Tag Archive for: Family History

How are we related? An explanation of 2nd Cousins once removed.

How are we related?
As we gather for the holidays, we will be spending time with family: parents, siblings, grandparents, and “cousins”. One of the questions I am asked most is about cousins? What is a 1st or 2nd cousin and what’s with the whole “removed thing”?
The first thing you need to know is your common ancestor.
If you share parents…you are siblings
If you share grandparents…you are 1st cousins
If you share great-grandparents…you are 2nd cousins
If you share great-great-grandparents….you are 3rd cousins
and so on…
The whole “removed thing” is to denote different generations. How is my 1st cousins’ son related to me? Our common ancestors are my grandparents but his great-grandparents. You start with the closer relationship, in this case, grandparent, making him my first cousin, and then you “remove” the relationship one generation, first cousin once removed. His child would be my first cousin twice removed.Here is another example. The picture below is my grandmother, Janice, and her “cousin” Steph at the old farm which has been in our family for generations. It was owned by Steph’s great-grandparents and its where my grandmother’s grandparents meet. It’s very cool that it is still in our family and I believe part of the reason we are still connected. Their common ancestors are Nelson and Mary. They are my grandmother’s great-grandparents and Steph’s great-great-grandparents.
So how are they related?
Great-grandparents, the closer relationship, means 2nd cousins, the extra generation makes them once removed.
Can you figure out how I am related to Steph?
Still a bit confused? Here is an example of how to map out the generations to figure out the answer.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and friends. And that you get to impress them with your new knowledge of cousins.

My Grandma Janice and Cousin Steph at “The Old Farm”

Is Social Media New?

Is social media new?

I have been working on an article for the Minnesota Genealogist about my second great grandmother, Minnie House. An excellent source for piecing together her complicated story has been newspapers.com.

As I searched for her name in the years and locations she once lived, I had to laugh at the results of lines from newspaper articles that were basically status updates.

“Mrs. Minnie House of Rice Lake spent Monday evening in the city visiting Mrs. Fred Blume.” The Dunn County News 20 Aug 1914

People have always been interested in who’s who, what they are doing, and where they are going. And I am thankful for every time my ancestor’s “status” was preserved. I always say family history is so much more than names and dates. It’s about real people that lived real lives, and these articles help us piece together the story of those lives.

It also made me wonder…what will future generations know about or think about me if they were reading my status updates?
What story does our social media tell?
Is it the story we want to tell?
and the message we want to leave?


Grandpa Don’s Gift

Grandpa Don was the subject of my first personal history video, which I made for his and Grandma Ethel’s 60th anniversary. He didn’t say much, preferring to let her tell the stories. Until he was able to tell me about his cars. He had a list of every car he ever owned with what he paid for it and what he sold it for.  He talked about how hard it was to find a car after he came back from the war and how he had to junk the first couple he bought.

The family used to draw names at Christmas. One year grandpa asked me what I would like so he could tell the person who got my name. I said “if it was you I’d like you to make me something.” He was a carpenter and had made other things for the family. He was a child of the depression who valued saving and fixing and repairing stuff over buying new. 

Christmas came and I opened my gift, it was a one-foot stool. On the bottom, written on an envelope, because why buy paper when they send it with the junk mail for free?, were the words “this is made out of recycled wood, stretch a buck.” He had made the whole thing from wood he had on hand. To be fair, I think he had enough scrap wood in his house to build a whole new house. This is one of my favorite gifts, and I still cherish it. 

If you see me at an event where I am showing my videos you can ask to see the stool, as the television I use fits on it perfectly!
If you follow Lead Sheep Productions on social media (FacebookInstagramTwitter), you know that this month, we are celebrating the men in our lives. It is incredible when we take time to understand and realize how much each person has contributed to our story.

We are looking for speaking opportunities.

Lead Sheep Productions is offering a Getting Started in Genealogy presentation. Do you know a group who would enjoy this presentation? 

Am I German?

When I took the ancestry.com DNA test a few years back, I was expecting to be quite a bit German. All of my paternal grandmother’s grandparents were born in Germany. I also have many other lines where Germans appear. When I opened my results, German wasn’t even an option, it was lumped in with all of Western Europe, and I was only 5%. I was instead over 60% British. This shocked me a little, what was I going to do when someone called me stubborn, could I no longer blame my German ancestry? 

A lot of people get results they find confusing. The first thing you need to understand is reference samples. The companies are comparing your DNA to reference samples of people today who can show they have been in the area for generations. That is not the same as comparing your DNA to all Germans. In fact, in 2018 Ancestry updated and expanded their reference samples and my ethnicity results now show 10% Germanic Europe. No, my DNA did not change; the interpretation of it did. The other thing to note is migration. We tend to think of our ancestors as being from one place, but human beings have been migrating for centuries. If you read about the region of Great Britain on ancestry.com, you will notice that the Germanic tribes of Angles and Saxons are part of the genetic makeup of the area. 
It is also essential to understand how DNA is passed down. You inherited 50% of each of your parent’s DNA, meaning that 50% of their DNA you did not inherit. This is why siblings can have very different ethnicity results. Confused?  Here is a video from ancestry that explains it. 

While DNA is never wrong, our interpretations and understanding of it can be. So it is important to use DNA as a tool along with traditional paper research. And why the cousin matches are a much more critical part of your results than ethnicity. A cousin match helped me to find an Irish ancestor with a common name. And all the cousins I expect to have on the German side are matches and getting the same low percentage I am, so I know that the Germans in the paper trail are my ancestors. 

Uphill, both ways

The winter of 2019 has been ridiculous. The snowiest February on record, temperatures that make freezing feel tropical, and dreary gray skies. School has been cancelled more days in one month than my entire school career. Recently there was a discussion on a Facebook group for my graduating class asking if kids today are less hardy than we were.

When I was a kid the saying “when I was your age I had to walk to school, uphill both ways” was a standard answer to any child’s complaints. It was obviously an exaggeration, but how did our parents get to school? And were they really hardier than us? Kids today?

Or do we just remember ourselves this way? Memory is not like a video recording. We remember certain events and forget others. Memories can be influenced by our later experiences, and can be triggered by a smell, a photograph, a place, or a person. 

Hopefully, this winter will soon be a memory and we will be making new memories experiencing a sunny, warm spring.


Never Lost Again

Not surprisingly one of my favorite shows is Finding Your Roots on PBS. On a recent episode, Henry Lewis Gates Jr handed Marisa Tomei a family tree filled with relatives she never knew she had and declared,  “They will never be lost again”. It was a meaningful moment, but is it true? Will the future generations of her family know all she found? How do we “lose” our history in the first place? 

We must preserve and pass it down!

Winston Churchill said, “history is written by the victors.” This is part of the reason I love watching genealogy shows, you get to learn about a time in history from the everyday people who lived it. It is also a great way to hear from all sides. What was it like being a loyalist during the Revolutionary War and what were their reasons for wanting to stay part of Britain. I never learned that in history class. But because of family stories, journals, letters, and vital records, we can get a glimpse into this all-important piece of what it means to be an American.

By discovering our own history and making sure it is preserved for future generations we can be an all-important piece of what it means to be us, part of our family, and human. 

DNA testing has become very popular, and people love finding out if they’re German or British (though this is not the best use of these tests, stay tuned for a future article on this). But we gain so much more from our ancestors than green eyes or a receding hairline.  


We are here because they were.

They were survivors who persevered throughout history. Our customs, mannerisms, likes, and dislikes have been influenced by them and passed down through how we were raised, our parents were raised, and our grandparents were raised. There is also new research that experiences can affect our genes and can be passed down in our DNA.  Adding a fun twist to the age-old question nature vs nurture. So whether we know them or not, we carry with us the lives of all those who came before us. But wouldn’t it be more fun to know?

How will you discover your past and make sure it is Never Lost Again?

The Friendship Gate

Over the holidays my neighbor Christina came over for coffee. She lives two doors down in our old St. Paul neighborhood, both our homes were built in 1941. As she was walking over she thought about the women who lived here over 70 years ago and wondered if they ever walked this same path to have coffee together. We smiled thinking about them in their crinoline, low heels, and lipstick with fancy china cups. Especially since we were in yoga pants, messy buns, and no makeup with our mugs that have funny sayings. I thought about how different a scene it would be, but how the conversations would probably be the same. We discussed the weather, the neighborhood, our families, and our plans for the holidays… just as I am sure they did all those years ago.  

I told this story to my grandpa and he said: “it’s just like Edison and Ford’s Friendship-gate”. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had winter estates next to each other in Fort Meyers, FL. They visited so often that they installed a gate as a shortcut to each other’s homes. It is now called the friendship gate and a stop on the tour of their estates. It is also said that when Edison was confined to a wheelchair later in life, Ford still perfectly able to walk, got one too so they could wheel around together. 

I love this story as it makes these historic figures real people. In Genealogy, we call it the FAN (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors). The people who are part of our story and influence our journey. Who are the people important to your story??

Whether in yoga pants or all dressed up I hope that you will take the time to enjoy the journey with them.

10 questions to help start your holiday table conversations.

The holidays are a wonderful time to learn more about your family history.  We have included 10 questions to help start your holiday table conversations. 

1. Ask your parents/grandparents how they met?
2. Ask about the history of the china or other item used on your table.
3. Ask each person for their favorite holiday memory?
4. Ask each person for their favorite holiday food and why?
5. Ask each person what they wish they had known when they were younger, including the children.
6. Do you have any Pilgrims or Native Americans in your family? 
7. If not, where did your family come from?
8. What are the holiday traditions of those places?
9. Ask each person for a memory of a family member who has passed away.
10. Bring old photos and ask older relatives about the people in them.

Janice’s Adventures


Janice loved to travel and spending time with her granddaughter. When Amanda got into genealogy, Janice did not believe she had Irish roots, Amanda took her to Ireland to prove it. They enjoyed the trip so much that they decided to go to one location their ancestors came from every year. They traveled across MN, WI, NY, TX, and MO. They found the stories their ancestors left for them and made a lot of wonderful memories on these adventures. Have you ever wanted to travel for genealogy?

Celebrate a life together

For Bob and Pat’s 58th anniversary, their children gifted them a video interview with Amanda. They preserved the story of how they met, Pat moving from England to the US after their marriage, their favorite moments, and their advice from the lessons of 58 years. Their family cherishes the short video.