Denisovan DNA Tells a Story

The Denisovan are an extinct human species that once lived in the Altai Mountains in Siberia.  Remains were found in the Denisova Cave (shown above with tourists approaching the entrance) and scientists have managed to extract DNA from a bone fragment that is at least 30,000 years old.  What did that DNA tell us?  The bone belonged to a little girl who had brown eyes, brown hair and dark skin.  Gosh, sounds a lot like me.

Her remains were discovered along with microblades (small stone blades used as tools), body ornaments of polished stone, and a molar shaped very differently from that of Neanderthals and modern humans.  The finger bone from the girl and the tooth were from different people.

Body ornaments – I guess jewelry has been forever popular. Maybe not so different from us as we might think.

The Denisovans lived at the same time as the Neanderthals and both Denisovans and Neanderthals interbred with each other and with homo sapiens, the species we now know as modern humans.  Yes indeed, if you are European, then approximately 5% of your genetic material is Neanderthal and part of it may well be Denisovan too.

You can read more about this exciting discovery here and here.



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Is History Repeating Itself at Ancestry?

Is history repeating itself at Ancestry?

I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should publish this posting.  As I write and rewrite it, I still haven’t made up my mind.  It’s one of those sticky wickets, as they are called.  One of the reasons I hesitate is that I have far more questions than answers.

One of the reasons I feel like I should publish it is because we, as a community, have far more questions than answers.  I’m concerned that we’re being exploited, manipulated and deceived. I feel like we’re already on the way down a slippery slope, and I fear a flush is at the bottom.  If that is true, we’re entirely powerless if we don’t know about it.

Since you are reading this, I obviously decided to publish it, so I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been getting this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as Ancestry’s most recent DNA testing mess has unfolded like the leaves on the beautifully deceptive skunk plant.  Yes, the skunk plant is named that for the reason you think…things just aren’t what they seem at first glance…and they smell….really smell.  And by the time you figure out that you’ve made an error in judgment, you’re in the middle of a smelly mess.

This isn’t the first time that Ancestry has had some really significant problems with DNA testing and quality.  However, this second time is more complex and includes ethics issues.  I’m not sure where the problem lies, and maybe the answer isn’t in just one place, but multiple problems in multiple places.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Let’s take a look.

Ancestry and Sorenson

In 2002 Ancestry introduced DNA testing for their customers by partnering with Relative Genetics, an arm of Sorenson, which had just been formed.  Of course, this was not autosomal testing, but Yline and mitochondrial DNA.   To say this was unsuccessful is an understatement and being kind.  Ancestry lost kits, having to eventually give refunds, “predicted” haplogroups dramatically incorrectly (paternal cousins in haplogroups R and G, respectively), and generally made a  mess of DNA testing.  Thankfully, they didn’t last long and one day – poof….gone.  No more DNA testing.  The lab?  Sorenson.  What or where was the problem or problems?  I have no idea.  Just like the young girl who went away to live with “Auntie” and had a baby, it was never publicly discussed.

Let’s take a look at Sorenson.

Sorenson and GeneTree

Sorenson,, was founded as a nonprofit research organization in 1999 by Mormon philanthropist, James Sorenson (deceased in 2008) in order to study the relationship between DNA and genealogy.  Unlike other testing companies, initially there was no charge to submit your DNA, but you were required to include a 4 generation pedigree chart.  You did not receive personal results.  Your results were, in time, added with your pedigree to their data base.  Their project to acquire DNA samples and pedigree charts came to an end in June 2009, and free testing was no longer available.  They began selling DNA testing services through GeneTree.

In 2007, in a somewhat controversial move, since Sorenson was supposed to be nonprofit and research only, they reconfigured and “launched” GeneTree, a DNA paternity testing company that they had acquired in 2001.

In 2009, they began to offer a resource for people to be able to obtain their Sorenson results and matches for a fee.  I was excited about being able to “unlock” my Sorenson matches as they advertised.  I ordered this “unlock” for $39 the very first day it was available, and sure enough, I had several matches, BUT, none of them were unlocked, so I couldn’t “see” them. I was encouraged to contact my matches through an internal message system and ask them to also pay the $39 to unlock their results so we could “see each other.”  I clearly didn’t understand the nature of ‘unlock”, or really, half-unlocked, when I spent my $39.  However, I figured if I just waited, eventually, others would unlock theirs too.  After all, it was the first day.

I didn’t have a good feeling about how this unfolded.  I felt like they were just using their customers to recruit other customers AFTER they had paid their unlock fee.  Kind of a mini dna pyramid scheme.

I checked back periodically, and one day, I could no longer access my results.  I contacted GeneTree and was told I had never ordered the “unlock.”  I sent them screen shots of my matches, which I had taken on the first day, but to no avail.  I could either try to find my original receipt and use that as my next form of argument, or simply give up.  I decided that since very few people were unlocking results, and none, of course, were full sequence, it was pretty much futile anyway and I didn’t spend any more time fighting with them.  They obviously had no motivation to find my records and make it right.  I went from feeling somewhat used by Sorenson/GeneTree to disgusted.

Ancestry’s ComeBack with Relative Genetics

After Ancestry’s first entrance and exit from the genetic genealogy playing field, they linked search-result surnames to Family Tree DNA’s projects.  One day in 2006, we noticed the link was gone and suspected that they were preparing to reenter the DNA testing space, and indeed they did in 2007 by purchasing Relative Genetics, their earlier partner.

I never tested at Relative Genetics, but I do understand that their clients were notified and there was an opportunity to opt out of that transfer.  Many people felt this should have been handled the other way – that you should have had to “opt-in” instead of opting out.

The Relative Genetics results were transferred into an Ancestry data base.  Ancestry simultaneously began their own testing program, and allowed people who tested at other labs to manually enter their data as well.  This increased Ancestry’s data base so that people who tested through Ancestry had results to compare to.

Ancestry still has issues with haplogroups because they don’t test SNPS.  Until they do, they will never be able to correctly assign haplogroups.

Their mitochondrial DNA matching is chronically wrong.  I have no idea how they do that, but anyone could do better with a simple spreadsheet, or even visually looking at the list.  Quality controls are apparently absent, in this, the most simple of tasks, and it surely calls into question the level of quality control in place for more complex tasks and matching where we can’t see all of the data.  This continual problem engenders no confidence at all, and the worst part is that it has been like this now for years and they have never fixed the issues.  Either their quality control is sorely lacking, or they simply don’t care.

As far as I was concerned, I was thoroughly disgusted by this point.  It had become apparent that adding people to their data base, in spite of clerically introduced mutations (typos), and generating revenue was a much higher priority than providing correct data on the back end.  But then again, Ancestry, in their other businesses, has never been known for accuracy or quality – only for barely-acceptable levels of mediocrity.

Of course, Ancestry has been on a shopping spree – buying up anything that smells like competition.

Ancestry Buys Sorenson and Genetree

In May of 2012, Ancestry purchased GeneTree and the genealogical and anthropological  assets of Sorenson, including their DNA data base.  Those of us who had contributed our DNA to Sorenson for research purposes felt betrayed and exploited.  Never did we imagine, in our wildest dreams, that our DNA would wind up with a commercial entity that would use our data, that was never “released” to us, to profit.  Nor were we notified.  If you managed to hear about this through the genealogy grapevine, there is apparently an “opt out” option if you contact  I could not find a link, but calling their support number should do it.  It’s unclear whether Ancestry actually bought the Sorenson lab.  Sorenson still does Forensic work and the management team at Sorenson Forensics is different than the Ancestry team.

Ancestry and Autosomal DNA Testing

In 2012, concurrent with the Sorenson/GeneTree purchase, Ancestry began to offer autosomal DNA testing, presumably using Sorenson’s lab, although I have been unable to verify that and Ancestry themselves are very tight lipped about the topic.  Given the history of quality and confidence issues, many old-timers in this field were skeptical.  We had hoped that perhaps Ancestry had spent enough time and investment up front that they would “get it right” this time.  CeCe Moore’s first posting was exciting, and we hoped that once again, one of the companies would set a new standard for everyone to leapfrog to.  It didn’t take long to discover that wasn’t the case.

If you haven’t already seen the series of blogs about Ancestry’s quality issues with autosomal testing, take a look at CeCe Moore’s blog postings about Scandinavian admixture and more recently, the horribly discouraging adoption sibling match mixup.

To me, the worst part of this mixup issue isn’t that a mistake was made.  It has happened before at other labs, but the difference is that in the other case, the company, 23andMe, stepped right up to the plate, took responsibility, and fixed the issue along with the underlying problem.  They didn’t try to make it someone else’s issue or pass the buck…and they were truthful.

In this case, when Ancestry was notified by the customer that an issue existed, apparently Ancestry did not take significant notice of the situation.  If there is a link or escalation procedure between the support department and the lab, it apparently wasn’t initiated or didn’t work.  After the customers persisted, Ancestry said they would send them a new kit, but it would be about 2 months or so before they got results.  Clearly, Ancestry wasn’t concerned that they had an issue within their system someplace…or that 2 months would have shrunk into overnighting kits and an immediate lab run.

Because Ancestry does not allow people to access or download their actual raw data, as does Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, the participants were unable to verify or dispute the findings and had to rely solely on Ancestry’s fatally flawed comparison.

Out of sheer frustration, and a sense of ethics since she had initially encouraged autosomal testing through Ancestry, CeCe Moore then reported what happened on her blog.  It took Ancestry another 3 full days to “discover” her post, call her and finally offer an explanation that was, in fact, significantly different than that given to the actual client whom CeCe is working with.  Had Ancestry paid attention, it would never have gotten to this point.  Had they listened to the customer, it would never have gotten to this point. If they allowed people access to their own data, we would have tools to help these people and it would probably never have gotten to this point.  Looks like we don’t have to wonder anymore about Ancestry’s quality controls.

However, we’re not done yet.  To add insult to injury, Ancestry then claimed that they discovered this error themselves, through their “quality control procedures.”  Really?  When did CeCe’s blog become part of Ancestry’s quality control procedure?

Here is their reply on CeCe’s blog.

“AncestryDNA, and the laboratories we work with, take the quality and accuracy of our DNA test very seriously.  Through our quality control procedures, we recently discovered that a small number of customers had a problem with their DNA results due to a laboratory error. In the rare case where there is an error, we work directly with our members to correct the results, which in some cases requires a new DNA sample. We have contacted all the individuals affected by this error and are in the process of correcting it. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and confusion that can be a result of an error and are working hard to make this right for our members in a timely manner. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to fine-tune this exciting new product.”

Compare the above statement about how important quality is to Ancestry to the following section from their mandatory release that everyone has to sign when they activate the AncestryDNA autosomal DNA kit.

“In addition, we do not make any representations as to the accuracy, comprehensiveness, completeness, quality, currency, error-free nature, compatibility, security or fitness for purpose of the AncestryDNA Website, Content or Service.”

Instead of stepping up to the plate, thanking CeCe for discovering THEIR problem, apologizing and accepting responsibility, Ancestry tried to make this uncomfortable situation CeCe’s fault, saying CeCe should have called them personally instead of blogging, and then misrepresented what happened to cover the ugly truth.

CeCe discusses this phone call in a second blog about this topic.  Be sure to read the comments.  She is obviously not making any friends at Ancestry, but bless her for being our advocate!  David staring up into the face of Goliath.

Consent and Release

In the midst of all of this, we also discovered that, according to Ancestry’s release and consent forms for autosomal DNA testing, that they can aggregate and sell our data.  So they can sell our data, including our medical data, but they won’t provide the same raw data to us so we can provide at least a minimal check on their “quality control.”  All of a sudden, the low price for the kit and their focus on amassing large amounts of data start to make a little more sense.  Who are the customers for purchasing our data?  What do they want to do with it?

Ancestry obtains consent by what could be construed as a “shady” practice of positioning the research consent and testing release agreements adjacent, not stating that the research consent is optional and inferring by industry standards that one must click to proceed.  The release to sell our data is not optional. And none of this consenting happens when ordering, or prior to ordering, the kit. It happens later, after you’ve paid and received your kit, and there is a $25 charge at that point to cancel the order.  Ah yes, the slippery slope.

If you’d like to hear what Dr. Ken Chahine has to say, you can see him testify before the Presidents Commission for the Study of BioEthical Issues.  A transcript is here.  Dr. Chahine is the senior vice president of and general manager for Ancestry DNA where he leads the development and commercialization of population genetics.   He is also professor of law at the University of Utah and has held various positions in the biotechnology industry including president and CEO of Avigen.  He holds a PhD in Biochemistry along with a law degree.  In this testimony, he says that Ancestry’s customers own their own data, but then he says the following:

“My thing — what’s interesting from a commercial standpoint is we — a lot of customers get data from either us or from other services.  And what I see that’s a little disturbing sometimes is that they upload their data to sites that quite frankly I can’t even have — I try to research who these individuals are that are doing additional research on people’s data.  And I’m not even sure who they are or how they’re qualified and if the data that they’re getting back are even, you know, valid, right?  So the point is that I think that we are moving in a direction where consumers feel comfortable, rightly or through ignorance, uploading their data to other sites.  So I do think that restricting sort of the end I think is important just to be able to take care of that issue.”

Ironic, given Ancestry’s current adoption sibling mixup, that Ken is concerned about “the data they’re getting back are even, you know, valid, right” from other resources, when the information from Ancestry itself isn’t.  So apparently Ancestry is being the benevolent parent to all of us, restricting us from having access to our own data, that they say we own, while they retain the right to sell it to others.  Hmmm….I smell a rat…or maybe it’s that skunk plant. Ancestry is afraid we might do something “bad” with our data, like, for example, catch their errors.

The True Cost Isn’t $99

And there is more too.  It also appears that if your Ancestry subscription expires, that you no longer receive matches that you can contact.  If in fact this is accurate, and there is really no way for any of us to test this right now, that was never made apparent when purchasing the kit.  Apparently, you will receive the match, but you cannot contact your match unless you subscribe minimally to “Ancestry Connections” which allows limited access to family trees, photos and DNA results for $4.95 per month which equates to $59.40 per year.

So the real cost of the AncestryDNA test isn’t $99, but $99 plus either an Ancestry subscription for $155 per year for the US or $299 for the world or alternately, the cost of Ancestry Connections, $59.40 per year.  It’s unclear whether or not if you only subscribe to the US Ancestry package if you only get US matches.

In any event, this subscription requirement was not made apparent up front and it dramatically changes the landscape of the cheap $99 test.  It adds strings that weren’t evident up front and if you no longer maintain your subscription in some way, you lose the benefit of your DNA test and any other DNA tests you’ve paid for and are associated with your account.  Ouch.  How many people would have tested if they knew their results would be held hostage for the price of a subscription?  And what happens to those results when you can no longer maintain your subscription?  Are they just gone to you forever, but still available for Ancestry to sell and for others to see?  Can someone else “adopt” them under their subscription so they can still be available for family members?

In my opinion, this is very ugly and the only benefit to anyone is to Ancestry to be able to extort subscriptions from people who want to maintain access to their DNA results, something they didn’t know they had to do when they purchased the autosomal DNA kits initially.  After all, that’s not the way the Yline and mitochondrial results worked, and there was no reason to suspect that autosomal testing would work any differently.  This amounts to genetic entrapment.

This is a very different model than at Family Tree DNA where results are available forever with no additional cost, and in perpetuity for the family through either private arrangements (account number and password sharing) or the Beneficiary Assignment on your personal page.

As we unearth the truth, morsel my morsel, I’m sure more information will be forthcoming as people discover what does and does not work, and under what circumstances.  But isn’t it sad that we have to do this at all.  Whatever happened to being forthright and upfront?  I think that is called integrity isn’t it??

How Many Strikes Til You’re OUT???

By now, I’ve lost count of how many strikes Ancestry has.  Where is the umpire?

Everyone and every company makes mistakes.  But the difference is in how (and if) they handle those errors when they do occur.

Given that Sorenson and Ancestry had the original debacle that ended Ancestry’s early DNA testing foray, and they, together, are having another very similar-feeling debacle in 2012, I have to wonder if history is repeating itself.  This difference is that this time, Ancestry is now publicly held and has invested so much money, just considering their initial give-away of 10,000 autosomal kits (about $250-300 market price each, a total of 2.5 to 3 million dollars) to build their database, that they are unlikely to exit.  The DNA testing marketplace has too much potential and they have a captive audience of about 2 million subscribers.  If every subscriber orders just one test of some type for about $100, that equals 200 million dollars.  And corporate profit is about expending as little as possible for as much revenue as possible.  Better yet, for Ancestry, DNA is a permanent hook to keep people from letting their subscriptions lapse.  The percentage of people who abandon their subscriptions has declined in the past year from from 4 to 3.4%.  Perhaps that is part of the reason why they are willing to sell their AncestryDNA product for $99, less than their cost of processing this test, that their two competitors sell for $289 ( and $299 (, respectively.  The other reason, of course, could be that they plan to sell aggregated DNA data.

The thing I find interesting is that at least one individual was at Relative Genetics, at Sorenson/Genetree and is also now at Ancestry.  Initially I thought this was a good thing, bringing Ancestry some much needed experience.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Like I said initially, I don’t really know where there problems lie….I just know they exist and have at some level chronically.  On top of this, it seems that things are just never exactly what they seem.

The part of this that I find the most distressing is the positioning – Ancestry experienced a lab error which “they discovered and notified the people”.  Not true, at least not in the adoptee’s case.  Ancestry couldn’t be bothered to pay attention until CeCe blogged and embarrassed them, and then they distorted the facts.  And then they had the audacity to be upset with CeCe.  What is wrong with this picture?

Ancestry has positioned themselves to absorb as many DNA results as possible by purchasing other companies and nonprofits, and from the general public entering results into their data base, with little focus on accuracy, and a lot of focus on building their data base and selling kits.  They are presuming that most of their customers, being DNA novices, won’t know the difference.

Ancestry has also positioned themselves to sell our results, aggregated, including those we contributed to Sorenson, a nonprofit at that time, but will not release those results to us.  I’m referring here to both the Sorenson results and autosomal raw data from the AncestryDNA test.

And whatever happened to all those Genetree people who paid the $39 unlock fee?  What about the records they paid to unlock and see?  Maybe they just lost all the records and it’s no longer a problem.

This behavior has gone from disheartening to discouraging to disgusting to shady to reprehensible.  This is the kind of behavior that eventually will cause this industry to be federally regulated, which will literally drive it out of business.  Who would visit a physician to obtain a prescription for genetic genealogy testing?  In order to avoid this, it’s important to self-regulate ourselves by bringing pressure for unacceptable behavior to stop.

Call to Action

So, what can we do?

  1. Communicate with Ancestry that their behavior regarding these issues is not acceptable. Neither is their paternalistic attitude on one hand while exploiting their customers on the other.  It’s one thing, and bad enough, when dealing with submitted genealogy trees and substandard offshore records translations, but DNA testing must be held to the highest of standards.  It is the sacred gift of our ancestors, the ultimate truth.  As you are probably aware, Ancestry is encouraging everyone to connect their genealogy trees to their DNA results so they can be populated up the trees.  It’s only a matter of time, on the present course, until they have a mess that can’t be unraveled.
  2. If you have taken the AncestryDNA autosomal test, request your raw data results from Ancestry.  They think CeCe is a lone renegade voice.  She is not.  We’re a community.  Call them at 800-262-3787 (regular support) 800-958-9124 (DNA support) or click on the “Beta Send Feedback” button at the top right of your DNA page.  They have stated that feedback through these avenues, especially the Beta Feedback button, is how they are prioritizing their next steps for DNA.  This data is yours and you have a right to have it. Furthermore, you can never verify the accuracy of what they report without it.
  3. Vote with your money and buy either at Family Tree DNA or 23andMe.  While both have their advantages and disadvantage, neither the ethics or quality of either of those companies is being called into question.  Neither requires a subscription.  Family Tree DNA never has.
  4. Tell your friends, family and project members to do the same.  Those 2 million subscribers that will potentially order DNA tests are all related to someone.

If Ancestry can’t get it right, then they shouldn’t pollute this industry for the rest of us.  I hope they get it right and recover their credibility.  I hope I’m wrong about the slippery slope and the flush.  But I know I’m not wrong about the skunk-plant.

In the mean-time, I leave you with the saying that’s been on the wall for years at  Baskin-Robbins:

“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.”



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

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Family Tree DNA New YouTube Channel

Family Tree DNA has introduced a new YouTube channel.  Take a look at this video – Discover the Journey of You.

If you are active in the Genetic Genealogy community, you’ll see people and names you’ll probably recognize, including yours truly.  This was filmed, in part, at the Family Tree DNA sponsored International Conference for Genetic Genealogy in November of 2011.

I want to say congratulations to Lenny Trujillo, one of the people featured in this video.  Lenny is one of my clients and made wonderful discoveries beginning with his DNA test.  His discoveries have continued as a result of the doors opened by his DNA.

Eventually, Lenny also took the WTY test, and it was through Lenny that we discovered a new, critical, SNP for Native Americans which further identified the Native American haplogroup, Q1a3a.

See what can happen as a result of swabbing… can make history for yourself and your family, discover your ancestors and contribute to science that will help others as well.



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

Dutch Genealogy – Maybe Not So Hopeless Afterall…

When we blog, we think about helping others.  I never thought that it might help me….but it has and in a most unexpected way.

One of the blog subscribers, a lovely lady named Yvette Hoitink, posted the following comment in response to my DNA Pedigree Chart blog where I mentioned that my Dutch line was pretty much hopeless:

“I’m sorry that you’re having such a hard time finding your Dutch ancestors. BTW, it’s not true that Dutch people didn’t have surnames until 1811. When surnames became hereditary differs greatly from province to province. In Friesland, most people used patronymics like you described until 1811.  In provinces like Zuid-Holland and Noord-Brabant, most people had hereditary surnames by the end of the medieval period.

What are your Dutch brick walls? Perhaps I can help you break through them.”

We began an e-mail exchange at that point.  Never being one to turn away a possible ancestor lead, I answered Yvette:

“Thank you very much for your offer of help.  I am obviously ignorant of Dutch resources and I appreciate your kindness.

I have primarily three Dutch lines.  One is rather recent and that is the one I’d love to break through the most.

Bauke Hendrick Ferverda was born, probably in Leeuwarden, where his father lived and was a school teacher, on Jan. 26, 1830.  He married Geertje Harmens de Jong probably in 1853 as their first of 3 children was born in Sept. of 1854.  She died on October 3rd, 1860.  Their daughter, Lysbertus, was born on Nov. 21 1859 and died on July 23, 1860.  I would guess that the mother and daughter are buried someplace together.

Bauke remarried in 1863 in the Netherlands.  He and his new wife immigrated to the states in 1868.

Back in the 1970s, one of the Ferverda family members went back to Holland, to Leeuwarden and discovered quite a bit about the Ferverda family side, but they neglected her side of the family.

I don’t even know where to begin to look for information in the Netherlands, or where the records might be.  Do you have any online research tools?

Thank you in advance for any enlightenment.”

Yvette’s answer gave me hope like I haven’t had in years.

“Boy do we have online resources:)  I think the Netherlands has a great combination of very reliable records, many of which are available online for free.”

Ok, Yvette, now you have my attention.

“Ferverda sounds like an Americanization of Ferwerda. That’s a typical Frisian name, which they probably took in 1811 to denote that they came from the municipality of Ferwerderadeel. In Friesland, most people had patronymics only until 1811.”

She’s right, it did used to be Ferwerda.  I’m impressed.

“Some Frisian resources: (Friesland provincial archives) and (genealogical database + images, all free!).

On the Alle Friezen website, which is also available in English by clicking the British flag, you can find a lot of the birth, marriages and death records of the period of the civil registration (1811 onwards). You can use the Advanced search option to search for first person – family name: Ferwerda and first name: Bauke and second person – family name: Jong (careful: don’t include “de” because that is a prefix and not considered to be a part of the family name). This will yield 3 results. The first is their marriage, with the option to click through to a scan.”

You know, I’m sure, that I never read the next paragraph for several hours.  When I discovered that my ancestor’s marriage record was on that site…I slipped into some type of genealogical stupor from which I only regained consciousness after I had tried every single family member’s name in that website’s search engine.  I then discovered it was the middle of the night.  It was afternoon when I started.

“Both the index and the scan provide you with her parents’ names: Harmen Gerrits de Jong and Angenietje Wytses Houtsma. You can now repeat the same process by searching for the first person: Jong and second person: Houtsma to find their marriage certificate which shows their parents names.  Their marriage would have been prior to 1811, so you can’t find that on AlleFriezen but you may have more luck on the Tresoar site (see below). You can try to find their death records as chances are that they died after 1811.”

Oh no, a new brick wall….

“Go to (no English version) and select Dopen voor 1811 (baptisms before 1811), Trouwen voor 1811 (Marriage before 1811) and Begraven voor 1811 (Burials before 1811) and then type in the names you’re searching for in the ‘Zoeken naar’ (Search for) textbox and then click “Zoek” (Search). You can first try to search for their family name but it’s very probably that they only started using this name since 1811 so search for the first name and patronymic as well.”

Ok, now this is getting tough.  That “no English version” put a bit of a damper on things….but then again, Yvette obviously speaks and reads Dutch.  Hmmmm……

“You can also consult the records of who took which name by going to and type in the family name in the “Zoek op” (search for) textbox and then press “Zoek” (Search).”

These are the actual naming records.  I think I’ve died and gone to Heaven.  They tell you who was in the family in 1811 when they adopted their surnames.

“Another good site is, which is a newspaper archive of the most popular provincial newspaper. Just type in a last name to see what pops up.”

Well, the only thing that popped up was Dutch.  Of course.

“By using these sources, you should be able to go back to at least the middle of the 18th century. If you’re lucky, the family will have some unusual first names and you’ll be able to go back further. Feel free to ask me again once you’ve hit your new brick walls:)”

Why yes, I’ve already hit new ones already.  That didn’t take long at all.

“You might also be interested in the slides of a presentation I gave earlier this year. The slides are available at and give an overview of the most important records for Dutch research. The focus is mainly on records that are available online.”

Am I really drooling on myself???

“Another favorite website of mine is That’s a portal website with links to all online sources, transcriptions, scans and databases. Just click the ‘internet’ link below Friesland and you’ll find more than enough to get you through the winter.”

Wow, Yvette, Wow!  I haven’t slept in 3 days.  I love those words, online and free.  And on many of these sites are the actual images.  I saw my ancestor’s actual SIGNATURE!  An incredible find for a genealogy junkie.  I just love bureaucracy because it taxed people, kept records of them and made them sign things.  YES!!!

I mined and dug and browsed and it all worked well, until I ran out of dates.  Since I can’t read Dutch, I couldn’t read the various documents to determine if the Jan Ferwerda in question was mine.  And while Ferwerda (Ferverda) is an extremely unique name here, believe me, it’s like Smith in the village where they lived in Holland.

Now what?

Yvette to the rescue again.  Turns out, Yvette is also a professional genealogist.  Who-hoooo….my lucky day.  But it gets better.  She works at the National Archives.  I’ve died and gone to Dutch ancestor Heaven.  Be still my beating heart!

Here’s the website about her services….but only on one condition….you folks can’t have her until I’m done:)

Yvette sent me a wonderful research plan based on what I have (not a lot) and what I want (well, duh….everything) and we get started tomorrow.  She of course had to tell me what was reasonable given the extant records….and there is actually an amazing amount.  And just think, I thought this line was hopeless.  Apparently not!

And maybe, just maybe, I can add to my number of ancestors found, including wonderful details of their lives.  Maybe eventually, I can also to the list of those whose DNA I have as well.  I can hardly wait as I embark on this unexpected genealogical journey through Friesland in Holland, the land of my ancestors with Yvette!  Let’s go!



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Surprise Y Matches – What do they Mean?

One of our blog followers, Tom, encountered the following situation, which, really isn’t so uncommon.

“I started up a Y-DNA surname project and recruited my only three living male 1st cousins who carry that name.

The first set of 67 results have recently been posted and within a day an exact match appeared with an individual who had only tested to 37 markers back in 2008.  Apparently the individual has had very few close matches and never a perfect match like my cousin’s.  But the individual has a different surname.

Is it possible to have an identical match as a random event?  How common are such occurrences?  What possible explanations could there be?”

Let’s look at Tom’s situation from different perspectives and see what we can find.

When I do DNA Reports for people, I still find people who don’t have any matches.  It’s not as unusual as people think.  In a way, it’s a blessing as compared to people who have so many matches that they can’t even begin to sort through them.  But to the person who doesn’t have any matches, it surely doesn’t seem like there’s a positive side to the situation.

First of all, remember that mutations can happen at any time in any generation….or not.  In the Estes line, Abraham Estes, one of two Estes immigrants to colonial America was born in 1647.  He had 8 sons.  We had DNA from the descendants of all 8 sons.  We reconstructed Abraham’s DNA using triangulation, so we know what his original genetic “signature” looked like.  One of those sons’ lines has 4 mutations in 8 generations, and one line has none.  The rest fall in the middle someplace.

I only mention this to illustrate that mutations are truly random events.  We use statistics to look at the “most likely” scenario, based on averages, but mutations are personal events and while they, as a whole, fall nicely into statistical models, individually, they happen when they happen.  You can see that the mutation rate can vary quite a bit, even within families.  Keep that in mind during the rest of this discussion.

Family Tree DNA gives us some tools to work with these kinds of situations.  The TIP calculator, available for every match by clicking on the little orange TIP button, tells us, statistically, how likely people are to match at which generational level.  This is called the time to the most recent common ancestor, or MRCA.  I did an earlier blog about this.

Comparing two exact 37 marker matches, below, we see that, statistically speaking, on the average, these two people are most likely to share a common ancestor about the second generation, meaning grandparents.  Again, word of caution, these are averages, which is why you have a range shown here.  DO NOT TAKE THEM LITERALLY.  I can’t tell you how many people obsess over these numbers and think that these numbers are telling them exactly when they share a common ancestor.  They don’t.

So let’s answer the questions that Tom asked.

Is it possible to have an identical match as a random event?

No, it’s not.  These men share a common ancestor at some point.  The question is, when and where.  However, it is possible to match on many markers, and then not on others.  I would suggest that these men upgrade to 111 markers and see how closely they match at that level.  I have seen at least one instance where 2 men matched at 37 and then had 5 or 6 mutations at the 67/111 marker level.  Unusual?  Yes.  Impossible?  No.

How common are such occurrences?

This isn’t as unusual as you would think.  I see this fairly often.  I always tell people to do four things.

First, upgrade the people you have to 111 markers.  If they continue to match at 111 markers, exactly, you probably have a very close match genealogically.

Second, find a second person to test from each line, as far back as possible.  In other words, if you’re testing the Abraham Estes line, you would want to find another son from Abraham to test to see if the DNA of the two sons match.  If they do match, then you know you have the lines proven back to 1647.  If not, then you know you have a non-paternal event (NPE) of some type, otherwise known as an undocumented adoption.  I call them undocumented adoptions because everyone knows what that means, and regardless of how it happened, it’s “undocumented” because we didn’t know about it.  In Tom’s case, he already has his 3 cousins, so his line is proven back to the common ancestor of those men.  Hopefully the person with the other surname can also find someone else from his line to test.

Third, enter the results into Sorenson at and also into for Y-line results to see if you come up with any other people who also match with that surname.  This is especially useful if you are having difficulty finding people to test.

Note: Neither SMGF nor Ancestry’s Y data base are available.

Fourth, look around the neighborhood – genealogically.  Are there reports of the two families in question being allied or intermarried in some location?  Were they neighbors in the same county?  In many cases, once you figure out that an undocumented adoption occurred – you can figure out in which generation through selective DNA testing, and often, which families were involved through DNA combined with historical and genealogical records.

In essence, to solve this type of puzzle, you need to become somewhat of a genealogical detective.

Tom’s last question was what kinds of situations could explain these results.

In some cases, especially where there are some mutations involved (meaning not exact matches), suggesting some time distance between common ancestors, matches between surnames occur because the families involved simply adopted different surnames.  When surnames were adopted varies dramatically by the location of the families and the circumstances involved.  For example, in the US, some Native American families were still using Native names in the 1880s.  Freed slaves adopted surnames upon obtaining their freedom in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and sometimes changed that surname at will.  In the Netherlands, some families didn’t take names until in 1811 when Napoleon mandated that they do so.  In England, some wealthy families had surnames by 1066, but peasants didn’t adopt surnames, for the most part, until in the 1200s and 1300s.  Jewish families in some parts of Europe didn’t adopt surnames until in the early 1800s.

Sometimes surname changes that look to us like undocumented adoptions occurred not at birth, but later in life.  Some people simply changed their names for a variety of reasons.

In one case, a man named John though he killed a man in Tennessee, ran off to the frontier which was at that time in Texas and changed his name, only to discover years later that not only had the man he shot not died, but that man had then married John’s wife he abandoned when he left.  Hmmm….karma at work.

One of the most common reasons for ‘undocumented adoptions’ is that a step-father raised the children and the kids simply used his name….forever.  So maybe John’s kids, above, took the surname of the man John shot.  Now this is getting interesting!!!  No wonder we have trouble figuring these things out retrospectively.

Another reason, of course, is that illegitimate children took the mother’s surname, but carry the father’s DNA signature.  In Native American cultures, matrilineal naming was very common, as is it in the African American culture, especially immediately after the end of slavery.  Children took whatever surname their mother adopted at that time.

Of course, the one thing we haven’t mentioned is the obvious….where someone was unfaithful.  Generally, that’s the first thing people think of…but it’s really not the most common reason.  But sometimes, indeed, it appears that Granny might have been a “loose woman.”  Don’t judge Granny too hardly though, because you really never know what happened in Granny’s life.  She could have had no choice in the matter, or her husband could have been abusive. We often see these conceptions during periods of war, especially the Civil War.  In one case, we know that a woman exchanged sexual favors for food for her children.  It’s really hard to be critical of that woman.

So the real answer for Tom is that there is no cut and dried answer, but lots of possibilities to explore.  You’re going to have to get out your Columbo tools and sleuth away….



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GEDCOMs, FamilySearch and Curing the Curse

Sometimes when you’ve done something, like genealogy, for a very long time, it’s hard to remember what it was like as a beginner.  Add to that computers, and the age of the “typical” Baby Boomer genealogist being someplace near retirement, and the frustration rises.

One of our blog subscribers, Robert, expressed some frustration a few days ago with the fact that so few people upload GEDCOMS and asked for direction to obtain software to create a GEDCOM file.  For those who don’t know, GEDCOM is short for Genealogical Data Communication and the GEDCOM file is the universal standard for passing around genealogy files.  At Family Tree DNA and at Ancestry, you can upload a GEDCOM file from your Genealogy software to enhance your DNA experience.  Without some associated genealogy, the autosomal tests are much less useful.  The power of those cousin-identifying tests is in matching family names of others who test.

I have used Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a free product from the Mormon Church for as long as there have been computers.  I began in the 1980s, seriously, with this product.  It was free then and it’s still free.  There is a companion printing product which they sell for under $10 if you want pedigree charts, etc.  And yes, it creates GEDCOM files.  It’s very basic and simple to use.  You can download it at this link:

One note about using this product. It has a notes field.  I keep everything about this person in this field.  It seems to be unlimited in size.  These notes can print, or not, on reports.  You can see how easy the user interface is, below, and the notes button is the one with the pencil.  Very intuitive.

In spite of how easy PAF is to use, judging from Robert’s e-mail, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details about the product on the FamilySearch website and discouraged.  Good thing he didn’t give up.  He was kind enough to send some helpful feedback too, which I’d like to share with you and will make you smile.  Maybe we can all break the Curse that Robert speaks of!  Today is GEDCOM day.  If you haven’t uploaded yours to Family Finder, today is the day!

Hi Roberta,

Thanks for directing me to Family and their Personal Ancestral File.

My limited browsing skills struggled for a few minutes trying to find the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) download on the Family Search website.    One needs to begin at “Products” under “Resources” at the bottom of the Family Search home page.

At some point during my search for PAF, I came across a description of PAF 5.2.   It was so loaded with details about the program’s operation and capabilities, that I almost closed the site.   Every paragraph left me more confused than the previous one.

I finally said to hell with all the user unfriendly details, and then completed whatever actions it took to open PAF 5.2.    To my surprise, the chart that I wanted appeared when I clicked on “pedigree”  at the top of the page.    The format was designed to begin my family tree with me on the left, proceeding to the right with blocks for parents, grandparents, etc.   Clicking on each block produced a small window in which one inputs the basics (date and place of birth, death, and marriage, etc.) for each ancestor.    Editing was also a breeze.

I had been searching for an easy method of preparing just a basic GEDCOM/family tree in an exportable format, without having to purchase a complicated program.    Apparently PAF 5.2 is all that is needed to produce one’s basic GEDCOM/family tree  which can then be exported to one’s Family Finder website.

Maybe you can use this information in your blog to break the digital curse that prevents many of us from preparing and submitting our family tree to our Family Finder website.    Seniors are probably the age group most affected by the curse.

Many thanks.




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The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors

Judy Russell blogged a few days ago about counting up the number of ancestors you have found, of the total number available in the past 10 generations in her blog, “More Lost than Found.”  Judy had a tidy total of 12% after the 10th generation, counting your parents as generation 1. She has only been researching for 12 years.  A veritable youngster.  I’ve been researching for 34 years, so I was hopeful that my percentage would be somewhat better.  At 1% per year, I should rack up about 34%.  We’ll see.

In my presentations, I always talk to people about building their DNA pedigree chart.  I use my own as an example.  It took a lot of work, not to mention money and in some cases, some significant arm-twisting to accomplish this.

It pains me that there are blanks at the top, and some of them can never be filled.  The one person who could test for the Ruthy Dodson Estes (Claiborne Co., Tn.) mitochondrial line, won’t.  The Kirsch family has few male descendants here in the US, and so far, the only one I can find isn’t interested in testing.

With some heavy duty elbow-grease, I should be able to find someone to test for the Margaret Herrell Cook Bolton (Claiborne County, TN) and the Margaret Lentz Miller (Montgomery Co., OH and Elkhart Co., IN) lines.

Some lines are simply dead.  The deJong line had no daughters and we don’t know who her parents were in the Netherlands, so we can’t go upstream.  I can’t find Rachel Hill Lore’s daughter’s descendants from Warren County, Pa.

Instead, I focus on the 10 lines whose DNA I do have.  I thought this was pretty good, actually.  Of these 16 ancestors, I have the DNA of 10 of them.

Last week, when I read Judy’s article, I wondered exactly how my DNA pedigree chart would compare to the number of ancestors in total and the number found.  I wouldn’t say this comparison has been fun, but it has been enlightening in a number of ways.

On the chart below, the generation is noted, the total number of end-of-line ancestors in that generation, the number of ancestors I’ve identified, the percentage that represents, followed by the number whose DNA I have and the percentage compared to the total number of ancestors possible.  The percent would look a lot better if compared it with the number of ancestors identified….but that wouldn’t be playing quite fair.


Ancestors Total

Ancestors Identified






1 – parents






2 – grandparents






3 – great-grandparents






4 – gg-grandparents






5 – ggg – grandparents






6 – gggg – grandparents


52 (6 women no surname)




7 – ggggg – grandparents


72 (5 women no surname)




8 – gggggg-grandparents


90 (7 women no surname)




9 – ggggggg-grandparents


106 (12 women no surname)




10 – gggggggg-grandparents


101 (4 women no surname, 8 duplicate ancestors on Mom’s side)










I wound up doing an extra generation that Judy didn’t do.

So comparing my 9th generation with Judy’s number, I had a total of 382 ancestors found out of 1022 possible, for 37%.  At 1% per year, I’m three years ahead of schedule!

Expanding this number to the 10th generation reduced my percentage to 24%, but still not bad for 300 years ago, or so.

So Judy, take heart, in another 22 years you’ll be up to 37%, about one third of the way there.  It looks like one gains about 1% per year, so at this rate you’ll only need to live for another 88 years to be done.  I can die when I’m only 119.  I sure hope my retirement money holds out that long!

Finding Ancestors DNA

On the chart, the “DNA Anc” column heading means DNA ancestor’s located and the next column, “% DNA,” is the associated percentage.  While significantly smaller than the number found, this information is still quite interesting for a number of reasons.

First, my pedigree collapse didn’t begin until the 10th generation.  On my Mom’s side, I have a lot of ethnic groups, for lack of a better term for them.  I have the Brethren, the Acadians, the Dutch and other non-Brethren German immigrants, all of which lived in clusters and intermarried after arriving in the states.  The pedigree collapse, where the same ancestor is found in your tree more than once, occurred in both the Acadian line and the immigrant non-Brethren German lines back in Germany.

In order to make sure I actually had gathered up all of my ancestral DNA lines that are available, I checked the projects at Family Tree DNA.  Most of the projects are quite useful, but there were some exceptions.  I’d like to make a plea for all surname administrators to please, PLEASE, enable the oldest ancestor field on your Family Tree DNA public webpages.  Without that information, you can’t even begin to figure out if your line is represented and the page is virtually useless.

And folks who have tested, please, PLEASE, enter your oldest ancestor information with identifying data; birth, death, location and spouse would be good for starters.  This means for the Y-line, your oldest paternal ancestor and for mtDNA, your oldest female maternal ancestor.  You would be amazed how many men’s names I see in the oldest maternal ancestor field.  This is your mitochondrial DNA lineage – your mother, her mother, her mother, etc on up the tree until you run out of mothers.

Aside from the surname projects, I found the French Heritage project, the Mother’s of Acadia project and the Acadian American Indian projects quite useful.  For one thing, they had taken the time to enter relevant surnames into their project profiles, so when one of my surnames popped up, I knew to check their projects.

I had checked existing projects previously for all of my surnames, but quite a few more ancestral lines that I could readily identify as mine had been added since I last checked.  In some cases, I couldn’t tell for sure, so I omitted those.  Unfortunately, some surnames don’t have projects.

I decided to check Ysearch, although I really didn’t think it would be very productive.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  First, it’s a lot easier to search there, even with the captchas, because you can see the location.  Then you can click on the User ID to see more genealogical info…hopefully.  People tend to enter more when they are prompted and in Ysearch does that in the transfer or data entry process.  I wish Family Tree DNA did more of this type of prompting on their website.  The only thing I couldn’t see that would have been quite helpful was the oldest ancestor info without clicking on the User ID.

Surprisingly, I picked up several DNA lines from Ysearch.  They fell into three categories.  First, the unusual names that did not have projects at Family Tree DNA.  Second, surnames from projects that were poorly displayed at Family Tree DNA, meaning the oldest ancestor info wasn’t shown, so one couldn’t tell if their family was represented or not.  Third, surnames with many matches.  It was easier to tell if there was a possible fit at Ysearch than in projects at Family Tree DNA.  I compared a couple of surnames at both locations, and people do tend to enter more info at Ysearch than they do at Family Tree DNA in terms of the oldest ancestor.

On the other hand, searching at Ancestry was entirely futile.  They do have an option to see if a surname has tested.  If so, they show you the name of the person who tested and their haplogroups. Not useful.  The only way to do anything more is to look at the profile of every person to see if their tree is connected or to contact them.  Very, very not useful.

While checking projects for the paternal surnames at Family Tree DNA and at Ysearch was easy, looking for females who descended from my ancestors and who have tested was quite difficult.  We need a mitochondrial DNA data base that has the maternal ancestors of everyone who has tested that we can search to see if our maternal line is represented.  I think we’re missing a lot of opportunities by not having this functionality.

One thing that happened that I didn’t expect is that in each generation, I lost lines, but I also picked up other lines and sometimes, they had been DNA tested.  By “picked up,” I mean that if we have a female marrying into the family, back one generation, we have her father.  Some of those ancestral lines had been DNA tested.  I expected that since many were quite far back in my tree, there wouldn’t be DNA lines for them, but that wasn’t the case as long as I had enough information to uniquely identify them and the correct end-of-line person.  In other words, just having Nicholas Estes doesn’t cut it, but having Nicholas Ewstas born 1495, Deal, Kent, England, died 1533, same location, wife’s name Anny is clearly enough to identify this man.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of Dutch on my Mom’s side, and a few generations back, on my Dad’s as well.  Relative to surnames, projects and DNA testing, Dutch lines tend to be rather hopeless, especially when you’re back to when surnames were being formed, unless you know someone from that line to ask to test.

The Dutch used patronymics where the father’s name was used plus an ending -zoon for sons, -dochter for daughters. For instance, Abel Janszoon Tasman is “Abel son of Jan Tasman”, or simply Abel Janszoon.  In written form, these endings were often abbreviated as -sz. and -dr. respectively e.g. Jeroen Cornelisz. “Jeroen son of Cornelis”, or Dirck Jacobsz. Of course, the next generation would be Jan son of Dirk, or Jan Dirckszoon or Dircksz.

This means there was a different “surname” in every generation.  In the village, everyone knew who you were, but outside the village….and beyond that century, it’s a nightmare.  Patronymics were used in Holland until 1811, whereupon emperor Napoleon forced the Dutch to register and adopt a distinct surname.  Often, they simply made the patronymics the new family names, and modern Dutch patronymic-based surnames such as Jansen, Pietersen and Willemsen abound. Others chose their profession or habitat as family names: Bakker (baker), Slachter (butcher), van Dijk (of dike) etc.  But then, the spelling changed, within families and when immigrating.  All of this, combined, makes finding Dutch ancestors very challenging and surname projects difficult.

Germans adopted surnames long before the Dutch, in most cases, so we find a few more that have projects and have tested.  In my case, I often only have one or two generations here, at most, and then the line jumps overseas.  Names are spelled differently and the European people don’t have the love affair with genetic genealogy that we Americans have.  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are looking for our roots and they just look outside the window to see theirs.

The Pietistic faiths are difficult too.   Many of the descendants still practice the faith, or if not, a very conservative related faith.  It’s difficult to convince people who sometimes don’t have electricity and who don’t own a car, preferring  a horse and buggy, that DNA testing is something they want to do.  However, when I actually visit, I’ve had pretty good luck, at least with the more radical segments who have telephones (but not cell phones) and drive cars now.

So where does this leave me?  I’m a little richer than when I began this comparison.  I didn’t find new ancestors, but discovered DNA information about the ones I already had.  I know more about them now, and about their ancestors, and where they were before I found them in my family tree.  I know about their clan, who was Celtic, Anglo, Viking and Native American.

I also got to add two more confirmed Native American lines to my chart today.  That made me feel great.  I’m glad we’re unearthing the truth about our ancestors that was only held in whispered stories and shadows before.

Who can you find to test for your own DNA Pedigree chart?



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

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Marja and Me

Sometimes things just don’t go as we have planned.  Some people just refuse to stay in the box where they are supposed to be.  Marja is one of those kind of out-of-the-box people.  As it turns out, that is a very good thing!

Marja is Finnish and started e-mailing me in March.  She was referred by Family Tree DNA, and she had lots and LOTS of questions.  In one long paragraph, she asked me 17 different questions pertaining to 4 different kits.  And that was one of her shorter e-mails!

To say I was a bit overwhelmed is probably an understatement. However, I could tell that her questions were a result of exuberance and a desire to learn about this fascinating new field, all in one large bite if possible.  She had been doing her homework.  Seldom do I have a new client using words like Genbank and understanding what it is.

So, we sorted the questions into groups pertaining to specific kits and Marja ordered two reports, one for her father’s Y-line, and one for her mitochondrial.

Normally, I send a form to each new client for them to complete.  They send me the completed form which includes their questions, with their photos, and when their results are all back from the lab, I schedule their work.  Simple, structured, and everything works.

Like I said, Marja operates outside the box.  Marja is history buff and a communicator.  Given that I’m a history buff and a sponge, and I knew little about Finland, I welcomed the opportunity to learn.  By the time I began the first report, I had over 100 e-mails to sort through from Marja, all with tidbits of information about Finnish history, farm names, which is how people take surnames there….and by the way, the surnames change when they changed farms.  Now that’s a genealogists headache.  I learned wonderful things from Marja and she learned from me.

Over the ensuing months, we became friends.  We made some fascinating discoveries.  We both love maps.  I did graduate work in GIS Systems back in the 1990s.  We both particularly love antique maps.  I always include maps in reports.  She sent me a beautiful, ancient map of Finland to include in her reports.

Marja and I both love bridges too, especially really unusual bridges.  Marja and I both love and use math and statistics.  Marja is a physicist with a degree in experimental physics, topped by an MBA.  It was at that moment I truly understood Marja and appreciated all of her questions.  Her specialty is error theory.  My undergrad is in Computer Science, topped by an Information Systems MBA.  One day Marja and I stumbled across the fact that we both love space.  She met her husband at a space exhibit.  My husband and I do geeky things like visit the old Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center and stay awake half the night to watch the Mars Curiosity land.  The list of uncanny coincidences was growing.

But then, it happened.  Surely, it was inevitable.  I received an e-mail from Marja and she asked if I had noticed we were related.  What?  Really?  Well, the cobblers kids have no shoes and I had not been keeping track of my Family Finder matches nor those at GedMatch.  She had.

But how could we possibly be related?  Marja is Finnish, through and through.  I am a Heinz 57 mutt, but with no Finnish.  On my Mom’s side, lots of German and Dutch, but nothing in Scandinavia at all.  Or so we thought.  But there it was, a segment of matching DNA, big as life.  There was no doubt….Marja and I are related.  I’m convinced that on that segment lies the bridge/map/space/geeky-female genes.

When I finished Marja’s father’s report, I had included a photo of an archaeological site that I though was relevant to her father’s story.  Kuninkaanhauta, the King’s Grave, is the largest bronze-age barrow in Finland and likewise amongst the most eminent in the Nordic countries.  These hillgraves are made of very large piles of stones and this one is very near where her father’s ancestors lived.

After I delivered the report, Marja asked me to replace that photo with another.  I was kind of disappointed, as I was so pleased to have found that archaeological site and photo.  But then I looked at the photo Marja had sent me.  It was exactly the same mound, but WITH her father standing alongside.

Marja and I also discovered that we share a love of archaeology and the ancient history it unearths.

We began to mine the history of Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, along with our families, to see how we might connect.  It may be through the Mennonites, as we both have some matches there.  Perhaps before they were Mennonites.  My mother’s family was Brethren, another Anabaptist faith, not terribly far removed from the Mennonites.

And it might be through Marja’s Finnish Fleming family who may have been German originally.  It might be through the people from what is now the Netherlands who settled in Finland.  It might be from the Saxons who greatly influenced the Finnish culture, although that is an awfully long way back to have an unbroken segment of DNA of this size.

As we went through this process, I finished her reports and our client/customer relationship had long since evolved into one of friendship.  We also discovered our love of jewelry and of hearts.  I think jewelry is an international language among women.

One day, Marja wrote, “This I want to share with you, Euran sydän Eura’s heart. I bought it from Kalevala Koru. Based on the archaeological findings in Eura, from the Viking time 850-1150. (Eura  includes Kiukainen again nowadays as it did in the history) . Kalevala Koru is an old company established by Finnish women. They have many fine products based on archaeological findings. More to less every Finnish woman has got Kalevala Koru jewelry. Who knows, it might have been cousin Mike’s and my ancestor who has given this kind of heart to his wife. Funny enough, when I showed this to my sister she remembered she had a similar one in her jewelry box.”

The Kalevala Jewelry company has beautiful items, designed from historical and archaeological finds in Finland.  What a wonderful idea.

You can take a look at

And then one day, I opened my mailbox to find a box from Finland, and inside the box was Eura’s heart.  What a beautiful gift and a lovely gesture.  I felt like a kid at Christmas unwrapping the beautiful box with the bow.  Now, not only are Marja and I connected by our genetic ancestors, whoever they were, some hundreds of years ago, who contributed to us our common DNA segment, but by our friendship and also, now, our Eura hearts.

Thank you so much Marja.  You are indeed a lovely cousin.  I’m so glad we met.  Isn’t genetic genealogy great, and isn’t this what it’s all about?  Finding and meeting family and developing relationships!  And in this case, in the most unexpected of ways.  Marja is herself a gift indeed.

As Marja says, “I love this journey of ours.  It’s absolutely crazy that we found each other…7 billion people in the world….based on things we love…and then to find out we’re related.”  Yes, indeed, it’s almost unbelievable.

But our story isn’t finished yet.  A few days later, I received another e-mail from Marja.  She said, “Did you know that you are related to my cousin on the X-chromosome?”  What?  You’re kidding?  How can that be?  She is Finnish through and through and I am not.  Or so we think.  Here we go again, except with one small difference.  The X chromosome has special properties that make it easier to track.  If you want to know more about how to use the X chromosome, you’ll have to join me for a future blog, “X Marks the Spot.”



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Autosomal Results – The Basics

With more and more people taking the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA, the 23andMe test and the AncestryDNA test at, people get their results back, and then wonder what to do with them.  Let’s take a look at why people test and what to do with the results.

Remember, this is just the basics.  If you want a detailed analysis, that too is available. This article isn’t focused on everything you could possibly do and how to do it, but on getting the excited newbie through the first day:)  OK, maybe the first week!

What you Get

These three tests provide you with two basic genealogy related items, aside from the health information at 23andMe which we are not discussing here.

1. Percentages of ethnicity.  These tests are the most reliable way to obtain your ethnic breakdown.  Remember, these tests test all of your DNA, inherited from all of your ancestors.  By testing the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, you can determine the ethnicity of those specific lines, but autosomal determines the ethnicity breakdown of all of you, not just those two genealogical lines.

2. Lists of people you are related to.  How each company provides this information varies a bit, but the essence is that you receive a list of people you match, and estimates of how closely.  Figuring out your common ancestry is up to you.

Why you Test

There are, in general, only 4 reasons, again, aside from the health information at 23andMe, to test autosomal DNA.

  1. You want your percentages of ethnicity.
  2. You want to see who you match and you’re willing to do the work to find out how.
  3. You have a theory that you’d like to test.
  4. You’re an adoptee or someone who doesn’t know who both of their parents are, and you’re hoping for a close match.

In reverse order, Providence will take care of number 4.  You can increase the odds of Providence helping you by fishing in multiple pools.  Remember that Providence has a sense of humor.

A good example of a theory that’s easy to test relative to reason number 3 is to see if two people are really half-siblings vs whole siblings or not siblings at all.  The results will provide you with the answer to this question easily.  This example only requires testing the two people directly involved.

A less straightforward testing theory example is attempting to determine which of 4 brothers born in the 1750s produced your ancestor who was born in the 1780s.  This scenario requires lots of hard work to find people whom you match who carry the surnames of the wives of the four brothers.  In addition, you may also want to do some of what is called “directed testing” where your find descendants of specific individuals or families and test several people to see if any of them match you, or any of your cousins in that line, using these autosomal tests.  This is a much more involved project and can be expensive.  However, if it’s your last best hope, or your only hope, somehow the cost doesn’t matter so much.  It’s probably less than a trip to another state.

Many people think the test does the hard work.  It doesn’t.  It does the easy work.  The hard work is left up to you….the genealogy research that must go along with these matches.  All the DNA test can do is to tell you that you DO match.  It can’t tell you how.  Your match could come from any of your ancestral lines and it’s up to you and the person you match to figure out how you match and who your common ancestor is.  Every single match is a new opportunity for research, work and discovery.


Let’s take a look at the results at Family Tree DNA.

Click on Family Finder, then on Matches.  The first mistake people make is that they don’t realize you’re not initially seeing all of your matches, just the “close and immediate” ones.

In the drop down box  for “relations,” you’ll see “show all matches.”  Choose that option.

Matching Surnames

If you have entered your surnames under Account Setting, Most Distant Ancestors and then Surnames, or if you have uploaded your Gedcom file, you will see your matching surnames with your matches in bold.  In the example above, Barbara is my mother.  Harold is my third cousin on my father’s side.  Harold has entered his surnames, and the ones we match “float to the top” and are bolded.  You can see the beginning of that list; Brown, Crumley, Lowery.

This is where the work for you begins, determining how you and your match connect to these surnames and if they are the same family.

Relationship Predictions

You can see that Family Tree DNA predicted that my mother was either my mother or my child.  They use the amount of shared DNA to make that calculation.  You share 50% of the DNA of each parent, and your child shares 50% of your DNA, so someone you match at 50% has to be either a child or a parent to you.  It’s that simple.

Of course, in each generation, after your parents, the percentage of DNA that you receive from any given ancestor is not exactly 50% of the previous generation.  But it’s close, and it’s the only number that we can accurately use for predicting relationships.

The following percentages show how much DNA is shared with different family members.

  • 50% mother, father and siblings
  • 25% grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, double first cousins
  • 12.5% first cousins
  • 6.25% first cousins once removed
  • 3.125% second cousins, first cousins twice removed
  • 0.781% third cousins

You may be able to see these relationships easier on the following graphic.

You can read more about autosomal inheritance on the ISOGG “Autosomal DNA Statistics” page.  At the bottom of that page are some other good articles about working with autosomal DNA results.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe both use calculations that involve the total centimorgans shared and the longest contiguous block.  You don’t need to understand these calculations.  (Remember, this is just the basics.)  What you need to understand is that the relationship predictor can get close, but the further back in time you go, the less accurate it will be.  Remember that every generation, DNA is passed at random to the next generation.  You can see on my match page that my third cousin Harold is predicted to be a second cousin, but the range is 2nd to 3rd cousin.  That means that Harold and I share a little more DNA than most third cousins.

If you need help, you can always click on “page help”.

Ancestor Fishing and the Chromosome Browser

Let’s say I think that I might have found a new surname in my line.  It want to see everyone who has the surname Hickerson who is on my match list.  I enter that surname in the “ancestral surname” box, and click on “run report.”  The results returned will all carry the Hickerson surname, which you can see by scrolling for the highlighted names.

Now I want to see if these three people share common DNA not just with me, but with each other.  If we all share a common segment of DNA, then that confirms a common ancestor and attributes that DNA at that address on that chromosome to that specific ancestral family.

In my case, the known ancestral family is Vannoy, so let’s look at the Vannoy cousins as compared to me.

Each of the participants results are color coded.  On the page below, you can see that each matching segment of the chromosomes are colored.  It turns out that all of us share a fairly large segment on Chromosome 15.  So now we can attribute that segment to Elijah Vannoy, our oldest proven ancestor in that line.  You can also see some areas where one or two of my cousins match my DNA, but not all of us.  Those can also be attributed to Elijah Vannoy’s line since we share no other (known) common ancestors.

This cousin match is simple because the men share the same surname, but if this was 3 women with different surnames, the matching would still work.  The challenge of course would be to find the common ancestor.  In this case, if all 3 women had Elijah Vannoy in their tree, we could still tell that this segment of Chromosome 15 was attributed to the Vannoy family.

You can also download the results into a spreadsheet so you can do this matching without selecting 5 at a time.  Of course on a spreadsheet, there is no pretty and graphic chromosome browser.

Color your Chromosomes

You know, using these simple tools, you could “color in” your own DNA on your chromosomes so you can identify which part of your DNA was contributed by which ancestor.  Yes, I know, this is terribly geeky.

Reconstruct a Virtual Ancestor

Conversely, you could also “reconstruct” an ancestor. In fact, I think we’re well on the way with Elijah Vannoy.  Heck, I’ve already got most of chromosome 15 completed and parts of 3, 5, 11, 18 and 20!

Find a Guide – Consulting

If you’re trying to do something more complex, or have a specific goal in mind, you probably need some level of guidance if you are the proverbial Newbie.

There are three of us in the genetic genealogy community that provide various autosomal consulting services.

I provide DNA test planning, meaning helping you figure out who to test to achieve your desired results, and also after testing follow-up in the form of a Quick Consult.  I also write specialty reports upon request.  You can see the various options on my webpage or you can e-mail me directly at to discuss.

Cece Moore is another consultant in this space.  She works with a lot of adoptees and beginners.  You can reach Cece at  You’re probably familiar with Cece through her blog,

Tim Janzen, MD, provides consulting as well.  His specialty is called phasing which determines which part of your genome came from which parent/ancestor.  Now this is easy if you have parents yet alive, but if not, and you have to try to figure this out by piecing together matches from various cousins, it’s not straightforward at all.  Tim uses the phased DNA data in conjunction with data from known relatives to create chromosome maps of your genome.  These maps are very helpful when you are trying to figure out how you are related to your matches at 23andMe and in the Family Finder database.  You can reach Tim at

You might be surprised to see me recommending other people on my blog in what might be considered a competitive arena.  Don’t be.  We work together.  We know who is the best at which aspects of genetic genealogy and we refer people routinely to the best resource for their needs.

The Magic of Connecting

Your level of success with autosomal testing and finding cousin matches is directly proportional to the amount of work you’re willing to invest in contacting your matches and sometimes helping them with their genealogy.

However, the results can be incredibly rewarding.  One of my clients is an adoptee.  She, of course, was hoping for a half-sibling match, but she’s not that lucky….at least not yet.  In the mean time, three of her matches also matched each other, and 2 of them share part of the same chromosomal segment with her.  The surname involved is very unique, French Canadian, found initially in only one family in one location.  So while we don’t know who her parents are, or her hoped-for siblings, we were able to gift her with one ancestor that is, absolutely, positively, hers.  This is a gift she has never had in her entire life.  She has never known one biological family member, ever.  And she has cousins too, an entire list of them.  For her, autosomal DNA has provided the ability to put her family tree together backwards, working our way forward in time from distant ancestors, slowly…..while still hoping for that “lottery winning” sibling match!



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

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DNA Melody

Sometimes DNA is just for fun.  23andMe has a “sandbox” feature called Ancestry Labs.  Sometimes the things there are a great deal of fun.

Yesterday, I received a message to go and listen to my DNA Melody.  My DNA Melody?  What’s that?  I didn’t know I had one.

23andMe has created a unique DNA melody by using our individual DNA sequences.

23andMe took different aspects of my DNA sequence and used them to determine different properties of my DNA Melody.

What fun.  Want to hear what my DNA Melody sounds like?  Click on the link below.  You can even select the instrument.  I personally like the marimba.  I wonder if that’s genetic….



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