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?



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54 thoughts on “The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors

  1. Relatively few of my Family Finder DNA matches have uploaded a GEDCOM to their Family Finder website. Are their free GEDCOM sites available that might help to overcome this deficiency?

    • The problem isn’t cost. The problem is either that the person doesn’t have or know how to generate a Gedcom, or simply hasn’t bothered to upload it. In some cases, if the Gedcom file it too large, it won’t upload. Many people don’t enter the oldest ancestor information either, or the geographic location. They aren’t using the tools available to them, either because they don’t know how or they aren’t interested. You can get free software, Personal Ancestral File, at the site and it generates a Gedcom file that can be uploaded to Family Tree DNA, Ysearch, Mitosearch and any other site as well.

      • I have an issue with the majority (about 60+%) of my AA matches not posting any information at all – no tree, names, locations, dates – for whatever reason. My main objective is to jump over the brick wall which could probably be accomplished if we all shared information.

  2. 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. Bit on 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 beak through them.

      • You’re welcome! I’ve just sent you an e-mail back and I think I’ve found at least 2 more generations of ancestors on your brick wall with lots of leads to go back further, so it’s probably time to update your number 🙂

        Some general tips for Dutch research:
        slides from my presentation on sources for Dutch genealogy, including links
        Digital resources Netherlands and Belgium, portal with links to online transcriptions/databases/scans

        For the language barrier, you might want to consider installing Google Chrome as your browser. Google Chrome automatically asks you to translate content for you if it’s in a language that you don’t know (you can add a list of known language in the settings). It uses the Google translate technology, but having it integrated in a browser is very useful. Just beware of it translating surnames, because somebody named De Koning may suddenly be called The King 🙂

  3. Roberta,
    I don’t understand the numbers in the DNA Anc column. I would expect the numbers to always increase, or at least to never decrease. For example between generation 5 & 6, the numbers went from 22 to 20. For all of the men in generation 5 you have their y DNA (I assume) which would be the same in their fathers in generation 6. Also for each woman in generation 5 you have her mtDNA which would be the same for her mother.

    • Remember, in every generation you’re doubling the number of ancestors. So the number that you can identify, decreases and the number whose DNA I have is of course, even smaller than that.

      • I understand the doubling. Let me try a different question. I’m referring to your chart in “Mining for Ancestors”.
        Say you test your brother, YDNA and mtDNA. In generation 1, you have two parents and neither have to be tested. You’d have your father’s YDNA and your mother’s mtDNA, and the column DNA Anc would report two.

        Now in generation 2 the ancestors have doubled to 4. Even without more testing, DNA Anc column would report 2. To add your paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather a couple of first cousins, or equivalent, have to be tested.

        So, I don’t see how the number in the DNA Anc column would ever drop like it does in two places on your chart, from 22 to 20 at generation 5 and from 20 to 19 at generation 6. The DNA Anc column should always increase with each appropriately chosen cousin DNA test.

        I love the idea of what you are doing. Maybe there’s a blog post about the organization and benefits of such a DNA family project. I contacted my mother’s cousin for a sample. She’s 92 and thought I was from Mars for asking for a DNA sample, so this could be dicey.

        • This number isn’t cumulative. You can only count the number of ancestors you have in the current generation. If you don’t have their name, you can’t count them. So, for example, if I “lose” a line in generation 6, I can’t count it. I know what you’re thinking though. I still have their DNA, which is true, but if I don’t know the name of the ancestor, I didn’t count it as knowing the DNA. It’s knowing the DNA of the known ancestors.

          • Ahh, that was what I was missing. You have the Y or mt DNA for a father or mother, but you don’t count it if you don’t know their name. I guess I’d take a more optimistic counting of the DNA but your definition is fine. Thanks. I enjoy your blog.

          • Well, the nice thing is that even if we don’t have their names…we do have their DNA – even if we don’t know who they are by name. DNA does go a lot further back than names:)

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  7. After reading this entry several months ago I was motivated to start my own DNA ancestor chart. After a little salesmanship I now have representative samples for my 8 great grandparents. After re-reading this I’m going to go through surname projects and ysearch. I’m skeptical that I’ll find anything, but who knows, it bore fruit for you.
    Thank you, I enjoy your notes.

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  23. If you are lacking ideas for new blog entry, what about an update to your numbers? I’d be curious to know how things progress (or didn’t) in 3 years and almost a half.

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    • I hate to disappoint you, but I took the original red and blue Y and mtdna chart, put it in a powerpoint slide, and “doctored it up” using color and text boxes. If I could have found software, I would have used it too.

      • Thanks, Roberta. You did a great job, but it’s a shame no one has developed software to do that. Talk about reinventing the wheel! There’s gotta be an app for that!

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