Meet our Members: Barry Smith

+30 votes
514 views

Hi everyone!

500px-Meet_our_Members_Photos-35.jpgIt's time to meet another one of our wonderful WikiTreers.  This week's member is Barry Smith.

Barry became a Wiki Genealogist in May of 2017. He is our newest Project Leader and will be co-leading our New Netherland Settlers Project as well as stepping up to lead the Switzerland Project.

What are some of the surnames you are researching?

Thurber, Stanger, Vanmeter, Jackson, Duncan, and Kummer on my mother’s side. My father’s side has proved more difficult. He is also an active WikiTreer, and we have been working to try to determine the origins of our Smith line, working with autosomal and Y-DNA. The latter indicates our patrilineal line goes back to Finland as recently as the Middle Ages.

What are some of the locations you are researching?

Switzerland, Kincardineshire in Scotland, County Tyrone in Ireland, and early Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey. I enjoy immensely learning the distinctions and nuances of culture and history that affect how genealogical research is performed in these varied locations.

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

As a child in the 1980s, through my mother’s father, who loved archiving the family history, corresponding with cousins, and sharing with the rest of us. He would pull out typed versions of our family tree at Thanksgiving. Ten-year-old me couldn’t believe that he could trace his Swiss mother’s line back to the 1600s! I was very interested, but he died when I was in high school and my dabbling in research would ebb and flow as I got older. I didn’t get hooked, and I didn’t get really serious about research, until I joined WikiTree in 2017.

Who's your favorite ancestor and why?

One of my favorites is my great-great-grandmother Alice Van Meter. The family lore said she was orphaned as a child and raised by her aunt. She married, had a son, and seemingly separated from her husband a few years later. Then she took her toddler son and headed far to the west to Montana, where she married her second cousin William Newkirk, who had come out a few years earlier seeking adventure and opportunity. William and Alice had five daughters, including my great-grandmother, and several of Alice’s children and grandchildren had incredible life stories.

I admire her perseverance through a difficult childhood and then, as a young mother without a husband, yet not a widow, so unusual for that time, trying to survive and provide for her son. I try to imagine boarding the train in New Jersey with just her son, heading to the undeveloped frontier. Somehow, she thrived and was able to give her children and grandchildren enough so they could become quite accomplished, including an inventor, champion swimmers, a daughter who won what was perhaps the first bodybuilding competition at the Physical Culture Exhibition of 1903, and a granddaughter who obtained a mathematics degree from UCLA during the Depression at just nineteen years old. 

She was also my closest-in family mystery. Before I got serious about genealogy, the little time I did put to dabbling in the family tree was often spent trying to identify her father. Solving that mystery has been fun: for instance, it turns out she was neither a full orphan nor an only child. Her mother was alive in the 1860 census, living with Alice’s older sister, and Alice had been sent to live separately with an aunt.

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down.

Alice’s father, John. All we knew was his name and rough location. DNA has now identified him. Because he was the only brick-wall I had thought about in the years prior to joining WikiTree, he is also the brick-wall that has taken me longest to solve. I created a big spreadsheet of every genetic match to my mother with a Van Meter in their tree, and sorting by closeness of the match, there was already a clear pattern. The closest matches were descendants of Alice, but the next closest were descended from John Vanmeter born 1792! The next closest to John’s father Joseph 1755, and the next closest to Joseph’s father Joseph b. 1722. Several matches stuck out as sharing too much DNA for their distant connection, and in several of those cases I was able to identify errors in their trees, sourced with land and probate records. Once they were fixed, the spreadsheet showed an even stronger pattern. John had a posthumous daughter “Margaret” born the same year as Alice, which explains the orphan story. He was 64 years old when she was born, and lived most of his life in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey, so I think other researchers simply hadn’t tried looking for him in that place and time. That spreadsheet has since helped break a collateral brick-wall, through a woman with previously unknown maiden name. This project has made several cousins very happy!

(interview continues in comments)

WikiTree profile: Barry Smith
in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

I have primed myself so that when I hear a question like this, my gut reaction is that we are all biological relatives if you go back several thousands of years. When I first tried out WikiTree, I found an instant connection with the global tree model because it manifests this principle. 

But if the question is about who I’d want to be able to document a connection with, or find clear DNA evidence supporting a connection with, then I’d pick President Andrew Jackson (recognizing that he and his administration did some terrible things, especially to Native Americans, and then compartmentalizing that information to focus on his family history).

Andrew Jackson has the least-known paternal line of any president. In the 2001 biography Young Hickory (what a great pun!), Hendrik Booraem states that “In terms of environmental influences, Andrew Jackson was a Crawford, a member of his mother's brother-in-law's family. His father contributed only half his genes and his surname.” Nothing is known about his father with any certainty beyond his name and his migration from the north of Ireland to the Carolinas sometime in the 1760s. Several different Jackson families have old lore claiming to be related to Andrew Jackson, and my own family is one. I am very skeptical, and regardless, I don’t believe it will ever be ascertained with any certainty who Jackson’s recent paternal ancestors were. But I’d choose him because I know that if a connection between myself and Jackson could be proved, it would have to involve a brilliant, difficult, and probably fascinating piece of genealogical research. I put together a WikiTree page on the theories of his paternal ancestry and that probably has attracted more traffic than any other page I have created.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

I am a mathematician. Mathematics was my first love, and genealogy was my second, although they are connected through their use of deductive reasoning to solve problems. I even wrote a little article about a genealogical application of the technique proof by contradiction. The technique is very commonly used in mathematics, and short versions are commonly used in genealogy without explicit recognition. But I keep looking for more extended applications like in the article, so if someone reading of this knows of one, let me know! I also enjoy teaching (math, and just recently, genealogy), cycling, golf, playing the piano, cooking, and spending time with family.

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing?

I signed in May 2017, which is also the moment I got serious about genealogical research. The one thing I have spent the most time on is a project I initiated to create a fully-linked version of the 1774 Census of Rhode Island. The goal is to create a transcription of the census on WikiTree in which every named person is linked to a developed and connected WikiTree profile. There are almost 10,000 households in the census, and as far as I know, creating a linked census has never before been accomplished on a scale much larger than a single town. Currently about 800 names are linked, including almost all of Bristol County. There’s a long way to go, but 8% still seems like good progress! I fancy a notion of analyzing the connection network once this is done, looking at statistics on lengths of connections between people, amount of inbreeding, etc. Hopefully, other people will have some other ideas. But if not, then at least we’ll have an idea that WikiTree’s version of Rhode Island will fairly “complete” for that time.

I am also newly a co-leader of the New Netherland Settlers project and I am the County Tyrone coordinator for the Ireland Project and the host for Canton Valais/Wallis within the Switzerland Project.

What brought you to WikiTree?

My father has always been interested in family tree research. He told me about the site, and when I checked it out, I couldn’t stop coming back. We now collaborate on research, and it has been a really rewarding way to spend time with him. He is currently pursuing the seeming Finnish connection revealed in our Y-chromosomes.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree?

That it has brought me closer to my father. We live 3000 miles apart and see each other maybe once every two years or so. Working on WikiTree together is our main shared activity and often occupies a significant chunk of our phone conversations, which have been more frequent since I joined WikiTree.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

Two things, and those things are… is this like wishing for infinitely many wishes? Anyway, I really wish there were a way to mark spousal relationships uncertain. I suggested this feature some time ago, as have several other people, and Chris Whitten said it would require some difficult restructuring of the back-end. The second thing would be a redesign of the naming fields and the use of LNAB in profile IDs. The latter causes many headaches around spelling, and the current structure of the naming system is far too American-centric for a global tree. Again, the difficulty with implementation means I don’t think this will happen.

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy?

Other WikiTreers have taught me almost everything I know about genealogical research, mostly by answering hundreds of my questions on G2G.  

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

Use G2G to ask questions. And remember when reading comments that it is too easy to introduce imagined tone or intent into a textual comment, especially when it is about something as personal as your relatives. If you feel insulted or frustrated in communication with someone else, remember that communication is at the heart of the WikiTree model. Go do something else for a while, then steel yourself with objectivity and revisit the comment with fresh eyes.

Congratulations, Barry, on being the Member of the Week. I recognized your name from many posts on G2G and found your interview very interesting, in particular your project regarding Rhode Island and Andrew Jackson. I got into genealogy because of my mother's research and I was passed the baton once she got too old to do it herself anymore. I'm still working on my family's particular brick wall, so I understand that focus. It is nice to meet you!

(Whoops, I accidentally replied instead of answered.)

9 Answers

+15 votes
 
Best answer
Congratulations for being nominated as Member of the week, Barry.

Good luck with your important job as Co-Project leader.
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G6 Pilot (789k points)
selected by Hazel Stocker
Thanks, Dieter!
+16 votes
Tres Bien Magnifique !
by Gerald Baraboo G2G6 Pilot (983k points)
Thanks, Gerald!
+14 votes
Barry, it's great to get to know you a little through this interview. I really liked hearing about you and your father and your connection through WikiTree.
by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Thanks, Chris!
+9 votes
Thanks for your great introduction to yourself and your genealogy.
by David Hughey G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
Glad you found it interesting!
+9 votes
Congratulations on your recognition as wikitreer of the week, and thank you for all you do, here on the tree.  I enjoyed learning about your math background and the Rhode Island census project.  As a descendant of several New Netherland Settlers, I greatly appreciate your work on the project.
by Mark Weinheimer G2G6 Pilot (213k points)
We have not interacted much yet, but I have seen your excellent comments on and edits to lots of NNS profiles. And since I’ve only visited a small fraction of the project profiles, I can only guess at how much activity you do. Thanks for your excellent work.
+9 votes
Barry, that's so neat about your Dad. My Dad & maternal grandmother were my genealogy cheerleaders. I miss those regular contacts.

I loved reading about your 1774 Rhode Island census project. Very inspiring and lot of work.
by Maggie N. G2G6 Pilot (851k points)
Thanks! It is great getting to share this love of genealogy with some family members —- my Dad, and my grandpa when I was a kid.
Barry, as a math enthusiast, you might be interested in my ancestor's cypher book. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Ostrom_Schoolbook .
I love it! Cipher books were so practical, with some topics that people have since forgotten --- like compound arithmetic. And this shows up in a subtle way when estimating birthdates in genealogy:

https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/818211/convention-for-writing-birth-date-inferred-from-exact-death

I actually got genealogical information out of an old cipher book whose genealogical pages were visible when the book was posted for sale on eBay! See the last source on this profile:

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gardner-15387
What a wonderful source, Barry!
+5 votes
Hi Barry!  It's great to 'meet' you in this way.  We have crossed paths occasionally in G2G, and I've always been impressed with your contributions.

I'm happy to see that we are quite connected - not that close at 21 degrees, but only one marriage!

Cheers

Shirlea
by Shirlea Smith G2G6 Pilot (156k points)
Hello Shirlea,

Thanks for the nice words! I also remember our occasional interactions and your excellent contributions to G2G ... especially since I look out for fellow Smiths. You have been able to progress back a little farther with Smiths than I have. And one of my closest brick-walls on my maternal side is also a Smith!

I checked our connection: the path goes pretty deep into my Mayflower line. My paternal grandmother was 100% English, so I bet we might have more paths that go through her.

Cheers

Barry
+7 votes

Nice to learn a bit more about you Barry congrats on the feature !  We have chatted in G2G before time to time.  I thought when I looked at your profile we might connect back in Scotland at least. (I have a Tartan background on my profile too for my birth name Morrison and Caudill/Cawdor families by DNA matches both Scottish).  But when I ran relationship finder we are 10th Cousins sharing  Hugh Cole, Sr.  here in the States. 

Keep up the good work, cousin!

by Loretta Morrison G2G6 Pilot (112k points)
+3 votes
Congratulations on being the Member of the week.  It is always nice to learn more about a "cousin".
by Cheryl Hess G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)

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