seventeen months to accomplish this even though the indexes are available on microfiche at several libraries around the state. The group is now in the process of uploading these indexes to the internet via Internet Archive, which I have to admit is one of my least favorite sites (I can never get the search function to function) but it beats driving to the city of Rochester Library, paying to park, and then spending another half hour driving home in order to check the index. Which is fabulous! Their page invites other genealogy sites to also put the indexes online, and with a little luck Family Search may just do that and make them searchable. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
The earlier images are online now and the others are coming soon, completion by August is the goal. Those later images can be viewed if you download the zip file, but these files are huge, and August isn't so very long to wait. It should be noted the index does not include deaths in New York City, those in mental institutions may be omitted, and compliance with the law requiring that deaths be reported was spotty in the early years.
I don't know how I missed this great news, although since the loss of my husband I haven't been paying much attention to genealogy. Now that I'm getting back into my research, this was a very pleasant surprise. I'll still have to wait an interminably long time if I choose to order the actual certificate, but this is a definite step in the right direction.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
A few days ago my copy of Family Tree magazine arrived in the mailbox. Among the reader's letters was a diatribe about DNA testing. The author of the letter asserted DNA testing was a waste of money and of no use to anyone other than adoptees and "obsessive" genealogists looking for far distant cousins. I beg to differ.
I've made quite a few discoveries using DNA. For example-- my Dad's match with a descendant of our McGarr line from County Kildare put me in touch with a distant cousin who had information I lacked and that rarest of finds, a photograph! Also in the McGarr line, another match strengthened my theory that John McGarr of Garrettstown in County Carlow is my 4th great-grandfather. A Gunn match brought family details as well, and so did a match in my Vincent line.
Then there's James White, my perennially troublesome 2nd great-grandfather whose birthplace eluded me for decades only to be solved when several DNA matches pointed to Queens County, Ireland as the spot. Recently I came upon another DNA match for the White's of Queens. This one looks like a possible older brother for my James. His name is John White, born in Queens though there wasn't much information about townlands. What's particularly intriguing about this John White, is that the DNA match is rated "very high" and the ever useful Irish naming pattern. While the tree doesn't have parents for John, it does list his children. My James' parents were James and Margaret, John named his first son James, and his second daughter Margaret, while my James named his third son John.
In each of these cases, DNA helped me find people I was related to, garnered more information from the individuals who took the tests, and in several cases is the most compelling proof of a relationship to date. Especially with Irish research where there are no early birth records for Catholics other that baptisms that may or may not have survived. The same holds true for early settlers in America as they pushed westward from the New England states, there were no churches or record keepers in the wilderness. To wit; a match in my Clements line for a mid-1700's relative in colonial New York (New England puts New York to shame on early record keeping) appears to confirm that I was right about Mary Clements being my 4th great-grandmother.
To me it seems absurd to dismiss DNA testing out of hand. I've found DNA to be an invaluable tool that I would recommend to other researchers in a heartbeat. While the ethnicity part can be somewhat off, although mine was spot on, the science behind matching is solid.