Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Disappointing Course Review: AGS: Beyond the Basics by NGS

NGS replaced their Home Study Course with a series of courses titled American Genealogical Studies. After successfully completing the prerequisites, AGS: The Basics and the frustrating AGS: Guide to Documentation and Source Citations, I recently started AGS: Beyond the Basics. (I reviewed the first two courses here and here.)

Free Clipart from Clipart Panda

The first of five modules is titled "Evidence Analysis" and covers the Genealogical Proof Standard along with sources, information, and evidence. Unfortunately, I feel this module has totally misunderstood several of these key concepts and is promoting very wrong ideas to genealogy students. I would not, at this time, recommend this course. 


There are three types of sources: original, derivative, and authored narrative. I thought the course did a good job of explaining these three types of records. The quiz only had one question I disagreed with: whether a family history was an original, derivative, or authored narrative. I said it was an authored narrative, but got the question wrong. What do you think?


There are also three types of information: primary (first-hand) information, secondary (second-hand) information, and undetermined knowledge in which we are not sure who is providing the information. Although the course notes do a good job of explaining the three types of sources, one of the quiz questions seems to imply that even first-hand knowledge becomes secondary if it is shared at a date far removed from the event. In this question, a man recorded his son's birth date in various books. In later books, the father started writing a different date of birth for his son. To get this question correct, you must say these later books contain "secondary information." However, even though this father must have been incorrect on one of the dates of birth he recorded, the information is still first-hand and is therefore primary information. As Elizabeth Shown Mills points out, "A time lapse might affect the quality of the recollection, but it does not alter the primary nature of the information."[1]


Evidence also has three types: direct, indirect, and negative. This is where I feel the teaching is just plain wrong. For those of you who don't know, or as a reminder, here are the basics of the three types of evidence as described in Tom Jones' book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:
  • "Direct evidence is an information item that answers a research question by itself."[2] But, Elizabeth Shown Mills adds that "it may not give us as complete an answer as we would like."[3]
  • "Indirect evidence is a set of two or more information items that suggest an answer to a research question only when they are combined."[4] In other words, the single piece of evidence doesn't answer the question by itself, but can be used with other pieces of evidence to answer the question.
  • "Negative evidence is the absence of information that answers a research questions."[5] Tom Jones' example is not finding an individual on a specific tax lists which suggests "the research subject was a minor, too old to pay taxes, deceased, or living elsewhere."[6]
Compare these answers to the Beyond the Basics course notes. For an example of indirect evidence, the course refers to a death certificate where the place of birth was stated as "Germany." The notes say: "This information is relevant to the research problem but it does not provide us with a specific town or location by itself. Therefore, this evidence is indirect evidence." [Italics added for emphasis.]

And yet, "Germany" does provide direct evidence as to where the person was born! Remember, Elizabeth Shown Mills said the answer given might not be "as complete an answer as we would like."[7] Places like "Kansas" or "Cowley County, Kansas" supply direct evidence to questions involving "where" something happened. Likewise, "1858" or the "summer of 1972" are also direct evidence for questions of "when" something occurred. If places and dates had to be exact, there would be very little direct evidence! In fact, even a census record stating a person was born in May 1858 would be considered indirect evidence. This is just wrong!

When I wrote the person in charge of course content about this question, she added that Germany wasn't even a unified country when this person was born in 1868. She asked, "did the informant know this or were they using the current geographical area?" She also stated that an employee of the clinic where this person died had filled out the form and suggested the employee might have just guessed the deceased was from Germany because of her name. Again, while this information is useful when analyzing the document, it has no bearing on whether or not the information is direct or indirect. The information provided answered the question as to where the deceased was born and is, therefore, direct evidence.

The course also fails, in my opinion, when discussing negative evidence. Using the same death certificate, the fact that "Unk." [unknown] was listed in the field for "mother's maiden name" was highlighted. This is one of two examples this course used for negative evidence. However, finding a document indicating the mother's name was unknown is not evidence at all! It doesn't point towards any answer. It does not give a clue to answer the research question! And, as the quiz questions reflect, this "lack of evidence" being called "negative evidence" continued throughout this module.

After reading this section, there is a quiz in which students read a letter and choose whether the letter provided direct, indirect, or negative evidence for certain questions. In any instance where the letter doesn't provide any information regarding that fact, you have to wrongly chose "negative evidence" to get the answer correct. 

The final quiz for this module is probably the worst part. There are a series of questions which each have four answers like "original source, secondary information, indirect evidence" or "original source, secondary information, direct evidence." However, since in particular the evidence concept is flawed in this course, you must purposefully choose the wrong answers to get the questions correct!

There were additional problems with this module including one quiz which was missing a question and one question which had two wrong answers and a blank answer. These were glitches in the system which I was told cannot be fixed unless someone points them out. When accessing my course, I can see that the "blank answer" question has been fixed, but the quiz with the missing question is still missing a question. Thankfully, the resulting score gives the student the point for this missing question.


While writing back and forth with the person in charge of course content, I explained how unhappy I was with this course and asked for a refund. I shared the problems I've shared in this post and more. In reply, I was referred to the website which clearly states: "All purchases of courses are final. No refunds or credits are available."


After having issues with the first two courses, which cost me $45 each, I spent $175 on this course. I am writing this review primarily for two reasons. First of all, I sincerely hope that NGS will correct the issues I've presented regarding this course. Secondly, I hope to save others the $175 it costs to enroll in this course which contains some misguided concepts that I believe will be damaging to students.

Do you agree with what I've written? Disagree? I'd love to hear from you! Also, I'd love to hear from anyone who has taken the online "Beyond the Basics" course and get their feedback. Please leave a comment or email me at

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, "QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Model," Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( [accessed 30 November 2016].

[2] Tom Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society special publication, 2013), 14-15.

[3] Mills, "QuickLesson 17."

[4] Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 14-15. 

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mills, "QuickLesson 17."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Old Paintings from Old Family Portraits

I recently met a "new" Peters cousin through Ancestry and we have been sharing photos and other information. She sent me two paintings that her family believed were of William Peters (1850-1927) and his wife, Mahala McFarland (1859-1906). William was a son of Joachim Peters (1815-1894), the immigrant patriarch I've been sharing about recently.

Cousin's Painting Labeled William Peters,
son of Joachim Peters. Used with permission.

Cousin's Painting Labeled Mahala
(McFarland) Peters, William Peters' wife.
Used with permission.
When I saw the paintings, I thought they looked really familiar. My family has a photo of our Peters' immigrant couple, Jochim and Henriette (Bünger) Peters, which is shown below.

The two paintings and the photo looked incredibly similar! Even the hair styles and clothing looked a lot alike. I decided to look at the photos and paintings side by side:

Portrait and painting of Joachim Peters (1815-1894). Photo taken circa 1870.

Portrait and painting oHenriette (Bünger) Peters (1817-1874). Photo taken circa 1870.

I think it is obvious the paintings of the man and the woman were actually made from the photo. Both the dating of clothes (likely 1860's or 1870's) and the couple's age (probably in their 50's or 60's) indicate the couple is Joachim and Henriette Peters, and not William and Mahala Peters.

I love that two branches of the family have now, about 150 years after the fact, digitally brought together these images of our immigrant couple. And, I wonder if other families have seen old paintings which were known to have been made from an original photo? If so, please let me know! I am wondering how common this practice was!

Do we have common ancestors? If so, I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, November 21, 2016

How I Traced My Immigrant Family to Germany

In October, I started telling the story of one of my immigrant families: the Peters. My purpose was to find additional details about this family and their immigration, but I ended up tracing them back to Germany! I also broke through a "brick wall" and found their parents, too! This post is a summary of that discovery with links to the posts I shared as I traced this immigrant family.

Custom Map Created by My Dad
At some point, I heard a lecture or podcast about finding your ancestor's ship arrival in a New York newspaper. And, that is where this journey started. I found a short blurb in The New York Times announcing the arrival of my ancestors' ship. The account listed several places their ship had passed, so I learned more about their passage by locating those places. My dad created a custom map showing those locations, and I learned more about their passage on the Steamship Bavaria.

My great aunt, who got me started in genealogy in 1998, had found a copy of the New York passenger list for our Peters family. But, in the past few years, I found their Hamburg Passenger list on As I discussed and compared these two lists I had my breakthrough: I realized that one of the children had listed the village of Bellin as his last residence!

My great aunt had always said the Peters family had come from Güstrow. By using Meyers Gazetteer online, I realized that the small village of Bellin was located near Güstrow. Thinking this was likely the village my family had come from, I ordered an FHL microfilm of church records for Bellin and waited.

Evangelisch Kirche [Evangelical Church] Bellin, Kirchenbuch [Church Book], 1650-1873, page 154, item 10, taufen [baptism] of Friedchen Elise Johanna Peters; FamilySearch mircofilm #68993.
[Page 1 of 2. Lists item number, birth date, baptism date, father's name and occupation, and mother's name.]
Evangelisch Kirche [Evangelical Church] Bellin, Kirchenbuch [Church Book], 1650-1873, page 155, item 10, taufen [baptism] of Friedchen Elise Johanna Peters; FamilySearch mircofilm #68993.
[Page 2 of 2. Lists child's name, 3 baptismal sponsors, and unknown.]
When the microfilm came in, I eagerly scrolled through it for baptism records of the six children. Though the first five children were not listed, I found the sixth child! And, with that record, I had found my Peters family in Germany! Finding the confirmation of the two oldest children on that same film gave me the clue I needed to find the family before they had moved to Bellin., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database,marriage record of Joachim Carl Otto Peters and Henriette Maria Magdalena Bünger, 21, July 1843, Dobbertin, Mecklenburg, page 12, item 49. [Columns include month and day; banns; groom's name, occupation, and town; bride's name and town; groom's father's name, occupation, and town; bride's name, occupation, and town; whether either previously married; and priest's name.]
Back at home, I discovered the German Lutheran church records were online at! Using those records, I found the marriage record of my Peters immigrant couple, Joachim and Henriette Bünger Peters, which listed their hometowns and their father's names. The "brick wall" was falling down!

Using Joachim's father's occupation from the marriage record, I was able to find Joachim, two of his siblings, and his parents, Jacob and Hedwig, in the 1819 census. The record also listed Hedwig's maiden name: Borgward., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database, baptism record of Hedwig Margaretha Johanna Borgward, 25 September 1785, Lübchin, Behren , page 90.
I didn't blog about it, but I was also able to find Hedwig's parents and siblings using baptism records contained in the German Lutheran records on Ancestry. Her parents were Eckhard Joachim Borgward and Anna Margaretha Ahrends., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database, baptism record of Henriette Maria Magdalena Bürger, 09 July 1817, Dobbertin. [Columns list day of birth; day of baptism; father's name, occupation, and town; mother's name and town (of birth?); child's name; sponsors; and unknown.]
I had more trouble finding Henriette Bünger's parents. The key to my success? MyHeritage. Another member at MyHeritage had Henriette Bünger listed on their tree along with her parents and siblings. Using one of her siblings, I was able to find a baptismal record in the correct church and then scroll through the records until I found Henriette's baptism. I hadn't been able to find the family because the surname had been transcribed incorrectly.

What surprised me the most about this family was how much they moved around. When I found my Kaechle family's origins in Germany a few years ago, I discovered church records in the same church going back to the late 1500's! But, the Peters family moved every few years. Without the Lutheran church records available on Ancestry, I would not have been able to discover so much so quickly. It was an amazing experience!

There are still more records that need to be found. And, there are still some records I've found that need transcribed, translated, and/or analyzed. But, I am excited at what I was able to uncover about my family and their history. And, I hope my family members enjoyed these discoveries, too, and that others might have discovered something they can use in uncovering their own family history.

Are we related? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, November 14, 2016

Identifying Two Women in a Photo

Las week, my dad sent me this photo which was labeled "Cassie McCluskey and Linda Peters." He said the original was "so light you could hardly make out the figures of the two ladies. [He] had to push the contrast and darkness really hard to get an image, hence the jet black areas in some places (around Linda's eyes for instance)."

Cassie McCluskey and Luda Peters
Photo Labeled "Cassie McCluskey and Linda Peters"
but likely Cassie (McCluskey) Long and  Luda (Tibbetts) Peters
Although we are related to Peters, we do not have a Linda Peters - as either a maiden or married name - in our tree. And, as far as we know, we aren't related to the McCluskey family. So, who are these two women? Are they our relatives?

I started with Cassie McCluskey since it's a fairly uncommon name. In Ancestry, I went to "search" and then "all categories" and entered her name. Since our Peters family lived in Kansas, I entered that for location.

The top result was for a Cassie G. McCluskey in the 1895 Kansas state census living in Geulph, Sumner County, Kansas. This is the same area our Peters family lived! She was listed as having been born in Missouri about 1875.

I next went to a Facebook group that helps date photos. I got several replies, all of them saying the photo was dated in either the late 1890's or early 1900's. If Cassie, on the left, was born about 1875, she would have been about 25 years old in 1900. So, both the late 1890's and early 1900's make sense.

Tibbetts siblings photo
Photo of Luda (Tibbetts) Peters (far right) with four of her siblings. Notice both her height and smile. I believe she is the same person as the woman on the right in the other photo. (Photo shared by Teri Head.)
As I looked for a Linda Peters in my tree, I came across Luda (Tibbetts) Peters who was born in 1872 so she was about the same age as Cassie. Since the writing on the photo was so difficult to read, we are pretty much convinced this is a photo of Luda, not Linda.

If anyone is related to either Cassie (McCluskey) Long or Luda (Tibbetts) Peters, I'd love to talk! I'd also love to see more photos of both women to solidify the conclusion of the identities of these two women. (Please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Day of DNA with Diahan Southard

Diahan Southard, known as "Your DNA Guide," is a genetic genealogist who teaches through seminars and video training, publishes DNA quick guides, and provides consultation services. On Saturday, Diahan shared three presentations with the members and guests of the Houston Genealogical Forum (HGF).

Diahan Southard and Dana Leeds at Houston Genealogical Forum November 2016
Me and Diahan Southard at HGF - Nov 2016

Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy: A Beginner's Guide

During the first presentation, "Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy: A Beginner's Guide," Diahan talked about the three types of DNA tests - YDNA, mtDNA, and atDNA - and also the three main testing companies: Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, and 23andMe. She discussed the benefits and shortcomings of each type of test and talked about which tests she recommends you take and why. Genealogy Gems Premium Members have access to the video of this presentation from when Diahan presented it at RootsTech. Below is a short preview which shows Diahan's entertaining, yet informative, style.


5 Tips to Make Sense of Your DNA Testing

The second presentation was "5 Tips to Make Sense of Your DNA Testing." Two of the tips included using the results with what she calls The Ancestor Method and The Cousin Method. With the Ancestor Method, you start with a genealogical question about someone on your tree and try to use DNA matches to answer that question. With the Cousin Method, however, you start with a DNA match and try to determine how they are related. 

Diahan shared the approximate number of people who have been tested at each company, which I found suprising. While FTDNA has only tested about 750,000 and 23andMe has tested about 1.2 million, Ancestry is expected to reach 3 million people tested by the end of the year! So, if you can only afford to test at one place, Ancestry DNA is probably your best option.

If you haven't heard this lecture, or you'd like to watch it again, Diahan gave this talk with Genetic Genealogy Ireland and it is currently posted online for viewing!

The Combined Power of YDNA and Autosomal DNA: A Case Study

Diahan's final talk was "The Combined Power of YDNA and Autosomal DNA: A Case Study." In this talk, Diahan talked about expectations, results, and gave us a list of things "to do." 

Although many of us probably advise those we ask to take DNA tests that "surprises" are sometimes found, what should we do when we uncover one of these surprises? Diahan suggested asking each person you test before you test whether or not they would like to know about any unusual results. I think this is a terrific idea which could save a lot of time spent worrying about whether or not you should tell the person what you found!

My Interview with Diahan Southard

Lastly, as part of my role as Chairman of the Publicity Committee for HGF (Houston Genealogical Forum), I interview via email each of our upcoming presenters. You can read my interview with Diahan Southard at the HGF blog.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tip: How To Translate the ENTIRE Webpage

After locating the church in Bellin, Germany, where my Peters family attended in the late 1850s, my dad found a website that appeared to have a dozen photos of this church. However, the writing was in German.

I often copy and paste entire paragraphs into Google Translate which, although it isn't an accurate translation, helps get me started. But, I've been reading "Trace Your German Roots Online" by James M. Beidler, and he had a tip about translating an entire webpage at one time!

It's really quite simple. Paste the URL for the website you are wanting translated directly into Google. After the website's URL will be the words "translate this page." Click on that and your entire page will be translated!

Kirche Bellin - the Bellin Church - from the German Wikipedia site
This particular site was wonderful! Not only were there lots of photos of my ancestor's 13th century church, there were also wonderful descriptions. The blog is written by a man who was traveling and stopped to take photos of this church in 2012. The priest showed him around and he shared his photos and stories. Although I've asked for permission to share photos from the "Kirche Bellin" website, I haven't heard back from him yet. But, I did find some photos on the Germany Wikipedia site.

A wall painting or mural at Kirche Bellin - the Bellin Church - from the German Wikipedia site

Above is a restored painting from the Middle Ages. If you enjoy art, enlarge this and take some time to study it. It is amazing! Though I don't know if I'd enjoy having this particular painting on the walls of my church!

My favorite story from the translation of the tourist was about the "plague window." The accompanying photo just showed a window that had been sealed. But, the author explained that, during the plague, people who were afflicted with the plague came to this window to "follow the worship" service. What an incredible story and piece of history!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Finding Wrongly Transcribed Surname in a German Record

I spent hours looking for the baptismal record of my great, great, great grandmother, Henriette Maria Magdalena Bünger. I believed she was born on July 15, 1817 in the present day state of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in Germany. I knew her father's name from her marriage record, Johann David Bünger, but I could NOT find her. I was trying every trick I knew. Then, I remembered MyHeritage and how it had helped me with another German family.

I went to the site and put in Henriette's name. Immediately, I found her on someone's tree! It not only had her parents full names and dates, but also listed seven siblings! And, it gave Henriette's place of birth: Dobbertin.

So, I went back to Ancestry, but I STILL could not find her baptismal record! So, I thought I'd look for one of her siblings. I found her oldest brother's birth, Theodor, who was born in 1813 in Dobbertin. From there, I scrolled through the pages until I got to July 1817 where Henriette should be listed. And, there she was!!!

Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), Evangelische Kirche Dobbertin, baptismal record of Henriette Maria Magdalena Bünger, born July 4, 1817, baptized July 9, 1817, digital image, ( accessed 1 November 2016).
So, why hadn't I been able to find her? Just like with records written in English, the family's surname had been wrongly transcribed! It listed their last name as Bürger instead of Bünger.

Now I have Henriette's exact date of birth and baptism! And, I know her mother's maiden name. I spent a few hours last night adding all of her siblings to my tree, too, and locating each of their baptismal records. I have also sent a message to the owner of this MyHeritage tree - a potential cousin who appears to be German - and hope to be able to share more information with him. It's exciting!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tip: Use Occupations to Help Locate Census Records

In the U.S., most of my ancestors were farmers. But, my newly found German ancestors had a variety of occupations. As I tried to locate the birth family of my 3rd great grandfather, Joachim Peters, using his father's occupation as a "keyword" helped me find the correct family.

Mecklenburg-Schwerin, where the Peters family lived, did not take many censuses. In fact, the only ones I'm aware of are for the years 1704, 1751, 1819, 1867, 1890, and 1900. Since the family emigrated in 1859 and Joachim was born about 1815, the only useful census would be 1819. However, the 1867 census might be useful for finding other family members.

To search the 1819 census, I went to and went to "search" and then "card catalog." For "title" I used the words "1819" and "census." There were only two results, and one of those records was the Mecklenburg-Schwerin 1819 census.

From the couple's 1843 marriage record, I know that Joachim's father was named Jacob or Jakob. Since Joachim was born about 1815, I approximated Jacob's birth year as 1790..

In the search fields, I typed "Jacob" and "Peters" marking the surname as "exact & similar." I added a birth year of 1790 and clicked search. This search resulted in 566 results.

At this point is when I remembered Jacob was a cheese dairy owner which is "holländer" in German. So, I edited my search and added "holländer" to the keyword field and marked it "exact." Now, I had only 4 results. Of those, one of them had a son, Joachim, who was born in 1815 and was living in the correct area. Perfect!

Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Census, 1819 (Provo, Utah: Operations, Inc., 2007), Groß Bützin Township, Ritteramt Güstrow District, page 34, line 86, Jacob Peters household, digital image, ( : accessed 30 October 2016). 
Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Census, 1819 (Provo, Utah: Operations, Inc., 2007), Groß Bützin Township, Ritteramt Güstrow District, page 35, line 90, Carolina Peters of the Jacob Peters household, digital image, ( accessed 30 October 2016). 

I still need some of the words translated, but I was able to discover Joachim's mother's name, Hedwig Borgward, and two of his younger sister's names, Anna and Carolina, from this record. It also gives the year and place of birth for each member of the family. For the parents, it even gives the exact date of birth! 

Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), Evangelische Kirche Belitz, Belitz city, Belitz parish, baptismal record of Joachim Carl Otto Peters, born 27 Juni 1815, baptized 30 Juni 1815, digital image, ( accessed 31 October 2016).
After finding Joachim's mother's name, I was also able to locate Joachim's baptismal record! Unfortunately, it is quite smeared. I might order the microfilm and see if I can get a better copy. One item of interest is the list of sponsors! Two of them share the Borgward surname: Joachim Gustro Borgward and Jacob Otto Borgward. 

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at

The 1828 Will of Peter Close's Relict: Catharine Elizabeth Close

Yesterday, I shared the 1810 will of my 5th great grandfather , Peter Close of Armagh, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Peter's wife, Catha...