Monday, September 22, 2014

Ancestor Effect, Part I

I was interviewed by Scott Fisher recently for his radio show Extreme Genes  and we talked about the research I have been doing on the intellectual benefits of studying our family history.  It is really fascinating stuff and I'd like to discuss it more in depth.  One of the studies I've been looking at was done in 2009 and published in 2010 by Peter Fischer, Anne Sauer, Claudia Vogrinic, and Silke Weisweiler titled "The Ancestor Effect: Thinking About Our Genetic Origin Enchances Intellectual Performance."  It covers several different aspects of "thinking about ancestors" and has different control groups, so I am going to break this up over a couple of posts in order to do the real science of it some justice.

The study itself looked at the Psychological Effects of Ancestor Salience, particularly the intellectual benefits.  Basically, does family history make you smarter?  In a nutshell, folks, yes it does.  The study was set up in four parts and performed with college age students.  In each aspect, the test subjects were asked, depending on their groups, to either think about an ancestor or not before being asked about their personal academic expectations or to perform in various intelligence tests, depending on what portion of the study they were working on.  The premise was to see if having a higher ancestor salience impacted intelligence positively.  I'm going to talk about each of the four tests, but today, I am only going to reference the first one.

In Study 1, the researchers wanted to see if higher academic expectations could be met through higher ancestor salience (def. of salient: very important or notable; jetting upward, and salience: the act of being salient;  a striking point or feature, highlight) and if that effect was mediated by an increased sense of control.  In this study, three groups were asked to think about three different things before being asked about their expectations on their performance in academic areas of their lives.  The first group was asked to think about their 15th century grandparents and to imagine, whether they knew who they were or not, what their day to day life might have been like, including their careers, living environment, their children, etc.  The second group was asked to do the same thing but with their great-grandparents.  The third group was asked to think about their most recent trip to the grocery store.  Each group had the instruction to think on the assigned topic until the experimenter gave them a sign, which was exactly five minutes for each group.  Upon completion of the tests the subjects' intellectual performance expectation was measured by three questions using the ranking system of 0 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest).  The questions included the following:
  • How well do you think you will perform in the final social psychology exam?
  • How well do you think you will perform in your studies?
  • Do you think you will reach your career goals?
The amount of "perceived control" (also known as internal locus of control) of their lives was then measured on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (very much) by the following question:
  • To what extent do you feel that you have your life under control? 
The test sample showed that those who thought about their ancestors (15th century or great-grandparents, didn't matter) had a significantly higher academic expectations for themselves, as well as a (marginally) higher sense of personal control than the control group.  Impressive, right?  But for those of us  in this field, are we surprised?  The general population jumped all over this study, and while it is groundbreaking, it's also extremely exciting to see the crossover of the benefits of genealogy that we're somewhat privy to over to the masses.

This idea of ancestor salience and being immersed in the importance and highlights of our ancestor's lives is such a critical one, especially for young people today.  And how much we know (a little or a lot) didn't adversely affect group one and two in this portion of the study.  Simply thinking about ancestors increased their personal expectations and sense of control in their lives.  That is a genetic superpower right there if I have ever seen one!  I put up a blog post over on Zap the Grandma Gap that will give you a fun idea of how to start incorporating this idea into your own life and pave the road for future children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren, etc.

My next post in this series will tackle the other three portions of the research that actually tested intelligence after the participants meditated on ancestors.  I'm sure you can guess the results but you'll have to come back and see for sure.

*The study has been referenced and linked all over the web in various places with various commentary that you can find here, here, and here.  Or just Google search ancestor effect and you can see several of the top hits for the study.  But for my blog posts, I am using the direct source and I would encourage you to take a look at it yourself.  There is so much to gather from the published study that the various reference articles tend to gloss over.

*Fischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic, C. and Weisweiler, S. (2011), The ancestor effect: Thinking about our genetic origin enhances intellectual performance. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 41: 11–16. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.778

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Recent Client Comments

It's no secret that we here at Family ChartMasters love our clients.  One of the most fulfilling things about our job is when we receive happy feedback from our clients once they have received a chart we have worked to create with them.  Customer satisfaction is always our goal and when we hit the mark with a client, we love it when they share that with us.  Here is some recent feedback from our customers:

Eric Benjaminson says, "I got the chart in the mail last night and it's superb -- it looks so much more impressive in "real life"! Thank you so much for working with me on this -- I'm off to get it framed this evening!"  He also added, "You all were great and imaginative to work with!"  Thanks, Eric!

Our next customer is a regular.  Dave Davenport has ordered from us many times, not just for himself but for his friends!  He exemplifies our real purpose here -- to help people learn more about their family history.  Dave helps his friends put the information together, then collects the pictures, and they learn tons in the process.  He then orders charts to give to his friends as gifts so they can display the work they have all done together.  We really love Dave and we never fail to meet him for lunch whenever he's in town (an added bonus for us).  Thanks, Dave, for your great loyalty to us over the years! Here are a couple of pictures of Dave's happy friends and their charts:




Thursday, September 11, 2014

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

DNA testing.  It's the current buzz term in the genealogy world right now.  For good and for bad.  So let's discuss it today, shall we?  Why not, everyone else is!  Today's post is spurred on by a pretty vigorous online discussion that is happening at the moment and I think there are some important points that aren't getting enough attention in the process.

The original story, that you can see in original form here and is also referenced here by Dick Eastman, is of a biologist who, after teaching a college course on the genome, thought it might be fun/informative/interesting/helpful to take a DNA test in order to discover his susceptibility to certain familial cancers.  The fun part, he thought, came in by buying tests for his parents too.  Because honestly, if you are him, why not?  In his defense and in complete sympathy for him, what else could he possibly expect the outcome of a saliva swab to be?  Apparently a bouncing baby boy was not on his list of standard deviations.  Obviously.  So this poor man and his family were thrust into the gaping jaws of a personal family soap opera all because of an opt-in button for finding close relatives.  It's ended quite tragically for his family, and I recognize that in every possible way, but I don't think that this story, or the very many others like it, should cause us to dismiss DNA testing out of hand, without really examining the root of the conflict the "insta-family" button is creating for some folks.

First and foremost, the scripture that keeps coming to mind when I hear this story and so many like it, is actually found in the New Testament in Luke 12:3.  It says: "Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops."  The takeaway from that?  We can't hide what we've done.  Eventually everything comes to light.  And now, with these DNA tests, which George Doe (above) discovered and points out, we are dealing with highly advanced paternity tests.  Now, George's story, as tragic as it is, is also very vague on certain details.  How old was the half-brother and did his age indicate that he was born before or after the creation of the author's family?  Did George's father even know (chances are no because the author seems to indicate his dad was just as shocked as he was at the discovery) that this lost child even existed.  There are so many variables to this story that we just don't know.  His father even thought that the test he had taken was defective -- a very common reaction many people are having when unexpected results come back.  And at first, my reaction was that he had to have had some idea that there was a possibility of it when he sent off his cheek swab but now... maybe not so much.  We just don't know how everything went down.  Or when it went down.  So to say that DNA tests are bad or that the "opt-in" button on the results is bad is pretty extreme.  I am a believer in owning our actions.  One hundred percent, all the time, every day.  You do it, own it.  Especially when it comes to light, as Luke has so clearly told us it will, own it.  So to blame the opt-in button is a bitter pill for me to swallow.  I agree with George that it is easy for people to not understand the ramification of clicking that button but part of me still thinks that you've got to go in with eyes wide open knowing that maybe something might come back that you aren't expecting.

There are two sides to this coin though.  The other side of the narrative is referenced beautifully by Kerry Scott in her blog post here.  I seriously wanted to give her a virtual high-five after reading this.  Discovering unknown half-siblings, or that your parents (one or both) aren't your parents, while stunning and possibly devastating, may not be something that needs to be judged as harshly as some people are wont to do.  It may not be what we think it is.  This is especially in the case of long ago generations where life and social expectations were so very different from today.  I loved her comment about a "statute of limitations" for our family judgement.  Good food for thought, isn't it?  People did the best they could do with the knowledge they had and the environment in which they lived.  Sometimes what looks like a shocker family revelation may have been a sincere horror for a woman in our family line.  So that's something to chew on as well.

DNA testing has huge benefits.  It just recently positively identified the remains of Richard III in England, as well as positively identifying Jack the Ripper.  It has gotten innocent people off of death row and it has helped find matches for all sorts of medical miracles.  So, I guess my opinion on DNA testing is we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water (go ahead and insert your tongue firmly into your cheek as you read that too).  Like I say all the time, every family has some scoundrels and some heroes.  Even the scoundrels have heroic qualities and vice versa for our heroes.  The beauty of family history is coming to know who you are and dealing with the good and the bad and healing from all of it.  Things come to light, even things we think we can hide.  Eventually, everyone will know everything.  And maybe that creates some uncomfortable (and even presently damaging) situations for some people. But for now, we don't know what we don't know until we know it.  And to blame all of that on some test is a bit on the extreme side.  Those things existed before the tests are ever taken.  And even then, whose to say we'll really know even then.  But my big takeaway is this, when we research our family history (via records or DNA) we're going to find stuff we may not want.  It may seem like the world is ending in that moment, but eventually, it could be the most healing thing in someone's life.  So I tend to feel, overall, that we should all walk into this with the clear expectation that discovering the unexpected is not a bad thing.  It's an opportunity.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Interesting new video from MyHeritage and Gilad Japhet

Our good friend Daniel Horowitz sent us a clip about his company MyHeritage that was shown on Israeli TV recently.  I had no idea that Gilad Japhet, their CEO had been working on such an important project.  But, not only was it great to see the great work that MyHeritage is doing, it was fun to see the offices and some of the history in the clip. Take a look:


I think Daniel and his team may have found an intriguing new marketing message for MyHeritage. Build a family tree in our database and you may be connected to a wealthy ancestor. I like that one :)

Congratulations to them for the great attention they are getting for this important project.  We really value our partnership with MyHeritage.  We enjoy printing and sending their users' charts all over the world.  They have an incredible reach.  We appreciate Daniel and Gilad and their passion for family history--not just as a business, but as an important force for good in the world.  That is something we care deeply about too and it is good to partner with another company with similar goals and passions.  Kudos, and thanks to them for being such a great asset to the genealogy community. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thank You, San Antonio!

Our view of the Riverwalk from our hotel.
What a beautiful city!  Erin and I had such a great time meeting with everyone, putting on all of our "Outside the Box" sessions with Lisa Louise Cooke, Maureen Taylor, and Diahan Southard, and just soaking up the city.  Everyone raves about the Riverwalk and now I see why.  I have to say, San Antonio, you did not disappoint.

Even though I was able to take Erin to England with me, she has never been to a national conference outside of Rootstech before.  I loved having her with me and introducing her to the national genealogy community.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming to her and she has said many times how well everyone took care of her after I needed to come home early.  My favorite part of this conference really was spending time with all of my genealogy friends that I see online regularly but don't get to see as often in everyday life.  And I was so happy to show Erin what an amazing community we have.  Going out in the evenings to have dinner together and socialize was so fun and rejuvenating and letting Erin experience the close-knit society that we all share was such a happy thing for me.  I am reminded again how great all of you are and how well everyone takes care of each other in our community.  Erin has been my right-hand person for seven years now and to let her see the friendship and support we all have for each other was so great.  And it doesn't hurt to see how much everyone loved and embraced Erin, just like I do.  Having Erin with me was such a highlight of this most recent trip.

I could ramble on and on about the city and how beautiful it was, but I think I would rather just show you some pictures instead:
Our view of the Alamo from our hotel.

The Alamo!  Look at how beautiful that building is.

Erin on our River cruise.

River cruise friends: (left to right) me, Lisa Alzo, Maureen Taylor, and Erin.

I have to say that our "Outside the Box" sessions were so great.  We had such a blast with our Genealogy Game Show and we've decided that this will be the centerpiece of our "Outside the Boxes" for Rootstech 2015.  I had fun, Erin had fun, everyone who played had fun, and even better--PRIZES!  Lots of prizes.  The most fun moment was when Marian Pierre-Louis won one of my books and she was so excited.  I have known Marian online for so long but haven't met her in person until this conference.  I was so happy to finally meet her face-to-face and then to see how happy she was when she won was just icing on the cake.
Marian (in the striped shirt) winning one of my books.
Teaching an "Outside the Box" session.

San Antonio, thank you for such a lovely time.  All of my dear friends on the national genealogy circuit, thank you for being you!  You all are so warm and caring and after trips like this, I simply appreciate each of you all the more. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

An Open Letter to MyCanvas Users

As Ancestry announced recently that they are shutting down MyCanvas as of September 5th, we have been inundated with calls from their concerned users about how they can print charts.  Of course we'd love to help, and while what we offer is a little different, they may find options with us that go beyond what MyCanvas could provide.  I thought you might be interested in what we've been sending out to inquires that come through email:

Hi...
When we create a decorative genealogy chart, we put together a preview and mail you a link to it so you can check it and make sure it is what you are envisioning and the information is all right.  We can create virtually any design you can describe to us.  We work back and forth with you with previews until it is perfect and then when you give us the ok we'll take payment and print and ship it to you.  You can look at some of the custom charts we have done in the past here:  https://familychartmasters.com/php/custom.php and here:http://thechartchick.blogspot.com/search/label/charts.  Unlike the set styles in MyCanvas, anything you can dream up we can do for you here. 

We also do what we call working charts that go far beyond the capabilities of MyCanvas. Here you let us know what you want, ancestor, descendant, etc, you tell us the number of generations, and who you want to start with.  Then we create the chart, we print on inexpensive paper and then ship it to you.  We don't include a preview on these in order to keep the pricing low.

To download your family tree from Ancestry: When you are logged in, scroll down on the home page to where you can see your family tree box (under the "recent activity" box).  Click to "view this tree".  At the top of the tree you'll see "tree pages" with a down arrow.  Click once on the down arrow and you'll see the menu item "tree settings."   On the right you will see a green button that says "Export Tree"  After processing, the button will change to say "Download your gedcom file."  Click on that button and save the file to a place where you will remember where it is (the desktop is a good place to put it if you are unsure.) 

Give us a call and we will help you in uploading the information to Family ChartMasters.  Or you can go to https://familychartmasters.com/php/upload.php and follow the directions there to upload it to us.  You can also upload any graphics that you want included in your chart.  As soon as we hear from you, we'll take a look at the file and get right back to you with options for sizes and prices and a mock up if you are looking for a decorative chart.

As another option, we can also print straight from your Family Tree Maker file.  You are welcome to send us any FTM file or backup and we can take your family information from the file to create a decorative or working chart.  Or if you want to create a chart in FTM yourself, just save the chart in your file and then send it off to us through our free consultation.  Just let us know the name of the saved chart and we can pull it up and print it on any of our seven papers. 

Please don't hesitate to call us if you are having any trouble with it.  We are happy to walk you through it over the phone at 801-872-4278  We want to make it easy on you.  Once you get us the information, we'll take it from there and create what you are envisioning. 

Thank you for your interest in Family ChartMasters, I hope together we can make you a beautiful chart.  Let us know what we can do to make it easy for you.
We hope to hear from you soon.
Thanks,
Janet