Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Never Use Expedia

No, this isn't a genealogy post and I apologize for that, but Expedia so messed up my vacation and it's become so obvious that they will do absolutely nothing to fix it that my only option to make sure that Expedia pays a price for their mess up is to post it for all to see.

I'm not going to go into details but just suffice it to say that should you ever book anything through Expedia and there is ANY hiccup in your travel plans, no matter how small, Expedia will be worse than worthless. At best, they will do absolutely nothing. At worst, they could end up charging you more than double and you'll be stuck talking to overseas operators on the phone that don't care whether or not you're satisfied. They'll promise you the moon but you'll get nothing.

Don't use Expedia for any travel arrangements. Just don't.

Now....back to genealogy.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Top Posts of 2015

2015 is nearly over. In many ways, it was a very good year, with my new home and new job. It's also brought some sad news, from illnesses of cousins to the loss of the old family home. In regards the my genealogy blog, we hit 100 blog posts and have surpassed 22,000 hits. Now it's time for a rundown of the most popular posts of 2015.

Coming in at #5 is my step by step instructions on how to create an animated photo-mosaic of an family portrait. It's a neat little project that can be added to a family history presentation that, I believe, helps demonstrate to the non-genealogist all of the documents and photos a genealogist accumulates.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Mathematics of Genealogy

When most people begin looking into their genealogy, I tend to believe their thinking is much like mine was when I first started out, which is something along the lines of this, "I have two parents and two grandparents. I see this branch of my family tree goes back 5 generations so I have 10 ancestors!"

In reality, the growth in the number of ancestors is exponential. Every generation you go back, you double the number of ancestors you have. This make sense on the surface, but again, I don't believe most people fully grasp what this means. If I was able to trace back every single branch of my tree as far back as I have my Brandstetter line, the numbers are virtually astronomical.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ancestral Origins Based on DNA Test

There is some confusion out there in regards to a person's genealogical makeup vs their DNA makeup. You frequently hear people say they're half German and half Irish, or a quarter Polish, a quarter German and half Italian or some such makeup in regards to their genetic and/or ancestral origins. For most people who make these statements, they don't make a distinction between the two or even think there is a difference. In actuality, there is an enormous difference between your ancestral origins and your genetic makeup.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day 2015

Today is Veteran's Day. In honor of this day, I'm posting a few things about my dad's and my grandfather's military service.

While I don't know much about my grandfather, Leo Henry Miller's military service, I know he received a service medal for The Great War For Civilization.
Leo Henry Miller - Medal for The Great War For Civilization
 I know this photo is not a military photo but it is the only portrait I have of him close to his time in the service. This photo and this medal hung on the wall in our living room while I was growing up.

Friday, November 6, 2015

In Honor of Facial Hair

It is now "No Shave November", where men choose to do away with their razor and grow a manly beard. In honor of this month dedicated to not shaving. this post is dedicated to the facial hair of my ancestors. The style of mustaches and beards, I'm confident, is a sign of the time and location your ancestors lived. I wish I could say I was an expert at the styles of facial hair of various times and locations, but all I can do is post the photos of my grandfathers of varying degrees of "great" as samples.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Saving and Archiving Photos

Let's say you're scanning in photos or documentation and need to decide how you're going to save them. What file format do you use? For the non-technically minded, file format means what file type you are using. On Windows computers, the file extension tells Windows how to open the file. For example, Windows knows to use Microsoft Word to open a .doc file and a web browser to open an .html file. Image files can be in the format of .jpg (jpeg), .bmp (bitmap), .tif, .png and many others. The difference is mostly in how the file is compressed, meaning how small the file is made for the same size photo.

Many people say to only save scans and photos in .tif format. The reason for this is that a .tif file is not compressed at all. The file tells the photo viewer/editor that this bit is this color, the next dot is another color and so on for every single dot in the photo. The larger the dimensions of the photo, the larger the file size, no matter what. This way, when a file is edited and resaved, all of the changed bits are changed in the file and the file size remains the same.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

DNA Testing Frustrations

One of my third cousins had their Ancestry DNA test results imported into Family Tree DNA. We had hoped that finding common matches between us could help us track down where our Kelly and/or Murphy families were from in Ireland. My father's mother's mother's parents are also her great-great-grandparents.

I see she popped up on my match list so I looked and saw that Family Tree DNA estimates we are 3rd-5th cousins. We're 3rd cousins so that estimate is correct. I see that we share a portion of our DNA on chromosome 9. This is all well and good. Now to see who our common matches are to see whose genealogy we can study to gain insight on where our family came from.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beginning Genealogy

I'm posting this in the hopes I can help someone who is just starting to figure out how to research their family history. While I know a person new to genealogy may not know that there are blogs to help, I believe that same person is likely to do a Google search to find out how to begin. Of course, everyone will have their own recommendations of how to start tracing your genealogy. This is the way I'd recommend.

Step 0: Maybe you won't actually do this step until you've found some information. Regardless, it's important that you do it if you intend to do genealogy as a hobby. Find a piece of software to document your family history in your own database locally on your computer. I don't recommend storing your original research online. You can read about my opinion here. Store it locally and backup your information. You can then upload it to other websites to share your information.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ancestor Appreciation Day

Sunday, September 27, 2015 is Ancestor Appreciation Day.

To go along with a post I made a while back about being proud of your ancestors, here is a poem asking another question.

Would They be Proud of You?

If you could see your Ancestors all standing in a row,
Would you be proud of them or not – or don’t you really know?
Some strange discoveries are made in climbing family trees
And some of them, you know, do not particularly please.

If you could see your ancestors all standing in a row,
There might be some of them perhaps you wouldn’t care to know.
But here’s another question which requires a different view:
If you could meet your Ancestors, would they be proud of you?

--Author Unknown

Friday, September 18, 2015

DNA Test Request

Are you related to me? Is it old news that we share an ancestor, whether that be a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent or further back? If so, this post is for you.

I am looking for cousins and aunts (since all my uncles are deceased) that would be willing to take a DNA test to help us track down our family lines. No matter if you're on my mother's or my father's side of the family, no matter if you are an aunt, first, second or third cousin, getting a DNA test done will really help!

I'm sure some of you are asking "How could a DNA test possibly help us find our family? You already had a test done and that didn't help. Why would it help if I had one done?"

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Family Tree Chart for Wall Display

One really nice way to display your genealogy work is with a chart to hang on your wall. You can pay to have a professional chart created but it can be expensive. So create one yourself! The problem is creating a good looking chart. I've wanted to do this for a while but I just couldn't come up with a good looking chart. Here is a way to generate a nice looking family tree chart you will be proud to frame and hang on the wall.

First, if you don't already have it, download the free version of Legacy Family Tree software from I believe this software is good enough quality to purchase the full version but even the free version will create this chart for you.

Once the software is installed, you can import from PAF or a .ged file you can export from your current genealogy software. Once you have your tree in Legacy, add only the one image for each individual you want to appear on your chart.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What's With the Blog Name?

Some people may wonder why the name of my blog is "just" "Matt's Genealogy Blog". Why not something creative like "The Panther Family in the Jungle of the World" "Millions of Millers" or "I Dig Up Ancestors"?

First, I don't want to name it one of the family names because I'm researching ALL of the family names, including some that aren't my direct ancestors.

Second, while a creative name would be neat, much like getting a tattoo, it has to be something that has real meaning to you that you're not going to change your mind on in a year or two. While you can change your blog name, the name is how someone finds you. If you change it, its very possible you may lose some readers in the process.and notes and links you sent out earlier would eventually stop working. I wanted something more permanent.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Old Diaries

I'm confident that all genealogists would love to get their hands on old diaries and journals of their ancestors'. My mother loaned me the diaries of my grandmother, Elizabeth Menke Panther from 1975, 1976 and 1980. I just looked through the one from 1975 and discovered several entries that help fill in a few blanks in my genealogy database.

Her brother, Joseph Menke died at 1:30pm on February 23, 1975

Friday, July 24, 2015

Time Marches On, Progress, or Losing Our History?

June through the beginning of July was a sad period for me. Two buildings that I knew while growing up came to the ground within weeks of each other. First was the old Panther farm house on Highway 218 near the old Highway 103, now known as the J40. I knew the home had fallen into disrepair and that it had recently sold. During our recent trip to southeast Iowa, I had heard they were planning on tearing it down. I tracked down the phone number of the new owner and gave him a call. It ends up that the crane was due to arrive and begin demolition in about two hours!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Most Recent Genealogical Brick Walls

Here are my most likely connections to unknown DNA matches. Any matches to my other branches are probably already known since those family trees are documented quite a ways back.

Charles E. Miller aka Karl E. Müller, born 7 Oct 1852, somewhere in Germany. Came through New York around 1874. Spent some time in New York City before moving to Linn County, then Chariton County, Missouri. Married Philomena Bixenman in 1891 in Wien, Chariton County, Missouri. Moved to Fort Madison, Lee County, Iowa and spent the rest of his life there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Where to Store Your Family Tree

While working with some people on their family tree, I've discovered that many of them keep their primary copy of their family tree on an online system. By this I mean that their original copy of their genealogical information is on a site like or I recommend against this.

While I trust Family Search to not go out of business and I know Ancestry performs backups of their data, I still would never put my trust into any one company outside of my control. I very much prefer to be in charge of my own data directly, then share it using any number of online services.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Daily Lives of Our Ancestors

My mother was given some things that were in her mother's home when she died. None of it is particularly valuable but the insight it provides into the daily life of my grandmother and great-grandmother is amazing.

My grandmother kept a daily diary for years and my mother was given three of them. She loaned them to me so I could scan them in digitally to be shared with my cousins. I hope to obtain some of the others and do the same with those. If you are an aunt or cousin of mine that has one or more of Elizabeth Menke Panther's diaries, please let me know! I'd like to scan them in and I'd get them back to you as soon as possible.

These diaries don't contain any deep dark family secret, at least that I've found so far! They do, however, show the daily thoughts and activities of my grandmother from 1975, 1976 and 1980.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sad Day in the History of the Panther Family

The old farm of the Benedict and Elizabeth Menke Panther family is gone. The home was built in 1900. It was previously the home of the Frank Panther family. After Ben and Elizabeth retired, it was passed on to their oldest son, Urban and his wife Bertha. After they retired, it was passed on to their son John, who passed away in 2006. It was recently purchased by Jeff Snaadt and he is clearing the way for a new home to be built. While many members of the extended family thought we could pitch in the money and save the place, everyone who eventually saw it knew that the house was too far gone. Those that lived there previously agreed that they'd rather have it torn down than have it slowly collapse and decay.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

1905 Iowa State Census

I looked for all of my ancestors that could be found in the 1905 Iowa State Census. Some of the information is exactly as I expected it. Some of it confirmed what I believed and some of it sheds light on their lives and some raises more questions.

August Menke is interesting. I knew he came to America when he was about seven years old. What surprises me is that is shows that he had spent 30 years in Iowa but 33 years in America. Where did his family live when he first arrived in America? This is the first time I've seen a hint that he may have lived somewhere else in America before Iowa.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are You Proud of Your Ancestors?

Are you proud of your ancestors? I think most people are proud of the majority of their ancestors. At worst, we just don't know enough about them but if they had the courage to pick up and move to America, I think we'd be proud of them. But what if they were outlaws? Thieves? Slave owners?

I believe we have every right to be proud of things our ancestors accomplished. Of course, you can't take credit for what they accomplished but you can be proud of them. In the same vein, you can't take the blame for the things they did wrong. Recently, movie star Ben Affleck was the subject of the PBS show "Finding Your Roots". As part of their research, it was found that one of Mr. Affleck's ancestors owned slaves. While it's not something to be proud of, it's not something that he could do anything about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Family History Centers

One of the most overlooked research tools, especially for beginning genealogists, is the local Family History Centers. These are the places you can do original research of the LDS church's millions of microfilm rolls that they have filmed of all the various church, local, state and national records. They store these microfilms at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and in the granite vault in the mountains nearby. What many people don't realize is that all these microfilms are available for anyone to search at hundreds or even thousands of locations around the world.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Closing in on Dorans in Ireland

I decided to look at Family Search's immigration records for the Dorans again. It does appear the ship's passenger list I posted here: are the correct ship's list. The list's index cards for these passengers are shown here:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Labelling Photos

How can you label digital photos and documents in a way that the label stays with the photo so you'll always know what the document source is or who is in the photo? Back in physical photo and photo album days, you could write on the back or border of the photo or even on the photo album page. Did you know it's nearly as easy to "flip over" a digital photo and write on the back?

When you look at a digital photo, all you see is the photo open in you viewer program. In reality though, it is a file that contains a stream of characters. Some of these characters contain the contents of the photo and some of them are considered "metadata". Metadata is data about data. It tells the program what is in the file so it knows what to do with it. It's the photo viewer that reads these characters and translates them into this visible photo.
My dad, John Anthony Miller on the right. His aunt, Cecelia Bowen, is in the center.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Losing an Ancestor

In my St. Patrick's Day 2014 post, I talked about what I believed was a breakthrough discovery regarding my great-great-grandfather, Hugh Kelly. It appeared that he had been born in Clincorick, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to Thomas and Velat (Violet) Kelly and that the family moved to Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire, Scotland and that he left for America from Glasgow shortly after his 20th birthday. Here is the record that led me to believe that, based on the fact that he had left on his voyage to America from Glasgow, Scotland.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Tom Doran Story - A Wild Character in the Wild West

The past month has been crazy with more and more information about Tom Doran's life in Junction, Texas coming to my attention. I had made a couple of posts as I found it but thought it would be better if I can put it all into one coherent story. Here is the biography of Thomas H. Doran, the brother of my great-great-grandmother, Nancy Doran Dunnigan.

Much of the information regarding the events from September through December 1878 was found in newspaper articles obtained through the University of North Texas newspaper archive found here: These articles, along with the rest of the sources of this information are posted at the end of this post.

Tom Doran was born in Ireland on May 9, 1844. I suspect the family originated near Dublin but that is not certain at this time. His parents were Thomas and Catherine O'Hara Doran. At the time of Tom's birth, his parents already had at least two daughters, Fanny, about 18 years old, Nancy about 15 years old and one son, Henry, about 7 years old. They had two more daughters and one more son but it is unknown when they were born. Their names were Margaret (Reilly), Ellen and James.

The family emigrated to America, landing in New York City some time between 1844 and 1857. His sister Nancy became an unwed mother, giving birth to her son Thomas in 1857 in Brooklyn, New York. It appears the family moved together to the Germantown area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before moving on to Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. The family lived near the Wabash train depot near the west end of Carthage.

Friday, March 20, 2015

More Details on Tom Doran in Junction, Texas

I love old newspapers! I found a couple of newspaper articles that give us more detail and a differing story about the fight between Tom Doran and Jim Deaton in Junction, Texas and about Tom Doran's death. Keep in mind that this Tom Doran is not my direct ancestor. He was the brother of my great-great-grandmother, Nancy Doran Dunnigan. They were born in Ireland but spent much of their lives in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. You can see the initial discovery about this story here:

It seems that Tom and Jim (Joseph in one of the articles) were friends out drinking and gambling. Also, according to the newspaper article, the throat slashing and Doran

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day - The Doran Family Immigration Records?

Since it's St. Patrick's Day, I feel an obligation to post something about my Irish ancestors. Back in November, I was looking for immigration records for the Doran family and found a good possibility.

The passenger list of the Bark Sherwood out of Liverpool, arriving in Philadelphia on March 31, 1849 shows names that line up pretty well with the Thomas Doran family.

Here are the ages shown on the passenger list:
Thomas: 45
Kitty: 45
James: 20
Fanny: 17
Harry (Henry?): 14
Margaret: 13
Eleanor (Ellen?): 8
Thomas: 2

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Take a Walk Through a Cemetery

I was on the road for work last week, working in the Montrose, Colorado area. They were long days working. We had most of one day off while at the location. During this time, some of my co-workers went skiing and some others went bar-hopping. Neither of these activities interested me so I relaxed in my hotel room for a while, working on my genealogy.

Eventually, the words of my wife came back to me. Get out for a walk! I definitely didn't want to be cooped up in my hotel room all day long and it was the first nice day since winter started. It was a perfect day for a walk. I walked around the outside of the hotel. It wasn't very pleasant with the sights being a parking lot, a grocery store and a highway through town. I needed to find a nicer place to walk. While finding a park would have worked, I figured why not get something accomplished while enjoying the outdoors? I brought up Google Maps and did a search for cemeteries near my location. Google provided me with Grand View Cemetery in Montrose. According to Find-A-Grave, it was about 44% photographed. It also had two photo requests. I drove to the cemetery with camera in hand and the names of the two photo requests in my memory.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

County History Books

County history books are available for most if not all counties in the United States. These books typically cover subjects from the physical landscape of the county to its very early history to the founders of the villages in the county to prominent individuals and families. When you're able to find your ancestors listed in one of these books, it will typically tell at least the region they came from before arriving in the county, their occupation, their immediate family and the life they lived. Many times it will also provide a bit more information on the individual's parents and grandparents and children and grandchildren. This can prove to be a huge help if you don't already have this information.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Biography of Johan Anton "August" Menke

Known as August, Johan Anton August Menke was born November 25, 1864 in Dothen, Hanover in what would eventually become Germany. His parents were Diedrich Menke and Elizabeth Geers Menke. He was baptised on November 29 in Ankum, Hanover. Witnesses were Johan Heinrich Geers from Schwagstorf, Heinrich Kolde from Druchorn and Catharina Brinker Dollman from Schwagstorf.

He had four older half-brothers, Bernard Diedrich "Duke", 18 years old, Henry, 15 years old and Herman, 10 years old, all born to Diedrich's first wife, Anna Maria Catharina Rickelman, who died in 1856 and Bernard Heinrich, 6 years old, born to his second wife, Maria Catharina Brinker, who died in 1859. He also had one older full brother, Bernard Gerhard Heinrich "George", 3 years old. Later, younger sister Johanna Josephine was born when he was two and a half and Mary Elizabeth was born when he was almost six years old.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Web Searches and Iowa Death Certificates

Not every piece of genealogical information can be found online but knowing how to do a good web search, having patience and persistence can lead you in the right direction.

I decided to track down the death certificates of some of my ancestors. I did a search for Iowa Death Certificates and found the IAGENWEB Quick Reference to: County Vital Records found here:

Clicking on Lee County brought me to the Lee County IAGenWeb page:

There is a link in the bottom right corner of the page for "Vital Records", which goes here:

I then click the link for Death Records, leading here:

There is then a link to the Lee County Death Certificate Index 1919 - 1933:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brief DNA Primer

Here is a quick rundown of the different DNA tests and what you can find out with them.

mtDNA (mitochondrial) is the female line DNA that is passed from a mother to her children. Everyone, male or female, carries mtDNA and can be tested but males don't pass it along to their children. Only females pass it along. mtDNA can connect people on your mother's mother's mother's (etc) line and can show the distant ancestry of your strictly female ancestral line.

yDNA is carried only by males and only males can be tested. This traces your father's father's father's (etc) line and can help connect males of the same surname. For example if I was able to find another man with the last name of Miller that is a yDNA match to me, I'd know that we descend from the same man on our Miller line somewhere along the line.

Family Finder is Family Tree DNA's name for their autosomal DNA test. Ancestry provides only the autosomal test now. This is the "everything else" test. This is the bulk of your DNA and can show connections on any of your ancestral lines, not just purely male or female lines. This can show connections, as one example, on your mother's father's father's mother's mother's line and the person that matches you could connect to you on their mother's mother's father's father's line, or any other line for that matter. It will tell you that you are related but it will not tell you how you are related. For this, you'll need to narrow down your search by finding common names, common locations, common DNA matches or other ways. This is the challenge!

-- Matt

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Animated Photomosaic of an Ancestor

For those of you that enjoyed the project of creating a photomosaic of an ancestor (found here), I took that project one step further. A cousin who is a genetic match but we don't know how we're related, Robert, helped me get started on this project. This is definitely an advanced project. I pride myself in being able to figure out just about any technology or software and it took me a bit of time and help from Robert before I was able to learn how to create a project the way I wanted to.

The software I used was MemoriesOnTV. This is software designed to be used to create slideshows and allows you to pan across and zoom in and out of images and add a soundtrack to each slide or to the entire show. You can download a trial version of the software here:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Compare Information from Different Sources

Court records provide good information, as do church records, county records, property records, cemetery records, headstones and DNA test results. There are many other ways of obtaining information that are just as good. What's even better? Triangulating pertinent information by comparing what you find in one source with information from other sources. Here's an example I just found and it has provided me with a clue that gives me a location in Ireland to begin searching on one of my Irish lines.