Sunday Stories


This topic isn’t exclusively about DNA – but then sometimes it’s all about DNA and the discoveries I’ve made in my family using genetic genealogy.

By the time genetic genealogy came along, I had spent 25 years, a quarter of a century, working on my genealogy.  There was no low-hanging fruit left – just the tough stuff – those brick walls and dead ends.  A few fell pretty quickly with DNA, but now, every new piece of genealogy information is like a gold nugget.

This brings me to the topic of Sunday stories.

Every Sunday I write something to my family.  Let’s put this in perspective.  What would you give to have a journal from your great-great-grandmother?  A letter she wrote once a week?

My cousin gave me part of a letter (page 3 of 4 is missing) written by my great-grandmother, Eva Miller Ferverda, to someone about what was going on in her life at that moment.  I cherish that letter and the oh-so-brief glimpse into her personality, writing style and what she thought – as told by her, in her own voice and handwriting that was silenced before I was born.

She lived from 1857 to 1939 – so if she had written Sunday stories, they would have covered what was going on that affected her life from about 1870 or 1880 through 1939 – a span of more than half a century.  Think of all the things she could have discussed and how well we would still know her today.Eva Miller Ferverda

She could have talked about the Spanish American War which took place in 1898 and in which her son fought, in spite of the fact that the family was of the Brethren faith.  That must have caused her a great amount of consternation on several levels.  It seems that topic would have been good for several Sunday stories, all by itself.

She could have talked about getting electricity in her home.  She could have talked about the fact that her son’s house (my grandfather) had indoor plumbing, at least in the bathroom.  In the kitchen, we still pumped water in the 1960s.

She could have talked about riding in a car for the first time, as an adult.

She could have talked about the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

She could have talked about moving to town from the farm.

She could have talked about WWI and the effect on both her family and the Brethren Church.

And she could have talked about what her family and church groups were doing.

But she didn’t.  She wrote a letter than someone gave back to the family.  We have pages 1, 2 and 4 from her – and other than a poem she wrote or more likely, copied, and gave to her husband for his 46th birthday, that’s it.  That is all of her voice that is left, and we consider ourselves lucky to have that much.  I know very little about her as a person, aside from those oh-so-dry birth, marriage and death dates.

Eva's Poem



A few years ago, I attended the Caruso Leadership Institute.  Joe Caruso hosted this seminar in Hawaii, at Kapalua Bay, an experience unlike any other, and Joe’s father, Mickey, came along.  By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Joe speak, by all means, do.

Kapalua bay

Mickey was a very nice older gentleman, and he was everyone’s father or grandfather.  Born in Italy in a different time, he had all kinds of little anecdotes and tidbits of wisdom.  He made us laugh and cry and we all loved him.

Somewhere in one of our conversations, Mickey told us about what he did every Sunday.  He wrote a letter to his children.  He wrote one original, and then on Monday, he went to the copy store and made enough copies to send to all of his children who were scattered to the winds, across the US.  I asked him what was in the letters, and he said whatever he wanted to write about.  I asked him what was in the last one he wrote, and he said he told his kids about the “old country,” which was Italy, and what life was like there.  He said that he knew that if he didn’t tell them, whether they wanted to know or not at the time, that the knowledge would be lost.  He said that sometimes he wrote about current events, sometimes about what was going on within the family, and sometimes, just shared his thoughts.  At the time, I thought about how wonderful that was, but I thought about it as an adult child, not as the parent.  I thought about how wonderful it would be to receive those letters, and as a grandchild someday, how I would love to receive that box of letters, and how much they would be cherished eventually by descendants a hundred or two hundred years hence.

Someone asked Mickey if he thought his kids actually read the letters.  Mickey’s eyes lit up, and he got this mischievous twinkle in his eye, and he said, “I know they don’t, but someday they will.”  He winked at us, and the topic was changed.  We all knew what he meant.

That was in 1997 or 1998.

A couple of years later, I attended another Caruso event, this time in the midwest, and Joe told us that his father had passed away.  That was a very sad say for us, as we all loved Mickey.

There were several of us at that event that has been to the Hawaii seminar.  At one of the meals, we talked with Joe about Mickey, and someone mentioned the Sunday stories.  I don’t remember if that was his name for them, or mine, truthfully.  In any event, someone, maybe Joe’s brother, said “You wouldn’t believe what happened.”

It seems that after Mickey died, those letters somehow became valuable commodities to his children.  Some of them had been unopened during Mickey’s lifetime.  Can you imagine?  But after Mickey’s death, his kids wanted Mickey to speak with them one more time, and what better way than the letters he wrote to them.  But somehow, some of those letters shoved into drawers got lost.  So the kids set up a “swap” – “I’ll trade you an August 7, 1993 for a September 3, 1996.”

Now, they wanted to read those letters, to cherish every single word.  Now that Mickey couldn’t talk to them, they desperately sought his voice.

But there was a problem.  There were a few letters that no one seemed to have a copy of.  They were entirely lost to posterity.  Do you think we should have told them that Mickey kept the original copy of all of the letters?  The funny thing was that many of us knew that, and not a soul said a word.  We figured that one day, they would stumble across the treasure chest that we knew awaited them someplace.  Mickey’s ultimate poetic justice:)

It was a few years later, after my own grandchildren were born, and after my Mother’s passing, that I decided that yes, Sunday Stories were a wonderful opportunity.  I began to view them from Mickey’s perspective, as the author, instead of being the recipient.  I knew that the torch had somehow been passed to me even though I wasn’t ready for it and surely didn’t want it.

I also realized, from Mickey, that indeed, the stories wouldn’t be read consistently.  I know that to be true, because the “prize” of $100 to the first person to come forth with one particular Sunday story has remained unclaimed.  I intentionally don’t ask questions that would “reveal” whether or not my children have read them.  My goal isn’t to embarrass the kids.  I don’t want them to dread receiving them because they have to read them because they know a quiz is in the offing.  I know that if they don’t read them today….eventually, they will.  Sometimes when I write the stories, it is with “someday” in mind.

What I have to say really isn’t so important that it needs to be read immediately.  These stories are probably more valuable to future generations.  It’s important that the stories be passed on.  And yes, there are many DNA stories – stories about family discoveries, stories about haplogroup discoveries that I’ve been involved with, stories about the National Geographic team, stories about the DNA conferences, and more.  DNA discoveries, the leading edge of this wonderful new scientific field is a part of my life and because of that, it’s also part of the Sunday stories in various ways.

Cat Got Your Tongue???

How are you passing on your important stories to your as yet unborn descendants and relatives?  How will they know you?  What is your voice to the future?  How will they know what important family information you’ve found?  And yes, what about documenting your DNA journey?  If you think finding out about your ancestor getting electricity or maybe their role in the Civil War is exciting, just think about the journey of DNA discovery.  Don’t let your family miss it!  You too are a pioneer.

Don’t know what to talk about?  It doesn’t matter, just talk and be yourself.

Here’s a small example of my recent rants, err, I mean topics…

  • Spring Now and 20 Years Ago – The Blizzard of 1993 (I was trapped in Mt. Airy, NC)
  • Easter and USA Today (family member in the paper)
  • A Sea of Red For Equality (DOMA and Facebook)
  • The Bombing of the Boston Marathon and the Week of Terror
  • Mischief – Saying Goodbye (to the family cat)
  • Near Death Experiences
  • Mother’s Day 2013 (mostly pictures)
  • Dad, Beginning and End (my father’s delayed birth certificate and a photo of his tombstone)
  • John Y. Estes, Confederate Civil War Soldier (new genealogy discovery)
  • PreSchool Graduations and other Happenings
  • I Hope You Dance – June 2013 (dance recitals)
  • Still Missing Dads (Father’s Day memorial to my father and step-father)
  • Elizabeth and the Bowling Family of Charnock Richard, Lancashire

There are a few differences between what I’m doing and what Mickey did.  I’m distributing all of my stories electronically as PDF files which is so much easier.  Size then becomes entirely irrelevant and photos are easy to include.  People like pictures and my stories are photo-rich.

And yes, of course, I keep an “original.”  I print these once a year too and I keep a book of each year – 52 stories.  So that is the functional equivalent of Mickey’s original.  This is my 5th year, so at the end of 2013 there will be approximately 260 stories.  That number sounds overwhelming, but believe me, one at a time, it’s fun and rewarding and helps you organize your own records and thoughts.

Hey, this article, slightly adapted, could be my next week’s Sunday Story!!!

Family Tree DNA Levels the Playing Field…Sort Of

Family-Tree-DNA logoToday, I received an e-mail from Max Blankfeld, one of the partners at Family Tree DNA.  He said that per their promise a month ago, if they obtained a minimum volume of orders during their July promotion, they would retain the $99 price on their autosomal DNA test, Family Finder.  Well, the $99 price is now permanent.  What this does is to level the playing field between the three autosomal DNA players, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry…..sort of.  All other things are not equal, even though the price now is.

1. Company – Family Tree DNA

Shipping cost for kits: $5 domestic, $7 international

Where kits are shipped: worldwide

2. Company – 23andMe

Shipping cost for kits: $10 US, $60 Canada and $75-$120 other international

Where kits are shipped: some international, US except NY and MD due to state laws regarding the medical/health aspects of the testing

3. Company –

Shipping cost for kits:  $10

Where kits are shipped: US only

Caveat:  Ancestry does not have analysis tools that Family Tree DNA and 23andMe include.

Hmmmm….maybe the playing field isn’t so level after all!

Rosalind Franklin Gets a Google Doodle For Her 93rd Birthday

Rosalind_FranklinRosalind Franklin’s 93rd birthday is today.  Don’t know who she is?  Well, you’re not alone.  She is the unsung hero of DNA discovery.

Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix. Her data, according to Francis Crick, were “the data we actually used” to formulate Crick and Watson’s 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Franklin’s images of X-ray diffraction confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to Watson without her approval or knowledge. This image and her accurate interpretation of the data provided valuable insight into the DNA structure, but Franklin’s scientific contributions to the discovery of the double helix are often overlooked.

She may have been overlooked elsewhere, and particularly in terms of the Nobel prize awarded to Crick and Watson, but she has not been forgotten and was honored today by Google in a doodle!

rosalind franklin google doodle

Citizen Science Strikes Again – This Time in Cameroon

Last November at the Family Tree DNA Conference, Bonnie Schrack was the citizen scientist member of the team that broke the hugely exciting news about the new root of the human family tree, known as haplogroup A00.  This discovery pushed the advent of humanity back from about 200,000 years to 338,000 years.


That discovery, while exciting, was only the tip of the iceberg.  There is a lot more to be learned.  The original DNA sample matched the DNA of the Mbo people, and Bonnie, working with a graduate student, has found an opportunity to collect 100 new DNA samples from among the Mbo, in Cameroon.  But rather than me tell you about it, let’s let Bonnie speak for herself.  I received information from Bonnie over the weekend and today, she made a public announcement, as follows:

Dear friends and fellow enthusiasts,

I have an exciting announcement to share with you.  Until now, we as genetic genealogists and researchers of deep ancestry have always been dependent on the field research carried out by professional, academic population geneticists, whose priorities and interests have been different from ours.  They were the only ones with access to the grant funding necessary to finance such projects.

It’s a new day now — the times they are a-changin’.  “Crowdfunding” is one of the hottest new developments in the online world, and with good reason.  Now, we the people can launch all kinds of projects, and we can decide what we want to support with our own funds.

Today we go live with our crowdfunding page for the first grassroots, citizen science organized project to collect DNA samples in the field, in Cameroon!   We’re using the Microryza website, which is devoted to crowdfunding science research.  Here’s the link:


Many of you heard about our discovery of the A00 haplogroup, the world’s earliest-branching Y-chromosome lineage.  It was found in a WTY [Walk the Y test] of the Perrys, an African-American family with an extremely unusual and unique haplotype, and then we found a few haplotypes matching them from members of two African ethnic groups, the Mbo and the Bangwa, who are neighbors in Southwest Cameroon.  A few tiny bits of Mbo DNA were shared with Dr. Michael Hammer, and sequenced by his lab and Thomas Krahn at FTDNA. The SNPs confirmed that they belonged to the same haplogroup as the Perry family.

Calculations by Dr. Fernando Mendez, and others in our community, have placed the branching age of this lineage at anywhere from 200,000 to 338,000 years ago —  at the dawn of modern humans’ emergence, or before.  And so little is known about it!  How far does it extend from those few Mbo and Bangwa families, and can it be found in other peoples?  Is A00 a remnant of the earliest, indigenous hunting and gathering peoples of Africa, and if so, when and where were they assimilated into other peoples, who are now settled farmers (though they still hunt)?

For the first time since A00 has been known to exist, a young Cameroonian scholar, Matthew Fomine Forka Leypey, a member of the Mbo ethnic group, will visit the villages known to harbor significant numbers of A00 members, sample there, and collect information on the families.  How do we know which villages have A00?   Because Matthew collected the original Mbo samples, and over 2000 other DNA samples from all over Cameroon, as part of his dissertation research!  His data indicate that the Mbo and Bangwa are only two of a number of peoples who have A00 among them.  About a dozen other ethnic groups include A00 members, including some Pygmies!  Those samples, though, are no longer available to us.

Now it’s time to gather our own samples.  We have a series of five field trips planned, to gather samples of diverse peoples in Western, Southern and Eastern Cameroon.  Our analysis will include some special areas of knowledge from Matthew’s studies, such as how different peoples support themselves within forest and grasslands ecologies, and the effects of polygamy vs. monogamy in patterns of populations’ Y-chromosome DNA.

In the past, it has always been thought necessary to make DNA donors anonymous when they participate in scientific studies.  In this project, however, we’ll be asking for the donors’ names, for several reasons:

1. We want to give them the possibility of receiving their test results, if they are interested
2. We want there to be a future possibility of families who match them, such as African Americans, to know their matches, if they opt in
3. We hope to gather a second sample (saliva) from one or more donors, in order to have a full Y genome sequence done
4. We hope to correlate the haplogroups and haplotypes we find with families of different known histories, such as royal lineages, traditional religious office-holders, and those that are known to have had ancestors held as slaves by local rulers.

Of course, their names will not be made public except, should they decide to participate and future funding allows it, to their individual DNA matches.

This is a kind of research, combining genealogy with population genetics, that academics rarely undertake, but which has been occasionally done in papers such as this one by one of the co-authors of our last paper, Dr. Krishna Veeramah:
Sex-Specific Genetic Data Support One of Two Alternative Versions of the Foundation of the Ruling Dynasty of the Nso in Cameroon

We have four weeks to raise the $2500 needed to launch our first field trip in Cameroon.  Our deadline is August 19th.  Then Matthew will set out for the remote mountain villages where he was raised.  We look forward to bringing you all along on this great adventure.

In addition, apart from the appeal for fieldwork support per se, we’re looking for a few generous individuals who’ll help us obtain a decent (can be used) laptop and a digital camera for Matthew, who’s a very low-income grad student.  We’re also looking for a trustworthy person flying to Cameroon who can take these along, saving us the exorbitant shipping fees. Please write to me if you have any leads.

In the near future, the next fundraising campaign will ask for your support for the DNA extraction and the screening of our first set of samples for A00.  Stay tuned!  Please visit and “like” our page on Facebook:

Looking forward to seeing you, with gratitude for your support,

Bonnie Schrack

Jasmine’s Journey of Discovery

I am Jasmine’s daughter, well, I guess that would be granddaughter with many greats preceding – but she is my ancient clan mother, nonetheless.DSC_0027

Looking back now over the past 12 or 13 years since I had my mitochondrial DNA first tested and discovered I was a member of haplogroup J, I’ve realized what a journey of discovery I’ve been on.  Literally.  I was immediately interested in the ancestral journey of J, Jasmine, my ancestor, and as the tests became more refined, I learned more about Jasmine through her subgroups.

I’m now classified as J1c2f which is 4 subgroups downstream of haplogroup J, the original Jasmine, each one more refined and more geographically specific that the previous haplogroup.  Looking at the maps for J, J1, J1c, J1c2 and J1c2f side by side shows the migration path of my ancestor rather clearly.

We know that haplogroup J was born in the Middle East some 30,000-50,000 years ago.  Many subclades of J were also born there, but eventually, some began the slow migration to Europe.  They probably had no destination in mind at that time, but were simply searching for something – fresh water, unsettled land, better hunting…something.   My ancestor was among one of those groups, that long ago day.  I can’t help but wonder what she saw, or thought, or if she even realized she was embarking on any kind of a journey.  Did she have an inkling or was she simply moving next door?

Hap j map

Above, the haplogroup J map from the haplogroup J project at Family Tree DNA.

hap j1c map

The subgroup J1c map is shown above.  You can see it is somewhat smaller and the geography is not quite as widely dispersed.

my matches J1c2f

The haplogroup J project doesn’t group in more refined haplogroup subgroups than J1c, but on the map above you can see the most distant ancestor locations of my full sequence matches, all haplogroup J1c2f.  I’m surprised as how widely spread the ancestors of these participants are, given that by the time you’re 4 or 5 haplogroup generations downstream of a founding mother, J in this case, you’re often looking at distinctive regional clusters.  I find the marker in the Caucasus, north of Turkey, quite interesting.

There are only a limited number of ways to get to Europe if you are coming from the Middle East: over the Caucasus through Russia, the sea route via the Mediterranean or the combined land and sea route, through Turkey, crossing between Europe and Asia at present day Istanbul, or old Constantinople, shown on the map below.

istanbul map

Learning about my haplogroup pushed the genealogical clock back further than I had ever imagined possible – from about 200 years to tens of thousands.  That information fueled within me a vagabond I didn’t know existed, and at a depth I never imagined.

So, a few years later, I went on the “Journey of Jasmine,” at least part of it.  I retraced some of her footsteps and cruised the Mediterranean coastline where many haplogroup J descendants are found today.  I journaled about Jasmine daily and titled the trip, “The Journey of Jasmine.”  I spent a day in Istanbul, Turkey and another day in the majestic ruins of Ephesus near the coast, shown below, and I knew that either my direct descendant or her relatives had stood where I stood, thousands of years ago.


When I crossed the Bosphorus River, or rather, sailed up and down the Bosphorus, which forms the border within the city of Istanbul between Europe and Asia, I knew that my ancestor, if she traveled from the Middle East to Europe using that route, had indeed crossed at or near that point.  Constantinople is a very old trade route, established where it was because of its location.  It moved me deeply to know I was likely standing in her footsteps, some thousands of years later.

Of course, it would have looked very different then.  I imagined it without contemporary buildings.

istanbul europe and asia

Above, both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, with Asia across the River.  Below, the top photograph shows the European side of the bridge that connects the two halves of the city, and the lower photo shows the Asian side.

istanbul europe

istanbul asia

I have not been to Jasmine’s birthplace, the Middle East, but I’d surely love to visit, nor have I been to where my oldest ancestor whose name I know, Elizabetha Mehlheimer, was found in Goppmannsbuhl, Bayern, Germany around 1800, but I’m working on that too.

I have walked in the footsteps of other ancestors that I’ve found through DNA testing and I’m planning two trips within the next two years to do just that again.

This fall I will be visiting the location in Lancashire, England, discovered through a DNA match, where my Speake family originated, and as a bonus, down the road another 25 miles, where my Bowling line, who married into the Speak line, originated as well.  I’ll be sharing that with you as I connect with the past.

I’m also visiting Kent where my Estes line originated, also proven through DNA testing, and then next year, visiting the Frisian roots of my Estes line that was only discovered through DNA testing.

Of course, if I’m visiting Frisian roots, I’ll also be visiting my Dutch roots as well, another powerful connection through DNA, assisted dramatically by a wonderful Dutch genealogist.

I’m Not the Only One

Recently, I saw a couple of other people comment about how their genetic discoveries have inspired them to connect with their distant, or maybe not so distant, past.

One person posted this video of the Tuvan throat singers who have genetic connections to Native American people.

Someone else who tested Native and never knew about that history before is attending a Homecoming Powwow this weekend.  Someone else attended an African Festival in Boston this week.

Another client who also tested Native visited Lake Baikal, the “home” of the Native people in Asia and sent me a photo of him standing on the shores of Lake Baikal to use in his DNA Report.  Below, Shaman Rock in Lake Baikal.

lake baikal

Someone else mentioned that they are attending a Hungarian heritage festival near where they live after discovering their Hungarian heritage.

Opportunities to connect with our ancestors and their culture, our heritage, are all around us.

What About You?

So, I’d like to know – how have your DNA results inspired you?  Have they changed or influenced the journey of your life?  What kind of experiences have you had that you would never have had without DNA testing?  DNA has influenced my life dramatically and provided me with amazing opportunities and adventures – like the Lost Colony archaeology digs, for example.

As my good friend, Anne Poole, who I met through DNA testing, co-founder of the Lost Colony Research Group, pictured at left beside me below, reminds me every time we are on a hot, sweaty, poison ivy and tick-infested archaeology dig together, “it’s all about the journey.”  Indeed it is.  Tell me about yours.

anne and me on dig

Combining Tools – Autosomal Plus Y-DNA, mtDNA and the X Chromosome

Sometimes, there’s nothing worse than a little bit of knowledge to get us into trouble.  If you need proof of that, I can show you a picture of one of my first quilts which has thankfully disappeared someplace and was known semi-affectionately as “The Ugly Quilt.”  I even entered it in an “Ugly Quilt” contest and it wasn’t even good enough, or is that bad enough, to win that!!  Fortunately, things have improved!  I’ve learned a lot.

Combine a little knowledge with people who desperately want answers, and you have a situation ripe for mistakes, misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

That’s what sometimes happens when you combine the results of two different genetic genealogy tools and you don’t really understand their differences, their application to the specific problem at hand, or what the results are really telling you.

I’m talking about combining autosomal testing with haplogroup based testing, both Y-line and mitochondrial DNA.  This comes in two flavors; generic and specific.

Generic Matching – 23andMe

At 23andMe, your match results are displayed in a list along with information which may or may not be relevant to you and your match.  Shown below are my 8 top matches at 23andMe.  I know who these people are – they are my relatives, so there is no question of interpretation here.  Let’s take a look at the information provided.

combining 23andme

I have omitted the name column which is first.  The second column is their relationship to me.  The top row is me.  Everyone has the option to enter geographic (blue tab) and surname information (green tabs,) which I have done.  Not everyone does that as you can see by the information shown for the others.

Note the different haplogroups here.   For mitochondrial (pink tab), you have 7 different haplogroups out of 8.  That’s because these people, other than my son and I, don’t share a common maternal line.  If they did share a haplogroup, it would be coincidence, or very far back in time, because we know the pedigree charts of all of these people and they do not share a known maternal ancestor.

Looking at the Y-DNA haplogroups, you’ll notice that there are 4 men and of those 4, three share the same haplogroup.  That is because, in this case, they are cousins who also share the same surname.  If I was an adoptee and made this discovery, I’d be in 7th Heaven, because this would be a very large hint.  However, if these men shared a haplogroup but didn’t share a common surname, again, it could be coincidence or a common ancestor very far back in time.

I put those words in bold because recently I’ve seen the tendency to jump to conclusions about the relevance of common haplogroup information related to autosomal testing.

Let’s use an example. At 23andMe, you are provided with what is considered an extended haplogroup.  Most of the time, these are correct except when the haplogroup designation involves insertions and deletions or reversions which can’t be detected reliably by this type of testing, only by full sequence or SNP testing.  Let’s not go there and let’s presume these are absolutely accurate for purposes of this illustration.  I happen to know my haplogroup listed at 23andMe is out of date.  It is listed as J1c2 and it is actually J1c2f, but that actually enhances the point I’m about to make.

Using the Behar paper supplement to “A Copernican Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial Tree From its Root,”  the common ancestor for haplogroup J1c2 lived approximately 9700 years ago (plus or minus 2010 years standard deviation).  Therefore, my common ancestor with anyone sharing this haplogroup is anyplace from the current generation (my children or parents) to nearly 10,000 years ago – clearly not relevant for genealogy.  However, looking at my extended haplogroup, not determined by 23andMe, but found in my Family Tree DNA full sequence information, the common ancestor of J1c2f lived about 1900 years ago (plus or minus 3100 years standard deviation).  Clearly that makes about an 8000 year difference, which narrows the window, but it still isn’t necessarily genealogically relevant.

Furthermore, at 23andMe, haplogroup information is provided, but personal mutations are not, for either Y-DNA or mitochondrial.  This is why I referred to this type of match at “generic.”  For specific Y-DNA or mitochondrial matching, you’ll need to go to Family Tree DNA.

Specific Matching – Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA,  Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal results require different tests.  The results are shown on different tabs on your personal page.

combining ftdna

Each tab provides you with a significant number of pages of information about each test and displays your results in different ways.

For both Y-DNA and mitochondrial (mtDNA), one of the options is “Matches” which shows you your personal matches at several levels.  For mtDNA, the levels are HVR1, HVR1+HVR2 and Coding Region, which equate to the three levels of tests that you can take – basically introductory, intermediate and advanced.  For Y-DNA, the levels are 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 markers.

My match results are shown below, again, with the first column, names, removed.

combining mt matches

SmartMatching is important here, because Family Tree DNA has already done you the favor of removing anyone who is not a “true match.”  Notice that the first column shown here includes the envelope icon, a notes icon, a pedigree chart icon, and following that, the level of testing taken by this person.  I’m showing my full sequence matches here, so everyone has taken the FMS or full mitochondrial sequence test.

These are the people who also share the extended haplogroup of J1c2f.  This means our common ancestor lived sometime between now and about 2000 years ago (plus or minus the standard deviation.)  When you look at the oldest ancestors and the matches map that goes along with this test at Family Tree DNA, you can see how widely spread these “most distant” ancestors are.  You can also see that one person has listed their grandfather, which means they were confused.  A most distant mitochondrial, maternal, ancestor cannot be a grandfather – so this also calls into question the accuracy of their geographic information as well, shown in the Czech Republic, below.

Combining map

Two thousand years ago (give or take) the common ancestor of all of these people was one person, and their direct descendants, their children, all lived in the same place initially.  You can travel a long way in 2000 years.  My oldest ancestor, the white balloon is found in German and my closest match is found in Norway.

To understand how to use combined tools, you have to understand each individual tool first.

Family Tree DNA does provide a combined matching tool called “Advanced Matching” for Y-DNA, mtDNA and autosomal (Family Finder) tests.

Advanced Matching

Advanced matching allows you to combine test types and filter on specific fields.

combining advanced options

The most common advanced matching for autosomal DNA is the combination of the Family Finder test plus either mtDNA or Y-DNA results.

As they say, “your mileage may vary” and much of this variance will depend on two things.  First, how many people tested at which testing level of the mtDNA and Y-DNA tests and second, the relative rareness of your haplogroup.  Said another way, if your mtDNA haplogroup is H and/or if your Y-DNA haplogroup is R, you’re very likely to have a lot, many, low level matches because those haplogroups make up about half of the European population, respectively.  However, if your haplogroup is J1c2f, meaning that your base haplogroup is much less common than H and that you’ve taken the full sequence test, you’re going to get a lot fewer and a lot more meaningful matches.

At the haplogroup H level, which is the most common HVR1 results, your common ancestor lived between 12,000 and 30,000 years ago, depending on whose estimates you use.  Compare that to J1c2f’s 1900 years.  Big difference.  But is it big enough?  It’s a clue, just like any other clue.

What Matches Don’t Mean

Let’s say that on the advanced menu you selected two tests, the Family Finder and the FMS (full mitochondrial sequence) test.  The result is no matches.  IF you had a match at this level, it does NOT mean that your common autosomal match is on the maternal, mitochondrial line.  This is a very common mistake in logic.  It means that you should continue to include this line in your search and maybe you want to focus there.

Let’s look at why.  Autosomal testing reaches back in time to recent ancestors and measures how much of their DNA you share.  In the past 5 or 6 generations, you likely share some DNA from all of your ancestors.  After that, some of your ancestors DNA gets so diluted that it becomes in effect, washed out, or is present in such small quantities that we can’t effectively attribute it’s source.  Mitochondrial DNA however, is never admixed or divided.  Therefore time in terms of recent generations, unless we’re talking about when mutations occurred, like the mutation that set apart haplogroup J1c2f some 2000 years ago, is irrelevant.  Mitochondrial and Y-line DNA both measure back in time to your earliest ancestor in that line.

The best use of both mtDNA and Y-DNA with autosomal is to eliminate possible lines.

What Matches Do Mean

Let’s say I select Family Finder and the HVR1 level and show only people I match in both tests.

At this point, especially if you are haplogroup H, you’re going to get a long list of matches and people get very excited at this point. Don’t.

combining mt no match

Above is an example list.  Here’s also the problem.

Problem 1 – Most people only tested at the HVR1 level.  For haplogroup J, this means the common ancestor lived about 35,000 years ago, plus or minus 5,000.  What this really means is that if these people were to take the full sequence test, chances are they would no longer match you.  There are more than 100 subgroups of haplogroup J and chances are very good that the tester would fall into one of them.

Problem 2 – Some people have tested at the HVR2 level or the FMS level and don’t match you at that level, even though they matched you at the HVR1 level.  Look at the first result, the second column, the X.  This means they did test and they don’t match you.  This means that you’ve just eliminated this direct maternal line as a possible autosomal match, barring a mutation in the past few generations which is not impossible but extremely unlikely.

However, when people are desperate for any shred of evidence, they interpret this as “I match on the HVR1 level so this must be my common line with this person.”  That is flawed logic and is outright wrong in the situation where the person has tested at a higher level and does NOT match.  In fact, it’s just the opposite, you’ve just disproven this line.  Now I think this is a good thing, because that means you can focus elsewhere.

This same logic holds for Y-DNA matching as well.  Finding someone you match with at the 12 marker level in haplogroup R, especially R1b1a2 (M269) is quite common.  Finding someone you match at 67 or 111 markers and autosomally might be quite another matter.

A Third, Neglected Tool

There is a third tool that can be added to the mix here, but it’s not nearly as convenient as Advanced Matching.

Both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA test your X chromosome when they do their autosomal testing.  Family Tree DNA does not report these matches.  23andMe does show them on their Family Traits, Ancestry Composition and Family Inheritance: Advanced results.  Both companies include the X information in their raw data downloads (as does Ancestry), which you can then upload to  GedMatch is the great equalizer here, although they are temporarily (as of July 2013) not accepting any new uploads for the next month or so.

The X chromosome has a unique inheritance path which is different for men and women.  If you recall, women inherit an X from both Mom and Dad, but males only inherit an X from Mom.  They get the Y from Dad which makes them male.  If you match someone on the X chromosome, or you don’t, that too is powerful information.

Blaine Bettinger originally published some wonderful X inheritance charts on his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in December 2008 and January 2009 documenting how to use the X chromosome for genealogy.

The chart below shows the male inheritance path for the X chromosome via the colored locations.  Because males and females both inherit the X from their mother, the maternal inheritance path of the X chromosome, the right half of this chart, is the same for men and women.  In this case, we’re particularly interested in the mitochondrial DNA path as well, which is the furthest right pink line on the chart, shown with the arrows along the edge.

combined x match

Including the X chromosome matching, here are your three possible outcomes.

  • If you match autosomally, you match at the deepest (full sequence) haplogroup level and you match on the X chromosome, you may indeed have a solid lead in the direct maternal line.  It’s a lead, nothing more.  It’s not confirmation of a common autosomal ancestor in that line.
  • If you match autosomally, you do not match at the haplogroup level, but you do match on the X chromosome, then you know it’s NOT the direct maternal line but it IS one of the other lines where you share an X chromosome.
  • If you match autosomally and you do not match at either the haplogroup level or on the X chromosome, you know that you can eliminate the direct maternal line and your match is probably on a line where you don’t share the X.  I say probably because like any other DNA that is shared in an autosomal fashion, meaning divided by approximately 50% in every generation, it’s possible after several generations to not show as a match on the X but to still be descended from those lines.

Jim Turner created some nice X chromosome inheritance pedigree charts that are easily printable which you can find here.

Take Away

What’s the take-away in all of this?  These are very powerful tools, but they only tools and they provide clues.  Some clues eliminate possible connections, some clues suggest them.  It’s only through multiple tools like triangulation and old-fashioned genealogy research that we confirm them.

We’ve gotten spoiled with the relatively easy Y-DNA answers.  A man tests and if he matches other men with the same surname with few mutations, we call it family and all is good.  Women don’t have that luxury and neither do adoptees, although male adoptees clearly have the advantage of a potential solid Y match.  Other types of DNA testing and analysis just aren’t as straightforward or easy, but that doesn’t mean the answer isn’t there.  Perseverance is key.  Common sense, understanding the tools and removing emotion, as much as possible, from the equation are critical.  If you’re in doubt, get help.  It’s a lot better to pay for an hour or two of consulting than to make a critical error in logic that can introduce errors into your family tree or cause you to waste time chasing the wrong lines.

Unraveling the secrets your DNA has to tell you is much like that game of Clue that we played as kids – accumulating pieces of information that, cumulatively, hopefully, lead to an answer.  Miss Scarlet did it in the ballroom with Professor Plum.  Or was it Colonel Mustard, or Reverend Green?

combined clue

The Found Poem



i will keep calm

and keep researching…

in spite of my assertion of disappointment

that the ready answer

wasn’t waiting


keener minds have

reminded me…


we are really just at the beginning

of this science


all of these different studies


on that which may be discovered

through diligence


i am mindful of a great gratitude

for the things that I have been able to discover…

and which knowledge

no other generation of us

ever had even the slightest chance

of discovering


it is a wonderful picture we have been given…

a picture which fastidiously

places us personally

upon the tree of life


the reality of our descent

through ancestors

both known and unknown…

is far removed from youthful thoughts of alienation


generations of relations…



through history

is a great gift



it is a story

i can pass on

to those who have not yet even been born…

how wonderful


and thanks to M-168


and even pf7443 whoever he was…

and H2a2a2

that very special lady



Happy First Blogiversary

may you live in interesting times

Today is the first anniversary of the launch of  In a way it seems like just yesterday and in another way, it seems like DNA-explained has been a part of my life forever.  One thing is for sure, it’s been a very interesting year!

So now, I’m going to tell you a secret.

I was going to retire early and write a book.  I was going to have time on my hands.  I was going to work on my own genealogy and share the journey of what I learned.  I was going to weed my garden.  Are you laughing now?  Holding your sides?  Well, if so, you clearly understand just how unrealistic that expectation was.

I have less, much less, time now than ever.  My little part-time retirement job overtook my original career, and then some.  I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, nor loved it more.  Is sleep really a necessity?  Seems like so much wasted time.  Spoken like a true genealogist!

Genetic genealogy is the marriage of my two passions, genealogy and science.  I spent my entire career on the very exciting edge of technology, first communications research and discovery, then mapping and specialized software.  Genetic genealogy isn’t much different actually, except it’s more bleeding edge (some days) than leading edge and it’s much more personal and fulfilling.  Not only have I learned volumes about my own ancestors – things there was no prayer of knowing even a decade ago – but I get to help others on that journey too.  Not only that, but I’ve gotten to be personally involved in scientific discovery.  I can’t imagine a better place to be!

And no, I’m not writing a DNA book.  Well, actually, I am, soft of – but just in a different way.  Blogs are the way of the future – so is electronic communication.  The problem with books about fast-moving and highly technical topics is that they move on and change so rapidly that tomorrow, literally, your book can be out of date and you have no way to update it.  Just what I don’t need is another box of boat-anchors in my office.

Not long ago, someone on the ISOGG Facebook page asked for a list of books and someone replied, “forget the books, read the blogs.”  I don’t want to invest the effort into one of those “forgotten books” when the blogosphere beckons and is so much more friendly towards photos, graphics, color and change.  It’s also a lot more personal and flexible.  And it lets me interact with you and vice versa .

So how have we done this first year?  As of yesterday, we surpassed 2100 subscribers and that doesn’t count all of the RSS feed, Facebook and Twitter followers.  My husband bet me I’d have 2000 by summer and I said I wouldn’t.  Good thing I didn’t bet much, because I was wrong.  Thanks to all of you.  Sometimes being wrong is a good thing!

This is the 162nd posting, so about one every other day.  I had goaled one a week.

There have been a total of about 2700 “real” comments and are you ready for this, almost 29,000 spam ones.  No, that is not a typo.  Yes, I do use a spam filter, but I still approve every single comment that is posted – and now you know why.  The spam filter doesn’t catch them all, because spammers are crafty!

In total, the articles are “tagged” in 81 different categories so you can find them by searching.  One of the articles I’ll be writing soon will tell you how to use and search blogs more efficiently, including this one! has had a total of 249,545 views, nearly a quarter million and that doesn’t count the 2100+ people who receive postings via e-mail and RSS.  We average just over 1000 hits per day now.  Wow!

What is the most popular category of blog articles visited?  Autosomal DNA.

How about the most popular article?  Big News! Probable New Native American Haplogroup.  That shocked me.  For a long time, the most popular article had been the kickoff of the Geno 2.0 announcement, National Geographic – Geno 2.0 Announcement – The Human Story published on July 25, 2012.  Older articles have more time to amass hits – and the haplogroup article was just published June 27th.  Indeed it does seem to be big news and is of interest to lots of people.

One of my reasons for creating this blog was as a matter of self-defense. Most of you know that I also have a business webpage,  I receive a lot of inquiries from the page and through my various list memberships.   The DNAeXplain webpage is professionally written and updating content it is not just a matter of typing.  I have to create something, send it to the provider and they make the change or the update.  And it’s not convenient or free.  Needless to say, this is not a conducive environment to making regular updates or additions.  I do need the separate website though in order to take orders for consulting and for DNA Reports, so the blog doesn’t by any means replace the webpage.

I was constantly referring people to several papers on my webpage, which are still there, but I needed more flexibility.

So I decided that if I wrote the answers to the most frequently asked questions, well, including graphics and pictures (which really are worth 1000 words), once, I could use that document to answer people’s questions, over and over again.  The good news is, so can you.  What are the most commonly asked questions and the pages I use to answer them?

  1. What can DNA testing do for me?  That is such a basic question and the answer could be that book I didn’t write.  I use the article 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy to answer this one.
  2. I think my ancestor was Native American and I want to prove it.  This question also has other variants like, proving which tribe, joining a tribe, getting benefits and free education.  I refer people to the article Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.
  3. I’m adopted, or I don’t know who my father is, and I want to use DNA testing to find my parents/ancestry.  This is also relevant for people who discover an undocumented adoption in their line that “interferes” with the genealogy they thought they knew.  For this answer, I use I’m Adopted and I Don’t Know Where to Start.  This article, along with many others, links within the article to other resources as well.
  4. What can autosomal testing do for me?  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve received some flavor of this question, I’d be really retired and on that World Cruise!  The article I use for this is Autosomal Basics.
  5. And then the companion question to the one above, my autosomal results are back – what do I do with them now?  For this one, I refer people to the summary article for The Autosomal Me series.  While it is focused on a particular challenge for me, minority Native admixture, the tools and techniques are relevant for everyone.

We’ve had an awesome first year, thanks to all of you, and I’m looking forward to even more breakthroughs and findings in year two.  I love sharing your stories and victories too and always appreciate tips and hints pointing out genetic genealogy items of interest.  I have some fun articles planned for this upcoming year and there are discoveries on the horizon, so stay tuned!!!

And indeed, may we all continue to live in very interesting times!


5,500 Year Old Grandmother Found Using DNA


Members of the Metlakatla First Nation Community near Prince Rupert, BC who collaborated with an international team of scientists in a genetic study of aboriginal people, including excavated remains that link them to their 5,500 year old Grandmother.  Photograph/handout courtesy of the Metlakatla Treaty Office.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a lot of debate about tribal participation in DNA testing.  Without getting into the politics of the situation which is deep and dangerous water, many tribes see absolutely no possibility that DNA testing could help them, and a significant potential that it might hurt them, one way or another.

For example, we know that the Eastern tribes were heavily admixed with Europeans quite early and we know that the Southwest tribes are equally admixed with the Spanish.  Yet, they are still Native tribes, carrying on the Native customs and cultures, including their own creation and other sacred stories.

Let’s say that a few tribal members test, and their DNA turns out not to be Native, but is European, or African.  Granted, the DNA would only be representative of one genealogical line, either the direct paternal (surname) line for males and the direct maternal line for both males and females, but still, if you expect Native and you get something else – it could be bothersome, and perhaps troublesome.  Add to that a historical situation filled with distrust for a government that routinely broke treaties and you have a situation where tribes would just as soon not open Pandora’s box, thank you very much.

However, not all tribes think this way.  For the past several years, people from Canada’s First Nations tribes have been working with scientists not only to test their DNA, but that of their ancestors as well.  Recently, a paper was published detailing the findings, but those findings didn’t really say much about the effects of the results on the currently living people and tribes involved.

The Vancouver Sun recently carried a human interest story focused on the Metlakatla First Nation Community and the people who were found to be related to the 5,500 year old bones that DNA was extracted from.

The people involved who descend from either this woman or a common ancestor with her are thrilled to be able to make that connection from some 220 generations ago, to be able to honor her as their Grandmother, and the connection cements the fact that these people’s ancestors were indeed on this same land at least 5,500 years ago, not far from where they live today.

This kind of information has great potential to help the tribes involved with land claims and treaty rights.  These deep rooted links to the region simply cannot be denied.  So the First Nations people stand to benefit, the people who match the Grandmother are thrilled, science benefits and they have the ability to confirm their own stories told by the Ancestors for centuries, indeed, for thousands of years.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Congratulations to these First Nations people for this wonderful link to a Grandmother, for their brave participation and leadership role in scientific study, and for not being afraid of finding the truth, whatever it is.  The Ancestors would be proud of you!

Human Double Helix

Now this just comes in the category of “Too Cool”!!!

This photo appears on the web page of the National Human Genome Research Institute tagged “National DNA Day” and noted in the comments that it is from Hacettepe University,  Ankara, Turkey.

people helix

Double helix with people.

The SciCo Facebook page has another photo and says that this 60th anniversary commemorative event in April 2013 (celebrating the discovery of DNA) created a Guinness World Record set by the students at the University – the largest Human DNA Double Helix.  I didn’t know there was a category for that!

people helix 1

My daughter-in-law sent me this next photo, probably from the same event.  Thanks Shawn!

people helix 2