Duplicate Copies of Parental Chromosomes – Uniparental Disomy

Recently, three articles were been published that discuss a phenomenon where unsuspecting individuals have two copies one parent’s chromosome, and no copy of the other parent’s chromosome. This is called Uniparental Disomy.

Since then, online I’ve seen this phenomenon being offered as a reason for all kinds of things – which just isn’t the case.

I’m sure in part it’s because people either haven’t actually read the articles, or they don’t understand what’s being said.

I’m going to explain this briefly and then tell you how you can find out if this situation actually DOES apply to you.

Uniparental Disomy in Brief

Here are a few summary bullet points about uniparental disomy:

  • Uniparental disomy is found on ONLY ONE CHROMOSOME in roughly 1 in 2000 people in the reference samples utilized at 23andMe.
  • This is not a new discovery, per se. It was known and previously believed to occur in 1 of 3,500 births, but that frequency has been updated to 1 in 2,000 in the paper.
  • Uniparental disomy was found in 1 of 50,000 people on TWO CHROMOSOMES.
  • This is NOT the reason you have more maternal or paternal matches, in general. Legitimate reasons for more matches on one parent’s line include the fact that one family or another historically has more or fewer descendants, more or fewer dead ends, recent immigrants, ancestors from regions where DNA testing is not popular and/or endogamous populations.
  • The people included in the research were trios where the tester and their parents have all 3 tested.
  • Many/most people with uniparental disomy have no known health issues.
  • The testers have in some cases been associated with some conditions, as described in the paper and supplemental information.
  • Of the people who carry this condition, more people carry a double maternal chromosome than a double paternal chromosome.
  • Uniparental disomy occurs more on chromosome 16 than any other chromosome, twice as often as the second highest, chromosome 7, with 40 and 20 occurrences each, respectively. Chromosome 18 had none. No, no one knows why.
  • It’s not necessary for the entire chromosome to be duplicated. In some cases, only part of the chromosome is improperly combined.

Articles

This Atlantic article provides an overview:

This academic paper in Cell is referenced in The Atlantic article and is where the meat of the information is found. Be sure to look at the supplemental files too.

Much of the data for the article was from 23andMe who discussed this study in their blog here.

What About You?

Do you have a chromosome that has experienced uniparental disomy? Probably not, but there’s a very easy way for you to find out.

If you have a duplicate chromosome, or portion of a chromosome from one parent, the genetic genealogy “indicator” that you’ll see is called ROH, or Run of Homozygosity. This condition occurs in situations where you have a duplicate chromosome, or where your parents are related to each other

  1. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not your parents are related to each other. If so, you will have some ROH segments.
  2. The second question is whether you have an entire duplicated chromosome when your parents aren’t related.

In order to answer both questions, we use the tool at GedMatch called “Are your parents related?”

Are Your Parents Related to Each Other?

You’ll need to establish an account at GedMatch and upload your DNA results from one of the testing vendors.

Here are instructions for how to download from the various vendors:

Using the “Are your parents related” Tool

To use this tool at GedMatch, after your uploaded kit is finished processing, click on “Are your parents related?” and enter the kit number of the person you want to evaluate. I’m assuming for this discussion that person is you.

Parents related.png

Normally, we use this tool to determine if someone’s parents are related to each other. We find this occurring in endogamous populations or where cousins married in the past few generations, as happened rather routinely in history.

In those situations, across all of a person’s chromosomes (not just one), we find relatively small segments of common DNA inherited by the person on both their maternal and paternal copies of each chromosome.

Parents are related.png

These matching areas are called ROH or “runs of homozygosity” meaning that the DNA is identical on both chromosomes for short segments, as shown above in the regions where the top bars are solid green and the bottom bar is solid blue.

The legend for reading the graphic is shown below.

Parents related legend.png

The chromosomes of a person whose parents are not related is shown below. Notice that there are no significant green bars on top, and no blue bars on the bottom.

Parents not related.png

Simple chance alone is responsible for tiny segments that are identical, like those tiny green slivers, but not larger segments over 7cM as shown in the first example and marked by blue on the bottom.

For someone that has a fully duplicated chromosome, meaning uniparental disomy, we see something different.

A Duplicate Chromosome

For someone that has a duplicate parental chromosome, all of their chromosomes look normal except that one entire chromosome, or a very large segment, is entirely identical.

Below is an example of a person whose chromosome 7 is duplicated. The rest of this person’s chromosomes looked like the image above with only tiny green slivers.

Parents uniparental disomy.png

If you have a duplicate chromosome, you’re rare, one in every 2,000 people in the populations studied.

If you have two identical chromosomes, you’re hen’s teeth rare – 1 in 50,000.

If you have uniparental disomy, you probably have no idea. You can also experience uniparental disomy when most of, but not all of a single chromosome is duplicated.

If you have duplicate parental chromosomes, you’ll match people on both sides of your family normally on all of your OTHER non-duplicate chromosomes. On your duplicate chromosome, you’ll only match people from the parent whose chromosome is duplicated.

In other words, this is NOT why you seem to be missing matches from one side of your family generally. You’ll need to look at other reasons to explain that.

If you have a duplicate chromosome, or large segment of a duplicate chromosome, leave a comment.

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Recreating Historic Photos Today – 52 Ancestors #259

As genealogists, we are always looking for new ways to have fun as well as share pieces of our family history with others. Especially others who might, just might, appreciate either the people involved, the history or the genealogy. Like, you know, the younger generation.

You just never know what might plant that seed.

Recently, my granddaughter, Phoebe, had a class assignment to obtain photos of a grandparent as a child and then take pictures of them today that shows the same spirit.

I was the fortunate grandparent selected, which meant that I also had the opportunity to look through old photos to find ones from my childhood, and to share with Phoebe stories of that time and place.

Until I began sorting through the photos, I never thought about why there weren’t any photos, other than school class photos, for about a 10-year period. Reflecting further, I realized that it was because we didn’t own a camera. We were “economically challenged” and a camera was a luxury. I never thought about it at the time.

My grandmother had a camera, but she died in 1960. My father apparently had a camera, because there were a few photos of me and Mom together that he had taken prior to his death in 1963.

I had never really talked to Phoebe about poverty and how we coped. I never knew anything different and our life, such as it was, just seemed normal to me. I didn’t think about discussing that time or those things.

I never told Phoebe that there weren’t places like Salvation Army and Goodwill at that time for low cost clothing. I had never explained about the kind-hearted woman, Gladys Caylor (1904-1997) who refurbished donated clothes, cleaned and repaired them, then invited people in need to “shop” in her living room and porch – never charging anyone one penny for anything.

We always took as little as we could, leaving as much as possible for people who needed more than we did. There were people much worse off than we were – people without food or shelter. We struggled and rationed our food, but never starved. I remember giving most of what little food we had left to a starving homeless beggar. I asked mother why, and she told me that he needed the food far more than we did – and “there but for the Grace of God…”

I learned about compassion at a very young age. Demonstrated lessons of heart stay with us for a lifetime.

I don’t know what we would have done without that generous lady. Mother was always embarrassed and tried to pay Mrs. Caylor, but she would never accept anything. She always insisted that it was nothing, that she enjoyed visiting with and helping people. She invited us to come and visit with her often, always feeding us while we were there too – whether we agreed to eat or not:)

May her soul rest in peace. She made such a difference in our lives.

Me suspenders.jpg

I had never explained that we always, always, selected clothes “too big,” even if they were free, so I had room to “grow into them.” I don’t think I ever had clothes that actually fit. I don’t remember wearing suspenders, but I assuredly did, as evidenced by this picture, to hold my pants up!

I hadn’t failed to explain because this was a secret, but simply because I didn’t think about it. It’s just how life was and it seemed unremarkable. This was my normal – and I’m none the worse for any of it today. In fact, I’m probably a better person because of those challenges – and examples.

Me Feb 1960.jpg

These pictures are cute now and at the time, I was unaware that not everyone’s life was the same. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Other than losing important people in my life, I was mostly a happy child.

In preparation for our photo shoot, I sent Phoebe several pictures that she could select from. When she arrived, I didn’t know what to expect, other than we would have fun!

Foreshadowing

The first photo that Phoebe selected is one with me holding an iron and looking a bit pensive. I remember helping Mom making those curtains hanging in the window – I think from what was left of an old sheet.

Me iron.jpg

Phoebe commented that the thing behind me didn’t look like an ironing board. I explained that we didn’t have an ironing board. When we needed to iron, which seemed like all the time, we put layers of blankets on that table, with a sheet over them, and that was our ironing board.

In this case, apparently the table wasn’t yet cleared to be transformed into an ironing board.

Phoebe thought there were flowers on the table, but looking closely, there were dyed Easter eggs and two chocolate bunnies, so this photo was taken near Easter.

Now for today’s recreated photo.

Me iron today.jpg

We found a flowered top in my closet, also now too large, that appropriately had been gifted to me second hand. It’s actually one of my favorites.

I’m a quilter, so the photo of the 5-year-old me holding an iron truly was prophetic as were the salvaged curtains.

Today, I have a large ironing board that my friend made for me using a sheet of plywood. It’s larger than most ironing boards, made specifically for ironing quilt tops, so we used a quilt as a cover and put a bouquet of flowers in the middle. My scissors are in evidence too, along with a plate collection from Mom and her mother.

I showed Phoebe her great-grandmother’s wedge irons for doll clothes that were heated in the fireplace.

Child's Iron 2

We discussed when electricity was wired into homes. My mother didn’t have electricity as a child.

Laughter and Smiles

Phoebe said that when she thinks of me, she thinks of me smiling and laughing because I smile “all the time.” If her father had been along today, he would have rolled his eyes and said, “that’s not the mother I knew.” 😊

Thinking about that made me laugh!

Me Playskool.jpg

Looking at the photos I sent Phoebe, apparently I did smile a lot, even then.

Me Timmy.jpg

Me with Timmy. I loved that little doggie. He let me dress him in doll clothes.

Me 1957.jpg

I loved Rex and my grandmother too. Apparently, something was VERY funny.

Me 1981.jpg

There’s about a quarter century between these photos. Not much changed!

Me wedding with Mom.jpg

And another quarter century later. I came by this trait honestly. That’s my mother beside me at my wedding reception.

Me laughing today.jpg

Phoebe snuck this one in on me.

If I’m going to be remembered for something, I want it to be for laughing and smiling a lot!

The Prom

I only went to one prom in my life – and this was it. My hair had already been straightened with an iron and curled in just the places I wanted it to curl. I spent years fighting with my hair. Now I just embrace it. So much easier.

Me prom prep.jpg

Mom had worn stage makeup while performing for years, so she knew exactly how to apply makeup while not getting it all over oneself. Not me, I struggled and still do.

Here, I’m sitting at Mom’s vanity in her bedroom before the prom working on my makeup. Mom sat at this vanity every single day to arrange her hair and apply makeup. Her parents gave the vanity, along with the rest of the bedroom set, to her as a birthday gift when she turned 16.

After mother passed away, in 2006, I inherited the vanity along with her other bedroom furniture. Today, this graces the guest bedroom where Phoebe and her family stay when they visit.

Me vanity today.jpg

We found Mom’s hand mirror that was laying on the vanity in the prom photo from 1971. Had I thought, I actually have the table runner, the gold powder box, the white porcelain tray and the pincushion too.

Phoebe and I looked through the drawers and I showed her the pea and marble-sized “pretty rocks” that her father had collected and given to his grandmother as a small boy.

Moms pebbles

Phoebe holds them in her hand today, but Mom held these smooth pebbles close to her heart her entire life.

Second Grade

I remember being so proud of myself in this picture of my second grade class. I’m the girl in the back row, second from right in the blue dress, just to the right of Mrs. Malone, my teacher.

I was quite proud because the smallest children were in the front row with the smallest desks. The medium height kids were in the middle two rows with medium desks.

Only the tallest kids were in the rear row and we had the “big kid” desks.

Me second grade.jpg

We were told to sit up straight and look busy. Notice our reading books on our desks. Reading was my favorite activity.

I explained to Phoebe that the classroom had two magazine subscriptions. One was to National Geographic magazine and the other was to Highlights for Children.

The day each month when those arrived was the best day EVER. I liked both magazines, but I devoured National Geographic, cover to cover. I read them over and over.

Me National Geographic today.jpg

In June 2018, I was featured in a story in National Geographic magazine about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It just so happens that I still have my own desk that I used at home as a child. My kids both used this desk too.

You can see how small and low to the ground the chair and desk are. The top of the desk is below my knee, with the chair seat maybe 6 or 8 inches off the floor. I’m amazed I could sit down that far today, or get up😊

It’s braced with iron and miraculously still solid after all these years. I think it has a couple more good generations left – so maybe this will be Phoebe’s one day too.

Phoebe told me to hold up the National Geographic magazine with the Lost Colony article and look proud of myself – just like second grade. Mrs. Malone would be proud. So would Mom.

Phoebe loved the symbolic bookshelf behind me. At first, I was unhappy about the packing boxes in the photo, but they too are symbolic. Now I’m packing and sorting, preparing for life’s next exciting chapter, wherever it leads.

I’ve come so very far from that desk in Mrs. Malone’s classroom.

Roberta Estes Computer Scientist

In the Gene by Gene lab, Courtesy of the History Channel, “In Search of The Lost Colony of Roanoke” documentary which can be viewed here: https://www.history.com/shows/in-search-of/season-2/episode-3

I’m firmly convinced that the enchanted, mesmerizing world revealed in the National Geographic magazine was part of what piqued my curiosity about all things scientific. The first influential steps in a lifelong journey. Today, I’m honored to be an affiliate National Geographic, Genographic Project researcher.

Happy Birthday

Me 5th birthday.jpg

This picture was taken on my 5th birthday. You can count the number of candles on the cake. I don’t remember what was in the gifts, but since my birthday was right after school started, many times I received books and school supplies.

While that might sound disappointing to some people, I didn’t mind at all. I loved books!

Oh, and I still love chocolate cake too!

Me at table today.jpg

Today, I often sit at the kitchen table and write my blog stories, like this one. Of course, I have my handy dandy phone by my side now too.

Phoebe took the photos in both black and white and color, adjusting the various camera settings. After all, this was a class assignment that we turned into a really fun afternoon.

We couldn’t decide which version we liked better. The black and white is more authentic to the original photo, but the colorized one reflects life today.

Me at table today color.jpg

As luck would have it, these photos were taken right after my birthday, so half a century (plus) after the original birthday photo. The new phone and red case was my gift from Jim. How times have changed. We didn’t even have a phone at all when the original photo was taken, and computers that weren’t the size of a building were something waiting in the distant future to be invented.

While overseas recently, my friend gifted me with books. Some things never change.

The only thing missing from this picture was chocolate and that’s because I cleared it off the table without thinking!

Throughout our photo shoot, we talked about things like trait similarities between generations. Who has whose smile? Who loves chocolate? How are we and family members alike and different? Phoebe didn’t have an opportunity to know my mother in person, but maybe she knows her a little better today than she did yesterday.

If we don’t take the opportunity to share our memories, even the ones we don’t think are important or relevant, they die with us.

Your Turn

It’s your turn now.

What kinds of old photos do you have that might be recreated? Maybe during the upcoming holiday season?

What seeds might be planted?

Is there an opportunity to utilize old photos to share the history of your family and family members individually, and have fun at the same time?

What things did you take for granted about your life that the are foreign to a younger generation?

What started you on the path to where you are today?

Whose kindness made a difference in your life?

What pebbles do you hold close to your heart, and why?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Hit a Genetic Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters

Do you want to hit a home run with your DNA test, but find yourself a mite bewildered?

Yep, those matches can be somewhat confusing – especially if you don’t understand what’s going on. Do you have a nagging feeling that you might be missing something?

I’m going to explain chromosome matching, and its big sister, triangulation, step by step to remove any confusion, to help you sort through your matches and avoid imposters.

This article is one of the most challenging I’ve ever written – in part because it’s a concept that I’m so familiar with but can be, and is, misinterpreted so easily. I see mistakes and confusion daily, which means that resulting conclusions stand a good chance of being wrong.

I’ve tried to simplify these concepts by giving you easy-to-use memory tools.

There are three key phrases to remember, as memory-joggers when you work through your matches using a chromosome browser: double-sided, two faces and imposter. While these are “cute,” they are also quite useful.

When you’re having a confusing moment, think back to these memory-jogging key words and walk yourself through your matches using these steps.

These three concepts are the foundation of understanding your matches, accurately, as they pertain to your genealogy. Please feel free to share, link or forward this article to your friends and especially your family members (including distant cousins) who work with genetic genealogy. 

Now, it’s time to enjoy your double-sided, two-faced chromosomes and avoid those imposters:)

Are you ready? Grab a nice cup of coffee or tea and learn how to hit home runs!

Double-Sided – Yes, Really

Your chromosomes really are double sided, and two-faced too – and that’s a good thing!

However, it’s initially confusing because when we view our matches in a chromosome browser, it looks like we only have one “bar” or chromosome and our matches from both our maternal and paternal sides are both shown on our one single bar.

How can this be? We all have two copies of chromosome 1, one from each parent.

Chromosome 1 match.png

This is my chromosome 1, with my match showing in blue when compared to my chromosome, in gray, as the background.

However, I don’t know if this blue person matches me on my mother’s or father’s chromosome 1, both of which I inherited. It could be either. Or neither – meaning the dreaded imposter – especially that small blue piece at left.

What you’re seeing above is in essence both “sides” of my chromosome number 1, blended together, in one bar. That’s what I mean by double-sided.

There’s no way to tell which side or match is maternal and which is paternal without additional information – and misunderstanding leads to misinterpreting results.

Let’s straighten this out and talk about what matches do and don’t mean – and why they can be perplexing. Oh, and how to discover those imposters!

Your Three Matches

Let’s say you have three matches.

At Family Tree DNA, the example chromosome browser I’m using, or at any vendor with a chromosome browser, you select your matches which are viewed against your chromosomes. Your chromosomes are always the background, meaning in this case, the grey background.

Chromosome 1-4.png

  • This is NOT three copies each of your chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • This is NOT displaying your maternal and paternal copies of each chromosome pictured.
  • We CANNOT tell anything from this image alone relative to maternal and paternal side matches.
  • This IS showing three individual people matching you on your chromosome 1 and the same three people matching you in the same order on every chromosome in the picture.

Let’s look at what this means and why we want to utilize a chromosome browser.

I selected three matches that I know are not all related through the same parent so I can demonstrate how confusing matches can be sorted out. Throughout this article, I’ve tried to explain each concept in at least two ways.

Please note that I’m using only chromsomes 1-4 as examples, not because they are any more, or less, important than the other chromosomes, but because showing all 22 would not add any benefit to the discussion. The X chromosome has a separate inheritance path and I wrote about that here.

Let’s start with a basic question.

Why Would I Want to Use a Chromosome Browser?

Genealogists view matches on chromosome browsers because:

  • We want to see where our matches match us on our chromosomes
  • We’d like to identify our common ancestor with our match
  • We want to assign a matching segment to a specific ancestor or ancestral line, which confirmed those ancestors as ours
  • When multiple people match us on the same location on the chromosome browser, that’s a hint telling us that we need to scrutinize those matches more closely to determine if those people match us on our maternal or paternal side which is the first step in assigning that segment to an ancestor

Once we accurately assign a segment to an ancestor, when anyone else matches us (and those other people) on that same segment, we know which ancestral line they match through – which is a great head start in terms of identifying our common ancestor with our new match.

That’s a genetic genealogy home run!

Home Runs 

There are four bases in a genetic genealogy home run.

  1. Determine whether you actually match someone on the same segment
  2. Which is the first step in determining that you match a group of people on the same segment
  3. And that you descend from a common ancestor
  4. The fourth step, or the home run, is to determine which ancestor you have in common, assigning that segment to that ancestor

If you can’t see segment information, you can’t use a chromosome browser and you can’t confirm the match on that segment, nor can you assign that segment to a particular ancestor, or ancestral couple.

The entire purpose of genealogy is to identify and confirm ancestors. Genetic genealogy confirms the paper trail and breaks down even more brick walls.

But before you can do that, you have to understand what matches mean and how to use them.

The first step is to understand that our chromosomes are double-sided and you can’ t see both of your chromosomes at once!

Double Sided – You Can’t See Both of Your Chromosomes at Once

The confusing part of the chromosome browser is that it can only “see” your two chromosomes blended as one. They are both there, but you just can’t see them separately.

Here’s the important concept:

You have 2 copies of chromosomes 1 through 22 – one copy that you received from your mother and one from your father, but you can’t “see” them separately.

When your DNA is sequenced, your DNA from your parents’ chromosomes emerges as if it has been through a blender. Your mother’s chromosome 1 and your father’s chromosome 1 are blended together. That means that without additional information, the vendor can’t tell which matches are from your father’s side and which are from your mother’s side – and neither can you.

All the vendor can tell is that someone matches you on the blended version of your parents. This isn’t a negative reflection on the vendors, it’s just how the science works.

Chromosome 1.png

Applying this to chromosome 1, above, means that each segment from each person, the blue person, the red person and the teal person might match you on either one of your chromosomes – the paternal chromosome or the maternal chromosome – but because the DNA of your mother and father are blended – there’s no way without additional information to sort your chromosome 1 into a maternal and paternal “side.”

Hence, you’re viewing “one” copy of your combined chromosomes above, but it’s actually “two-sided” with both maternal and paternal matches displayed in the chromosome browser.

Parent-Child Matches

Let’s explain this another way.

Chromosome parent.png

The example above shows one of my parents matching me. Don’t be deceived by the color blue which is selected randomly. It could be either parent. We don’t know.

You can see that I match my parent on the entire length of chromosome 1, but there is no way for me to tell if I’m looking at my mother’s match or my father’s match, because both of my parents (and my children) will match me on exactly the same locations (all of them) on my chromosome 1.

Chromosome parent child.png

In fact, here is a combination of my children and my parents matching me on my chromosome 1.

To sort out who is matching on paternal and maternal chromosomes, or the double sides, I need more information. Let’s look at how inheritance works.

Stay with me!

Inheritance Example

Let’s take a look at how inheritance works visually, using an example segment on chromosome 1.

Chromosome inheritance.png

In the example above:

  • The first column shows addresses 1-10 on chromosome 1. In this illustration, we are only looking at positions, chromosome locations or addresses 1-10, but real chromosomes have tens of thousands of addresses. Think of your chromosome as a street with the same house numbers on both sides. One side is Mom’s and one side is Dad’s, but you can’t tell which is which by looking at the house numbers because the house numbers are identical on both sides of the street.
  • The DNA pieces, or nucleotides (T, A, C or G,) that you received from your Mom are shown in the column labeled Mom #1, meaning we’re looking at your mother’s pink chromosome #1 at addresses 1-10. In our example she has all As that live on her side of the street at addresses 1-10.
  • The DNA pieces that you received from your Dad are shown in the blue column and are all Cs living on his side of the street in locations 1-10.

In other words, the values that live in the Mom and Dad locations on your chromosome streets are different. Two different faces.

However, all that the laboratory equipment can see is that there are two values at address 1, A and C, in no particular order. The lab can’t tell which nucleotide came from which parent or which side of the street they live on.

The DNA sequencer knows that it found two values at each address, meaning that there are two DNA strands, but the output is jumbled, as shown in the First and Second read columns. The machine knows that you have an A and C at the first address, and a C and A at the second address, but it can’t put the sequence of all As together and the sequence of all Cs together. What the sequencer sees is entirely unordered.

This happens because your maternal and paternal DNA is mixed together during the extraction process.

Chromosome actual

Click to enlarge image.

Looking at the portion of chromosome 1 where the blue and teal people both match you – your actual blended values are shown overlayed on that segment, above. We don’t know why the blue and the teal people are matching you. They could be matching because they have all As (maternal), all Cs (paternal) or some combination of As and Cs (a false positive match that is identical by chance.)

There are only two ways to reassemble your nucleotides (T, A, C, and G) in order and then to identify the sides as maternal and paternal – phasing and matching.

As you read this next section, it does NOT mean that you must have a parent for a chromosome browser to be useful – but it does mean you need to understand these concepts.

There are two types of phasing.

Parental Phasing

  • Parental Phasing is when your DNA is compared against that of one or both parents and sorted based on that comparison.

Chromosome inheritance actual.png

Parental phasing requires that at least one parent’s DNA is available, has been sequenced and is available for matching.

In our example, Dad’s first 10 locations (that you inherited) on chromosome 1 are shown, at left, with your two values shown as the first and second reads. One of your read values came from your father and the other one came from your mother. In this case, the Cs came from your father. (I’m using A and C as examples, but the values could just as easily be T or G or any combination.)

When parental phasing occurs, the DNA of one of your parents is compared to yours. In this case, your Dad gave you a C in locations 1-10.

Now, the vendor can look at your DNA and assign your DNA to one parent or the other. There can be some complicating factors, like if both your parents have the same nucleotides, but let’s keep our example simple.

In our example above, you can see that I’ve colored portions of the first and second strands blue to represent that the C value at that address can be assigned through parental phasing to your father.

Conversely, because your mother’s DNA is NOT available in our example, we can’t compare your DNA to hers, but all is not lost. Because we know which nucleotides came from your father, the remaining nucleotides had to come from your mother. Hence, the As remain after the Cs are assigned to your father and belong to your mother. These remaining nucleotides can logically be recombined into your mother’s DNA – because we’ve subtracted Dad’s DNA.

I’ve reassembled Mom, in pink, at right.

Statistical/Academic Phasing

  • A second type of phasing uses something referred to as statistical or academic phasing.

Statistical phasing is less successful because it uses statistical calculations based on reference populations. In other words, it uses a “most likely” scenario.

By studying reference populations, we know scientifically that, generally, for our example addresses 1-10, we either see all As or all Cs grouped together.

Based on this knowledge, the Cs can then logically be grouped together on one “side” and As grouped together on the other “side,” but we still have no way to know which side is maternal or paternal for you. We only know that normally, in a specific population, we see all As or all Cs. After assigning strings or groups of nucleotides together, the algorithm then attempts to see which groups are found together, thereby assigning genetic “sides.” Assigning the wrong groups to the wrong side sometimes happens using statistical phasing and is called strand swap.

Once the DNA is assigned to physical “sides” without a parent or matching, we still can’t identify which side is paternal and which is maternal for you.

Statistical or academic phasing isn’t always accurate, in part because of the differences found in various reference populations and resulting admixture. Sometimes segments don’t match well with any population. As more people test and more reference populations become available, statistical/academic phasing improves. 23andMe uses academic phasing for ethnicity, resulting in a strand swap error for me. Ancestry uses academic phasing before matching.

By comparison to statistical or academic phasing, parental phasing with either or both parents is highly accurate which is why we test our parents and grandparents whenever possible. Even if the vendor doesn’t use our parents’ results, we certainly can!

If someone matches you and your parent too, you know that match is from that parent’s side of your tree.

Matching

The second methodology to sort your DNA into maternal and paternal sides is matching, either with or without your parents.

Matching to multiple known relatives on specific segments assigns those segments of your DNA to the common ancestor of those individuals.

In other words, when I match my first cousin, and our genealogy indicates that we share grandparents – assuming we match on the appropriate amount of DNA for the expected relationship – that match goes a long way to confirming our common ancestor(s).

The closer the relationship, the more comfortable we can be with the confirmation. For example, if you match someone at a parental level, they must be either your biological mother, father or child.

While parent, sibling and close relationships are relatively obvious, more distant relationships are not and can occur though unknown or multiple ancestors. In those cases, we need multiple matches through different children of that ancestor to reasonably confirm ancestral descent.

Ok, but how do we do that? Let’s start with some basics that can be confusing.

What are we really seeing when we look at a chromosome browser?

The Grey/Opaque Background is Your Chromosome

It’s important to realize that you will see as many images of your chromosome(s) as people you have selected to match against.

This means that if you’ve selected 3 people to match against your chromosomes, then you’ll see three images of your chromosome 1, three images of your chromosome 2, three images of your chromosome 3, three images of your chromosome 4, and so forth.

Remember, chromosomes are double-sided, so you don’t know whether these are maternal or paternal matches (or imposters.)

In the illustration below, I’ve selected three people to match against my chromosomes in the chromosome browser. One person is shown as a blue match, one as a red match, and one as a teal match. Where these three people match me on each chromosome is shown by the colored segments on the three separate images.

Chromosome 1.png

My chromosome 1 is shown above. These images are simply three people matching to my chromosome 1, stacked on top of each other, like cordwood.

The first image is for the blue person. The second image is for the red person. The third image is for the teal person.

If I selected another person, they would be assigned a different color (by the system) and a fourth stacked image would occur.

These stacked images of your chromosomes are NOT inherently maternal or paternal.

In other words, the blue person could match me maternally and the red person paternally, or any combination of maternal and paternal. Colors are not relevant – in other words colors are system assigned randomly.

Notice that portions of the blue and teal matches overlap at some of the same locations/addresses, which is immediately visible when using a chromosome browser. These areas of common matching are of particular interest.

Let’s look closer at how chromosome browser matching works.

What about those colorful bars?

Chromosome Browser Matching

When you look at your chromosome browser matches, you may see colored bars on several chromosomes. In the display for each chromosome, the same color will always be shown in the same order. Most people, unless very close relatives, won’t match you on every chromosome.

Below, we’re looking at three individuals matching on my chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Chromosome browser.png

The blue person will be shown in location A on every chromosome at the top. You can see that the blue person does not match me on chromosome 2 but does match me on chromosomes 1, 3 and 4.

The red person will always be shown in the second position, B, on each chromosome. The red person does not match me on chromosomes 2 or 4.

The aqua person will always be shown in position C on each chromosome. The aqua person matches me on at least a small segment of chromosomes 1-4.

When you close the browser and select different people to match, the colors will change and the stacking order perhaps, but each person selected will always be consistently displayed in the same position on all of your chromosomes each time you view.

The Same Address – Stacked Matches

In the example above, we can see that several locations show stacked segments in the same location on the browser.

Chromosome browser locations.png

This means that on chromosome 1, the blue and green person both match me on at least part of the same addresses – the areas that overlap fully. Remember, we don’t know if that means the maternal side or the paternal side of the street. Each match could match on the same or different sides.

Said another way, blue could be maternal and teal could be paternal (or vice versa,) or both could be maternal or paternal. One or the other or both could be imposters, although with large segments that’s very unlikely.

On chromosome 4, blue and teal both match me on two common locations, but the teal person extends beyond the length of the matching blue segments.

Chromosome 3 is different because all three people match me at the same address. Even though the red and teal matching segments are longer, the shared portion of the segment between all three people, the length of the blue segment, is significant.

The fact that the stacked matches are in the same places on the chromosomes, directly above/below each other, DOES NOT mean the matches also match each other.

The only way to know whether these matches are both on one side of my tree is whether or not they match each other. Do they look the same or different? One face or two? We can’t tell from this view alone.

We need to evaluate!

Two Faces – Matching Can be Deceptive!

What do these matches mean? Let’s ask and answer a few questions.

  • Does a stacked match mean that one of these people match on my mother’s side and one on my father’s side?

They might, but stacked matches don’t MEAN that.

If one match is maternal, and one is paternal, they still appear at the same location on your chromosome browser because Mom and Dad each have a side of the street, meaning a chromosome that you inherited.

Remember in our example that even though they have the same street address, Dad has blue Cs and Mom has pink As living at that location. In other words, their faces look different. So unless Mom and Dad have the same DNA on that entire segment of addresses, 1-10, Mom and Dad won’t match each other.

Therefore, my maternal and paternal matches won’t match each other either on that segment either, unless:

  1. They are related to me through both of my parents and on that specific location.
  2. My mother and father are related to each other and their DNA is the same on that segment.
  3. There is significant endogamy that causes my parents to share DNA segments from their more distant ancestors, even though they are not related in the past few generations.
  4. The segments are small (segments less than 7cM are false matches roughly 50% of the time) and therefore the match is simply identical by chance. I wrote about that here. The chart showing valid cM match percentages is shown here, but to summarize, 7-8 cMs are valid roughly 46% of the time, 8-9 cM roughly 66%, 9-10 cM roughly 91%, 10-11 cM roughly 95, but 100 is not reached until about 20 cM and I have seen a few exceptions above that, especially when imputation is involved.

Chromosome inheritance match.png

In this inheritance example, we see that pink Match #1 is from Mom’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from pink Mom. Blue Match #2 is from Dad’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from blue Dad. But as you can see, Match #1 and Match #2 do not match each other.

Therefore, the address is only half the story (double-sided.)

What lives at the address is the other half. Mom and Dad have two separate faces!

Chromosome actual overlay

Click to enlarge image

Looking at our example of what our DNA in parental order really looks like on chromosome 1, we see that the blue person actually matches on my maternal side with all As, and the teal person on the paternal side with all Cs.

  • Does a stacked match on the chromosome browser mean that two people match each other?

Sometimes it happens, but not necessarily, as shown in our example above. The blue and teal person would not match each other. Remember, addresses (the street is double-sided) but the nucleotides that live at that address tell the real story. Think two different looking faces, Mom’s and Dad’s, peering out those windows.

If stacked matches match each other too – then they match me on the same parental side. If they don’t match each other, don’t be deceived just because they live at the same address. Remember – Mom’s and Dad’s two faces look different.

For example, if both the blue and teal person match me maternally, with all As, they would also match each other. The addresses match and the values that live at the address match too. They look exactly the same – so they both match me on either my maternal or paternal side – but it’s up to me to figure out which is which using genealogy.

Chromosome actual maternal.png

Click to enlarge image

When my matches do match each other on this segment, plus match me of course, it’s called triangulation.

Triangulation – Think of 3

If my two matches match each other on this segment, in addition to me, it’s called triangulation which is genealogically significant, assuming:

  1. That the triangulated people are not closely related. Triangulation with two siblings, for example, isn’t terribly significant because the common ancestor is only their parents. Same situation with a child and a parent.
  2. The triangulated segments are not small. Triangulation, like matching, on small segments can happen by chance.
  3. Enough people triangulate on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor to confirm the validity of the common ancestor’s identity, also confirming that the match is identical by descent, not identical by chance.

Chromosome inheritance triangulation.png

The key to determining whether my two matches both match me on my maternal side (above) or paternal side is whether they also match each other.

If so, assuming all three of the conditions above are true, we triangulate.

Next, let’s look at a three-person match on the same segment and how to determine if they triangulate.

Three Way Matching and Identifying Imposters

Chromosome 3 in our example is slightly different, because all three people match me on at least a portion of that segment, meaning at the same address. The red and teal segments line up directly under the blue segment – so the portion that I can potentially match identically to all 3 people is the length of the blue segment. It’s easy to get excited, but don’t get excited quite yet.

Chromosome 3 way match.png

Given that three people match me on the same street address/location, one of the following three situations must be true:

  • Situation 1- All three people match each other in addition to me, on that same segment, which means that all three of them match me on either the maternal or paternal side. This confirms that we are related on the same side, but not how or which side.

Chromosome paternal.png

In order to determine which side, maternal or paternal, I need to look at their and my genealogy. The blue arrows in these examples mean that I’ve determined these matches to all be on my father’s side utilizing a combination of genealogy plus DNA matching. If your parent is alive, this part is easy. If not, you’ll need to utilize common matching and/or triangulation with known relatives.

  • Situation 2 – Of these three people, Cheryl, the blue bar on top, matches me but does not match the other two. Charlene and David, the red and teal, match each other, plus me, but not Cheryl.

Chromosome maternal paternal.png

This means that at least either my maternal or paternal side is represented, given that Charlene and David also match each other. Until I can look at the identity of who matches, or their genealogy, I can’t tell which person or people descend from which side.

In this case, I’ve determined that Cheryl, my first cousin, with the pink arrow matches me on Mom’s side and Charlene and David, with the blue arrows, match me on Dad’s side. So both my maternal and paternal sides are represented – my maternal side with the pink arrow as well as my father’s side with the blue arrows.

If Cheryl was a more distant match, I would need additional triangulated matches to family members to confirm her match as legitimate and not a false positive or identical by chance.

  • Situation 3 – Of the three people, all three match me at the same addresses, but none of the three people match each other. How is this even possible?

Chromosome identical by chance.png

This situation seems very counter-intuitive since I have only 2 chromosomes, one from Mom and one from Dad – 2 sidesof the street. It is confusing until you realize that one match (Cheryl and me, pink arrow) would be maternal, one would be paternal (Charlene and me, blue arrow) and the third (David and me, red arrows) would have DNA that bounces back and forth between my maternal and paternal sides, meaning the match with David is identical by chance (IBC.)

This means the third person, David, would match me, but not the people that are actually maternal and paternal matches. Let’s take a look at how this works

Chromosome maternal paternal IBC.png

The addresses are the same, but the values that live at the addresses are not in this third scenario.

Maternal pink Match #1 is Cheryl, paternal blue Match #2 is Charlene.

In this example, Match #3, David, matches me because he has pink and blue at the same addresses that Mom and Dad have pink and blue, but he doesn’t have all pink (Mom) nor all blue (Dad), so he does NOT match either Cheryl or Charlene. This means that he is not a valid genealogical match – but is instead what is known as a false positive – identical by chance, not by descent. In essence, a wily genetic imposter waiting to fool unwary genealogists!

In his case, David is literally “two-faced” with parts of both values that live in the maternal house and the paternal house at those addresses. He is a “two-faced imposter” because he has elements of both but isn’t either maternal or paternal.

This is the perfect example of why matching and triangulating to known and confirmed family members is critical.

All three people, Cheryl, Charlene and David match me (double sided chromosomes), but none of them match each other (two legitimate faces – one from each parent’s side plus one imposter that doesn’t match either the legitimate maternal or paternal relatives on that segment.)

Remember Three Things

  1. Double-Sided – Mom and Dad both have the same addresses on both sides of each chromosome street.
  2. Two Legitimate Faces – The DNA values, nucleotides, will have a unique pattern for both your Mom and Dad (unless they are endogamous or related) and therefore, there are two legitimate matching patterns on each chromsome – one for Mom and one for Dad. Two legitimate and different faces peering out of the houses on Mom’s side and Dad’s side of the street.
  3. Two-Faced Imposters – those identical by chance matches which zig-zag back and forth between Mom and Dad’s DNA at any given address (segment), don’t match confirmed maternal and paternal relatives on the same segment, and are confusing imposters.

Are you ready to hit your home run?

What’s Next?

Now that we understand how matching and triangulation works and why, let’s put this to work at the vendors. Join me for my article in a few days, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch.

We will step through how triangulation works at each vendor. You’ll have matches at each vendor that you don’ t have elsewhere. If you haven’t transferred your DNA file yet, you still have time with the step by step instructions below:

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 10 PM for “In Search of the Lost Colony,” a documentary on the History Channel. Here’s the schedule.

Lost Colony History Channel

If you can’t see the episode on Friday, past “In Search Of” episodes are available for viewing and The Lost Colony episode will be available here too after airing. You can watch it on your computer after it airs if you don’t have access to The History Channel.

If you’d like more background, you can read my article, The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did They Survive? – National Geographic, Archaeology, Historical Records and DNA.

A Little History

In 2007, I became involved in the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a group of settlers who sailed to what is now Roanoke Island, NC in 1587 with the intention of establishing an English Colony.

Luck was not in their favor. Many elements were against them. The supply ship with their food was wrecked on the shoals during one of the notorious hurricanes that plague the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Adding even more drama, the captain of the lead ship in the voyage was supposed to transport the colonists on to the Chesapeake, but refused to do so, in essence, stranding them. Did I mention that the notorious captain just happened to be a pirate, rescued from the gallows by a man who was scheming for the colony to fail?

You might be guessing by now that there are layers upon layers of drama – and you’d be right.

The transport ships themselves were headed back to England after depositing the colonists and agreed to carry only one person from the colony with them. The colonists elected their “governor,” John White as their representative to return to England and request resupply. Somehow, somehow, the colonists, White’s daughter among them, would try to survive half a year, until about Easter 1588, when crossing the Atlantic would once again be safe. At that time in history, winter crossings were not undertaken.

However, the Spanish Armada and the war between England and Spain interfered with the resupply plan. It wasn’t until 1590 that John White was able to return, on yet another pirate ship, to attempt to resupply or rescue the colonists.

A Big Mystery

He found…nothing.

The colonists were gone – disappeared – but they left White a one-word message – Croatoan – carved into a post at their fort and “Cro” carved into a tree.

Croatoan tree

Dawn Taylor (left) and Anne Poole beside a reproduction of the carving White discovered upon his 1590 return to Roanoke Island.

Croatoan was the name of the friendly Indians who lived on Hatteras Island, just south of Roanoke Island.

Another hurricane arose, preventing White from visiting Hatteras, but their ships had sailed within sight of Hatteras on their way to Roanoke.

Were the colonists gone?

Had they survived?

Did they perish?

Or move on?

Inland perhaps?

What do we know?

What is yet to be discovered?

The Documentary

Along with others involved in the search, I filmed a segment for the History Channel in June. My portion was recorded at the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston, Texas. As you might guess, my portion involves DNA testing.

Lost Colony, Dr Connie Bormans and Roberta Estes

Here’s a sneak peek, Dr. Connie Bormans, Lab Director, at left, with me in the dark lab coat, at right, during the filming. You’ll enjoy a lovely tour of the genetics lab while walking a test through the process, assuming that portion is included in the documentary.

This is the first production of this type that I’ve been involved with. I’ve declined several other invitations because of concerns about sensationalism.

I’ve enjoyed programs on the History Channel before and hoped that they would be less inclined to fall into that trap.

The DNA Projects

Regardless, the DNA part of this story is mine to tell, and I wasn’t about to forego that opportunity.

I founded the Lost Colony DNA projects in 2007.

The Lost Colony Y DNA Project for males who carry the Lost Colony surnames AND whose families are found in early eastern North Carolina OR among the Native people is here, and the Lost Colony Family Project for those interested but aren’t male who carry the colonist surnames is here.

How Does Filming Work?

I’ve always wondered how this works, so I’m sharing with you.

It’s interesting to note that people in the episodes don’t know what the other people said or who else is involved.

In my case, I did happen to know about two other people, Anne Poole, Director of the Lost Colony Research Group and Andy Gabriel-Powell. The three of us along with Dawn Taylor and others have worked on solving the mystery together for a dozen years now, focused on archaeological excavations in various locations on the Outer Banks along with historical records in the US, England, Spain and Portugal.

Lost colony dna

Anne and I sifting during one of the digs.

Andy, the former mayor of historic Bideford, England, home of Richard Grenville, authored the book Richard Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke which you can view, here.

I know the production crew interviewed other people as well, but I’ll find out who they are and what everyone says right along with you.

It might not surprise you to learn that numerous people have been involved in the search for the Lost Colony over the ensuing 432 years – and not all of them ethical. Like anything else high-profile, the Lost Colony has attracted its share of bad actors along with some fantastic researchers.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what or whom to believe, so Anne, Andy and I, along with our colleagues working alongside us, committed to document and source all information independently. Our goal was and is to excavate the truth, regardless of where that truth leads.

In 2007, Anne and I founded the loosely organized, all-volunteer, Lost Colony Research Group to facilitate various types of research and coordinate archaeological excavations.

The LCRG sponsored half a dozen digs and committed to making our finds public, allowing future researchers access to our research, artifacts and DNA results when technology has improved and perhaps more is known or can be discovered. It’s the only responsible approach.

People interviewed during the filming are not actors and are not paid, nor are they afforded the opportunity to review and approve any footage or anything in the segment before it’s aired.

Other than clarifying a couple of questions after the filming and being informed of the date and time when the episode will air, we had no communications with the production crew or staff after filming.

None of us knows what the segment contains or how it will be portrayed. We don’t actually even know if we are IN the segment, just that we were filmed. The segment at the lab with Dr. Bormans took about a day and a half of filming, plus several days of preparation, as did Andy’s and Anne’s portions, respectively. Most of what is filmed winds up on the cutting room floor. That’s the nature of the beast.

I have my fingers crossed that the resulting program is scientifically sound as well as entertaining. The Lost Colony is, after all, one of America’s oldest mysteries.

One thing is for sure – I’ll be watching. I hope you do too.

If you have ancestors in the US or in the British Isles – you or your family might just have that critical piece of information needed to solve the mystery!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNAPainter Instructions and Resources

DNAPainter garden

DNAPainter is one of my favorite tools because DNAPainter, just as its name implies, facilitates users painting their matches’ segments on their various chromosomes. It’s genetic art and your ancestors provide the paint!

People use DNAPainter in different ways for various purposes. I utilize DNAPainter to paint matches with whom I’ve identified a common ancestor and therefore know the historical “identity” of the ancestors who contributed that segment.

Those colors in the graphic above are segments identified to different ancestors through DNA matching.

DNAPainter includes:

  • The ability to paint or map your chromosomes with your matching segments as well as your ethnicity segments
  • The ability to upload or create trees and mark individuals you’ve confirmed as your genetic ancestors
  • A number of tools including the Shared cM Tool to show ranges of relationships based on your match level and WATO (what are the odds) tool to statistically predict or estimate various positions in a family based on relationships to other known family members

A Repository

I’ve created this article as a quick-reference instructional repository for the articles I’ve written about DNAPainter. As I write more articles, I’ll add them here as well.

  • The Chromosome Sudoku article introduced DNAPainter and how to use the tool. This is a step-by-step guide for beginners.

DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts

  • Where do you find those matches to paint? At the vendors such as Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch, of course. The Mining Vendor Matches article explains how.

DNAPainter – Mining Vendor Matches to Paint Your Chromosomes

  • Touring the Chromosome Garden explains how to interpret the results of DNAPainter, and how automatic triangulation just “happens” as you paint. I also discuss ethnicity painting and how to handle questionable ancestors.

DNA Painter – Touring the Chromosome Garden

  • You can prove or disprove a half-sibling relationship using DNAPainter – for you and also for other people in your tree.

Proving or Disproving a Half Sibling Relationship Using DNAPainter

  • Not long after Dana Leeds introduced The Leeds Method of clustering matches into 4 groups representing your 4 grandparents, I adapted her method to DNAPainter.

DNAPainter: Painting the Leeds Method Matches

  • Ethnicity painting is a wonderful tool to help identify Native American or minority ancestry segments by utilizing your estimated ethnicity segments. Minority in this context means minority to you.

Native American and Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

  • Creating a tree or uploading a GEDCOM file provides you with Ancestral Trees where you can indicate which people in your tree are genetically confirmed as your ancestors.

DNAPainter: Ancestral Trees

Of course, the key to DNA painting is to have as many matches and segments as possible identified to specific ancestors. In order to do that, you need to have your DNA working for you at as many vendors as possible that provide you with matching and a chromosome browser. Ancestry does not have a browser or provide specific paintable segment information, but the other major vendors do, and you can transfer Ancestry results elsewhere.

DNA Transfers

Some vendors don’t require you to test at their company and allow transfers into their systems from other vendors. Those vendors do charge a small fee to unlock their advanced features, but not as much as testing there.

Ancestry and 23andMe DO NOT allow transfers of DNA from other vendors INTO their systems, but they do allow you to download your raw DNA file to transfer TO other vendors.

Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch all 3 accept files uploaded FROM other vendors. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage also allow you to download your raw data file to transfer TO other vendors.

These articles provide step-by-step instructions how to download your results from the various vendors and how to upload to that vendor, when possible.

Here are some suggestions about DNA testing and a transfer strategy:

Paint and have fun!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Michael McDowell Jr. (c1747 – c1840), Revolutionary War Veteran, Spy, Miller and Apparently, Rabble Rouser, 52 Ancestors #258

I’m struck by how much Michael McDowell’s life reads like a book with distinct chapters. One closes and as the wagon pulls away from the old homestead and another opens.

Michael did that at least twice in his adult life.

I first found Michael McDowell in present day Hancock County, Tennessee and worked my way backward in time, which was anything but easy.

For starters, Hancock County records burned, twice. At the time Michael lived, it was Claiborne County, whose records are incomplete. The place where he lived also bordered Lee County, Virginia and the border between Virginia and Tennessee was disputed for the entirety of Michael’s lifetime. And not to mention various census years that I need that are missing.

For decades, I’ve felt like the great genealogy gods have a perverse and somewhat perverted sense of humor. “Oh, you’ve overcome that road block, well, try this one! Hahahahah.”

In reassembling Michael’s life and that of his parents and children, I’ve had to connect many dots. Some snapped right in, like puzzle pieces nestling together like Russian tea dolls, but a few…not so much. The further back in time we go, the more scarce and difficult the pieces. It’s doesn’t help any that his father’s name was Michael McDowell too, as was his son.

Our Michael McDowell Jr. was born about 1747, possibly in Lunenburg or Albemarle County. His father’s trail goes cold in 1755 in Bedford County where Michael Jr. entered the Revolutionary War in 1777.

The name of Michael’s mother is unknown. She could have been from anyplace between Maryland and Lunenburg County, Virginia. If she was the same age as Michael’s father, she would have been born about 1720, or about 27 when MIchael Jr. was born. It’s likely that someplace, Michael Jr. has siblings.

Revolutionary War Pension Application

One of our most valuable pieces of information about Michael McDowell is his application for a Revolutionary War pension found in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Two versions exist, one somewhat more detailed than the other.

Michael McDowell, Page 31 section 28, Michael McDowell S 1690 Virginia Service:

This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of Law and this equity in Claiborne Co., TN. Michael McDowell, age 85, in order to obtain benefit of an act of Congress, passed June 7, 1832. He made this application 1832. States he entered the service in Bedford Co., VA 1777 or 1778. He was drafted to perform 3 months tour of duty and he belonged to Company of Capt. Arthur which was attached to the regiment of Col. James Calloway. He then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and built a fort, and also under Capt. Wm. Leftridge at the same Fort. And after his term expired, returned home to his residence in Bedford Co., VA, and again volunteered under Capt. Arther, and marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage. He went to see his Capt. Arther who now lives in Kentucky and he is so parallized and so polsed? so that he can not speak, so as to be understood.

John Hunt a citizen of Claiborne County, Tennessee, certify that I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell, and it is reputed and believed in the neighbourhood where he lives that he was a Revolutionary War Soldier.

Affidavit of James Gilbert, one of the clergyman of the Baptist Church, state I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell.

John Hunt, High Sheriff of said county, makes the same statement.

This affidavit gives us a lot of information about Michael, including that he and his friends called themselves spies.

His age is given, which puts his birth about 1747.

We know that in 1777, Michael was 30 years old and living in Bedford County, Virginia. He was married by that time, with his son Edward born in 1773 and his son Michael (the third) being born before 1774.

Information from “TN Pension Roll of 1835” copied by William Navey:

Michael McDowell – Claiborne Co., TN – Private VA Line, $30 annual allowance – $90 amount received, Sept. 20, 1833 pension started – age 87 in 1835

State of Tennessee, Claiborne County This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of law and equity in the state of Tennessee the same being a Court of Record, Michael McDowell age 85 years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of an Act of Congress passed June 7, 1832. States that he entered the services of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein states that he resided in the County of Bedford in the State of Virginia and some time in the year of 1777 or in the year of 1778 he was drafted to perform a three month tour of duty in the services his county and that he belonged to company commanded by Capt. Arthur which said company was attached to the regiment commanded by Col. James Calaway then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and we then built a fort and we were there stationed until my time of service has expired and then it was that Col. Calaway called upon us to volunteer our services in the cause of our country for the time of three months which this applicant did do in good faith and he states most positively that he did serve his country under the command of Capt. William Selfridge at the same fort and after his time of service had again expired this applicant returned home to his residence in the State of Virginia in Bedford County and some time after this applicant returned home he again volunteered himself under Capt. Arthur and he then marched against the Indians who were committing many defamations on the inhabitants of Virginia and the applicant states that he served in the campaign as long as his services was required by the commanding officer, but the precise time he does not recollect and then being discharged from service he returned to his residence in the County of Bedford. And this applicant begs leave further to represent to the department that some time after he had returned home from the last above mentioned campaign that he united himself with some of his neighbors and friends together with a vow to protect the women and children from the scalping knife of the savage and often performing a great deal of hard labour in the service of our country and after the spring of the year had set in and the savages had left the frontier we again returned home the applicant states that he believes taking the whole of his service together that he served in the cause of his country for the term of nine months although it may be more or it may be less. Said applicant also states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his services. He a few days ago went to see his Capt. (to wit) Capt. Arthur who now lives in the State of Kentucky and that he found that the said Arthur is paralyzed and so palsied that he cannot speak so as to be understood which now fully appears no reference to a document, herewith presented and signed by one of the Justices of the Peace in said state. Hereby relinquish his every claim to a pension or annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pensions roll of any agency of any state whatsoever. Sworn to in open court Dec. 1832

If this was sworn in December 1832, chances are very likely that Michael had already had his birthday for the year. His year of birth subtracts to 1748 in this document.

In a publication listing Tennessee veterans of the Revolutionary War, Michael is listed as having been born in 1745. The source of this information is not given.

I obtained Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War Pension file from the National Archives.

Michael McDowell Rev War1.jpg

The actual pension act was found in Michael’s pension papework.

Michael McDowell Rev War 2.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 3.jpg

I originally though that Michael signed this document himself, but after looking more closely, he didn’t.

Michael McDowell Rev War 4.jpg

The “X, his mark” is present. Of course, we don’t know from this document alone whether Michael was simply too elderly and too feeble to write, or if he never could. Other documents will tell that story.

Michael McDowell Rev War 5.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 6.jpg

MIchael McDowell Rev War 7.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 8.jpg

$90 was a lot of money in 1832 – enough to purchase a farm or at least land to clear for a farm.

Michael McDowell Rev War 9.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 10.jpg

From these documents, we can put together roughly the following timeline:

When What Where
1777 or 1778 3 month tour Lead mines with Arthur and Callaway
Additional 3 months at lead mines Callaway requested, served under Leftridge
Home after the second three month tour Bedford County
Some time later Volunteered again to march against Indians With Arthur
Returned home Bedford County
Some time later Spied on Indians – returned home after spring when Indians departed

Michael states that he served 90 days in total, more or less. Given the dates above, his time spying on the Indians would have had to have been in either late 1777 or late 1778. If he was drafted in 1777, most of that year would have been consumed with the 6 months contiguous duty at the lead mines.

Michael McDowell Rev War 11.png

This final document is interesting in that it lists Michael as an invalid. It’s possible, at 85 years of age, that his invalid status is simply a result of his age, meaning he can no longer farm, and had nothing to do with his service or an injury. He did not apply in 1818 at which time destitute soldiers could apply.

These documents reveal more too. Michael left Bedford County and marched to the western part of Virginia. At this time, Tennessee and Kentucky didn’t exist, so Virginia just trailed off into nothing – with no western border as shown in the Fry and Jefferson map from 1775, below.

Michael McDowell 1775 Fry map.jpg

Revolutionary War Service

In the book, Virginia militia in the Revolutionary War: McAllister’s data we find several references to lead mines as well as the officer’s surnames noted in Michael McDowell’s pension application.

This book reveals: Capt. Benjamin Arthur R. Sept. 29, 1781 from Bedford County. James Callaway Co. Lt, S, Dec. 8, 1778. We then find Lt. Col. William Leftwich, S. Feb. 28, 1780. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it does confirm that they served.

Bedford County: 1776. Capt. Wm. Leftridge against Tories and Indians at Lead Mines, 47, 157.

This suggests that there might have been an encounter.

1780 – Capt. Robt. Adams’ Company guarding Lead Mines, 153.

Greenbrier County 1780: Capt. Thomas Wright raises a Company to go against the Indians at Detroit. But it was marched to Lead Mines on Holston, and then to Logan’s Station in Kentucky.

Jarvis Fields, in his pension application tells us that he served from Bedford County as well and he was called to duty in 1779 by Col. Calloway for guard duty at New London, in Bedford County, “the British prisoners taken at the Cowpens being confined there and at Lynchburg.”

Henry Cartmill who served from Botetourt tells us this about the possible location of the lead mines:

At another time he ranged the mountains between Fincastle and Sweet Springs in search of Indians. Himself and many others assembled at the lead mines in Wythe to meet Col. Fergerson who was said to be advancing from the Carolinas with a large force of Tories. After going as far as Stone House in Botetourt, they were stopped by Col. Skillern, commanding the Botetourt militia, until more men could be collected. News reaching them that the Tories were dispersed, they returned home.

Colonel Ferguson was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780.

William King states that he was enlisted in Bedford County in 1778 and for two months, he guarded the lead mines in Wythe County. Other men refer to the lead mines in Wythe County, as well.

William Murphy is very detailed in his pension application:

About Aug. 1, 1776, from Bedford under Capt. William Leftridge, Lt. Calloway, Ensign Joseph Bond. Guarded Chiswold lead mines till relieved by other troops. In April, 1777, was substitute three months for Lewis Dusee (?), who was drafted from Thomas Jones’ Company in Henry. Served under Capt. Peter Herston, Lt. William Ferguson, Ensign Edward Tatum in Col. Christie’s regiment. Marched 200 miles to Long Island in the Holston to stand guard during a treaty with the Cherokees.

Volunteered in April 1780, to serve three months against the Cherokees. Went as sergeant under Capt. Jno. Clark and Lt. John Bond, Gen. John Sevier being in general command. Marched to the headwaters of the Tennessee and killed a number of Indians, with the loss of Capt. Davis and Lt. Bond killed, and Jasper Terry wounded.

In February 1782, volunteered three months under Capt. John Clark, and Lt. John Murphy, of Washington County, N. C. (now Tenn.), Col. J. Brown commanding the regiment, and marched across Nolachucky and French Broad in pursuit of the Indians who had attacked Sherrill’s Station on the frontier, losing one of their number in the attack. We overtook a band, supposed to number 60 to 100, and killed, as was said, thirteen of them. In August 1782, drafted against the Indians again and hired George Doggett as substitute, but Gen. Sevier insisted that I go. Served under him in company of Capt. Thomas Wood and Lt. Vathan Breed, all the officers being of Greene Co. (Tenn.) We destroyed several Cherokee towns, killed a number of Indians, and took some prisoners. John Watts, a half-breed gave up a white woman named Jennie Ivey, who was taken from Roane’s Creek a year before.

The reference to Chiswold’s lead mines gives is a critical clue.

Michael McDowell lead mines.jpg

This waymark exists today at the intersection of interstate 77 and Route 52, but the actual mines were about 10 miles further south in the Austinville Community on a bluff on the south bank of New River. Known variously as the mines on Cripple Creek, the Austinville mines, or the Wytheville mines, they were discovered in 1756 by Colonel John Chiswell.

The original Fort Chiswell was built during the French and Indian War where the current village of Fort Chiswell stands, but was paved over when the intersection of I77 and I81 was constructed in the 1970s.

Given that Michael McDowell said that they built a fort, it’s probable that they built a fort at the actual mines to protect the lead, an extremely valuable commodity to both the militiamen and the Tories who were attempting to capture the mines.

The website, Diggings, below, shows the mine with the green balloon and the deposits in red. The information on the site states that production at the Austinville East Lead Zinc Mines began in 1753 and concluded in 1981.

Michael McDowell Austinville.png

This would be where Michael McDowell camped and built the fort.

MIchael McDowell mine.png

Today, the two routes from Bedford County to the lead mines, both through gaps in the mountains, would be either 110 miles or 125 miles.

Michael McDowell mine map.png

A Google satellite view of the vicinity shows extensive mining efforts at Chiswell Hole.

Michael McDowell Chiswell Hole.png

If the location of the original lead mines is accurately positioned by the green locator of the Diggings map, the original mine location would be where the white roofed building, below, is located today.

Michael McDowell mine location.png

Unfortunately, none of these roads are “drivable” today utilizing Google street view. Maybe in a few years.

Indians, Spies and Scalpings

In both application versions, Michael mentions being an Indian spy, banding together to protect people and that the Indians subsequently left the frontier. What can we discover about when and where this might have occurred?

Michael says he “marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage.” He also mentions that he and his fellow spy citizens returned home in the spring, meaning they tracked Indians in the cold of winter.

We know that this was after Michael marched to the lead mines, which was probably about April 1777, based on the information unearthed about the mines and other men who served there, and after Michael served with Col. Leftridge and then marched with Captain Arthur against the Indians. After all that is when he “joined with some neighbors and friends.”

In Michael was at the lead mines in April of 1777, then he went home in about October of 1777.

We know that this was probably related to the peace treaty signed with the Cherokee Indians in July 1777 ceding the Watauga lands or in July of 1781 when they ceded more land, both events taking place at the Long Island of the Holston. Another treaty during this time was the Treaty of Fort Pitt signed in November of 1778 with the Delaware. It’s difficult to know which event might have resulted in the Indians leaving the frontier as he mentioned, an event that allowed him to finally return home for the last time – although it’s most likely prior to 1781.

Two articles shed light on this time period and events that clearly impacted Michael McDowell.

The first is found in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1915), pp. 113-123, article by David I. Bushnell, Jr.

In the first of a series of articles titled, “The Virginia Frontier in History – 1778”, David Bushnell tells us that in 1774, Cornstalk, Chief of the Shawnee entered into a peaceful agreement with Lord Dunmore and subsequently became friendly with the English.

However, in November 1777, at Fort Randolph which was located at Point Pleasant (now West Virginia,) Cornstalk along with his son were brutally murdered. Ironically, Cornstalk had come to warn the settlers and his killing was in revenge for the murder of a settler by an Indian.

During the winter months that followed, the settlers realized what grave danger they had brought upon themselves by killing Chief Cornstalk and prepared for the now-expected attack by the Indians. In January 1778, Col. William Preston sent a letter from Montgomery County, Virginia, begging then-governor Patrick Henry of Virginia for assistance, expecting the Shawnee to descend upon the settlers at any time.

A widespread attack was expected, “upon all Frontier Inhabitants from Pittsburg to the lower Settlements of Clinch and the Kentucky.”

Col. Preston writes:

“I acknowledge, Sir, that this detestable murder was committed by backwoods men who ought to have behaved in a manner very different; and I am sorry to inform your Excellency that upwards of 100 persons in the County alone have yet refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the State, many of whom are disarmed and the remainder soon will, who cannot claim, nor are they entitled to Protection while they continue Obstinate.”

“The inhabitants in this and the neighboring counties, especially those most exposed to danger are in the greatest consternation. Several thousand good subjects ought not to suffer for the indiscretion and obstinacy of a few. Being generally in low circumstances, they are not able to remove and support their families in the interior parts of the state, and by continuing at their homes, without the assistance of government, or the immediate interposition of Providence, they and their helpless families must fall a sacrifice to savage fury and revenge.”

“Should this (assistance) be omitted or delayed, I am fully convinced from long experience that this county or a great part of it will be depopulated before May next and the enemy, like blood-hounds, will pursue until they overtake their prey, even to the south side of the Blue Ridge, as they did not many years ago.”

Preston goes on to ask for provisions, stating that the lack of salt prevented people from laying up the quantity of pork that they would have otherwise done. He says they will be out of provisions in two months. Normally pigs butchered in the fall would last until at least the following summer when crops could be harvested.

Preston also asks for Indian corn to be purchased and says there is none in his or neighboring counties. Furthermore, “the want of lead is a most discouraging circumstance. They offer any price but they cannot purchase it.”

Guns don’t work without bullets and lack of lead for their muskets made the settlers little more than sitting ducks.

According to the response recorded in the “Journal for Council for 1778” in the Virginia State Archives, Greenbrier County also submitted a request and on February 19th, the Council agreed to the following:

  • One pound of lead for each militia man
  • To direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy’s country
  • To advise proper stockades for receiving the helpless inhabitants, wherever the savages have in in their power to penetrate
  • To direct the County Lieutenants of Botetourt and Montgomery to consult together on the expediency of establishing a post near the mouth of Elk River for keeping up the correspondence between GreenBrier and Fort Randolph
  • To do so in the matter they judge best to reinforce the garrison at Fort Randolph with 50 men from the militia of Botetourt
  • That earnest and close pursuit of the foremost scalping parties be made in order to discourage others
  • To apprehend and deliver up the people concerned in that murder

On March 27, 1778 they recommended ordering 50 men from Rockbridge County, Virginia to Fort Randolph and 50 men each from Botetourt and Greenbrier County to “post at” Kelley and authorized 1000 pounds for “commissary.”

The order to “direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy” stems from the following document passed by the General Assembly on May 5, 1777 as found in Henning (Vol IX, p294-295):

“The lieutenant or next commanding officer of the several counties on the western frontier, with the like permission, shall appoint any number of proper persons, not exceeding 10, in any one county to act as scouts for discovering the approach of the Indians…who on such discovery shall immediately give notice thereof to such militia officer.”

The scouts were instructed not to fire on the Indians, except in self-defense, but only to report locations to the militia officers. Their job was to find the Indians and spy upon them. Their instructions were to not lose time, to stay constantly “on foot” and after they “have fully ranged the part of the country which it was supposed would take 2 or 3 weeks,” they should report back. They were to take their own provisions, but they would be paid for them. I wonder if that ever happened.

However, now we know where the term that Michael used, “spies,” originated in this context.

Interestingly enough, on the back of a paper were listed locations, probably made by a scout, showing the locations visited. The author believes the numbers represent the number of miles:

  • From Culbersons bottom to the big Crab Orchard – 60 (Crab Orchard is in Kentucky)
  • From there to Maiden Spring – 15
  • From thence to Elk Garden – 17
  • To the Glade Hollow – 13

Underneath that is a total line and then 105.

  • To Cowins fort – 10
  • Moores fort – 5
  • BlackMores – 2
  • To Mockinson Gap – 18
  • To ye Great Eatons (?) – 8
  • To Capt Donelsons line – 8

Another total line and 174.

Fort Blackmore was located in what is now Scott County, VA, as is Moccasin Gap.

According to Familypedia.wikia, this 1774 copy of the Smith map with red circles indicates the locations of forts as shown on Daniel Smith’s original map, now in the Draper collection, item 4NN62. The red line became the Kentucky Trace.

1774 Smith map.png

This area includes part of the present Virginia counties of Tazewell, Russell and Scott from the Clinch River to the Holston.

Col. Preston apparently became more fearful and requested additional protection in May of 1778, the following being noted:

“The Board being informed of Col. Preston’s expored situation on the frontier and that is was apprehended (should be obliged to remove) most of the back inhabitants would quit their settlements, they do advise the governor to empower Col. Preston to keep a sergeant and 12 men stationed at his house as Draper’s Meadow to enable him to continue at his habitation and to encourage others to do so.”

In a second article in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1915), pp. 337-351 by David I. Bushnell, Jr. we find additional information.

A report detailed the importance of maintaining 4 forts, one of which is Fort Henry in Ohio County and one at Fort Randolph, which is on the Ohio at the mouth of the Kanawha river, the scene of the treacherous murder of Chief Cornstalk in November 1777. That act was the touchstone of the rebellion that caused the Indians to attack the settlers on the frontier. Fort Randolph was stated to be “200 miles distant from the settlements” and 150 men were requested for that location.

Michael McDowell Fort Randolph.png

Indeed, Fort Randolph is about 266 miles from Bedford County, VA.

Michael McDowell Bedford to Fort Randolph.png

Also requested for the various forts was 1500 gallons of whiskey. That’s a LOT of whiskey!

The two documents presented…enable us to picture the frontier posts as they were during the summer of 1778. Small groups of militia, at widely separated spots in the vast primeval forests. Nearby were the clearings and log cabins of the settlers. Supplies were scarce and consequently difficult to obtain and of a high price: a condition which resulted in more than one expedition being either postponed or abandoned. Scouts were ever on the alert for the approach of the warriors from beyond the Ohio; the accepted boundary between the white settlements and the Indian Country later to become the Territory Northwest of the Ohio.

That same year a census of the tribes was prepared by William Wilson at the request of the War Office as reported in the Virginia Historical Magazine:

1778 tribal census.png

1778 tribal census 2.png

The tribes were widely separated and the number of hostile warriors was given as 330, certainly a very conservative figure; but nevertheless, they were sufficiently numerous to spread terror over many hundreds of miles of the frontier.

In the endeavor to gain peace for the Virginia frontier, and the friendship of the Indians beyond the Ohio, Congress planned a treaty to be held at Fort Pitt, July 23, 1778, to be attended by commissioners of the government and representative of the different tribes. This was destined to be the first treaty between the United States and an Indian Nation, and was signed September 17th.

Michael’s Revolutionary War papers take us back to Bedford County, Virginia where he lived after being dismissed the final time from his Revolutionary War service – and presumably once the region became relatively safe again after November of 1778.

What we don’t know is which spring Michael was referring to, 1778, which is unlikely, given the above information, or perhaps the spring of 1779.

Bedford County, Virginia

Michael McDowell Bedford County

Bedford County is mountainous and rough. I visited Bedford County, years ago, and Bedford isn’t much different from surrounding counties. In essence, Bedford is part of the Appalachian range which extends for thousands of miles as an expansive sea of craggy rocks interspersed with tiny patches of green that farmers have been trying to cultivate since before the Revolutionary War. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful with incredible vistas.

Bedford County hosts a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful WWII era road that runs along the summits of the mountains offering stunning vistas, in particular the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County, shown below – visible for a hundred miles in any direction on a good day.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter.jpg

This might have been particularly relevant for Michael McDowell’s father, Michael Sr., who we know lived in Halifax County, Virginia in 1752. This means that if Michael Jr. was born in 1747, he might have been born in present day Halifax County which was Lunenburg County at that time. Interestingly, you can see the Peaks of Otter from Halifax County, below, at a location called “Top of the World.”

Perhaps Michael saw these mountains and felt irresistibly drawn towards them – an area that was then the risky, unsettled frontier.

Peaks of Otter

The photo above was taken from Halifax County, looking 50 miles distant to the Peaks. Did Michael live here, or see this on his way back and forth to the tobacco warehouses in Danville, in Pittsylvania County? As a young boy, did he dream of adventure there? One day that dream would come true.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter valley.png

Looking across the roof of the Peaks of Otter Lodge today, from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Many of the men who settled in Bedford County were Scots-Irish, and before that, they were Scottish families, so trying to farm fields filled with rocks was nothing new to them. Perhaps it even reminded them somewhat of home, or the homeland of their fathers and grandfathers anyway.

After finding Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War record, of course I began digging in Bedford County for more information.

Ironically, some of the information I found in Bedford County in June of 2005 referred me back to Claiborne County, Tennessee.

At the Bedford Co. Historical Society, I found a McDowell family file and it held a contact from California from 1989 and 1990 who descends from our Michael McDowell

The researcher mentioned that in Mary Hansard’s book, Old Time Tazewell, Michael’s son Nathan S. McDowell is mentioned as being of Irish descent, which the researcher interpreted to mean that Michael was born in Ireland. As it turns out, Michael Jr. wasn’t, but his grandfather, Murtough McDowell, was.

Blackwater River

On September 24, 1783, Michael purchased 75 acres on the North side of Blackwater River in Bedford County from James Stevens. and on March 22, 1784 the purchase was confirmed in court. Witnesses to the sale were Richard Richards, Skinner Devaul(?) and Ambrose Rains.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Bedford.jpg

It’s important to note that this does not say Michael McDowell Sr. or Jr., which it surely would have stated if there were two Michael McDowell’s living in the same county at the same time.

On the 1782 Bedford County tax list, we find only one Michael McDowell, listed with 1 free male above 21 years, no slaves, 4 horses, 11 cattle with 1 white tithable, himself.

Unfortunately, the tax list is semi-alpha, which means it’s not in household order, so we can’t look at the list to identify his neighbors. There are no other McDowell residents listed.

In 1783, we find Michael with 1 poll tax, 1 male over 21, 2 horses and 4 cows. Most people had both more horses and more cows that Michael.

By 1784, Michael is gone from the tax list but he doesn’t sell that land until 1793 as a resident of Wilkes County, NC.

It appears that the area of Bedford County where Blackwater River was located became Franklin County.

The Blackwater River runs for about 20 miles as the crow flies, west of the area called Callaway, to the left of the pin below, and the county line at far right where it opens into what is now Smith Mountain Lake, formed by the Roanoke River.

Michael McDowell Callaway.png

Given that Michael served under Colonel James Calloway, which means that Michael probably served with his local muster group, my strong suspicion is that Michael lived near James Calloway. Given that Callaway is located on Blackwater River, Michael probably lived in this region too.

Indeed, this is probably where he grew up because his father apparently applied for a land grant in 1754 on the Black Water River – although beyond the initial application we never find any additional informatoin about Michael Sr.’s 400 acres. He could well have forfeited the grant for any number of reasons.

The north and south branches of Blackwater are born near Calloway and flow eastward to the Roanoke.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River 2.png

Today, this area is a mosaic of farmland, but at that time, it was probably still forested, and men like Michael would fell trees to make room for fields.

Michael McDowell Blackwater satellite.png

Someplace, Michael’s land was probably here in this crazy-quilt mosaic of farmland and forest.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Callaway Road

Today, Callaway Road where it crosses the Blackwater River. This would have been a ford when Michael lived here.

The Arthur family lived nearby too, with several deeds showing land near Goose Creek, in Bedford County, 4 or 5 miles east of the Roanoke River where Blackwater River empties.

This was Michael’s stomping ground growing up. It’s probably where he married his wife.

We know that Michael McDowell Sr. was on the Bedford County tax list in 1755, and given that our Michael was born in 1747 or 1748, the 1755 Michael had to have been Michael Sr., not Junior.

Or stated another way, it couldn’t have been Michael Jr. and there is a small possibility that the 1755 Michael was not Michael Jr’s father. Given that he was the only McDowell living in Bedford County by the same name, there’s a good chance that the 1755 Michael is indeed Michael Sr., the father of Michael Jr.

I checked all Bedford County deeds 1761-1771, wills 1759-1810 and court orders 1754-1761 – no Michael McDowells. He certainly kept a low profile.

There are also records in Bedford County for one Ephriam McDowell, no known relationship and these two male lines carry completely different Y DNA.

Michael McDowell bought land in Bedford County in 1783, but in 1784 he is not listed on the Bedford County tax list and a Michael McDowell is listed with 1 white poll in adjacent Botetourt County. Is this the same man? If so, was he trying out different locations? Why did he leave just after purchasing land?

If this isn’t the same Michael McDowell, what happened to that second Michael McDowell in Botetourt County? Where did he come from and where did he go? The only other McDowell in Botetourt in 1784 was George. However, there was a Michael in Botetourt, earlier, in 1774 who was found to be delinquent on his taxes.

If this was our Michael in Botetourt, he clearly didn’t stay and it was a very short chapter in a very long book. Our Michael is also not the Michael McDowell who served out of Pennsylvania in 1776-1777 in the Revolutionary War.

Where is our Michael?

Pat Bezet and Mary Kay McDowell

A few years after visiting Bedford County, I found Pat Bezet on an old Rootsweb board along with Mary Kay McDowell, the wife of Les who Kay believed to be a Michael McDowell Jr. descendant through Michael’s son, Luke. These women had done a massive amount of research on Michael and family, and I would spend the next several years following in their footsteps, trying to add additional tidbits. They were both very generous about sharing their work. However, it was interesting that even though we were all plowing the same fields, so to speak, that we all found things that had either been overlooked by the other parties or found different records altogether. Six eyes are obviously better than any two. By reviewing available records again, I’ve recently found things that all three of us missed previously.

Mary Kay McDowell systematically sifted through nearly all of the published Virginia sources available in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The results of our research and trips are intermingled in this article, with many thanks to both ladies.

Albemarle County, Virginia

It’s likely that Michael McDowell Jr. was born in 1747 or 1748 in Lunenburg County, Virginia or possibly in Albemarle County. Michael’s father, Michael Sr. was found in both locations.

Keep in mind that Halifax County where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. in 1752 was Lunenburg before that.

We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River and both Merlock (also transcribed as Mirlock) McDowell and Micha McDowell were ordered, along with other men to clear the road. Albemarle county as was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed, court and will records did not begin in Albemarle until 1748. Albemarle road records are lost beginning in 1748. Research into Albemarle records from 1748-1753 produced nothing, nor did research into Goochland deed and will records from 1731-1749.

The name Merlock sounds very close to Murtough, Michael’s father’s name, raising the question of whether Michael was Merlock’s brother. It’s also worth noting that in Maryland, Murtough’s name was also spelled Murto, with the surname as Mackdowell and Mackdaniel. Names were spelled as the person hearing them understood them and spelling wasn’t standardized at the time.

If Michael was in Albemarle County, he was familiar with the Three Notch’d Road which is the road the crew where he was assigned was instructed to clear and open in 1745. Men were assigned to crews along the road where they lived.

The Virginia Department of Transportation document titled, “The Route of the Three Notch’d Road: A Preliminary Report” written in 1976 shows the “1740 House,” an old tavern near the site of the D.S. Tree, near present day Ivy Virginia. Today the building, also known as the “D. S. Tavern” is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original 3 Notched Road was begun about 1742 and the route was marked the entire length between Richmond, VA and the Appalachian Mountains in Augusta County, VA – including running directly through Albemarle County and is currrently US 250. US 250 was rerouted in some places, but is basicaly the same road in Albemarle County.

If indeed this is our Michael’s father in the 1745 road record, this 1740 House which stood and functioned as an ordinary at the time was probably intimately familiar to him, both inside and out.

Michael McDowell Three Notched Road.png

The D. S. Tree is reported to be in the final segment of a the “Three Notched Road” between Secretary’s Ford on the Rivanna River, (near the old woolen mill adjacent to I-64 on the east side of Charlottesville) to the D. S. Tree in Michael Wood’s road, the road east from Wood’s Gap to Ivy.

MIchael McDowell 1740 tavern.png

Today, this private home is at the intersection of Dick Woods Road and 250.

Early deeds refer to Stockton’s branch of Mitchum River, and also Stockton’s ford.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap.png

An aerial view shows the mountainous area between Ivy and the top of the mountain range.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap aerial.png

According to Edgar Wood’s History of Albemarle county, Virginia, the D. S. Tree had the initials of David Stockdon, an early patentee of land nearby, carved into it. That tree no longer exists.

Here’s a section of what was called the “Three Notch’d Road” also known as the Mountain or Mountain Ridge Road, now US 250, which today intersects with the Ridge Parkway.

Below, Mountain Ridge Road, another name for the Three Notch’d Road.

Michael McDowell Mountain Ridge Road.png

Today, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Jarman Gap.

MIchael McDowell Jarman Gap

The Appalachian Trail runs alongside Skyline Drive, which is the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve hiked much of this area. You can see Wood’s Gap Road in this aerial.

Michael McDowell Appalachian Trail.png

Below, the road descending to Lickinghole Creek.

Michael-McDowell-Lickinghole-Creek.png

Here’s the view on Three Notched Road crossing Lickinghole Creek today.

Michael McDowell Lickinghole

Three notched road ascending the Blue Ridge below.

Michael McDowell Three Notch ascending Blue Ridge.png

Jarman(s) Gap Road today just before it begins ascending the mountains. Wood’s Gap is now Jarman or Jarmans Gap.

Michael McDowell Jarman Gap Road.png

Google Street View does not drive on roads with no center line. The trip from Jarman’s Gap Road alongside Lickinghole Creek, above, to Jarman Gap which is one of two gaps crossing the mountain range is maybe 5 twisty-turny miles on road 611 – complete with switchbacks.

Michael McDowell road ascending mountain.png

And of course, a 3 notched tree. The original D.S. tree stood east from Wood’s (now Jarman’s) Gap to Ivy, probably on the same property where the 1740 D.S. Tavern stood.

Michael McDowell three Notched tree.png

Ivy to Jarman Gap. Today you must use the Park Entrance, but not so then when they took the more direct route up the side of the mountain, marked with red arrows.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Jarman Gap.png

Michael Sr. worked here, opening the roads still in use today, but looking very different. The area where he was assigned was from the D.S. Tree to Mitchums River, which is Mechums River today – a distance of about 3 miles.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Mechums River

That means he would have lived someplace along this route probably on a spring branch of a creek where fresh water was available. This is likely where Michael McDowell Jr. was born.

I’m not convinced that the blue 250 portion is the original road, but Google didn’t drive down 738 which looks like it might have been the original road.

However, there is a portion where 738 and 250 join, and that was likely the original portion, as is the portion where Dick Wood’s Road and 250 intersect.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Michums River aerial

In fact, when I enlarged the photo, I could clearly see 3 Notch’d Trace, the portion that exists today, and the portion which no longer exists. You can see Mechums River at left and where it is crossed by 250. At right, with the arrows is the old section of 3 Notch’d Road.

MIchael McDowell 3 Notched Trace

Michael McDowell Sr. labored to maintain the road so that horses and wagons could ford Mechums River, below, today where 250 crosses. This could have been Stockton’s ford referenced in the various early Albemarle deeds.

Michael McDowell Ivy Road at Meachums River

At the intersection of Ivy Road and 3 Notch’d Trace, a remaining segment of the original road, we can see the Appalachian Mountains in the distance.

MIchael McDowell Ivy Road at 3 Notchd Trace.png

Those mountains would beckon to Michael Sr., whispering, “Come,” and he did, but first he took a detour.

Lunenburg County, Virginia

Lunenburg County, where we find Michael next, was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County. The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg or perhaps Albemarle. It’s also possible, although unlikely that the Michael in Albemarle wasn’t Michael Jr.’s father, and that he was still in Maryland before arriving in Halifax County.

Pat included the Lunenburg County 1748 tax list where Michal McDanel was shown with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke. The Roanoke is now called the Staunton which forms the northern and much of the eastern border of Halifax County.

Michael McDowell Lunenburg 1746 tax map

Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant. We find the McDowell family mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., VA before they went to NC.

In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which bordered Halifax on the north on the Staunton River. In 1752 Halifax was formed from Lunenburg, where Michael McDowell. had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes.

In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell.

In 1750 we find Michael McDowell in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe and neighbors that included Jacob and John Pybon.

In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael McDowell Sr. is in Halifax in 1752 where he signed a power of attorney to sell his father’s land in Maryland.

The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:

June 1753, Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

Trouble with the neighbors, it seems.

May Court 1754, John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – defendant not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

This tells us that Michael McDowell Sr. left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.

Given that Michael lived in Halifax in 1752 and is found in neighboring Lunenburg in 1753 – it appears that he might have moved often, perhaps back and forth across the county border, or maybe he lived near the Staunton River.

Michael Jr. would have been 5 or 6 years old in 1752 or 1753, so likely remembers moving frequently and probably remembered Halifax County.

Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County, but as it turns out, Michael didn’t live initially in what would become Bedford County. He was in Halifax, at least for a short time before moving on to Bedford.

Halifax and Bedford 

Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.

Details are provided in the article about Michael McDowell Sr., but suffice it to say that Michael Jr. would have been about 5 years old when his father was selling his grandfather’s land. Michael Jr. probably never got to meet his grandparents. Maybe he heard stories about his grandparents’ lives back in Ireland. His father may have been born there. Michael Sr. was born around 1720 and his father was in Maryland by 1722.

An important aspect of the documentation of Michael Jr.’s life is that Michael McDowell Sr.’s signature was never recorded as being signed with an X. Michael Jr., on the other hand, never signed his name without using the X.

In 1754, we find a mysterious entry in Marion Dodson Chiarito’s book, “Entry Record Book 1737-1770” which covers land in the present counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, henry, Franklin and Patrick, she says the following:

This book contains land entries in the western portion of the original Brunswick County, namely Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick. The area concerned was south of the Roanoke-Staunton River, west of Tewahomony Creek, now Aaron’s Creek which divides Mecklenburg and Halifax cuonties, and extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These counties were formed from Lumemburg which was separated from Brunswick in 1746.

Marion continues:

It must be pointed out that an entry for land was but a statement of intention. Ownership of land resulted from satisfying the requirements for settlement the land and improving it. For this reason, many entries were voided.

On page 161 of Marion’s book, on page 203 of the original entry taker book residing in current day Pittsylvania County, we find an entry for a man who might be Michael McDowell:

Michael McDuell 400 on a Branch of Black Water River beginning at a white oak with 4 chops in it in the fork of said branch then up both forks and down the branch.

If this was Michael McDowell Sr., I’ve failed to find a deed of sale at any time, and he is next found in Bedford County, formed in 1754, which indeed did have a Blackwater Creek that extended from today’s man-made Smith Mountain Lake southwest to beyond Callaway, where Michael McDowell Jr. appears to have lived.

By 1755, Michael Sr. was found on the Bedford county tax list indicating that Michael Jr. lived in Bedford County from about the time he was 8 years old.

The next piece of Michael Jr.’s life is his Revolutionary War pension application where he states that he served from Bedford County in 1777 or 1778 and returned there to his home when discharged. Michael McDowell Jr. would have been 30 years old in 1777 and based on the ages of his oldest children, had been married about 5 years by then.  If still living, his father, Michael Sr., would have been at least 57 years old.

We have no idea when Michael Sr. passed away, but Michael Jr. bought land in Bedford County in 1783 with no indication that there were two Michael McDowell’s living there in either 1782 or 1783, nor were there any other McDowell taxpayers.

Was Michael alone? There aren’t any other McDowell males, but his mother could well have been living. He could have had sisters who married and lived nearby. His wife, Isabel, surely had family in Bedford County.

Those details will probably never be revealed, but if Michael had no family there, that might have been part of what encouraged him to move again – although it’s quite strange that he left just a few months after purchasing property – and without selling it.

There are missing pieces of his story.

On to Wilkes County, North Carolina

What? Another move?

Wilkes County, NC?  This man did not let any moss grow under his feet. Just saying.

So far, we have Michael McDowell Sr. in Baltimore County as a son of Murtough. Probably in Albemarle in 1745, in Lunenburg County between 1748-1750, selling land in Baltimore in 1752 from Halifax County and then on the Bedford County tax list in 1755.

MIchael McDowell Sr life.png

This is the migration journey of Michael McDowell Sr.

Michael Jr. was born someplace (probably in Virginia) in 1747 and served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778 from Bedford County. It wasn’t until 1783 that there is a record of Michael purchasing land, then leaving by the next year without selling his land. He was possibly living in Botetourt County, adjacent to Bedford – at least some Michael McDowell was found on the tax list there.

Michael McDowell Bedford Botetourt.jpg

Sometime after that, Michael Jr. moved to Wilkes County, North Carolina, although we do have a 2 or 3-year gap in Michael’s life. Where was he?

Michael McDowell Ivy to Halls Mills.png

Michael would add the area near Halls Mills on Sparta Road in Wilkes County, today, to his lifelong journey.

On February 4, 1786 there is a Wilkes County deed from John Hall Sr. to Michael McDowell for 161 acres including “the plantation where Michael McDowell now lives. Witnessed by William Abshire, James Gambill and Andrew Vannoy.”

This tells us that Michael was already living in Wilkes County.

The connection with the Vannoy family would continue for generations – into Tennessee  where their descendants 5 generations later, my grandparents, would marry.

Another 1786 reference to Michael McDowell was found in a November 24th deed between Owen and Robert Hall for “156 acres on Andrew Vannoy’s line, Mickel McDowell’s corner and the line between Hall and Mikel McDowell.”  Jacob McGrady witnessed this deed. Given that Michael was Andrew’s neighbor, that also explains why Andrew witnessed his purchase.

Michael McDowell first appears in Wilkes Co in 1786 on the tax lists (he is absent earlier) with 1 poll and 160 acres and in 1787 with 162 acres and 1 poll. Therefore, we know that 1786 is probably when Michael moved to Wilkes County.

The 1787 “census” of North Carolina shows us that Michael had in his household:

  • 1 white male age 21-60
  • 2 white males under 21 or above 60
  • 1 white female
  • no blacks

Michael Jr.’s sons, Edward, born in 1773 and Michael (the third) born before 1774 account for these two “under 21” males. Michael III and Edward first appeared in court records witnessing a deed in 1799.

James McDowell, not a confirmed child of Michael, was born about 1779 based on his age when he signed as a witness to a deed in 1801.

Michael Jr.’s son John was born in 1782 or 1783 based on a deposition as well as his gravestone, so we know for sure he was under 21 in 1787. He’s missing from this record.

This discrepancy for a long time caused me to question whether all of Michael’s sons were in fact his sons. DNA has partly answered that question, but not entirely.

Early Court Records

In 1787, in Volume 2 of the Wilkes County Court Minutes (January 25, 1785 – November. 1, 1788) Michael is mentioned on July 25th in the State vs Michael McDowell – indictment for trespass.

Trespass at that time often meant something different than the current meaning, although since the state is bringing charges and not a neighbor in a civil suit, perhaps not. In some cases, trespass means that one man charged another with farming part of his land, encroaching over the property line. In this case, since the state brought the charges, it sounds more like the trespass infraction we are more familiar with today.

Michael is found not guilty by a jury.

On the very next page in the minute book, and the very next day at court, Michael is listed on a jury.

Also on the same day; Michael McDowell versus George Lewis on appeal. A jury is sworn and this case is found for Michael, with his damanges assessed to 3 pounds, 7 pence and costs.

However, on he is again charged with trespass and the same jury is ordered to hear Michael’s case as is hearing the case of Owen Hall and John Hall Senior and wife, “case for words,” which is found for the plaintiff.

The State then moved Michael’s case to the civil docket and finds him guilty of trespass, as charged.  Apparently, Michael’s case has something to do with the Hall family dispute. Recall that the Halls were his neighbors. This also makes me wonder if Michael’s wife, Isbael, was a Hall. If so, and if she was the mother of Michael Jr., that means that the Hall family would have been in Bedford County in 1773 when Michael’s first son, Edward, was born. There are Hall families in Bedford in this timeframe, but of course, that doesn’t mean that they are the same Hall families, or connected in any way.

A year later, in July of 1788, Michael is again listed on a jury and on the tax list in both 1788 and 1789 with 160 acres and 1 poll, meaning only one male over the age of 16. Being listed as a juror indicates that he was a citizen in good standing, but that would change in 1790.

Michael’s record up until now contains multiple services as a juror, and also an involved trespass charge.

However, sometime much more serious happened in 1790.

Criminal Charges

Criminal Action Papers Wilkes County, NC – July Court session – 1790:

State vs Michael McDowell, William Abshers and Owan Hall, labourers, who on July 20, 1790 did beat, wound and ill treat Betty Wooten.

Three men – beating a woman. That’s unconscionable by any standard of measure. Once again, this involves the Hall family.

The Abshire family lived on the south side of Mulberry Creek.

In 1787, Michael would have been 40 and 43 in 1790. No hothead kid, that’s for sure. This charge is much more serious than trespass.

Ok, who was Betty Wooten?

Betty Wooten

In the 1790 census, the only Wooten in Wilkes County was one Elizabeth, probably called Betty for short, who had no adult men in her household, 1 male under 16, and 5 females. According to the July 29, 1788 administration bond, she was the widow of Lewis Wooten. If her children were all born at 2 year intervals before her husband’s death, and she was his age and married at age 20, Betty would have been about 35 in 1790 when she was beaten.

Betty Wooten lived near the Sebastians, three houses from Jacob McGrady, who lived three houses from Owen Hall, who lived beside Michael McDowell who lived two houses from Andrew Vannoy.

Owen Hall was Michael McDowell’s neighbor and in the 1790 census, he was married with 2 males over 16, 3 under 16 and 4 females. If he had children every 2 years and married at age 25, he would have been about 40 years old.

William Absher was born about 1769 and died in 1842 in Wilkes County, so he would have been 21. The 1790 census reflects that he is married with a child, living beside Frank Vannoy, Andrew Vannoy’s brother.

Honestly, what possessed those men? There is certainly far more to the story. How I would have loved to have been a mouse in that house. All of those houses. What happened in that lawsuit? This had to be perceived as very serious for the state to bring a criminal action. And what exactly does “ill treat” mean? Is it code for something else?

Michael McDowell didn’t serve on a jury for the next 3 years.

Michael Jr.’s son, Michael III

Michael McDowell Jr. had a son, Michael, who we’ll call Michael III (the third). It’s possible that Michael III was the person in trouble in 1790, but not terribly likely – he would probably have been under 20. In 1789, Michael Sr. only pays for 1 poll tax, meaning that his sons were not yet 16. That suggests that Michael III was not born before 1783 although it’s possible that Michael was born as early as 1778. Michael III doesn’t otherwise appear in the records until 1799, signing a document as a witness for his father which would suggest he’s 21 at this time, or born 1778 or earlier. Still, in 1790, Michael III would have been 12 if he were born in 1778, so he’s not likely the preson who beat Betty.

Note here that the Michael who signed the deed signed with an X, but Michael the witness, presumably Michael III, signed his name.

This is an important generational differentiation, because Michael Sr. in Virginia apparently could write, Michael Jr. could not, but Michael III could.

The 1790s in Wilkes County

In the 1790 census, we find Michael McDowell living in Wilkes County among and near people who would also move to Claiborne County, Tennessee just a few years later, specifically the Baker, Herrell and Vannoy families.

Michael McDowell 1790 census Wilkes.png

In 1790, Michael had the following members in his family:

  • Males under 16: 4 (John 1782/3, Michael c1778, Edward 1774 and possibly James c1780)
  • Males over 16: 1 – Michael himself
  • Females: 2, one of which would be his wife and the second would be daughter, Mary born c1787

This tells us that Michael had 3 additional children between 1787 and 1790, 2 sons and a daughter or the 1787 tax list was incomplete – the more likely scenario.

If Michael was born in 1747/1748, he would probably have married at about 25, so roughly 1770-1775. He would have been having children from about 1771 or 1772 to roughly 1793 or perhaps somewhat later, depending on the age of his wife of course.

Therefore, the 1790 census should show all of his children, with the exception of any child born after 1790. It’s very unlikely that any of his children had already left home.

In 1790, Michael had 5 children, assuming that one of the females was his wife.

In 1790, Michael is shown on the tax list with 156.5 acres and 1 poll. Why does he have 156.5 acres this year and from 160-162 acres previously?

In 1791, the Wilkes County tax records are not complete and he is not shown through 1794, so they may be only partial as well.

On July 31, 1792, page 35, the court notes record an order for Michael McDowell to “have leave to rebuild and continue the mill formerly the property of said McDowell.”  Now indeed, this is a curious order. Did the mill wash away? Did it burn by some chance? What happened that he needed to rebuild the mill? So tantalizing and frustrating at the same time! This is the only indication we have of Michael’s occupation other than the lawsuit of 1790 lists the three man as laborers.

Maybe the 1790 Michael was Michael’s son, but I would have expected the suit to say that if it were. The fact that no Sr. or Jr. designation exists suggests that the younger Michael was not of age, so no designation was yet needed.

This court entry also tells us of a major catastrophe in Michael’s life. Given his run-ins with the law, I have to wonder if there wasn’t some form of “neighborhood justice” going on here. Of course, that could also be my overactive imagination, but beating a woman is a pretty severe offense and would garner long-standing animosity from her family.

Mix that with a little alcohol and that’s the perfect recipe for retribution.

From a 1793 deed, we discover Michael’s wife’s name when Michael sold his land in Bedford County. Did Michael sell his property in 1793 to pay the bills while the mill was being rebuilt, to pay for the rebuilding of the mill or to help replace income he would have lost while the mill was out of order? There was no insurance in those days.

It was Pat Bezet that discovered Michael’s wife’s name, Isbell.

I found a sale of property or deed for Michael and Isbell McDowell. Isbell is listed as his wife in Wilkes Co., N.C. The property they are selling is in Franklin County, VA. The timeframe for the sale was 1793. If you look at the forming of the counties, Franklin was formed from Bedford and Henry County in 1785.

On February 16, 1793, Michael McDowell and his wife, Isbell, from Wilkes County, NC sold their 75 acres of land on Blackwater River, which was at that time located in Franklin County, VA after it had been divided from Bedford.

Michael McDowell Blackwater 1793 sale.jpg

Michael and Isbell both signed three times, all three times via a mark. Witnesses included John Abshire, Robert Hall, Jacob McGrady, Edward Abshire and another John Abshire who appears to be different from the first one, differentiated by his ability to sign his name. Jacob McGrady was the local minister.

There’s clearly a connection of some sort with the Abshire family, given that the 1790 record of the assault on Betty Wooten included Owen Hall along with William Abshear as defendants.

This deed confirms that the Michael McDowell from Bedford County is one and the same as the Michael McDowell in Wilkes County. What we don’t know is the reason this land wasn’t sold before Michael moved to Wilkes County. Obviously Michael didn’t need money from the Virginia land to purchase his land in Wilkes.

For some time, I thought that maybe the Michael McDowell in Bedford County was Michael McDowell Sr. If that was the case, then Michael Jr. would only have sold this land after Michael Sr. died. The problem is that the purchase deed in 1783 doesn’t say anything about Michael Sr. or Jr., indicating that there weren’t 2 men in the county by the same name. The 1782 and 1783 tax lists only show one Michael McDowell and we know our Michael was married and having children before this time, having served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778. He was a married adult and certainly wasn’t living with his father.

While we can’t prove definitively, I suspect that Michael Sr. died in Bedford/Franklin County, VA years before, sometime after 1755 and before 1782, and we can safely say that the land on Blackwater River always belonged to Michael Jr. If Michael Jr. had sold this land as part of an estate, he would have had to share with heirs, and he clearly sold this entire tract himself.

Unfortunately, Michael Sr. simply disappeared after 1755 in Bedford County, apprently never owning land before or after he sold his father’s Maryland land in 1752 out of Halifax County.

In November 1793 in Wilkes County, once again Michael served on a Jury, as he did in May of 1794 and 1795.

In 1793 and 1794, an attorney, Joseph McDowell is recorded in Wilkes County, but he dies in 1802 with no connection to Michael.

In 1795 and 1796, Michael McDowell in Capt. McGrady’s district is shown with 1 poll tax and 160 acres on the tax list adjacent John Abshire and near the preacher Jacob McGrady. Other neighbors include the Vannoys, members of the Shepherd family and others who would intermarry and move to Claiborne County, Tennessee at the same time as Michael McDowell.

At some point, Claiborne County, the next frontier, probably became the topic of local chatter – at the mill, at church, wherever people gathered.

In November of 1796, Michael served again as a jury member.

The 1797 tax list shows Michel with 1 poll and no acres. What happened to his land?

There is no tax list for 1798.

In 1799, Michael McDowell sold land to the preacher, Jacob McGrady. The deed is in very poor shape, but you can make out the words “Mulberry Creek” and Robert Hall’s line. I could not find the acreage listed, so we don’t know if this is all of Michael’s land, or just part.

Michael McDowell 1799 deed to McGrady (2).jpg

The deed is signed by Michael using his mark and then witnessed by a Michael McDowel who can sign, an Edward McDowel who cannot sign and a Robert Hall who cannot.

My guess would be that the reason that Michael had no property tax in 1797 and 1798 is that he had rented the land to Jacob McGrady, who eventually bought the land, but was paying the taxes on the land as part of their rent or lease agreement.

We are left with the question of how, without land, Michael made a living? In 1797, Michael would have been 50 years old.

The same year as his land sale, in 1799, Michael McDowell, in Capt. Gradie’s district (6) is shown with 200 acres and 1 poll. Where did this land come from? Michael’s original land purchase was 161 acres.

On May 3, 1799, the State versus Michael McDowell for tresspass, again. The jury found Michael not guilty, as charged, and order that George Lewis pay the costs. He also served on a jury the same day in lieu of another juror. I’m wondering if it’s because Michael is present in the courtroom and can serve when another juror didn’t show up.

The same day, Michael also files Michael McDowell vs George Lewis: Appeal. The jury is sworn and finds for Michael, his damages 3 pounds 7 pence and costs.

In August of 1799, Michael again serves as a juror.

The 1800 tax list for district 6 is missing but we do have the census that provides us with at least some information.

1800-1810

The 1800 census holds some surprises. For example, it looks like Michael has daughters we don’t know about.

Michael McDowell 1800 census Wilkes.png

1800 Wilkes County NC census, Morgan District – Michael McDowell

  • 1 male over 45 (Michael 53)
  • 2 males 0-10 (Nathan, Luke, William?)
  • 1 female over 45 (wife)
  • 1 female 10-16 (Mary)
  • 2 females 0-10 (unknown daughters)

Based on the 1800 census, Michael’s older sons have already left the nest, but where are they? Perhaps they are workers on someone else’s farm, or they are living someplace with in-laws if they have newly married.

Dec. 12, 1801 – a Wilkes County deed conveyance between Humphrey Cockerham and Abel Sparks on the east fork of Swan Creek is witnessed by a James McDowell, possibly son of Michael McDowell. Who was James McDowell? We don’t see this name again, nor is there “room” on Michael McDowell’s 1787 tax list for another male who would have been of age in 1801, but there is on the 1790 census. James could have been just passing through.

On May 8, 1802, Milley Carter, administrator of the estate of Henry Carter who on May 3, 1799 had a land entry for 40 acres, sued Michael McDowell and David Hickerson. Found for the plaintiff regarding “a piece of land supposed to be the property of Michael McDowel joining Benjamin Sebastian’s land.” Ordered by the court for the sheriff to sell the land. For some reason, Jeffery Johnson, Constable, was mentioned.

On August 4, 1804, suit was filed by Elisha Reynolds versus Allen Robinett and Michael McDowell for debt. Jury finds no payments nor setoffs and awards fir the plaintiff with damages. Of course, we don’t know if this is Michael or his son. Michael does serve on a jury the same day, so I suspect this is the elder Michael.

I get the distinct impression that we may be missing some land transactions.

In Book F-1, a November 12, 1805 deed for that same 156 acres conveyed in 1786 refers to the line of Andrew Vannoy and Michael McDowell again.

A hint about the area where Michael McDowell lived in Wilkes Comes from his neighbor’s land grant. John Herrold’s son, William Herrold/Herrell, would marry Michael’s daughter Mary in 1809.

Land grant entry number 1246 and grant number 2421 for 200 acres for John Herrold states that the land is on the Chinquepon Branch of the Hay Meadow Creek on the waters of Mulberry beginning near the head of the said branch and that it is against Michael McDowell’s line. The survey was entered November 16, 1801 and was actually recorded in Feb 1802. Chainers were John Roads and Michael McDowall.

There is a drawing of the survey but it simply looks like a square and there are no watercourses noted. The name is spelled variously Herrild, Herrald, Herrold. John paid “4 pounds” for this survey in 1804. I find it interesting that they are still using the old English money measures and not dollars.

Finding Michael’s Land

During a visit in 2004, 200 years later, now-deceased cousin George McNiel helped me located John Harrold’s land on Harrold Mountain.

Harrold mountain

Having found John’s land, of course, we’ve also in essence found Michael’s land, or at least the neighborhood, because their land abutted.

Michael McDowell Waddell Drive.png

Harrold Mountain is where Waddell Drive is located today, with the Harrold cemetery on the land originally owned by John Harrold.

harrold-mountain-across-from-zion.jpg

John Harrold’s land abutted Michael McDowell’s, and his son married Michael’s daughter.

Haymeadow Creek, mentioned in John Harrold’s grant, is to the far left, with Harrold Mountain Road crossing it. John’s land was probably larger than the area shown.

Michael McDowell Harrold land.png

The Zion Baptist Church is a very old “primitive Baptist church” where many Harrold family members are buried. It’s likely the church where Michael attended as well, and where Jacob McGrady preached. The remnants of the original log cabin church were located in the woods behind the current church, years ago, according to old-timers in the neighborhood.

Zion Baptist Church

We know beyond a doubt that Michael’s land was on a watercourse, probably Mulberry Creek. His neighbors the Sebastians, as well as John Harrold had land on Mulberry Creek. Andrew Vannoy owned land adjacent Michael, and he lived north of Mulberry Creek.

The court records tell us that Michael had a mill. On the map below, John Herrald’s land and Haymeadow Creek is to the right. Sebastian Road in in yellow. Mulberry Creek is at left with the red arrows. Note the Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church.

Michael McDowell Mulberry and Haywater.png

The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church is shown with the red arrow, below, so this area is likely Michael McDowell’s, with John Herrald’s land to the right, probably out of view. Michael’s land was probably larger than this view.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Primitive.png

The Mulberry Church wasn’t formed until 1848, but it serves as a good landmark for Mulberry Creek.

Sparta Road runs through a valley that is pretty heavily treed on the right side, so it’s difficult to find a view of the area where Michael would have lived. This would have been the road Michael traveled to access his land, of course, not paved and likely only wide enough for a wagon.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Creek.png

Here we can see Mulberry Creek running alongside the road.

Michael McDowell mountains.png

The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church would be hidden behind the clump of trees at left, with the mountains in the distance, in the center, probably belonging to Michael.

It would have been difficult to eek a living out of this land. No wonder Michael had a mill someplace on Mulberry Creek. Halls Mills could be the location. On the map below, we can see the locations where the various families lived. Halls Mills is on Mulberry between John Herrald’s land, Vannoy Road and McGrady where Jacob McGrady lived, so it’s a good candidate and we know Michael lived adjacent the Hall family.

Michael McDowell neighbor lands.png

Vannoy Road actually arched further to the north shown by the red arrows.

This is really rough terrain. I was warned NOT to drive Vannoy Road around the mountain between Buckwheat Road and Sparta Road, near McGrady, even in a Jeep.

Michael McDowell Vannoy Road.png

It’s a dirt 2 track with no room for 2 cars and no place to turn around. I was told by the locals that it’s in essence a game of chicken and someone gets to back up. They even avoid this road.

The 1805 tax list shows Mich. McDowell with 1 poll and 233 acres in Capt. Rouseau’s district adjacent a John Findley and beside James Patten *Store. The asterisk is unexplained on the list. Based on later information, this entry appears to be Michael McDowell III.

The same year, another Michael McDowell with 200 acres and no poll is shown in Captain Kilby’s district, listed beside Jacob McGrady and Andrew Vannoy. Edward Dancy is next door, then we find John McDowell with 1 poll and no acres. This second Michael McDowell in Capt. Kilby’s district would be the elder man, Michael Jr., now age 58 and probably with either an old age or an invalid exemption which is why he had no poll tax. There has to be some benefit to all of those aches and pains of old age.

John McDowell is Michael’s son. We know this because on November 5, 1800 in the court notes, we find that Michael McDowell Junior is appointed constable, with William Abshare and Michael McDowell Senior for his securities.

Given that we know there were two Michael McDowells in Wilkes County, an older and a younger, and given that both signed a deed in different capacities in 1799, the Michael involved in these transactions might be either man. However additional information shows us that an 1813 transaction could not have been the elder Michael McDowell Jr., because he was in Claiborne County, TN by that time. Anything involving Michael McDowell from 1810 or later in Wilkes County was not Michael McDowell Jr., because he was gone by then.

Michael McDowell III appears to have lived only in Wilkesboro, not on the mountain where he was raised.

1810 and Beyond in Wilkes County

The Wilkes Co. census in 1810 shows the younger Michael McDowell on page 848 and Jacob McGrady (the preacher who married William Herrell and Mary McDowell in 1809) on 868. In other words, Michael McDowell III does not live near where his father lived.

No older Michael McDowell is present. In 1800 Jacob McGrady is on page 55, Michael is on page 54 and John Herrell Sr. and Jr. are on page 46. They are the only Herrell’s in Wilkes Co. It is spelled Harral. William Herrell/Harrold/Herrald who married Mary McDowell is also missing.

In 1810, Michael McDowell (III) is listed in Wilkesboro itself, not the area on Harrold Mountain where Michael Jr. lived. Michael III is age “to 45” with 4 young children and owning 10 slaves. This is not Michael Jr., but his son who would have been age 30-35, estimating that he had been married 9 or 10 years to have 4 children.

Where is our Michael McDowell? There is no other census listing in the entire US for a Michael McDowell. Keep in mind that the Tennessee and Virginia 1810 census schedules were destroyed.

In the book “The Land of Wilkes” by Johnson Hayes, written in 1962, Hayes mentions in Chapter 10, page 91, under “County officers from the beginning to 1960, among others, Michael McDowell in 1810. This surely must be Michael III, because Michael Jr. has probably already departed for Claiborne County and Michael III has established himself in Wilkesboro.

March 27, 1810 Deed Book G-H – Robert Keeton to Michael McDowell, negro woman named Betty and her child named Sandy

August 27, 1811 – Between James N. Fenely and Michal McDowell…negro man named Charles, age 35. Witness John Finley. Signed James N. Fonely, page 211

These slave transactions hurt my heart. I wonder if a difference in conviction caused Michael McDowell Jr. to leave Wilkes County, apparently with the rest of his sons, daughter and son-in-law, while Michael McDowell III remained behind, purchasing slaves. Their lives clearly followed divergent paths.

Dec. 15, 1811 – Deed Book G-H, NC Grant 1817 John Herrald 200 acres Chinquepin Branch of Haymeadow Creek, the waters of Mulberry, Michael McDowell’s line

December 14, 1811 – NC Grant 2847 William Sebastian, 200 acres waters of Mulberry Creek the south side of Wheatley’s Mountain, near the head of Miny Branch…McDowel’s line

This land would have been surveyed prior to this time, so the references to McDowell’s line would have been historical in nature.

Wheatley family deeds indicate that they owned land near the Reddies River, between the river and the top of the range to the north.

Michael McDowell Wheatley Mountain.png

On this map, we see Sparta road with the red arrow, Mulberry Creek with the purple arrow, Gambill Creek with green and the Reddies River with tan. Sebastian Road is just to the south as is Harrold Mountain.

Based on the various deeds and descriptions, Wheatley Mountain appears to be this piece of heavily forested land.

Michael McDowell Wilkes neighborhood.png

This aerial map of the entire neighborhood takes into consideration everything we know from the various deeds. Vannoy Road is in yellow at left. Michael’s neighbor was Andrew Vannoy.

Vannoy Road intersects with Sparta Road near McGrady and Jacob McGrady bought Michael’s land when he sold.

The Wheatley family owned land between Roaring River and the top of the mountain.  The mustard arrows at right track the West Fork of the Roaring River, with Gambill Creek shown in Green. The Gambills were Michael’s neighbors.

Harrold Mountain, towards the bottom, owned by John Harrold, adjoined Michael’s land on the waters of Mulberry Creek. Mulberry Creek, purple, tracks Sparta Road, red, all the way through the valley.

The grey arrow points to Sebastian Road near Harrold Mountain.

In 1810, we begin to see activity by the younger Michael McDowell, the next generation.

Feb 12, 1812 – Between Michael McDowell and Joseph Baker..$400…negro boy named Seaser, age 9. Witness James Waugh and R. Carson. Signed Michael McDowell, page 377

In both 1810 and 1813 a Michael McDowell purchases more land in Wilkes, including a one-acre lot in the town of Wilkesboro in 1813 (which was established in 1799). We don’t have records of the disposition of this land, but we know it can’t be Michael McDowell Jr., because he is in Lee County, Virginia in 1810.

Moving On to the Next Frontier

Yes, Michael McDowell Jr. moved once again, this time to the next outpost in the westward migration journey – Claiborne County, Tennessee on the Virginia border with Lee County.

MIchael McDowell Ivy to Slanting Misery map.png

Michael’s no spring chicken, and he’s starting over at age 63 in a place that can only be termed inhospitable.

Another chapter closes, and a new one opens. What lies ahead?

A place aptly named Slanting Misery.

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DNAPainter: Ancestral Trees

Ancestral Tree.png

DNAPainter has introduced a new feature, Ancestral Trees.

Ancestral tree fan.png

You can create a tree by hand or upload a GEDCOM file from your own software or one of the online vendors who support a tree export to a GEDCOM file, such as Ancestry or MyHeritage.

GEDCOM Import

As a longtime genealogist, I wanted to upload my GEDCOM file, because there’s absolutely no reason to recreate the wheel, or the fan, pardon the pun.

I’ve been building my file for decades, so it’s rather large, with over 35,000 people. Not all are ancestors of course.

If the upload process was going to choke on a large file, mine is a good candidate. DNAPainter indicates that files of 50,000 people or less shouldn’t be a problem. My file upload worked fine and took all of a couple minutes.

It’s worth noting that your GEDCOM file itself is not uploaded and retained. Only your direct line ancestors are extracted and uploaded to your DNAPainter account. You can read about options here.

Pedigree

A pedigree version of my direct ancestral tree appeared as soon as the upload completed.

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By hovering over any person, you can perform a several functions.

You can delete the person, edit their information, add parents or mark them as a genetic ancestor by clicking on that box.

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What, exactly, is a genetic ancestor?

Genetic Ancestors

Genetic ancestors are people in your tree that are confirmed, genetically, to be your ancestors. For example, if you match a full first cousin on your mother’s side, that confirms your maternal grandparents as your grandparents.

Two pieces of independent data confirm that – your paper trail plus the fact that the first cousin matches you in the first cousin range.

Confirming ancestral segments, and therefore ancestors, is what DNAPainter does. DNAPainter creates a visualization of your chromosomes with the DNA segments you inherited from your ancestors painted on the appropriate maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an example.

Ancestral tree chromosome 22.png

All of the grey matches on my chromosome 22, above, descend from cousins who share ancestors Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy with me. In addition, there are other matches painted as well who descend from other ancestors, such as their son, in addition to my painted ethnicity segments.

In the blue, grey and red match trio, we can see that the exact segment was passed from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel to their son Joel Vannoy who married Phoebe Crumley whose daughter Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes. We can track that segment back three generations with just this one example, plus the two generations between me and my great-grandparents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy – for a total of 5 ancestral generations. Pretty cool, huh!

Use the Legend

When you paint chromosomes, you define ancestors to a color as you paint segments attributed to them.

You can view the legend of the ancestors you’ve painted – either all of them or divided into maternal or paternal.

Ancestral tree legend.png

Utilize this legend to mark the appropriate people on your Ancestral Tree as genetic ancestors.

Couple or Person?

You’ll need to make a decision.

Are you going to mark both people of a couple as your genetic ancestors when someone else that you match descends from this same couple, or are you only going to mark your descendant child of that couple?

Using the same example as the grey/blue/red trio on my painted chromosomes, I can see the pedigree descent, below.

Ancestral tree ancestors.png

If my initial match was to a cousin who descended through Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, I wouldn’t know which of those two ancestors actually passed the matching segment to my grandfather, William George Estes, then to my father and me.

Ancestral tree path.png

I know for sure I inherited the segment though William George Estes, but I don’t know if he received it from his father, Lazarus Estes, his mother Elizabeth Vannoy, or parts from both of his parents.

However, given that we are talking about only one segment at a time, it’s likely that the segment actually came from either Lazarus or Elizabeth, not a combination of both. But it’s not certain.

If I match someone on multiple segments, each segment has its own independent history. Multiple segments could have and probably did originate with different ancestors on up the tree.

Do I mark only William George Estes as the confirmed ancestor, or do I mark both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy as the confirmed couple?

Eventually, after I match more people, as shown in the chromosome painting, I’ll have evidence that this segment descends through Elizabeth Vannoy and her father Joel Vannoy.

Ancestral tree line of descent.png

Now I know that the segment descends from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel, but until someone from either the McNiel line or the Vannoy line upstream match me on that same segment, or part of the segment, I won’t know whether that segment descends from Elijah or Lois or maybe a partial contribution from each.

Until then, I need to decide how I’m going to handle the designation of Genetic Ancestor – the couple or their child who is my ancestor. As long as you are consistent in your methodoloy and you understand your strategy, I don’t think there is any specific right or wrong answer.

Displaying Genetic Ancestors

After designating a person in your tree as a genetic ancestor, you’ll be able to select “Show genetic ancestors” from the DNA filters.

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Your pedigree chart will show the black DNA icon for every ancestor that you’ve identified as a genetic ancestor.

Ancestral tree genetic ancestors.png

Next, you can view your Genetic fan chart.

Your Genetic Fan Chart

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By switching from tree to fan, you’ll be able to view your genetic tree in fan format.

Ancestral tree fan genetic ancestors.png

The darkened ancestral “squares” show the people you’ve indicated as genetic ancestors. The lighter colors are people in my tree, but not yet genetically confirmed.

My particularly problematic quadrant is the dark red one that also happens to include my mitochondrial DNA. Why is this line so lacking as compared to the others?

Ancestral tree descent.png

By flying my cursor over the ancestor on the tree that I want to see, DNAPainter tells me that the end of line ancestor in the outer band is Elisabeth Schlicht, born in 1698. I know immediately what the problem is, and why I only have a few generations confirmed.

Barbara Mehlheimer was the immigrant in the 1850s. None of the rest of her family came to America. Few if any of the family in Germany have tested. If they have, I don’t know it because either I don’t match them or they don’t have a tree.

That entire red quadrant beyond the 4th generation is partially identified in the German church records, but not (yet) genetically confirmed.

X and Mitochondrial DNA Paths

Another feature that you can select is to see the X and mitochondrial DNA paths.

Ancestral tree X path.png

The X inheritance path is shown above, and mitochondrial DNA below.

Ancestral tree mtDNA path.png

I discussed X matching here.

X DNA and mitochondrial DNA is NOT the same thing, although they both have a unique inheritance path. I wrote about X matching and mitochondrial DNA and their differences, here.

DNAPainter only shows that inheritance path. The genetic ancestor designation does NOT MEAN that the genetic ancestors on the X path are confirmed by the X chromosome, only that those ancestors are somehow confirmed – by you.

The mitochondrial path does NOT necessarily mean that that line is mitochondrially DNA confirmed – just that the line is autosomally confirmed, or not – depending on whether you checked genetic ancestor.

I, personally, am only using the genetic ancestor designation as autosomal, meaning chromosomes 1-22 AND the X chromosome. When I indicate that Edith Barbara Lore, who is my mitochondrial ancestor, is a genetic ancestor, I’m referring to autosomal confirmation, not mitochondrial.

I’d actually love to see separate Y and mitochondrial DNA confirmations – although I’m afraid it might be confusing to people. On the other hand, it might be a great teaching opportunity about Y and mito.

Another useful feature of DNAPainter is tree completeness.

Tree Completeness

At the upper right, you’ll see the option for tree completeness.

Ancestral tree completeness.png

By clicking, a new box opens with a list of ancestors that appear more than once in your tree – known as pedigree collapse.

Ancestral tree pedigree collapse.png

This was quite interesting. Fifteen are Acadians and 19 are Germans from multiple lines. the commonality is that all of these people hail from villages or geographically isolated regions where there isn’t a lot of population being added during the timeframe in question.

Not one repeat ancestor hails from colonial America, although I’d bet they exist in areas where these families lived in close proximity. Many records have been destroyed and I have lots of brick walls in those lines.

Ancestral tree identified ancestors.png

Scrolling on down the page, we see a report by generation of how many ancestors are identified per generation. I have identified all of my 4th great-grandparents, but only about 3/4th of the next generation. After that, the percentage drops roughly in half every generation.

Of the 4th great-grandparents, who lived 6 generations ago, (counting my parents as generation 1,) born in the mid-1700s, three women don’t have surnames and one is known only by her mitochondrial DNA results. I’m hopeful that one day, those results will lead me to her identity.

The Future

Jonny Perl has indicated that he’s working to integrate the genetic ancestor designation with the chromosome painting function, including colors. That will require more decision-making on the part of the user though, because sometimes the source of the segment isn’t clear, especially when families lived close and there are multiple possible paths of descend from multiple ancestors. And of course, there’s always the possibility of an unexpected parent or adoption thrown into the mix.

What does the user do when they have 10 cousins who match on a segment but conflicting information as to the ancestral source? When that occurs in my tree, I evaluate the evidence of each match on that segment and make an individual decision. Automating this process might be challenging, especially considering the situations of partial segment matches and endogamy.

While I wait, I’ll just revel in the nice dark colors on my ancestry fan tree and see what I can do to darken a few more of those areas by painting more matches.

Have you uploaded your tree and claimed your genetic ancestors? How are you doing?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Phoebe: Board of Trustee Member at 16 – 52 Ancestors #257

Phoebe JCF Photo.jpg

I’m just going to have to ask your forbearance. This is my granddaughter, Phoebe, who at the age of 16 has just been appointed to an advisory board of trustees for a nonprofit organization, Jackson Community Foundation. No, that’s not a typo. She’s only 16, and it’s no small nonprofit.

I’m proud as punch, as you’ve already figured out, I’m sure.

I’m the grandma and that’s my job.

However, Phoebe truly is remarkable. I know every grandma thinks that, so this is exactly why I’m asking forbearance.

You see, this almost wasn’t a happy story. In fact, it almost never happened at all.

We Nearly Lost Her

I’m holding Phoebe, my first grandchild, in the photo below, immediately after she was born, just before I realized she was turning blue. Actually, her hands already look blue in this photo. The nurse was unconcerned and told me this was “normal,” but I knew otherwise and let’s just say I became very assertive very quickly. By the time I waylaid a nurse, any nurse, Phoebe’s lips were blue.

There was no time to lose. When that second nurse realized what was happening, Phoebe was quickly whisked away into neo-natal intensive care where she spent the next week or so. She was not absorbing oxygen and nearly died.

Phoebe born.jpg

We were terrified.

This was a tough time for our family, in many ways. For her parents and me too. I had already lost one newborn baby, and this was eerily similar – way too close for comfort. Years before, I held my own baby as she passed away.

Thankfully, Phoebe improved and clearly survived, but that wouldn’t have been the case without modern medical care. A few decades ago, she would only have been one of those anonymous blank spaces in the census – a child only suggested by their absence and not known by their presence. Except, for us, as for those families, she would never have been anonymous. She would always have been a hole in our hearts.

Homecoming

A week or so later, she came home from the hospital.

Phoebe newborn quilt.jpg

Here’s Phoebe being held by her aunt the day she came home from the hospital – with her “welcome to the world” quilt from Grandma.

I made each of my grandchildren a quilt when they were born. That’s just the first of many quilts I’ve made them. I’m so glad they love grandma’s quilts – and now they like to quilt with grandma too.

I started quilting when I was young with scraps from making my own clothes when I was about the age Phoebe is now.

Phoebe and me as teen.png

Here are photos of Phoebe and me at about the same age. I fought to straighten my hair. Phoebe embraces her lovely curls.

My first professional photo wouldn’t be taken until I was 26 and out of college.

Phoebe is light years ahead of me and just sparkles with energy and enthusiasm!

Phoebe with daughter.png

Phoebe with my daughter at about the same age.

The Wedding

When Phoebe was three months old, my daughter made Phoebe a tiny dress to match the wedding décor, and Phoebe was in her grandmother’s wedding.

Phoebe at my wedding.jpg

Of course, Phoebe has no memory of that day, but I surely do!

Phoebe wedding 3 months.jpg

Fortunately, we took photos, because this wedding photo would be the only full family photo we would ever have.

Phoebe family wedding photo.jpg

These pictures make me cry today, for the loss, but also for the love. My mother and brother are both gone now.

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This spring, Phoebe standing in the bedroom with my mother’s furniture, trying my wedding gown on.

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Someday, it will be hers to wear if she chooses.

Phoebe and Mawmaw

In our family, until this generation, grandmothers were called Mawmaw. Sadly, Phoebe also has no memory of my mother, Mawmaw.

Phoebe with Mawmaw.jpg

This is one of only a couple photos of Phoebe with my mother. This was Phoebe’s first Christmas and the only one with her great-grandmother.

Here’s Phoebe’s photo beside my mom’s high school graduation picture.

Phoebe with Mom.png

Making Memories

As Phoebe began to grow up, we started making family memories, like this one at Disney World.

Phoebe at Disney.jpg

And yes, as any good grandparent would do, Phoebe went to the Bippity-Bop Boutique and magically became transformed into a Princess. That boutique is a goldmine designed to mine the bank accounts of grandparents which it does VERY successfully, I might add.

Our family events seem to be punctuated by quilts.

Phoebe Princess quilt.jpg

I finished this quilt for Phoebe at Disney so she could have her very own special princess quilt to go with the one-of-a-kind special princess dress I made for her to wear at Disney. I was concerned that she would be upset that she didn’t have a more traditional princess dress like the other young princesses, but she wasn’t, and loved her unique “grandma princess dress.”

Phoebe Tinkerbell dress.jpg

What a great adventure.

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Even if it was beastly hot.

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Phoebe got to wear both lipstick and nail polish for the first time! She was so excited, and then facepainting too.

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There are just no words for some things, but grandpa makes scary things not so much!

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I’m not sure who these other family members are. I must have missed something in my genealogy.

Grandma’s Princess

Planning for college or not, she’s still my Princess – even though she’s old enough to drive the chariot now. How did that happen anyway?

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For the next couple of years after Disney, we had princess everything!

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At least that made gift shopping easy.

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Now that’s some hat. Even the English would be jealous!

But something was in the offing that was even better than being a princess.

Becoming a Big Sister

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Phoebe became a big sister!

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We nearly lost this baby too, for an entirely different reason. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this child was in constant pain for months.

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Phoebe loves her sister, even though her sister didn’t always love to be carried around like a baby doll!

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A year and a risky, life-saving surgery later, Phoebe was there for her sister’s first steps, with Dad and Grandpa. What an exciting red-letter day.

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After that, Grandma made Disney dresses and goodies for both girls.

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It was difficult to take photos of Phoebe’s sister, because once she started walking, and running, she never slowed down!

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The girls are inseparable. Here, they are doing “bedtime yoga” to quiet down before bedtime, under grandma’s quilts. I love it that their parents share these wonderful photos with me!

Sports

Phoebe began to engage in sports from a young age. She ran her first (partial) race with her dad when she was 3.

Phoebe first marathon.jpg

He’s pinning her runner identification on. A rite of passage in this family. Phoebe was so excited.

Phoebe first run.jpg

You can see her in the brightly colored clothing right up front, in the center. Unfortunately, she got run over by another runner, fell and bumped her head on the concrete, but got back up, crying, but carried on. Her Dad picked her up, which made her unhappy.

Phoebe with Dad.jpg

Dad carried her part of the way, first in his arms, then on his shoulders as he ran. She was on top of the world there.

Sometimes, it’s not about winning but being present in the moment.

Phoebe and gymnastics.jpg

Phoebe has always loved all kinds of sports. Gymnastics, horseback riding, volleyball, soccer, basketball, karate,swimming and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

Phoebe and soccer.jpg

I love the look of intensity on her face. She’s a dedicated athlete.

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Phoebe has always been a team player and enjoys working with young people, volunteering her time at various camps and events including coaching soccer.

Essential Lessons

Phoebe jewelry.jpg

Grandma teaching Phoebe the essentials of life. How to select jewelry. Next, we moved on to chocolate and dessert😊

Phoebe dessert.jpg

Hey, a grandma’s gotta do what a grandma’s gotta do!

Phoebe missing tooth

And you’ve got to show grandma your missing tooth.

Not only that, but she lost that first tooth after tripping over another dancer at a recital. Afterwards, she proudly rushed off the stage displaying her prize tooth gripped tightly in her hand! She didn’t miss a beat dancing! No one would ever have known what happened – but she also didn’t lose the tooth. Great recovery!

Phoebe recital.jpg

Who can resist those eyes? Not me, that’s for sure.

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Not sure exactly how, but somehow she wound up in Kansas. You don’t suppose she clicked do you?

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We’ve now graduated to fabric shopping for quilts with grandma! Yes!

Phoebe, Nora and Quilts

My mother only quilted at Missionary Circle, but this quilt made by her grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore, represented the State of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s fair.

climbing vine quilt

Nora is Phoebe’s 3 times great-grandmother.

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Here’s Phoebe beside Nora at age 22 in 1888 when she was married.

Maintaining the family tradition, Phoebe likes to quilt with Grandma now.

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Sometimes the hardest part of quilting is making decisions. Here, Phoebe’s planning blocks for a college quilt.

Farms are Fun

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Phoebe has lots of interests, farm animals among them. Somehow, I think that runs in her blood.

Peewee.jpg

My daughter with our orphan goat, Peewee, when my kids were growing up. Peewee wore diapers in the house and wore a yellow sweater to town for walks on a leash.

Phoebe pumpkins.jpg

Phoebe doesn’t know it, but on the farm at home, my dad used to plant pumpkins every year just so the grandkids could grow and select their own pumpkin for carving. She would have loved that, and him. I’m sure he’s watching over her now.

Phoebe and sister in labyrinth.jpg

Grandma doesn’t exactly have a farm, but I do have a labyrinth.

Phoebe buckets.jpg

Our ancestors carried water and also maple sap in buckets like these.

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I think she’s moved on to chain saws now.

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Perhaps Phoebe has her grandmother’s “boot” gene.

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Phoebe is no one-trick pony, um, I mean, unicorn, though. Not one bit.

Music

Phoebe Mississippi.jpg

Phoebe loves music. All kinds of music.

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Phoebe and the family drum corps.

From a very young age, she was attracted to any musical instrument.

Phoebe tongue.jpg

You know, how you hold your tongue really DOES matter!

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Phoebe plays a number of instruments, but loves to play the piano. For hours on end.

Phoebe piano with sister.jpg

Alone or with someone. Sometimes her sister sings along.

Phoebe and piano.jpg

Phoebe was playing with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and winning state-wide championships before she was 12. The first year she won, she was actually competing in the youngest category that began at 13 – and they didn’t know exactly what to do because she was actually “too young” to win. The prize was money and a scholarship.

Phoebe and Dad by piano.jpg

Sometimes her dad had to come directly from work to be at her recitals and events. I love this picture of them together!

Phoebe piano professional.jpg

This was probably actually Phoebe’s first “professional” picture.

Phoebe piano competition.jpg

I have miles and miles of footage of Phoebe playing soul-searing, breathtaking music. Songs were even composed for her to play at university competitions.

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Phoebe accepting a state-wide award with her teacher.

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You’ll excuse me if I call Phoebe a child prodigy, because she is – and I am, after all, the grandmother. I will, however, spare you the videos, although you’d probably enjoy them😊

Phoebe did not get her musical talent from me.

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Phoebe’s great-great-grandmother, Edith Lore Ferverda played the piano beautifully, accompanying a great many dance recitals as my mother performed.

Genetics

PHoebe swabbing.jpg

As Phoebe has continued to mature, she developed an interest in science. Here, she’s swabbing for DNA testing.

I have NO IDEA where she got the idea to do something like that😊

Granddaughter DNA 2016

Next, Phoebe wanted to sequence DNA. Here, she’s in the lab at Michigan State University doing just that with strawberries.

We’ve spent hours reviewing where her DNA segments originated – because she is lucky enough to have the autosomal DNA of 3 grandparents and one great-grandparent, plus several aunts and uncles.

Phoebe’s DNA as compared to mine. The blue areas on her chromosomes are what she inherited from me.

Phoebe me DNA

Nothing makes genetics personal like your own family members and the power of visual examples.

Just a Normal Teen

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Amid all of this serious stuff, Phoebe is just a normal fun-loving teen.

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Cutting up with her friends.

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Petting dinosaurs.

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Making friends with chickens!

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Playing in the snow. Her sister is hidden behind the tree and just caused it to dump on Phoebe.

Phoebe rock.jpg

This young woman perseveres and conquers what she sets her mind on.

Phoebe victory rock.jpg

Phoebe Branches Out

Now in the second half of her teen years, Phoebe is branching out and finding her wings – or maybe her voice.

Phoebe tree.jpg

Yes, Phoebe still hikes and climbs trees. One of my favorite photos, a lucky shot.

However, when on the ground, Phoebe has taken a shine to the stage. She has danced for years, but the theater bug has bitten her recently.

Phoebe play.jpg

I was convinced that Phoebe was going to be a geneticist, but she has since developed an interest in the arts, aside from piano performances. She also sings, dances and now acts in community theater.

Phoebe stage.jpg

Of course, my mother performed professionally – so maybe Phoebe comes by that ability naturally.

Barbara Ferverda dancing 1944 2 pro

Must have “skipped a generation,” or two, because I guarantee you, I have absolutely no talent there.

Phoebe Mom DNA.png

Is Phoebe’s dancing and theatrical ability handed down on the red segments above, passed down to Phoebe from my mother, through my blue segments? If so, those genes didn’t express in my generation.

Public Service

While Phoebe was recently appointed to the board of trustees, this is not her first time working as a public servant.

Phoebe volunteers at the Dahlem Outdoor Environmental Education Center and has been a volunteer assistant camp counselor since she was 13. She has been attending since she was 5. It’s one of her favorite places.

Phoebe moose.jpg

Phoebe’s on the committee for the annual Goblin Walk Fundraiser. She’s a moose, above, in brown, and a hummingbird in the blue/green sweatshirt, below.

PHoebe hummingbird.jpg

Beauty

Phoebe sees beauty everyplace and in everything.

Phoebe photographer.jpg

She has a great eye for color and detail and enjoys photography in grandma’s garden.

Phoebe taller than grandma.jpg

Phoebe was quite pleased with herself the day she realized she was taller than grandma.

What Phoebe doesn’t realize is that the white and purple phlox blooming beside us is from her great-grandparent’s farm. Yes, Mawmaw and Pawpaw are with us in subtle ways.

I dug the Phlox and brought it home the day Dad passed away. A few years later, it moved along with me to a new house and is now migrating to my children’s gardens a quarter century later.

Our ancestors are with us, not only in our DNA, abilities and appearance but in other subtle ways too.

Someday, I hope these same plants, or their descendants, will grow in Phoebe’s own garden. In the mean time, I’ll be the steward of the plants because she has a lot of cultivating to do.

The future is bright and full of promise. Whatever Phoebe’s life choices, I’m privileged to witness this remarkable young woman develop her potential, find her grounding, fledge the nest and fly on her own.

I have no doubt that Phoebe will leave this earth a better place than she found it.

Phoebe 6 generations.png

Her ancestors would be very, very proud of her. This one already is!

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I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Conferences: Different Flavors – How They Work & What to Expect as an Attendee or Speaker

As you’ve noticed, I’m sure, I sometimes speak at conferences.

Roberta speaking at conference.jpg

Not all conferences are the same – nor are they created equal for either the speakers or attendees. That’s by design, based on the type of conference and who is sponsoring the event.

How well a conference resonates with you depends on your personal goals and the goals of the sponsoring party.

Let’s look at the different factors that makes conferences unique – and interesting.

After we understand the different kinds of conferences, then we’ll talk about conferences from the speaker’s, and aspiring speaker’s, perspectives.

Last, we’ll review aspects you’ll want to consider when considering conferences as either an attendee or speaker.

Conferences Types and Sponsors

Conferences in general, not just genealogy, are sponsored by four types of organizations – each with different goals. We will look at each type in terms of organizations, sponsorship, speakers, expectations and fees!

Type 1 – Academic and Professional Conferences

Long before I spoke at genealogy conferences, I spoke at academic and professional conferences about technology and science related topics. These conferences generally focus on a specific theme. Example themes would be GIS (geographic information systems), medicine or a specific area of technology.

At academic and professional conferences, the speakers are paid by organizations that they work for, such as universities or companies associated with the subject. In other words, they are speaking as an employee, meaning they are paid by their employer and speaking is part of their job. Speakers at these conferences aren’t typically free-lancers, self-employed people or consultants.

In my opinion, this conference model is the origin of the myth that genealogical speakers only need to be offered a small honorarium, often in the ballpark of $100, instead of being “paid.” The conference committees were and are used to speakers who are paid by their employers and feel that simply being asked to speak is an honor in and of itself within your profession.

It’s a fine model for a group of speakers who are speaking as part of their paid employment, but not for people who aren’t.

In the genealogical world, people employed by vendors who speak fall into this category, but professional and non-professional genealogists who don’t work for a company that pays their salary are exceptions. People not employed by organizations are literally trading a significant number of hours of paid work for preparing their presentation, traveling and speaking – not to mention paying their own costs.

The conferences who subscribe to this model feel that the exposure to the public will build the speaker’s business, and while that’s true if the speaker has something to sell, like a book, it’s not true if the speaker already has a full calendar and the only thing they “sell” is services. In this second scenario, it actually costs the speaker to speak because they forego revenue.

Some speakers are retired from professions that offer pensions, so they aren’t trying to earn a living as a professional – but that’s far from true for everyone.

In terms of expectations, at a professional or academic conference, you can generally expect to hear a wide range of speakers including individuals who work for organizations other than vendors, academics, and of course vendors’ employees.

These professional conferences are generally run by professional or academic associations that are often nonprofit and charge a membership fee, in addition to a conference admission fee.

Their goal is usually not to make a profit but to cover the actual conference expenses. Some conference functions, such as lunches and a dinner, if offered, are usually extra.

Generally, the attendees’ and speakers’ conference fees, travel and expenses are covered by their employer, because the attendee needs to keep current in their field. Conferences of this type are considered part of continuing education and professional development.

Costs of Holding a Conference

For all conferences, venues and associated services, meaning food and beverages, prices are exceedingly expensive. For example, a conference center fee for water pitchers in a conference room is $55 per room for 5 gallons, plus an additional $35 for 3 additional gallons. Coffee costs over $100 per carafe. Of course, these costs include the people in the background delivering and coordinating.

The deposit alone for a conference expecting a maximum of 250 people was $28,000 last year. And that was just to reserve the facility. You get the idea.

Attendees often receive a “goody bag” with items contributed by the conference itself or vendors who would like for you to visit their booths and/or consider purchasing their products.

2019 familytreedna booth

Generally, associated vendors have paid booths or table space which generates some revenue for the conference itself. Sometimes booth space is purchased by location, with the largest, best and most expensive “premier” locations just inside the entrance to the Expo Hall.

At RootsTech, below, during setup before the conference opened, FamilySearch, the conference sponsor is in the center, just inside the door, flanked by MyHeritage to their left, and Ancestry, not shown, to the right.

Rootstech day 1 setup

The conference keynote speech is generally given by someone well known who is of interest to anyone in that particular field and is expected to be both informative and entertaining. Some keynote speakers, such as entertainers, are very pricey, in the 10s of thousands of dollars.

Type 2 – Vendor Sponsored Conferences

Vendors sponsor conferences to educate their customers and create goodwill in their user community.

These types of conferences highlight the vendor’s products and innovative ways to utilize those products.

You can expect to see several sessions about the vendor’s tools, products and services, including new announcements. You won’t see anything about competitors’ products.

Generally, there is an admission fee, but these conferences tend to be highly subsidized by the vendors and include events like receptions and often some included meals.

MyHeritage 2019 Gilad keynote.png

Photo of Gilad Japhet, opening MyHeritage LIVE 2019 in Amsterdam, courtesy MyHeritage.

A good example of this is the recent #MyHeritageLIVE conference in Amsterdam. Gilad Japhet, the founder and MyHeritage CEO is giving he opening keynote, above, at their second international conference.

At MyHeritage LIVE, the $149 conference fee didn’t begin to cover what the attendees received. For example, an included canal tour, a nice sweatshirt and stuff bag, a journal, a reception with drinks included, 2 lunches, several breaks with snacks and drinks and an amazing party with live entertainment including a “Beatles” band and Dutch folk dancers.

MyHeritage LIVE me with Marianne Melcherts.png

No, those people aren’t Dutch folk dancers, that’s me celebrating our shared Dutch heritage with Marianne Melcherts!

All of that’s in addition to the actual conference sessions with the best speakers in the industry, which is the actual purpose of the conference. You can see a quick one minute video, here, and free session recordings including the keynote, here. I covered the conference here and here.

Next MyHeritage LIVE conference – Israel sometime probably in the fall of 2020.

The annual Family Tree DNA International Conference for project administrators falls into the vendor sponsored category too and costs about the same.

2015 ftdna panel

Panelists, left to right, Katherine Borges, Steven Perkins, Dr. Tim Janzen, Jennifer Zinck and Debbie Parker-Wayne.

Above, Bennett Greenspan, Family Tree DNA CEO hosting a 2015 panel discussion and below, Bennett speaking about the Y DNA pedigree.

Rootstech day 3 Bennett Y pedigree

The next Family Tree DNA conference is scheduled for November of 2020 – next year. Their conference is focused on educating project administrators who are hightly interested genetic genealogists that function as volunteer supporters for their tens of thousands of cumulative project members.

Family Tree DNA has over 10,000 projects focused on a wide variety of areas, all of which are free to participants. I’ve always perceived their educational conference for (and restricted to) administrators as a form of an educational “thank you” for the many hours donated by administrators.

2015 ftdna 2004 bennett

The Family Tree DNA conference, the first in the genetic genealogy industry was initially held in 2004, back when NOBODY was talking about genetics at genealogy conferences. Katherine Borges of ISOGG provided this slide of Bennett welcoming project administrators at that first conference. We’ve come a very long way in the past 15 years as an industry.

Vendor-sponsored conferences often don’t have vendor booths or tables, and if they do, they are organizations that support or utilize the vendor’s products and tools. Sometimes the vendors themselves have support tables, roundtable discussions and such.

How individual vendors industrywide handle speaker compensation at their conferences for people outside of their organization varies widely. Speakers are generally personally invited to speak and there is no open call for papers at these types of conferences.

Vendor conferences are usually extremely affordable and represent a great value for the attendees because they are subsidized.

Type 3 – Organization Sponsored Conferences

Most genealogy conferences fall into this category.

2019 Rootstech sign

Some conferences are general in nature, such RootsTech (sponsored by FamilySearch affiliated with the LDS church) and NGS (National Genealogical Society.)

You can read about the history of RootsTech here. I covered RootsTech 2019 here and here and will be speaking at RootsTech 2020.

The current RootsTech information for February 2020 with earlybird pricing can be found here and for NGS in May 2020 here. RootsTech is always in Salt Lake City, and NGS 2020 is as well.

Other conferences focus on a specific theme, such as the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) conference.

In the genetic genealogy world, the i4gg (Institute for Genetic Genealogy) conference was launched a few years ago to focus specifically on genetic genealogy, which means they included sessions all the way from basic to advanced.

Today, almost every conference includes several DNA sessions and most include a DNA track.

Most general conferences focus on a wide range of topics. RootsTech, the largest conference with 30,000 to 40,000 attendees over several days (no they’re not all there at once) is a good example. You can find everything from how to use German church records to advanced DNA – and pretty much everything in between.

These conferences highly encourage vendor participation and have an exhibition hall.  Vendor tables and vendor sponsored sessions help to offset the cost of the venue and of speaker compensation.

Rootstech day 3 Charting Companion

Organization sponsored conferences generally tend to handle speaker compensation based on the old academic model. However, this isn’t always true and varies widely.

The reason that organizations tend to lean towards the academic conference model is a matter of dollars and cents – it costs less than paying a large number of speakers in addition to their transportation and lodging which keeps the conference costs lower, which in turn presumably encourages more attendees.

Part of their thinking is that the speakers, because they are interested in the topic at hand will be attending the conference anyway, so the organizers feel they are in essence only paying speakers for an hour of their time in a location where they would already be.

For the record, I disagree and feel that speakers, if they are not paid by their employer should be fairly compensated for their time and effort.

For attendees, due to the wide subject matter draw and size of these conferences, they are great for networking and meeting other people you may only know virtually.

You’ll also find all of the major vendors and many sponsor talks by well-known speakers and/or employees in their booths as well.

2019 ftdna booth presentation

Here’s me in the Family Tree DNA booth at RootsTech and Ran Snir speaking about DNA in the MyHeritage booth.

2019 MyHeritage booth

Nonprofit organizations that don’t have anything to sell, such as WikiTree, also have a presence and offer learning opportunities. Their booths are staffed entirely by volunteers, so stop by and say hello and learn what’s possible.

rootstech-day-4-wiki.jpg

In terms of expectations, these conferences are often large, which is both the good news and the bad news.

Sometimes the conference organizations themselves will sponsor free learning areas.

Rootstech day 2 discovery zone

There was even a DNA Basics area at RootsTech in 2019, staffed by volunteers. I’d volunteer for a shift there.

2019 DNAbasics

Another favorite conference is the entirely free Dublin, Ireland conference, Genetic Genealogy Ireland headed up by volunteer,  Dr. Maurice Gleeson and with the lecture rooms sponsored by Family Tree DNA. This lovely conference takes place in a conference center as part of the larger “Back to Our Past” conference with an admission to the entire conference center of about $10 per day.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2019 schedule.png

A wide range of speakers volunteer in order to support this amazing organization with something to offer everyone with Irish ancestors. GGI attempts to live stream and makes their sessions available on their own YouTube channel, here.

In 2019, the GGI conference takes place on October 18th and 19th in Dublin and I strongly encourage anyone in Ireland or Northern Ireland to attend. It’s well worth your time. You can see the speaker bios here on their blog and or follow them on Facebook, here.

Two new conferences in 2019, both in England, include RootsTech London taking place October 24-26 and THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham. Yes, there’s still time to sign up and attend RootsTech London.

THE Genealogy Show in June was a smashing success, according to attendees. While the initial conference was relatively small, about 4000 people, it was extremely well received. I heard glowing reviews and people really enjoyed the intimate atmosphere that included lots of wonderful sessions with well-known speakers from around the world.

THE Genealogy Show 2020 will be held on June 26-27 and you can take a look at the keynote speakers here.

Yes, you just might know someone who’s speaking:) I can’t wait!

Type 4 – Virtual Conferences

Entire virtual conferences as well as live streaming and recording sessions at regular conferences as they occur are becoming increasingly popular.

In fact, now there’s a Virtual Genealogy Association who has a full 3 day conference coming up in November – as in next month. Registration closes on October 18th and since there’s no travel involved, it’s an exceptional value at $59 for members and $79 for non-members.

Virtual Genealogical Association 2019.png

Choices of types of virtual learning for attendees not physically attending conferences vary, including:

  • Live webinars where viewers can interact with the speakers in some capacity. These tend to be purchased in advance, restricted in number and one must register.
  • Live streamed sessions where large numbers of people can watch as the sessions occur, or later. #MyHeritageLIVE did this in Oslo in 2018, recently in Amsterdam and the sessions were entirely free. RootsTech does live streaming and recording in some capacity for selected sessions. A few RootsTech sessions are live and free, some are available only for paid attendees and last year, a virtual pass was available. Some sessions aren’t recorded or livestreamed at all. NGS also records some sessions and provides them to members and conference attendees. Family Tree DNA doesn’t record but provides presenters’ Powerpoint presentations available online afterwards – if the presenter agrees.
  • Webinars where speakers create and record sessions for organizations in advance who then provide the sessions to members either by subscription, such as DNA-Central and Legacy Family Tree Webinars, or as individual purchases. Legacy Family Tree Webinars offers many for free.
  • Recorded sessions available to purchase. This model varies, but several conferences record sessions and make them available later in some way to be viewed. Often conference attendees are provided access either free or for a minimal cost so they can “attend” sessions that conflicted with other sessions during the actual conference. Non-attendees can pay for the entire set. As a speaker, it’s easier to participate in this type of venue because you’re not traveling. On the other hand, for speakers, it takes some adapting to be able to present looking at a screen when you’re used to looking at a crowd where you can see reactions.

Speakers are often compensated better for these types of sessions than at the large conferences. Again, your mileage may vary.

Ummm, YouTube

When you attend sessions of speakers who have been selected to speak at conferences, virtually or in person, generally, they are competent, capable and engaging.

Some vendors and organizations make their videos available on YouTube and that’s great. Some of these same speakers do the same – and that’s wonderful too.

However, other not-so-competent people produce a wide variety of “informational videos” which range from wonderful to highly inaccurate. The consuming public has no way to differentiate between an informed specialist and a crackpot, or anything in-between. Including less than upstanding companies.

Same caution for Facebook and social media. There’s no way to discern the difference between 20 bad, incomplete or incorrect answers and the one that is perhaps unpopular, but accurate😊

Consumer beware.

Speaker Compensation, Considerations and Expectations

Lots of people aspire to become speakers at conferences and would like to know how this works but are just too polite to ask. So I’m just going to tell you.

  • Public Speaking

First, you need to be comfortable in front of people. Audience sizes range from a few at local events, to hundreds at state and regional events, to thousands at national conferences.

2019 ballroom b

Here’s a photo of a portion of one of the medium sized rooms at RootsTech. Hint – they look even larger from the front – where the speaker is standing – and the room is often dark so the speaker can’t see the entire audience. In other words, it’s a kind of endless, dark sea.

People will be coming and going, so speakers need to be well-prepared, confident, not easily distracted, able to handle technical glitches and not subject to stage fright. Also, bring your magic wand.

  • Compensation

At various conferences, there’s a wide range of speaker compensation and packages offered, from nothing to significant. Let’s face it, there’s a huge difference between Donny Osmond and performers who would be of interested to many and comfortable on a huge stage, and an unknown speaker.

Rootstech main stage.jpg

If you’re interested in speaking, watch for the various conferences’ “call for papers” or “call for sessions.” That’s code for submitting your ideas and applying to speak at their conference. When submitting proposals for sessions, focus on the theme of the conference, don’t duplicate what other speakers are offering and look for a unique topic or angle.

If you’re not used to public speaking, you can hone your skills, and presentations, at local events.

Some conferences, large and small, where it’s perceived that the speaker will be attending anyway offer honorariums in the range of $100 per session and sometimes one night paid hotel per session presented at the conference. Generally, but not always the speaker’s conference entrance fee is waived too. If you are actually going to attend the conference anyway, and want to contribute, this is a good way. It’s also a great way to break into the speaking circuit and get your name out there.

If you’re an experienced speaker, these conferences aren’t terribly attractive unless you actually are planning to attend or have something to sell, such as books or subscriptions to your website. In other words, speaking can be great for sales – but it’s an opportunity, not a guarantee.

For better-known high-visibility speakers who are not necessarily going to be attending a conference unless invited to speak, compensation is individually negotiated and generally includes full travel, lodging and expenses in addition to a speaking fee.

Nationally known speakers often, but not always, fall into this category.

For example, to the best of my knowledge, other than the keynotes, RootsTech pays all speakers the same which is an honorarium, one night’s hotel for each session, plus a ticket to the conference is included. There are some other perks too, such as a speaker prep room with drinks and snacks (chips, etc.) where speakers can find relative peace and quiet for a few minutes.

“Famous people” such as the RootsTech keynote speakers are in another compensation category altogether and I’m not privy to that information. Most people at the level have agents who negotiate on their behalf.

Some organizations pay residual royalties for your sessions if people purchase them during or after the conference.

The bottom line about compensation is that your mileage will vary, widely, and it’s up to each person to decide what is and is not acceptible.

Dear Myrt recently wrote about why organizations need to pay speakers well, and included lots of really great suggestions for organizations, especially nonprofits, that need assistance with fundraising.

  • Copyright

Copyright is another matter that speakers need to consider. You may or may not retain full copyright to your material. Read the speaker contract carefully. I declined an opportunity through a university where the contract specified that they, the university, retained copyright of my prepared material. I had spoken there previously and the contact was different at that time. The new contract also specified that I was responsible for my own hotel, which meant that in essence, I was speaking for free AND driving a (long) day each way, plus preparation for the privilege. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and the university was insulted that I wasn’t simply honored enough with the invitation to accept.

Also consider that if your session is provided to the public for free that other venues might not be anxious to hire you for that same session. Once content is freely available, other people aren’t likely to want to pay for the same session and you’ll need to come up with something new for future conferences and speaking engagements.

  • Photography in Sessions

As a speaker, you may or may not be required to include specific slides forbidding picture taking during sessions. This is a result of conferences attempting to be respectful of copyrighted material and making attendees aware of same.

If you are not required to add this slide, you need to think about what you will and will not allow in your sessions, and how to handle the situation if you have a rule breaker in the audience. Some conferences monitor rooms for this occurring and will deal with it so that speakers don’t have to.

As a rule of thumb, vendors LOVE it when you take pictures, because sharing on social media equates to free advertising, but private speakers don’t. I always ask if there is any question.

I generally don’t mind occasional photos, BUT, not of every slide. I have had the situation occur where someone literally copied all of my slides’ content and recreated it as their own. Some people feel speakers are inflexible and unreasonable about photography, but after incidents like this, I’m sure you’ll understand why speakers who invest years becoming educated and maintaining that level of education and days preparing (often for minimal compensation) don’t want their work infringed upon and abused. Most people wouldn’t even think of doing that, but unfortunately, we have to prepare for that possibility.

  • Photography of You

You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to allow people to take photos of you in social or classroom situations and post to social media so long as it’s handled tastefully. In other words, no hating on me by using my photo that I allowed in good faith. Most people at conferences understand that photos may very well be posted on social media and are fine with that.

2019 blogger photo

This picture, taken by Daniel Horowitz of a group of bloggers at the Family History Library, that he gave me permission to use in my blog article, shows me giving out my very first DNAeXplain ribbon that I had made specifically for RootsTech 2019. What great memories with my blogger friends – one of whom 7 months later recognized me passing by walking on the street in Amsterdam. Small world!

  • Evaluations & Feedback

As a speaker, you can expect to be evaluated. Not all evaluations are wonderful. There is almost always a “grouchy” person, so if you’re super sensitive – public speaking might not be for you. (Hint – humor is not universal. Do not joke about your bigamist ancestor in Salt Lake City, even if he wasn’t Mormon😊. Trust me on this.)

You may or may not be provided with the feedback. There are sometimes very good suggestions. Other times, not so much. I’m sometimes left wondering why an attendee downgrades a speaker, complaining that the session wasn’t advanced enough when it was described as introductory, or vice versa. Many things, such as audio quality in a room, are beyond the speakers’ control, but the speaker’s ratings will suffer because of it.

One conference pays an honorarium-size bonus to speakers who rank over a certain score – as if to infer that the speakers would do less than their best without that small financial incentive. I don’t think for one minute that’s true.

What Do Conferences Expect of Speakers?

Most of the time, other than a few specifics, there isn’t a universal list of speaker expectations. However, I’m sharing based on my own experiences. Your experience may vary and other speakers may have other items to add.

  • Speakers are expected to create a Powerpoint presentation, sometimes in a specific format, screen size, fonts or using a specific template.
  • Speakers are expected to have practiced the presentation and both fill and limit themselves to the time allotted. This takes practice and fine-tuning the presentation. Rule of thumb is 1 slide every 2 minutes.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. People tend to speed up and sometimes mumble when they get nervous.
  • More graphics, fewer words, high contrast, large font. I never use below 24 and generally larger.
  • Speakers are expected to have a remote “clicker” and may or may not be expected to use their own laptop for the actual presentation. Speakers may also be required NOT to use their own laptop, so should at least be marginally comfortable with other technologies, such as both MACs and PCs.
  • Your room size with multiple screens may preclude you from using a laser pointer, so don’t depend on that feature.
  • As a speaker, you will need to have a backup (thumb drive) and a backup of the backup, preferably someplace online and accessible remotely just in case. Yes, I’ve needed both.
  • You will probably be expected to show up for a brief practice session that includes a technical dry-run to be sure your laptop is compatible with everything. In cases where you aren’t using your own laptop, then you’ll need to practice with the system in use.
  • You will be expected to provide adapters (dongles) and conversion devices. For example, different kinds of video in and out cables.
  • If you want to utilize the internet, this will require special planning and arrangements, and I highly discourage this practice. Utilize screenshots. Wi-Fi is unreliable and Murphy, guaranteed, will visit you. Voice of experience here.
  • You’ll be expected to utilize some type of screen capture software that is of a higher quality than “print screen” when creating your slides. I use Snagit. It’s not free but works wonderfully and has both mark-up and blur features.
  • You will be expected to be sure that your images are copyright-free and if you use other people’s or company’s images, you have permission to do so. This isn’t just a courtesy, as some media companies specifically target infringers for compensation in the thousands of dollars if you’ve used their images without permission or payment.
  • You will be expected to obscure/blur names and identifying information of any examples you use unless you have obtained permission from that person. I generally obscure anyway because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m remiss even when I have permission. It’s just easier.
  • You may be expected to provide your own projector (NGS) which is an archaic practice at best. Projectors are not inexpensive and are deal-breakers for many speakers. Projectors are available to rent from hotels but rentals are often as expensive as simply purchasing a projector. In my opinion, all conferences should rent or own enough projectors to accommodate all rooms utilized simultaneously for speaking, plus at least one spare – because Murphy.
  • You may be expected to provide a syllabus several weeks or months in advance, in a very specific format or template. (This is my least favorite part of speaking.)
  • You will be expected to provide promotional information in advance, generally including a summary, a brief bio, a larger bio and at least one professional quality photo.
  • You may be encouraged to or conversely forbidden from mentioning your own items for sale, such as books. You may be discouraged or forbidden from mentioning your website even if nothing is for sale. Know the expectations in advance.
  • You may be encouraged by the conference to include links or relevant references to articles you’ve written on your free website, then be criticized in the speaker rating for doing so. Or vice versa.
  • Creating a session for a conference, including research, Powerpoint and graphics, and the syllabus will take approximate a week of your time for each one-hour session and that’s assuming you already know your topic well. If you can utilize the same presentation again, the up-front “cost” may be an investment for you. However, keynotes and high-visibility speakers as well as speakers for national conferences are expected to have fresh, up-to-date content customized (at least minimally) for each organization.
  • Speakers are expected to be available for questions – if not during the session, then sometime during the conference.
  • Speakers are expected to mingle with other conference attendees at least part of the time. Exceptions to this would be “famous people,” such as RootsTech keynotes that aren’t connected to genealogy. If you’re not Donny Osmond, you’ll be expected to make yourself available. Of course, most of us would be mingling regardless. What better way to meet new friends and cousins? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve discovered I’m related to at conferences in general conversation.
  • Dress and act professionally. For example, do not show up in a t-shirt and flip-flops unless it’s part of a “costume” that goes with the topic of your presentation.

Jedi me.jpg

Yes, I confess, the rumor is true, I once appeared as a “Jedi,” complete with surprise lightsaber at the appropriate moment. But I had a great reason!

Jedi presentation.jpg

That session, completely custom, was so much fun! But was I ever nervous. It was a bit of a departure from the norm.

Courtesies

I only speak at a limited number of conferences per year, so I do provide an announcement on my blog that I’m speaking for an organization. Not everyone has this ability, but it’s something I feel I can provide as a service to both the organization and my readers because I limit my speaking engagements to 4 or 5 per year and no more.

Speakers should never be expected to stay in private homes, marginal areas, or in hotels that are less than “Holiday Inn” level accommodations. If there is a conference hotel, the speakers should expect to stay in that hotel.

Check with the organization to make sure you know who is supposed to make your reservations (you or them), and when, and obtain a confirmation number. Nothing worse than showing up to a booked hotel, insisting you have a reservation that someone else supposedly made.

Considerations

Here are several things to think about, both when selecting a conference as an attendee or a speaker.

  • Networking

For me, the best part of conferences is networking. I love meeting people, many of whom I only know online.

People, like you, who follow my blog.

People who don’t.

People I “know” on Facebook.

People who are distant cousins.

Serendipity!

In 2019, in Salt Lake City, I accidentally met Myrt and wound up on her show while researching at the Family History Library, before 2019 RootsTech. Beside Myrt on the right is Luana Darby who is the conference chair of NGS 2020. All I can say is bless Luana’s heart, because I chaired one national conference and it’s something I’ll never do again.

2019 me with Myrt

I can’t tell you how many times I’m chatting with someone and we discover that indeed, we are related or we have a DNA match that needs to be explained. That happened right after the Myrt session, at lunch, with Cheryl. Serendipity!

Conferences and speaking are very rewarding experiences – even if you’re not a speaker or don’t attend a lot of sessions at the conference.

The key to having an enjoyable experience is to understand your goals and evaluate the conference in light of those goals.

For example, I don’t feel I need to attend sessions all the time. I select a few that are of particular interest to me and schedule those in my phone. I like having the option of recorded sessions later for viewing at home.

What I really enjoy is to visit with people, check out vendors’ booths, see demos and learn from other conference attendees. That I can’t do at home.

  • Venue

For both speakers and attendees, location can be very important. I only speak at 4 or a maximum of 5 conferences per year. My goal is educational outreach, so I want to reach as many people as possible. For me, this generally means larger conferences and often keynotes.

I confess, I decide which conferences I’m going to attend based on the following criteria, in no specific order – in fact, the order may change based on the attractiveness of the offer. This criteria is probably equally as important to attendees.

  • Schedule

I have not yet cloned myself to be in two places at once and I will not back one event up to another. Been there, done that, won’t do it again. Jet lag is miserable.

  • Lead Time

I book about a year in advance, sometimes more. Many speakers do. As an attendee or a speaker, if you want to attend a specific conference, register early and book at the conference hotel before the reduced rate conference room block is sold out.

  • Location, Location, Location

If a conference is occurring someplace I want to visit, I’m much more likely to be interested. For example, I just spent the week after the MyHeritage conference traveling in the Netherlands with my friend, Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire.

I have three separate ancestral lines that lived in the Netherlands and I love to walk where my ancestors were born, lived, married, worked and died. I also love to meet my cousins and I met 8 Ferverda (Ferwerda) cousins. Pure bliss!

I’m not including a shameless list of places my ancestors lived that I’d like to visit😊

There are more locations than I could ever visit in my lifetime, as well as a few bucket list locations that I’d like to visit where my ancestors inconsiderately didn’t live.

As a genealogist, I’m sure you have a “genealogy location bucket list” too.

  • Topic

Some topics interest me much more than others. I love teaching about all aspects of DNA, but one of my favorites is how to utilize genetic genealogy to identify Native American ancestors.

This fall, in addition to a Native American session, I’m keynoting about the Lost Colony of Roanoke in North Carolina for the North Carolina Genealogical Society right after a documentary about the Lost Colony is released. (More about that documentary in a future article.)

I’m also attending and keynoting at an Archaeogenetics and Genetic Genealogy conference at the University of Umea, Sweden in November. Ancient DNA is fascinating to me, and I really wanted to attend this conference, so I welcomed the invitation to keynote. And no, I have no ancestors from there, at least not that I can individually identify, although clearly my mitochondrial DNA line originated in Scandinavia before being found in Germany in the 1500s.

Find topics that you love in places you want to visit.

  • Exposure

Given my personal goals of reaching a large number of people relative to utilizing DNA for genealogy, organizations that have large audiences and/or that include livestreaming, webinars and other outreach activities are generally more attractive to me – while the opposite may be true for other speakers who don’t want their sessions to be widely shared.

  • Compensation

I’m human and I want to be paid fairly for my time. I can stay home and enjoy a full consulting schedule without speaking, or I could do genealogy or quilt – my other loves.

Unfortunately, hours and minutes are like money and we can only spend them once and then they are forever gone. For most in-demand speakers, speaking is something we enjoy, not something we do to get wealthy. I have yet to break even for the hours I would have otherwise worked – which is another reason why I limit my conference speaking to 4 or 5 per year, max, at places I want to go or conferences I want to attend.

I think of this as ying and yang.

  • Convenience

I actually don’t like to fly, at all. I do it anyway, sometimes. However, two transfers to get from where I live to the conference venue probably isn’t going to be attractive to me unless I really, REALLY want to go there. Three is a deal-breaker.

You may feel exactly the opposite. Fortunately, there’s a lot to choose from today.

Most of All – Have Fun!!!

I hope this article helps you understand the lay of the land relative to conferences both as an attendee and as a speaker.

  • If you’re looking for a specific topic, consider joining or following an organization that specializes in that topic.
  • If you’re looking for a general conference, consider some of the larger regional or national conferences.
  • If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require traveling long distances, monitor local, state or regional groups along with virtual conferences.
  • If you’re looking for something entirely online, consider the Virtual Genealogy Association, Legacy Family Tree Webinars or the recorded sessions from other conferences such as Genetic Genealogy Ireland on YouTube.
  • If you’re looking for a low-cost conference but still with high quality speakers, consider the subsidized vendor conferences or the virtual conferences.
  • To familiarize yourself with these groups and conferences ahead of time, join the organizations, follow the them on Facebook, subscribe to their blogs or bookmark their webpages.
  • If you’d like to attend the Family Tree DNA conference, which tends to focus on science along with Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA in addition to autosomal, volunteer as an administrator for a project of interest to you, or start a project if one doesn’t exist. Does your surname appear on the search page, here or half way down the main page, here.

We have more quality opportunities for genealogy and genetic genealogy education today than ever before.

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