Margaret Herrell (c1810-1892), Twice Widowed Church Founder, 52 Ancestors #43

Margaret Herrell, also spelled Harrell, was born about 1810 to Mary McDowell and William Herrell/Harrell, probably on the Powell River in Lee County, Virginia very near the border of Tennessee and Virginia.

In 1812, we know that William Herrell was living in Lee County Virginia based on the deed where he purchased land in Claiborne County, Tennessee, on Powell River very close to the land where his wife’s father, Michael McDowell lived, known as Slanting Misery. In fact, Michael witnessed the deed.

This photo shows the Herrell land, standing in the Herrell cemetery.

herrell land

By 1814, Margaret’s father, William Herrell, was marching off to war, but Margaret was probably too young to remember much, if anything, about that.

Margaret Herrell married Anson Cook Martin about 1828, based on the birth year of her eldest child, in 1829, if his birth year is correct.

We know that in 1830, Anson Martin was living in Lee County, Virginia along with a John Martin. Anson was listed as age 20-30 as was his wife.  No children are listed, which casts doubt on the birth of their first child in 1829.

The first actual record of Margaret that we have, by name, is on December 1, 1833 when she was noted as “received by experience,” typically meaning baptized, in the Thompson Settlement Church, just over the border in Lee County, Virginia, on the Powell River. Her husband Anson Cook Martin had been received by experience just two months previously on October 1, 1833, along with his brother James Monroe Martin.  This would have been when Margaret was pregnant with William and John, if they were in fact twins as the 1850 census indicates.

When this part of the country was forming, churches were important social institutions, although it’s hard to think of a church with no building or permanent location as an institution. The church, in addition to religion, provided an important bond among residents and was often the only organized social outlet for women.

Thompson Settlement Church was established in 1800, just 4 years after Tennessee became a state. It was referred to as the River Church as it was established on and along the Powell River near where the river crossed between Virginia and Tennessee between Lee County Virginia and then Claiborne County, Tennessee, now Hancock County.

herrell property

The Herrell Property is shown above with the red arrow.

For the first quarter century, until 1824, the Thompson Settlement Church met in various locations, including Rob Camp, shown above on the bottom left, in Claiborne County which would eventually spin off its own church. Meetings were being held in Rob Camp as early as 1801, according to Thompson Settlement Church minutes.  Rob Camp was more than 15 miles from the mother church, but other churches were even further.  Gap Creek was at Cumberland Gap, more than 35 miles distant, and Big Springs was south of Tazewell in Claiborne County at current Springdale, 35 miles in the other direction.  Blackwater Church formed and was not far from Sneedville, 2 mountain ranges over and near the border with Lee County as well.  In 1820, Mulberry Gap Missionary Church formed.

Mulberry Gap from the Mulberry Gap School

The photos above and below, taken by Phillip Walker, show the terrain of these hills. Above, Mulberry Gap from Mulberry Gap school, and below, Mulberry Gap Church nestled in the valley.

Mulberry Gap Baptist Church from Mulberry Gap School (road leads to gap)

Initially, Thompson Settlement Church borrowed preacher Jesse Dodson from Big Springs Baptist Church. The first Thompson Settlement Church building,  erected in 1822, measured 24X26 feet.  This would have been about the size of a cabin.  Before that, they met in peoples’ homes or outside.  The minutes are full of references to places like “Earl’s Cabins” where the church was to meet on the second Saturday of each month.  Oh yes, and church services were not always held on Sunday.  It’s not recorded in the minutes, but revivals were legendary and very popular and families would come long distances and camp in their wagons for several days as visiting preachers would inspire them.

The current Thompson Settlement Church is the 5th building, but in the same general proximity.  You can also see the location of Rob Camp on the map below, and the road between the two.

Rob Camp Map

The Thompson Settlement church minutes are also full of “trials” where members were reported for offenses such as adultery (Nancy Fletcher), lying (Eleanor Fletcher), swearing (Henry Fortner), absconding this country without paying his debts (John Owens), disobeying the church (Elisha Steward), drinking spirituous liquors to excess (Robert Clark), not being lawfully married (Hanna Denham), unchristian behavior, using unbecoming language and requesting to be excluded (James Muncy), drinking to excess (Brother Carnes), not requesting a letter of dismissal (Lewis and Susannah Tasket) and worse yet, withdrawing herself from the church and joining the Methodist Society (Elizabeth Wells.) Knowing the history of the area, this was likely the Speak Methodist Church founded in 1820 just up the road a few miles in Lee County, Virginia.  Brother Smith Sutton even turned himself in for drinking too much and getting angry.  I wonder if his wife had anything to do with his decision to turn himself in!

On the 1838 membership list, Margaret and Anson Martin were both noted as dismissed, meaning they were members in 1838 and dismissed some time later. Anson joined Rob Camp Church in 1844, much closer to where they lived and a spinoff the of the Thompson Settlement Church.  Anson died not long after, because the last child that Margaret had was Alexander born in 1844.  Anson was only about 35 years old and left Margaret to raise nine children as a widow.  She lived alone for the next six years or so, until she married Joseph Bolton after his wife died, leaving him with seven children.  Their combined household of sixteen children, plus two more that they would have together, probably made for one noisy household in a relatively small space.  Log cabins were all small, no matter how large your family.

The females on the list of Margaret’s children, below, have their names bolded, signifying that they passed the mitochondrial DNA of Margaret Herrell to their children. Today, anyone who descends from Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton through all females carries her mitochondrial DNA as well.  In the current generation, this can be a male, because women give their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on.  I have a DNA testing scholarship for anyone who fits this description.

With Anson Cook Martin, Margaret had the following children:

  • John Martin born 1829 or 1833 died April 1, 1918 Harrogate, Claiborne Co., TN married Hannah Eldridge. His death certificate says he’s age 89, but his birth year has been overstruck with a magic marker, incorrectly, as 1839. Note that in the 1850 census, he is noted as a 17 year old twin with William.
  • Eveline Martin born March 11, 1830, died Feb. 1, 1905 Whitley Co., KY, married to Alexander Calvin Busic who died in 1862 the Civil War.
  • William Martin born 1833 died 1867-1869, married Rachel Markham. Note that William and John are shown as 17 year old twins in the 1850 census. Mary Parkey indicated that it’s believed that William is buried in the Martin Cemetery in the Hopewell Community off of Cedar Fork Road. Both he and his wife’s graves are unmarked.Martin Cemetery MapThis may be where William Martin is buried, but it looks to be too far west for the original Martin cemetery, given that the Herrell, Bolton and McDowell families were living on the Powell River to in the upper right hand corner on Slanting Misery between River Road and Wolfenberger Hollow Road.Slanting miseryThe Martin Cemetery is located off of Martin Cemetery Road.Martin Cemetery location
  • Surrelda (Selerenda) Jane Martin born 1834/1836, died 1890 Hancock Co., TN, buried in Liberty Cemetery, Claiborne County, married Pleasant Smith.

We have a photo of Surelda Jane and Pleasant Smith. I wonder if he was tall or she was short, or both.  I wonder if she looked like her mother, Margaret.  This is probably as close as we’ll ever get to seeing Margaret.

Surelda Harrell Pleasant Smith

Here is the photo restored, courtesy of Dillis Bolton.

surelda harrell pleasant smith restored

  • James Monroe “Roe” Martin born December 29, 1836 in Virginia, died November 15, 1914 in Middlesboro, KY, married Sarah Elizabeth “Betty” Bolton, daughter of Joseph P. Bolton and his first wife, Mary Polly Tankersley. In other words, he married his step-sister. Note, he is not shown with the family in the 1850 census.
  • Manerva Martin born in 1838
  • Mary Marlene Martin born March 10, 1839, died Feb. 17, 1893 Hancock Co., TN, married March 11, 1860 to Edward Hilton Claxton. She is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery near Mt. Zion Church where E. H. was the church moderator at Mt. Zion for many years. The Claxton’s owned the land just downstream of Slanting Misery.
  • Malinda “Linda” Martin born July 31, 1842 died June 30, 1903 Whitley Co., KY, buried Riley Cemetery, Whitley Co., married James Parks.
  • Alexander Martin born 1844, died after 1860

In the 1840 census, Anson Martin is living in Claiborne County, Tennessee and Anson and Margaret are shown with 6 children, 1 male under 5, 2 males 5-10, 2 females under 5 and 1 female 5-10. Anson is shown as age 30-40 but Margaret is shown as age 20-30.  Based on all of the evidence for her birth year, I would think it is most likely 1810.  It looks like they are short one daughter and the boys birth years don’t line up, but all of the boys are accounted for.

Margaret and Anson live one house away from her father, William Harrell and William lives 2 houses away from John McDowell, his wife’s brother.

In 1845, this part of Claiborne County, Tennessee would become Hancock County.  It was about this time that Anson died.

In the 1850 census, Margaret Martin is shown in a close-knit family group. In order, we find the following households:

  • Pleasant Tankersley, brother to Polly Tankersley
  • Joseph Bolton and his wife Polly Tankersley – Joseph would be Margaret Herrell Martin’s second husband – very shortly, in fact.
  • 3 houses
  • John Bolton, brother to Joseph Bolton
  • Jacob Wolfenbarger (confederate in the Civil War)
  • John Martin with his apparent mother, Elizabeth Martin in the household
  • Margaret (Herrell) Martin, age 38, born in Virginia, widow of Anson Cook Martin. She is shown with her children, the last one born in 1844, about the time that Anson died. It’s worth noting that she had 17 year old twins, William and John. Twins that lived were rather rare. The first 3, and the 6th child, were born in Virginia. Given where the family lived, they probably passed back and forth over the border quite easily. Margaret shows that she herself was born in Virginia in 1812.

Margaret Martin 1850 census

  • Margaret was living next to her parents, William and Mary McDowell Harrell.
  • Abel Harrell, her brother, was living next to her parents.
  • Mary Busic
  • John McDowell, Margaret’s uncle.

In December 1852, Margaret Bolton was received by experience in the Rob Camp Church along with Syrena McDowell, possibly her brother’s daughter.

rob camp

Rob Camp Baptist Church had officially spun off from the Thompson Settlement Church in the mid-1840s. By 1856, Joseph Bolton was embroiled in church politics after having been accused by Robert Tankersley, a black man, of saying he had stolen bacon and bread.  Apparently unhappy, Joseph asked to have himself excluded from the church in April 1856.  Apparently, Margaret continued to attend, because in 1866, Joseph was once again received by recantation and baptized into fellowship.  By 1868, he was a deacon and in 1859, he and Margaret were founding members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, very close to the Clarkson cemetery, today. Eventually, Joseph was excluded from this church as well, and Margaret was dismissed, which means dismissed in good standing by letter, allowing a member to join another church, also in good standing.

Margaret’s father, William Herrell died in October of 1859. Although the courthouse records have burned, twice, some records do remain.  This 1860 deed may well have been in private hands all this time, because it was given to me by a descendant of Alexander Herrell who still owns and farms part of this land.

The deed itself is in metes and bounds and is dated November 17, 1860, just about the right time for William’s estate to be being settled.

In the deed, “William Edens and Mary, his wife, Hiram Edens and Mildred, his wife, Nancy Herril, Joseph Bolton and Margret his wife and her heirs, have this day bargained and sold and do hereby transfer and convey to Alexander Herril and his heirs forever for $100 in hand paid a tract of land in Hancock County, district 14, containing 32 acres bounded as follows, beginning on the south bank of the Powels River…line of William Edens…”

The deed is witnessed by A. Montgomery and M.B. Overton and signed by all of the people listed as conveying the land to Alexander. I do wonder why Margaret’s brother Abel Herrell didn’t sign.

The 1860 census quality is very poor, but Margaret looks to be age 50, which would put her birth in 1810.

Margaret has two of her Martin children living at home. Joseph has 4 of his children from his first marriage as well, and Margaret and Joseph have two children of their own.

  • Mary Ann Matilda Bolton born September 5, 1851, died July 2, 1909, married Martin Cunningham.
  • Joseph B. Bolton, born September 18, 1853, died February 23, 1920, buried in the Plank Cemetery, Claiborne Co., TN and married Margaret Clarkson/Claxton.

Of course, this begs the question of when Mary Ann Matilda Bolton was actually born, and when Mary Polly Tankersley died.

The 1850 census shows Joseph Bolton still married to Mary Polly Tankersley, but Mary’s birthdate is shown to be September of 1851, so if both records are accurate, Mary died sometime after June 1850 and Margaret and Joseph were married before year end, giving the 9 months gestation necessary. However, there is a fly in the ointment.  The census form is dated December 10th.  Now, it’s possible that it was taken in December but “as of” June and it’s possible that Mary was born in 1852 instead of 1851.  There are also other possibilities.

I tried to verify that Mary Ann Matilda is the same person who married Martin Cunningham in Claiborne County in 1877. Looking at the 1880 census, Martin and Matilda Cunningham have a son who is 2 years old and named Joseph, so I’m thinking this is the right person.  She shows her age as 24 so born in 1856.  Her husband is 4 years younger.

In the 1900 census, Matilda Cunningham’s son Joseph was followed by daughter Margaret two years later. However, Matilda’s age is listed as 40 and her birth year given as 1860, which we know is incorrect from the earlier census.

The Civil War left no family unscathed. Sometime after 1860 and before 1870, Alexander, Margaret’s youngest child by Anson Martin died.  Did he die in the Civil War?  Perhaps, but we have no proof.  He was the right age and in the right place, that’s for sure.  Hancock County was raided by bands of both Union and Confederate forces, plus, battles were fought nearby at and around Cumberland Gap.  Food was scarce and families were frightened, both for those who left to fight, and for those who stayed behind.

Margaret’s daughter, Evaline, lost her husband, Calvin Busic in the war to malarial fever, according to the 1890 veterans census, leaving her with three children to raise.

In 1869, Margaret and Joseph Bolton were founding members of Mt. Zion Church. Margaret’s name is listed in the member’s list alongside Matilda Bolton and Evaline Busic, her daughters.


The 1870 census shows Margaret Bolton, age 60, born in Virginia. Neither Joseph nor Margaret can read nor write.

In 1874, on the same day her father, Joseph Bolton, was censured by the Mt. Zion Church, Matilda Bolton made application for a letter of dismissal from the church.

On July 1, 1878, the following deed was executed.

Whereas we Pleasant Smith, Serelda Smith his wife, John Martin and Hanah Martin his wife have a fee simple interest in remainder to take and be united with the processions after the death of Marget (sic) Bolton who has a life interest in the same in tract of land in the state of Tennessee Hancock County Number 14 district containing by estimation 50 acres be the same more or less bounded by the lands of John McDaniels, Elexander Herrells and others. For the consideration of $100 to be paid in hand we have bargained and old and hereby convey to J. M. Martin the fee simply interest in remainder…this first day of July 1878.  Witnessed William Cook, D.M. Bolton and signed by John (x) Martin, his mark, Hannah Martin, her mark, Pleasant Smith and Serelda T. Smith.

This was not filed until December 10th, 1892, suggesting that Margaret Herrell Bolton had died by that time.

On July 12, 1878 a deed was signed between Joseph Bolton and Margaret Bolton his wife, Hiram Edins and Mildred Edins his wife, William Edins and Mary Edins his wife, Nancy Herrell and Alexander Herrell and Jane Herrell his wife to William J. Edins, all of Hancock Co., TN for “a certain tract of land for $200 to them in hand paid and receipt is hereby acknowledged lying in district no. 14 on the North side of Powells River known as a part of the widow Herrell dower containing by estimation 20 acres and bounded as follows…beginning on the N bank of Powells river on Hiram Edins corner, thence up the river as it meanders the distance unknown to an ash on the bank of Powells river, then leaving the river northwardly the distance unknown to a large hickory on the top of the river bluff, thence northwardly the distance unknown to a poplar and elm in a field, thence northwardly to Wolfenbarger’s line, then went to Hiram Edins.”  Witnesses JM Martain and JD Wolfenbarger.  Margaret Bolton her mark, William Edins, Mary Edins her mark, Hiram Edins, Mildred Edins her mark, Alexander Herrell, Jane Herrell her mark, Nancy Herrell her mark.

These are Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton’s siblings conveying the land of her mother, “widow Herrell.”

In the 1880 census, Joseph and Margaret have moved to Claiborne County and they are living beside Milton Bolton. This is in the Little Sycamore area not far from the Plank Cemetery where Joseph is buried.  Margaret is age 72, so born in 1808 and can read but cannot write.  He can do neither.

Margaret was born in Tennessee but both of her parents were born in NC. Joseph was born in VA, as was his mother, but his father was born in England.

In the Hancock Co. 1880 tax list from the E. Tennessee Roots vol VI, number 4, Margret Bolton is listed with 55 acres, $350 value, 105 to county, 35 to state, 35 to school, 87.5 for special 262.5 total taxes, no poll. This is very odd because her husband, Joseph Bolton Sr. did not die until 1887.

Joseph Bolton Jr. lives beside her with no land, 1 poll, but then under him it says 100 to school and 30 special and 130 total, paid to Edds.

In June 1881, Joseph and Margaret Bolton along with D.M. Bolton and Silveny, his wife purchase land together from Daniel Jones and on November 25th of the same year, they deed the land on Little Sycamore in Claiborne County along with Daniel Marson Bolton and his wife, Silvania to H. H. Friar.

April 4, 1885 – From Alexander Herrell, Nancy Herrell of Hancock Co. and Margaret Bolton of Claiborne Co. to William Mannon of Hancock, parcel of land for $175, 65 acres it being a part of a 50 acre grant granted to Thomas Lawson Sr. assigned to John Grimes of number 485 dated March 13, 1827 also a part of a larger grant granted by the State of TN to William Mills of number 56 dates the 9th of January 1852 lying in the 14th district of Hancock and on the N side of Powels river bounded…JW Yeary’s corner but now William Mannon’s corner, conditional line between James W. Yeary and William Mills, conditional line between JW Years and Green B. Lawson, also between JW Yeary and William Herrell… conditional line between SP Lamarr? And Greene B. Lawson…conditional line between Greene B. Lawson and William Mills.  All 3 sign with a mark and Emanuel Stafford and Andrew Mannon witness.

This is likely part of the original William Herrell land and possibly the widow Herrell’s dower land.

Joseph Bolton, Margaret’s second husband, died on December 28, 1887 in Claiborne County and was buried in the Plank Cemetery.  They had been married or 37 years.

In 1889, a lawsuit was filed by James Speers against defendants that are the children of Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton, by both of her husbands.

James E. Speers in a March 1889 lawsuit vs J.M. Martin, William J. Martin, Joseph Bolton and Margaret in Hancock Co. Cannon Herral, Alexander Herrell and John McDowell were witnesses paid by Speer. W.J. Martin was also a witness. (Note the elder Joseph Bolton died in 1887 so this must be the younger Joseph B. Bolton and Margaret Clarkson.)

This may imply that Margaret Herrell Bolton has passed away by March 1889 or simply that she has passed her interest to her children.

Margaret Bolton probably rests with her husband, Joseph Bolton, in the Plank Cemetery, in Claiborne County very near the land they sold to the Frairs in 1881.

plank cem1

However, we’re not sure. Joseph’s grave is marked but Margaret’s isn’t.  It’s possible that after Joseph’s death she moved back to the 4 Mile Creek and Powell River area of Hancock County, possibly to live with one of her children.  There is a list of members in the 1885 Rob Camp Church minutes and Margret (sic) Bolton appears on that list along with many Herrells, McDowells and Clarksons.  Of course, Joseph Bolton Jr. also had a wife named Margaret, so they are difficult and often impossible to tell apart.

Did Margaret go back “home?” It’s certainly possible.  The Mt. Zion Church minutes indicated that on June 3rd, 1888 Margret Bolton, Farwick Shiflet and a

Adeline Shiflet along with Jane Montgomery were received into the congregation. The younger Margaret Bolton, wife of Joseph B. Bolton,  was already a member of this church, and as late as 1887, Joseph B. Bolton was still attending because that is when he was last censured for drinking and swearing.  Two men by the same name, father and son, should not be allowed to have wives with the same first name as well.

If Margaret Herrell Bolton did move back home, then she may not be buried in the Plank Cemetery, but may be buried in the Herrell Cemetery in Hancock County, located on River Road not far from the Martin Creek Church, in one of the unmarked graves shown below, or even possibly where Anson Martin is buried. Of course, Anson may be buried in this cemetery as well.

Herrell cemetery

The Herrell Cemetery is located on River Road, shown on the map below.

herrell cemetery location

Many of the graves are unmarked.

herrell cemetery 2

Margaret was the first generation to be born and to die in the same general area of Hancock County. She lived her life in these beautiful and rugged mountains, buried two husbands and at least 4 children.  She was a founding member at Mt. Zion Church and may have been a founder of Rob Camp Church as well.  She found herself a widow in her 30s and raised her children, as a widow, for more than 5 years before remarrying.  Likely, she farmed, just like her husband would have done.  It was farm or starve.  Margaret could neither read nor write, but she owned land.  When she remarried, she married a man who was a widower and who had 7 children of his own, increasing her household size to 16 before having 2 more children with Joseph Preston Bolton, her second husband.

Their only son, Joseph “Dode” Bolton was my great-grandfather. His daughter, Ollie was my grandmother.  She died five months before I was born, so I never knew her.  Her son was my father.  I mention this, because Margaret, through her descendants gave me a very special gift.

Because Margaret had two husbands, we have the potential to tell which DNA came from her, and only her. Normally, with a couple, we can only say that the DNA came from one of the two people.  However, by comparing the DNA of people who descend from Margaret through her two husbands, we can isolate Margaret’s DNA.  Wherever the descendants of the children from the first husband match the descendants of the children from the second husband, the only common denominator has to be Margaret.

I was quite excited at first, because there are two other people who descend from Margaret’s marriage with Anson Martin who have tested, and whom I match. But then, I took a good look at their pedigree charts, and I also share a Clarkson line with them. The Clarksons also lived right along the Powell River.  So, we can’t tell if we are matching on the Herrell line, or the Clarkson line.  I was quite disappointed, until I realized that one of our matches was on the X chromosome, and it has special inheritance properties.  You can see the match to the person in orange on the X chromosome at the bottom of this chromosome chart.  The places where the blue and orange match up are the locations where the tree of us share DNA – but that’s the DNA that might be Herrell or Clarkson.

possible herrell chromosome match

The X chromosome is inherited from only part of your ancestors.  Specifically, men only inherit an X from their mother, because they inherit the Y from their father that makes them a male.

My X inheritance path from my grandmother Ollie Bolton is shown on the fan chart, below. You can see that wherever there is a blue male, he only inherits from his pink mother and that creates entire vacant areas of the pedigree chart.  This limits who I can inherit my X chromosome from – dramatically – and would be even more restrictive if I were a male.


The question now was whether or not the orange person also has Margaret Herrell Martin in her X chromosome inheritance path, and NOT any of our other common lineages.  Her tree, beginning with her grandparents, is shown below.

margaret herrell match pedigree

After verifying that I have none of these other lines in my tree nor that my ancestral lines fed any of these lines, I concentrated on the relevant lineage of her tree..

margaret herrell match pedigree crop

My match didn’t have her tree entirely filled out, but I can complete it easily. The X inheritance path to Margaret Herrll is shown by the red arrows.  The green arrows also show individuals from whom she inherited her X chromosome, but they turn out to be irrelevant because they don’t lead to a common ancestor utilizing only the X inheritance path.  Said another way, I do share several common ancestors with this woman, including Joseph Bolton, but they are irrelevant when evaluating X chromosome matches unless the X path results in common ancestors.  Of course, many lines are eliminated from the X inheritance path.

In her case, Surelda Jane Martin is the daughter of Margaret Herrell Martin and Anson Cook Martin. My matches inheritance path to Margaret is through her father, who inherited his entire X from his mother Nursie Bolton, who inherited her X from her mother and father Alvis Bolton and Helen Smith.  Helen Smith received her X from her father Pleasant Smith and mother, Serelda Martin, whose mother was Margaret Herrell.

Margaret Herrell match pathOur other common ancestral lines are through the Bolton and Clarkson families. If you look at my fan chart, you’ll note that my Clarkson line ends at Samuel Clarkson/Claxton because he didn’t inherit his X from his father and my Bolton line ends with Joseph Bolton because he didn’t inherit his X from his father, Joseph Bolton – so those are entirely irrelevant to the X chromosome.

In my matches tree, Alvis Bolton inherited his X from his mother Nursissa Parks, who inherited her X from her parents, Jacob Parks and Polly Claxton/Clarkson. However, Polly Claxton inherited her X from James Lee Claxton/Clarkson and Sarah Cook, neither of whom are in my X inheritance path.  They are two generations upstream of Samuel Claxton, so that line has already been eliminated, as was the Bolton line.

Therefore, the only ancestor I share in common with my match that falls in both of our X inheritance paths is….drum roll….Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton.

Therefore, that beautiful orange segment on the X chromosome is a gift to me, and my match, directly from Margaret herself.

Margaret Herrell X

Isn’t it beautiful, seeing an actual artifact from Margaret Herrell?

Margaret Herrell match table

Switching to table view, we can see all of the segments that I share with my orange match. However, we can’t tell if the matches on chromosome 2-13 are from the Herrell, Bolton or Clarkson lines.  However, due to the special inheritance path of the X chromosome, we can identify the X segment specifically as having come from Margaret Herrell, by process of elimination.

Margaret was obviously an incredibly strong, resourceful and resilient woman. I like to think that in addition to some of her DNA, I inherited some of those qualities as well.

Hide and Seek at 23andMe, DNA Relatives Consent, Opt-In, Opt-Out and Close Relatives

To say that the matching policies at 23andMe are confusing is an understatement. Of course, that would imply that we could figure out what those policies are, this week, exactly.  What I have been able to discern is that there is widespread confusion about the entire topic.  This is my attempt to figure out which end is up, and who can see whom, under what circumstances.  I feel like this is a high-tech game of Hide and Seek, a game customers should not have to be playing.

hide and seek

On October 17, 2014, I received this e-mail for one of the 23andMe accounts that I manage. I did not receive it for any of the other accounts that I manage at 23andMe.

When I clicked on the “can’t miss it” red block in the e-mail, it did absolutely nothing. However, by clicking on the “view as a web page” link, clicking on the “Confirm your DNA Relatives participation” took me to the 23andMe signon screen.

I signed in, but was not taken to the account in question. When I switched to that account, this is what I saw – in essence, a second warning.

hide and seek2

I was not allowed to proceed further until I clicked on yes or no.

Of course, this begs the question of why my other accounts weren’t asked the same question. With the exception of one, they are sharing in DNA Relatives too.

It also made me wonder about the sharing with Close Relatives option.

I decided to check the DNA Relatives Option information in the Privacy/Consent settings, but there was nothing further.  You can visit your consent options by clicking on the down arrow by your name, shown on the upper right hand corner of the screen shot below, and selecting “account settings.”

hide and seek3

So, what the heck happened to the close relatives option?

It seems that 23andMe discontinued the “close relatives” opt-in or opt-out, according to their June blog article, below.

hide and seek4hide and seek5

At this point, if you had not ‘opted out’ then it was assumed that you had in effect ‘opted in’ and all of your matches including your close relatives would be shown.

But then the VOX article was published in September and the proverbial stuff hit the fan.

The day of the expected default opt-in change, based on the June announcement (above), 23and Me posted a retraction of the June article, on their community forum, below.

Dear Community,

We made a change from what we promised and I want to apologize. We promised that the roughly 350,000 customers that had not consented to see Close Relatives in our DNA Relatives feature would be automatically opted in at the end of a 30 day notification period. I understand that that was extremely exciting for many of you to have so much data potentially come your way. It was unfortunately a mistake that we promised that.

I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data. The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them. Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information. It is 23andMe’s responsibility to make sure our customers have a choice and that they understand the potential implications.

The timing of the change is unfortunate and I apologize the announcement came late on a Friday night at the end of the 30 day period. The article in Vox made me and others look into the language in the consent form and that is when I learned about the proposed changes coming to the DNA Relatives community. As 23andMe has moved from being a start up to a bigger and more mature company, I am not involved in every decision. This is a decision that should have come to my attention but it did not. We will learn from that. 23andMe is hiring a Chief Privacy Officer and that too will help us avoid these types of mistakes in the future. We are also already planning to evolve the consent process to make it simpler and more clear for customers.

Going forward, we will continue to prompt the customers that have not made a choice about Close Relatives to make a choice. We understand how important that is to you. We will do a mix of emails to these customers and pop-up prompts at login to get customers to make a choice.

I apologize again for the disappointment and for not having clearly communicated the reason for reversing course. 23andMe continues to grow and pioneer the way we think about consumers exploring their DNA. While we continue to innovate we may also err along the way. We can only promise that we will always listen to and do right by you, our customer, and will never fear having to redirect our course when it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely, Anne Wojcicki

So, now it appears that unless someone has specifically ‘opted in’ to DNA Relatives as a whole, they are automatically ‘opted out,’ a 180 degree reversal.  Of course, if you were one of those 350,000 customers who received a notification about opting out, and did nothing, so that you could be opted in at the end of the 30 days referenced above, you would be thoroughly confused because you THINK you’re now opted in.

23andMe has a habit of posting information on their Forum which members must actively check, instead of sending e-mails to their customers or posting this kind of information on their blog that is sent by subscription. One of the forum followers was kind enough to point out this recent posting detailing changes that have occurred in October and the 23andMe policy moving forward.

hide and seek6hide and seek7It’s signed, Chistine on behalf of the 23andMe Product Team

I can find nothing on the current customer pages providing any information about these decisions or the match status of DNA Relatives/Close Relatives.

Furthermore, 23andMe is now asking some, but not everyone, who are opted in for DNA Relatives if they are sure. My account that was asked tested in 2010, so was not caught in the 2014 selection option confusion.

I feel that this methodology discourages many people from participation. It infers that there is something frightening that you ‘ought to be’ concerned about – especially if you are asked about the same topic several times.

In summary, here is, I think, what we know, as of October 16, 2014.

  • Everyone will have to make a specific choice to opt-in to DNA Relatives, one way or another, after testing.  If you don’t specifically opt-in, you are opted out.  Consent to test apparently doesn’t count as consent for DNA Relatives.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014 who were opted in to DNA Relatives but out of Close Relatives will be prompted to select an opt-in with close relatives included, or an opt-out entirely.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014, who did opt-in to participate in DNA Relatives, but did not have any selection to make about “Close Relatives” will be required to confirm that they want to continue in DNA Relatives before they can proceed to see their matches. This is apparently the e-mail that I received for one of my kits. It’s still a mystery why I never received it for the others who tested even earlier and clearly before the “Close Relatives” option existed.
  • Clients between June 5, 2014 and October 16, 2014 who were automatically opted in to DNA Relatives with close relatives included will also be prompted to confirm their participation in DNA Relatives and until they do confirm that option, they will not be visible nor able to view close relatives.
  • New customers will be prompted to opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives and opt-in will no longer be the default.
  • Participation in DNA Relatives will now include close relatives and that will not be a separate option.

I’m very glad to see that everyone who opts in to DNA Relatives includes close relatives. To do it any other way is not only confusing, it’s more than a little disingenuous, especially given that someone may not realize why their close matches aren’t showing.  I had more than one client have a panic attack when their family member wasn’t showing as a match, especially when they were expecting to see a parent or sibling.  In my opinion, having to enable the “close relatives” option caused huge problems and wholly unwarranted stress.  If it’s truly gone, never to return, I’m very glad and applaud 23andMe for that decision.

The bad news is that many of the 350,000 people referred to in the September community forum posting are still anonymous, and they many not even realize it. Many probably presumed, quite logically, that because they were taking a DNA test that included matches, that they would receive matches without having to do anything further.  Furthermore, they received the 30 day notification that they would be opted in if they did nothing, so they expected to be opted in.  But they aren’t.

Currently, at 23andMe, you have to jump through more hoops to obtain your genealogy results than you did (when they were providing health information) to obtain your health results.  I hope that the message provided to people who are making the “Opt In – Opt Out” decision can be worded a little more encouragingly and present both sides of the risk/reward coin.  I would hate for their entire response to be fear based due to the tone of the selection message and the fact that they have to answer this question repeatedly – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s health question – back when 23andMe was providing health results.

Here, let me give you an example vignette:

Hi, 23andMe, I’d like to test for genealogy matches.

Great, send me $99 and you’re on the way.


Good news, your results are back.  Do you want to opt into DNA Relatives?  You know you could find out information about your family that is upsetting to you?  It could change your family relations?

Really?  Hmmm…I think I want to see.  That’s why I tested.

Another e-mail:  Are you sure, really positive that you want to remain in DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out really upsetting information.  You can see other close relatives and they can see you.

Geeze, I don’t know….maybe not…I’ll wait till I sign on next time to deal with this.

Signing on next time….

Do you want to opt-in to DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out some really disturbing and upsetting things about your family?  It could change your relationship with your family members.

After repeating this warning several times, it begins to appear like 23andMe is discouraging your participation, not informing you of risks and rewards.  There is no upside mentioned, only repeated negatively framed warnings.  Given that genealogy/ancestry is the only reason for the consumer to purchase this product right now, this approach seems a bit counter-intuitive and overkill.  In the least, the warning should be given up front, during the purchase process, and then not constantly repeated.

However, given that 23andMe is still gathering your health information and utilizing it in their medical research, even if you opt-out or don’t opt-in to DNA Relatives, assuming you haven’t opted out of medical research as well, warning you up front would discourage a sale and would prevent them from collecting your genetic data.  In essence, 23andMe doesn’t care one bit whether you opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives, but they care a whole lot about your money and your participation in medical research.

The constant changes and hoopla are confusing people and frightening some. Others are becoming too discouraged by a lack of positive genealogical results to continue.

23andMe was first in the game with consumer autosomal testing, but their ever-changing policies have become and remain confusing. They have done nothing to clarify publicly, leaving everyone uncertain and a little reluctant.

23andMe entered the genealogy marketspace, but they seem to be focused on protecting people from genealogy matches. This seems almost like a conflict of interest, or may be better stated, a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. It seems that the health testing aspect is causing 23andMe to adopt such restrictive procedures that it’s making the genealogy aspect of their product increasingly restrictive and difficult.  I’m sure this is reflective of their primary goal, which is medicine, and the fact that genealogists just happened to be interested in genetics as a tool was, for them, a happy accident that provided a source for test subjects.  Genealogy is not something 23andMe is primarily interested in.  I’m sure they aren’t making things difficult intentionally, but the net effect is far from encouraging.

I’m finding that their protections are barriers and the required steps are confusing for customers and self-defeating for genealogy, and they are, unfortunately, cumulative hurdles:

  • Having to specifically opt-in to DNA Relatives, even after consenting to test when purchasing the product which includes matching
  • Having to request to communicate with other participants
  • Having to request to “share DNA”
  • Having to confirm that yes, you really did want to ‘opt in’ to DNA Relatives
  • About a 10% communication request response rate
  • Most of the 10% of the people who do respond know little, if anything, about their genealogy, nor are they terribly interested
  • Having to utilize the 23andMe corporate message system instead of communicate with your matches via e-mail
  • Match limit at 1000 people unless you are communicating with more than that number. After 1000, matches fall off your list.
  • Their terrible trees. Yes, I realize they have recently partnered with My Heritage, but as Judy Russell says, we’ll see.
  • The misleading (health and ancestry) notation in a sharing request which frightens people as to why you want their health information, causing people to decline to share
  • Constant change about who you are/aren’t seeing as matches and why
  • Confusing and conflicting opt-in, opt-out information delivered on four different platforms; e-mail, on your personal page, their blog and their community forum.  In essence, this means that almost everyone except the most dedicated 23andMe follower misses at least part of the information.

23andMe is approaching the point where the pain level of participation is at the threshold of no longer being worthwhile except for extraordinary cases like adoptions where the participant is desperate for any possible crumb.

I thought more about this situation, and I believe that the underlying problem is a fundamental disconnect in the focus of the two groups.  23andMe’s corporate focus is and always has been health related research, compilation and manipulation of genomic “big data.”   Taking a look at their recent American Association of Human Genetics papers is a good yardstick of their corporate focus.  Not one paper mentions the genealogical aspect of their business, and even the paper that does indirectly help genealogists by reducing false positive identical-by-descent segments is presented from a medical perspective.  In essence, the genealogy community is a source for DNA for 23andMe.  They aren’t focused on genealogy or interested in serving this community.  That’s neither good nor bad…it’s just the way it is.

The genealogy community, on the other hand, is frustrated by the increasingly long list of confusing hurdles at 23andMe that people who test for genealogy must navigate before they can reap any of the potential benefits of matching for genealogical purposes.  Each successive hurdle reduces the number of people who complete the course and those who make it to the end are either the died in the wool genealogists who have tested elsewhere anyway or people with little or no knowledge of their genealogy.  Worst case, people who test at 23andMe for genealogy will leave with a bad taste in their mouth and never test again because, frankly, it’s neither easy nor fun.

We don’t know exactly how many people haven’t opted-in for DNA Relatives, but we can surmise some based on their publicly released information.  In the September retraction, 23andMe said that there were 350,000 who had not opted in, or out.  We don’t know how many have actively opted out.  In their ASHG abstract, they mention that 550,000 have consented for research.  That tells us that less than half of their clients are opted in for DNA Relatives, or about 200,000 (assuming no one opted out), or perhaps less now with the recent “are you sure” messages like I received.  Given that only 10% of the people who DO actively opt-in for DNA Relatives respond to inquiries, that’s a whole lot of people not clearing the hurdles for one reason or another.  Of their entire data base of 550,000, only about 20,000 people clear the hurdles and engage, or about 3.5%. That means that there are 530,000, or more if you include the unknown number of opt-outs, who don’t clear the hurdles.

I hope 23andMe gets their cumulative act together relative to genealogy customers. You’d think with genealogy customers being their only source of corporate revenue right now (except for government grants and venture capital), that they would be bending over backwards to make the genealogy related products and processes straightforward, accessible and easy to use.  Now would be a great time for some positive changes!

Peopling of Europe 2014 – Identifying the Ghost Population

Beginning with the full sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first published in May 2010 by the Max Planck Institute with Svante Paabo at the helm, and followed shortly thereafter with a Denisovan specimen, we began to unravel our ancient history.

neanderthal reconstructed

Neanderthal man, reconstructed at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo

The photo below shows a step in the process of extracting DNA from ancient bones at Max Planck.

planck extraction

Our Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups take us back thousands of years in time, but at some point, where and how people were settling and intermixing becomes fuzzy. Ancient DNA can put the people of that time and place in context.  We have discovered that current populations do not necessarily represent the ancient populations of a particular locale.

Recent information discovered from ancient burials tells us that the people of Europe descend from a 3 pronged model. Until recently, it was believed that Europeans descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, a two-pronged model.

Previously, it was believed that Europe was peopled by the ancient hunter-gatherers, the Paleolithic, who originally settled in Europe beginning about 45,000 years ago. At this time, the Neanderthal were already settled in Europe but weren’t considered to be anatomically modern humans, and it was believed, incorrectly, that the two groups did not interbreed.  These hunter-gatherers were the people who settled in Europe before the last major ice age, the Younger Dryas, taking refuge in the southern portions of Europe and Eurasia, and repeopling the continent after the ice receded, about 12,000 years ago.  By that time, the Neanderthals were gone, or as we now know, at least partially assimilated.

This graphic shows Europe during the last ice age.

ice age euripe

The second settlement wave, the agriculturalist farmers from the Near East either overran or integrated with the hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic period, depending on which theory you subscribe to, about 8000-10,000 years ago.

2012 – Ancient Northern European (ANE) Hints

Beginning in 2012, we began to see hints of a third lineage that contributed to the peopling of Europe as well, from the north. Buried in the 2012 paper, Estimating admixture proportions and dates with ADMIXTOOLS by Patterson et al, was a very interesting tidbit.  This new technique showed a third population, referred to by many as a “ghost population”, because no one knew who they were, that contributed to the European population.

patterson ane

The new population was termed Ancient North Eurasian, or ANE.

Dienekes covered this paper in his blog, but without additional information, in the community in general, there wasn’t much more than a yawn.

2013 – Mal’ta Child Stirs Excitement

The first real hint of meat on the bones of ANE came in the form of ancient DNA analysis of a 24,000 year old Siberian boy that has come to be named Mal’ta (Malta) Child. In the original paper, by Raghaven et al, Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans, he was referred to as MA-1.  I wrote about this in my article titled Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas.   Dienekes wrote about this paper as well.

This revelation caused quite a stir, because it was reported that the Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% Western Eurasian.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this was immediately interpreted to mean that Native Americans had come directly from Europe which is not what this paper said, nor inferred.  It was also inferred that the haplogroups of this child, R* (Y) and U (mtDNA) were Native American, which is also incorrect.  To date, there is no evidence for migration to the New World from Europe in ancient times, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still looking for that evidence in early burials.

What this paper did show was that Europeans and Native Americans shared a common ancestor, and that the Siberian population had contributed to the European population as well as the Native American population.  In other words, descendants settled in both directions, east and west.

The most fascinating aspect of this paper was the match distribution map, below, showing which populations Malta child matched most closely.

malta child map

As you can see, MA-1, Malta Child, matches the Native American population most closely, followed by the northern European and Greenland populations. The further south in Europe and Asia, the more distant the matches and the darker the blue.

2013 – Michael Hammer and Haplogroup R

Last fall at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Michael Hammer, from the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona discussed new findings relative to ancient burials, specifically in relation to haplogroup R, or more specifically, the absence of haplogroup R in those early burials.

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Based on the various theories and questions, ancient burials were enlightening.

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In 2013, there were a total of 32 burials from the Neolithic period, after farmers arrived from the Near East, and haplogroup R did not appear. Instead, haplogroups G, I and E were found.

hammer 2013-7

What this tells us is that haplogroup R, as well as other haplogroup, weren’t present in Europe at this time. Having said this, these burials were in only 4 locations and, although unlikely, R could be found in other locations.

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Last year, Dr. Hammer concluded that haplogroup R was not found in the Paleolithic and likely arrived with the Neolithic farmers. That shook the community, as it had been widely believed that haplogroup R was one of the founding European haplogroups.

hammer 2013-12

While this provided tantalizing information, we still needed additional evidence. No paper has yet been published that addresses these findings.  The mass full sequencing of the Y chromosome over this past year with the introduction of the Big Y will provide extremely valuable information about the Y chromosome and eventually, the migration path into and across Europe.

2014 – Europe’s Three Ancient Tribes

In September 2014, another paper was published by Lazaridis et al that more fully defined this new ANE branch of the European human family tree.  An article in BBC News titled Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes’ describes it well for the non-scientist.  Of particular interest in this article is the artistic rendering of the ancient individual, based on their genetic markers.  You’ll note that they had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes, a rather unexpected finding.

In discussing the paper, David Reich from Harvard, one of the co-authors, said, “Prior to this paper, the models we had for European ancestry were two-way mixtures. We show that there are three groups. This also explains the recently discovered genetic connection between Europeans and Native Americans.  The same Ancient North Eurasian group contributed to both of them.”

The paper, Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, appeared as a letter in Nature and is behind a paywall, but the supplemental information is free.

The article summary states the following:

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes1, 2, 3, 4 with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians3, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

This paper utilized ancient DNA from several sites and composed the following genetic contribution diagram that models the relationship of European to non-European populations.

Lazaridis tree

Present day samples are colored purple, ancient in red and reconstructed ancestral populations in green. Solid lines represent descent without admixture and dashed lines represent admixture.  WHG=western European hunter-gatherer, EEF=early European farmer and ANE=ancient north Eurasian

2014 – Michael Hammer on Europe’s Ancestral Population

For anyone interested in ancient DNA, 2014 has been a banner years. At the Family Tree DNA conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Michael Hammer brought the audience up to date on Europe’s ancestral population, including the newly sequenced ancient burials and the information they are providing.

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Dr. Hammer said that ancient DNA is the key to understanding the historical processes that led up to the modern. He stressed that we need to be careful inferring that the current DNA pattern is reflective of the past because so many layers of culture have occurred between then and now.

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Until recently, it was assumed that the genes of the Neolithic farmers replaced those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient DNA is suggesting that this is not true, at least not on a wholesale level.

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The theory, of course, is that we should be able to see them today if they still exist. The migration and settlement pattern in the slide below was from the theory set forth in the 1990s.

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In 2013, Dr. Hammer discussed the theory that haplogroup R1b spread into Europe with the farmers from the Near East in the Neolithic. This year, he expanded upon that topic that based on the new findings from ancient burials.

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Last year, Dr. Hammer discussed 32 burials from 4 sites. Today, we have information from 15 ancient DNA sites and many of those remains have been full genome sequenced.

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Information from papers and recent research suggests that Europeans also have genes from a third source lineage, nicknamed the “ghost population of North Eurasia.”

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Scientists are finding a signal of northeast Asian related admixture in northern Europeans, first suggested in 2012.  This was confirmed with the sequencing of Malta child and then in a second sequencing of Afontova Gora2 in south central Siberia.

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We have complete genomes from nine ancient Europeans – Mesolithic hunter gatherers and Neothilic farmers. Hammer refers to the Mesolithic here, which is a time period between the Paleolithic (hunter gatherers with stone tools) and the Neolithic (farmers).

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In the PCA charts, shown above, you can see that Europeans and people from the Near East cluster separately, except for a bridge formed by a few Mediterranean and Jewish populations. On the slide below, the hunter-gatherers (WHG) and early farmers (EEF) have been overlayed onto the contemporary populations along with the MA-1 (Malta Child) and AG2 (Afontova Gora2) representing the ANE.

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When sequenced, separate groups formed including western hunter gathers and early european farmers include Otzi, the iceman.  A third group is the north south clinal variation with ANE contributing to northern European ancestry.  The groups are represented by the circles, above.

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Dr. Hammer said that the team who wrote the “Ancient Human Genomes” paper just recently published used an F3 test, results shown above, which shows whether populations are an admixture of a reference population based on their entire genome. He mentioned that this technique goes well beyond PCA.

hammer 2014-13

Mapped onto populations today, most European populations are a combination of the three early groups. However, the ANE is not found in the ancient Paleolithic or Neolithic burials.  It doesn’t arrive until later.

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This tells us that there was a migration event 45,000 years ago from the Levant, followed about 7000 years ago by farmers from the Near East, and that ANE entered the population some time after that. All Europeans today carry some amount of ANE, but ancient burials do not.

These burials also show that southern Europe has more Neolithic farmer genes and northern Europe has more Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer genes.

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Pigmentation for light skin came with farmers – blue eyes existed in hunter gatherers even though their skin was dark.

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Dr. Hammer created these pie charts of the Y and mitochondrial haplogroups found in the ancient burials as compared to contemporary European haplogroups.

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The pie chart on the left shows the haplogroups of the Mesolithic burials, all haplogroup I2 and subclades. Note that in the current German population today, no I2a1b and no I1 was found.  The chart on the right shows current Germans where haplogroup I is a minority.

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Therefore, we can conclude that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be identified as a Paleolithic/Mesolithic haplogroup.

This information shows that the past is very different from today.

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In 2014 we have many more burials that have been sequenced than last year, as shown on the map above.

Green represents Neolithic farmers, red are Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, brown at bottom right represents more recent samples from the Metallic age.

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There are a total of 48 Neolithic burials where haplogroup G dominates. In the Mesolithic, there are a total of six haplogroup I.

This suggests that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be the father of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic and haplogroup G, the founding father of the Neolithic.

In addition to haplogroup G in the Neolithic, one sample of both E1b1b1 (M35) and C were also found in Spain.  E1b1b1 isn’t surprising given it’s north African genesis, but C was quite interesting.

The Metal ages, which according to wiki begin about 3300BC in Europe, is where haplogroup R, along with I1, first appear.

diffusion of metallurgy

Please note that the diffusion of melallurgy map above is not part of Dr. Hammer’s presentation. I have added it for clarification.

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Nothing is constant in Europe. The Y DNA was very upheaved, as indicated on the graphic above.  Mitochondrial DNA shifted from pre-Neolithic to Neolithic which isn’t terribly different from the present day.

Dr. Hammer did not say this, but looking at the Y versus the mtDNA haplogroups, I wonder if this suggests that indeed there was more of a replacement of the males in the population, but that the females were more widely assimilated. This would certainly make sense, especially if the invaders were warriors and didn’t have females with them.  They would have taken partners from the invaded population.

Haplogroup G represents the spread of farming into Europe.

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The most surprising revelation is that haplogroup R1b appears to have emerged after the Neolithic agriculture transition. Given that just three years ago we thought that haplogroup R1b was one of the original European settlers thousands of years ago, based on the prevalence of haplogroup R in Europe today, at about 50%, this is a surprising turn of events.  Last year’s revelation that R was maybe only 7000-8000 years old in Europe was a bit of a whammy, but the age of R in Europe in essence just got halved again and the source of R1b changed from the Near East to the Asian steppes.

Obviously, something conferred an advantage to these R1b men. Given that they arrived in the early Metalic age, was it weapons and chariots that enabled the R1b men who arrived to quickly become more than half of the population?

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The Bronze Age saw the first use of metal to create weapons. Warrior identity became a standard part of daily life.  Celts ranged over Europe and were the most dominant iron age warriors.  Indo-European languages and chariots arrived from Asia about this time.

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The map above shows the Hallstadt and LaTene Celtic cultures in Europe, about 600BC. This was not a slide presented by Dr. Hammer.

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Haplogroup R1b was not found in an ancient European context prior to a Bell Beaker period burial in Germany 4.8-4.0 kya (thousand years ago, i.e. 4,800-4,000 years ago).  R1b arrives about 4.6 kya and is also found in a Corded Ware culture burial in Germany.  A late introduction of these lineages which now predominate in Europe corresponds to the autosomal signal of the entry of Asian and Eastern European steppe invaders into western Europe.

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Local expansion occurred in Europe of R1b subgroups U106, L21 and U152.

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A current haplogroup R distribution map that reflects the findings of this past year is shown above.

Haplogroup I is interesting for another reason. It looks like haplogroup I2a1b (M423) may have been replaced by I1 which expanded after the Mesolithic.

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On the slide above, the Loschbour sample from Luxembourg was mapped onto a current haplogroup I SNP map where his closest match is a current day Russian.

One of the benefits of ancient DNA genome processing is that we will be able to map current trees into maps of old SNPs and be able to tell who we match most closely.

Autosomal DNA can also be mapped to see how much of our DNA is from which ancient population.

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Dr. Hammer mapped the percentages of European Mesolithic/Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in blue, Neolithic Farmers from the Near East in magenta and Asian Steppe Invaders representing ANE in yellow, over current populations. Note the ancient DNA samples at the top of the list.  None of the burials except for Malta Child carry any yellow, indicating that the ANE entered the European population with the steppe invaders; the same group that brought us haplogroup R and possibly I1.

Dr. Hammer says that ANE was introduced to and assimilated into the European population by one or more incursions. We don’t know today if ANE in Europeans is a result of a single blast event or multiple events.  He would like to do some model simulations and see if it is related to timing and arrival of swords and chariots.

We know too that there are more recent incursions, because we’re still missing major haplogroups like J.

The further east you go, meaning the closer to the steppes and Volga region, the less well this fits the known models. In other words, we still don’t have the whole story.

At the end of the presentation, Michael was asked if the whole genomes sequenced are also obtaining Y STR data, which would allow us to compare our results on an individual versus a haplogroup level. He said he didn’t know, but he would check.

Family Tree DNA was asked if they could show a personal ancient DNA map in myOrigins, perhaps as an alternate view. Bennett took a vote and that seemed pretty popular, which he interpreted as a yes, we’d like to see that.

In Summary

The advent of and subsequent drop in the price of whole genome sequencing combined with the ability to extract ancient DNA and piece it back together have provided us with wonderful opportunities.  I think this is jut the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you are interested in other articles I’ve written about ancient DNA, check out these links:

Family Tree DNA Announces *Free Autosomal Transfer from 23andMe and Ancestry

dna ballOne of the major announcements this past week at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference was that Family Tree DNA will now be accepting, and encouraging, free data transfers from both 23andMe (V3 chip only) and

*For free, you will be able to see your top 20 matches, but if you want to contact those matches or unlock the rest of the Family Finder functionality and tools at Family Tree DNA, you’ll need to pay $39 or recruit 4 additional people to upload their files, whether they pay to join or not.  Compared to retesting at $99 or the previous transfer price of $69, this is a great value.

Yesterday, I received this notification from Family Tree DNA that was sent to all project administrators.

As Senior Director of Product Michael Gugel shared at the recent conference, for the first time ever, people that have taken an AncestryDNA™ or 23andMe© (V3) test can transfer into the FTDNA databases for free by visiting and following the instructions to upload their raw data file.

Within an hour or two, we provide a preview of what’s waiting if they transfer by showing the top 20 matches along with an estimate of the total number of matches in the FTDNA database.

Full functionality can be unlocked by either paying $39 or recruiting four other people to upload, thus unlocking the rest of the matches.

Here are some important points to know:

  • We only accept the 23andMe V3 chip that was used on tests sold between November 2010 and approximately November 2013. There are a couple of ways to find out what chip was used for your test other than simply the timeframe. One is size; v3 chip files are about 7.83 MB where V2 and V4 chips are smaller. If you’re tech savvy, you can unzip the file and check chromosomes: Chromosome 1 for v3 starts at 82154 (rs4477212) where v4 starts at 734462 (rs12564807)and v2 starts with position 742429 (rs3094315).
  • We do not have any plans to accept V2 or V4 chips. if you try to upload the wrong chip version, the system will tell you that the file doesn’t have sufficient data. Since neither chip contains enough of the SNPs included in Family Finder, we would have to impute too much data. Basically we’d have to make assumptions about the missing SNPs that we’re just not willing to make at this point.

Blaine Bettinger at The Genetic Genealogist wrote detailed instructions about how to do the transfer and what to expect, so take a look.

At the $39 price, or recruit 4 and it’s entirely free, this transfer becomes the best autosomal vendor value available today. I know that people are already taking advantage of this offer, because I’m seeing new people join my projects and their item purchased indicates “free transfer.”

Spending the $39 (or recruiting 4 additional participants) allows you to unlock and access the following Family Finder features:

  • Full data base matching
  • Ability to contact matches directly via e-mail
  • Ability to join projects that accept autosomal participants
  • Ability to see matches by and within projects
  • Searching for matches by surname
  • Searching for matches by ancestral surname
  • Ability to view your matches family trees
  • Ability to upload your GEDCOM file or create your family tree to facilitate surname matching
  • Utilizing the “In Common With” tool to see who you and your matches both match
  • Utilizing the Matrix to see if your matches also match each other, suggesting a common ancestor
  • Seeing results on the Chromosome browser
  • myOrigins ethnicity information

The more kits in the data base, the more matches, so don’t wait.  You can’t lose by doing the free transfer and seeing what matches might be waiting for you.

Anzick (12,707-12,556), Ancient One, 52 Ancestors #42

anzick burial location

His name is Anzick, named for the family land, above, where his remains were found, and he is 12,500 years old, or more precisely, born between 12,707 and 12,556 years before the present.  Unfortunately, my genealogy software is not prepared for a birth year with that many digits.  That’s because, until just recently, we had no way to know that we were related to anyone of that age….but now….everything has changed ….thanks to DNA.

Actually, Anzick himself is not my direct ancestor.  We know that definitively, because Anzick was a child when he died, in present day Montana.

anzick on us map

Anzick was loved and cherished, because he was smeared with red ochre before he was buried in a cave, where he would be found more than 12,000 years later, in 1968, just beneath a layer of approximately 100 Clovis stone tools, shown below.  I’m sure his parents then, just as parents today, stood and cried as the laid their son to rest….never suspecting just how important their son would be some 12,500 years later.

anzick clovis tools

From 1968 until 2013, the Anzick family looked after Anzick’s bones, and in 2013, Anzick’s DNA was analyzed.

DNA analysis of Anzick provided us with his mitochondrial haplogroup,  D4h3a, a known Native American grouping, and his Y haplogroup was Q-L54, another known Native American haplogroup.  Haplogroup Q-L54 itself is estimated to be about 16,900 years old, so this finding is certainly within the expected range.  I’m not related to Anzick through Y or mitochondrial DNA.

Utilizing the admixture tools at GedMatch, we can see that Anzick shows most closely with Native American and Arctic with a bit of east Siberian.  This all makes sense.

Anzick MDLP K23b

Full genome sequencing was performed on Anzick, and from that data, it was discovered that Anzick was related to Native Americans, closely related to Mexican, Central and South Americans, and not closely related to Europeans or Africans.  This was an important discovery, because it in essence disproves the Solutrean hypothesis that Clovis predecessors emigrated from Southwest Europe during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago.

anzick matches

The distribution of these matches was a bit surprising, in that I would have expected the closest matches to be from North America, in particular, near to where Anzick was found, but his closest matches are south of the US border.  Although, in all fairness, few people in Native tribes in the US have DNA tested and many are admixed.

This match distribution tells us a lot about population migration and distribution of the Native people after they left Asia, crossed Beringia on the land bridge, now submerged, into present day Alaska.

This map of Beriginia, from the 2008 paper by Tamm et all, shows the migration of Native people into (and back from) the new world.

beringia map

Anzick’s ancestors crossed Beringia during this time, and over the next several thousand years, found their way to Montana.  Some of Anzick’s relatives found their way to Mexico, Central and South America.  The two groups may have split when Anzick’s family group headed east instead of south, possibly following the edges of glaciers, while the south-moving group followed the coastline.

Recently, from Anzick’s full genome data, another citizen scientist extracted the DNA locations that the testing companies use for autosomal DNA results, created an Anzick file, and uploaded the file to the public autosomal matching site, GedMatch.  This allowed everyone to see if they matched Anzick.  We expected no, or few, matches, because after all, Anzick was more than 12,000 years old and all of his DNA would have washed out long ago due to the 50% replacement in every generation….right?  Wrong!!!

What a surprise to discover fairly large segments of DNA matching Anzick in living people, and we’ve spent the past couple of weeks analyzing and discussing just how this has happened and why.  In spite of some technical glitches in terms of just how much individual people carry of the same DNA Anzick carried, one thing is for sure, the GedMatch matches confirm, in spades, the findings of the scientists who wrote the recent paper that describes the Anzick burial and excavation, the subsequent DNA processing and results.

For people who carry known Native heritage, matches, especially relatively large matches to Anzick, confirm not only their Native heritage, but his too.

For people who suspect Native heritage, but can’t yet prove it, an Anzick match provides what amounts to a clue – and it may be a very important clue.

In my case, I have proven Native heritage through the Micmac who intermarried with the Acadians in the 1600s in Nova Scotia.  Given that Anzick’s people were clearly on a west to east movement, from Beringia to wherever they eventually wound up, one might wonder if the Micmac were descended from or otherwise related to Anzick’s people.  Clearly, based on the genetic affinity map, the answer is yes, but not as closely related to Anzick as Mexican, Central and South Americans.

After several attempts utilizing various files, thresholds and factors that produced varying levels of matching to Anzick, one thing is clear – there is a match on several chromosomes.  Someplace, sometime in the past, Anzick and I shared a common ancestor – and it was likely on this continent, or Beringia, since the current school of thought is that all Native people entered the New World through this avenue.  The school of thought is not united in an opinion about whether there was a single migration event, or multiple migrations to the new word.  Regardless, the people came from the same base population in far northeast Asia and intermingled after arriving here if they were in the same location with other immigrants.

In other words, there probably wasn’t much DNA to pass around.  In addition, it’s unlikely that the founding population was a large group – probably just a few people – so in very short order their DNA would be all the same, being passed around and around until they met a new population, which wouldn’t happen until the Europeans arrived on the east side of the continent in the 1400s.  The tribes least admixed today are found south of the US border, not in the US.  So it makes sense that today the least admixed people would match Anzick the most closely – because they carry the most common DNA, which is still the same DNA that was being passed around and around back then.

Many of us with Native ancestors do carry bits and pieces of the same DNA as Anzick.  Anzick can’t be our ancestor, but he is certainly our cousin, about 500 generations ago, using a 25 year generation, so roughly our 500th cousin.  I had to laugh at someone this week, an adoptee who said, “Great, I can’t find my parents but now I have a 12,500 year old cousin.”  Yep, you do!  The ironies of life, and of genealogy, never fail to amaze me.

Utilizing the most conservative matching routine possible, on a phased kit, meaning one that combines the DNA shared by my mother and myself, and only that DNA, we show the following segment matches with Anzick.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
2 218855489 220351363 2.4 253
4 1957991 3571907 2.5 209
17 53111755 56643678 3.4 293
19 46226843 48568731 2.2 250
21 35367409 36761280 3.7 215

Being less conservative produces many more matches, some of which are questionable as to whether they are simply convergence, so I haven’t utilized the less restrictive match thresholds.

Of those matches above, the one on chromosomes 17 matches to a known Micmac segment from my Acadian lines and the match on chromosome 2 also matches an Acadian line, but I share so many common ancestors with this person that I can’t tell which family line the DNA comes from.

There are also Anzick autosomal matches on my father’s side.  My Native ancestry on his side reaches back to colonial America, in either Virginia or North Carolina, or both, and is unproven as to the precise ancestor and/or tribe, so I can’t correlate the Anzick DNA with proven Native DNA on that side.  Neither can I associate it with a particular family, as most of the Anzick matches aren’t to areas on my chromosome that I’ve mapped positively to a specific ancestor.

Running a special utility at GedMatch that compared Anzick’s X chromosome to mine, I find that we share a startlingly large X segment.  Sometimes, the X chromosome is passed for generations intact.

Interestingly enough, the segment 100,479,869-103,154,989 matches a segment from my mother exactly, but the large 6cM segment does not match my mother, so I’ve inherited that piece of my X from my father’s line.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
X 100479869 103154989 1.4 114
X 109322285 113215103 6.0 123

This tells me immediately that this segment comes from one of the pink or blue lines on the fan chart below that my father inherited from his mother, Ollie Bolton, since men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father.  Utilizing the X pedigree chart reduces the possible lines of inheritance quite a bit, and is very suggestive of some of those unknown wives.


It’s rather amazing, if you think about it, that anyone today matches Anzick, or that we can map any of our ancestral DNA that both we and Anzick carry to a specific ancestor.

Indeed, we do live in exciting times.

Honoring Anzick

On a rainy Saturday in June, 2014, on a sagebrush hillside in Montana, in Native parlance, our “grandfather,” Anzick was reburied, bringing his journey full circle.  Sarah Anzick, a molecular biologist, the daughter of the family that owns the land where the bones were found, and who did part of the genetic discovery work on Anzick, returns the box with his bones for reburial.

anzick bones

More than 50 people, including scientists, members of the Anzick family and representatives of six Native American tribes, gathered for the nearly two-hour reburial ceremony. Tribe members said prayers, sang songs, played drums and rang bells to honor the ancient child. The bones were placed in the grave and sprinkled with red ocher, just like when his parents buried him some 12,500 years before.

Participants at the reburial ceremony filled in the grave with handfuls, then shovelfuls of dirt and covered it with stones. A stick tied with feathers marks Anzick’s final resting place.

Sarah Anzick tells us that, “At that point, it stopped raining. The clouds opened up and the sun came out. It was an amazing day.”

I wish I could have been there.  I would have, had I known.  After all, he is part of me, and I of him.

anzick grave'

Welcome to the family, Anzick, and thank you, thank you oh so much, for your priceless, unparalleled gift!!!


If you want to read about the Anzick matching journey of DNA discovery, here are the articles I’ve written in the past two weeks.  It has been quite a roller coaster ride, but I’m honored and privileged to be doing this research.  And it’s all thanks to an ancient child named Anzick.

Utilizing Ancient DNA at Gedmatch

Analyzing the Native American Anzick Clovis Native American Results

New Native American Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups Extrapolated from Anzick Match Results

Ancient DNA Matching, A Cautionary Tale

More Ancient DNA Samples for Comparison

Guide to DNA Testing by Richard Hill

guide to dna testing

Richard Hill, author of “Finding Family; My Search for Roots and the Secrets in my DNA,” just released his second book, “Guide to DNA Testing; How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships and Measure Ethnicity through DNA Testing” in Kindle format for just 99 cents through Amazon.

While Richard’s first book was the story of his personal search for his biological parents, this second book is an introductory primer for those who are just getting their feet wet in genetic genealogy, or thinking about getting their feet wet.  It’s relatively short, just 23 pages, so it’s not overwhelming.

guide to dna testing toc

Guide to DNA Testing isn’t a “how to” book in terms of utilizing DNA results, but a basic introduction to the field of genetic genealogy, the major players, meaning Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and, who sells what and how those tests work at a basic level.

Richard approaches the topic in terms of developing a testing strategy to obtain the answers for whatever it is that you are seeking through DNA testing.

My favorite part of the book is a table at the end that provides commentary in columns about the 3 test types, autosomal, Y and mitochondrial, and what each provides:

  • What is checked
  • Principal uses
  • Strengths
  • Limitations
  • Recommended tests

Useful, accurate, unbiased, Guide to DNA Testing and would be perfect for a new person seeking general information.  For the rest of us, it gives us a great “go to” resource for new people instead of trying to explain from scratch.  Great job Richard!!!

Stone Helix

thea alvin helix

In the just for fun category, I was thrilled when I found these helix earthworks, made from stone by Thea Alvin, a stonemason, at  They are just incredible with the stones held in place by gravity alone.

thea alvin helix2

I don’t know about you, but I want one of these in my yard. Oh yeah!!!!

thea alvin3

The three arch helix structure is on Thea’s property between Morrisville and Stowe, Vermont. She has transformed her yard into a sculpture park and it’s open 10-6 on weekends to the public, or by prior arrangement.  You can also request a tour by dropping Thea an e-mail at  She has also opened an artistan gallery in her barn called Rock, Paper, Scissors.

From Stowe, take Route 100 south towards Morrisville; look for the looping, three-arch stone sculpture and My Earthwork sign.  I have a trip planned to Vermont next year.  Maybe I’ll visit.

Here’s an article in the local Stowe paper and here’s a video of Thea where she discusses wanting to create stoneworks that are timeless.  I wonder if she realizes just how spiritual and timeless the helix, in particular the double helix is, reaching back through the entire timeline of humankind.

Maybe her next project will be to create a true double helix! What do you think, Thea?  Are you game???