We Match…But Are We Related?

Last week, I received this question from a reader, we’ll call him Jim:

“I match Susie on the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of our mitochondrial DNA….but I was just wondering….are we related?’

Well, the answer is yes…and maybe.

You see, the answer hinges on the definition of the word “related.”

If Jim means related at any point in time, the answer is yes.  If Jim and Susie share the same haplogroup, at any level, then they did indeed share an ancestor at some point in the past. The question is – how long ago?  And that part of the answer isn’t easy.

Now, if what Jim means is related in the sense of “in a genealogically meaningful timeframe,” which is generally anytime from the present back in time roughly 500 or maybe as long as 800 years….the answer is a resounding maybe.

And of course, the answer differs a bit, depending on whether you’re talking about mitochondrial DNA, Y DNA or autosomal DNA.

Let’s look at all 3 types of DNA tests.

Mitochondrial DNA

First, Jim doesn’t have enough information to make that “genealogically meaningful” determination. To do that, he and his match both need to test at the full sequence level for mitochondrial DNA.  The full sequence test tests all 16,569 locations of the mitochondria, where the HVR1+HVR2 tests only 1135 locations.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide this level of testing.

Jim needs more information.

If Jim and Susie match at the full sequence level too, then the genealogical timeframe becomes possible. If they match with no mutations, meaning a genetic distance of zero, it becomes even more likely, but it’s certainly not a given – nor is figuring out who the common ancestor might be.  For example, below are my closest full sequence matches and my most distant matrilineal ancestor was from Germany.  Most of these matches are Scandinavian.

match mito

However, exact full sequence matches are where you start to look for a common ancestor. No common ancestor found?  Then at least look for common geography.

One of the easiest ways to do that, for both mitochondrial DNA and Y DNA, at Family Tree DNA, is by utilizing the Matches Map, available on your toolbar.

match matches map'

Assuming your matches have completed their most distant ancestor’s location (which is not always the case,) it’s easy to look for match groups and clusters on the map. Your most distant ancestor’s balloon will be white, with your matches color coded.  You can click on any of the balloons to see the match, their ancestor and location.  These are my full sequence matches.  Surprisingly, my closest matches aren’t in Germany at all!!!  Hmmm….time to start looking at what happened in history that might account for this population movement.

In many cases, people will match at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, but not match at higher levels. In fact, they may both be haplogroup H (for example) at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, but the full sequence testing refines their haplogroups and their extended haplogroups may no longer match each other.  For example Jim’s refined haplogroup could be H2 and Susie’s ’s H6.  Both are subgroups of H, who was born roughly 12,800 years ago, according to “A ‘Copernican’ Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root” by Behar et al, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics 90, 675–684, April 6, 2012.

So, yes, Jim and Susie are definitely related in the past 12,000 years – but I’m not thinking this is what Jim was really asking. I refer to this as “haplogroup cousins.”

However, a lot has happened in 12,000 years. As in, mutations happened, and subgroups emerged.  So while Jim and Susie might both be members of haplogroup H, they are not both members of the same subgroup, so their ancestors both developed mutations which classify them into subgroups H2, born not long after H was born, and H6, born about 11,000 years ago.

So, the bottom line is if you don’t match at the full sequence level, you’re not related in a genealogically meaningful time frame. If you do match at the full sequence level, you might be related in a genealogically meaningful timeframe.

A couple years ago, I set about looking at mitochondrial DNA mutation rates and discovered that the only academic paper published that addressed this in the HVR1, HVR2 and coding regions was written about penguins. Not exactly what I was looking for, but it does explain why there is no TIP type calculator for mitochondrial DNA.

Family Tree DNA does provide some guidelines in their learning center.

    • Matching at the HVR1 level means that you have a 50% chance of sharing a common maternal ancestor within the last fifty-two generations. That is about 1,300 years.
    • Matching on HVR1 and HVR2 means that you have a 50% chance of sharing a common maternal ancestor within the last twenty-eight generations. That is about 700 years.
    • Matching exactly on the Mitochondrial DNA Full Sequence test brings your matches into more recent times. It means that you have a 50% chance of sharing a common maternal ancestor within the last 5 generations. That is about 125 years.

I personally think that the 5 generation estimate of a 100% match for the full sequence is overly optimistic. In fact, a lot overly optimistic.  I do find people who do share common ancestors at the full sequence level, but it’s the exception and not the rule – although part of that may be because the surname changes every generation so it’s genealogically difficult to track.  However, genealogical matches would be much more common if more people tested their mitochondrial DNA.

You can see a good example in this article of how mitochondrial DNA told me a story I didn’t know about my matrilineal line – and would never have known without full sequence testing.

What I didn’t include in this article is that many of my mitochondrial DNA matches shared their mutation information with me, and I created a “tree” that showed exactly where each mutation happened and who shared a common ancestor with whom.

I obviously can’t share that chart publicly, but the chart below conveys the methodology. The oldest known ancestors of these matches lived in the locations listed at the bottom of the chart.

match 1

In the above case, you can clearly see that it’s very likely that the founder lived in Scandinavia because at least some of the descendants of all three unique mutation groups, A, B and C live in Scandinavia today. However, Mutation J is found in Germany.  This suggests that sometime after the common mutation, F, an individual migrated from Scandinavia to Germany.  Mutation K, who also shares mutation F, is still in Scandinavia today.


It’s a bit easier to answer the “are we related” question for Y DNA because the surnames are often the same. So yes, if you match on STR markers (those are panels for 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 markers) and you carry the same surname, you’re likely related in a genealogically relevant timeframe.  Don’t you hate it when you see those weasel words like “likely?”

However, if your surname is Smith, or something else very common, and you only match at 12 markers, and you don’t match at higher levels, then again, you’re probably a haplogroup cousin. Names like Smith and Miller are occupation names and every village across continental Europe had at least one at all times.  So, there are lots of Smiths and Millers that have the same base haplogroup and aren’t related in a genealogically meaningful timeframe.

You can see an example of this in my Miller-Brethren project. These are Miller families, German in origin, who belonged to the small German Brethren religious group.

Match Miller 1

Match Miller 2

I thought this would be a relatively small, easy project, but not so much. There were a lot more genetically different Miller surname groups even within the small Brethren church than I expected.

As you can see, many of these groups share haplogroups, especially major haplogroups like R-M269.

In some groups, some individuals have tested additional SNPs by taking either individual SNP tests, the Big Y or SNP panel tests, offered on their individual pages.

So, for example, you may see the haplogroup designations of R-M269 and R-CTS7822 in the same family grouping where the STR markers match exactly or nearly. Confusing?  Yes, but that means that one individual had taken additional testing.  If you look at the haplogroup trees, you would see that CTS7822 is downstream of M269 in haplogroup R.

The important thing for finding genealogically relevant matches is matching high numbers of STR markers. I encourage everyone to test at 67 markers, and I like to see 111 if the budget allows.

If you match someone at 67 markers, exactly, there’s a very good chance you’re very closely related.

For example, cousin Rex matches cousin Richard at 67 markers with only 3 differences. I happen to have their genealogy, and I know when these two men’s lines diverge.  They descend from two different sons of Michael Miller (Mueller) who was born in 1692.  Three cumulative Y STR mutations have happened since that time in these men’s two lines.

Match Miller 3

Rex’s haplogroup is R-M269, but Richard took the Big Y test, so his haplogroup is shown as R-CTS7822 and he now sits as proxy for the rest of the Michael Miller descendant group.

Y matches have access to the TIP calculator, that little orange box shown on the match page above to the right of each matches name.  The TIP calculator provides generational estimates to a common ancestor, weighted by haplogroup marker mutation frequency.

The TIP calculator shows us that, based on their mutations at 67 markers, these two men are most likely to be related between 6 and 7 generations. At the 50th percentile, they are as likely to be related sooner as later, so the 50th percentile is the number I tend to use for an estimate of the distance to the most recent common ancestor.

Match tip

In fact, their common ancestor is 7 generations ago, counting their parents as generation 1.

The more markers tested, the more data you, and the TIP calculator, have to work with. I’ve found the TIP calculator to be quite accurate at 67 and 111 markers when using the 50th percentile as a predictor.

What? You say you don’t match anyone with your surname?

That’s more common than you think.

One of two things could have happened.

First, your paternal surname line may simply have not tested yet.

You may be able to search in the appropriate surname project and find a group of people who descend from “your” ancestor with different DNA. That’s a pretty big hint too, assuming the genealogy is accurate.  If the genealogy is accurate, and your line is the “odd man out,” the next question is always “when did the genetic break occur,” and why.  That leads us to the second scenario.

Second, there could be an undocumented adoption in your line. I’m using undocumented adoption in the most general sense here, meaning anything from a child taking a step father’s name to a true adoption.  The surname does not match the biological line and we don’t know why – so some “adoption” of some sort took place someplace.

The question is, one or two?

I first ask people if they really want to know the answer, because once you pursue this avenue, you can’t close Pandora’s box.

If the answer is yes, they are sure, then I suggest they find a male with their surname that they know should be related and test him.

The answer will become obvious at that point, and the test plan from there forward should reflect the discovery from that test.


The question of “are we related” can be more obtuse when discussing autosomal DNA.

On the other hand, like with Y DNA, the answer can be very evident.

In fact, there is an entire spectrum of autosomal DNA matches and I wrote about how much confidence you should put in each type.

But let’s get down to the very basic brass tacks.

There are only two ways you can match someone’s autosomal DNA.

Either you share a common ancestor or you are matching by chance.

When you receive DNA from your parents, that DNA came from their ancestors as well. All of the DNA you receive from your parents came from some ancestor.

Then, how can you match someone by chance?

You have two strands of autosomal DNA. Think of two lanes of a street.  However, the houses on both sides of that street have the same address.  Your Mom’s DNA value goes in front of one house, in one lane, and your Dad’s goes in front of the house with the same address in the other lane, but we don’t know whose DNA is whose and there is no consistency in whose DNA goes in which lane.

So, it looks like this.

match autosomal strands

You can see in this example that you received As in all positions from Mom and Cs in all positions from Dad. However, these alleles can be positioned in either your strand 1 or 2, so the entire roughly 700,000+ locations typically tested for genealogy is mixed between Mom and Dad.  So, there is no way to tell, just by looking at your DNA, which DNA in any position (strand 1 or 2 at any address) came from whom.

You can also see, looking at the chart above, that if someone matches you on all As, they match you on your Mom’s side, and if they match you on all Cs, they match you on your Dad’s side. This is called identical by descent.  This means, yes, you are related.

But what happens if someone has ACA? They match you too, by zigzagging back and forth between your Mom and Dad’s DNA.  That’s called identical by chance, and it’s not a valid genealogical match. This means, no, you’re not related, at least not on this segment.

I wrote more about this phenomenon and tools to work with your DNA in “One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper.”

How can you tell the difference between identical by descent (related) and identical by chance (not related)? Therein lies the big question.

If you match someone who also matches one of your parents, then you match them through that side of your family – identical by descent from a common ancestor.

Don’t have parents to test?  Then how about your parents siblings, aunts, uncles, first cousins….etc.  Often the best way to tell if a match is a legitimate match is by who else they match that also matches you.  This is why we encourage people to test all of their relatives!

And that, of course, leads to identifying the common ancestor. For example, if you match someone who also matches your first cousin on the same segment, your common ancestor has to be in that same genealogical line shared by you and your first cousin.  This technique is called triangulation.

I wrote more about cousin matching too, in “Just One Cousin.”

You can read more on this general topic here and here, as well.

I wrote a primer for folks just getting autosomal results back called “Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Now What?”

Combination Tools

There are several ways to match people. Sometimes looking at combinations of tools is quite helpful as well.

One of my favorite and little known methodologies is to combine two tools together.  This is only available at Family Tree DNA, because they are the only vendor who also performs the mitochondrial and Y DNA tests in addition to the autosomal testing.

For example, if you match someone on the Y or mitochondrial DNA, notice if they have taken the Family Finder test as well. If they have, the little icon by their name on your match list will say “FF.”

If so, by using the Advanced Matching tool, available under “Tools and Apps” on your personal page Toolbar at Family Tree DNA, you can query to see who matches you utilizing multiple tools.

match toolbar

For example, for cousin Rex, I wanted to know who he matched on BOTH his Y 12 marker test and the Family Finder test. Sure enough, two individuals match him on both.

match combo

Please note that I could also have performed this same search within any project by utilizing the “show matches for” drop down box.


I hope this quick broad-brush survey of the various DNA testing tools and what your matches mean for each type has helped you to take some of those matches from the “maybe” to the “yes” or “no” category.

After all, the fun in all of this is to discover as much as we can about our ancestors by who we are related to. Guilt by genetic association.  There is something to be learned from every match or group of matches if we’re listening…even if it is that your German 4Xgreat-grandmother’s lineage was likely originally Scandinavian.  I don’t know about you, but that tidbit of knowledge and the doors it opens was well worth the price of admission, all by itself.

And just think, you’ll never have the opportunity to find out if you’re related if you don’t test and work with your results!  There is so much waiting to be discovered.



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Susanna Agnes Berchtol or Bechtol (1688-1748/1754), Wife of Johann Michael Mueller, 52 Ancestors #105

Susanna Agnes Berchtol was born on May 3, 1688, probably in Krottelbach, Germany, shown below, to Hans Berchtol and his wife Anna Christina, whose last name is unknown.

Krottelbach Germany

I say probably, because the church that the family attended and where her birth was recorded was in Konken, but since her father’s residence at the time of his death is stated in the Konken Church records as being Krottelback, just a few miles away, that’s likely where the family resided when Susanna was born as well. There was no church in Krottelbach at that time.

Another researcher shows that Susanna was born in a neighboring small town, Ohmbach, but since I don’t have the original church records of either, I’ll withhold final judgement until the records are retranslated by a professional genealogist in Germany.

The name was written as both Berchtol, Bechtol and Bechtel at various times and locations, but was primarily Berchtol in Germany and Bechtol in the US with it morphing to Bechtel in the later 1800s.

The Berchtols were one of several Swiss pietist refugee families who settled in this part of Germany. Other Swiss families included the Johann Michael Mueller family.  This Johann Michael Mueller would be “the first” or at least the first that we know of.  His son, Johann Michael Mueller (the second) would be born in 1692. Ironically, Susanna’s parents, Hans Berchtol and his wife Christina were the godparents at the baptism of Johann Michael Mueller (the second) in 1692, in Steinwenden, about 15 miles distant.  Susanna Agnes Berchtol was four years and five months old when Michael was born.

These two families were previously acquainted, because in 1686, Hans Berchtol was also the Godfather to another child of Johann Michael Mueller (the first) and his wife. That child died.  Many times, the families tried to spread the godparent responsibility out among several adults and relatives in their village.  Along with being the godparent at birth, and carrying the responsibility for the child’s religious education (which was often their only education), the godparents also were the acknowledged “foster parents” should something happen to the child’s biological parents.  All too often, that unfortunate eventuality did happen before the child was of age – and having foster parents already designated removed any doubt about intention or who was raising the children.

In the case of Johann Michael Mueller (the second), that’s exactly what happened. His parents were both dead by the time he was three years of age, which may have played a very large role in his future marriage to Susanna Agnes Berchtol.  Since Michael’s parents lived several miles distant from the Berchtols, had he been raised in Steinwenden where he was born, he would have had very limited exposure to the Berchtol family.

Susanna Agnes Berchtol’s father died on June 15, 1711, according to the Reformed church records.

We don’t know if, Anna Christina, Susanna’s mother was still living in 1711 when Han’s Berchtol died, but in either case, the family would have needed help to survive. Susanna’s youngest sibling that we know of was born in 1698, so there would have been young children still at home.

Susanna was the oldest daughter and the second oldest child, according to the church records. Of course, there could have been other children born to Susanna’s parents before they arrived in Germany in the mid-1680s.

Johann Michael Mueller, age 19 in 1711, would have been a strapping youth with a debt to repay. Not an official debt, but a debt of gratitude to his godparents who could well have raised him after his parents’ death.  Hence, Johann Michael Mueller’s presence in Krottelbach and in the Berchtol household.  Michael likely knew Susanna his entire life and may have been raised in the same household, at least for part of that time.

After her birth, the first record we find of Susanna is her marriage to Johann Michael Mueller on January 4, 1714 in Krottelbach.

Their first child was baptized in that same church a year and 15 days later on January 19, 1715.  That must have been a radiant year for Susanna – her marriage and her first child.

After that, the official records that include Susanna go silent, but we can infer a lot based on what we know about Michael.

There is a possibility that Susanna and Michael moved to Lambshein in 1721. There is a record of a Michael Mueller becoming a resident there, but we have no further records.  It would be interesting to see if the Reformed Church records exist for Lambshein, and if Johann Michael Mueller with wife Susanna Agnes are present.  Those two names, in combination, are fairly unique.

Typically, German children were called by their middle names. We know that Johann Michael was called Michael.  Most male children’s first name was Johann, a saint’s name.  Using this same tradition, Susanna Agnes would have been called Agnes, not Susanna, but for some reason I’ve always thought of her as Susanna – which of course makes absolutely no logical sense.

Regardless of how she was called, either name, Susanna or Agnes was fairly rare and that in combination with Johann Michael Mueller or just Michael Mueller would certainly identify this couple.

We believe that son Lodowich was born about 1724 and son Philip Jacob Mueller was born about 1726, someplace in Germany. We have the naturalization record for Philip Jacob, so there is no question about where he was born.  We have an undated naturalization record for Lodowich as well as one for a John Miller.  Lodowich is fairly unique, especially living in Frederick County, Maryland and being naturalized in Pennsylvania.  John is a much more common name, although he too lived in Frederick County, Maryland and was naturalized in Pennsylvania, so I’m betting it’s the same family.

Michael and Susanna and however many children they had at the time sailed for the American colonies in the summer of 1727, arriving in Philadelphia on October 2, 1727 on the ship Adventure from Rotterdam, last from Plymouth, England.

We don’t know how long the Miller family was in Holland before departing.  Some Brethren lived with the Mennonites in Holland for years before departing.

The records don’t say how the immigrants arrived in Rotterdam, but since the Rhine River was the primary “road” in Medieval times, it’s most likely they arrived by boat to Rotterdam and at Rotterdam camped outside the city, then transferred to a sea-worthy vessel. Rotterdam was “the” embarkation point for both the British Isles and the land that would one day become America.

This map shows the path of the Rhine in Europe.

Rhine map

“Rhein-Karte2” by Ulamm (talk) 02:45, 13 May 2014 (UTC) – File:Rhein-Karte.png by Daniel Ullrich (Threedots). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Steinwenden is about equidistant between Mannheim and Bingen on the Rhine River in the yellow section. Konken is probably slightly closer to Bingen.  In either case, Susanna Berchtol and Michael Miller needed to connect with a ship on the Rhine River so they could reach their destination of Rotterdam.

The trip from Krottelbach to Rotterdam is not an easy trip. It’s more than 450 miles overland.  They surely would have taken river boats if they could.  Today a canal covers most of this distance, but then, the Meuse river winds its way towards Rotterdam as does the Rhine River which they could have connected with in several nearby cities.

Krottelback to Rotterdam crop

I visited Rotterdam in 2014 via the Rhine River. That’s Rotterdam on the horizon, below.  Susanna and her family likely traversed this same path.

Rotterdam approach

The old part of the city as seen from the water.

Rotterdam from Rhine

Except for modern buildings and ships, the approach to Rotterdam probably hasn’t changed much from when Susanna would have seen it in the 1720s and now.

Rotterdam from Rhine 2

This etching shows Rotterdam in 1665.  That looks a lot like the same church above and below.

Rotterdam 1665

Rotterdam was very much a canal city, shown below in this 1652 map.

Rotterdam map

The pietists of the 1720s didn’t follow far behind the heels of the 1709 Palatinates who swamped the city of Rotterdam and camped, by the tens of thousands, in makeshift shacks on dikes outside the city walls waiting for transportation to England and the colonies. Did the Brethren find themselves in the same location, or did they stay with people who lived inside the city?  How did Rotterdam cope with being the last stop on the European continent for Germans trying to leave for better opportunities across the sea?  How did these people eat?  Where did they obtain food?  What about bathroom facilities and hygiene?  They surely only had the barest necessities with them, anticipating a long and crowded journey in a ship.

After leaving Rotterdam, their vessel would have stopped in Plymouth, in Devon England, a regular stopping point, a port city and the last possible location to take on food, clean water, beer (for drinking as the water was often very foul), cargo and sometimes passengers if there was any space left.

Sometimes passengers got to disembark one more time in Plymouth, and sometimes not. This map was from the siege of 1643, but Plymouth probably hadn’t grown a great deal in the following 75 years and the old part of the city would remain the same.

Plymouth map

This house, now the oldest house in Plymouth built in 1498, stood at the time that Susanna would have stopped in Plymouth on the way to America. In fact, by that time, this house would have been more than 200 years old, still young by European standards.  If Susanna got a few minutes to stroll along the quay in Plymouth, she surely would have seen this house that we still can see today.

What did she think as she looked at these houses, knowing she would not set foot on terra firma or see houses for several weeks, if ever, again? Or was Susanna simply too busy with small children to take a walk?

Plymouth house

How did Susanna feel on these boats as she left everything and everyone she had ever known behind, with the exception of her husband, his step-brother and their children?  Did she know anyone else on the boat?  Was she frightened, excited or maybe some of each?  What were her thoughts as land disappeared from sight?  Was she looking forward or backward?  Did she know anyone at all in the new land, or were they simply following rumors of a better life and opportunity?

Transatlantic crossings were not without risk, and most ships buried at least someone at sea. Some ships buried many.  Children were especially vulnerable.  Not only was the ship itself in danger of sinking or passengers washing overboard in bad weather, but the passengers were always in danger due to poor health and illness, often induced by rotten food and bad water.  And then, of course, there was the ever-present issue of sea-sickness.  While it won’t kill you, at least not directly, it will make you incredibly and unrelentingly miserable.

How many children did Susanna have along with her? Did the journey end with as many children as it began, or were they “up” or “down” a child or two.  Was Susanna pregnant on the boat, or God forbid, giving birth?  Those trips typically took from 4 weeks to 3 months, depending on the winds, weather and luck.  The average was about 6 weeks.

Given that their first child was born in 1715, Susanna could have had about 8 children, if all babies born survived. We do know that at least three sons had been born who did survive, and possibly four.

Were Michael and Susanna joining people already established in the colonies, which would certainly lessen the fear, or were they simply arriving in Philadelphia and would figure it out from there? Was someone meeting them at the docks?  Did they have instructions about where to go and who to ask for?  They spoke German in a country that spoke English.

Did they stay in Philadelphia or did they leave immediately for Chester County, where they were first found in 1732?  Where were they from 1727 to 1732?  If they couldn’t pay for their own passage, they would have been indentured to someone for up to 7 years, which would have been 1734, unless their indenture was for a shorter amount of time.  If they weren’t indentured, how did they pay for their passage for a family of at least five, if not more?

Their arrival in Philadelphia in 1727 probably looked something like this. I would bet that when Susanna set foot on dry ground, she never wanted to see another ship again.  If she had survived the voyages and lost no children, she was truly fortunate.  Susanna would have turned 39 years old in May as they were preparing for this trip.

Philadelphia waterfront

This oil painting by Matthew Birth in 1820 shows the Philadelphia waterfront with a shipyard in the foreground. This harbour view probably looked something like what greeted Susanna and Michael when they arrived nearly 100 years earlier.

Philadelphia waterfront 1820

Only the adult males were listed on the passenger list, so we don’t know positively that Susanna was with Michael, but it’s the most likely scenario. The pietists brought their families and did not tend to leave them behind with the idea they would join them later.  There was no way for families left behind to survive.  In many cases, these families had little or nothing when they left.

At that time, Germans were vassals and did not personally own land. Generally, they owned some livestock, which could be quickly sold, and some farm implements, and that’s it.  Not difficult to pick up and leave.

We know that Samuel Bechtol arrived, at some point, and given the joint land ownership between Johann Michael Mueller and Samuel Bechtol, it’s very likely that Susanna was related to him. Some people indicate they were siblings, but I haven’t seen any documentation stating such.  Susanna did have a brother, Hans Jacob Berchtol, born in 1686 who married Anna Marie Glosselos, but I found no record of a Samuel as Susanna’s sibling.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that we don’t have all of the birth records.  Some children could have been born in Switzerland before the family came to Germany.

There is a Hans Simon Berchtol family in Steinwenden where the Mueller family lived who did have a son named Hans Samuel born in 1685 with a Hans Michael (surname illegible) as godfather. Clearly these families were interconnected in some fashion, both in Germany and in Pennsylvania.  There is one immigration record from September 1743 for Samuel Bechtol, but that might be somewhat late.  There is a 1737 record for Jacob (IB) Bechtel.  Estimates are that only about one third of the immigration records from this time frame have been preserved, and none before 1727 when the oath of allegiance began to be required.

We don’t know where Susanna was living from 1727 to 1732 but they were assuredly in or nearby Philadelphia in one of the German communities. It’s unclear when this family became Brethren as opposed to either Mennonite or Reformed.

There were congregations of both in Chester County.

I asked Merle Rummel, a long-time Brethren minister who is also a historian about the differences between Mennonites and Brethren in that timeframe. He was kind enough to send me some information, including his publication, “The Pietists,” which I’m trying to distill here.  I wanted to understand the differences between the Brethren and Mennonites, which, to me, an outsider and from a perspective of nearly 300 years later, look an awful lot alike.

Issue or Belief Brethren Mennonite
Pietism, Radical Pietism – separated from Protestant churches, specifically Lutheranism Anabaptist – delays baptism until adult confession of faith, rebaptizes those baptized as infants
Pacifist (against war) Yes Yes
Celibacy In some cases No
Worship Day Generally Sunday, some groups on Saturday, being the 7th day Sunday
Churches Initially in homes or barns. Sometimes walls were moveable for services.  Eventually built churches where men and women sat of opposite sides of the church.  Loud services and singing.
Also Known as Baptizing Brethren, Baptist Brethren, Dunkers, Tunkers
Method of Baptism Adult trine (triple) immersion in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost Adult baptism, but not trine immersion and sometimes not immersion at all
Communion service Feet washing, agape, love feast, holy kiss Traditional communion
Focus Faith, Biblical studies, cultivation of personal piety Obedience
Divisions Moravians, Brethren, Ephrata Brethren, from the Moravians – the Methodists Mennonite, Amish, Hutterites, River Brethren
Formation Brethren – 1708 Schwarzenau, Germany, Pietist movement – 1680 in Germany 1500s
Beliefs Obedience to Christ as opposed to a church, nonviolence, nonswearing, nonconformity, refusal to take oaths, charity, Bible study, refusal to go to court or sue, simplicity of life and dress, temperance but not abstinence towards alcohol No taking of oaths, no participation in military action, no participation in civil government, simplicity of life and dress.
Affiliation Closely affiliated and lived with Mennonites in exile in Holland between 1719-1729, but became distinct and separate religion in Pennsylvania. Died out in Europe. Survived and widespread in Europe today.
Goals To establish a personal relationship with Jesus, within or outside of any religion, or for people with no religion, not to change churches. Initially did not intend to become a separate religion, just a way of worship.  Inclusive of all initially, eventually excluded many.

I can see that the differences in the ways the two religious groups approached both baptism and communion would be enough to cause them to become or remain two different groups.  Those beliefs are fundamental to the Brethren and they would not be willing to compromise on those tenets.

By 1738, three of the families that Susanna Bechtol and Michael Miller are found with throughout their lives are founding the Little Conewago Church, 80 miles west of Philadelphia in Hanover Township, York County. These are the Ulrichs, Cripes and Jacob Stutzman, Michael Miller’s step-brother who arrived on the boat with Michael and Susanna and their children.  Jacob Stutzman was born in 1706, so was significantly younger than Michael and Susan and they may have felt very parental towards him.  He was not quite young enough to be their eldest child, but he was close.

The lack of Michael Miller’s name as a founding member of Little Conewago could mean that the records are lacking or that he was Mennonite at this time. However, by 1744, Alexander Mack’s letters mention Michael, so it’s likely he was Brethren by this time.  By 1754, Michael had married a Brethren widow, so he was assuredly Brethren by that time.

On the map below, the path from Chester County to the Black Rock Church, the main Brethren church in the area where Little Conewago was located is shown, a distance of about 75 miles.

Chester Co to Little Conewago

We know Susanna and Michael were living in York County in 1744 when on February 7th, Michael bought 400 acres of land northeast of Hanover with Nicholas Garber and Samuel Bechtol.  These families had also lived in Chester County.

The Bechtol family never left York County, PA. Johann Michael Mueller sold his portion of that land to Samuel Bechtol in 1752.  As administrator of the estate of Nicholas Garber, Michael likely sold Nicholas’s portion to Samuel Bechtol as well.  By 1754, Michael Miller had married Elizabeth, the widow of Nicholas Garber.

The Johann Michael Mueller family was likely Brethren by this time, because their resistance to filing documents with the county had manifested itself. Not all deeds were filed, and neither was the marriage between Johann Michael Miller and Nicholas Garber’s widow.  We only know of this because it says in a 1754 court record that Johann Michael Mueller is now married to Elizabeth, the widow of Nicholas Garber and administering his estate.

So, this also tells us that Susanna had assuredly died by 1754. Some researchers feel she had died by 1752 when Johann Michael Mueller sold his land to Samuel Bechtol.  Michael Mueller had purchased land in Frederick County, MD in 1745 and was preparing to move to that area.  Susanna did not sign off on her dower rights on the 1752 deed, but then again, if the deed was to her brother or other family member, maybe they didn’t feel the need.  Some researchers feel that the lack of her signature indicate that she had died by this time.

In 1752, Susanna would have been 64 years of age. She probably had her last child at least 20 years prior, so there would have been no small children left at home.

It’s believed that Michael Miller actually moved to Frederick County, MD after the 1752 sale of his land in York County, PA. He wouldn’t have had any place to live otherwise.

Chester Co to Maugansville

The trip from Hanover to Maugansville was only about 60 miles, right down the new Monocacy Road.

So, Michael sold his land to a man who was possibly his deceased wife’s brother, almost certainly a relative, remarried to the widow of the other one-third property owner, sold that land as well, and removed to Maryland. It certainly appears that Susanna Agnes had died by 1752 and assuredly had by 1754..

In that time and place, widows and widowers did not remain single for long – mostly as a matter of survival, not a social or cultural preference. Life on the frontier was safer and easier with two people, you had a helpmate and a partner.  Pure and simple.

So, it’s likely that Susanna died something between 1748 when Nicholas Garber died and 1752 when Michael sold his land to Samuel Bechtol.

Since we don’t know when Susanna died, we don’t know where she is buried, but we do have a hint – such that it is.

In 1748, a land dispute that had been unfolding in York County, PA became much worse. In a letter to the governor asking for assistance it says that many of the Germans have “gone already and the rest say they will.”  This dispute turned into a war, and indeed, most of the Germans, at least the pietist ones, did leave for Maryland just over the border with Pennsylvania.  This dispute turned violent and several people were killed.  We don’t know if Susanna was perhaps an undocumented victim of these activities.  The date of Nicholas Garber’s death calls this into question for him as well.

We do know the location of the land in York County, thanks to Gene Miller’s work. The Miller/Bechtol/Garber land was dead center in the middle of the disputed land area.  These pacifist people must have wondered if God had a perverse sense of humor – all things considered.  What we do know is that Susanna’s husband was on a list of wanted men (if it was her Michael Miller) and another member of the Brethren family group, an Ullery, told the sheriff to “go to the devil” – something VERY un-pietist like and so unusual that it was recorded.  These people had been pushed to the breaking point.

Miller page 15

The land owned by the three men, Johann Michael Mueller, Samuel Berchtol/Bechtol and Nicholas Garber is shown above overlayed with dotted lines onto an 1886 map created by Gene Miller.  In the lower corner with the red arrow, you can see the notation Mennonite Church Cemetery on the land owned by these joint landowners.  You can also see that Bechtols by the surname spelling of Bechtel still live on this very land in 1886, 130+ years later.  Today that cemetery is known as the York Road Cemetery and also as Bair’s Mennonite Church Cemetery.

Bair's mennonite church

This cemetery is where Samuel Bechtol who died in 1785 is buried. The Berchtol/Bechtol family was known to be Mennonite.  It’s certainly possible that Susanna Agnes Berchtol was Mennonite as well before shifting slightly to the Brethren faith, which is very similar.  It’s also possible that both Susanna and Michael were Mennonite until after Susanna’s passing when Michael could have become Brethren to marry Elizabeth Garber.  One thing is evident – these three families were of somewhat different faiths, Brethren and Mennonite, and it didn’t seem to cause any problems between them.  The Brethren and Mennonite faiths were very similar except for their forms of baptism and communion.

Regardless, Susanna had to be buried someplace. The fact that Berchtols were buried here some time later might suggest that earlier burials occurred here as well.  Perhaps Susanna isn’t buried far from Samuel.  The church itself was not established until 1774 but a family or community cemetery certainly could have pre-dated the church in this location.

If Susanna did make it to Frederick County, Maryland, she may have been one of the first Brethren to be buried there.


Beginning in the 1760s, Michael began to distribute his remaining land to his children and his step-children. By the time of his death, he owned no land and had no estate probate – unfortunately.  Therefore, the only way we have to connect the dots with his children is via land transactions.

Because Michael did not have a will, we only know of three or four children positively, and a possible fifth. The rest of the individuals attributed to Michael and Susanna are speculation, and there is a lot of speculation online.  If someone does have other children and documentation for such, I would love to add that child.  I have not included any speculative children below.

  • Hans (probably Johann) Peter Mueller, baptized on January 19, 1715, at Konken. We don’t know if this child lived to adulthood. If so, he would probably have married when the family was living in Chester Co, PA. He may be John Miller below.
  • Lodowich Miller probably born 1724 or earlier in Germany. Migrated with his parents and lived in or near Hanover, PA and Hagerstown, MD before marrying Barbara, surname unknown, and migrating to Rockingham Co., VA about 1782 where he likely died in 1792. We have an undated naturalization record for Lodowich.
  • Philip Jacob Miller born about 1726 in Germany. Migrated with his parents and lived near Hanover, York Co., PA. Inherited land from his father in formerly Frederick, present day Washington County, MD near Maugensville. Married Magdalena, probably in York County, who was reported to be a Rochette, although I have never found any documentation or that surname. Philip Jacob remained in Frederick County until 1796 when he, along with his children, migrated to Campbell County, KY where he died in 1799.
  • John Miller inherits part of Ash Swamp from Michael in 1765 and lived there until he died in 1795, likely being buried on his own land on a 50 by 50 foot cemetery plot, now lost to time. He may be Hans Peter Mueller born in 1715. There is an undated naturalization record in Pennsylvania for a John Miller in Maryland, although we can’t tell if this is the same man for sure.
  • Hans Michael Miller is given money to purchase land.
  • Michael Miller Junior is given land.

Sadly, we know of no daughters, although they almost certainly existed. There are numerous people who have suggested individuals in the community as Michael’s daughters, but so far, none have produced any evidence whatsoever.

Susanna lived in several places during her childbearing years and the rest of her marriage years. In other words, if she had other children who died, they could have been baptized and buried in a number of places.  If this happened, it must have been exceedingly difficult for Susanna to move on, leaving her children’s graves behind, and alone.  As a mother, I can tell you that there is always a part of you that remains with those children.

  • 1714-1715 – Krottelback
  • 1716-1721 – Unknown location in Germany
  • 1721 – Possibly Lambshein
  • 1721-1727 – Unknown location in Germany
  • 1727 – Rotterdam, then ship to America
  • 1727-1732 – Unknown location in Pennsylvania
  • 1732-1740 – Coventry Township, Chester County, PA
  • 1740-1744 – Unknown location in Pennsylvania
  • 1744-1752 – Near Hanover, York County, PA
  • 1752+ – Frederick County, MD

If Susanna did not pass away before 1752 when Michael sold his York County land, she could have moved with him to Frederick County, Maryland in 1752, but she was assuredly departed by 1754.

Most women of this timeframe in history never ventured more than ten miles distant from their European home. Susanna Agnes Berchtol was no stereotypical woman and saw a great deal of adventure in her life.  I wonder if she chose this path or if it was chosen for her.  Did she even get to vote on the matter?  Did she look ahead in anticipation, or did she cry every time she left her familiar home?  She did a lot of leaving in her lifetime.  A lot of climbing onto boats, into wagons and probably walking.


Unfortunately, because we don’t have the mitochondrial DNA line of Susanna, we can’t use the unbroken female line mitochondrial DNA to prove a daughter relationship. To do that, we would need to have two individuals who both believe they descend from Susanna through all females – and their mtDNA would need to match at the full sequence level.  Then, we could probably be fairly sure they both do indeed descend from Susanna (or at least a common matrilineal ancestor) – but not Susanna positively without proven genealogical descent.  Of course, finding someone who descends through all females from any of Susanna’s sisters would provide Susanna’s mtDNA as well, since mitochondrial DNA is passed from females to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on.  If you have proven descent from Susanna’s sisters, Barbel (Barbara) born about 1693 or Ursula born about 1696, through all females to the current generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you.

There’s another kind of test for anyone who descends from Johann Michael Mueller and Susanna Agnes Berchtol through any children, male or female, and through any combination of male and female children down that line. It’s an autosomal test called Family Finder at Family Tree DNA. Several people known to descend from this couple through male children have already tested.  If people who believe they descend through female children also test, and match, that’s evidence to suggest that Michael and Susanna Agnes did have female children – and to identify who they are.

If anyone believes they descend from Susanna Agnes Bechtol and Johann Michael Mueller through a female child, they can take the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and join the Miller Brethren project. In this project, we have gathered together many of the descendants of Johann Michael Mueller and Susanna Agnes Berchtol and we can compare autosomal DNA against these descendants as well.  Yes, that connection would be several generations back in time.  One could not expect to match all of their descendants, but they could certainly match some of their descendants.  In this situation, the most difficult caveat would be that none of those individuals being compared share any other surname lines.  Of course, in the Brethren community, that’s a difficult goal to achieve.

Still, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility and I encourage everyone who descends from this line to test autosomally and join the Miller Brethren project. I also encourage participants to upload their results to GedMatch where we can adjust match thresholds individually.  In the cases of people matching distantly, this can make quite a difference in terms of whom matches whom.

I have to wonder what Susanna Agnes Berchtol would think of us discussing her DNA. Of course, Susanna would have had no idea what DNA was, although she certainly didn’t seem to be dissuaded by new frontiers.  These small pieces of her DNA are the ties that bind her descendants to her in an unbroken chain of life.



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Scattering Breadcrumbs – Your 2016 Genetic Genealogy Goal


Consider this an invitation to be messy.

Yep, I’m asking you to scatter some bread crumbs.

As I look at each new year, I try to focus on something I can finish or at least make progress with.

I’m inviting you to do the same.

In 2016, what is your most pressing genetic genealogy goal? Or maybe your most important genealogy goal that DNA might be able to help you with?

Limit yourself to one ancestor or couple, please, and list their name first so it’s easy for people to see. Be specific so that someone who sees the breadcrumbs can follow them and can determine whether or not they are from the right family line to help you.

Here’s my example.

My 2016 Brick Wall That Needs to Fall

I am brick walled on my Moore line.

James Moore, born about 1721, was first found in Amelia County, Virginia in 1742 on the tax lists. That part of Amelia would later become Prince Edward County, Virginia.  He was a neighbor to Joseph and Rachel Rice and married their daughter, Mary, around 1745.  James Moore is mentioned in Joseph Rice’s will in 1766 as his son-in-law.  By 1770, James and Mary Rice Moore are living in Halifax County, VA, where they live for the rest of their lives.  James and Mary’s death dates are uncertain and there is no will.  Their children are:

  • James (marries Susanna and believed moved to Stokes Co., NC)
  • William (Methodist minister, marries Lucy, stays in Halifax Co.)
  • Lydia (unproven, marries Edward Henderson, stays in Halifax Co.)
  • Mackness (marries Sarah Thompson, moves to Grainger Co., TN)
  • Rice (Methodist minister, marries Elizabeth Madison, moves to Grainger Co., TN)
  • Thomas (unproven, married Polly Baker, dead by 1804 in Halifax leaving 2 orphans)
  • Sally (marries Martin Stubblefield, moves to Grainger/Hawkins Co., TN)
  • Mary (marries Richard Thompson)

We do have Y DNA samples from three of James’ sons’ lines, so we know what his Y DNA looks like. But we cannot find any matches to any Moores other than the Moore men that we know and love as cousins or who are also disconnected at a later date.

My shout-out is this. If you’re a Moore male whose early lineage comes from Virginia or even Pennsylvania, and your line hasn’t been Y DNA tested, please, PLEASE Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA. The only way we’re ever going to connect James with an ancestral line is through Y DNA testing.  I’ve already combed the records of relevant and even just potential feeder counties with no luck.  Many records have burned.

There is a wonderful Moore DNA project that helps people connect with their Moore line.  So whether you connect to my Moore line or not, you’ll likely connect to some line.

Also, if anyone is descended from James Moore’s children’s lines, please take the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA or contact me if you already have tested at Family Tree DNA or elsewhere.

Your Turn

Please feel free to list your 2016 genetic genealogy goal in the comments section. You don’t know who is going to read your goal and be or know the right person to solve your problem.  People Google 24X7, and yes, my blog shows up in google search results.  As I used to tell my kids, “If you don’t ask, the answer is no.”

So….ask away and scatter a few breadcrumbs. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  You just never know what wonderful discovery may be waiting in the shadows, or who is going to find your breadcrumbs.  As you can see, someone already found mine and it didn’t take long at all!




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The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA


Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches

Just One Cousin

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

A Study Using Small Segment Matching

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make

4 Generation Inheritance Study

Phasing Yourself

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss

Of Babies and Bathwater

Facts Matter

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors

Squaring the Circle

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)

Circling the Shews

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?

The Winds of Change

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com

DNA: good news, bad news

Check out the Alternatives

GeneAwards 2015

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA

23andMe Metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step

The Winds of Change

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown

Now…and not now

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health

Opting Out

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated

AncestryDNA Doings

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy

Of Babies and Bathwater

Facts Matter

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards

The standards themselves:

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?

Kennewick Man is Native American

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!


2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel

Allen County Public Library Online Resources

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year



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