Visiting Mom at Family Tree DNA

Mom swabbed for me, several times in fact.  She wasn’t terribly interested in DOING genealogy, but she was quite interested in the outcome of the process, and she loved to go along with me on our “larks,” as she would call them, where we would go and find our family land, or house…or something interesting…like the original bar in the Kirsch House, below.

Kirsch house 1990s

On the Kirsch House adventure, above, Mom and my daughter and I went back to Aurora, Indiana to find the location of “The Kirsch House,” the hotel and tavern owned by Mom’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel, below.

Barbara Drechsel and Jacob Kirsch

Mom didn’t know Jacob, who died the year before she was born in 1922, but Barbara didn’t pass away until 1930, so Mom knew Barbara.

Mom loved those adventures.  She just wasn’t interested in doing genealogy by herself.  I didn’t understand then, but I think genealogy made her sad.  Probably because the easiest places to visit were where she had lived, had grown up, and had personal memories of those who had passed on.  I remember visiting the graves of her mother, her grandmother and the day we found the tombstone of her great-grandmother, Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, who had died when Mom was 8.  Mom was Barbara’s namesake.

Kirsch Riverview

The Kirsch family immigrated from Germany to Aurora, so going further back in time from Aurora meant jumping the pond.  When we did get back to Germany in the records…we couldn’t visit that location in person.

It’s not that I didn’t want to take a trip to Mutterstadt, Germany to visit the Kirsch homelands, it’s that I couldn’t pry Mom away from her work long enough to take a trip like that.  Mom worked as an Avon lady, her third career, until she was 83 years old.  And she didn’t retire then because she wanted to, but because her health was failing due to dementia and other factors.

And…truthfully…she only retired then because we stole her car.  Well, we didn’t EXACTLY steal it…it’s just that after she had another of those accidents that she didn’t know how occurred…it so happened that it took months for her car to be repaired.  She forgot that she even owned a car until the insurance bill came…and was she ever hot then when she remembered about her car.  I blamed my brother who blamed the car repair place who claimed the part would be there any day now!

Do you know how difficult it is to hide a bright red sports car?  Yes, she bought a red sports car with mag wheels, dual exhaust, front and rear spoilers and a loud engine that made rumbling sounds as her last hurrah.  She had always wanted one.


It’s pretty humorous now, but at that time my brother and I were 50 and 60 year old kids who had gotten caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar!  She was not a happy camper when she remembered that she had a red sports car, and she let us know about it in no uncertain terms!

I asked Mom to swab, again, in the spring of 2003.  She simply asked what this one was for and swabbed in a resigned sort of way.  I know she had to be thinking to herself, “the things we do for our children.”  Had she lived long enough, she would have been both “spittin’ and swabbin’.”  Sounds like a dance doesn’t it!

It was at that point in time that I was suspecting that perhaps one of her ancestral lines held Native ancestry – but it wouldn’t be until after her death that I was able to prove such…not by her DNA at that time, but by breaking through a brick wall and proving those lines via plain old genealogy and the DNA of direct paternal and matrilineal DNA descendants of those Acadian lines.  Oh, how I wish she could have been here to hear about that!  We would have been on our way to Nova Scotia tout suite, guaranteed.

In 2003, when Mom first tested, autosomal DNA testing had yet to be introduced, so Mom’s DNA was archived at Family Tree DNA for 25 years.  Now Family Tree DNA wasn’t started until in 2000, so they aren’t going to have to figure out what to do with archived DNA until about 2025.  Mom’s DNA has only been there for 12 years.

Mom passed away in the spring of 2006.  She was 84 years old and her health had failed.  One is never ready for the death of a parent, but one does know sometimes that it needs to happen.  Death was a release.

I took at this photo of Mom in the window of the church in Aurora, Indiana where her grandmother was baptized, as was her great-grandmother and where her great-great-grandmother attended church after arriving from Germany, probably extremely thankful that weeks-long miserable boat trip was over and everyone survived.  This reflective image is how I think of Mom.

Mom church window

Not really gone, but kind of ethereal and slightly out of reach.  But not all of Mom is physically gone.

When autosomal DNA testing became available, I ordered an upgrade for Mom in August of 2011.  Bennett Greenspan called me and told me that they had been having limited success with older samples, especially those older than 5 years.  Just because they can archive the DNA, and just because they can amplify the DNA to increase their probability of success, doesn’t mean there is enough quantity or the quality of the DNA is adequate for the kinds of tests that require a significant amount of DNA – those tests being the Family Finder and Big Y tests, although Mom obviously would never be a candidate for the Big Y (because women don’t have a Y chromosome.)  Amplifying the good DNA also amplifies any contaminant DNA as well, like from bacteria.

I told Bennett I had to try, so he agreed.  The wait seemed much longer than it was, but the day her results arrived, I cringed and clicked to open the link to find her actual results and matches, not a message saying that the test had failed.  I surely held my breath, because at that time we were at the 8 year mark since she had swabbed, and 5 years since her death, so there was no opportunity to get another DNA sample.

Mom hadn’t failed me, and neither had Bennett, luck nor technology.

A couple of years ago, I visited Family Tree DNA after the 2013 conference.  I received a lab tour in a small group, but it was pretty quick and the space was small and tight.

This fall, I visited again and was afforded a private tour.  (Thank you Bennett.)  It was much quieter and more personal.  The lab looked a lot like the tour of a couple years ago, except for some new equipment, but this time, I actually got close to the freezer.

Mom wore a ring that her parents gave her when she was 16.  She wore it every day for 68 years.  Now I wear it on a chain around my neck because I don’t want to have it sized.  The band is too thin, and although I know I can have it built back up, I wanted to wear it as she had.  The fact that the band is hair thin speaks of her lifetime and all the activities that wore the metal away, and I don’t want to change that memory.

I wore the ring to Houston, taking Mom along with me.  She goes with me on many journeys now.  We’ve been to places Mom could never have imagined and assuredly wouldn’t like.  For example, evacuating during a hurricane on Hatteras Island…but I digress.

Standing in front of the freezer, touching her ring, I told Bennett that I was visiting Mom, that she was in there and there was more of “her” in there now than any other place in the world, except maybe in me.  But then again, I only carry half of her DNA.  Bennett just kind of paused for a minute, smiled, and opened the freezer door for me.  I could see the robotic arm moving back and forth and of course, I have no idea where Mom was in this little mini-freezer-cemetery.  But she was there just the same, and I visited her.

FTDNA freezer

I stood there for a long minute peering inside, said a little private prayer and tried to hide the tears welling up in my eyes.

I know Bennett probably had no idea just how important it would be to people, like me, to be able to resurrect a little bit of Mom, and along with her, our ancestors’ history, after someone’s death.  Had it not been for his foresightedness to archive the DNA for 25 years, and his willingness to purchase a custom $600,000 (choke) freezer to do it, I would never have been able to recover Mom’s autosomal DNA, and along with it, that half of her autosomal DNA that I didn’t inherit.  Not only that, when someone matches both mother and I, it’s a sure fire way to know that match is from her side of the family.

I thank mother for swabbing and giving me the eternal gift of her DNA, the gift that truly does keep on giving, every single day.

So, when you’re wondering where to test your DNA, strongly consider the fact that Family Tree DNA archives your DNA.  You may not care, but your family just might.  Transferring your results from another company is not the same as having your DNA at Family Tree DNA.

Mom is not the only case I’ve come across.  There are many, including Bennett’s own father – and the DNA archival service is included in the cost of the test.  Of the three primary testing companies, Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers more than one test – so even if the other companies did or do archive your DNA, if there is nothing more to order, that archived DNA can’t be of benefit to you.

I wanted to take flowers when I visited Mom, but flowers aren’t allowed in the lab due to contamination concerns, so I guess Mom will just have to make do with this rose from my garden.

rose for mom

I surely do miss Mom, but at least I didn’t have to miss out on everything!  There’s no bringing Mom back, but at least we were able to salvage a bit of her.

And now that I think of it, she’s not at all alone in that freezer-cemetery.  I’m in there with her, as are some 610 of her cousins who match her autosomal DNA as well as her mitochondrial matches. I hope she’s getting to know them.  Knowing Mom, she has organized a mini-freezer-reunion and has rearranged everyone so her cousins can be in the same tray with her.  I surely hope she is getting all those connections straightened out and will find a way to share that information with me!  I’m dying (pardon the pun) to know how her matrilineal ancestors got from Scandinavia to Germany, for example.

I guess I should be telling Mom to rest in peace, but that isn’t really what I want.  I want her to help out from the other side.  She can rest in peace when I get there.  We’ll have a lot of catching up to do about these great adventures, and I can’t wait to sit down and have a cup of tea with her.

I’m betting I’ll have some “splaining” to do about her red car too.  I’m just sure that my brother, my accomplice…who, by the way, wound up with that car after Mom’s passing and is already “there,” has implicated me as the guilty party!



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52 thoughts on “Visiting Mom at Family Tree DNA

  1. Roberta – Thanks for this – I have to admit that there are a few tears behind my new glasses just now.

    I really hadn’t stopped to think about how my mother-in-law’s eyes sparkled when we would visit her in Buffalo and she would drop by the computer in her dining/family room where I was working on updating her family on Find A Grave and Ancestry. She has been a widow since the 1980s and always had a few pictures or funeral memorial cards to share with me when we would visit. She had become the “collector” of family photo albums from her dad and her widowed aunt and was very happy to share them. When we had gathered the family to celebrate her 85th birthday five years ago she smiled as we set up an assembly line scanning photo albums to create digital versions. A distant cousin that I had met doing genealogy on line joined us to meet the family and share info.

    We lost her in early Nov this year but she was very much in control of the situation and passed easy after visiting with her 4 kids and a number of her grand kids. Like your mom she lives on at the FTDNA archive and she would be happy that we had a genealogy discussion group forming during the family visitation at the funeral home. And again the distant cousin showed up and joined in the discussions.

    It was interesting – there was swabbing going on at the family reception after the graveside service. After all, following your suggestions I never travel without at least 1 kit in my bag. The distant cousin recently ordered several kits for her family – the bug is spreading!!!!

    Keep up he good work.


  2. Thank you for this article. I recently lost my elderly parents, both of whom had tested at Family Tree DNA. It is comforting to me that the part of them that made them unique, their DNA, still exists and still has a job to do. I feel so close to them when I’m working with and learning things from their kits.

  3. Roberta, I so enjoyed this post. I feel the same way about my mother. Some of her ashes travel with me in our full-time RVing adventures. My mother, too enjoyed the fruits of my labor and often went on genea-forays with me. Thank you for sharing such a personal and well-written piece about your mother.

  4. A very touching blog, and thank you for it. However, it makes me feel more guilty. Mom was declining and I had purchased a test for another relative. the short version, even though I was caring for her almost 24/7 for several years, I kept forgetting to take the test to her house and have her swab, darn! She is gone and I do not have her DNA to work with now. To all who may read this, Do Not Wait, Do It now!!! You will be glad you took the few minutes to complete the test!

  5. Roberta, I love these stories of your ancestors and this is one of my favourite yet. Your Mom was obviously an extraordinary woman. And as far as “helping from the other side” I’m sure you’ve read Hank Jone’s books about amazing “coincidences” which led genealogists to discoveries. I’ve had a couple of those, one after saying to a cousin who was my research partner, “Well, we’ve exhausted all our leads, if ______ wants to be found, he’s going to have to send us a message from beyond.” And that night I had a very vivid dream which included a name we’d never heard before and which ended up identifying our ancestor. I also saw someone else have a similar experience. I am not into the psychic or paranormal as a rule, so I was a bit surprised.

  6. Roberta, I too share the same joy of having my late wife’s DNA stored at Family Tree DNA’s refrigerator/vault and was able to have her AuDNA tested (successfully by the way!) after her death, thanks to Bennett’s wisdom of the future and past. Love your article(s), especially this one today.

  7. I love your rose, Roberta, and if I could, I would leave an honorary branch from my father’s favorite oak tree outside the freezer at Family Tree DNA. At first, they warned me it might not be possible, too. Yet Family Tree DNA was able to “resuscitate” my late father’s archived DNA sample for re-analysis. (I picture genetic lab workers, tearing out their hair, downing cups of coffee, trying to make it work.) Before this, I only had results from Dad’s Y-DNA (the male side) because his research focused on his Stewart line. I can now work with new distant cousins or “DNA matches” from his maternal side and add branches to our family tree. Thank you, Family Tree DNA!

  8. What a very beautiful and moving story! My own DNA, and that of my brothers, a niece and a nephew, is stored at Family Tree. But i never knew my mother, and she died in 1991 anyway. I’ll have to wait till the afterlife to see her. Though i do have a lock of hair that was hers, which one of my brothers gave me, i do wish that i had her DNA sample as well. Thank you again for the beautiful story of love for your mother, and how genealogy and genetics keep that love alive.

    • I always wonder how long before any of the genetic genealogy companies give us the opportunity to test the locks of hair that many people are holding — some since the Civil War.

      • Unfortunately, you need the follicle and it needs to have a bit of skin on it. Even then, you don’t get enough DNA to do more than Y or mtDNA. I hope that the technology improves someday, but not yet today. I have my Dad’s hair with follicle too.

  9. Oh Roberta, I do love to “read you”! I always learn something whether it’s history, geography, search techniques, DNA and on and on. You often make me laugh and sometimes cry with your insightful sharing of your family history. Thank you for taking the time to teach and share all that you do.

  10. Oh, wow…that made me cry. My mom has only been gone 3 years and my sister died in October. I never had Mamma swabbed, but I did my dad. We also used FTDNA. We live just outside Houston. I’d love to see that lab at FTDNA. Loved the story about the car. It was not fun when we had to tell my mom that she could not drive anymore.

  11. Thank you Roberta! You wove a wonderful tale of your real mom…who looks wonderful in the church photo….and DNA and relatives. 610 cousins! I have had my mother tested at 23andme, but this spurs me on to have her at Family Tree (with me). She is 94, and just this year is starting to look frail and lose memory. But doing well for all that.
    Feliz Navidad!, Georgeann

  12. So few men replying? Guys, where’s your mush button? Thomas’s rain drops behind new glasses sounds about right. A man can be a tough guy and still have a soft heart. Roberta, I hope you thank Bennett often for wanting to preserve our most treasured memories. I have a mom I never got to test. Sadly, I had a wife who did test but whose testing company destroyed her sample after she died. Thank heaven for real men like Bennett with guts enough to do what must be done. And thank heaven for angels like you, Roberta, for reminding us in the most talented and poignant way why these memories are treasured. Merry Christmas. ~Ron.V

  13. I laughed when I read “We would have been on our way to Nove Scotia *tout suite*, guaranteed.”

    The correct French way to write it is “tout de suite”, but the Acadian way is indeed “tout suite” (and other French Canadian), so it was like you suddenly took my late grand-mother’s voice as I read the line. Did someone taught you to say it that way or are you channeling your Acadian ancestors?

    • I learned to speak French in Northern Indiana and actually spoke it “natively” first in Canada. Then I lived in Switzerland for awhile and by the time I came back to the US and tried to take any courses…my French was so “polluted” that classroom French was just all wrong from any perspective. So….to answer your question…I must have been channeling my Acadian ancestors:) There were a lot of embedded French and German words in my mother’s family lingo.

  14. Thank you for this story, Roberta! And congratulations to you — and the commenters — who were able to get autosomal results from your mother’s archived DNA. I, too, have a mother waiting for me to explain a missing car. The last of my ancestors, she died in 1999. Short of a 6-foot pipette extraction of DNA, i have no prayer of getting her DNA.

    However, you’ve given me an incentive to add autosomal to my mtDNA at FTDNA. I had only sons, and they’ve had only daughters. Perhaps, 2 or 3 generations from now, my autosomal DNA will be as useful to one of my descendants as your mother’s is to you. Many thanks for the extra shove.

  15. I always enjoy your posts, but this one was especially lovely and touching. Thank you! And I can’t resist asking if your Mutterstadt ancestors include anyone named Transou, Ganther, or Muschler. Please contact me if so.

  16. Roberta,

    Some of your posts touch deeper than others, this one hit me several ways. I appreciate your sharing. (My wife is still driving my mothers car and we have a very similar rose.)

    Dale Wallace

  17. Roberta
    Always a good read, but like Marianne, what caught my eye was the “tout’suite” – I did not know you also had Acadian roots! I do not think we are related, but our ancestors were walking the same grounds in Port-Royal – mine were Landry, Bourg, Thibodeau and Thériot. I looked up your previous blog on the topic to find out who yours were. The Bonnevie (Good life!) took me to St-Pierre et Miquelon where some deportees eventually landed. I use Geneanet a lot for French ancestors. I could not find anyone reporting male descendants beyond 1800, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Then I read your account of Paris life at the time of Jacques Bonnevie (born ca 1660). It reminded me that a lot of church records had been burnt, but there was a large genealogy project called “familles parisiennes” to which I contributed (because of a Nicolas Philibert Bouchard, also soldier). There are some Bonnevie and de Bonnevie in Paris in the late 17th early 18th century:
    One interesting one is a Charles Bonnevie, married to an Etiennette Landry – inventory after death, 1685. The records have been indexed by volunteers, but you can read them, well, you can see them – read depends not only on knowledge of French but also of paleography. In any case, it will tell you a bit about who the Bonnevie of Paris were at the time.
    PS – My first test at FT-DNA was to prove my matrilinear link to Antoinette Landry with mt-DNA

    • My Acadian names are Lore, Girouard, Bonnevie, Mius, Garceau, Levron, Doucet, Broussard, de Forest, Dugas, Le Prince, Blanchard, Lafaille, AuCoin, Soulard, Savoie, Pelletret, Richard, Minguet, Helie, Barboteau, Lejeune, Trahan, Bourg, Gougeon, Lambert, Chebrat, Poirier, Chaumoret, Hebert, Bourgeois, Goujon, Gaudet, Carsonne, Charbonneau, Desloges, Ciret, Poirier, Chaumoret. My cousin says that if you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians:) My Bourg is Perrine b c 1626 who married Simon Pelletret. Is this your line too?

      • I have Perrine Bourg, but from her second marriage to René Landry. So Perrine is a common ancestor! Other names are Gautier, Allain, Bergereau, Comeau, Thibodeau and Dupuis. Your cousin is right…

        • So we are related – distantly, but still related. What fun!!! Have you downloaded your DNA to GedMatch? Mom is F9141 and I’d love to know if you share any significant DNA with her. I have another cousin there too from my line.

          • Yes I am M165007 – no unfortunately no DNA in common with your mom… Even dropping to 5cM. But we are talking 12 generations… And because of deportation, I have less inbreeding in that line. My parents have 16 ancestors in common… I have Antoinette Landry on my mother’s side and René Landry her brother, on my father’s side. My grandmothers are both Côté, and are related at the 5th generation, so unlike you, if both my mother (who is turning 94 next week and was tested last year) and I have someone in common, it does not preclude a link on my father’s side.

      • I really enjoyed this touching post and this little side discussion caught my attention. All those names like Landry, Theriot, Hebert, Bourg, Gaudet that are in my family line will do that. I saw the GEDmatch kit numbers and thought for sure my dad’s kit (M695728) would match Suzanne Lesage’s. She’s got Landry DNA, how could they not match? They don’t. Even dropping to 5. Then I compared him to your mom’s and there is a 5.1 cM match to her. (I don’t have it.) It seems like there would be more because, as you said, if you’re related to one then you’re related to them all. Carry on, cousins.

        • Yes in Spite of having René and Antoinette Landry on my father’s and mother’s side… they are the early settlers, 10 and 11 generations. But it is sometimes the luck of the draw. I was able to pinpoint my native heritage that far back- 0.2% – Euphrosine Madeleine Nicolet 12 generations ago. In that case, there are five or six Pichette in a row. I wonder if that makes a difference. In any case, we cannot be thankful enough to those who started GEDmatch!
          Your “cousin” Suzanne

  18. My family also shares DNA with you (Roberta) through your mother, it’s not a large amount but enough to be considered a match on gedmatch (my brother’s kit is F99246). Would image it may be within the French Candaian but believe we both have families in a lot of the same countries. I also enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for all the great informative posts and Merry Christmas!

  19. Roberta, what a lovely tribute to your mother! I so miss my mother, too, and unfortunately I don’t have her DNA. I wish I did. A great reminder to everyone to test your near and dear ones before it is too late!

    My mother enjoyed hearing about my findings on the family, but had no desire to do genealogy herself. The stories, recollections and photos that she and my aunt have shared with me have been a priceless part of my family history journey.

  20. My mother too enjoys visiting ancestral locations and hearing what we’ve discovered, without the slightest desire to do research herself (and with both of her children now researching, I think we have her covered). She has tested at FTDNA and Ancestry, and I’m sorry now that we didn’t test her at 23andMe before they doubled the price! However, DNA + traditional research have now pretty much nailed down who both her grandfathers were, which (beyond general curiosity) was what got us into DNA testing.

  21. Oh Roberta! I never know when your blog is going to bring me to tears.. You just did, Again! I have an very old obiviously worn locket, an intricately entwinded “AOH” is engraved on the front.. They are my Grandmothers initials, Anna O’ Hara. She received the locket at some unknown time before her marriage in 1903. (she wearing it in her wedding portrait) . There’s many teeny- tiny indentions visible over the entire surface, they are tooth marks!
    Anna’s children, Grandchildren, Great grandchildren and even a couple of her Great Great Grandchildren, have grabbed it from the current wearer’s bosem and as babies are prone to do, have taken a bite in trying to figure out just wha the shiny object might be. After the 1st child had tasted the locket and left the tiny imprints Anna decided that the rest of the kids may as well have a chew as well. It didn’t make sense for her to be upset about the teeth marks as she always wore the locket and was always holding and cuddling her babies . She was not about to stop either habit so by the time I came along, 3rd from last of her 14 grandchildren, the love bite tradition had been well and truely established,
    My mother received possession of Anna’s locket and continured the tradition. and I was lucky enough to get it in my turn. (Actually I traded a very nice piano for it!) I wear it frequently . I used to feel a bit silly about this but after I read your blog today I know I am not the only person who has personal totems they carry around for years. Evertime I go on a trip I always make sure I have THE locket with me. It’s like having Mom along and Anna too!
    I recently visited Denver, where Anna and Mike met, married, and lived the first 19 years of what was to be a 50 year marriage. You can bet I wore our locket that day .

    Have a Blessed Christmas Season and please KEEP BLOGGING!

  22. Very touching, Roberta. My mom is 94 and has tested . I won’t have her with me long but the remaining time is the best.

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