Finally – A “How To” Class for Working With Autosomal DNA Results

DNAadoptionI can’t tell you how happy I was to receive an e-mail this week from Dianne Harman-Hoog with the DNAadoption group announcing classes for how to work with autosomal DNA – not just from any specific vendor, but utilizing the various vendor’s products along with third party tools, like those from and

There’s even a class for Y DNA as well.

These classes are open to everyone, not just adoptees.  Adoptees face the worst possible challenge – trying to build a tree with no known relatives.  If you’re not an adoptee, your autosomal DNA situation is already improved.  If they can do it, so can you – and these classes will share the methods developed for adoptees to reconstruct their families.

Here is a list of classes and schedules.

Here is their announcement:

DNAadoption Has Reorganized And Is Proudly Presenting a Full Slate of Classes.

Registration is open now. We are working on developing a full series of classes to guide you through the whole process of using Genetic Genealogy to find your heritage. Classes were designed for adoptees but they are not just for adoptees anymore!

First Results Series

Developed by Stephanie Wyatt, Barbara Rae-Venter, Barbara Taylor and Diane Harman-Hoog

One day online classes – $5 each

This new series will be for people who just got their test results and will help them figure out the basics of what the results mean. It will be a series of 3 classes that can be taken independently.

      • Ancestry First Results
      • FTDNA First Results
      • 23andme First Results

These classes are designed for the person new to DNA testing.  We receive many requests for help starting with “I just got my results and I am so confused”. The student will learn how to navigate the site get basic information on what the results mean and how to find out more. Anyone can benefit from these classes and get started in Genetic Genealogy before taking the more complete course. They are Autosomal DNA courses.

Depending on your interests and level of comfort you can then move into Beginning Autosomal DNA or the Working With Autosomal DNA course. The Y-DNA is also an option.

Working With Autosomal DNA

Written by Mesa Foard and Utilizing a Methodology Developed and Refined by Diane Harman-Hoog, Gaye Tannenbaum and Karin Corbeil

6 week online workshop -$35

Do you want to unlock the secrets in your family tree? Are you an adoptee, a genealogist who has hit a roadblock, or just curious about your roots.

This 6 week, online self-paced course starts with a basic introduction of DNA and then goes on to use FTDNA results to explain triangulation move toward  the identification of common ancestors. This method uses spreadsheets and the great tools from as well as third party tools to organize and analyze your data.

23andme and AncestryDNA results are then introduced and discussed and results from all three companies combined and triangulated.

The course also shows how to take advantage of the thousands of surnames introduce by all three testing companies, gedcoms and trees, along with the Ancestors of Relatives list from Ancestry DNA Helper and in combination with Gworks on DNAGedcom, work through trees to find your heritage.

We show you how to work through your own data in this course.  Over 550 people have taken the workshop.


Written and taught by Gale French this class has received rave reviews from Students

2 week on line class – $25

The Y-DNA test offers males a clear path from you to a known or likely direct paternal ancestor(s). The course will also show how women can use the test by recruiting a father, brother, cousin or uncle to do the test. Gale teaches how to interpret your Y-DNA data and explores how to use that data to search for ancestors through innovative methods.

Our Classes

    • Working with Autosomal DNA Results – This class is $35 and has been updated to include recent changes at the three major Autosomal DNA testing companies. It is a 6 week course and teachers are available for Q&A along the way.
    • Y-DNA Basics – This class is $25. We are in the process of updating this class and will open additional class dates soon.
    • First Results – Classes will focus on each company and give a basic introduction to results (AncestryDNA, FTDNA & 23andMe). Each class focuses a different company and they are $5 each.
    • Autosomal DNA for Beginners – This is an introductory course to Autosomal DNA for $25 with 3 lessons/weeks. Students will not work as much in excel but can be used as a prep course for our Working with Autosomal DNA Results class. This class is still in the development stage but we want you to know it is coming soon!

Our Schedule

Working with Autosomal DNA

  • Session 16           3/13
  • Session 18           4/10
  • Session 19           4/24
  • Session 20           5/8
  • Session 21           5/22

First Results

  • First Results: Intro to 23andMe         3/14
  • First Results: Intro to AncestryDNA   3/21
  • First Results: Intro to FTDNA            3/28

Our Enrollment Process

We are excited about our new Self Registration Process. All students have the ability to self register on the updated site. Payment for classes is accepted during the enrollment process. As always, we have a hardship policy. We want all students to be able to better understand their results. If you cannot afford our classes but need to learn more, please contact us at

We hope that through this new self-registration process, our few teachers will have more time for additional classes and less administrative work. Please let us know if you have any issues.

The log in process has tested well with more than a dozen users. If you have already taken a class through DNAAdoption and Moodle, you will use the same username/password. If you have not taken a class previously, you will need to create a profile. You will be prompted for payment through paypal or for a Hardship “Key” after choosing your preferred class.

This link will take you to registration.

Update from Diane:

All of our classes are online classes.  A class is made available to you on the start date, for Autosomal Classes that is on a Friday, so those who work can start them on the weekend. There is a Step by Step Lesson and supplementary material, like links to Roberta’s blog or documents that we have written or others have written for us, charts and graphics. Then every Friday for 6 weeks, a new class is made available. Each Course has a forum where you can have discussions with other students and ask questions of instructors. We have a leader (teacher, instructor) for each class and a team of people who are very experienced in doing this, they all answer questions when needed.

The Y-DNA class is similar but for 3 weeks. 

The classes we call first results are a one day one time shot with step by step instructions and the chance to ask questions of an assistant or instructor.

In all of our classes we stress step by step instructions with lots of screen clips.

All of our instructors, document writers and assistants are volunteers. Proceeds for classes go for computer costs, tool development and as gifts to deserving groups working in the area of DNA. We are moving several of our assistants to instructor positions to provide for more classes.

I hope that answers the questions. You can address any to


Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?

One of the questions most often asked today is which autosomal DNA test, or testing company, is the best, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA.

The answer is often that it varies depending on your goals, individual priorities and budget.  As with all things, circumstances with the vendors change over time.  They offer new products, change features and overall, sometimes their actions and choices make them more or less valuable and attractive to the consumer.

This article reflects my opinions about what is good, and bad, at each vendor, today, in February 2015, and what they do best and worst.  I am reviewing them in alphabetical order.


Best Feature

  • Ability to download matching information about who your matches match that you match as well, along with common matching DNA segments, allowing direct triangulation.

23andme best feature

In the example above, you can select the profile of any person you match and match  against the profile of anyone else you match, showing you the common DNA segments of all parties.

Good Features

  • Chromosome Browser
  • Ethnicity feature tends to report minority Native and African when other companies sometimes fail to do so.
  • Ethnicity painted on chromosome segments.
  • Matching names provided in order of frequency found – of course this assumes that the matches have entered a list of family surnames, which isn’t often the case.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup estimate provided.

Not So Good

  • Trees – were horrible before. 23andMe has recently partnered with MyHeritage which will require a subscription if your tree is larger than 250 individuals. The jury is still out on this but the initial release has been rocky and appears untested.
  • Most of their customers are not genealogists and are not interested or know little about their genealogy. Fortunately, serious genealogists often test with multiple companies so you’re likely to catch them at either Family Tree DNA or at Ancestry.
  • Very low match response rate to inquiries.  Positive response is required to see matching DNA segments.
  • Must communicate through internal message system.
  • Unfriendly website – difficult to find information.
  • Big Pharm alliances, contracts and medical patents – and your DNA is included one way or another, individually or aggregated, depending on the level of your authorization.
  • Corporate focus is on medical and not genealogical.
  • Customer support is poor, slow and often never replies.
  • Limit of roughly 1000 matches, at which point your matches begin to be trimmed. You can retain more if you have established communications with people. I have over 1200 matches today, but I don’t know how many I have lost. This can make your effective matching threshold much higher than their published number by virtue of the fact that your smallest matches are forever being trimmed after you reach the 1000 match threshold.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold.
  • V4 chip precludes data transfer to Family Tree DNA
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide.  Also not available in NY or MD.

Worst Feature

  • Horribly cumbersome and confusing multiple introductory and authorization/acceptance hurdles cause many people to not contact, communicate with and authorize sharing with most of their matches. I wrote about this here.

Best Feature

  • The shakey leaf hints that show you who, of your DNA matches, also share a common ancestor in your pedigree chart. This drastically reduces the amount of initial footwork you need to do.

shakey leaf

Good Features

  • The size of their data base increases likelihood of matching.
  • DNA Circles provides additional evidence of ancestral connection.
  • They are a genealogy, not a medically focused company.
  • Provides list and links to matching surnames on matches trees, even when no common ancestor is identified.
  • Clean, easy to use interface, although major changes have been announced and I have no idea whether that will be a positive or negative

Not So Good

  • Some people have private trees which means they can see your match information, including a common ancestor if there is one, but you cannot see theirs.
  • Ancestry ethnicity sometimes finds minority amounts of admixture, but can also be significantly incorrect on majority ancestry, so it’s difficult to have confidence in the consistency of results.
  • Subscription required (starting at $49) to see matches/circle members which may not be fully understood before testing by consumers. In my case, I have a full subscription, so it’s a moot point, but that is not the case with everyone and it can be an unwelcome surprise.
  • Ancestry’s consent allows them to sell anonymized results to buyers, including Big Pharm, should they choose to do so. As of October 2014 when I visited Ancestry as part of DNA Day, they stated that they had not sold any DNA data at that time.
  • Communication is only through internal message system.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Customer service is often uneducated about genetic genealogy in general, although they are responsive.
  • Combination of matching and Circles leads people to believe that these are confirmed genetic matches to that particular line, even though Ancestry states otherwise, if one reads the text.
  • DNA is an auxiliary tool and not a primary or priority corporate focus.
  • Corporate history shows lack of commitment to DNA and to clients who tested – meaning their on-again-off-again DNA history the destruction of the Y and mtDNA data bases in October 2013.
  • Academic phasing may have trimmed real matches.
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide, although Ancestry has just announced availability in the UK and Ireland.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA ignored.

Worst Feature

  • No chromosome browser or equivalent type of tool or tools. I can’t state this strongly enough and it is a HUGE negative and requires that you transfer your results to either Family Tree DNA or to Gedmatch where you do have tools.


Family Tree DNA

Best Feature

  • Full service genetic genealogy company – focused on genetic genealogy.

ftdna best feature

Good Features

  • Accepts transfers from Ancestry and V3 chip from 23andMe
  • Partnership with National Geographic for research.
  • Chromosome browser which includes in-common-with feature, search by surname and search by ancestral name.
  • Matching Matrix individually and within projects for administrators.
  • Projects and the ability within projects with advanced matching to see everyone you match autosomally within that project.
  • Match names and e-mails provided – not forced to utilize an internal messaging system.
  • Consent signed when ordering test is all that is needed for full matching and all features.
  • Does common surname matching with all matches – bolding the results.
  • Matching attempts to take highly endogamous populations into consideration.
  • Includes access to other genetic genealogy tools like various levels of Y and mtDNA tests.
  • Data base includes results for all tests, in one place, and resulting matches show Y and mtDNA haplogroups if that test has also been taken.
  • Searches can include multiple types of test results, like everyone who matches both the mtDNA and the Family Finder test.
  • Archives DNA for 25 years, allowing upgrades to be done on order without re-swabbing if DNA is adequate and viable.
  • Testing performed in in-house lab.
  • Project administrator liaison provided.
  • Educational webinars for general genetic genealogy education and new product/feature releases. Archived webinars available on demand.
  • Project administrator conference annually for the past decade.
  • New features regularly released.
  • Swab kit versus spit kit.
  • Responsive to customer and project administrator needs and requests.
  • Their customers more likely to be serious genealogists versus someone who tested initially for medical information (at 23andMe before December 2013) or impulse buyers.
  • They do not sell and do not request consent to sell your personal or aggregated data to outside buyers. If your DNA data is ever requested for an academic research project, you will be individually contacted for consent.
  • No subscription that increases actual cost of utilizing the test results.
  • Available worldwide (unless illegal in the location, like France.)

Not So Good

  • Cannot see if your matches also match each other on a specific segments, so cannot directly triangulate.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold for initial match, but can after initial match.
  • Ethnicity often does not pick up small amounts of minority admixture found by other vendors and at Gedmatch.

Worst Feature

  • Trees are difficult to use.


1. In light of the above, my recommendation for autosomal DNA testing for genealogy if you can take only one test, order the Family Finder test with Family Tree DNA. They are unquestionably committed to genetic genealogy, have the most comprehensive set of tools, including a chromosome browser and other matching tools, and are overall the best company. The Family Finder test costs $99, unless you purchase when it’s on sale or have a coupon. (Current coupon code for $15 off is 15for15.)

2. If you can test with two companies, test with Family Tree DNA and You can do this by testing with and transferring your results to Family Tree DNA,  This approach costs about $187 total: to test at Ancestry ($99), for the first year basic subscription at Ancestry to see all your matching results ($49) if you aren’t already a subscriber, then to transfer the results to Family Tree DNA (free) and unlock the results ($39) unless you find 4 more people to transfer and then the unlock is free.  Note that you will still need to swab to obtain the genealogy benefits of Y and mtDNA testing if you choose to take those tests in addition – and I hope you will because those are very valuable genealogy tools too and not available at the other vendors.

3. In my opinion, 23andMe has become a distant third in DNA testing due to their floundering and lack of commitment in the genealogy market-space, their prohibitively difficult introduction system that requires individual approvals for communicating and then for sharing of DNA (meaning matching) for each person you match, their recent alliance with Big Pharm, and their continuing lack of responsiveness to requests for genealogy enhancements. Lastly, you can no longer transfer your results from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA because 23andMe moved to the v4 chip (in December of 2013) which reduced the number of SNPs tested from about 900,000 to about 600,000, making the results incompatible with Family Tree DNA. However, just because they are third doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test there if you are really serious and want to fish in all of the ponds. It’s just the third choice if you can’t test at all three.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist just wrote an article, 2015, Most bang for the DNA buck, which I suggest you read as well.  She makes some very good points, although our approach is a bit different.  But then again, I’d expect that.  I’ve spent my life doing “analytical” types of things and she has spent her life doing “lawyery” types of things, and there is nothing better than two perspectives to draw from.

The Future

It will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like a year, 2 and 5 years from now.  I think the X-prize (pardon the pun) will go to the company or companies that provide comprehensive tools and make genetic genealogy as easy and productive as possible – for both the beginner and the advanced user.  No small feat – that’s for sure!

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA

If you’re going to swim in the pool, then by all means, get the most out of the experience!

In the genetic genealogy community, we have beaten Ancestry to death about what they don’t do (chromosome browser), and what they have and haven’t done (deleted the Y and mtDNA data bases), but there are some things that Ancestry does really well.  Records, for example, are one of those things, and I love those.  And hints.  Shakey leaves.

If I’m going to be an Ancestry customer, I want to get the most out of the combination of those tools as possible, so I’m going to walk through some tricks I learned for how to do that with AncestryDNA

Before I even start, let me say I’m fully aware of the shortcomings, some caused by Ancestry themselves, and some by the actions of their customers – meaning faulty trees, no trees and locked trees.  I’m not happy about those as a consumer, but the sheer size and magnitude of the Ancestry data base overcomes part of those shortcomings.  In other cases, we’re just going to work around the situation as best we can.  One thing is for sure, throwing the baby out with the bath water doesn’t benefit us one bit.  And I’ve already spent the money for the DNA test, and my subscription, so I want as much as I can possibly squeeze out of the experience.

Trees Matter… and So Does Size

Before Ancestry DNA, I was a no-tree person. Yep, I’m coming out of the closet.  The reason doesn’t really matter, because different people have different reasons and the bottom line is that they get to make their own decision regardless of whether the rest of us like it or not.

In my case, my reluctance to put a tree on Ancestry was because I did not want to upload the tree I have.  My tree has been “under construction” for, literally, decades now and I know there are things that are incorrect.  I would like to go in and work on every branch and “fix it”, but let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen.

However, DNA testing at Ancestry without having a tree is analogous to flying blind.  The best thing about the Ancestry DNA and tree matching is that they do the heavy lifting for you by showing you which people match your DNA AND have a common ancestor showing in a tree.  Those are the shakey leaf DNA hints.  Of course, that doesn’t automatically mean that your shared DNA comes from that ancestor, but it’s a great research starting point.

shakey leaf

Of my 3800 DNA matches at Ancestry, today I have 112 shakey leaf matches, or about 3%.

Of course, this dual DNA match and pedigree match suggests a line that may be a genetic match, but as we saw in the article, Secondary Genealogical and Genetic Lines, there may be a second line contributing to the DNA match or even entirely responsible for the match.  So, while this is a great “shakey leaf” hint, as Ancestry says, that’s all it is – a hint.

However, that’s really not so terribly different than the rest of Ancestry’s tools.  They show you shakey leafs for possible matching documents and trees and it’s up to you to use common sense and your knowledge of your family to figure out which hints are relevant to your situation, and which are not.

With no tree at Ancestry, I obviously had no shakey leafs, because Ancestry had nothing to compare too.

I wasn’t about to upload my entire file, so instead, I decided to create a bare bones tree at Ancestry, just for the DNA data base.  That’s actually not a bad idea, because it allows you to “touch” and fine tune each entry and utilize Ancestry’s matching strengths and avoid any problem areas.

So, I clicked on “Family Trees” on the toolbar and started a new tree with me, the tester, I added 4 generations.  That’s only 30 people.  Not too much to type and I only added the birth and death dates and locations.

Ancestry most tree

That is the total number of ancestors shown on Ancestry’s first page when your tree is displayed pedigree style, and I figured it would “catch” most of the DNA matches which I figured would be in the first few generations, especially since Ancestry’s rather harsh tree pruning.

Just so you know, I was wrong.

When I completed this tree, I waited until the next day and I checked my shakey leaves.  Ancestry told us when we visited in October 2014 that they run a data base update every 4 hours, but waiting until the next day assured that I had given them ample time.

I had a total of 41 shakey leaves.  I was pretty happy.  For awhile.  Until I started thinking, “what if?”

Ancestry provides matching shakey leaves up to 10 generations, with you counted as generation one, so I began to wonder what adding another few generations would provide.

I didn’t expect much, actually, since I figured that I had gathered the majority of what was to be gleaned already.

Again, I was wrong.  This is beginning to sound like a chorus from a Country song isn’t it!

I added another 4 generations, or at least as much as I could.

ancestry most tree 2

My shakey leaves jumped to 48 immediately, so they had increased by 7.  I was happy and that’s about what I expected, so imagine my surprise when the next morning I checked and noticed that I had 95 shakey leaf matches.

95 – Wow!

That’s double what I had before.

At first that didn’t make sense, because I thought surely most of those matches would be caught in earlier generations, until I actually looked at one of the “older” matches.

For example, Moses Estes – my match with Moses descends from Moses through a different child than my line – so there was no “common ancestor” in our trees before Moses.  And the further back you go in time, the longer they have had to have more descendants to test – so while the DNA segments become smaller as they are divided in each generation – there are also more people testing, so the odds of finding someone whom you match increases, up to a point.

So….you know what I did then….right???

I added two more generations where I had the information, and sure enough, the next day, I had 112 shakey leaves.

So, by going from 4 generations (plus me) to 10 generations (plus me) I also went from 41 shakey leaf matches to 112.  Granted, some of these are private trees and one has no tree, but 99 of the matches are visible to me.

Tree Hints

When creating your bare bones DNA tree, don’t overdo the bare bones part.  In order to actually help Ancestry help you, which is the goal here – you have to give them something to work with.

Ancestry uses a combination of matching factors, but here are a few dos and don’ts based on my experience and some experimenting.  Remember, this is not your life work….this is about making the tree most likely to catch fish – so don’t be terribly fussy.


  • Don’t use words in names other than names. Don’t say John “the Miller” Jones. The extraneous characters don’t allow matching. Same for parenthesis. In this case, just say John Jones. Ancestry will use other criteria to determine if it’s a match, like location, dates, spouse, etc.
  • Don’t add a string of pseudo names like “Sarah Sally Sary” Jones. That tends to confuse the software too, as do commas and other punctuation.
  • Don’t add two surname spellings like “Muncey or Munsey” or anything with a slash like “Muncey/Munsey”.
  • Don’t be too wordy with locations, like “Estes Holler, Claiborne County, TN” as a birth location. Stick with just “Claiborne County, TN.”


  • Provide locations, even if they are general, like a state. That helps in terms of matching and also helping people see if an alternate lineage might also match.
  • Provide dates as estimates, even if you’re not exactly sure. In cases where you have a date range, like 1840-1850, you can either enter that as a range or you can just use a date like 1845. The absolute date won’t disqualify the match, but I know Ancestry uses a variety of factors to see if it’s a viable match. In other words, you won’t be matched with Sarah Jones married to Jeff Smith born in the 1900s if yours was born in the 1600s.
  • Use the most common surname spelling. You can easily do a quick edit and change this from time to time to see if it makes a difference in who you “catch” in the net.

If you already have a tree at Ancestry that you are using, you might want to take a look at the first few generations with DNA matching in mind and perhaps groom it a bit.

DNA Circles

Ironically, nothing I did affected my circles or the number of circles I have.  DNA Circles and how they come and go mystifies me.  I have some circles that have been added since circles began, but I also have some circles that were present that are now gone.  Of course, it takes a minimum of 3 people to create a circle, and if one person in the group of 3 makes their tree private – poof – the entire Circle is gone.  The hint here is to check your Ancestry DNA page daily for new circles and new matches – because they may not be there tomorrow!

Ancestry creates DNA Circles back to 7 generations (with you counted as generation one1), not the 10 generations of tree matching, which may be why the addition of common ancestors, in my case, did not cause new circles to be created.  Ancestry does plan to expand the circles to 10 generation in the future.

Today, I have 13 circles.  Circles are a combination of people who match you on DNA and share an ancestor, and people who match each other, but not your DNA, and share that same ancestor creating a sort of human/pedigree/DNA chain to that ancestor, at least theoretically.

Even though DNA Circles aren’t proof of a genetic connection to that ancestor in question, they certainly provide some amount of evidence of common DNA and ancestry, especially if you and the other Circle members descend from different children from the same ancestor.

My circles have from 3 to 12 members, only some of which are shown below.

ancestry most circles

However, how I do or don’t match to people within the circles is vastly different.

ancestry most circle membersFor example, in the Jacob Lentz circle, I match the DNA of two individuals.  I do not match the DNA of the other two individuals, but they match the DNA of other circle members. Of course, we all share the same ancestor in our pedigree chart.

Again, without a chromosome browser this does not constitute proof, but it does constitute evidence.

When I look at the trees of my DNA matches, I noticed that we also descend through three different children of Jacob Lentz.  This is an important piece of evidence, because it means that we aren’t all three working from the same bad tree.

What I mean by this is that if one person published a bad tree that included my ancestral link to Jacob Lentz, and everyone copied it, then all of our trees would be “bad” in the same way and it could well appear like the DNA match confirms a “bad tree.”  Garbage in, garbage out.

So, descent from different children of a common ancestor is one of the things I look for in matches trees and DNA Circles to suggest that it might be a valid piece of evidence.

In one of my trees, Joel Vannoy, I am a DNA and tree match to every individual in the circle. In a different tree, Nicholas Speaks, I am only a DNA match directly to one person.  So, hopefully that one person doesn’t make their tree private or my link to that circle will be gone.

Ok, now that we’ve reviewed trees, matches and circles, let’s look at strategies to make Ancestry work harder for us.

Experimental Branches

I have to tell you, I’m just sure lightning is going to strike me for this one.  But darn, it works.

One of the main reasons I didn’t want to publish a tree on Ancestry originally was that I was concerned about the quality and accuracy of what was in my tree, especially since cut and paste seems to be a favorite mode of operation which makes wrong information “forever information” after it’s cut and pasted from the source tree.

So what I’m about to suggest runs against every fiber of my being.  And if it didn’t work so well, I wouldn’t even be telling you about it….but it does.  So the purist in me is just having to get over herself because the curious genealogist is winning out over the purist.

I have several situations where I’m just not positive about something in my tree, so let me tell you what I’ve done to help solve the mystery.

Sarah Hickerson

Let’s start with Sarah Hickerson.  I’ve written about this several times in various ways, but to summarize, we didn’t know the identity of the parents of Elijah Vannoy, born in 1786.  We did know they were one of 4 men in Wilkes County, all 4 the sons of one John Vannoy.  We also knew who all 4 sons married.

I decided to try an experiment and enter the most likely parents of Elijah Vannoy and see what happened.  I knew that the key to this mystery would be to prove the wife’s DNA, because the 4 Vannoy men were brothers.

Elijah’s most likely parents were Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  Furthermore, I knew the parents of Sarah Hickerson to be Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle (Little.)   I entered this information, not expecting much, when to my surprise, a DNA Circle appeared linking me with descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  There was no DNA circle for Francis Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.

I made contact with the people I matched at Ancestry and then found additional Hickerson matches at Family Tree DNA.  The rest, as they say, is history, but we proved the connection through triangulation techniques.

Without having entered the experimental couple of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson, plus Sarah’s parents, we would never have been able to do this.  It wasn’t Sarah herself in the tree that made the difference, but the addition of her parents.

Nabby Hall

After that success, I noticed another “maybe” on my tree where I had the names of the potential ancestor’s parents as well.

I had Joseph Hill and his wife Nabby, with Nabby’s parents probably being Gershom Hall and Dorcas Richardson.  I entered Hall as Nabby’s surname, then entered her parents, and voila, next day, I had two matches to descendants of Gershom Hall and Dorcas Richardson through two different siblings.  So, between the three of us, we have matches through their 2 proven siblings and my suspected sibling.

There is no DNA Circle, so these are direct matches.  Unfortunately, my two matches have not downloaded their information to either GedMatch or Family Tree DNA.  I looked in the trees at Family Tree DNA, but I have been unable to find descendants of Gershom Hall and Dorcas Richardson, so I can’t prove this genetic connection just yet.

However, I know that it’s just a matter of time now until enough people test that someone will match and download their results to GedMatch or people from that family line will test at Family Tree DNA.

So, if you descend from this Hall line out of Tolland County, CT, please test at Family Tree DNA (where we have chromosome browser tools) or if you have tested at Ancestry, please transfer your results!!!  But mostly, please contact me!

Nancy Mann

I’ve been working with a cousin, Pam, for several months now to solve the mystery of the parents of Nancy Mann.  Our common ancestor is Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann, through different sons.

Through paper genealogy and mitochondrial DNA, we had narrowed Nancy’s line of descent to the Irish Mann family instead of the German Mann family in Botetourt County, VA.  However, the paper trail ran out for us, and I thought we were done.

Between Pam and I, we have more than 20 cousins who have tested.  Pam, noticed repeated matches in the cousins to specific surnames and she set about using those repeated names to reconstruct a tree.

She did, amazingly, and sent me an e-mail suggesting that I enter the tree as an experiment and see what happens.  Here is the experimental tree that Pam reconstructed which connects to Nancy Mann.

ancestry most experimental tree

I entered this tree as Nancy’s ancestors, feeling very guilty as it was unproven, and was utterly amazed at the results.

I have 9 shakey leaf matches within the group of potential ancestors: 1 to John Cantrell, 4 to John Cantrell and Hannah Brittain, 1 to Joseph Cantrell and Catherine Heath and 3 to Joseph Carpenter and Frances Dames.  You’ll notice that these are Nancy’s mother’s and father’s lines, both.  All but 2 are through different children.

I don’t match my cousin Pam, nor many of our other cousins, especially in her line, but when she looked at my matches compared to theirs, every match was in both of our lists except one.  Why don’t we have DNA Circles?  I have no idea.  We should have at least one even with the 7 generation limit.  Like I said, Circles and how they are created mystify me.

We are still in the process of confirming this at Family Tree DNA and/or Gedmatch.  Convincing this many people to download results is no trivial matter.

This possible tree growth spurt also needs to be worked backwards genealogically, via old-fashioned paper, if possible, to prove that Nancy Mann did in fact descend from James Mann and Mary Cantrell.  Sometimes if you know where to work “from to current” it’s much easier than trying to work backwards blindly.

Have I mentioned that my cousin is an amazing genealogist with an incredible eye for detail???

The Campbells

Encouraged by this apparent success, I decided to try another possible couple.  This one didn’t work nearly so well.

Based on deeds, we believe John and George Campbell of Claiborne County, TN to be the sons of Charles Campbell who died in 1825 in Hawkins County, TN.  Unfortunately, the Hawkins County records are incomplete and the proof documents we need are nonexistent or missing.  Oh, and there are no other known children so there is no one out there to match that knows they connect to Charles.

Family lore tells us a different story, that John and George are the sons of James Campbell, son of Robert Campbell and Letitia Crocket that also lived and died in Hawkins County, TN, albeit on the other end of the county in a different mountain range.  I have found no records to support that story, but also none to outright refute it.

I noticed that a couple of my matches on other surnames also had matches to this line, so I decided to remove Charles and enter James and his wife and parents.  No luck at all, not one match.  Now, I don’t know if this means that not enough people have tested or if I’m barking up the wrong tree.  We are not beyond the 10 generation matching limit.

It’s not like we can see how many other people have this individual in their tree AND have DNA tested that we don’t match.

Success Strategy

First, create a tree with the idea of making it useful for catching DNA matches.  This is not a masterpiece, but a tool for you.  You don’t need siblings or collateral lines.  The only thing Ancestry is going to look for are direct ancestors.

Think differently about experimenting with your tree than you did in the past. Allow yourself to experiment with different surname spellings, possible parents, reconstructing segments of trees based on multiple matches and anything else that might lead to a breakthrough.  Think outside the box.  Actually, throw the box away.

Keep in mind the 10 generation matching limit and the (current) 7 generation DNA Circles limit.  In both cases, you count as the first generation.

If you find information you think is useful to pursue genetically, then move, in whatever way you can, to a platform that has tools for you to use to triangulate your match, either at Family Tree DNA or at Gedmatch, or preferably both.

This “new tree strategy” is about finding evidence that you can use to further your paper genealogy or prove a genetic match.  It’s about utilizing Ancestry’s system to gather information in a bit of a different way to build an evidential case.  You may not be able to do everything at Ancestry, but utilize their strong points combined with your tree to increase the odds of finding your ancestors.

Those shakey leaves really are useful!  Make them dance for you.

Happy Hunting!!!

Secondary Genealogical and Genetic Lines

When we find an autosomal match in genetic genealogy, and we then discover that person shares a common ancestral line with us, we do our happy dance and  tend to forget that they might actually share a second line as well.

It’s easy to discount in the excitement of the moment, especially if you’re working in a situation where your match to that ancestral line on that segment has not been proven by triangulation.

But let’s face it, all genetic genealogy success stories, whether just one to one matches or triangulation begin with individual matches.

So, I was curious, just how many of our matches really do share a secondary genealogy line.

Now, let’s be very clear here about what a secondary line is, and is not.

This is my father’s pedigree chart.

father's pedigreeLet’s say that I find a match who shares the bottom center couple – Samuel Claxton and Elizabeth Speaks.

They automatically share the lines to the right of those ancestors in the pedigree chart – those who contribute to the DNA of Samuel and Elizabeth.  In this case, that would be Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy, Charles Speak and Ann McKee.

As we move the pedigree chart out further in time – that list of common ancestors that we do share would include everyone on this chart including and beneath the blue cell, James Lee Claxton.  These are NOT secondary lines, just ancestors of the people in the original match that we would also expect to have received some amount of DNA contribution from.

father's pedigree 2

Now, let’s say we start looking at the tree of the person we match and we discover that they also share the top center ancestors, Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann.

father's pedigree 3

That is a secondary line, not connected genetically to the first line.

Obviously, if the person we match has ancestors living in the same geography as our ancestors, there’s a possibility that they will share a second (or even third) ancestral line.

How often does that actually happen?

I’ve been working with my shakey leaf matches at  Shakey leaf DNA matches are those with whom Ancestry has identified that you have a DNA match and a common ancestor in a tree.  I love shakey leaves!!!!  They save me so much work.

shakey leaf

Now, the easy assumption to make is that your DNA match is through the ancestor noted on the tree.  That’s certainly possible, and if that is your only common ancestor, it’s even probable – but without a chromosome browser and triangulation there is NO PROOF.

There is no way at Ancestry to prove a genetic relationship.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gather evidence.

I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of matches at Ancestry, our common ancestor, which child they descend from and any other known common lines.

ancestry match spreadsheet

I have a total of 137 rows, each representing a shakey leaf match at

Of those, 16 disappeared with Ancestry’s new phasing rollout in November.  No, I am not “over that”…nor do I think it’s accurate because I match some of those same people elsewhere and triangulate with common ancestors.  Nuff said about that – no point in beating a dead horse.

Recently, Ancestry has added a feature that allows a hint to additional shared ancestors.  However, on mine, which is all I can really address, all of my multiple hints were to people in the same line where Ancestry appears to have been confused, perhaps by people’s trees.

For example, the three hints on the match below includes one, as shown, one to only the mother (Suzanna Berchtol) and one to their grandson’s wife’s mother (but not her father.)  But there was no match to the son and his wife.  These are not inaccurate, just confusing.

multiple hints

None of my multiple hints were actually to different lineages – although several matches’ trees do exist that include unquestionable matching to multiple lines.

Ancestry includes a great comparison feature.

If you view your shakey leaf match, they show you the common ancestor of both individuals in a tree, as show below with cousin Harold.

common surnames

If you scroll down, you will see the list of common surnames we share – in the green box on the left.

Because I know my own tree quite well, along with cousin Harold’s, I know by just looking at this list that all of these except one are from the same line as Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley, our common ancestors.

But, for purposes of example, let’s say that I discover one that isn’t.

Let’s say Mercer isn’t a name from our known common line.

common surname compare

By clicking on Mercer, you can see that yes, indeed, we do share a common ancestor.  Hannah Mercer appears recognizably the same in both trees.

Looks like cousin Harold has more Mercers than I do, so I need to visit with cousin Harold about this.

Now let’s look at Webb, our name that is not from this common line.

common surname compare 2

Webb doesn’t match.  Furthermore, I haven’t entered anything about this person that even remotely identifies them, so I need to address that.  Even approximations are useful, and no information at all is not useful.

I went through this process for every single common surname for each tree that I match.  Of interest, there were only a few trees that didn’t have any surnames that I needed to check.

On top of the matches I lost through phasing, we need to subtract another 21 for private trees and one more because their tree won’t load due to a technical issue of some sort.  Of the 21 private trees, I have written to all 21, and 4 of the individuals answered me by telling me the name of our common ancestor.  However, that still does not provide me with the ability to see this page that shows our common matching surnames.

That leaves me with 99 shakey leaf matches whose trees I can see.

Of those, 52 do not have a common ancestor or a common line that makes me think we might have a common ancestor.  What the heck does that mean?

It means that roughly half of my matches either do or might have a secondary matching line.

Let me give you a couple of examples that make it difficult to decide.

Campbell – those darned Campbells.  First, I’m at a dead end with mine in Hawkins County, TN around 1800.  We do have a Y DNA representative from my line though, and we know that our Campbell line matches the Campbell clan line.  So, anyone where I see Campbell in their surname list, regardless of how far back in time that Campbell link goes – I categorize as “possibly Campbell.”  Because, frankly, we not only don’t know for sure how long that sticky DNA can stick together and I don’t know which line my Campbells descend from in 1700s Virginia, assuming that is where they came from.

Secondly, Hall.  My Hall family was from Tolland County, CT.  When I see someone else’s tree that shows a Hall ancestor from Tolland County, CT, even though they don’t connect with mine – I know darned good and well there is a very high likelihood that this is the same Hall family as mine.  So, I categorize that as “probably Hall.”

When I find a dead hit in terms of a common ancestor, I just enter their name in that column

I have 4 that I’ve categorized as “not recognizable” which means to me that it looks quite suspicious in terms of surname/geography, but no smoking gun like Hall in Tolland County.  I’m combining these with the “no” group for now, understanding that a “no” could turn into a “yes” with a breakthrough for anyone at any minute.

I have 13 labeled “possible.”

I have 7 labeled “probable” but ironically, two of those have two lines each that are not connected to each other.

I have 8 that are Acadian, meaning they descend from a large group of common surnames from the Acadian community.  This is a highly endogamous community and it’s nearly impossible to tell which DNA comes from where and originally belonged to whom.  This means that lines on my chart that appear to be disconnected probably are not.  I view these as all “yes” in terms of multiple lines.

I have 15 matches with positively confirmed secondary lines, and of those, another 5 possible third lines.

So how does this stack up:

No Possibly Probably Acadian Yes-Confirmed >2 lines
% Matches 56 13 7 8 15 10 + 8 Acadians

Truthfully, this is far more than I expected.  I thought it would be the rare match where I would have two disconnected genealogical lines.  In reality, it appears that it could be about half the time.  This certainly causes me to take a moment to pause and reflect – and makes triangulation even more important.

What this really means is that we cannot assume that DNA/Tree matches are connecting the dots between the right genetic lines and the right pedigree lines in a tree – because about half of the time, it could be the wrong line in our and their tree.  And this little experiment, by the way, cannot take into account the dead ends on either my tree or theirs that can’t be accounted for.

Let’s be very clear about this.  You DO share DNA with this person from a common genealogical line.  You MAY share DNA with this person from multiple lines.  The DNA may NOT have come down to you from both (or multiple) lines. From tools we have at Ancestry, we can’t tell which line or lines contributed the DNA.

The only way to prove a match is to a specific ancestral line is to triangulate the match, meaning that the same segment of DNA matches between a minimum of three people who share the same ancestor.  To do this, you need a chromosome browser, which Ancestry does not and says they won’t provide.

More and more Ancestry customers are transferring their results to Family Tree DNA and to GedMatch to take advantage multiple pools and tools.  So, you can’t prove a relationship at Ancestry, but there is still a lot of useful work that you can do based on your matches trees…so long as you don’t need proof.  In the next few days, we’ll be talking about how to maximize your AncestryDNA experience.

Samuel Muncy (1761/1768-1839), Who’s Your Daddy, Your Mamma, and Your Kids?, 52 Ancestors #56

I feel like I should give you a warning.  Get a cup of coffee, or tea, and some chocolate.

This article is long.  It was difficult.  Really difficult.  Made me wonder WHY I think genealogy is fun.  BUT, after wading through the swamp with the alligators, draining the swamp, fighting the alligators and a few snappers, analyzing the evidence including an “emergency” marriage bond retrieval from a friend who was in Salt Lake City at a conference last week (thank you Jen,) there is something resembling an answer at the end.  But man, this one was tough.  And no, do not turn ahead and peek…you’ll miss all the fun.

So get something good to drink and settle in for a bit.  If nothing else, it’s a darned good story!

The Widows

First, let me introduce you to “The Widows” and Uncle George who wasn’t my uncle.  I didn’t appreciate the widows and Uncle George nearly enough when they were still with us, although I surely hope they are continuing to help me from the other side now.

The Widows.

They called themselves that, an affectionate name for a group of elderly widows who all lived in Claiborne County, Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s when I first began doing genealogy.

I didn’t realize I was doing genealogy, I just wanted to know something about my father’s family.  So, I picked up the phone, dialed “zero” for operator and asked the operator to connect me with any Estes in Tazewell, Tennessee.  She obliged and I talked to a very nice person who gave me the name of someone else to call who “knew more” than they did.  Within a call or two, I was talking to someone who did know a lot, and who knew my father and grandfather, and who then told me I need to talk to “Uncle George” who “knew everything about the Estes family there was to know.”

Uncle George was in his 70s and indeed, he was a wealth of knowledge. He wasn’t a genealogist either, he just knew a lot about the family.  The family storykeeper.  Everyone knew that he knew a lot and was the unofficial repository of everything Estes, so everyone gave him any piece of information or photo worth having.  In turn, he redistributed the wealth to anyone who was willing to listen and maybe take notes.  His wife, Edith, made fried chicken and sweet tea and fed you while the two of you talked.  From time to time, she would interject something she knew from her side of the family or from another source.  They were both my cousins.  Everyone there is my cousin.

There were no sources or citations, there was what “my grandpa told me before he died,” and more, like where the old cabins stood.  Sometimes there were notes and Bibles, but mostly there was what George knew.  If you asked him, often he could tell you who told him what and how they knew.  And George could take you to your ancestral land and tell you about life there long ago.

Claiborne and Hancock Counties in eastern Tennessee share rivers, mountain ranges and families.  George knew about the Estes family and a couple of other families that fed into the Estes line, but he didn’t know about my grandmother’s Bolton line.  He did know who knew.  Mollie, one of the widows.  And Mollie knew about the Claxton line too, because the Claxton’s married into the Boltons and were near neighbors “up to Hoop Creek.”

Now Mollie might not know about some other line, but she too knew which widow to call to find out.  Between all of the “widows” and a few widowers and unwidowed people, they had an entire network.  Sadly, for the most part, the knowledge died with them – and they are all gone now – one by one like lightening bugs that no longer light up the warm summer evenings.

Now, this might sound like nothing but gossip and hearsay, but that’s just not the case.

These people were born between 1890 and 1910, most of them, and were well-respected as elders within the community.  My ancestor, Agnes Claxton lived until sometime after 1880 and before 1900.  Had I thought to have asked, I’m sure Mollie would have known when she died.  Even though I’m pretty sure Mollie never met Agnes, she surely knew of her and about her.  Mollie’s mother and grandmother would have known Agnes well.  And you can rest assured….EVERYONE would have known about that lawsuit….

It was Mollie who first told me about Agnes Claxton, the wife of Fairwick.  We had a long discussion about whether the surname was Claxton or Clarkson or Clarkston and how you pronounced the surname.  Regardless of how you spelled it, it was “said” the same in that holler.  And Fairwick or Farwix was another long discussion.

Mollie told me that Agnes was a Muncy and that her parents were Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman.  She told me that Agnes’s grandparents were Samuel Muncy and Agnes, and that Agnes (Muncy Claxton) was named for her grandmother, which is how she kept the two Samuel Muncy couples straight in her mind.

Mollie never told me that Agnes’s grandmother’s surname was Craven.  She told me a lot about closer generations, but she had reached the end of her neighborhood knowledge, knowing that Agnes was named for her grandmother Agnes.  Little did I know at the time that Agnes Muncy Claxton’s mother, Anne (Nancy) Workman Muncy had lived to nearly 100, or maybe past 100 and was listed living with Agnes in the 1860 census, at age 99.

Mollie and the widows didn’t research the families outside of the county.  They did not visit the state library – they just gathered family stories.  From time to time, one of them would go to the local library, but at that time, there were very few resources.  THEY were the resources.  Sometimes one would make a quick trip to the courthouse, but mostly, they shared with you a wealth of family oral history and photos.

Mollie didn’t know there had been a book written about the Muncy family in the 1950s.  I think Mollie and the other widows thought that the only relevant information about the family was the last few generations that lived in Claiborne and neighboring counties.  Anything else was too distant and far away.

It wasn’t until the publication of the Early Settlers of Lee County book in 1977 that any of the early Muncy information became available in the general area.  This was either unknown to Mollie when I was talking to her about this line in the 1980s, or she didn’t think it relevant.

Maybe it would have upset her, or maybe she would simply have disregarded it as incorrect.  You see some of the information written in the Lee County book and the 1956 book by Mary Edith Shaw titled “The Descendants of Francis Muncy I with Allied Families” conflicted with what Mollie told me.  I can see her now, waving it off and saying, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Honey.  I can only tell you what Hazel told me, and Hazel was her daughter you know”…or something similar.  The widows would have put little stock in what “outsiders” would have said about the families especially if it conflicted with what they knew from their own families and experience.

For me, it became a brick wall.  An enigma.

Sooner or later, if you’re a genealogist, you hit this ancestor.  That’s the one who has two sets of parents designated, depending on the source, and I’m not counting Ancestry trees as sources.  One source was a well-researched and thorough book.  The second was a credible family source who claimed she knew, and she should have known.  Mollie’s mother and grandmother would have known Agnes Muncy Claxton and her children.  Agnes’s granddaughter, Margaret Claxton, married Mollie’s grandfather’s brother.  These people lived close, saw each other in church and knew the families well.

So, now that you’ve met “the widows” and know what Mollie had to say about Agnes Muncy Claxton, let’s see what we know about Samuel Muncy, the purported father of Agnes Muncy Clarkson/Claxton.  We immediately start out with a problem, because there were (at least) four Samuel Muncys.

The Four Samuels

In order to help keep things straight, I’m going to introduce you to the players, because there are 4 different Samuel Muncy’s that we’re going to be talking about, and the only way to keep them straight is their wives names.

  • Samuel Muncy Sr. who married Mary Skidmore
  • Samuel Muncy Jr. who married Agnes Craven. He is the son of Samuel Muncy Sr.
  • Samuel Muncy (the third) who married Anne Workman. His parentage is uncertain, which is what we’ll be discussing.
  • Samuel Muncy (the fourth) who married Louisa Fitts and is attributed to be the son of Samuel Muncy (the third.)

And just to add confusion, I’m going to assume that you know that if Samuel Muncy Sr. died, then Jr. would become Sr. in documents and the third would become Jr. – assuming they were living in the same county where they needed to be “kept separate.”  Furthermore, as if that isn’t confusing enough, Sr. and Jr. did not always mean father and son.  It meant older and younger and if the two men of the same name were father and son, that was hunky dory.  If not, it was still hunky dory.  Everyone, back then, knew who was who.  It’s only us, today, who are confused.

Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman

The subject of our discussion today is Samuel Muncy (the third) who married Anne Workman.  We actually know every little.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Samuel Muncy was born, most likely in Montgomery County, VA.  Ok, we’re good so far. We don’t know when, for sure, or to whom, or even positively where, but maybe we can assemble some evidence and piece a bit of his life together

Beginning with his birth and for most of the rest of his life, things are “fuzzy” to put it mildly, including who his parents and his children were.  For that matter, we only know where he was during oblique snippets of his life and then he disappears into the haze again, sometimes to reappear later, someplace else, and then eventually, simply to disappear into the mists and myths of time.

Samuel Muncy obtained a license to marry Anne Workman on June 16, 1788 in Montgomery County, Virginia.  That much is solid, because we have his marriage bond.  Based on the year he was married, he would likely have been born in 1767 or earlier.

1788 Muncy Workman bond

From this bond, we know that Samuel could not write his name.  Richard Coop? or Coup was his bond, and he couldn’t write his name either.  Just three months earlier, on March 23, 1788, Samuel had provided the bond for Richard when he married Dolly Loman, also in Montgomery County.  We know it was probably the Samuel who married Anne Workman who signed Richard’s bond with his mark because Samuel Muncy Jr. could write, based on his signature on an 1811 deed.

1788 Richard Coop bond

Was Richard Samuel’s best friend, or were these two men somehow related?  I can’t find anything about Richard Coop/Coup and Dolly Loman.

Herein lies the beginning of the confusion.

1788 Workman Muncy letter

This letter, which accompanies the 1788 marriage bond for Samuel Muncy (Munsey) and Anne Workman says:

“Mr. Abraham Trig, this comes from Joseph Workman and Obediah Munsey, that we are willing that Anne Workman and Samuel Munsey should be married.  This from under our hands this 15 day of June 1788.  Signed Joseph Workman and Obediah Munsey.”

What this document was interpreted by family historians to say:

Joseph Workman is the father of Anne Workman and Obediah Munsey is the father of Samuel Munsey.

This is NOT what this document says.  It’s true in most cases that the father of the individuals who were marrying did sign the bond, but that is not universally true, even if the father was living.

Well then, who was Obediah Munsey?  Obediah is another enigma.  Serial enigmas.

Obediah Munsey was the son of Samuel Munsey Sr. and Mary (who was probably a) Skidmore who moved to Montgomery County, VA sometime after 1738.  Samuel Sr. had several sons, but the two that concern us today are Obediah and Samuel Jr. who married Agnes Craven.

For a very long time, the Samuel (the third) who married Anne Workman was considered to be the son of Samuel Jr. and Agnes Craven, that is, until this marriage bond was found and Obediah was assigned as Samuel (the third)’s father.

However, I believe that Samuel (the third) who married Anne Workman IS the son of Samuel Jr. and Agnes Craven, for several reasons.  Let’s take a look at the evidence, which spans his entire life, bit by bit.

First, Obediah and Samuel Jr. were brothers.  They were together a lot in the court and other records of Augusta, Montgomery, Fincastle and Rockingham Counties.

We don’t know who Obediah married, and truthfully, we don’t even know for sure THAT he married.  He served in the militia along with his brothers, including Samuel Jr., in multiple companies over the years.  The last record we have for Obadiah is that he had land surveyed on Walker’s Creek, in Montgomery County, in 1789, but the records for Obediah may not be complete.

Walker’s Creek spans this entire distance from Pearisburg, VA where Walker’s Creek, the largest tributary of the New River, empties into the New, all the way along the river to Bland, Virginia, a distance of about 34 miles if you follow the blue route along Walker Creek.

Walker Creek, VA

Obediah’s brother was Samuel Munsey (Jr.) who married Agnes Craven.  He too lived with the other Munsey men on Walker’s Creek in Montgomery County, but in the 1790s Samuel moved to Lee County.  What we know positively is that Samuel was on the personal property tax list in 1799 in Lee County and a survey was signed over to him that year.  By 1801 he had received the deed for the survey for the land on the Powell River, on the north side of Wallen’s Ridge very near the Thompson Settlement Church, shown below at the upper right.  In the bottom left of the map is Four Mile Creek, where many Muncy descendants settled, about 10 miles distant as the crow flies

Thompson settlement church

Samuel Jr. was married to Agnes Craven by about 1761 when Agnes’s father died and mentioned her in the will.  While she was not mentioned by her married name, she was left the land she was living on, and in 1767, Samuel Muncy was paid along with the rest of the heirs.

Samuel (the third,) if he was their son, could have been born anytime between when they married prior to 1761 and 1767, given that Samuel (the third) married Anne Workman in 1788.  Because he signed a bond himself that same year (assuming it was he that signed Richard Coop’s marriage bond,) he would have had to have been 21 or older.

According to family historian Mary Edith Shaw in her book, “The Descendants of Francis Muncy I with Allied Families,” we know that Samuel Muncy (Jr.) and Agnes Craven had the following confirmed children, and she mentions more, such as Francis and James, who we will discuss in a minute:

  • Hannah born 1771 married a Bayley and stayed in Lee County
  • Peter born 1782 went to Knox County, Kentucky about 1811 and then to Indiana
  • Reuben went to Knox Co., Ky in 1811 but returned to Lee County by 1820
  • Francis A. Muncy born in 1788 who stayed in Lee County, Virginia

This photo of Peter Muncy, the son of Peter born in 1782, below was taken in Knox Co., KY, when he was 88 years old in 1916.  This Peter would have been the nephew of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman.

Peter Muncy 1916

There is some confusion about Francis Muncy and James Muncy.  They are both attributed to Samuel Muncy and Agnes Craven as their children, but I’m not so sure.

To make matters worse, the Shaw book says that the “name” Francis (as Franklin) went with Peter to Knox County, meaning that he named one of his sons Franklin, but given the context it is easy to interpret as meaning Francis went with that group.

Francis A. Muncy was born in February 1788 several months before Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman were married, according to the Francis A. Muncy Bible record.  This suggests strongly that Francis A. Muncy was not the son of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman, although it does not eliminate the possibility.  He was more likely  the son of Samuel Jr. and Agnes Craven.

However, there is a fly in that ointment too.  If Agnes Craven was married by 1761, she would have been about 20 years of age, or older, depending on her age at marriage and how long she had been married in 1761.  That means she was 47, or older, in 1788, probably too old to be giving birth, and age 49 in 1790 when James was born.

This makes me suspect that both Francis and James Muncy who stayed in Lee County may have been the children of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman.  Why do I think this might be the case?

Francis Muncy would marry Lovey Randolph, daughter of Willoughby and Francis Thornton Randolph about 1809, which is probably why he stayed in Lee County.  We know from Willoughby’s will in 1822 that the James Munsey family lived on his lands at that time, along with Jeremiah Owens.  Willoughby’s will ties the families of Francis Muncy, James Muncy and Jeremiah Owens together.

James Muncy, born about 1790 married Nancy Owens and also stayed in Lee County. He bought land from Willoughby Muncy in 1819 and was living on his land in 1822 when Willoughy died, according to his will.  In 1845, James deeded his land to Francis Muncy’s son, Willoughby Muncy and moved to Four Mile Creek in Hancock County beside Sarah and Jeremiah Owens and Agnes and Fairwick Claxton.

By 1799, we know that Samuel Muncy and Agnes Craven were in Lee County, VA because Robert Walker who had land surveyed in 1798 signed that 100 acres on the North side of Wallin Ridge over to Samuel Muncy on November 2, 1799.  Samuel is also listed on the tax list in 1799.

1798 survey Walker Muncy

1799 survey Walker to Muncy

We don’t know for sure if Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman were with Samuel Muncy Jr. and Agnes Craven, but since several of Samuel Jr.’s sons were along, and Samuel and Anne do wind up in that part of Lee County with their children, it’s a safe bet.

By 1810, we know that Samuel Muncy was still in Lee County, Virginia, based on the personal property tax list, along with Francis, James and Peter, also on the list.  What we don’t know for sure is whether this Samuel was Samuel Jr. husband of Agnes Craven or Samuel (the third) husband of Anne Workman – but given that Samuel and Agnes didn’t sell their land until 1811, I would assume that is the Samuel Jr. on the tax list.

Deed Book 2, page 359, February 9, 1811

This indenture made the 9th of February 1811 between Samuel Muncy of Lee County and James Fletcher…for the sum of 200 dollars lawful money of the US in hand paid by the aid James Fletcher…tract of land containing 100 acres bearing the date August 8, 1801…on the north side of Wallings Ridge bounded…line of James McMillan…James Fulkerson’s.  Said Samuel Muncy and Agness his wife have hereunto set their hands and affixed their seals.  Samuel Munsey signed – no signature for Agness

In the presence of:

Thomas Gilbert
Isaac Sayers
Willoughby Randolph
Francis (X) Munsey

Note that this Francis Munsey cannot sign his name, but someone wrote in the Francis A. Munsey Bible, shown below.  Also note that Samuel Muncy who signed for Richard Coop’s marriage bond could not sign his name, but Samuel Jr. could.

Francis A. Muncy Bible

What happened to Samuel Jr. and Agnes after they sold their land is open to speculation, but Peter, Reuben and possibly others settled in Knox County, KY, the part that would become Harlan County, on Indian Creek near the Cumberland River.

In 1811, Samuel and Agnes would have been 70 years of age or older.

Of Samuel Jr. and Agnes’s children, Hannah and Reuben stayed in (or returned to) Lee County, on the Powell River.

It appears that Samuel (the third) who married Anne Workman also stayed in Lee County based on the fact that his children married in this region.  About 1809, Francis Muncy married Lovey Randolph, about 1814 James Muncy Married Nancy Owens, about 1820 Agnes Muncy married Fairwick Claxton, and before 1822, Sarah married Jeremiah Owens.

In addition, Samuel Muncy died in Lee County, VA in 1839 and Anne, listed as Nancy, is found living with Agnes in both the 1850 and 1860 census just across the border in Hancock County, TN.  This isn’t a smoking gun, but it’s a pretty compelling argument.

James Muncy, who bought land from Willoughby Randolph in 1819 and was living on his land in 1822, moved into Hancock County on 4 Mile Creek very close to the family of Agnes Muncy and Fairwick Clarkson in the early 1850s after selling his land to the son of Francis Muncy and Lovey Randolph in 1845.

In the survey below, you can see Claxton’s bend and just to the left of that, you can see Four Mile Creek intersecting with Powell River.  According to the 1850 census, Jeremiah Owens and Sarah his wife only lived 4 or 5 houses from Fairwix and Agnes Clarkson, who had the elderly Nancy Munsey living with them.

Claxton Bend v2

After Samuel Muncy and Agnes sold their land in Lee County in 1811, no records have been found to pinpoint their identity or whereabouts until an 1839 record reveals the death of Samuel Muncy – but which one?  We can’t tell if this is Samuel Jr., husband of Agnes, or Samuel (the third) husband of Anne Workman.  Based on the administrator and bondsman, I feel it was Samuel (the third), husband of Anne Workman.

At a court for Lee County on February 18, 1839, Order book 4 page 384:

On a motion of James Muncy who made oath as administrator and together with Cornelius Fitts, his security, entered into and acknowledged a bond in the penalty of 80 dollars, condition as the law directs, certificate is granted and the said James Muncy for obtaining letters of administration on the estate of Samuel Muncy, deceased in due form.

Ordered that Randolph Noe, Nathaniel Alsop and James Southern being justly sworn before a justice of the peace, do truly and justly appraise in current money, the personal estate of Samuel Muncy, deceased, and return this appraisement under their hands to the court.

Was this Samuel Jr., husband of Agnes who would have been nearly 100 years old  and possibly older, or Samuel (the third), husband of Anne Workman who would have been between 72 and 78?  Given the administrator, who gave the bond and the age of the Samuel’s involved, I think it was probably Samuel (the third), husband of Anne Workman.

Because of the marriage bond in Montgomery County, VA that showed Obediah Muncy signing for the marriage of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman in 1788, that Samuel has been assigned as the child of Obediah.  I do not believe this is true, in part, because that Samuel, who married Anne Workman, named two of his children Samuel and Agnes, and none were named Obediah.

In addition, we find Anne Muncy, by the nickname Nancy, living with their daughter Agnes and husband, Fairwix Claxton in the 1850 and 1860 census where she is listed as age 81 (born 1769) in 1850 and age 99 (born in 1761) in 1860.  An older woman is also living with Agnes and Fairwick Claxton in the 1840 census, age 70-80 (born 1760-1770).  This was likely Anne, the year after Samuel died.  Fairwick’s mother is living in a separate household next door.

Furthermore, Samuel (the fourth), the likely son of Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman, married Louisa Fitts and Cornelius Fitts, Louisa’s brother, was bond for Samuel’s 1839 estate.

Thompson Settlement Baptist Church

Let’s look at the Thompson Settlement Baptist Church records which exist from 1801 and see if they can help.

The first mention of the Munsey family is in 1822 when James Muncy was received by experience, but then dismissed in 1823 for unchristian behavior.  There was nothing for another decade until, in 1833, a whole group of related people joined the church.  Makes me wonder if there was an old fashioned camp meeting where a lot of “saving” was going on.

Here’s an engraving from a Methodist camp meeting in 1819, although in Appalachia, the people would have been dressed very differently.

camp meeting

Camp meetings were very popular and were both entertainment and excitement, anticipated by people for weeks on end.  They were a combination social event, emotional religious exhortation and “reality TV.”

We’re fortunate that some of the Thompson Settlement church minutes remain.

1st Sept Sat 1833

  • 1833 Frances Muncy received by experience (son of Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman or of Samuel Jr. and Agnes Craven)
  • 1833 Nancy Muncy by experience (probably Nancy Owens, wife of James Muncy)
  • 1833 Barbary Jayne (Willoughby Randolph’s daughter, I think)
  • 1833 Mary Randolph

1st Sat Oct 1833

  • 1833 Anny Muncy by exp (probably daughter of James Muncy)
  • 1833 James Muncy by exp (is this the same one as in 1822?)
  • 1833 Nancy Muncy by exp (probably Nancy (Anne) Workman Muncy)
  • 1833 William Jayne
  • 1833 Willoughby Randolph by exp and after being baptized requests letter of dismission and is granted

1st Sat November 1833

  • 1833 Samuel Muncy (probably Samuel (the fourth))

1st Sat Jan 1834

  • Louisa Muncy (probably Lousia Fitts, wife of Samuel (the fourth))

1st Sat May 1834

  • Hannah Jayne (Willoughby Randolph’s daughter)
  • Lucy Jayne

The Thompson Settlement Baptist church minutes mention a Samuel Muncy beginning in 1833, probably the son of Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman Muncy, who married Louisa Fitts.  Louisa was also a church member.

We don’t find two Samuels, so it’s also unlikely that Samuel (the third) was a member.  He would have been in his early 70s at this time, as would Anne Workman Muncy who did join.

In 1835, an Anny Muncy was excluded, but it is believed to have been Anna Muncy, the daughter of James, who had two illegitimate children.  That would certainly have gotten her dismissed from the church.  Six months later, James Muncy was also excluded, probably her father or possibly her brother.

A second Nancy Muncy is shown in 1833, which is probably Anne Workman Muncy.  Nancy and Anne were often used interchangeably.  The 1850 and 1860 census both refer to Nancy Munsy.

Which Samuel is Which?

The next thing we find, in 1839, is the death of one Samuel Muncy.  But which one?

We know that Samuel (the 4th) married to Louisa Fitts was still having children until 1843 or 1844, so it’s not that Samuel.

So all of this brings me to the third reason why I think that Samuel (the third)’s parents were Samuel Muncy and Agnes Craven, not Obediah.

If Samuel (the third, who married in 1788, was the first born child, he would have likely been named Samuel.  He named his son Samuel (the fourth) as well.  No place in the family is there a child named Obediah, not in any of the grandchildren either.  However, Samuel and Anne Workman also named a daughter Agnes.

That Agnes is the Agnes Muncy that married Fairwick Claxton about 1820.  We know that Muncy was her name because of the widows and their cumulative information

I was also told that Agnes Claxton’s father was Samuel Muncy and her mother was Anne Workman, but I don’t know where they obtained that information.  My cousins, the widows, had notes stuck in drawers and books and boxes and Bibles that they retrieved when I visited.

There’s more evidence too.  In the chancery suit filed in Hancock County, TN, in 1876 following Fairwick Claxton’s death, William Owens, age 40, testified that he was the nephew of Fairwick Claxton.  James Owens, age 30, testified as well, but did not give his relationship to Fairwick.  William and James Owens are shown in the 1850 census as the children of Sarah and Jeremiah Owens who lived 5 houses from Fairwick Claxton and his wife, Agnes Muncy.  Sarah and Jeremiah Owens also had children named Agnes and Samuel, but no Obediah.

Further connecting these families, in 1822, Jeremiah Owens was also listed as living on Willoughby Randolph’s land with James Muncy.  According to family members, Sarah Muncy Owens is buried in the Claxton Cemetery at the intersection of River and Owens Road in Hancock County with her sister Agnes Muncy Claxton and family.

Furthermore, James Muncy, after selling his land to Willoughby Muncy, son of Francis Muncy who married Lovey Randolph, moved in to the 4 Mile Creek area, which is very close to where Sarah and Agnes lived.  James Muncy died there in 1854.

In the 1850 and 1860 census, Nancy Muncy was living with Agnes and Fairwick Claxton.

1850 Hancock census Muncy

She was given as age 81 in 1850 and age 99 in 1860.  So Anne Workman survived to a great age.  I do wonder where they lived from 1811 until 1839 when Samuel died.

It is assured that Anne Workman Muncy is buried in the Claxton cemetery since she lived with daughter Agnes and the cemetery was literally out the back door.

Claxton Cemetery Hancock Co.

When Anne’s husband Samuel died, where he was buried is open to speculation.  Given that his estate order was filed in Lee County, they were probably not living in Claiborne County, TN (now Hancock County) at that time – but the entire family lived along the Powell River within a few miles of each other and the county and state line was just a detail.

Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman probably had several children but it has been most difficult to ascertain their names.

Further confusing the matter, there are many family members sharing names like Francis and Samuel.  Additionally, the Hancock County records have burned.

A Fifth Samuel

Information provided by another Muncy cousin adds more confusion.  According to “Some Branches of the Workman Family Tree,” by Ralph Hall Sayre, the following are “known issue of Samuel and Anne (Workman) Muncy:”

1. James Muncy, born ca. 1790
2. Thomas Muncy, born ca. 1792
3. Samuel Muncy, born ca. 1798; married Hannah Black [The researcher disagrees with this and feels he married Dicy Spalding.]
4. William Muncy, born ca. 1803; married Peggy Hensley
5. Levi Muncy, born ca. 1808
6. Nancy Muncy, born ca. 1810; married Francis Aldridge
7. Polly Muncy, born ca. 1811; married Henry Davis

Of course, it doesn’t say how they know.  These families are found in Kentucky, with the cousin providing the information descending from Nancy, #6.  She provides this further information.

“Are you aware that Anne Workman’s brother Moses married an Elizabeth Muncy (born ca. 1781) in 1802 Tazewell County, VA? It’s believed Elizabeth was a daughter of Obediah Muncy, and indeed she named her first son Obediah Workman. Moses and Elizabeth Muncy Workman moved to Logan Co. VA. I believe that’s my Samuel Muncy taxed in Tazewell County the same year Moses and Elizabeth married. Samuel was taxed in Tazewell County, VA 1801-4,

Your Samuel and Agnes were already in Lee County by that time. By 1810 my Samuel was taxed in Cabell County, WV (which I believe was a case of new county formation, not a physical move.) By 1819 Samuel was taxed in Floyd Co. KY, apparently living in the area which later became Lawrence Co. KY. By 1822 he appears in the Lawrence County, KY tax lists, where he appears consistently through 1827.

So it appears that as your Samuel and Agnes moved further south and west my Muncy line moved a bit north and west.

I know Nancy Muncy married Francis (Frank) Aldridge who was the son of James and Margaret Muncy Aldridge. I believe, but cannot prove, that Margaret was somehow related to the Samuel Muncy who was living in Cabell County, WV when Margaret’s husband James was convicted of “moonshining.”  This Margaret Muncy Aldridge also appears in the Floyd Co./Lawrence Co. KY records along with Samuel and his oldest sons. As you know, I believe this Lawrence Co. KY Samuel is the one who married Anne Workman. And I also believe this Samuel is the son of Obediah, not Samuel.”

If those are the children of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman, then who is the elderly Nancy Munsey living with Agnes Claxton in 1850 and 1860?  What other Samuel married an Anne of that same age and would name his children, Agnes and Samuel?

Clearly, the Samuel noted above born in 1798 cannot be the son of Samuel (the third) if the Samuel Muncy (the fourth) who lived with the other Muncy group in Lee County on the Hancock County border is Samuel’s son.  If Samuel Muncy (the fourth) is not Samuel (the third)’s son, then why did Cornelius Fitts, his brother-in-law, post bond at Samuel’s death?

Clearly, we have yet a fifth Samuel, also believed to be the Samuel who married Anne Workman.  It’s worth noting here that Lawrence County (where this family is found) and Harlan County (where Samuel Jr. and Agnes Craven’s children settled), although both are in eastern Kentucky, are not adjacent or even close.

eastern kentucky county map

Furthermore, Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman were not having and raising children in Lawrence County, Kentucky while their children in Lee County, VA near the Claiborne County border were being raised and marrying there.  We clearly have two different Samuel Muncys involved and identified as the same person.

The Lee County VA and Hancock County, TN Munseys

The following group of people are found together in Lee and Hancock County and I feel certain they are related to each other. In addition, because Nancy is found with this group in 1850 and 1860 and we have Samuel’s death in 1839, I feel that this group can be none other than the children of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman.  There likely are more children.

Children candidates of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman:

Francis Muncy, born in 1788, married Lovey Randolph about 1809, daughter of Willoughby Randolph and was very active in the Thompson Settlement Baptist church.  Francis was born on February 3, 1788, before Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman obtained their marriage license on June 16th.  On the other hand, Agnes Craven Muncy was nearing 50 years old by that date.  It remains unclear whether Francis was the son or brother to Samuel Muncy (the third).

Francis Munsy’s children, according to the Lee County Settlers Book which used the transcribed Bible, and confirmed through the Thompson Settlement Church records where possible, were:

  • Hannah born 1810 married John Jayne
  • William Joseph Muncy born 1812 married Lucy Jayne
  • Willoughby Randolph Muncy born 1816 married Catharine Jayne
  • James Frances Muncy born 1819 (restored to the church 1842)
  • Sarah Sally Muncy born 1821 married Harvey Thompson about 1840 (Sally Muncy, daughter of Francis received in the church 1842)
  • Mary Polly Muncy born 1824 married James Sims
  • Frances Minerva Muncy born 1826 married James Jayne (received in the church 1842)
  • Andrew Jackson Muncy born 1829
  • Nancy Ann Muncy, unmarried, died 1858 or typhoid
  • Samuel R. Muncy born 1834 married Letitia Hedrick
  • Elizabeth born 1838 married William S. Rollins

James Muncy, born about 1790, according to the census, married Nancy Owens about 1815, bought land from Willoughby Randolph in 1819, was living on Willoughby Randolph’s land in 1822.  In 1845, he, sold that land to Willoughby Muncy, son of Francis Muncy and Lovey Randolph, moving to 4 Mile Creek beside both Sarah Muncy Owens and Agnes Muncy Claxton after 1850.  This family was also active in the Thompson Settlement Church, although eventually withdrew.  In 1850, James was deaf, according to the census.

His known children were, although there were likely more:

  • Ann, born about 1815, had two children in about 1837 and 1840, never married
  • Jeremiah Muncy born in 1827 married Mary before 1850
  • Ellen Jane, born in 1815, married Henry Yeary before 1850 (and lived by Henry Claxton in the 1850 census)
  • John born 1830
  • William born 1832 and married Anna
  • Peter born 1834 married T. Catherine
  • Sarah born 1836 married Martin Brown
  • Ruben born 1838
  • Hannah born 1840 married John Hatfield

Samuel Muncy (the fourth), probably born between 1800 and 1805, married Louisa Fitts who according to the 1850 census was born in 1805 in North Carolina.  They were married in Lee Co., VA about 1825 and after their marriage they became members of the Thompson Settlement Church.  He was received a member the first Saturday in November 1833 and Louisa, the first Saturday in January 1834.  In 1835 Samuel Muncy was appointed a delegate to the Association.

Fitts Gap is very close to the Thompson Settlement Church in Lee County.

Fitts Gap

Samuel Muncy (the fourth) died in 1843-44 and is buried in the Campbell-Curry family burial plot, located near the old Towell Ford of Powell River in Lee county.  A marker has been placed at the grave in recent years without dates.  His youngest son was born in 1844.  Louisa died November 5, 1857 of a fever at the age of 46.

Their children were:

  • Henry Towell Muncy born July 27, 1826 and died December 11, 1893
  • Melinda Muncy born 1829, married Martin Van Buren Wynn
  • William Muncy born 1832, Sallie Muncy born 1833, died 1897, never married
  • Preston Muncy born 1844, married Millie McDaniel.

Henry Towell Muncy, born in 1823, is shown in the photo below, the grandson of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman.

Henry Towell Muncy 1826-1893

William Muncy 1832-1923, below.

William Muncy 1832-1923 crop

These pictures of Henry and William would be the sons of this Samuel Muncy (the fourth) and grandsons of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman.

This stray picture, below, found in the Estes family picture box was labeled Bill Muncy.    Maybe someone can better or positively identify this person.

William Muncy Hancock County TN

Agnes Muncy, born in 1803, married Fairwick Claxton/Clarkson about 1820.  They lived within 5 houses of Sarah Muncy and Jeremiah Owens.

Their children were:

  • James born 1820, married unknown, died 1840-1845
  • Henry Avery Claxton, born 1821, married Nancy Manning, died 1864 Civil War
  • William Claxton born 1815, married Martha Walker and Eliza Manning, died about 1920
  • Samuel Claxton born 1827, married Elizabeth Speak and died in 1876
  • Sally Claxton born 1829, married Robert Shiflet, died 1900
  • Nancy Claxton born 1831-1833, married John Wolfe and died before 1875
  • Rebecca Claxton born 1834 married Calvin Wolfe died 1923
  • John Claxton, born 1840, died 1863 Civil War

Samuel Claxton/Clarkson, below, born in 1827, is the son of Agnes Muncy and Fairwick Claxton, so another grandson of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman.

Samuel Claxton

I think Samuel Claxton looks a lot like Henry Towell Muncy.  They would have been first cousins.

Samuel’s sister, Sally Claxton Shiflet is shown below.

Sarah Clarkson Shiflett

Sarah Muncy, born between 1801 and 1807.  In 1876, William Owens, age 40, testified that he was the nephew of Fairwick Claxton.  James Owens, age 30, testified as well, but did not give his relationship to Fairwick.  William and James Owens are shown in the 1850 census as the children of Sarah and Jeremiah Owens who lived 5 houses from Fairwick Claxton and his wife, Agnes Muncy.  Today, there is an Owen Cemetery within sight of the Clarkson (Cavin) Cemetery where Fairwick is buried and that land sits at the intersection of Owen Ridge Road and River Road.

In 1822, Jeremiah Owens was living on the Willoughby Randolph land with James Muncy.

In 1830 and 1840, the Jeremiah Owens family was in the Lee County census, but by 1850 they were living as neighbors to Agnes Muncy and Fairwick Claxton near Four Mile creek on the Powell River in Hancock County, TN.  The children of Sarah Muncy and Jeremiah Owens, according to the 1850 census, were:

  • Nancy born in 1820
  • Agness born in 1826
  • Louisa born in 1828
  • Mary Ann born in 1829
  • William born in 1835
  • Martha born in 1837
  • Samuel born in 1840
  • Mildred born in 1842
  • James born in 1845

Sarah was born in 1807, according to the census, and was married when she was about 13, so about 1820.  She shows her birth in Tennessee.  In 1860, her birth year is shown as 1801.

Regardless of the relationship of James and Francis to Sarah and Agnes, meaning whether they are brothers or uncles, Sarah and Agnes are confirmed as sisters to each other via the chancery suit testimony.

Sarah’s sons, who gave depositions in the Clarkson/Claxton suit are shown below:

William Owens

James Owens (below) and William Owens (above), grandsons of Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman.  I particularly love the quilt.

James Owens

Samuel Owens, shown below, served in the Civil War for the Union.

samuel owens

It’s fun to look at old photos.  Peter would have been Samuel Muncy’s nephew, so his brother’s child.  The rest of these would have been Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman Muncy’s grandchildren.  Do you see any resemblance?

Can DNA Help?

In this case, there is only one way that I can think of that DNA testing could potentially help.

We have connecting evidence to believe that several people are siblings and descendants of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman, meaning Francis Muncy, Sarah Muncy Owens, Agnes Muncy Claxton, James Muncy and Samuel Muncy (the fourth.).  If this is the case, then some of the DNA of Agnes Craven would have been passed to them if they are descended from her.

In fact, if Agnes was their grandmother, they would have inherited about 25% of her DNA.

Today, I’m several generations downstream of Agnes Muncy Claxton.

Ancestor % of Agnes Craven DNA
Agnes Craven 100
Samuel Muncy (the third) 50
Agnes, Sarah, James, Francis, Samuel (4th) and other children 25
Samuel Claxton 12.5
Margaret Claxton/Clarkson 6.25
Ollie Bolton 3.12
William Sterling Estes 1.56
Me 0.78

If DNA inheritance actually happened at the 50% level in each generation for each segment, which we know it doesn’t, then I would carry under 1% of Agnes’s DNA and it would likely not show up in a large enough total or a large enough segment to be over the vendor matching thresholds.  However, if we have a particularly sticky segment, we might find some of Agnes Craven’s DNA in descendants today.

And you know what…the answer is no if you don’t look.

If we find Craven autosomal DNA, it would confirm that Agnes was the mother of Samuel and not Obediah’s unknown wife, unless she too was a Craven.  Of course, that we’ll never know.

In order to prove the Craven connection, we would actually need to match a descendant of any proven Craven who is not related to the Muncy line on a segment that is shown to come from the Muncy line in the descendants of Agnes, Sarah, James, or Francis.

After looking at the various cousins that might be involved, I found a total of 8 cousins who descend from Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton and Agnes Muncy or Jeremiah and Sarah Muncy Owens.

Of those cousins, Jim matches one Craven descendant who descends from the Craven line upstream of Robert Craven.

However, two cousins from separate children of Fairwick and Agnes both match Larry who descends directly from Robert Craven and Mary Harrison, the parents of Agnes Craven.  Larry has no Muncy or other common ancestry.  His Craven line is shown below:

  • Robert and Mary Harrison Craven
  • William Craven
  • Abigail Craven
  • Thomas Hayes
  • Nicholas Hayes
  • Mary Hayes
  • Flaude Johnson
  • Private
  • Private
  • Tester

The two cousins who descend from Agnes Muncy Claxton are Stacy and Brian.  This is the best possible matching scenario we could have – a descendant of Agnes Craven’s parents and two separate lines from Agnes Claxton.

Stacy is my great-niece, so even though I don’t match Larry, it stands to reason that I’m just not over the threshold, and Stacy is, so I may carry some smaller segments that match both Stacy and Larry.  In other words, the DNA carried by both Stacy and I was provided my by father.

I downloaded Stacy’s matches to me and to Larry, as well as Brian’s matches to Larry.  In this case, we need to triangulate to Larry, the Craven descendant, since he is the only person who matches both Stacy and Brian.

Since Brian doesn’t match either Stacy or me over the Family Tree DNA matching threshold, let’s hope that Larry matches both Stacy and Larry on some segments, making a triangulated group.

Craven Claxton DNA

In the two dark red locations, Larry matches both Stacy and Brian, creating a triangulated group, proving that all three members of this group does share common DNA with the descendant of Robert Craven and Mary Harrison.  Unless we are really unlucky enough that Obediah would have also married a Craven, this proves that Agnes Claxton/Clarkson was a descendant of Agnes Craven.

Note the light red segments that include Stacy, me and Larry.  While these do triangulate, Stacy and I both share a recent ancestor – my father.  The triangulation between Larry and Brian Stacy is much stronger evidence since Brian and Stacy’s common ancestor is Agnes Muncy Clarkson/Claxton.

This was a really long way around the block to prove who Samuel Muncy (the third)’s parents were, by proving who his grandparents were.  Once again, small segments came to our rescue – 8, 9 and 10 generations after our common ancestor.

I tried to do the same thing for Joseph Workman and Phoebe McMahon, Anne Workman’s parents, but I wasn’t as successful at Family Tree DNA.  There are suggestive matches, but nothing conclusive and I haven’t heard back from people about their ancestry.

However, there is a piece of very interesting evidence at

I have two matches with people who descend from Joseph Workman and Phoebe McMahon, all 3 of us through different children.  Neither of my two matches at Ancestry have Muncy DNA nor do they appear to have other lines in common with me.

However, as we know, DNA matches without triangulation are not proof, they are only suggestions of a common ancestral line.

And we also know at Ancestry that there are no chromosome browser tools to prove common DNA segments, so we can never have proof there.

So, we can count these Ancestry matches as pieces of evidence, along with our other evidence, but not as proof.

Samuel Evidence

So, is Agnes Claxton/Clarkson the daughter of Samuel Muncy (the third,) and Anne Workman Muncy, or not?

If so, is Samuel (the third) also the father of Sarah who married Jeremiah Owens, James Muncy who married Nancy Owens, Samuel Muncy (the fourth) who married Louisa Fitts and Francis Muncy who married the daughter of Willoughby Randolph?

I believe the answer to at least some of these questions is yes.

  • We know that Samuel Muncy Jr. and Agnes Craven were in the Wallin Ridge/Powell River area from 1799 through 1811 based on land transactions.
  • We know that Samuel and Agnes sold their land and probably left for Kentucky in 1811 with some of their children. Willoughby Randolph and Francis Muncy witnessed that transaction.  Samuel and Agnes were about age 70 at that time.
  • We know that in 1809 Francis Muncy married Lovey Randolph and by 1815, James Muncy had married Nancy Owens, so it’s very likely that their parents were living in this area at the time.
  • Francis Munsy was born four months before Samuel (the third) and Anne Workman were married, but by the same token, Agnes Craven Munsey would have been about 47 years old , and perhaps older, at the time of his birth.  James was born about 2 years later.
  • We know that slightly before 1820, Sarah Muncy married Jeremiah Owens and Agnes Muncy married Samuel Claxton.  From the 1876 lawsuit, we know that Agnes and Sarah were sisters.
  • In 1819 James Muncy purchased land from Randolph Muncy and in 1822, James Muncy and Jeremiah Owens are living on Willoughly Randolph’s land according to his will.
  • Samuel Muncy (the fourth) married Louisa Fitts about 1825.
  • In 1839 Samuel Muncy dies with James Muncy appointed administrator and Cornelius Fitts posts bond for the estate. Cornelius Fitts is the brother of Louisa Fitts who marries Samuel Muncy (the fourth) who is thought to be the son of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman.
  • In 1845, James Muncy sells his land that be bought from Willoughby Randolph in 1819 to Willoughby Muncy, the son of Francis Muncy who married Lovey Randolph.
  • James Muncy moved in the 1850s from Lee County to very near Sarah Muncy Owens and Agnes Muncy Claxton on Four Mile Creek in Hancock County.
  • In the 1850 and 1860 census, the Jeremiah Owens family and Agnes Claxton along with Nancy Muncy are all living adjacent in Hancock County
  • Nancy Muncy is living with Agnes and Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton in the 1850 and 1860 census. An older woman of the right age to be Nancy is living with them in 1840 as well, which is a year after Samuel died.
  • Sarah Muncy Owens names children Agnes and Samuel. Agnes Muncy Claxton names her son Samuel. There are no Obediah’s in the family line.
  • Robert Craven’s descendants autosomal DNA triangulates with that of two of Agnes Muncy’s descendants, albeit on small segments.
  • I match to two descendants of Anne Workman’s parents, Joseph Workman and Phoebe McMahon at AncestryDNA.  Our matches are via three of their children’s lines.

So, what do you think?

Is Agnes Claxton the daughter of Samuel Muncy (the third) and Anne Workman?

Is Samuel Muncy (the third) who married Anne Workman in 1788 the son of Samuel Muncy Jr. and Agnes Craven or of Obediah Muncy?

Tell me what you think based on the evidence.

A Study Utilizing Small Segment Matching

There has been quite a bit of discussion in the last several weeks, both pro and con, about how to use small matching DNA segments in genetic genealogy.  A couple of people are even of the opinion that small segments can’t be used at all, ever.  Others are less certain and many of us are working our way through various scenarios.  Evidence certainly exists that these segments can be utilized.

I’ve been writing foundation articles, in preparation for this article, for several weeks now.  Recently, I wrote about how phasing works and determining IBD versus IBS matches and included guidelines for telling the difference between the different kinds of matches.  If you haven’t read that article, it’s essential to understanding this article, so now would be a good time to read or review that article.

I followed that with a step by step article, Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching, on how to do phasing and matching in combination with the guidelines about how to determine IBD (identical by descent) versus IBS (identical by chance) and identical by population matches when evaluating your own matches.

Now that we understand IBS, IBD, Phasing and how matching actually works on a case by case basis, let’s look at applying those same matching and IBS vs IBD guidelines to small data segments as well.

A Little History

So those of you who haven’t been following the discussion on various blogs and social media don’t feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a conversation with no context, let me catch you up.

On Thanksgiving Day, I published an article about identifying one of my ancestors, after many years of trying, Sarah Hickerson.

That article spurred debate, which is just fine when the debate is about the science, but it subsequently devolved into something less pleasant.  There are some individuals with very strong opinions that utilizing small segments of DNA data can “never be done.”

I do not agree with that position.  In fact, I strongly disagree and there are multiple cases with evidence to support small segments being both accurate and useful in specific types of genealogical situations.  We’ll take a look at several.

I do agree that looking at small segment data out of context is useless.  To the best of my knowledge, no genealogist begins with their smallest segments and tries to assemble them, working from the bottom up.  We all begin with the largest segments, because they are the most useful and the closest connections in our tree, and work our way down.  Generally, we only work with small segments when we have to – and there are times that’s all we have.  So we need to establish guidelines and ways to know if those small segments are reliable or not.  In other words, how can we draw conclusions and how much confidence can we put in those conclusions?

Ultimately, whether you choose to use or work with small segment data will be your own decision, based on your own circumstances.  I simply wanted to understand what is possible and what is reasonable, both for my own genealogy and for my readers.

In my projects, I haven’t been using small segment data out of context, or randomly.  In other words, I don’t just pick any two small segment matches and infer or decide that they are valid matches.  Fortunately, by utilizing the IBD vs IBS guidelines, we have tools to differentiate IBD (Identical by Descent) segments from IBS (Identical by State) by chance segments and IBD/IBS by population for matching segments, both large and small.

Studying small segment data is the key to determining exactly how small segments can reasonably be utilized.  This topic probably isn’t black or white, but shades of gray – and assuming the position that something can’t be done simply assures that it won’t be.

I would strongly encourage those involved and interested in this type of research to retain those small segments, work with them and begin to look for patterns.  The only way we, as a community, are ever going to figure out how to work with small segments successfully and reliably is to, well, work with them.

Discussing the science and scenarios surrounding the usage of small data segments in various different situations is critical to seeing our way through the forest.  If the answers were cast in concrete about how to do this, we wouldn’t be working through this publicly today.

Negative personal comments and inferences have no place in the scientific community.  It discourages others from participating, and serves to stifle research and cooperation, not encourage it.  I hope that civil scientific discussions and comparisons involving small segment data can move forward, with decorum, because they are critically needed in order to enhance our understanding, under varying circumstances, of how to utilize small segment data.  As Judy Russell said, disagreeing doesn’t have to be disagreeable.

Two bloggers, Blaine Bettinger and CeCe Moore wrote articles following my Hickerson article.  Blaine subsequently wrote a second article here.  Felix Immanuel wrote articles here and here.

A few others have weighed in, in writing, as well although most commentary has been on Facebook.  Israel Pickholtz, a professional genealogist and genetic consultant, stated on his blog, All My Foreparents, the following:

It is my nature to distrust rules that put everything into a single category and that’s how I feel about small segments. Sometimes they are meaningful and useful, sometimes not.

When I reconstructed my father’s DNA using Lazerus (described last week in Genes From My Father), I happily accepted all small segments of whatever size because those small segments were in the DNA of at least one of his children and at least one of his brother/sister/first cousin. If I have a particular small segment, I must have received it from my parents. If my father’s brother (or sister) has it as well, then it is eminently clear to me that I got it from my father and that it came to him and his brother from my grandfather. And it is not reasonable to say that a sliver of that small segment might have come from my mother, because my father’s people share it.

After seeing Israel’s commentary about Lazarus, I reconstructed the genome of both Roscoe and John Ferverda, brothers, which includes both large and small segments.  Working with the Ferverda DNA further, I wrote an article, Just One Cousin, about matching between two siblings and a first cousin, which includes lots of small data segments, some of which were proven to triangulate, meaning they are genuine, and some which did not.  There are lots more examples in the demystifying article, as well.

What Not To Do 

Before we begin, I want to make it very clear that am not now, and never have, advocated that people utilize small data segments out of context of larger matching segments and/or at least suspected matching genealogy.  For example, I have never implied or even hinted that anyone should go to GedMatch, do a “one to many” compare at 1 cM and then contact people informing them that they are related.  Anyone who has extrapolated what I’ve written to mean that either simply did not understand or intentionally misinterpreted the articles.

Sarah Hickerson Revisited

If I thought Sarah Hickerson caused me a lot of heartburn in the decades before I found her, little did I know how much heartburn that discovery would cause.

Let’s go back to the Sarah Hickerson article that started the uproar over whether small data segments are useful at all.

In that article, I found I was a member of a new Ancestry DNA Circle for Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, the parents of Sarah Hickerson.

Ancestry Hickerson match

Because there are no tools at Ancestry to prove DNA connections, I hurried over to Family Tree DNA looking for any matches to Hickersons for myself and for my Vannoy cousins who also (potentially) descended from this couple.  Much to my delight, I found  several matches to Hickersons, in fact, more than 20 – a total of 614 rows of spreadsheet matches when I included all of my Vannoy cousins who potentially descend from this couple to their Hickerson matches.  There were 64 matching clusters of segments, both small and large.  Some matches were as large as 20cM with 6000 SNPs and more than 20 were over 10cM with from 1500 to 6000 SNPs.  There were also hundreds of small segments that matched (and triangulated) as well.

By the time I added in a few more Vannoy cousins that we’ve since recruited, the spreadsheet is now up to 1093 rows and we have 52 Vannoy-Hickerson TRIANGULATED CLUSTERS utilizing only Family Tree DNA tools.

Triangulated DNA, found in 3 or more people at the same location who share a common ancestor is proven to be from that ancestor (or ancestral couple.)  This is the commonly accepted gold standard of autosomal DNA triangulation within the industry.

Here’s just one example of a cluster of three people.  Charlene and Buster are known (proven, triangulated) cousins and Barbara is a descendant of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

example triang

What more could you want?

Yes, I called this a match.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s a confirmed ancestor.  How much more confirmed can you get?

Some clusters have as many as 25 confirmed triangulated members.

chr 13 group

Others took issue with this conclusion because it included small segment data.  This seems like the perfect opportunity in which to take a look at how small segments do, or don’t stand up to scrutiny.  So, let’s do just that.  I also did the same type of matching comparison in a situation with 2 siblings and a known cousin, here.

To Trash…or Not To Trash

Some genetic genealogists discard small segments entirely, generally under either 5 or 7cM, which I find unfortunate for several reasons.

  1. If a person doesn’t work with small segments, they really can’t comment on the lack of results, and they’ll never have a success because the small segments will have been discarded.
  2. If a person doesn’t work with small segments, they will never notice any trends or matches that may have implications for their ancestry.
  3. If a person doesn’t work with small segments, they can’t contribute to the body of evidence for how to reasonably utilize these segments.
  4. If a person doesn’t work with small segments, they may well be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but they’ll never know.
  5. They encourage others to do the same.

The Sarah Hickerson article was not meant as a proof article for anything – it was meant to be an article encouraging people to utilize genetic genealogy for not only finding their ancestor and proving known connections, but breaking down brick walls.  It was pointing the way to how I found Sarah Hickerson.  It was one of my 52 Ancestors Series, documenting my ancestors, not one of the specifically educational articles.  This article is different.

If you are only interested in the low hanging fruit, meaning within the past 5 or 6 generations, and only proving your known pedigree, not finding new ancestors beyond that 5-6 generation level, then you can just stop reading now – and you can throw away your small segments.  But if you want more, then keep reading, because we as a community need to work with small segment data in order to establish guidelines that work relative to utilizing small segments and identifying the small segments that can be useful, versus the ones that aren’t.

I do not believe for one minute that small segments are universally useless.  As Israel said, if his family did not receive those segments from a common family member, then where did they all get those matching segments?

In fact, utilizing triangulated and proven DNA relationships within families is how adoptees piece together their family trees, piggybacking off of the work of people with known pedigrees that they match genetically.  My assumption had been that the adoptee community utilized only large DNA segments, because the larger the matching segments, generally the closer in time the genealogy match – and theoretically the easier to find.

However, I discovered that I was wrong, and the adoptee community does in fact utilize small segments as well.  Here’s one of the comments posted on my Chromosome Browser War blog article.

“Thanks for the well thought out article, Roberta, I have something to add from the folks at DNAadoption. Adoptees are not just interested in the large segments, the small segments also build the proof of the numerous lines involved. In addition, the accumulation of surnames from all the matches provides a way to evaluate new lines that join into the tree.”

Diane Harman-Hoog (on behalf of the 6 million adoptees in this country, many of who are looking for information on medical records and family heritage).

Diane isn’t the only person who is working with small segment data.  Tim Janzen works with small segments, in particular on his Mennonite project, and discusses small segments on the ISOGG WIKI Phasing page.  Here is what Tim has to say:

“One advantage of Family Finder is that FF has a 1 cM threshold for matching segments. If a parent and a child both have a matching segment that is in the 2 to 5 cM range and if the number of matching SNPs is 500 or more then there is a reasonably high likelihood that the matching segment is IBD (identical by descent) and not IBS (identical by state).”

The same rules for utilizing larger segment data need to be applied to small segment data to begin with.

Are more guidelines needed for small segments?  I don’t know, but we’ll never know if we don’t work with many individual situations and find the common methods for success and identify any problematic areas.

Why Do Small Segments Matter?

In some cases, especially as we work beyond the 6 generation level, small segments may be all we have left of a specific ancestor.  If we don’t learn to recognize and utilize the small segments available to us, those ancestors, genetically speaking, will be lost to us forever.

As we move back in time, the DNA from more distant ancestors will be divided into smaller and smaller segments, so if we ever want the ability to identify and track those segments back in time to a specific ancestor, we have to learn how to utilize small segment data – and if we have deleted that data, then we can’t use it.

In my case, I have identified all of my 5th generation ancestors except one, and I have a strong lead on her.  In my 6th generation, however, I have lots of walls that need to be broken through – and DNA may be the only way I’ll ever do that.

Let’s take a look at what I can expect when trying to match people who also descend from an ancestor 5 generations back in time.  If they are my same generation, they would be my fourth cousins.

Based on the autosomal statistics chart at ISOGG, 4th cousins, on the average, would expect to share about 13.28 cM of DNA from their common ancestor.  This would not be over the match threshold at FTDNA of approximately 20 cM total, and if those segments were broken into three pieces, for example, that cousin would not show as a match at either FTDNA or 23andMe, based on the vendors’ respective thresholds.

% Shared DNA Expected Shared cM Relationship
0.781% 53.13 Third cousins, common ancestor is 4 generations back in time
0.391% 26.56 Third cousins once removed
20 cm Family Tree DNA total cM Threshold
0.195% 13.28 Fourth cousins, common ancestor is 5 generations back in time
7 cM 23andMe individual segment cM match threshold
0.0977% 6.64 Fourth cousins once removed
0.0488% 3.32 Fifth cousins, common ancestor is 6 generations back in time
0.0244 1.66 Fifth cousins once removed

If you’re lucky, as I was with Hickerson, you’ll match at least some relative who carries that ancestral DNA line above the threshold, and then they’ll match other cousins above the threshold, and you can build a comparison network, linking people together, in that fashion.  And yes you may well have to utilize GedMatch for people testing at various different vendors and for those smaller segment comparisons.

For clarification, I have never “called” a genealogy match without supporting large segment data.  At the vendors, you can’t even see matches if they don’t have larger segments – so there is no way to even know you would match below the threshold.

I do think that we may be able to make calls based on small segments, at least in some instances, in the future.  In fact, we have to figure out how to do this or we will rarely be able to move past the 5th or 6th generation utilizing genetics.

At the 5th generation, or third cousins, one expects to see approximately 26 cM of matching DNA, still over the threshold (if divided correctly), but from that point further back in time, the expected shared amount of DNA is under the current day threshold.  For those who wonder why the vendors state that autosomal matches are reliable to about the 5th or 6th generation, this is the answer.

I do not discount small segments without cause.  In other words, I don’t discount small segments unless there is a reason.  Unless they are positively IBS by chance, meaning false, and I can prove it, I don’t disregard them.  I do label them and make appropriate notes.  You can’t learn from what’s not there.

Let me give you an example.  I have one area of my spreadsheet where I have a whole lot of segments, large and small, labeled Acadian.  Why?  Because the Acadians are so intermarried that I can’t begin to sort out the actual ancestor that DNA came from, at least not yet…so today, I just label them “Acadian.”

This example row is from my master spreadsheet.  I have my Mom’s results in my spreadsheet, so I can see easily if someone matches me and Mom both. My rows are pink.  The match is on Mom’s side, which I’ve color coded purple.  I don’t know which ancestor is the most recent common ancestor, but based on the surnames involved, I know they are Acadian.  In some cases, on Acadian matches, I can tell the MRCA and if so, that field is completed as well.

Me Mom acadian

As a note of interest, I inherited my mother’s segment intact, so there was no 50% division in this generation.

I also have segments labeled Mennonite and Brethren.  Perhaps in the future I’ll sort through these matches and actually be able to assign DNA segments to specific ancestors.  Those segments aren’t useless, they just aren’t yet fully analyzed.  As more people test, hopefully, patterns will emerge in many of these DNA groupings, both small and large.

In fact, I talked about DNA patterns and endogamous populations in my recent article, Just One Cousin.

For me, today, some small segment matches appear to be central European matches.  I say “appear to be,” because they are not triangulated.  For me this is rather boring and nondescript – but if this were my African American client who is trying to figure out which line her European ancestry came from, this could be very important.  Maybe she can map these segments to at least a specific ancestral line, which she would find very exciting.

Learning to use small segments effectively has the potential to benefit the following groups of people:

  • People with colonial ancestry, because all that may be left today of colonial ancestors is small segments.
  • People looking to break down brick walls, not just confirm currently known ancestors.
  • People looking for minority ancestors more than 5 or 6 generations back in their trees.
  • Adoptees – although very clearly, they want to work with the largest matches first.
  • People working with ethnic identification of ancestors, because you will eventually be able to track ethnicity identifying segments back in time to the originating ancestor(s).

Conversely, people from highly endogamous groups may not be helped much, if at all, by small segments because they are so likely to be widely shared within that population as a group from a common ancestor much further back in time.  In fact, the definition of a “small segment” for people with fully endogamous families might be much larger than for someone with no known endogamy.

However, if we can identify segments to specific populations, that may help the future accuracy of ethnicity testing.

Let’s go back and take a look at the Hickerson data using the same format we have been using for the comparisons so far.

Small Segment Examples

These Hickerson/Vannoy examples do not utilize random small segment matches, but are utilizing the same matching rules used for larger matches in conjunction with known, triangulated cousin groups from a known ancestor.  Many cousins, including 2 brothers and their uncle all carry this same DNA.  Like in Israel’s case, where did they get that same DNA if not from a common ancestor?

In the following examples, I want to stress that all of the people involved DO HAVE LARGER SEGMENT MATCHES on other chromosomes, which is how we knew they matched in the first place, so we aren’t trying to prove they are a match.  We know they are.  Our goal is to determine if small segments are useful in the same situation, proving matches, as with larger segments.  In other words, do the rules hold true?  And how do we work with the data?  Could we utilize these small segment matches if we didn’t have larger matching segments, and if so, how reliable would they be?

There is a difference between a single match and a triangulated group:

  • Matches between two people are suggestive of a common ancestor but could be IBS by chance or population..
  • Multiple matches, such as with the 6 different Hickersons who descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, both in the Ancestry DNA Circle and at Family Tree DNA, are extremely suggestive of a specific common ancestor.
  • Only triangulated groups are proof of a common ancestor, unless the people are  closely related known relatives.

In our Hickerson/Vannoy study, all participants match at least to one other (but not to all other) group members at Family Tree DNA which means they match over the FTDNA threshold of approximately 20 cM total and at least one segment over 7.7cM and 500 SNPs or more.

In the example below, from the Hickerson article, the known Vannoy cousins are on the left side and the Hickerson matches to the Vannoy cousins are across the top.  We have several more now, but this gives you an idea of how the matching stacked up initially.  The two green individuals were proven descendants from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

vannoy hickerson higginson matrix

The goal here is to see how small data segments stack up in a situation where the relationship is distant.  Can small segments be utilized to prove triangulation?  This is slightly different than in the Just One Cousin article, where the relationship between the individuals was close and previously known.  We can contrast the results of that close relationship and small segments with this more distant connection and small segments.

Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy

The Vannoy project has a group of about a dozen cousins who descend from Elijah Vannoy who have worked together to discover the identify of Elijah’s parents.  Elijah’s father is one of 4 Vannoy men, all sons of the same man, found in Wilkes County, NC. in the late 1700s.  Elijah Vannoy is 5 generations upstream from me.

What kind of evidence do we have?  In the paper genealogy world, I have ruled out one candidate via a Bible record, and probably a second via census and tax records, but we have little information about the third and fourth candidates – in spite of thoroughly perusing all existent records.  So, if we’re ever going to solve the mystery, short of that much-wished-for Vannoy Bible showing up on e-Bay, it’s going to have to be via genetic genealogy.

In addition to the dozen or so Vannoy cousins who have DNA tested, we found 6 individuals who descend from Sarah Hickerson’s parents, Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle who match various Vannoy cousins.  Additionally, those cousins match another 21 individuals who carry the Hickerson or derivative surnames, but since we have not proven their Hickerson lineage on paper, I have not utilized any of those additional matches in this analysis.  Of those 26 total matches, at Family Tree DNA, one Hickerson individual matches 3 Vannoy cousins, nine Hickerson descendants match 2 Vannoy cousins and sixteen Hickerson descendants match 1 Vannoy cousin.

Our group of Vannoy cousins matching to the 6 Charles Hickerson/Mary Lytle descendants contains over 60 different clusters of matching DNA data across the 22 chromosomes.  Those 6 individuals are included in 43 different triangulated groups, proving the entire triangulation group shares a common ancestor.  And that is BEFORE we add any GedMatch information.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s not.  Another recent article found 31 clusters among siblings and their first cousin, so 60 clusters among a dozen known Vannoy cousins and half a dozen potential Hickerson cousins isn’t unusual at all.

To be very clear, Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy were not “declared” to be the parents of Elijah Vannoy, born in 1784, based on small segment matches alone.  Larger segment matches were involved, which is how we saw the matches in the first place.  Furthermore, the matches triangulated.  However, small segments certainly are involved and are more prevalent, of course, than large segments.  Some cousins are only connected by small segments.  Are they valid, and how do we tell?  Sometimes it’s all we have.

Let me give you the classic example of when small segments are needed.

We have four people.  Person A and B are known Vannoy cousins and person C and D are potential Hickerson cousins.  Potential means, in this case, potential cousins to the Vannoys.  The Hickersons already know they both descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

  • Person A matches person C on chromosome 1 over the matching threshold.
  • Person B matches person D on chromosome 2 over the matching threshold.

Both Vannoy cousins match Hickerson cousins, but not the same cousin and not on the same segments at the vendor.  If these were same segment matches, there would be no question because they would be triangulated, but they aren’t.

So, what do we do?  We don’t have access to see if person C and D match each other, and even if we did, they don’t match on the same segments where they match persons A and B, because if they did we’d see them as a match too when we view A and B.

If person A and B don’t match each other at the vendor, we’re flat out of luck and have to move this entire operation to GedMatch, assuming all 4 people have or are willing to download their data.

a and b nomatch

If person A and B match each other at the vendor, we can see their small segment data as compared to each other and to persons C and D, respectively which then gives us the ability to see if A matches C on the same small segment as B matches D.

a and b match

If we are lucky, they will all show a common match on a small segment – meaning that A will match B on a small segment of chromosome 3, for example, and A will match C on that same segment.  In a perfect world, B will also match D on that same segment, and you will have 4 way triangulation – but I’m happy with the required 3 way match to triangulate.

This is exactly what happened in the article, Be Still My H(e)art.  As you can see, three people match on chromosomes 1 and 8, below – two of whom are proven cousins and the third was the wife surname candidate line.

Younger Hart 1-8

The example I showed of chromosome 2 in the Hickerson article was where all participants of the 5 individuals shown on the chromosome browser were matching to the Vannoy participant.  I thought it was a good visual example.  It was just one example of the 60+ clusters of cousin matches between the dozen Vannoy cousins and 6 Hickerson descendants.

This example was criticized by some because it was a small segment match.  I should probably have utilized chromosome 15 or searched for a better long segment example, but the point in my article was only to show how people that match stack up together on the chromosome browser – nothing more.   Here’s the entire chromosome, for clarity.

hickerson vannoy chr 2

Certainly, I don’t want to mislead anyone, including myself.  Furthermore, I dislike being publicly characterized as “wrong” and worse yet, labeled “irresponsible,” so I decided to delve into the depths of the data and work through several different examples to see if small segment data matching holds in various situations.  Let’s see what we found.

Chromosome 15

I selected chromosome 15 to work with because it is a region where a lot of Vannoy descendants match – and because it is a relatively large segment.  If the Hickersons do match the Vannoys, there’s a fairly good change they might match on at least part of that segment.  In other words, it appears to be my best bet due to sheer size and the number of Elijah Vannoy’s descendants who carry this segment.  In addition to the 6 individuals above who matched on chromosome 15, here are an additional 4.  As you can see, chromosome 15 has a lot of potential.

Chrom 15 Vannoy

The spreadsheet below shows the sections of chromosome 15 where cousins match.  Green individuals in the Match column are descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, the parents of Sarah Hickerson.  The balance are Vannoys who match on chromosome 15.

chr 15 matches ftdna v4

As you can see, there are several segments that are quite large, shown in yellow, but there are also many that are under the threshold of 7cM, which are all  segments that would be deleted if you are deleting small segments.  Please also note that if you were deleting small segments, all of the Hickerson matches would be gone from chromosome 15.

Those of you with an eagle eye will already notice that we have two separate segments that have triangulated between the Vannoy cousins and the Hickerson descendants, noted in the left column by yellow and beige.  So really, we could stop right here, because we’ve proven the relationship, but there’s a lot more to learn, so let’s go on.

You Can’t Use What You Can’t See

I need to point something out at this point that is extremely important.

The only reason we see any segment data below the match threshold is because once you match someone on a larger segment at Family Tree DNA, over the threshold, you also get to view the small segment data down to 1cM for your match with that person. 

What this means is that if one person or two people match a Hickerson descendant, for example you will see the small segment data for their individual matches, but not for anyone that doesn’t match the participant over the matching threshold.

What that means in the spreadsheet above, is that the only Hickerson that matches more than one Vannoy (on this segment) is Barbara – so we can see her segment data (down to 1cM ) as compared to Polly and Buster, but not to anyone else.

If we could see the smaller segment data of the other participants as compared to the Hickerson participants, even though they don’t match on a larger segment over the matching threshold, there could potentially be a lot of small segment data that would match – and therefore triangulate on this segment.

This is the perfect example of why I’ve suggested to Family Tree DNA that within projects or in individuals situations, that we be allowed to reduce the match threshold – especially when a specific family line match is suspected.

This is also one of the reasons why people turn to GedMatch, and we’ll do that as well.

What this means, relative to the spreadsheet is that it is, unfortunately, woefully incomplete – and it’s not apples to apples because in some cases we have data under the match threshold, and in some, we don’t.  So, matches DO count, but nonmatches where small segment data is not available do NOT count as a non-match, or as disproof.  It’s only negative proof IF you have the data AND it doesn’t match.

The Vannoys match and triangulate on many segments, so those are irrelevant to this discussion other than when they match to Hickerson DNA.  William (H), descends from two sons of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  Unfortunately, he only matches one Vannoy, so we can only see his small segments for that one Vannoy individual, William (V).  We don’t know what we are missing as compared to the rest of the Vannoy cousins.

To see William (H)’s and William (V)’s DNA as compared to the rest of the Vannoy cousins, we had to move to GedMatch.

Matching Options

Since we are working with segments that are proven to be Vannoy, and we are trying to prove/disprove if Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson are the parents of Elijah through multiple Hickerson matches, there are only a few matching options, which are:

  1. The Hickerson individuals will not triangulate with any of the Vannoy DNA, on chromosome 15 or on other chromosomes, meaning that Sarah Hickerson is probably not the mother of Elijah Vannoy, or the common ancestor is too far back in time to discern that match at vendor thresholds.
  2. The Hickerson individuals will not triangulate on this segment, but do triangulate on other segments, meaning that this segment came entirely from the Vannoy side of the family and not the Hickerson side of the family. Therefore, if chromosome 15 does not triangulate, we need to look at other chromosomes.
  3. The Hickerson individuals triangulate with the Vannoy individuals, confirming that Sarah Hickerson is the mother of Elijah Vannoy, or that there is a different common unknown ancestor someplace upstream of several Hickersons and Vannoys.

All of the Vannoy cousins descend from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel, except one, William (V), who descends from the proven son of Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy, so he would be expected to match at least some Hickerson descendants.  The 6 Hickerson cousins descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, Sarah’s parents.

hickerson vannoy pedigree

William (H), the Hickerson cousin who descends from David, brother to Sarah Hickerson, is descended through two of David Hickerson’s sons.

I decided to utilize the same segment “mapping comparison” technique with a spreadsheet that I utilized in the phasing article, because it’s easy to see and visualize.

I have created a matching spreadsheet and labeled the locations on the spreadsheet from 25-100 based on the beginning of the start location of the cluster of matches and the end location of the cluster.

Each individual being compared on the spreadsheet below has a column across the top.  On the chart below, all Hickerson individuals are to the right and are shown with their cells highlighted yellow in the top row.

Below, the entire colorized chart of chromosome 15 is shown, beginning with location 25 and ending with 100, in the left hand column, the area of the Vannoy overlap.  Remember, you can double click on the graphics to enlarge.  The columns in this spreadsheet are not fully expanded below, but they are in the individual examples.

entire chr 15 match ss v4

I am going to step through this spreadsheet, and point out several aspects.

First, I selected Buster, the individual in the group to begin the comparison, because he was one of the closest to the common ancestor, Elijah Vannoy, genealogically, at 4 generations.  So he is the person at Family Tree DNA that everyone is initially compared against.

Everyone who matches Buster has their matching segments shown in blue.  Buster is shown furthest left.

When participants match someone other than Buster, who they match on that segment is typed into their column.  You can tell who Buster matches because their columns are blue on matching locations.  Here’s an example.

Me Buster match

You can see that in my column, it’s blue on all segments which means I match Buster on this entire region.  In addition, there are names of Carl, Dean, William Gedmatch and Billie Gedmatch typed into the cell in the first row which means at that location, in addition to Buster, I also match Carl and Dean at Family Tree DNA and William (descended from the son of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson) at Gedmatch and Billie (a Hickerson) at Gedmatch.  Their name is typed into my column, and mine into theirs.  Please note that I did not run everyone against everyone at GedMatch.  I only needed enough data to prove the point and running many comparisons is a long, arduous process even when GedMatch isn’t experiencing problems.

On cells that aren’t colorized blue, the person doesn’t match Buster, but may still match other Vannoy cousin segments.  For example, Dean, below, matches Buster on location 25-29, along with some other cousins.  However, he does not match Buster on location 30 where he instead matches Harold and Carl who also don’t match Buster at that location. Harold, Carl and Dean do, however, all descend from the same son of Elijah so they may well be sharing DNA from a Vannoy wife at this location, especially since no one who doesn’t share that specific wife’s line matches those three at this location.

Me Buster Dean match

Remember, we are not working with random small data segments, but with a proven matching segment to a common Vannoy ancestor, with a group of descendants from a possible/probable Hickerson ancestor that we are trying to prove/disprove.  In other words, you would expect either a lot of Hickerson matches on the same segments, if Hickerson is indeed a Vannoy ancestral family, or virtually none of them to match, if not.

The next thing I’d like to point out is that these are small segments of people who also have larger matching segments, many of whom do triangulate on larger segments on other chromosomes.  What we are trying to discern is whether small segment matches can be utilized by employing the same matching criteria as large segment matching.  In other words, is small segment data valid and useful if it meets the criteria for an IBD match?

For example, let’s look at Daniel.  Daniel’s segments on chromosome 15, were it not for the fact that he matches on larger segments on other chromosomes, would not be shown as matches, because they are not individually over the match threshold.

Look at Daniel’s column for Polly and Warren.

Daniel matches 2

The segments in red show a triangulated group where Daniel and Warren, or Daniel, Warren and Polly match.  The segments where all 3 match are triangulated.

This proves, unquestionably, that small segments DO match utilizing the normal prescribed IBD matching criteria.  This spreadsheet, just for chromosome 15, is full of these examples.

Is there any reason to think that these triangulated matches are not identical by descent?  If they are not IBD, how do all of these people match the same DNA? Chance alone?  How would that be possible?  Two people, yes, maybe, but 3 or more?  In some cases, 5 or 6 on the same segment?  That is simply not possible, or we have disproven the entire foundation that autosomal DNA matching is based upon.

The question will soon be asked if small segments that triangulate can be useful when there are no larger matching segments to put the match over the initial vendor threshold.

Triangulated Groups

As you can see, most of the people and segments on the spreadsheet, certainly the Elijah descendants, are heavily triangulated, meaning that three or more people match each other on the same locations.  Most of this matching is over the vendor threshold at Family Tree DNA.

You can see that Buster, Me, Dean, Carl and Harold all match each other on the same segments, on the left half of the spreadsheet where our names are in each other’s columns.

triangulated groups

Remember when I said that the spreadsheet was incomplete?  This is an example.  David and Warren don’t match each other at a high enough total of segments to get them over the matching threshold when compared to each other, so we can’t see their small segment data as compared to each other.  David matches Buster, but Warren doesn’t, so I can’t even see them both in relationship to a common match.  There are several people who fall into this category.

Let’s select one individual to use as an example.

I’ve chosen the Vannoy cousin, William(V), because his kit has been uploaded to Gedmatch, he has Vannoy matches and because William is proven to descend from Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy through their son Joel – so we expect some Hickerson DNA to match William(V).

If William (V) matches the Hickersons on the same DNA locations as he matches to Elijah’s descendants, then that proves that Elijah’s descendant’s DNA in that location is Hickerson DNA.

At GedMatch, I compared William(V) with me and then with Dean using a “one to one” comparison at a low threshold, simply because I wanted as much data as I could get.  Family Tree DNA allows for 1 cM and I did the same, allowing 100 SNPs at GedMatch.  Family Tree DNA’s lowest SNP threshold is 500.

In case you were wondering, even though I did lower the GedMatch threshold below the FTDNA minimum, there were 45 segments that were above 1cM and above 500 SNPs when matching me to William(V), which would have been above the lowest match threshold at FTDNA (assuming we were over the initial match threshold.)  In other words, had we not been below the original match threshold (20cM total, one segment over 7.7cM), these segments would have been included at FTDNA as small segments.  As you can see in the chart below, many triangulated.

I colorized the GedMatch matches, where there were no FTDNA matches, in dark red text.  This illustrates graphically just how much is missed when the small segments are ignored in cases with known or probable cousins.  In the green area, the entry that says “Me GedMatch” could not be colorized red (because you can’t colorize only part of the text of a cell) so I added the Gedmatch designation to differentiate between a match through FTDNA and one from GedMatch.  I did the same with all Gedmatch matches, whether colorized or not.

Let’s take a look and see how small segments from GedMatch affect our Hickerson matching.  Note that in the green area, William (V) matches William (H), the Hickerson descendant, and William (V) matches to me and Dean as well.  This triangulates William (V)’s Hickerson DNA and proves that Elijah’s descendants DNA includes proven Hickerson segments.

William (V) gedmatch matches v2

In this next example, I matched William (H), the Hickerson cousin (with no Vannoy heritage) against both Buster and me.

William (H) gedmatch me buster

Without Gedmatch data, only two segments of chromosome 15 are triangulated between Vannoy and Hickerson cousins, because we can’t see the small data segments of the rest of the cousins who don’t match over the threshold.

You can see here that nearly the entire chromosome is triangulated using small segments.  In the chart below, you can see both William(V) and William (H) as they match various Vannoy cousins.  Both triangulate with me.

William V and William H

I did the same thing with the Hickerson descendant, Billie, as compared to both me and Dean, with the same type of results.

The next question would be if chromosome 15 is a pileup area where I have a lot of IBS matches that are really population based matches.  It does not appear to be.  I have identified an area of my chromosomes that may be a pileup area, but chromosome 15 does not carry any of those characteristics.

So by utilizing the small segments at GedMatch for chromosome 15 that we can’t otherwise see, we can triangulate at least some of the Hickerson matches.  I can’t complete this chart, because several individuals have not uploaded to GedMatch.

Why would the Hickerson descendant match so many of the Vannoy segments on chromosome 15?  Because this is not a random sample.  This is a proven Vannoy segment and we are trying to see which parts of this segment are from a potential Hickerson mother or the Vannoy father.  If from the Hickerson mother, then this level of matching is not unexpected.  In fact, it would be expected.  Since we cheated and saw that chromosome 15 was already triangulated at Family Tree DNA, we already knew what to expect.

In the spreadsheet below, I’ve added the 2 GedMatch comparisons, William (V) to me and Dean, and William (H) to me and Buster.  You can see the segments that triangulate, on the left.  We could also build “triangulated groups,” like GedMatch does.  I started to do this, but then stopped because I realized most cells would be colored and you’d have a hard time seeing the individual triangulated segments.  I shifted to triangulating only the individuals who triangulate directly with the Hickerson descendant, William(H), shown in green.  GedMatch data is shown in red.

chr 15 with gedmatch

I would like to make three points.

1.  This still is not a complete spreadsheet where everyone is compared to everyone.  This was selectively compared for two known Hickerson cousins, William (V) who descends from both Vannoys and Hickersos and William (H) who descends only from Hickersons.

2. There are 25 individually triangulated segments to the Hickerson descendant on just this chromosome to the various Vannoy cousins.  That’s proof times 25 to just one Hickerson cousin.

3.  I would NEVER suggest that you select one set of small segments and base a decision on that alone.  This entire exercise has assembled cumulative evidence.  By the same token, if the rules for segment matching hold up under the worst circumstances, where we have an unknown but suspected relationship and the small segments appear to continue to follow the triangulation rules, they could be expected to remain true in much more favorable circumstances.

Might any of these people have random DNA matches that are truly IBS by chance on chromosome 15?  Of course, but the matching rules, just like for larger segments, eliminates them.  According to triangulation rules, if they are IBS by chance, they won’t triangulate.  If they do triangulate, that would confirm that they received the same DNA from a common ancestor.

If this is not true, and they did not receive their common DNA from a common ancestor, then it disproves the fundamental matching rule upon which all autosomal DNA genetic genealogy is based and we all need to throw in the towel and just go and do something else.

Is there some grey area someplace?  I would presume so,  but at this point, I don’t know how to discern or define it, if there is.  I’ve done three in-depth studies on three different families over the past 6 weeks or so, and I’ve yet to find an area (except for endogamous populations that have matches by population) where the guidelines are problematic.  Other researchers may certainly make different discoveries as they do the same kind of studies.  There is always more to be discovered, so we need to keep an open mind.

In this situation, it helps a lot that the Hickerson/Vannoy descendants match and triangulate on larger segments on other chromosomes.  This study was specifically to see if smaller segments would triangulate and obey the rules. We were fortunate to have such a large, apparently “sticky” segment of Vannoy DNA on chromosome 15 to work with.

Does small segment matching matter in most cases, especially when you have larger segments to utilize?  Probably not. Use the largest segments first.  But in some cases, like where you are trying to prove an ancestor who was born in the 1700s, you may desperately need that small segment data in order to triangulate between three people.

Why is this important – critically important?  Because if small segments obey all of the triangulation rules when larger segments are available to “prove” the match, then there is no reason that they couldn’t be utilized, using the same rules of IBD/IBS, when larger segments are not available.  We saw this in Just One Cousin as well.

However, in terms of proof of concept, I don’t know what better proof could possibly be offered, within the standard genetic genealogy proofs where IBD/IBS guidelines are utilized as described in the Phasing article.  Additional examples of small segment proof by triangulation are offered in Just One Cousin, Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again, and in Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching.

Raising Elijah Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson from the Dead

As I thought more about this situation, I realized that I was doing an awful lot of spreadsheet heavy lifting when a tool might already be available.  In fact, Israel’s mention of Lazarus made me wonder if there was a way to apply this tool to the situation at hand.

I decided to take a look at the Lazarus tool and here is what the intro said:

Generate ‘pseudo-DNA kits’ based on segments in common with your matches. These ‘pseudo-DNA kits’ can then be used as a surrogate for a common ancestor in other tests on this site. Segments are included for every combination where a match occurs between a kit in group1 and group2.

It’s obvious from further instructions that this is really meant for a parent or grandparent, but the technique should work just the same for more distant relatives.

I decided to try it first just with the descendants of Elijah Vannoy.  At first, I thought that recreated Elijah would include the following DNA:

  • DNA segments from Elijah Vannoy
  • DNA segments from Elijah Vannoy’s wife, Lois McNiel
  • DNA segments that match from Elijah’s descendants spouse’s lines when individuals come from the same descendant line. This means that if three people descend from Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley, Elijah’s son and his wife, that they would match on some DNA from Phoebe, and that there was no way to subtract Phoebe’s DNA.

After working with the Lazarus tool, I realized this is not the case because Lazarus is designed to utilize a group of direct descendants and then compare the DNA of that group to a second group of know relatives, but not descendants.

In other words, if you have a grandson of a man, and his brother.  The DNA shared by the brother and the grandson HAS to be the DNA contributed to that grandson by his grandfather, from their common ancestor, the great grandfather.  So, in our situation above, Phoebe’s DNA is excluded.

The chart below shows the inheritance path for Lazarus matching.

Lazarus inheritance

Because Lazarus is comparing the DNA of Son Doe with Brother Doe – that eliminates any DNA from the brother’s wives, Sarah Spoon or Mary – because those lines are not shared between Brother Doe and Son Doe.  The only shared ancestors that can contribute DNA to both are Father Doe and Methusaleh Fisher.

The Lazarus instructions allow you to enter the direct descendants of the person/couple that you are reconstructing, then a second set of instructions asks for remaining relatives not directly descended, like siblings, parents, cousins, etc. In other words, those that should share DNA through the common ancestor of the person you are recreating.

To recreate Elijah, I entered all of the Vannoy cousins and then entered William (V) as a sibling since he is the proven son of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.

Here is what Lazarus produced.

lazarus elijah 1

Lazarus includes segments of 4cM and 500 SNPs.

The first thing I thought was, “Holy Moly, what happened to chromosome 15?”  I went back and looked, and sure enough, while almost all of the Elijah descendants do match on chromosome 15, William (V), kit 156020, does not match above the Lazarus threshold I selected.  So chromosome 15 is not included.  Finding additional people who are known to be from this Vannoy line and adding them to the “nondescendant” group would probably result in a more complete Elijah.

lazarus elijah 2

Next, to recreate Sarah Hickerson, I added all of the Vannoy cousins plus William (V) as descendants of Sarah Hickerson and then I added just the one Hickerson descendant, William, as a sibling.  William’s ancestor is proven to be the sibling of Sarah.

I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Clearly if the DNA from the Hickerson descendant didn’t match or triangulate with DNA from any of the Vannoy cousins at this higher level, then Sarah Hickerson wasn’t likely Elijah’s mother.  I wanted to see matching, but more, I wanted to see triangulation.

lazarus elijah 3

I was stunned.  Every kit except two had matches, some of significant size.

lazarus elijah 4

lazarus elijah 5 v2

Please note that locations on chromosomes 3, 4 and 13, above, are triangulated in addition to matching between two individuals, which constitutes proof of a common ancestor.  Please also note that if you were throwing away segments below 7cM, you would lose all of the triangulated matches and all but two matches altogether.

Clearly, comparing the Vannoy DNA with the Hickerson DNA produced a significant number of matches including three triangulated segments.

lazarus elijah 6

Where Are We?

I never have, and I never would recommend attempting to utilize random small match segments out of context.  By out of context, I mean simply looking at all of your 1cM segments and suggesting that they are all relevant to your genealogy.  Nope, never have.  Never would.

There is no question that many small segments are IBS by chance or identical by population.  Furthermore, working with small segments in endogamous populations may not be fruitful.

Those are the caveats.  Small segments in the right circumstances are useful.  And we’ve seen several examples of the right circumstances.

Over the past few weeks, we have identified guidelines and tools to work with small segments, and they are the same tools and guidelines we utilize to work with larger segments as well.  The difference is size.  When working with large segments, the fact that they are large serves an a filter for us and we don’t question their authenticity.  With all small segments, we must do the matching and analysis work to prove validity.  Probably not worthwhile if you have larger segments for the same group of people.

Working with the Vannoy data on chromosome 15 is not random, nor is the family from an endogamous population.  That segment was proven to be Vannoy prior to attempts to confirm or disprove the Hickerson connection.  And we’ve gone beyond just matching, we’ve proven the ancestral link by triangulation, including small segments.  We’ve now proven the Hickerson connection about 7 ways to Sunday.  Ok, maybe 7 is an exaggeration, but here is the evidence summed up for the Vannoy/Hickerson study from multiple vendors and tools:

  • Ancestry DNA Circle indicating that multiple Hickerson descendants match me and some that don’t match me, match each other. Not proof, but certainly suggestive of a common ancestor.
  • A total of 26 Hickerson or derivative family name matches to Vannoy cousins at Family Tree DNA. Not proof, but again, very suggestive.
  • 6 Charles Hickerson/Mary Lytle descendants match to Vannoy cousins at Family Tree DNA. Extremely suggestive, needs triangulation.
  • Triangulation of segments between Vannoy and Hickerson cousins at Family Tree DNA. Proof, but in this study we were only looking to determine whether small segment matches constituted proof.
  • Triangulation of multiple Hickerson/Vannoy cousins on chromosome 15 at GedMatch utilizing small segments and one to one matching. More proof.
  • Lazarus, at higher thresholds than the triangulation matching, when creating Sarah Hickerson, still matched 19 segments and triangulated three for a total of 73.2cM when comparing the Hickerson descendant against the Vannoy cousins. Further proof.

So, can small segment matching data be useful? Is there any reason NOT to accept this evidence as valid?

With proper usage, small segment data certainly looks to provide value by judiciously applying exactly the same rules that apply to all DNA matching.  The difference of course being that you don’t really have to think about utilizing those tools with large segment matches.  It’s pretty well a given that a 20cM match is valid, but you can never assume anything about those small segment matches without supporting evidence. So are larger segments easier to use?  Absolutely.

Does that automatically make small segments invalid?  Absolutely not.

In some cases, especially when attempting to break down brick walls more than 5 or 6 generations in the past, small segment data may be all we have available.  We must use it effectively.  How small is too small?  I don’t know.  It appears that size is really not a factor if you strictly adhere to the IBD/IBS guidelines, but at some point, I would think the segments would be so small that just about everyone would match everyone because we are all humans – so the ultimate identical by population scenario.

Segments that don’t match an individual and either or both parents, assuming you have both parents to test, can safely be disregarded unless they are large and then a look at the raw data is in order to see if there is a problem in that area.  These are IBS by chance.  IBS segments by chance also won’t triangulate further up the tree.  They can’t, because they don’t match your parents so they cannot come from an ancestor.  If they don’t come from an ancestor, they can’t possibly match two other people whose DNA comes from that ancestor on that segment.

If both parents aren’t available, or your small segments do match with your parents, I would suggest that you retain your small segments and map them.

You can’t recognize patterns if the data isn’t present and you won’t be able to find that proverbial needle in the haystack that we are all looking for.

Based on what we’ve seen in multiple case studies, I would conclude that small segment data is certainly valid and can play a valid role in a situation where there is a known or suspected relationship.

I would agree that attempting to utilize small segment data outside the context of a larger data match is not optimal, at least not today, although I wish the vendors would provide a way for us to selectively lower our thresholds.  A larger segment match can point the way to smaller segment matches between multiple people that can be triangulated.  In some situations, like the person A, B, C, D Hickerson-Vannoy situation I described earlier in this article, I would like to be able to drop the match threshold to reveal the small segment data when other matches are suggestive of a family relationship.

In the Hickerson situation, having the ability to drop the matching thresholds would have been the key to positively confirming this relationship within the vendor’s data base and not having to utilize third party tools like GedMatch – which require the cooperation of all parties involved to download their raw data files.  Not everyone transferred their data to Gedmatch in my Vannoy group, but enough did that we were able to do what we needed to do.  That isn’t always the case.  In fact, I have an nearly identical situation in another line but my two matches at Ancestry have declined to download their data to Gedmatch.

This not the first time that small segment data has played a successful role in finding genealogy solutions, or confirming what we thought we knew – although in all cases to date, larger segments matched as well – and those larger segment matches were key and what pointed me to the potential match that ultimately involved the usage of the small segments for triangulation.

Using larger data segments as pointers probably won’t be the case forever, especially if we can gain confidence that we can reliably utilize small segments, at least in certain situations.  Specifically, a small segment match may be nothing, but a small segment triangulated match in the context of a genealogical situation seems to abide by all of the genetic genealogy DNA rules.

In fact, a situation just arose in the past couple weeks that does not include larger segments matching at a vendor.

Let’s close this article by discussing this recent scenario.

The Adoptee

An adoptee approached me with matching data from GedMatch which included matches to me, Dean, Carl and Harold on chromosome 15, on segments that overlap, as follows.

adoptee chr 15

On the spreadsheet above, sent to me by the adoptee, we can see some matches but not all matches. I ran the balance of these 4 people at GedMatch and below is the matching chart for the segment of chromosome 15 where the adoptee matches the 4 Vannoy cousins plus William(H), the Hickerson cousin.

  Me Carl Dean Harold Adoptee
Me NA FTDNA FTDNA GedMatch GedMatch
Harold GedMatch FTDNA FTDNA NA GedMatch
Adoptee GedMatch GedMatch GedMatch GedMatch NA
William (H) GedMatch GedMatch GedMatch GedMatch GedMatch

I decided to take the easy route and just utilize Lazarus again, so I added all of the known Vannoy and Hickerson cousins I utilized in earlier Lazarus calculations at Gedmatch as siblings to our adoptee.  This means that each kit will be compared to the adoptees DNA and matching segments will be reported.  At a threshold of 300 SNPs and 4cM, our adoptee matches at 140cM of common DNA between the various cousins.

adoptee vannoy match

Please note that in addition to matching several of the cousins, our adoptee also triangulates on chromosomes 1, 11, 15, 18, 19 and 21.  The triangulation on chromosome 21 is to two proven Hickerson descendants, so he matches on this line as well.

I reduced the threshold to 4cM and 200 SNPs to see what kind of difference that would make.

adoptee vannoy match low threshold

Our adoptee picked up another triangulation on chromosome 1 and added additional cousins in the chromosome 15 “sticky Vannoy” cluster and the chromosome 18 cluster.

Given what we just showed about chromosome 15, and the discussions about IBD and IBS guidelines and small matching segments, what conclusions would you draw and what would you do?

  1. Tell the adoptee this is invalid because there are no qualifying large match segments that match at the vendors.
  2. Tell the adoptee to throw all of those small segments away, or at least all of the ones below 7cM because they are only small matching segments and utilizing small matching segments is only a folly and the adoptee is only seeing what he wants to see – even though the Vannoy cousins with whom he triangulates are proven, triangulated cousins.
  3. Check to see if the adoptee also matches the other cousins involved, although he does clearly already exceeds the triangulation criteria to declare a common ancestor of 3 proven cousins on a matching segment. This is actually what I did utilizing Lazarus and you just saw the outcome.

If this is a valid match, based on who he does and doesn’t match in terms of the rest of the family, you could very well narrow his line substantially – perhaps by utilizing the various Vannoy wives’ DNA, to an ancestral couple.  Given that our adoptee matches both the Vannoys and the Hickersons, I suspect he is somehow descended from Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.

In Conclusion

What is the acceptable level to utilize small segments in a known or suspected match situation?

Rather than look for a magic threshold number, we are much better served to look at reliable methods to determine the difference between DNA passed from our ancestors to us, IBD, and matches by chance.  This helps us to establish the reliability of DNA segments in individual situations we are likely to encounter in our genealogy.  In other words, rather that throw the entire pile of wheat away because there is some percentage of chaff in the wheat, let’s figure out how to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Fortunately, both parental phasing and triangulation eliminate the identical by chance segments.

Clearly, the smaller the segments, even in a known match situation, the more likely they are identical by population, given that they triangulate.  In fact, this is exactly how the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes have been reconstructed.

Furthermore, given that the Anzick DNA sample is over 12,000 years old, Identical by population must be how Anzick is matching to contemporary humans, because at least some of these people do clearly share a common ancestor with Anzick at some point, long ago – more than 12,000 years ago.  In my case, at least some of the Anzick segments triangulate with my mother’s DNA, so they are not IBS by chance.  That only leaves identical by population or identical by descent, meaning within a genealogical timeframe, and we know that isn’t possible.

There are yet other situations where small segment matches are not IBS by chance nor identical by population.  For example, I have a very hard time believing that the adoptee situation is nothing but chance.  It’s not a folly.  It’s identical by descent as proven by triangulation with 10 different cousins – all on segments below the vendor matching thresholds.

In fact, it’s impossible to match the Vannoy cousins, who are already triangulated individually, by chance.  While the adoptee match is not over the vendor threshold, the segments are not terribly small and they do all triangulate with multiple individuals who also triangulate with larger segments, at the vendors and on different chromosomes.

This adoptee triangulated match, even without the Hickerson-Vannoy study disproves the blanket statement that small segments below 5cM cannot be used for genealogy.  All of these segments are 7.1cM or below and most are below 5.

This small segment match between my mother and her first cousins also disproves that segments under 5cM can never be used for genealogy.

Two cousins combined

This small segment passed from my mother to me disproves that statement too – clearly matching with our cousin, Cheryl.  If I did not receive this from my mother, and she from her parent, then how do we match a common cousin???

me mother small seg

More small segment proof, below, between my mother and her second cousin when Lazarus was reconstructing my mother’s father.

2nd cousin lazarus match

And this Vannoy Hickerson 4 cousin triangulated segment also disproves that 5cM and below cannot be used for genealogy.

vannoy hickerson triang

Where did these small segments come from if not a common ancestor, either one or several generations ago?  If you look at the small segment I inherited from my mother and say, “well, of course that’s valid, you got it from your mother” then the same logic has to apply that she inherited it from her parent.  The same logic then applies that the same small segment, when shared by my mother’s cousin, also came from the their common grandparents.  One cannot be true without the others being true.  It’s the same DNA. I got it from my mother.  And it’s only a 1.46cM segment, shown in the examples above.

Here are my observations and conclusions:

  • As proven with hundreds of examples in this and other articles cited, small segments can be and are inherited from our ancestors and can be utilized for genetic genealogy.
  • There is no line in the sand at 7cM or 5cM at which a segment is viable and useful at 5.1cM and not at 4.9cM.
  • All small segment matches need to be evaluated utilizing the guidelines set forth for IBD versus IBS by chance versus identical by population set forth in the articles titled How Phasing Works and Determining IBD Versus IBS Matches and Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching.
  • When given a choice, large segment matches are always easier to use because they are seldom IBS by chance and most often IBD.
  • Small segment matches are more likely to be IBS by chance than larger matches, which is why we need to judiciously apply the IBD/IBS Guidelines when attempting to utilize small segment matches.
  • All DNA matches, not just small segments, must be triangulated to prove a common ancestor, unless they are known close relatives, like siblings, first cousins, etc.
  • When working in genetic genealogy, always glean the information from larger matches and assemble that information.  However, when the time comes that you need those small segments because you are working 5, 6 or 7 generations back in time, remember that tools and guidelines exist to use small segments reliably.
  • Do not attempt to use small segments out of context.  This means that if you were to look only at your 1cM matches to unknown people, and you have the ability to triangulate against your parents, most would prove to be IBS by chance.  This is the basis of the argument for why some people delete their small segments.  However, by utilizing parental phasing, phasing against known family members (like uncles, aunts and first cousins) and triangulation, you can identify and salvage the useable small segments – and these segments may be the only remnants of your ancestors more than 5 or 6 generations back that you’ll ever have to work with.  You do not have to throw all of them away simply because some or many small segments, out of context, are IBS by chance.  It doesn’t hurt anything to leave them just sit in your spreadsheet untouched until the day that you need them.

Ultimately, the decision is yours whether you will use small segments or not – and either decision is fine.  However, don’t make the decision based on the belief that small segments under some magic number, like 5cM or 7cM are universally useless.  They aren’t.

Whether small segments are too much work and effort in your individual situation depends on your personal goals for genetic genealogy and on factors like whether or not you descend from an endogamous population.  People’s individual goals and circumstances vary widely.  Some people test at Ancestry and are happy with inferential matching circles and nothing more.  Some people want to wring every tidbit possible out of genealogy, genetic or otherwise.

I hope everyone will begin to look at how they can use small segment data reliably instead of simply discarding all the small segments on the premise that all small segment data is useless because some small segments are not useful.  All unstudied and discarded data is indeed useless, so discarding becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But by far, the worst outcome of throwing perfectly good data away is that you’ll never know what genetic secrets it held for you about your ancestors.  Maybe the DNA of your own Sarah Hickerson is lurking there, just waiting for the right circumstances to be found.

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

dna word cluster4

What, exactly, is an autosomal DNA match?

Answer:  It’s Relative

I’m sorry, I just had to say that.

But truthfully, it is.

I know this sounds like a very basic question, and it is, but the answer sometimes isn’t as straightforward as we would like for it to be.

Plus, there are differences in quality of matches and types of matches.  If you want to sigh right about now, it’s OK.

We’ve talked a lot about matching in various recent articles.  I have several people who follow this blog religiously, and who would rather read this than, say, do dishes (who wouldn’t).  One of our regulars recently asked me the question, “what, exactly, is a match and how do I tell?”

Darned good question and I wish someone had explained this to me so I wouldn’t have had to figure it out.

In the computer industry, where I spent many years, we have what we call flow charts or wernier diagrams which in essence are logic paths that lead to specific results or outcomes depending on the answers at different junctions.

flow chart

I had a really hard time deciding whether to use the beer decision-making flow chart or the procrastinator flow chart, but the procrastinator flow chart was just one big endless loop, so I decided on the beer.

What I’m going to do is to step you through the logic path of finding and evaluating a match, determining whether it’s valid, identical by descent or chance, when possible, and how to work with your matches and what they mean.

Let me also say that while I use and prefer Family Tree DNA, these matching techniques are universal and apply to results from 23andMe as well, but not for Ancestry who gives you no browser or tools to compare your DNA to anyone else.  So, you can’t compare your results at Ancestry.

Comparing DNA results is the lynchpin of genetic genealogy.  You’re dead in the water without it.  If you have tested at Ancestry, you can always transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, where you do have tools, and to GedMatch as well.  You’re always better, in terms of genealogy, to fish in as many ponds as possible.

Before we talk about how to work with matches, for those who need to figure out how to find matches at Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, I wrote about that in the Chromosome Browser War article.  This article focuses on working with matching DNA after you have found that you are a match to someone – and what those matches might mean.

Matching Thresholds

All autosomal DNA vendors have matching thresholds.  People who meet or exceed those thresholds will be shown on your match list.  People who do not meet the initial threshold will not be considered as a match to you, and therefore will not be on your match list.

Currently, at Family Tree DNA, their match threshold to be shown as a match is about 20cM of total matching DNA and a single segment of about 7.7cM with 500 SNPs or over. The words “about” are in there because there is some fuzziness in the rules based on certain situations.

After you meet that criteria and you are shown as a match to an individual, when you download your matching data, your matches to them on each chromosome will be shown to the 1cM and 500 SNP level

At 23andMe, the threshold is 7cMs/700 SNPs for the first segment.  However, 23andMe has an upper limit of people who can match you at about 1000 matches.  This can be increased by the number of people you are communicating or sharing with.  However, your smallest matches will be dropped from your list when you hit your threshold.  This means that it’s very likely that at least some of your matches are not showing if you have in excess of 1000 matches total.  This means that your personal effective cM/SNP match threshold at 23andMe may be much higher.

Step 1 – Downloading Your Matching Segments

For this comparison, I’m starting with two fresh files from Family Tree DNA, one file of my own matches and one of my mother’s matches.  My mother died before autosomal DNA testing was available, so her results are only at Family Tree DNA (and now downloaded to GedMatch,) because her DNA was archived there.  Thank you Family Tree DNA, 100,000 times thank you!!!

At Family Tree DNA, the option to download all matches with segment information is on the chromosome browser tab, at the top, at the right, shown below.

ftdna download button

If you have your parents DNA available to test and it hasn’t been tested, order a kit for them today.  If either or both parents have been tested, download their results into the same spreadsheet with yours and color code them in a way you will understand.

In my case, I only have my mother’s results, and I color coded my matches pink, because I’m the daughter.  However, if I had both parents, I might have colored coded Mother pink and Dad blue.

Whatever color coding you do, it’s forever in your master spreadsheet, so make a note of what it is.  In my case, it’s part of the match column header.  Why is it in my column header?  Because I screwed up once and reversed them in a download.

Step 2 – Preparing and Sorting Your Spreadsheet

In my master DNA spreadsheet, I have the following columns,

dna master header

The green cell matches are matches to me from 23andMe.  My cousin, Cheryl also tested at 23andMe before autosomal testing was offered at Family Tree DNA.

The Source column, in my spreadsheet, means any source other than FTDNA.  The Ignore column is an extraneous number generated at one time by downloads.  I could delete that column now.

The “Side” column is which side the match is from, Mom or Dad.  Mom’s I can identify easily, because I have her DNA to compare to.  I don’t identify a match as Dad’s without having identified an ancestral line, because I don’t have his DNA to compare to.

And no, you can’t just assume that if it doesn’t match Mom, it’s an automatic match to Dad because you may have some IBS, identical by chance, matches.

The Common Ancestors/Comments column is just that.  I include things like when I e-mailed someone, if the match is triangulated and if so, with whom, etc.

In my master spreadsheet, the first “name” column (of who tested) is deleted, but I’ve left it in the working spreadsheet (below) with my mother for illustration purposes.  That way, neither of us has to remember who is pink!

Step 3 – Reviewing IBD and IBS Guidelines

If you need a refresher on, phasing, IBD, identical by descent, IBS which can mean either identical by chance or identical by population, it would be a good time to read or reread the article titled How Phasing Works and Determining IBD Versus IBS Matches.

Let’s briefly review the IBD vs IBS guidelines, because we’ll be applying them in this article.

Identical by Chance – Can be determined if an individual you match does not match to one of your parents, if parents are available.  If parents are not available for matching, IBS by chance segments won’t triangulate with other known genealogical matches on a common segment.

Identical by Descent – Can be suggested if a common ancestor (or ancestral line) can be determined between any two people who are not known relatives. If the two people are known close relatives, and their DNA matches, identical by descent is proven.  IBD can be proven with previously unknown family or genealogical matches when any three people descending from that same ancestor or ancestral line all match each other on the same segment of DNA.  Three way matching is called triangulation.

Identical by Population – Can be determined when multiple people triangulate with you on a specific segment of DNA, but the triangulated groups are from proven different lineages and are not otherwise related.  This is generally found in smaller segments from similar regions of the world.  Identical by population is identical by descent, but the ancestors are so far back in time that they cannot be determined and may contribute the same DNA to multiple lineages.  This is particularly evident in Jewish genealogy and other endogamous groups.

Step 4 – Determining Parental Side and IBS by Chance

The first thing to do, if you have either or both parents, is to determine whether your matches phase to your parents or are IBS by chance.

In this context, phasing means determining whether a particular match is to your father’s side of the family or to your mother’s side of the family.

Remember, at every address in your DNA, you will have two valid matches to different lines, one from your mother and one from your father.  The address on your DNA consists of the chromosome number which equates to the street name, and then the start and end locations, which consists of a range of addresses on that street.  Think of it as the length of your property on the street.

First, let’s look at my situation with only my mother’s DNA for comparison.

It’s easy to tell one of three things.

  1. Do mother and I both match the person? If so, that means that DNA match is from mother’s side of the family. Mark it as such. They are green, below.
  2. If the individual does not match me and mother, both, and only matches me, then the match is either on my father’s side or it’s IBS by chance. Those matches are blue below. Because I don’t have my father’s DNA, I can’t tell any more at this step.
  3. Notice the matches that are Mom’s but not to me. That means that I did not receive that DNA from Mom, or I received a small part, but it’s not over the lowest matching threshold at Family Tree DNA of 1cM and 500 SNPs.

match mom

In this next scenario, you can see that mother and I both match the same individual, but not on all segments.  I selected this particular match between me, my mother and Alfred because it has some “problems” to work through.

match mom2

The segments shown in green above are segments that Mom carries that I don’t.  This means that I didn’t receive them from mother.  This also means they could be  matching to Alfred legitimately, or are IBS by chance.  I can’t tell anything more about them at this point, so I’ve just noted what they are.  I usually mark these as “mother only” in my master spreadsheet.

match mom3

The first of the two green rows above show a match but it’s a little unusual.  My segment is larger than my mothers.  This means that one of five things has happened.

  1. Part of this segment is a valid match.  At the end, where we don’t match, the match extends IBS by chance a bit at the end, in my case, when matching Alfred. The valid match portion would end where my mother’s segment ends, at 16,100,293
  2. There is a read error in one of the files.
  3. The boundary locations are fuzzy, meaning vendor calculations like ‘healing’ for no calls, etc..
  4. I also match to my father’s line.
  5. Recombination has occurred, especially possible in an endogamous population, reconnecting identical by population segments between me and Alfred at the end of the segment where I don’t match my mother’s segment, so from 16,100,293 to 16,250,884.

Given that this is a small segment, the most likely scenario would be the first, that this is partly valid and partly IBS by chance.  I just make the note by that row.

The second green segment above isn’t an exact match, but if my segment “fits within” the boundaries of my mother’s segments, then we know I inherited the entire segment from her.  Once again, my boundaries are off a bit from hers, but this time it’s the beginning.  The same criteria applies as in 1-5, above.

match mom4

The green segments above are where I match Alfred, but my mother does not.  This means that these segments are either IBS by chance or that they will match my father.  I don’t know which, so I simply label them.  Given that they are all small segments, they are likely IBS by chance, but we don’t know that.  If we had my father’s DNA, we would be able to phase against him, too, but we don’t.

Now, if I was to leave this discussion here, you might have the impression that all small segment matches have problems, but they don’t.  In fact, here’s a much more normal “rea life” situation where mother and I are both matching to our cousin, Cheryl, Mom’s first cousin.  These matches include both large and small segments.  Let’s take a look and see what we can tell about our matches.

match mom complete

Roberta and Barbara have a total of 83 DNA matches to Cheryl.

Some matches will be where Barbara matches Cheryl and Roberta doesn’t.  That’s normal, Barbara is Roberta’s mother and Roberta only inherits half of Barbara’s DNA.  These rows where only Barbara, the mother, matches Cheryl are not colorized in the Start, End, cM and SNP columns, so they show as white.

Some matches will be exact matches.  That too is normal.  In some cases, Barbara passes all of a particular segment of DNA to Roberta.  These matches are colored purple.

Some of these matches are partial matches where Roberta inherited part of the segment of DNA from Barbara.  These are colored green. There are two additional columns at right where the percentage of DNA that Roberta inherited from Barbara on these segments is calculated, both for cM and SNPs.

Some of the matches are where Roberta matches Cheryl and Barbara doesn’t.  Cheryl is not known to be related to Roberta on her father’s side, so assuming that statement is correct, these matches would be IBS, identical by state, meaning identical by chance and can be disregarded at legitimate matches.  These are colored rust.  Note that most of these are small segments, but one segment is 8.8cM and 2197 SNPs.  In this case, if this segment becomes important for any reason, I would be inclined to look at the raw data file of Barbara to see if there were no calls or a problem with reads in this region that would prevent an otherwise legitimate match.

Let’s look at how these matches stack up.

Number Percent (rounded) Comment
Exact Matches 26 31 100% of the DNA
Barbara Only 20 24 0% of the DNA
Partial Matches 29 35 11-98% of the actual DNA matches
Roberta Only (IBS by chance) 7 8 Not a valid match

I think it’s interesting to note that while, on the average, 50% of the DNA of any segment is passed to the child, in actuality, in this example of partial inheritance, meaning the green rows, inheritance was never actually 50%.  In fact, the SNP and cM percentages inherited for the same segment varied, and the actual amounts ranged from 11-98% of the DNA of the parent being inherited by the child.  The average of these events was 54.57143 (cM) and 54.21429 (SNPs) however.

On top of that, in 13 (26 rows) instances, Roberta inherited all of Barbara’s DNA in that sequence, and in 20 cases, Roberta inherited none of Barbara’s DNA in that sequence.

This illustrates that while the average of something may be 50%, none of the actual individual values may be 50% and the values themselves may include the entire range of possibilities.  In this case, 11-98% were the actual percentage ranges for partial matches.

Matching Both Parents

I don’t have my father’s DNA, but I’m creating this next example as if I did.

match both parents

Matches to mother are marked in green.

I have two matches where I match my father, so we can attribute those to his side, which I’ve done and marked in orange.

The third group of matches to me, at the bottom, to Julio, Anna, Cindy and George don’t match either parent, so they must be IBS by chance.

I label IBS by chance segments, but I don’t delete them because if I download again, I’ll have to go through this same analysis process if I don’t leave them in my spreadsheet

Step 5 – How Much of the DNA is a Match?

One person asked, “exactly how do I tell how much DNA is matching, especially between three people.”  That’s a very valid question, especially since triangulation requires matching of three people, on the same segment, proven to a common ancestral line.

Let’s look at the match of both me and my mother to Don, Cheryl and Robin.

match mom part

In this example, we know that Don, Cheryl and Robin all match me on my mother’s side, because they all three match me and my mother, both on the same segment.

How do we determine that we match on the same segment?

I have sorted this spreadsheet in order of end location, then start location, then chromosome number so that the entire spreadsheet is in chromosome order, then start location, then end location.

We can see that both mother and I match Cheryl partially on this segment of chromosome 1, but not exactly.  The start location is slightly different, but the end location matches exactly.

The area where we all three match, meaning me, Mom and Cheryl, begins at 176,231,846 and ends at the common endpoint of 178,453,336

On the chart below, you can see that mother and I also both match Don, Cheryl’s brother, on part of this same segment, but not all of the same segment.

match mom part2

The common matching areas between me, Mom and Don begins at 176,231,846 and ends at 178,453,336.

Next, let’s look at the third person, Robin.

Mom and I both match Robin on part of this same overlapping segment as well.  Note that my segment extends beyond Mom’s, but that does not invalidate the portion that does match between Robin, Mom and I.

match mom part3

Our common match area begins at the same location, but ends at 178,453,336, the same location as the common end area with Don and Cheryl

Step 6 – What Do Matches Mean? IBD vs IBS in Action

So, let’s look at various types of matches and what they tell us.

match mom example

Looking at our matching situation above, let’s apply the various IBD/IBS rules and guidelines and see what we have

1. Are these matches identical by chance?  No.  How do we know?

a. Because they all match both me and a parent.

2. Are these matches identical by descent? Yes. How do we know?

a. Because we all match each other on this segment, and we know the common ancestor of Cheryl, Don, Barbara and me is Hiram Ferverda and Evaline Miller.  We know that Robin descends from the same ancestral Miller line.

3. Are these matches identical by population.  We don’t know, but there is no reason at this point to think so. Why?

a. Because looking at my master spreadsheet, I see no evidence that these segments are also assigned to other lineages. These individuals are also triangulated on a large number of other, much larger, segments as well.

4. Are these matches triangulated, meaning they are proven to a common ancestor? Yes. How do we know?

a. Documented genealogy of Hiram Ferverda and Evaline Miller. Don, Barbara, Cheryl and me are known family since birth.
b. Documented genealogy of Robin to the same ancestral family, even though Robin was previously unknown before DNA matching.
c. Even without the documented genealogy, Robin matches a set of two triangulation groups of people documented to the same ancestral line, which means she has to descend from that same line as well.

In our case, clearly these individuals share a common ancestor and a common ancestral line.  Even though these are small segments on chromosome 1, there are much larger matching segments on other chromosomes, and the same rules still apply.  The difference might be at some point smaller segments are more likely to be identical by population than larger segments.  Larger segments, when available, are always safer to use to draw conclusions.  Larger groups of matching individuals with known common genealogy on the same segments are also the safest way to draw conclusions.

Step 7 – Matching With No Parents

Sometimes you’re just not that lucky.  Let’s say both of your parents have passed and you have no DNA from them.

That immediately eliminates phasing and the identical by chance test by comparing to your parents, so you’ll have to work with your matches, including your identical by chance segments.

A second way to “phase” part of your DNA to a side of your family is by matching with known cousins or any known family member.

In the situation above, matching to Cheryl, Don and Robin, let’s remove my mother and see what we have.

match no mom

In this case, I still match to both of my first cousins, once removed, Cheryl and Don.  Given that Cheryl and Don are both known cousins, since forever, I don’t feel the need for triangulation proof in this case – although the three of us are triangulated to our common ancestor.  In other words, the fact that my mother does match them at the expected 1st cousin level is proof enough in and of itself if we only had one cousin to test.  We know our common ancestor is Cheryl and Don’s grandparents, who are my great-grandparents, Hiram Ferverda and Evaline Miller.

When I looked at Robin’s pedigree chart and saw that Robin descended from Philip Jacob Miller and wife Magdalena, I knew that this segment was a Miller side match, not a Ferverda match.

Therefore, matching with someone whose genealogy goes beyond the common ancestor of Cheryl, Don and me proves this line through 4 more generations.  In other words, this DNA segment came through the following direct line to reach Me, Mother, Cheryl and Don.

  • Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena
  • Daniel Miller
  • David Miller
  • John David Miller
  • Evaline Louise Miller who married Hiram Ferverda

Clearly, we know from the earlier chart that my mother carried this DNA too, but even if we didn’t know that, she obviously had to have carried this segment or I would not carry it today.

So, even though in this example, our parents aren’t directly available for IBS testing and elimination, we can determine that anyone who matches both me and Cheryl or me and Don will have also matched mother on that segment, so we have, in essence, phased those people by triangulation, not by direct parental matching.

Step 8 – Triangulation Groups

What else does this match group tell us?

It tells us that anyone else who matches me and any one of our triangulation group on that segment also descends from the Miller descendant clan, one way or another.

Why do they have to match me AND one of the triangulation group members on that segment?  Because I have two sides to my DNA, my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side.  Matching me plus another person from the triangulation group proves which side the match is on – Mom’s or Dad’s.

We were able to phase to eliminate any identical by chance segments people on Mom’s side, so we know matches to both of us are valid.

On Dad’s side, there are some IBS by chance people (or segments) thrown in for good measure because I don’t have my Dad’s DNA to eliminate them out of the starting gate.  Those IBS segments will have to be removed in time by not triangulating with proven triangulated groups they should triangulate with, if they were valid matches.

When you map matches on your chromosome spreadsheet, this is what you’re doing.  Over time, you will be able to tell when you receive a new match by who they match and where they fall on your spreadsheet which ancestral line they descend from.

GedMatch also includes a triangulation utility.  It’s a great tool, because it produces trios of people for your top 400 matches.  The results are two kits that triangulate to the third person whose kit number you are matching against.

The output, below, shows you the chromosome number followed by the two kit numbers (obscured) that triangulate at this location, and then the start and end location followed by the matching cMs.  The result is triangulation groups that “slide to the right.”

gedmatch triang group3

In the example above, all of the triangulation matches to me above the red arrow include either Mother, my Ferverda cousins or the Miller group that we discussed in the Just One Cousin article.  In other words they are all related via a common ancestor.

You can tell a great deal about triangulation groups by who is, and isn’t in them using deductive reasoning.  And once you’ve figured out the key to the group, you have the key to the entire group.

In this case, Mom is a member of the first triangulation group, so I know this group is from her side and not Dad’s side.  Both Ferverda cousins are there, so I know it’s Mom’s Dad’s side of the family.  The Miller cousins are there, so I know it’s the Miller side of Mom’s Dad’s side of the family.

Please also note that while this entire group triangulates within itself, that the group manages to slide right and the first triangulated group of 3 in the list may not overlap the DNA of the last triangulated group of 3.  In fact, because you can see the start and end points, you can tell that these two triangulated groups don’t overlap.  The multiple triangulation groups all do match some portion of the group above and below them (in this case,) and as a composite group, they slide to the right. Because each group overlaps with the group above and below them, they all connect together in a genetic chain.  Because there is an entire group that are triangulated together, in multiple ways, we know that it is one entire group.

This allows me to map that entire segment on my Mom’s side of my DNA, from 10,369,154 to 41,685,667 to this group because it is contiguously connected to me, triangulated and unbroken.  The most distant ancestor listed will vary based upon the known genealogy of the three people being triangulated  For example, part of this segment, may come from Philip Jacob Miller himself, the line’s founder,, but another part could come from his son’s wife, who is also my ancestor.  Therefore, the various pieces of this group segment may eventually be attributed to different ancestors from this particular line based upon the oldest common ancestor of the three people who have triangulated.

In our example above, the second group starts where the red arrow is pointing.  I have absolutely no idea which ancestor this second group comes from – except – I know it does not come from my mother’s side because her kit number isn’t there.

Neither are any of my direct line Estes or Vannoy relatives, so it’s probably not through that line either.  My Bolton cousins are also missing, so we’ve probably eliminated several possible lines, 3 of 4 great grandparents, based on who is NOT in the match group.  See the value of testing both close and distant cousins?  In this case, the family members not only have to test, they also have to upload their results to GedMatch.

Conversely, we could quickly identify at least a base group by the presence in the triangulation groups of at least one my known cousins or people with whom I’ve identified my common ancestor.  Two from the same line would be even better!!!


The last thing I want to show you is an example of what an endogamous group looks like when triangulated.

gedmatch endogamy

This segment of chromosome 9 is an Acadian matching group to my Mom – and the list doesn’t stop here – this is just the size of the screen shot.  These matches continue for pages.

How do I know this group is Acadian?  In part, because this group also triangulates with my known Lore cousin who also descends from the same Acadian ancestor, Antoine Lore, son of Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille.  Additionally, I’ve worked with some of these people and we have confirmed Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille as our common ancestor as well.  In other cases, we’ve confirmed upstream ancestors.

Unfortunately, the Acadians are so intermarried that it’s very difficult to sort through the most distant genetic ancestor because there tend to be multiple most distant ancestors in everyone’s trees.  There is a saying that if you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians and it’s the truth.  Just ask my cousin Paul who I’m related to 137 different ways.

Matches to endogamous groups tend to have very, very long lists of matches, even triangulated, which means proven, matches.

Oh, and by the way, just for the record, this lengthy group includes some of my proven Acadian matches that were trimmed, meaning removed, from my match list when Ancestry did their big purge due to their new and improved phasing.  So if there was ever any doubt that we did in fact lose at least some valid matches, the proof lies right here, in the triangulation of those exact same people at GedMatch


I hope this step by step article has helped take the Greek, or maybe the geek, out of matching.  Once you think of it in a step by step logical basis, it makes a lot of sense and allows you to reasonably judge the quality of your matches.

The rule of thumb has been that larger matches tend to be “legitimate” and smaller matches are often discarded en masse because they might be problematic.  However, we’ve seen situations where some larger matches may not be legitimate and some smaller matches clearly are.  In essence, the 50% average seldom applies exactly and rules of thumb don’t apply in individuals situations either.  Your situation is unique with every match and now you have tools and guidelines to help you through the matching maze.

And hey, since we made it to the end, I think we should celebrate with that beer!!!