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.”



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

19 thoughts on “Marja and Me

  1. Roberta, my dear soul sister and cousin in DNA, thanks! This has been a wonderful journey for both of us, and it still continues. Marja

  2. Roberta, what a lovely story and it seems you have made a dear friend for life. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to hearing about your X research with Marja!!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing this amazing story, Roberta. I too will be looking forward to hearing more about the X research!

  4. Roberta,
    thank you for sharing this story. Its a wonderful story of connection. I have seen similar things repeated over and over again. I do believe we are drawn to people to whom we are related. I do not know why or how and I believe there is probably a scientific basis. I also believe that we are drawn to places because they are in our genes.

    A few examples:
    My grandparents a Mosier and a Henager who married (different spellings originally) both of mixed German extraction had ancesors that came to America on the same sailing of the same ship parted ways and met in my grandparents.

    Or my husband and I both descended from Robert Wheaton of Rehoboth 9th cousins

    Or my son in law who I relate to his mother and his father 4 ways as 8th cousins.

    Or my boss who hired me to do his genealogy and he’s my fifth cousin via my maiden name line.

    Or the fact that back in the 1970’s I chose as a white teenager to take voluntary busing to attend a majority black high school only to find out via DNA testing I have African kin. For some time I corresponded with a majority African American only to find out we were distantly related. She told me that in high school she took German and everyone said why German—she didn’t know. But she later married a military man and travelled to Germany and sang in the German opera—-only to find our later she WAS German.

    We know what we don’t know. Its in our bones, in our shared DNA. Its the call of the ancestors, of places and kin we are drawn to whether we know the reason why or not.
    Have you ever noticed how the places people settle are often similar to where they came from—wonder why? or why are you just “at home” in some places and not others? I do not believe that things are quite as random as we think……

  5. This is very interesting to me because I keep having Finland show up on my mtDNACommunity results and I have just ignored the possibility that we might match. Any chance that Marja was a T1a??? Beautiful stories!

  6. I’ve learnt really a lot from Roberta, this has been a fabulous intensive couse in genetic genealogy. And it continues. Another distant cousin in X DNA and soul sister of mine is Cary, she found me based on her comparisons in GedMatch. She is also related to Roberta!

    Janet, my mtDNA is H35 and I know my maternal line back to the beginning of the 1600’s. I might have distant cousins with T1a (based on a quick look at the T1a group in the FTDNA Finland pages). You might like to join Suomi DNA facebook pages, we have a vivid community.

    Finland is an excellent place for genealogy, both traditional and genetic. We have really good church registers back to the 1600’s, much of that digitized and searchable. Then other archives.

    If you’d like to follow Finnish history here is one link, historian Anu Lahtinen’s pages (with blogs etc). She is also twittering a chronicle of Klaus Hermansson Fleming, his daily life behind 400 years:

  7. Pingback: X Marks the Spot | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  8. Pingback: X Marks the Spot | Native Heritage Project

  9. Pingback: 9th Annual Conference Reception | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  10. Pingback: Finding Family the New-Fashioned Way | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  11. Pingback: The Family Tree DNA Learning Center Roberta Estes - Genetic Genealogy Interview - The Family Tree DNA Learning Center

  12. Pingback: Ethnicity Percentages – Second Generation Report Card | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  13. A very interesting article! Just one extra bit of information needed by us newbies to Autosomnal DNA to help understand and more importantly to learn – how many centiMorgans and matching SNPs?

  14. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – General Information Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

Leave a Reply