Saturday, March 17, 2007


I first got interested in digging into my family past about eleven years ago. Internet was relatively new then. Some research tools were available online -- just enough to get one interested in looking and getting started, but not enough to make the research easy. Too much time was still required to get "down in the weeds".

It was enough to get me started, but also misleading for a rookie. If one goes into such an endeavor without understanding the many nuances of genealogy research. I took some wrong turns and wasted many hours. I passed up leads that would have saved years of looking, because I was so certain that the information was wrong.

Much has happened in those eleven years. Most notably, the Internet has grown immensely more useful as more and more data is brought online and most importantly, indexed and searchable. This advancement saves hours of research and has enabled me to correct years of mistakes in relatively short time.

A second major advancement in genealogy research is DNA tracing. Once only an option for the rich, the tests are now affordable. For about $300 one can have both maternal and paternal lines traced. While this does not say anything about specific ancestors, it does help rule out some people and narrow the research focus. With DNA tracing, one can confirm if ones ancestors really did come from Ireland or other parts of Europe. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in serious genealogical research. Here's where to get started:

As for my rookie mistakes, I made some classic ones. I've got relatives who still are stuck in the ruts that got me off track. First, spellings of names. While we have come to expect people to spell their name the same way all the time, that was not always the case. These days, with names tied to credit cards, social security and other identifying data, it is imperative to stay consistent. Also, most people in this country are at least literate enough to spell their names. Again, that was not always true. Be open enough to try many possible spellings of the same sounding. For example, when tracing ancestors through census records it is important to remember that the enumerator was the one entering the information and they may have spelled the name slightly differently, or completely different.

There are also deliberate changes. It was not uncommon in the 19th century for immigrants to change their names to sound more American. For example, one of my wife's ancestors is McCloskey. One would think, Irish. No. They adapted that spelling from Michialevski which was itself an adaptation from a Cyrillic spelling. So keep an open mind on spellings.

Second, dates are a big distractor. One may even have the family Bible saying that great-great grandma Edna was born in January 1869 and still be misled. It is easy to pass on the census record, or even marriage certificate that lists her birth year as 1868, or 1872. I found that one of my ancestors had a different birth year for 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 censuses. Keep an open mind on dates.

Finally, what made me think of such matters today? Well, if not for one of my ancestors, St. Patrick would not have become what he is. After all, he was originally a resident of Briton, not Ireland. One of my ancient ancestors is allegedly responsible for the raid wherein Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave in Ireland. That ancestor was a chieftain, brigand, pirate or king, depending upon which history you read. Niall of the Nine Hostages is an ancestor. DNA results link me to him even though the direct line has gaps between him and me as far as verifiable genealogical evidence.

I just thought it ironic that, as my family prepares to have an Irish meal tonight with a pint of Guinness, the mere fact that we are doing so is due the existence of a saint who wasn't even Irish, but who became patron saint of Ireland as a direct result of my ancestor's action. The knowledge that it was an ancestor who was responsible only came about as a result of recent advances in genealogical research.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Prodigal Offspring and Computers

What evil things those computers have become! Our kids started out on computers when the youngest one was only two years old. Seemed like such a good thing at first. The kid's computer didn't have Internet access then, so it was no big deal to let them play their educational games with minimal adult supervision. Everything was wonderful.

As they grew and school started demanding more keyboard time, we got each kid their own computer. At first still no Internet in their rooms, but that was OK. They mostly just used it for basic word processing.

Then we upgraded things. The house went broadband and network. Soon everyone's computer could access the Internet. At first, still not a problem. Basic child protection software did the trick. Yeah, they periodically trashed the machines with their experimentation, but no problem. It was easy to restore the initial setup. I was proud that they were learning to write code and were not afraid of the electronic beastie. For the most part, they behaved.

Ah, but then they became adolescents. You know, that evil transitional phase between the innocence of childhood and alleged wisdom of adulthood. They learned evil tricks from fiendish friends whose parents were not nearly as vigilant as I. And they started listening to that awful racket called Hip Hop, and Gangsta Rap....rubbish! They spiraled into the world of MySpace and other child-perverting sites.

Battle now joined. The kids started trying to hack their way around protections. Usually I could catch them, me being an IT consultant when I'm not writing books or training soldiers. I'm sure not all parents are as gifted, given discussions I've had with other parents. It is a constant fight. Our kids we used to be able to trust have become instant gratification-seeking Internet sneaks.

Recently the battle moved to proxies...those web addresses that let kids get around software designed to block their favorite illicit web sites. I knew about proxies. After all, it is one of my lines of work to know such things. I just didn't know that they knew about them...yet. I always knew that someday, they would discover how easy it is to get around the safeguards. I can close off the proxies, but not fast enough. There are literally thousands of proxy sites.

So now only the oldest kid has Internet access in his room...barely. He's been warned and he's one violation away from losing his computer. The two girls have already lost computer in their rooms. Surprisingly they were far more out of control than the boy. They now get to share one in my office where I can watch. Even then, they try to sneak past the guard. Even knowing that their every move is monitored they try. Isn't that a symptom of retardation? If one is incapable of learning that touching the hot stove results in burns, isn't there something wrong. My otherwise very intelligent kids are absolute idiots when it comes to the Internet. Dad is always watching and dad knows more than other dads...or more than you and your teenage co-conspirators. So why keep pushing?

Lesson for all parents of computing age kids...don't let them have Internet access unless you are sitting right there with them. Fact is, you can't block everything with software or hardware. There is always a way around. Technology can't replace vigilant parenting. If you don't want to make the effort, then don't have a computer that your kids can use to access the Internet.

Unfortunately, like treats and sweets, someone else will someday give your child freedom to roam the Internet. Sometimes it is the school, sometimes a friend, but eventually they run amok.