Germanic Genealogy Society of Minnesota Conference on March 25, 2017

The local Germanic Genealogy Society of Minnesota put on what I thought was one of their best conferences yesterday. It was held at Normandale Community College (Fine Arts bldg), and it was a full day with one speaker – Michael Lacopo.

At the last Minnesota Genealogical Society event, Lacopo gave a presentation about the history of diseases and social history. He is very big on understanding social history as a way to put ancestral actions in context. I think that it is an important point. At some point we should want to move past the simple facts like birth, marriage, death, and census data to understand what might have been going on in our ancestors’ daily lives.

His presentations yesterday are summarized below.

  • The German Immigrant Experience in the 18th Century – painted a picture of why people left the German States, how they traveled, and their experiences (mainly in PA).
  • How to Overcome Brick Wall Problems in Pennsylvania German Research – Dealing with the period in America when there was no census, he described various data sources and techniques for attacking research problems. He referenced the Family Search wiki entries for PA, church records, tax lists, court records,, business records, and assorted manuscript sources. He mentioned a source that I have not spent time with but feel I should investigate – .
  • De-constructing Your Family Tree: Re-evaluating the “Evidence” – This was a presentation focused on finding and correcting errors that you might have in your tree. In many ways it was a way of illustrating the genealogical proof standard explained in the Genealogical Standards Manual ( Briefly stated, the standard describes (1) conducting a reasonable exhaustive search, (2) including complete source documentation, (3) analysis and correlation of evidence and its quality, (4) resolution of conflicts, and (5) production of coherent written conclusions.
  • I’ve Had My DNA Tested! Now What? – This was a 90 minute presentation, much like the second half of my community ed genealogy class. This is a topic that deserves a lot more time, but he did a good job of presenting basic information as well as rules of thumb for using the match data.

If you want to see examples of Lacopo’s writing and analysis, try his blog.  I am told that it should be read from oldest entry to newest.  Here’s the url:


GRAMPS Genealogy Software under Linux

Updated 1/12/2017 to include more detail that I have found (and missed). Also updated 1/15/2017 to explain how to fix Solus installation. And finally updated (3/10/2017) to describe use of GRAMPS in Elementary OS.–

This article is a summary of some recent research I have done to answer questions that I have had about the operating systems in which GRAMPS works best. I have one Windows 10 environment on a laptop that I plan to “convert” to a Linux environment. Currently, I use GRAMPS in this Windows 10 environment to build up my genealogy information. So, my goal was to find the best Linux distribution to support use of GRAMPS and the other email and web browsing software.

Here’s some high level information about my windows test environment. – The machine is an Asus N53SV laptop (not new!), 64-bit Intel i7-2630QM architecture , 8 GB of memory, and a conventional disk drive with a nominal capacity of 500 GB. I tested the Linux distributions inside of VMware Workstation 12 Player. Each VM was configured to use two processors, 2 GB of memory, and 30 GB of storage.

I tested Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Ubuntu Mate 16.10, Solus, Antergos, and Elementary OS.  The test was simple – install GRAMPS 4.2.4 or 4.2.5 from a repository, and then import a GRAMPS backup from the windows 10 system. Here are the results.

Ubuntu 16.04: Installation succeeded without incident.  However, when the application was invoked there were numerous warnings about missing software components that would affect reports. These look like GTK library issues.  This means to me that the software dependencies were not handled properly/completely. Import worked fine. (Note added later: I have installed missing libraries, but that did not completely fix the problems found at startup.)

Solus: Everything worked as you would hope, except for trouble with one missing GTK library (gexiv2) that is reported at startup.  Import worked just fine. – I have subsequently installed the gexiv2  – 0.10.3-4 library using the software center and that eliminated the complaint at startup.

Antergos: Everything went well. Dependencies/addons were called out explicitly, and I installed each one using the interface provided.

Ubuntu Mate 16.10: Once again, everything went well.

Elementary OS (0.4): In this case I installed Elementary OS using QEMU/KVM virtual machine manager. After creating the VM, I found the GRAMPS package using the synaptic package manager, which I installed from the Elementary apps repository. Synaptics installed GRAMPS and picked up all of the dependencies. Success!

In the end I have decided to swap out Windows 10 for Ubuntu Mate – because my tests were  successful and also because I have a familiarity with this distro. My secondary choices, just based on personal preference would be  Antergos and then Solus (in that order) and then Elementary OS. I still run Ubuntu 16.04 LTS on a desktop system from System76, but this version of the operating system has been disappointing in ways mostly associated with how the “Ubuntu Software” application operates. I think that the software made available by the other distributions is better curated and made available for installation. In the end, however, the GRAMPS developers need to fix GTK issues, and I believe that they are in fact doing this.  I expect that by year’s end the problem with missing components will be fixed.  Meanwhile, GRAMPS is still usable at 4.2.4 and 4.2.5.

Perhaps this information will help someone else considering running GRAMPS in a Linux operating system environment.



Norwegians in the Dakotas

If you have ever had contact with the farming culture in the Dakotas prior to say 1970, I think that you might enjoy the following book.  This is especially true if you have Norwegian ancestors, whose homes you lived in or visited. It is a quick read and more descriptive than nostalgic.

Nothing to Do but Stay – My Pioneer Mother, by Carrie Young, c. 1991, University of Iowa Press.

Genealogy Notes: Understanding Cultures Before the 19th Century

I think that it is useful to imagine what an ancestor’s life might have been like in addition to collecting numbers about dates and places. Here are  links to two references that might be of interest in this regard.

The first one is a video simulation of parts of Paris in the 18th century. It includes sounds and 3D street scenes but no people. It reminded me of walking through Barcelona’s Old City (Ciutat Vella).

The second one is a link to information about the Domesday Book. Looking at this 11th century creation reminded me that not many people had surnames and that more than half the land owners consisted of tenant farmers.  I don’t know what portion of the population is represented by land owners, but I suspect that they represent a minority and that it is most likely that an ancestor came from the class of landless laborers.

I hope that some of this is interesting/useful.

Genealogy Notes: a recent trip to South Dakota

In September (2016) I made a kind of grand tour across much of South Dakota mainly for the purpose of pursuing genealogical interests.

GRHS (Germans from Russia Historical Society) Conference (

By way of explanation, about a quarter of my DNA traveled from Germanic cultures through south Russia (now Ukraine). So, I have an interest in German-Russian history.

This is the first time I have attended a GRHS conference. It was well organized, and I mainly enjoyed two aspects. I was pleased to be able to share meals and conversations with people that are clearly descendants of the people that were neighbors of my ancestors in the small town that they established in about 1805 in Russia. I also appreciated the new research and contemporary history work presented at the conference. Here are some samples of the new contributions that I encountered.

Bill Bosch (retired math professor) contributed in two ways. He has written a book (The German-Russians), which is the only concise history of the German-Russians that I have seen. Most of the literature that I have encountered has been overly sympathetic or very long. Bill’s book does not suffer from either characteristic. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic. Bill also has recently completed an analysis and reformulation of data about Russia from a book produced for the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in the 1890s. (See,+volume+3&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjfk5-twLLPAhWZ14MKHclLAq8Q6AEIMjAE.) He has taken the many separate maps, which describe agriculture and climate in the areas settled by German-Russians, and “normalized” the facts that they describe to create a few comprehensive maps. In doing so, he has created more useful coherent representations of the data so that a researcher has a simpler task of understanding conditions in the late 1800s in Russia. Bill has not yet published his work, but I am hopeful that he will find a reasonable way to do that.

German-Russians in Russia in the late 20th Century – Eric Schmaltz described the recent history of the German-Russians that stayed. I was surprised to find that as recently as 40 years ago there were as many as 2 million Russians of German descent living in Kazakhstan and Siberia. These people had been exiled from western areas in Russia and forced to work for the state over decades, starting around 1900. For a short period, there was even a movement to form their own state in the Russian Federation. However, with the end of perestroika and glasnost, independence efforts failed and many (tens of thousands) were allowed to emigrate – mostly to Germany. This recent history accounts for the fact that I have been able to contact distant cousins, who live in Germany and who descend from common ancestors but along lines that decided to stay in Russia. Their stories in many cases are not happy ones, but I am better positioned now to understand them.

Contemporary Ukraine – Carolyn Schott presented her recent experiences in Ukraine involving people that she encountered when she visited the old sites where her German-Russian ancestors were settlers. She painted a bleak picture of the political situation in Ukraine and the destabilizing and violent actions of the current Russian government. Her direct experience, including as an international election observer, brought current events into better focus for me.

The Northern State University History Project – Robert Russell described his efforts to preserve audio recordings of people in the U.S. with direct knowledge of the (German-Russian) immigrants to the Dakotas from Russia. He is very thoughtful in his approach to acquiring the recordings. He provided a few examples. It is a little surprising to me (pleasantly) that there are still people alive who have had close contact with some of the early Dakota settlers and their culture.

South Dakota State Archives

I spent a few hours looking through some of the materials that are held at the Pierre archive. The staff was friendly and helpful, particularly Virginia Hanson, who had actually just given a presentation at the GRHS conference described above. The holdings of the archive are documented at

I focused on the newspaper archives that have not been included in the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” efforts. I also found some useful maps from WPA work during the depression to record graves registration information for all cemeteries in the state. This is a good source to help locate a grave in a cemetery that has no current directory. Some county history books also provided some useful maps organized by township to commemorate the state centennial in 1989.