2017 – The Year of DNA

Every year for the past 17 years has been the year of DNA for me, but for many millions, 2017 has been the year of DNA. DNA testing has become a phenomenon in its own right.

It was in 2013 that Spencer Wells predicted that 2014 would be the “year of infection.” Spencer was right and in 2014 DNA joined the ranks of household words. I saw DNA in ads that year, for the first time, not related to DNA testing or health as in, “It’s in our DNA.”

In 2014, it seemed like most people had heard of DNA, even if they weren’t all testing yet. John Q. Public was becoming comfortable with DNA.

In 2017 – DNA Is Mainstream  

If you’re a genealogist, you certainly know about DNA testing, and you’re behind the times if you haven’t tested.  DNA testing is now an expected tool for genealogists, and part of a comprehensive proof statement that meets the genealogical proof standard which includes “a reasonably exhaustive search.”  If you haven’t applied DNA, you haven’t done a reasonably exhaustive search.

A paper trail is no longer sufficient alone.

When I used to speak to genealogy groups about DNA testing, back in the dark ages, in the early 2000s, and I asked how many had tested, a few would raise their hands – on a good day.

In October, when I asked that same question in Ireland, more than half the room raised their hand – and I hope the other half went right out and purchased DNA test kits!

Consequently, because the rabid genealogical market is now pretty much saturated, the DNA testing companies needed to find a way to attract new customers, and they have.

2017 – The Year of Ethnicity

I’m not positive that the methodology some of the major companies utilized to attract new consumers is ideal, but nonetheless, advertising has attracted many new people to genetic genealogy through ethnicity testing.

If you’re a seasoned genetic genealogist, I know for sure that you’re groaning now, because the questions that are asked by disappointed testers AFTER the results come back and aren’t what people expected find their way to the forums that genetic genealogists peruse daily.

I wish those testers would have searched out those forums, or read my comparative article about ethnicity tests and which one is “best” before they tested.

More ethnicity results are available from vendors and third parties alike – just about every place you look it seems.  It appears that lots of folks think ethnicity testing is a shortcut to instant genealogy. Spit, mail, wait and voila – but there is no shortcut.  Since most people don’t realize that until after they test, ethnicity testing is becoming ever more popular with more vendors emerging.

In the spring, LivingDNA began delivering ethnicity results and a few months later, MyHeritage as well.  Ethnicity is hot and companies are seizing a revenue opportunity.

Now, the good news is that perhaps some of these new ethnicity testers can be converted into genealogists.  We just have to view ethnicity testing as tempting bait, or hopefully, a gateway drug…

2017 – The Year of Explosive Growth

DNA testing has become that snowball rolling downhill that morphed into an avalanche.  More people are seeing commercials, more people are testing, and people are talking to friends and co-workers at the water cooler who decide to test. I passed a table of diners in Germany in July to overhear, in English, discussion about ethnicity-focused DNA testing.

If you haven’t heard of DTC, direct to consumer, DNA testing, you’re living under a rock or maybe in a third world country without either internet or TV.

Most of the genetic genealogy companies are fairly closed-lipped about their data base size of DNA testers, but Ancestry isn’t.  They have gone from about 2 million near the end of 2016 to 5 million in August 2017 to at least 7 million now.  They haven’t said for sure, but extrapolating from what they have said, I feel safe with 7 million as a LOW estimate and possibly as many as 10 million following the holiday sales.

Advertising obviously pays off.

MyHeritage recently announced that their data base has reached 1 million, with only about 20% of those being transfers.

Based on the industry rumble, I suspect that the other DNA testing companies have had banner years as well.

The good news is that all of these new testers means that anyone who has tested at any of the major vendors is going to get lots of matches soon. Santa, it seems, has heard about DNA testing too and test kits fit into stockings!

That’s even better news for all of us who are in multiple data bases – and even more reason to test at all of the 4 major companies who provide autosomal DNA matching for their customers: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe.

2017 – The Year of Vendor and Industry Churn

So much happened in 2017, it’s difficult to keep up.

  • MyHeritage entered the DNA testing arena and began matching in September of 2016. Frankly, they had a mess, but they have been working in 2017 to improve the situation.  Let’s just say they still have some work to do, but at least they acknowledge that and are making progress.
  • MyHeritage has a rather extensive user base in Europe. Because of their European draw, their records collections and the ability to transfer results into their data base, they have become the 4th vendor in a field that used to be 3.
  • In March 2017, Family Tree DNA announced that they were accepting transfers of both the Ancestry V2 test, in place since May of 2016, along with the 23andMe V4 test, available since November 2013, for free. MyHeritage has since been added to that list. The Family Tree DNA announcement provided testers with another avenue for matching and advanced tools.
  • Illumina obsoleted their OmniExpress chip, forcing vendors to Illumina’s new GSA chip which also forces vendors to use imputation. I swear, imputation is a swear word. Illumina gets the lump of coal award for 2017.
  • I wrote about imputation here, but in a nutshell, the vendors are now being forced to test only about 20% of the DNA locations available on the previous Illumina chip, and impute or infer using statistics the values in the rest of the DNA locations that they previously could test.
  • Early imputation implementers include LivingDNA (ethnicity only), MyHeritage (to equalize the locations of various vendor’s different chips), DNA.Land (whose matching is far from ideal) and 23andMe, who seems, for the most part, to have done a reasonable job. Of course, the only way to tell for sure at 23andMe is to test again on the V5 chip and compare to V3 and V4 chip matches. Given that I’ve already paid 3 times to test myself at 23andMe (V2, 3 and 4), I’m not keen on paying a 4th time for the V5 version.
  • 23andMe moved to the V5 Illumina GSA chip in August which is not compatible with any earlier chip versions.
  • Needless to say, the Illumina chip change has forced vendors away from focusing on new products in order to develop imputation code in order to remain backwards compatible with their own products from an earlier chip set.
  • GedMatch introduced their sandbox area, Genesis, where people can upload files that are not compatible with the traditional vendor files.  This includes the GSA chip results (23andMe V5,) exome tests and others.  The purpose of the sandbox is so that GedMatch can figure out how to work with these files that aren’t compatible with the typical autosomal test files.  The process has been interesting and enlightening, but people either don’t understand or forget that it’s a sandbox, an experiment, for all involved – including GedMatch.  Welcome to living on the genetic frontier!

  • I assembled a chart of who loves who – meaning which vendors accept transfers from which other vendors.

  • I suspect but don’t know that Ancestry is doing some form of imputation between their V1 and V2 chips. About a month before their new chip implementation in May of 2016, Ancestry made a change in their matching routine that resulting in a significant shift in people’s matches.

Because of Ancestry’s use of the Timber algorithm to downweight some segments and strip out others altogether, it’s difficult to understand where matching issues may arise.  Furthermore, there is no way to know that there are matching issues unless you and another individual have transferred results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, neither of which remove any matching segments.

  • Other developments of note include the fact that Family Tree DNA moved to mitochondrial DNA build V17 and updated their Y DNA to hg38 of the human reference genome – both huge undertakings requiring the reprocessing of customer data. Think of both of those updates as housekeeping. No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary.
  • 23andMe FINALLY finished transferring their customer base to the “New Experience,” but many of the older features we liked are now gone. However, customers can now opt in to open matching, which is a definite improvement. 23andMe, having been the first company to enter the genetic genealogy autosomal matching marketspace has really become lackluster.  They could have owned this space but chose not to focus on genealogy tools.  In my opinion, they are now relegated to fourth place out of a field of 4.
  • Ancestry has updated their Genetic Communities feature a couple of times this year. Genetic Communities is interesting and more helpful than ethnicity estimates, but neither are nearly as helpful as a chromosome browser would be.

  • I’m sure that the repeated requests, begging and community level tantrum throwing in an attempt to convince Ancestry to produce a chromosome browser is beyond beating a dead horse now. That dead horse is now skeletal, and no sign of a chromosome browser. Sigh:(
  • The good news is that anyone who wants a chromosome browser can transfer their results to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch (both for free) and utilize a chromosome browser and other tools at either or both of those locations. Family Tree DNA charges a one time $19 fee to access their advanced tools and GedMatch offers a monthly $10 subscription. Both are absolutely worth every dime. The bad news is, of course, that you have to convince your match or matches to transfer as well.
  • If you can convince your matches to transfer to (or test at) Family Tree DNA, their tools include phased Family Matching which utilizes a combination of user trees, the DNA of the tester combined with the DNA of family matches to indicate to the user which side, maternal or paternal (or both), a particular match stems from.

  • Sites to keep your eye on include Jonny Perl’s tools which include DNAPainter, as well as Goran Rundfeldt’s DNA Genealogy Experiment.  You may recall that in October Goran brought us the fantastic Triangulator tool to use with Family Tree DNA results.  A few community members expressed concern about triangulation relative to privacy, so the tool has been (I hope only temporarily) disabled as the involved parties work through the details. We need Goran’s triangulation tool! Goran has developed other world class tools as well, as you can see from his website, and I hope we see more of both Goran and Jonny in 2018.
  • In 2017, a number of new “free” sites that encourage you to upload your DNA have sprung up. My advice – remember, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Ask yourself why, what’s in it for them.  Review ALL OF THE documents and fine print relative to safety, privacy and what is going to be done with your DNA.  Think about what recourse you might or might not have. Why would you trust them?

My rule of thumb, if the company is outside of the US, I’m immediately slightly hesitant because they don’t fall under US laws. If they are outside of Europe or Canada, I’m even more hesitant.  If the company is associated with a country that is unfriendly to the US, I unequivocally refuse.  For example, riddle me this – what happens if a Chinese (or fill-in-the-blank country) company violates an agreement regarding your DNA and privacy?  What, exactly, are you going to do about it from wherever you live?

2017 – The Year of Marketplace Apps

Third party genetics apps are emerging and are beginning to make an impact.

GedMatch, as always, has continued to quietly add to their offerings for genetic genealogists, as had DNAGedcom.com. While these two aren’t exactly an “app”, per se, they are certainly primary players in the third party space. I use both and will be publishing an article early in 2018 about a very useful tool at DNAGedcom.

Another application that I don’t use due to the complex setup (which I’ve now tried twice and abandoned) is Genome Mate Pro which coordinates your autosomal results from multiple vendors.  Some people love this program.  I’ll try, again, in 2018 and see if I can make it all the way through the setup process.

The real news here are the new marketplace apps based on Exome testing.

Helix and their partners offer a number of apps that may be of interest for consumers.  Helix began offering a “test once, buy often” marketplace model where the consumer pays a nominal price for exome sequencing ($80), significantly under market pricing ($500), but then the consumer purchases DNA apps through the Helix store. The apps access the original DNA test to produce results. The consumer does NOT receive their downloadable raw data, only data through the apps, which is a departure from the expected norm. Then again, the consumer pays a drastically reduced price and downloadable exome results are available elsewhere for full price.

The Helix concept is that lots of apps will be developed, meaning that you, the consumer, will be interested and purchase often – allowing Helix to recoup their sequencing investment over time.

Looking at the Helix apps that are currently available, I’ve purchased all of the Insitome products released to date (Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism), because I have faith in Spencer Wells and truthfully, I was curious and they are reasonably priced.

Aside from the Insitome apps, I think that the personalized clothes are cute, if extremely overpriced. But what the heck, they’re fun and raise awareness of DNA testing – a good thing! After all, who am I to talk, I’ve made DNA quilts and have DNA clothing too.

Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the other apps, like “Wine Explorer.”  Seriously???

But then again, if you named an app “I Have More Money Than Brains,” it probably wouldn’t sell well.

Other apps, like Ancestry’s WeRelate (available for smartphones) is entertaining, but is also unfortunately EXTREMELY misleading.  WeRelate conflates multiple trees, generally incorrectly, to suggest to you and another person on your Facebook friends list are related, or that you are related to famous people.  Judy Russell reviews that app here in the article, “No, actually, we’re not related.” No.  Just no!

I feel strongly that companies that utilize our genetic data for anything have a moral responsibility for accuracy, and the WeRelate app clearly does NOT make the grade, and Ancestry knows that.  I really don’t believe that entertaining customers with half-truths (or less) is more important than accuracy – but then again, here I go just being an old-fashioned fuddy dud expecting ethics.

And then, there’s the snake oil.  You knew it was going to happen because there is always someone who can be convinced to purchase just about anything. Think midnight infomercials. The problem is that many consumers really don’t know how to tell snake oil from the rest in the emerging DNA field.

You can now purchase DNA testing for almost anything.  Dating, diet, exercise, your taste in wine and of course, vitamins and supplements. If you can think of an opportunity, someone will dream up a test.

How many of these are legitimate or valid?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m exceedingly suspicious of a great many, especially those where I can find no legitimate scientific studies to back what appear to be rather outrageous claims.

My main concern is that the entire DTC testing industry will be tarred by the brush of a few unethical opportunists.

2017 – The Year of Focus on Privacy and Security

With increased consumer exposure comes increased notoriety. People are taking notice of DNA testing and it seems that everyone has an opinion, informed or not.  There’s an old saying in marketing; “Talk about me good, talk about me bad, just talk about me.”

With all of the ads have come a commensurate amount of teeth gnashing and “the-sky-is-falling” type reporting.  Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this industry and open mouth only to insert foot – except that most people don’t realize what they’ve done.  I doubt that the politicians even understand that they are tasting toe-jam, because they haven’t taken the time to research and understand the industry. Sound bites and science don’t mix well.

The bad news is that next, the click-bait-focused press picks up on the stories and the next time you see anyone at lunch, they’re asking you if what they heard is true.  Or, let’s hope that they ask you instead of just accepting what they heard as gospel. Hopefully if we’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s to verify, verify, verify.

I’ve been an advocate for a very long time of increased transparency from the testing companies as to what is actually done with our DNA, and under what circumstances.  In other words, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.  Period.

Family Tree DNA answered that question succinctly and unquestionably in December.

Bennett Greenspan: “We could probably make a lot of money by selling the DNA data that we’ve been collecting over the years, but we feel that the only person that should have your DNA information is you.  We don’t believe that it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

You can’t get more definitive than that.

DTC testing for genetic genealogy must be a self-regulating field, because the last thing we need is for the government to get involved, attempting to regulate something they don’t understand.  I truly believe government interference by the name of regulation would spell the end of genetic genealogy as we know it today.  DNA testing for genetic genealogy without sharing results is entirely pointless.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but an update is warranted and I’ll be doing that sometime after the first of the year.  Mostly, I just need to be able to stay awake while slogging through the required reading (at some vendor sites) of page after page AFTER PAGE of legalese😊

Consumers really shouldn’t have to do that, and if they do, a short, concise summary should be presented to them BEFORE they purchase so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Stay tuned on this one.

2017 – The Year of Education

The fantastic news is that with all of the new people testing, a huge, HUGE need for education exists.  Even if 75% of the people who test don’t do anything with their results after that first peek, that still leaves a few million who are new to this field, want to engage and need some level of education.

In that vein, seminars are available through several groups and institutes, in person and online.  Almost all of the leadership in this industry is involved in some educational capacity.

In addition to agendas focused on genetic genealogy and utilizing DNA personally, almost every genealogy conference now includes a significant number of sessions on DNA methods and tools. I remember the days when we were lucky to be allowed one session on the agenda, and then generally not without begging!

When considering both DNA testing and education, one needs to think about the goal.  All customer goals are not the same, and neither are the approaches necessary to answer their questions in a relevant way.

New testers to the field fall into three primary groups today, and their educational needs are really quite different, because their goals, tools and approaches needed to reach those goals are different too.

Adoptees and genealogists employ two vastly different approaches utilizing a common tool, DNA, but for almost opposite purposes.  Adoptees wish to utilize tests and trees to come forward in time to identify either currently living or recently living people while genealogists are interested in reaching backward in time to confirm or identify long dead ancestors. Those are really very different goals.

I’ve illustrated this in the graphic above.  The tester in question uses their blue first cousin match to identify their unknown parent through the blue match’s known lineage, moving forward in time to identify the tester’s parent.  In this case, the grandparent is known to the blue match, but not to the yellow tester. Identifying the grandparent through the blue match is the needed lynchpin clue to identify the unknown parent.

The yellow tester who already knows their maternal parent utilizes their peach second cousin match to verify or maybe identify their maternal great-grandmother who is already known to the peach match, moving backwards in time. Two different goals, same DNA test.

The three types of testers are:

  • Curious ethnicity testers who may not even realize that at least some of the vendors offer matching and other tools and services.
  • Genealogists who use close relatives to prove which sides of trees matches come from, and to triangulate matching segments to specific ancestors. In other words, working from the present back in time. The peach match and line above.
  • Adoptees and parent searches where testers hope to find a parent or siblings, but failing that, close relatives whose trees overlap with each other – pointing to a descendant as a candidate for a parent. These people work forward in time and aren’t interested in triangulation or proving ancestors and really don’t care about any of those types of tools, at least not until they identify their parent.  This is the blue match above.

What these various groups of testers want and need, and therefore their priorities are different in terms of their recommendations and comments in online forums and their input to vendors. Therefore, you find Facebook groups dedicated to Adoptees, for example, but you also find adoptees in more general genetic genealogy groups where genealogists are sometimes surprised when people focused on parent searches downplay or dismiss tools such as Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and chromosome browsers that form the bedrock foundation of what genealogists need and require.

Fortunately, there’s room for everyone in this emerging field.

The great news is that educational opportunities are abundant now. I’m listing a few of the educational opportunities for all three groups of testers, in addition to my blog of course.😊

Remember that this blog is fully searchable by keyword or phrase in the little search box in the upper right hand corner.  I see so many questions online that I’ve already answered!

Please feel free to share links of my blog postings with anyone who might benefit!

Note that these recommendations below overlap and people may well be interested in opportunities from each group – or all!!


Adoptees or Parent Search

Genetic Genealogists

2018 – What’s Ahead? 

About midyear 2018, this blog will reach 1000 published articles. This is article number 939.  That’s amazing even to me!  When I created this blog in July of 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about.  That certainly has changed.

Beginning shortly, the tsunami of kits that were purchased during the holidays will begin producing matches, be it through DNA upgrades at Family Tree DNA, Big Y tests which were hot at year end, or new purchases through any of the vendors.  I can hardly wait, and I have my list of brick walls that need to fall.

Family Tree DNA will be providing additional STR markers extracted from the Big Y test. These won’t replace any of the 111 markers offered separately today, because the extraction through NGS testing is not as reliable as direct STR testing for those markers, but the Big Y will offer genealogists a few hundred more STRs to utilize. Yes, I said a few hundred. The exact number has not yet been finalized.

Family Tree DNA says they will also be introducing new “qualify of life improvements” along with new privacy and consent settings.  Let’s hope this means new features and tools will be released too.

MyHeritage says that they are introducing new “Discoveries” pages and a chromosome browser in January.  They have also indicated that they are working on their matching issues.  The chromosome browser is particularly good news, but matching must work accurately or the chromosome browser will show erroneous information.  Let’s hope January brings all three features.

LivingDNA indicates that they will be introducing matching in 2018.

2018 – What Can You Do?

What can you do in 2018 to improve your odds of solving genealogy questions?

  • Test relatives
  • Transfer your results to as many data bases as possible (among the ones discussed above, after reading the terms and conditions, of course)
  • If you have transferred a version of your DNA that does not produce full results, such as the Ancestry V2 or 23andMe V4 test to Family Tree DNA, consider testing on the vendor’s own chip in order to obtain all matches, not just the closest matches available from an incompatible test transfer.
  • Test Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA.
  • Find ways to share the stories of your ancestors.  Stories are cousin bait.  My 52 Ancestors series is living proof.  People find the stories and often have additional facts, information or even photos. Some contacts qualify for DNA testing for Y or mtDNA lines. The GREAT NEWS is that Amy Johnson Crow is resuming the #52Ancestors project for 2018, providing hints and tips each week! Who knows what you might discover by sharing?! Here’s how to start a blog if you need some assistance.  It’s easy – really!
  • Focus on the brick walls that you want to crumble and then put together both a test and analysis plan. That plan could include such things as:

o   Find out if a male representing a Y line in your tree has tested, and if not, search through autosomal results to see if a male from that paternal surname line has tested and would be amenable to an upgrade.

o   Mitochondrial DNA test people who descend through all females from various female ancestors in order to determine their origins. Y and mtDNA tests are an important part of a complete genealogy story – meaning the reasonably exhaustive search!

o   Autosomal DNA test family members from various lines with the hope that matches will match you and them both.

o   Test family members in order to confirm a particular ancestor – preferably people who descend from another child of that ancestor.

o   Making sure your own DNA is in all 4 of the major vendors’ data bases, plus GedMatch. Look at it this way, everyone who is at GedMatch or at a third party (non-testing) site had to have tested at one of the major 4 vendors – so if you are in all of the vendor’s data bases, plus GedMatch, you’re covered.

Have a wonderful New Year and let’s make 2018 the year of newly discovered ancestors and solved mysteries!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Concepts – Sibling and Twin DNA Matching

Lots of people are giving their siblings DNA test kits.  That’s a great idea, especially if your parents aren’t available for testing, because siblings do inherit part of the same DNA from their parents, but not all of the same DNA. That means testing siblings is a great opportunity for more genealogical matches!

Recently, a friend asked me why his fraternal twin has matches to people he doesn’t, and vice versa.  Great question, so let’s take a look at what to expect from matches with siblings.

First, identical twins share exactly the same DNA because they are created as a result of the division of the same egg that has been fertilized by the father’s sperm. Identical twins matches should be identical.

A fraternal twin is exactly the same as a sibling. Two separate sperm fertilize two separate eggs and they gestate together, at the same time.

Second, let’s talk just a minute about Y and mitochondrial DNA, then we’ll discuss autosomal DNA.

Full Siblings Share
Mitochondrial DNA Exactly the same, unless a mutation occurred
Y DNA Males will share exactly the same, unless a mutation occurred.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome.
Autosomal DNA Approximately 50% of autosomal DNA

To obtain detailed Y and mitochondrial DNA results, you’ll need to test with Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering these tests.

For autosomal matching, you can test with a number of vendors including: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

You can read more about the different kinds of testing here, and a comparison of the different tests and vendors here.

50% the Same – 50% Different

Siblings share approximately 50% of the same DNA of the parents.  The other 50% is different DNA that they received from the parents that the other sibling did not receive.

In the conceptual example above, you can see that each child inherited 4 segments of the 8 total offered by their parents.  Only two of those segments were the same for both siblings, segments 3 and 4.  Of these two siblings, no one inherited parental segments 7 and 8.  Perhaps a third child would.

In other words, siblings can expect to see many of the same people in their match list and several that are different. In our example, the same people would be matching both siblings on segments 3 and 4.  People matching child 1 but not child 2 would be matching on segments 1 and 2.  People matching child 2 but not child 1 would be matching on segments 5 and 6.

The reason you’ll see the same people on your match list is because you did inherit 50% of the same DNA from your parents.

There are two reasons you’ll see different matches on your match lists.

Some of your matches on your list that don’t match your sibling will be because the two siblings inherited different pieces of DNA from their parents.  Your sibling will match people on the DNA that they received from your parents that you didn’t receive, and vice versa.

Some Matches are Identical By Chance (IBC)

Another reason for different matches is because you and your sibling will have people on both of your match lists that don’t match either parent as a result of IBC or identical by chance matching. That’s where the DNA of your match just happens to match you by virtue of zigzagging back and forth between your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA that you carry.

As you can see in this example, your pink DNA came from your Mom, and blue from your Dad, but your match carries some of both values, T and A.  This means they match you, but not because they match either of your parents.  Just an accident of circumstance. That’s what IBC is.

Telling the Difference

I wrote about matches that are identical by descent (IBD), meaning because you inherited that DNA from your parents, and identical by chance (IBC) in this article.

Unfortunately, your DNA is mixed together and without other known relatives testing, it’s impossible to discern which DNA is inherited from your mother and which from your father. This is exactly why we encourage people to have known relatives test such as parents, grandparents and cousins.  Who you match on which segments indicates where those segments descended from in your family tree.

If one or both parents are living, that’s the best way of discerning which matches are identical by descent and which are by chance.

A recent project with Philip Gammon showed by segment size the likelihood is of a match being genuine or identical by chance.  If both parents have tested, he offers the free Match-Maker-Breaker tool to do this analysis for you.

The bottom line is that when comparing your matches to those of your siblings, about 20-25% of everyone’s total matches are identical by chance, especially those at lower centiMorgan levels.

The remaining 80% or so will be divided roughly half and half, meaning half will match you and a sibling both, and half will only match you. Therefore, you will be looking at roughly 40% of your matches being in common with a particular sibling, 40% not matching your sibling but being legitimate matches and the remaining 20% that are identical by chance.

Test Parents and Family Members

Of course, because you do share roughly half of the same DNA inherited from your parents, you will have some matches to both you and a sibling that are identical by chance in exactly the same way.  Just finding someone on both of your match lists doesn’t guarantee that the match ISN’T identical by chance.

The best way to eliminate identical by chance matching, of course, is to test your parents.  Sadly, that isn’t always possible.

The next best way to determine legitimate matches is to test other family members.  At Family Tree DNA, they provide customers with the ability to link the DNA tests of family members to their proper location in your tree, and then Family Tree DNA utilizes the common DNA segments to determine common matching between you, that family member(s), and other people.

Those people who match you and a family member on the same segment are then identified as either paternal or maternal matches, based on their position in your tree.

Identifying Lineage

When thinking about who to test, half-siblings, if you have any are, a wonderful way to differentiate between maternal and paternal matches.  Because you and a half sibling share only one parent – which side of your tree those common matches come from is immediately evident!

Of my matches at Family Tree DNA, you can see that of my total 3165 matches, 713 are paternal and 545 are maternal, with 4 being related to both sides.  Don’t get too excited about those “both sides” matches, they are my descendants!

Paternal and maternal bucketing is a great start in terms of identifying which matches are genealogical – and that’s before I do any actual genealogy work.  All I did was test, create or upload a tree and connect tested family members to that tree.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to offer this feature.


Ethnicity is a slippery fish.  I generally only consider ethnicity estimates reliable at the continental level.  There are lots of reasons that siblings will receive somewhat different ethnicity results including the internal algorithms of the various vendors.  You can read about what is involved in ethnicity testing here.

Transfers Give You More For Your Money

If you test at one of the vendors, you may be able to transfer to other vendors as well as GedMatch.  In the chart below, you can see which vendors accept transfers from other vendors. You can read more here.

Have Fun

Lots of people are now testing their DNA and I hope you and your siblings will find some great matches among the new testers. The great thing about siblings, aside from the fact that they are your siblings, is that you can leverage each other’s DNA matches.  Just one more way to share and move the genealogy ball forward.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Merry Christmas – And To All A Good Life

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to say about Christmas this year. Truthfully, I haven’t felt much like celebrating.

This year has been filled to the brim with mortifying events, the likes of which I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

Barely a day goes by that I’m not frightened anew – for my Black, Native and Spanish friends, family, and their children. For our brave soldiers, police and firefighters of all colors and races. For the country I love and call home – the same one that my ancestors spilled their blood and gave their lives to defend. For my children, grandchildren and their descendants.

So, for Christmas or Hanukkah or Solstice, whatever you celebrate, I decided to share with you a story – one of hope – one of kinship – one of reaching beyond the stereotypes that have sometimes been ingrained in upbringing and the communities and families in which people are raised. A story about the power of choice that each of us has within us.

A story that I recall again and again because it gives me hope when my days feel hopeless. It renews my soul.

It’s a story about love, but not at all your typical love story.

The Reunion

A few years ago, a DNA group that I administer decided to host a homecoming and conference of sorts – before the days of genetic genealogy conferences.

We rented a hotel and the conference room, and before we knew it, the “reunion” was filled to capacity.

Three days of presentations were scheduled, with many of the attendees giving sessions about genealogy, and in particular, about genetic genealogy which was still  new at the time.

The Reveal

One of the draw cards was a “reveal.” My cousins and I had discovered each other a few months before and had busily been DNA testing to prove or disprove whether in fact William Herrell was the ancestor of both groups of people. Me on the one side and my cousins on the other.

The complicating factor was that William Herrell had two wives, at the same time – one black and one white. Not only that, but he had purchased the black wife, Harriett, as a slave – but the white wife, Mary, raised Harriett’s child, Cannon, with her own children after the death first of Harriett and then of William.

Was Cannon William’s biological child? Oral history said yes.  What was the truth of the matter?

Given the location of the reunion, I had some consternation about this topic and particularly about the reveal.

My cousins, however, were not concerned. It was them I was concerned for, not me, so the plan progressed smoothly. Adding to our excitement was the fact that we would all get to meet in person for the first time.

On the first day of the conference, we presented the attendees with the back story, which is actually quite interesting, then we left them with a cliffhanger. Were we related? We asked them to vote. What did they think? We would tell them the following morning.

The vote, by the way, was about half and half.

The Next Morning

On the morning of the second day of the conference, we were shocked to discover that people were simply showing up at the hotel. They had heard, through the local grapevine that there was to be a BIG REVEAL and everyone was interested.

We didn’t quite know what to do.

We crammed as many seats into the room as possible. People crowded in behind the seats and stood, and more people filled the lobby craning their necks to see.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine anything quite like this.

My cousins Carlos (Los) and Denise and I revealed the answer.

Yes, Cannon was the son of William Herrell and yes, we are all related.

But that’s not the punchline, nor is this the main story.

Los, Denise and I began on a journey as curious genealogists. Before we even knew that we were related, we had formed a relationship with each other, one which we maintain today. We’ve added more family members as well, and we are indeed “kin” as they say in the south, not just because we are blood relatives, but because we have gotten to know each other as people and we love each other. (And for the record, I have other relatives I’m not nearly so quick to claim.)

Yes, you might notice that some of us have more skin pigment than others, but our family runs the entire pigment range and truthfully, I don’t even think about it or notice anymore. It’s irrelevant. We all bleed red, feel both pain and love and are good people. It’s really that simple, and it’s all that matters.

Bottom line is that I love them, not because they are black, or actually, part black, not in spite of it, simply because they are who they are. At one point, we thought we might NOT be related, and we were all horribly disappointed, and rejoiced when we discovered that we actually DO share an ancestor and ARE cousins (thank you autosomal DNA).

The Preacher

One of our attendees at the conference was a retired Baptist minister. In his 80s, he didn’t get around well and while not wheelchair-bound, he used both a wheelchair and a cane to increase his mobility and keep himself safe. I had known him for years.

We’ll call him Reverend Jim. All of the names of people other than my cousins have been changed.

Reverend Jim and I thought that we might share a particular line, that of his surname, but Y DNA testing proved that our lines were different, a fact that frustrated us both, because we would have liked very much to share research.

Reverend Jim felt that his time was running out as he aged and his health failed, but he remained an upbeat, avid genealogist and welcomed DNA testing to advance his knowledge. Hence, his difficult trip to the conference.

After the big reveal, people gathered in the conference room and the lobby to visit with each other and discuss the results along with DNA testing. My cousins and I were talking to people, when voices dropped and it became evident that something interesting was happening across the room.

I was holding Los’s daughter who was about 18 months old at the time, wishing we lived closer and I could be another grandma to her.

Suddenly Los and I both realized that all eyes were on a table near the front window.

Curious and concerned that something might be wrong, especially given that Reverend Jim was seated there, I ambled with purpose towards the table, not wanting to appear nosey, but cognizant of the fact that I was the defacto hostess. Besides that, there seemed to be an intense discussion occurring and I wondered if it might have something to do with DNA testing.

Reverend Jim was sitting at the end of the table on one side in his wheelchair, and a black gentleman of about the same age was facing him across the table. We’ll call him Doug. Listening for just a minute revealed that they shared the same surname and were debating whether they could be from the same paternal line.

Now I understood the hushed room.

Given that one was black and one was white, the answer, if yes, meant that perhaps they had experienced something in their families like Los, Denise and I had discovered in ours, with all of it’s painful ramifications about slavery. Needless to say, this was a sensitive subject, and both people were trying to have a nice conversation without offending anyone. I’m sure both men were thinking, “probably not,” but didn’t want to say that out loud. Or maybe they were secretly wondering, “What if?”

Suffice it to say that not everyone is nearly as accepting of newly discovered interracial family as my cousins and all of our extended families. And yes, I really do mean that – ALL OF OUR EXTENDED FAMILIES.

So, I stood and listened, as other people gathered round.

The Railroad

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked for the railroad and was gone a lot. He missed a lot of Christmases with the family.”

Doug: “My Daddy too.”

Both men smiled and chuckled, clearly harkening back in time and thinking about their own fathers.

Reverend Jim: “We lived in the town of X back then. Did your Daddy work for the railroad too?’

Doug: “Sure did. We lived at the other end of the line, near the depot in Y.”

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked between X and Y most of the time, but sometimes he went on other lines too.”

Doug: “My Daddy did too. When did your Daddy work for the railroad?”

Reverend Jim: “From about 19XX to about 19XX.”

Doug: “I bet they knew each other. What was your Daddy’s name?”

Reverend Jim: “William.”

Doug, very slowly: “Mine too.”


The men and the entire room now.

Both men stared at each other across the table.

End of the Line

Reverend Jim broke the spell and reached down in his wheelchair bag, extracting a three ring binder. He opened the cover and started leafing through the contents. I thought perhaps this discussion had gotten too close to a topic that perhaps he wasn’t comfortable with. Given his age and where he had lived his entire life.

Finally, Reverend Jim found what he was looking for. I suspected it was a pedigree chart that he wanted to share with Doug.

Reverend Jim turned a page toward Doug, placing the binder on the table. I saw an old black and white photo in a plastic sleeve. Reverend Jim, smiling, said, “That’s my Daddy. Did you know him?”

Doug leaned over politely and looked at the photo, glanced quickly at Reverend Jim, then back at the photo. Doug picked the book up and evaluated the photo more closely. The photo wasn’t in good shape, somewhat dogeared, old and grainy. A woman with Doug looked over his shoulder, peering at the photo to see if she knew the man, I’m sure.

Doug reached towards his chest, looked at Reverend Jim and said softly, “That’s my Daddy.”

Reverend Jim leaned in towards Doug, straining to hear. “What?”

Doug, now louder, still clutching his chest, “That’s my Daddy too.”

My mind raced.

Was Doug having chest pains? Is that why he was clutching his chest?

Did I need to call an ambulance?

Should I ask him?

Was his father white?

Was he sure that was his father?

Was that photo really good enough to tell?  For sure?

How could this be?

Doug must have been wondering the same thing.

Doug handed the binder with the photo to the woman behind him, and asked her, “What do you think?”

She looked closely, squinting for a long minute, scrutinizing the picture, handed the binder back to Doug and said, “Yep, that’s him.”

“You sure?”



The entire room was deathly silent now. Not one peep out of anyone.

You could have heard a blink.

Both men must have been processing this information.

Both men must have realized that their father deceived them.

Both men must have realized that their father cheated on their mother.

Both men must have been wondering how he pulled this off.

Both men must have been wondering how they didn’t know about each other.

And both men must have realized that they had a brother, and perhaps other siblings, of another skin color, born in a time in America when black and white drinking fountains were the norm and racial separation by the name of segregation was expected.

Was this a horrible moment or a wonderful moment?

Some of each perhaps?

What would they do?

It was one thing to watch my cousins and I reveal our journey, in a preplanned way, but quite another to have a surprise reveal of your own in a hotel lobby filled with an unwitting audience.

What happened next would set the tone for the entire rest of these men’s lives.

What would it be?

Acceptance or Rejection?

I realized that Reverend Jim was trying to struggle to his feet. I didn’t know if I should help him, leave him alone or gently encourage him to remain in his chair. I was frightened about what might be coming.

Doug stood up too, trying to stabilize Reverend Jim.

His face revealed confusion and pain.

Reverend Jim managed to get his cane in place, stood, wobbling and somewhat stooped, and leaned over the table to Doug, reaching for him.

I held my breath.

For an excruciatingly long minute. Everything was happening in slow motion.

Reverend Jim put his free arm around Doug and pulled him into a close hug.

Doug stepped around the table and put both arms around Reverend Jim. Reverend Jim dropped the cane, fully embracing Doug.

I realized both men were crying. Tears streaming down their faces.

Reverend Jim blurted out, between sobs, “I have a brother!”

I remember huge waves of relief washing over me. The tears, hot and salty came.


Pure unfettered joy.

I knew this was only the beginning of the questions these men would have for each other.

A wonderful new chapter had opened. Wonderful based on their perceptions of the present, not the past.

My memory of the rest of that day is blurry now, much like that black and white photo.

The people in the lobby were quite astir with this news.

The following day, ALL of Doug’s family arrived loaded with photos and an impromptu  family reunion occurred in the lobby with family pictures scattered all over a table salted with chatter and laughter.

Reverend Jim was so overwhelmed and excited that he managed to lock his keys in his car, and later, lose them entirely. He never attended another presentation. He had much more important things to do!

I know both families were in shock.

Here’s what else I know.

Love Won

Those men had a choice to make and they had to make it in an instant.

Their families had the same choice. Most of Reverend Jim’s family was gone, but Doug’s was large and it was evident that Reverend Jim went home with far more family that he arrived with.

They had been blessed.

Hatred didn’t win that day.

Neither did bigotry.

Nor racism.

Or prejudice.

Pure and simple.

Love won.

Merry Christmas and may love bless you in the new year.



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Irene Charitas Schlosser, Beware the Overlooked Umlat, 52 Ancestors #176

4-15-2018 – After this story published, we subsequently discovered that Irene is not a Schlosser. I am leaving this story because parts of this information have been on the internet for some time – and I want to be sure the entire story of why people thought Irene was a Schlosser, and how we know she isn’t, is available. For the rest of the story, including her correct surname, click here.

One of the reasons I was initially hesitant to write these 52 Ancestors articles, (that were supposed to span one year, but are now beginning year 4) is because I didn’t want to publish something in error.

Years ago, I was speculating with a cousin, who subsequently published my speculation, and today, some 25 years later, I still fight that same information that turned out to be incorrect in trees every day. Or every day that I look at that ancestor’s parents anyway. And to think, I started that problem, albeit very innocently.

I’ve learned, so I really try to be precise and when I don’t know something, I say so. When there is a hint but no conclusion can be drawn, I say so.

Today is one of those really great days when hints have paid off. Furthermore, one of those 52 ancestor articles paid off too, because someone replied with an EXTREMELY valuable piece of information about an umlat. Yes, an umlat.

As it turns out, two little dots made all the difference in the world.

Irene Charitas

For years, Irene Charitas, the wife of Johann Michael Mueller (the first), was shown in trees with her last name being Charitas. That was as a result of misunderstanding German records where Charitas was her middle name.

I wrote about Irene Charitas Mueller here, or at least as much as I knew at the time.

Cousin Richard Miller, when he visited Steinwenden back in 1996 was provided with a translation and of an original record from 1689 in which a daughter of Conrad Schlosser was confirmed and Irene Charitas (then Miller) stood up for her as the godmother. At least that’s what we thought.

The original record is shown above, second from last, and below, the typed document provided to cousin Richard.

At this point, it was clear we might have a lead on a relative of Irene Charitas, but not more. We do know this group of pietist leaning families arrived in Steinwenden, Germany from Zollikofen, Switzerland sometime in the 1680s.

The Umlat

A week or so after the Michael Mueller article was published, and a week or so before the Irene Charitas article was published, a nice person named Karen Parker posted a comment on my blog. She says that the entry said that Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula are Conrad Schlosser’s daughters, as in plural. I’ve seen assumptions made before, so I asked if she could translate the record, and she did, stating the following:

Auf Ostern means “at Easter.”

u is the abbreviation for und, meaning “and.”

Tochter with an umlaut over the o, means “daughters.” (If there’s no umlaut of the o in Tochter, then it’s singular, “daughter.”)

von means “from.”

So it’s: “1689 at Easter. Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula, Conrad Schlosser’s daughters from Steinwinden”

In case you’re interested, in the entries below the ones for Easter, “Auf Weynachten” means “at Christmas,” and “Auf Pfingsten” means “at Pentacost.”

Don’t ask me how I managed to miss the significance of this, but I did. I would like to blame it on being distracted by two birthdays that week in the family, but that’s no excuse for missing something this critical to my genealogy. Not to mention, I owe Karen a huge debt of gratitude, and yes, I’ve e-mailed her to say such.

As it turns out, I owe my friend Tom, a second huge debt of thanks, because he is the one who saw the comment and realized its relevance for me. Not to mention he dropped everything, found original documents and translated them for me. I’m telling you what, this man is on Santa’s “good list!”

When I saw Tom’s e-mail arrive with the title “Irene Charitas,” I skipped right over everything else and jumped to that e-mail in which he called my attention to Karen’s comment.

An umlat!

A pesky umlat. Two little dots!

Have two dots ever been more important?

Of course, we don’t have umlats in English, and little did I understand the significance of that umlat, especially in this case – making a plural from a singular.

Here’s my reply to Tom:

So, Irene Charitas was originally Irene Charitas Schlosser.  That helps.

One more cog in the wheel.

Now we know that Conrad was Irene Charitas’ father.  I wonder what other entries are in those records for him.  I wonder if his wife is mentioned in any of them.

I wonder if the fact that the wife isn’t mentioned in this record means his wife is dead at that time.

So many things to wonder.

So excited that one more piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Whoever would have thought an umlat would make that much difference!

Tom replied as follows:

Michael Muller is one of the godparents for the first child of Melchior Clemens and Anna Maria Schlosser, daughter of Conrad in a 1686 baptism. The child was named for him.

Conrad Schlosser’s wife is mentioned in another baptism. Her given names are Anna Ursula.

And there you have it, the surname and parents for Irene Charitas, after all of these years, all because of an overlooked umlat.

I’ve never been more grateful for an umlat! Or for Karen and Tom!

That Nagging Question

Do things ever nag at you? Is there sometimes just something that isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on it?

There was for me with these records, when I realized that both Irene Charitas and her sister, apparently both confirmed in 1692, were not children. Irene Charitas was about 27, born about 1665, very clearly an adult, and Anna Ursula had to have been 13 or older for her mother to have given birth when she was 45 years of age or younger, although the mother’s last child appears to have been born when she was 47 years old.

Originally, I thought this record was a baptism. Tom pointed out to me that this was a confirmation, and confirmation in the Lutheran church is typically performed on young adults and is referred to as an “affirmation of baptism.” That helped put the record in context and explain why the people being confirmed, called confirmands or confirmants, were older.

Were both Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula being confirmed at the same time? It appears that way, although I initially thought that Irene as standing up for her sister, but after the retranslation, it doesn’t look that way. No witnesses are mentioned and the godparents would have stood up with the family at their earlier infant baptisms.

Next, I pondered the possibility that perhaps Irene and her sister had not been baptized as infants, but given the fact that the Lutheran church still wasn’t terribly far from its Catholic roots at this time in history, I doubt that seriously. All children were baptized.

The Catholic Irony

There’s a great irony here relative to Catholic roots. Irene Charitas Schlosser had a sister, Anna Maria who married Melchior Clemens in Steinwenden in 1685.

Anna Maria and Melchior had a child, Johann Michael Clemens, in Steinwenden who was christened on January 31, 1686. Johann Michael Mueller, Irene’s husband, was the child’s godfather, but then the unthinkable happened.

Apparently Melchior was Catholic, because their subsequent children were all baptized in the Catholic church.

Given that the godparent’s duty was to see that the child was raised and in particular, raised within the church in the event something happened to the parents, I wonder how that would have worked in this circumstance. Surely that means that Anna Maria became Catholic as well, so the family was officially divided. I have read records of other families in this region that never spoke again or even acknowledged that the “other” side of the family existed after part of the family “defected” to the dark side. By the way, the definition of “dark side” is based entirely on perception.

I want to say that all is well that ends well, but frankly, we don’t know how that ended and religion can be an extremely divisive topic, especially following shortly on the heels of the 30 Years War which ended in 1648 and ravaged the very land in Steinwenden that the Schlosser family settled on in the early 1680s.

More than 30 years later, Germany had been so depopulated during that war that much of its land still lay fallow, creating opportunity for these immigrant families, often escaping religious persecution elsewhere. Extreme hardship and displacement due to differences in religion and very strongly held views were fresh in everyone’s memory – if not still an everyday occurrence.

For a Lutheran family member to return to Catholicism might not have been well received.

However…Carl Schlosser, the brother of both Irene Charitas and Anna Maria was the godfather in 1694, in the Catholic church for the son of his sister, Anna Maria. He is noted in the Catholic church record as “the honorable young man, Carolus Schlosser, Calvinist of Steinweiler.” Honorable in this context probably means that his parents were married at his birth, but still, if the Catholics were willing to allow a “Calvinist” and Carl, “the Calvinist” was willing to stand up in a Catholic church with his sister and nephew – maybe the family relationship was just fine after all despite being members of different religious sects that had recently been at war.

I hope so. Life is hard enough without religious differences dividing families.

New DNA Possibilities

Along with newly discovered sisters come new possibilities for people who qualify to test for mitochondrial DNA – that carried by Irene Charitas and her sisters, contributed to them by their mother.

Sadly, Irene Charitas Schlosser didn’t have any female children who lived.

What this means is that if anyone descends from Irene’s sister’s female children through all females, to the current generation, where the tester can be male – the mitochondrial DNA will be that of Irene Charitas’s mother, Anna Ursula.

Anna Ursula gave her mtDNA to her children of both genders, but only females passed it on. The only one of Irene Charitas’ sisters who had female children who lived was Anna Maria Schlosser who married Melchior Clemens or Clements.  They had three daughters who would be candidates, as follows:

  • Anna Appolonia Clemens born August 26, 1691, married on May 26, 1712 to Johannes Nicolaus Heller of Reweiler in the Catholic church in Ramstein..
  • Reginam Catharinam Clemens born December 3, 1697. Unknown if she married.
  • Anna Christina Clemens born September 29, 1700 and on November 4, 1722 she married Jacobus Wuest of Obermohr in the Catholic church in Ramstein.

If you descend from these women through all females, I have a testing scholarship waiting just for you!

Not The End

That’s not quite the end of the discoveries yet, but the next chapter is literally not written. There’s a plot twist too!

We now have at least some evidence that suggests that Irene Charitas Schlosser Mueller might not have died around 1694, as previously thought, but I’m holding off on that because the evidence is actually rather unusual in addition to being somewhat contradictory and, frankly, I don’t want to miss another doggone umlat!



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Dublin – Heartbeat of the Emerald Isle

In the fall of 2017, I was privileged to spend 10 days in Dublin. I arrived a few days prior to my speaking engagement at Genetic Genealogy Ireland and planned to spend 4 days seeing Ireland, the home of my ancestors. Aside from losing a day to Hurricane Ophelia, I managed to stay on schedule, at least somewhat, with my preplanned tour schedule with my trusty tour guide, Brian O’Reilly.

Because of Hurricane Ophelia, no place, literally, was open on Monday and Tuesday was iffy and very wet. A hurricane is not a storm that ends shortly, but peters out as it moves on, which can take days. A few days later, the remains of Hurricane Brian (not to be confused with tour guide Brian) arrived too, but it was more like a normal (very) windy storm.

Therefore, I spent more time in Dublin itself than I had anticipated since a 12 hour roundtrip drive to either the Cliffs of Moher or the Giant’s Causeway didn’t seem terribly attractive in that weather.

Following the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference, I spent another day in Dublin with a group of ISOGG volunteers and speakers. These are the folks who make this conference happen.

On our Monday ISOGG “day out”, among other places, we visited Trinity College at the University of Dublin including the Book of Kells and Dr. Dan Bradley’s ancient DNA lab before moving on to UCD (University College Dublin) where we visited a second ancient DNA facility, enjoying both tours and lectures .

I am combining these various adventures scattered over several days into one article.

I don’t know of any specific ancestors that lived in or near Dublin, but Dublin is a medieval city, established officially in 988, with humans having inhabited the area since before 140 AD when Ptolemy provided what is believed to be the earliest reference to a settlement where Dublin would one day be located.

In 841, the Vikings invaded followed by the Norman invasion of 1169, so needless to say, Dublin is a mixture of people that arrived from elsewhere.

Even the “native Irish” were a mixture beginning with Neolithic hunter-gatherers that settled and built the massive passage mounds more than 5000 years ago. Their descendants would have assimilated later with Celts who arrived about 500 BC as well as Anglo-Saxons who announced their arrival with a raid in 684 AD.

Dublin was the center of commerce and trade for eastern Ireland. If your ancestors lived anyplace in the area, they may well have traded here or transacted other kinds of business. One way or another, what happened in Dublin affected all of Ireland.

Ireland isn’t a large island. At its widest point, it’s 174 miles wide, 302 miles north to south and roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Indiana.

The Irish have a very different perspective of distance than people from the US.

Ireland may be small, but they have a rich and sometimes violent history – which makes genealogy research both enthralling and challenging. They also have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, not to mention historical sites.

To preserve their heritage, Ireland has established the National Museum, which is actually a series of free museums, including The Museum of Archaeology where I discovered several archaeological and historical treasures.

National Museum

The National Museum is chocked full of wonderful items from throughout Ireland’s history.

For me, the most interesting artifacts were the bog bodies, the flint mace head excavated at Knowth and the Tara Brooch.

The front of the this carved flint mace head looks eerily like a face.

The side of the mace head had beautiful spirals, echoing the many spirals carved into the rocks at both Knowth and New Grange.

The bog bodies are in an incredible state of preservation, including hair. Much of Ireland, meaning the part not mountainous, is boggy.

Old Crogham Man’s leather armband survived.

This individual is nearly complete.

Unfortunately, DNA has not been able to be recovered from the bog bodies due to the conditions in the bog.

The Tara Brooch, in an incredible state of preservation, was found on a beach by schoolchildren and is believed by some, due to its incredible artistry, to have belonged to the High Kings of Ireland.

Just the day prior, I visited Tara, so finding the brooch in the museum was icing on the cake.


I enjoyed visiting Dublina, a recreated medieval village of Dublin adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral. This exhibit would be excellent for children, complete with an archaeology lab and re-enactors demonstrating various parts of medieval life.

The information at Dublina and at the National Museum is duplicated somewhat, but presented differently. I actually preferred the Dublina approach, as the display cards in the Museum were wall-mounted with small print, not displayed in the cases with the artifacts, so the overall experience in Dublina was more enjoyable. Of course, the National Museum has most of the national treasures. Two unique places, both worth a visit.

In 841, the Vikings invaded Dublin, adding their DNA to the Celts and the original Neolithic people who had already settled in Ireland millennia before.

Can you write your name in the runic language?

I cheated and you can too, at this PBS link.

Vikings both owned and sold slaves, which might explain how Viking mitochondrial DNA came to be found in the British Isles.

Even the Vikings were concerned about toilet paper. Maybe it’s in their DNA, given Dublin’s fascination with toilet paper. You’ll see what I mean later!

In medieval Dublin, life was often short, with an average life expectancy of only 30 years. As you might imagine, sanitation in cities was problematic.

Guinness Storehouse

No trip to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, a very popular tourist attraction. This wasn’t my favorite, but I can see why it is for many people.

While the Guinness Storehouse is now a museum, of sorts, Guinness brewing continues among a series of interconnected buildings. The Guinness family owns most of this portion of Dublin and has a 9000 year lease, issued in 1759 to Arthur Guinness who then established the brewery at St. James Gate. And no, that’s not a typo – it’s really 9000.

The Guinness Storehouse tour is self-guided, taking you through the history of beer-making in general, and of Guinness in particular.

I didn’t know that the word beer originated in the Anglo-Saxon language.

Nor had I ever seen hops before. In one area, the flavors in the beer are discussed and you can sniff each one, before tasting the Guinness itself. I always enjoy the science portions of tours.

The best part of the Guinness Storehouse is the top floor Gravity Bar with a panoramic view of all of Dublin where you’re also served a…wait for it…a Guinness. It wasn’t crowded when I visited, but be aware that the lines are often long and the top floor is glassed in and VERY HOT in the summer. Air conditioning is uncommon in Ireland.

The panoramic view is absolutely amazing.

The Wicklow Mountains are the source for the water used to brew Guinness.

Soda Bread

If you thought that potatoes were the staple food of Ireland, it’s not. It’s really soda bread, which is served with just about everything. You can always find soda bread along with tea. Sometimes soda bread, “just like grandma used to make,” is enjoyed with nothing, sometimes with butter and often with butter and some kind of jam.

Soda bread and tea just make everything better. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.


Dublin is the city of colorful doors.

Because much of Dublin is historic in nature, owners can change very little of the outside façade, but they can customize their door color, and they do.

When you don’t have a large canvas, you have to be creative in a small space.

There’s an entire store devoted to door jewelry.

Door of the home of the Guinness family, founders of the Guinness empire.

Dubliners tell you about their doors, and stop so you can see either outstanding or remarkable doors, or the doors of the houses of famous people.


Dublin is also a city of pubs.

Pubs are generally neighborhood establishments, local places, where people gather to eat, drink and socialize. After all, these people are Irish.

My flight arrived at 9 in the morning, on Sunday, and the hotel couldn’t get me into a room for another 6 hours. What was I to do? Take the hop-on-hop-off tour, of course. These tours are fun. You can stay on the bus and listen to the guide, get off and back onto a later bus, or whatever combination suits your fancy.

As luck would have it, the bus stayed in the starting location for about 40 minutes, parked immediately outside of a pub, Madigans. I know. I know. What luck.

I was hungry and needed to find a restroom, so I decided to have bowl of soup. With soda bread, of course.

Hence, I was introduced to the Irish pub in the nicest of ways. My only regret was that I wasn’t able to return for the traditional Irish music or the Irish step dancing at the Arlington Hotel, recommended by Brian.

Pubs are literally everyplace, on every corner, and often in-between too.

Think you might want to drive in Ireland? Think again! Look at those road signs. Merges, roundabouts and unusual traffic patterns are everyplace. And remember, the cars are coming from the opposite direction you expect when crossing the street.

If you can make it across the street, there’s a pub on the corner where you can take refuge!

Another historic pub that’s also a B&B, the Ferryman.  If crossing the street is dangerous sober, think about it with a couple Guinness under your belt. Aye, better to stay in the pub or at the B&B!!!

Pub grub is the best.

The food in every pub is unique and I failed miserably in my attempts to sample it all!

Some pubs are named after owners, former owners or something in the neighborhood. This pub, The Horse Show House, is located across from the Royal Dublin Society, an area devoted to rugby.

This small village pub in the Wicklow Mountains was extremely unique with its painted ceiling.

And then, some pubs are portable.

I so wanted to ask, but then…perhaps some things are best left unknown!

Toilet Paper

Dubliners are obsessed with toilet paper. Seriously. Remember the Vikings and their moss – I think that trait has descended to the current day population.

In particular, Dubliners are obsessed with getting a good price on toilet paper – to the point that there are pop-up toilet paper markets along the street and on corners. Thankfully I had Brian to explain this phenomenon to me, because I would have never figured it out otherwise.

Brian says that a Dubliner will save $5 on toilet paper and then go the pub and spend $100 the same night bragging about what a good deal he got on toilet paper. We saw a man carrying a large package of TP on his shoulder into the bar across the street. I kid you not.

I love experiencing the culture of different places. I mean, I can hear the negotiations now.

“But that’s only one ply and me fingers break through…”

“Well, yes, I could give it for Christmas, but only for half the price of the Charmin over there….”


Old, new, large or small, Dublin has them all. Like all early settlements, Dublin was founded on a river which continues to be the city center. I was lucky to be graced with a beautiful rainbow as we crossed this bridge.

Even the older bridges are beautiful, but one of Dublin’s bridges is famous and shaped like a harp.

The harp is the much beloved national emblem of Ireland. The Brian Boru harp, having nothing to do with Brian Boru, bearing the O’Neill coat of arms and dating from the 14th or 15th century is displayed in the Long Room at Trinity College.

By Marshall Henrie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32781748

In 2009,  a harp shaped bridge was designed for central Dublin in honor of Irish writer and poet, Samuel Beckett. Along with the contemporary design came unwelcome traffic restrictions which inspired an unpublishable Irish ditty about the bridge and inconvenience introduced by the bridge in a high-traffic and already congested area. Let’s just say that some of the words rhyme with Beckett and in Ireland, words are pronounced differently. For example, an equivalent sounding word for Beckett in the US would be Buckett.

You can view the bridge opening ceremony in 2014 in this You Tube video as water through firehoses “plays” the bridge cables like harp strings. It’s truly amazing and probably one of the most unique bridges on the planet.

Through the harp bridge, you can see Dublin’s new conference center which looks like it’s a bit tipsy and had one too many Guinnesses – a fate that has befallen more than one Irishman!

Royal Dublin Society

Genetic Genealogy Ireland was held at the Royal Dublin Society, known as the RDS, for three full days.

The schedule was chocked full of great speakers. The sessions were live streamed and can be seen in the Facebook group, Genetic Genealogy Ireland. The sessions, except for a couple that can’t be posted pending the publication of a paper, will all be available on Genetic Genealogy Ireland’s YouTube channel thanks to Maurice Gleeson. In the meantime, you can watch the sessions from the last 4 years. What a wonderful resource.

ISOGG volunteer, Emily Aulicino, at left, assists a visitor with which Family Tree DNA tests would be best to purchase for which relatives. Emily also had her book, Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond available for purchase.

My two presentations went very well, even with a challenging environment in terms of the acoustics in the facility.

If you’re a member of the Facebook group, Genetic Genealogy Ireland, you can see Autosomal Tips and Tools at Family Tree DNA and the second presentation, Autosomal DNA Through the Generations – but I’d actually suggest that you might want to wait until the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube videos are released, because the audio will be better – or I surely hope so.

However, I just have to share something fun with you. This is me, just before my session, Autosomal DNA Through the Generations, where I compare the DNA of my granddaughters through three ancestral generations – including 3 of 4 grandparents and one great-grandparent. (Very big thank you to my family and my daughter-in-law’s family!)

Do you spot anything remarkable?  Hint – the dress. Now do you see it? If not, I’ll have an upcoming lighthearted article. Yes, yes, I know I’m very much a geek at heart!

Let’s take a quick look at a couple slides from other presentations that I found quite interesting.  As you probably know, I’m fascinated by ancient DNA, and we were extremely fortunate to have two presentations by scientists who work with ancient DNA in the lab.

I particularly enjoyed the ancient DNA presentations. Here, Dr. Eppie Jones from Cambridge University and Trinity College discusses Ancient DNA and the Genetic History of Europeans.

Dr. Dan Bradley from Trinity discussing Prehistoric Genomics at the Atlantic Edge.

You can see a few more photos of Genetic Genealogy Ireland, courtesy of Gerard Corceran, at this link.

I was so looking forward to visiting both Trinity College and UCD, including the genetics labs, so let’s go!!!

Trinity College, University of Dublin

One of the highlights of my visit was Trinity College, founded in 1592, and in particular, the ancient DNA lab. The wooden gate, above, opens into the plaza, below.

First, we had a delightful tour of the University of Dublin campus by this delightful philosophy professor, Joseph O. Gorman, sporting a charming green waistcoat making him appear something of a leprechaun.

If Joseph Gorman had been my prof, I might have paid more attention. He was excellent, a font of knowledge with a way of making everything interesting.

Here, the group of volunteers and speakers gathers, listening in rapt attention in the plaza inside the college gates. The wooden doored gate through which we entered is in the background, just to the left of professor Gorman’s head. The various college buildings on the campus are entirely inside the area walled by buildings and surround the plaza, an area once the location of the Priory of All Hallows where monks resided.

If you would like to view some very interesting videos about Trinity College and the historical buildings, click here and here for a lovely YouTube introduction including the charming Irish brogue.

Come on, let’s walk around the campus!

If it’s called a buttery, it can’t be bad. I love campuses with history!

The Trinity campus is just beautiful, with gardens polka dotted from place to place like living jewels.

Along with old trees growing in what was the cemetery from the monastery originally located here.

I could hardly wait to see the Book of Kells, created about 800 AD and eventually stored in the monastery in Kells, not far from Dublin and from where the book received its name, up close and personal.

Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed, although I certainly understand why.

On the second floor, above the Book of Kells exhibit on the main floor, we find is the infamous Trinity Library Long Room. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such an incredibly beautiful library.

In the library long room, this beautiful spiral staircase is still in use.

By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42693401

This amazing room is full of artifacts as well, some of them books, some busts and  just this incredible room itself.  Just look at that ceiling!

Taken from across the green, the old Trinity Library building is actually very long, unheated and uncooled. Translated, it is very hot and very cold, depending on the time of year. The actual “long room” is on the second floor, with the Book of Kells exhibit on the bottom floor.

Past more gardens and on to the Smurfit Institute of Genetics.

Yes, I think this building should be blue!

Of course. Whoever thought we’d come so far from pea pods in 1866 to the discovery of DNA in 1953 and on to the human genome being sequenced in 2003.  And today, we visit the ancient DNA lab.

We didn’t get any closer than the hallway. They aren’t being rude.  Contamination is the bane of genetics, and especially ancient genetic extraction when samples are already contaminated and scientists have so little to work with in the first place.

However, we could peek in.

I think this is the neatest lab I’ve ever seen.

Irish humor is everyplace.

Ok, I can’t leave my trolley in the plants, but you didn’t say anything about my mops.

Not the ancient DNA lab where chances are few and mistakes are catastrophic, but geneticists in training in a more traditional lab.

James Watson, greeting students every day at the top of the stairs. Just think, this field is new enough that I bet Dr. Bradley knows James Watson.

Dr. Dan Bradley explaining how genetic research was done with gel plates when he first began. I think these are antiques now!

Dan explaining the discovery that the Petrous bone in the skull contains by far the best preserved DNA in ancient specimens. This groundbreaking research came out of this lab. The skull that Dr. Bradley is holding is a plastic model, not a real skull.

Here, a bovine Petrous bone with Dr. Bradley in the background.

Dr. Eppie Jones, the face of the future in genetics. All I can say is that I hope bright young women stay in STEM focused education and sit up and take notice of Eppie’s accomplishments!

On the way from Trinity to UCD (University College Dublin), we passed this wall art. DNA is finally mainstream.

You can view additional photos of Trinity, courtesy Gerard Corcoran, here.

University College Dublin (UCD)

UCD has an ancient genetics lab too.

The ancient DNA lab is vacant today.

We were treated to a presentation about the analysis of DNA, ancient and otherwise. With the advances in both DNA extraction and the analysis of those results, the science of genetics has now morphed into two segments, the actual technical part of the extraction and processing, and the subsequent analysis.

The Insight Center for Data Analytics specializes in the analysis process.

Now that we have the ability to gather huge amounts of genetic information, what can we do with the data, how we advance science and at the same time, make the results understandable?

In the genetics lab at UCD.

New, super fast, super expensive sequencing machine.

Dr. Sean Ennis with the Genomics Medicine Ireland project discussing the Irish Genome initiative. How are the Irish alike and different from others? What defines the Irish, genetically?

The Irish are 95% lactose tolerant, reaching nearly 100% in Western Ireland.

What more can we learn in the future? The project is undertaking sampling DNA of the Irish who have a disease and those who are healthy as well.

Genetic pathways, art in the UCD genetics building.

You can view additional (lovely) photos of UCD at this link, courtesy of Gerard Corcoran who arranged the day’s festivities.

The Irish Folklore Collection

While UCD is a tremendously modern research facility, that’s not all it has to offer. The library hosts the Irish Folklore Collection which has recently undertaken to digitize oral histories recorded in the 1930s, which reach back into the mid 1800s.

At this link, you can search the catalog by name, surname, location or keyword.

You can search by surname here as well.

In the schools collection, you can search by surname or location. It would be worth looking to see where your ancestral surname is found in the early 1900s because the same family may be found in the same location much earlier.


Our day ended at a Chinese restaurant where the walls were literally tiles with quarter inch tiles, arranged in the shape of flowers.

This entire restaurant was tiled in this manner. Absolutely amazing!

And since we’re on the subject of art, let’s visit take a side trip!

Quilts, the Universal Language

When possible, I always try to find a quilt shop. Brian and I found 4 in or near Dublin. Two were closed, one was relatively small, although I did find a souvenir fabric, but the last shop, Apple Tree Crafts, held two beautiful quilts.

These stylized trees are each hand embroidered – putting thread to fabric in the creation of art.

Of course, these poppies spoke to me and said, “Take me home,” so I did! Not the whole quilt, just the poppy fabric.

If you’re looking for quilt shops in Ireland, check out this link from the Quilter’s Guild of Ireland and always, always call ahead.

Around the corner from the quilt shop, we found a florist decorated for halloween.

I guess it’s evident that Ireland celebrates Halloween too.

Bye to Dublin

Dublin is a wonderful city. I barely scratched the surface in my 10 days. Of course, I was distracted by the conference and the hurricane. Minor details.

I never realized before my visit how genuinely nice and helpful the Irish are. The language is delightful, both Gaelic and English with that wonderful brogue. I can hear some of that brogue in Appalachia where so many Scots-Irish were transplanted.

The Irish have a wonderful and charming sense of humor as well as being very difficult to upset. They have a permanent lemonade out of lemons attitude. Or more specifically, a trip to the local pub can fix anything, along with Guinness, soda bread and some cheap toilet paper.

How does life get better?



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Michael McDowell Sr. (c 1720 – after 1755), Breadcrumbs Scattered From Maryland Across Virginia, 52 Ancestors #175

Michael McDowell Sr. could have been born in Baltimore County, Maryland, on the boat to Maryland, or back in Ireland.

We don’t know.

What we do know is that in 1752, Michael McDowell sold portions of the property in which he had an interest that had belonged to Murtough McDowell, an immigrant.  Murtough was living in Baltimore County in 1722.

We are presuming that Murtough’s wife in 1730 was indeed the mother of Michael, but we don’t know that for sure either.  It’s certainly possible that Elinor was a second wife, but there is absolutely no evidence either way.

Halifax County, Virginia

Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.

The following power of attorney was issued in Halifax County, VA and recorded along with a land sale in Baltimore County, Maryland.

May 3, 1755 – Page 407 – Power of attorney from Michael Macdowell to John Hawkins, signed in Halifax County.

The power of attorney itself was entered into the Baltimore County record below the deed sale and is dated September 19, 1752.

This signature does not contain an X for a signature, which may be a later differentiator between Michael McDowell Sr. and his son, Michael Jr.

The following document is recorded in Baltimore County, Maryland:

Mich McDowell to Joseph Murry Jr. – September 19, 1752, Michael McDowell of Halifax County in the colony of Virginia to Joseph Murray Jun of the County of Baltimore in the Province of Maryland, 10 pounds current money, land known as “Bring Me Home” beginning at two bounded white oaks at the head of the north line of Jones Falls…

March 5, 1753 John Hawkins by virtue of authority of power of attorney to him made for that purpose by the within Named Micheal Macdowell to Joseph Murray Jr., and the land and premises herein mentioned to be the estate rights and interest 6 pounds current money.  Signed and witnesses by Thomas Hooker and Joseph Hooker

These signatures above do not contain an X for Michael’s signature.

Based on the above information, Michael was not in Baltimore County in person, but in Halifax County, VA on September 19, 1752 signed a Power of Attorney document. In 1753, the land was sold to Joseph Murray.

These dates are confusing, because they don’t tally exactly with the dates in the deed books.

For example, the sale date for Bring Me Home is noted as in 1755, not 1753.  I’m left with the impression that some of the documents we need are missing or perhaps some transcriptions are in error.

It looks like in 1752 Michael sold his shares in this property to Joseph Murray, and in or by 1755, he sold the actual land to Joseph.  This suggests that perhaps Michael is related to Joseph Murray, which means that Joseph Murray may have been married to Michael McDowell’s sister.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of “suggestions” here and not much more. Worse yet, if accurate, Joseph Murray’s wife is shown to be one Margaret Jones.  I might just have gone down a rathole.

We know that in 1753, Michael was in Halifax on May 3rd per the deed registration in Baltimore County, or at least that’s what was registered based on the Power of Attorney document signed in 1752. What we don’t know is whether or not Michael was actually living in Halifax County in 1753, or if he had moved on by that date.

Regardless of the actual sale date, the essence of this is that Michael, from Halifax County, Virginia, appears to be the son of Murtough McDowell from Baltimore County, Maryland.  Unfortunately, no will or other administrative or estate records for Murtough or his wife have emerged.

There are no other records for Michael McDowell in Halifax County, although there is a Peter McDowell found there in 1752.  However, if Peter was also Murtough’s son, you would think there would be another power-of-attorney document for Peter, and there is nothing.

A Land Entry

In Marion Dodson Chiarito’s book, “Entry Record Book 1737-1770” which covers land in the present counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, henry, Franklin and Patrick, she says the following:

This book contains land entries in the western portion of the original Brunswick County, namely Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick. The area concerned was south of the Roanoke-Staunton River, west of Tewahomony Creek, now Aaron’s Creek which divides Mecklenburg and Halifax cuonties, and extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These counties were formed from Lumemburg which was separated from Brunswick in 1746.

Marion continues:

It must be pointed out that an entry for land was but a statement of intention. Ownership of land resulted from satisfying the requirements for settlement the land and improving it. For this reason, many entries were voided.

On page 161 of Marion’s book, on page 203 of the original entry taker book residing in current day Pittsylvania County, we find an entry for a man who might be Michael McDowell:

Michael McDuell 400 on a Branch of Black Water River beginning at a white oak with 4 chops in it in the fork of said branch then up both forks and down the branch.

If this was Michael McDowell, I’ve failed to find a deed of sale at any time, and he is next found in Bedford County which, indeed, did have a Blackwater Creek.

Next Stop – Bedford County

Michael McDowell was listed on the Bedford county tax list in 1755. And before you ask, no, we don’t know for sure that this is the same Michael McDowell.  Fortunately, Michael McDowell isn’t a popular name, and the best we can do is track the name forward and backward in time.

Perhaps Michael was using his inherited money on the frontier where land was cheaper than in Halifax County which was largely settled at this point in time.  The problem with that theory is that we have no record of any Michael McDowell purchasing any land until 1783 in Bedford County, and by then, the Michael who purchased land could have been Michael Sr. or Michael Jr. who was born in 1747.

Based on subsequent records, including Michael McDowell Jr.’s Revolutionary War pension application which states that he was dismissed in 1777 or 1778 and returned to his home in Bedford County, combined with a land sale in 1793 in which the land purchased in 1783 was sold by a Michael McDowell who made his mark when signing with an X, it appears that the land in 1783 was purchased by Michael McDowell Jr., not Sr. Michael McDowell Jr. apparently could not write his name, while it appears that Michael McDowell Sr. could.

We also know, according to that pension application, that Michael Jr. was born in 1747.

What else do we know about Michael McDowell Sr.?

There are be more hints in Lunenburg County.

Lunenburg County, Virginia

We first find Michael McDowell in Lunenburg County in 1748, but what did he do between then and 1752 when we find him in Halifax County? Or perhaps Michael didn’t move, but the county line did.

Keep in mind that Halifax County, where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. as Murtough’s son in 1752, was Lunenburg County before Halifax was formed in 1752.

However, we may have an even earlier sighting of Michael.

We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River.  Archebald Woods, Jeremiah Marrow, William Shaw, Robert Mannely, John Dickey, William Wallace, Merlock McDowell, Micah Woods Jr., Micha McDowell, Anthony Osbrook, John Lawson, John Cowan, William Little and Robert Anderson ordered to assist in clearing.  Looking at this list, I have to wonder if Merlock McDowell is actually a Mortough McDowell Jr. and if Micha is Michael, of course.  The rest of these people would have been their neighbors up and down the road. Is this our Michael?  There is no way to know.

A search of Albemarle deed and will indexes from 1748 through 1753 shows no McDowells.  Albemarle was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed and will records didn’t begin in Albemarle until 1748.  A search of Goochland County records from 1731-1749 also show nothing, so if Michael and Merlock were there, they are silent residents.

Lunenburg County was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County, Lunenburg deeds and marriages exist from 1746. Brunswick County land records exist from 1732, but no marriages. Michael McDowell is not in the compiled Virginia marriages, created from extant early records. Strike, strike, strike and out.

The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg, or if his father was still living in Maryland or elsewhere when Jr. was born.

The Lunenburg County 1748 tax list shows Michal McDanel with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke.

Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant.  We find the McDowells mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., Va. before they went to NC.

In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which was probably the district that would eventually become Charlotte Co., which neighbors Halifax. Michael had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes.  His neighbors were as follows:

  • William Russell
  • Thoms Walters
  • Thomas Lewis
  • Michael McDowell
  • Robert Wood
  • Estate of Major John Cole
  • William East overseer for John Cole

In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell who was ordered to work on Randolph’s Road from Thomas Worthys to the Mossing foard.

Looking at a current map, the Roanoke is called the Staunton between Halifax County and Charlotte County, and at a location called Randolph, Virginia, very near the River in Charlotte County, we find another Staunton, probably referred to in the road minutes as the Little Roanoke.

You can see that Charlotte County, shown in red below, abuts Halifax to the west.  Michael’s 1752 Power of Attorney was sworn in Halifax County.  The court house at that time was near the village of Halifax.

Randolph’s Road, from the Lunenburg County road orders seems to be a main road that crossed the Roanoke at the Little Roanoke River where a ferry was located.  According to the 1821 field survey notes the Little Roanoke is located in Charlotte County.  Of course, Randolph’s road continues on through Lunenburg and into Prince Edward County so Michael’s road duty may have been elsewhere along this then major road.  It’s referred to as a “roling road,” which means tobacco casks were literally rolled down the road to the docks to be graded and loaded onto boats. However, given the fact that the road order includes mention of a “foard,” this suggests that the road crosses some river that is more significant than a creek, but probably not as large as the Roanoke which is too large to ford without a ferry.

I suspect that Randolph’s Road is Highway 59 today.  Some road orders reference George Moore’s.  He owned Moore’s Ordinary which was located on what is now Ordinary Road, near the Whistle Stop.

In 1750 we find Michael in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe again as follows:

  • John Freer
  • Robert Baker
  • John Helton
  • Michael McDowell (Michal Macdowel)
  • Nicholas Alle
  • John Pybon
  • Jacob Pybon

In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael is in Halifax in 1752.

According to the map below, in 1746, reflecting the 1748 tax lists, Mathew Talbot’s District became Charlotte County in 1764, formed from Lunenburg. On the 1746 map, it looks like the Little Roanoke is called “Roanoke Creek.”

Michael Talbot’s district is the area that would initially become Charlotte County in 1764. Today Charlotte County is separated from Halifax County by the Roanoke River, which is the dividing line between Mathew Talbot’s District and Cornelius Cargill’s District in 1746.

The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:

June 1753 Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

What this does not tell us is whether Michael was still a county resident, and we don’t know when the suit was filed, except at a session prior to June of 1753.

Note that Jacob Pybon was one of Michael’s neighbors in 1750.

May court 1754 John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – def not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

This tells us that Michael probably left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.

We also know that Michael McDowell was in Halifax County on March 5, 1753 where he was considered a resident, at least according to the deed filed in Baltimore County, Maryland. Of course, that information could have been based solely on the information in the Power of Attorney document.  We don’t actually know that Michael was still living in Halifax in March of 1753. He could have moved on. He seemed to do that pretty regularly.

Sept. 1755 – John McDuel witness for Richard Booker vs Samuel Seekright, paid by Booker for 3 days attendance and once coming and returning 50 miles.

Is this John somehow connected to Michael? If so, he either died or moved on too.

There were no McDowells in the order books, deeds, road orders or wills from 1746-1766.

Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County.

Reconstructing Michael’s Movements

As best we can tell, Michael spent his childhood in Baltimore County, Maryland.  Of that we are positive based on Murtough’s records. Murtough owned this land at the head of the North Branch of Jones Falls which Michael sold.

I wonder how Michael felt selling his boyhood home. Difficult under the best of circumstances, and even moreso if your parents were buried there – especially if you never got to say goodbye.

Today, this guardrail marks the location near 12100 Park Heights Avenue in Owings Mills, Maryland where the road crosses the North Branch of Jones Falls Creek. This would have been Murto, then Michael’s, land, or very close.

Michael may have been in Albemarle County by 1745, which probably meant he was at least 25 years old, so born 1720 or earlier.

There was a Michael McDowell in Lunenburg by 1748, probably in a portion of Lunenburg that became Charlotte County, just across the river from Halifax. MIchael could also have been living in the portion of Lunenburg that simply became Halifax.

We find Michael, Murtough’s son in Halifax County in 1752 when he signed the Power of Attorney, then possibly in 1753.

The possible land entry for 400 acres was registered in 1754, but appears to have been abandoned.

Michael McDowell is in Bedford County on the 1755 tax list.

We find no other records of any Michael McDowell during that time in Virginia or Maryland.

And there, our trail goes cold.

The next piece of information about any man with that name is what we discovered in Michael McDowell Jr.’s 1832 Revolutionary War Pension.  We know that pension application is not for Michael Sr. because the Michael McDowell who filed for the pension doesn’t die until after 1840, and he gives his age in the pension application which tells us that he was born in 1747.  Clearly not the man who sold property in Maryland from Halifax County in 1752 when he would have been 5 years old.

What happened to Michael McDowell Sr.?

We simply don’t know, other than he’s surely dead by now.

It’s pretty clear that MIchael was in Bedford County in 1755 and his namesake son lived there in 1777, but the years in-between are entirely devoid of information.  We simply know Michael Sr. died sometime after 1755 and didn’t own any property.

The possibility that Michael Sr. bought the property in 1783 and sold it from Wilkes County in 1793 exists, but is unlikely.

First, Michael Sr. would have been more than 63 years of age in 1783, purchasing his first land.  The man who sold the property from Wilkes County in 1793 when Michael Sr. would have been about 73 signed with an X, meaning he couldn’t write.  Michael Sr. could write. Additionally, in the 1787 “census” of Wilkes County, only one Michael McDowell lived there at the time, not an older and younger version.

The connection of Michael McDowell Sr. and Michael McDowell Jr. as father and son is not concrete.  There is no will or other relationship-defining document. The names and locations are the same, but there is room for error.  And the DNA doesn’t help us this time, at least not yet.

DNA Will Tell the Story – Someday

We have what is purported to be the Y DNA of Michael McDowell Jr.  I say purported, because the DNA comes from a line not firmly attached to Michael Jr. through a presumed son, Edward.  However, there is paper evidence to suggest that Edward is either Michael Jr.’s son, or is at least connected to Michael Jr.

Two types of evidence, both genetic and genealogical, confirm a male line.

First, if one male who takes a Y DNA test matches other men who have taken the same test at 37 markers or more (generally), then the surname line is confirmed – meaning that these men share a common ancestor at some point in history.

What that test cannot tell you is which common McDowell ancestor or which point in history, at least not exactly.

That information needs to come from a combination of genealogy and genetics, with the genetics confirming the paper trail genealogy.

Sometimes this methodology is lacking.  In this case, my McDowell male matches two other McDowell men at 25 markers, but both of their genealogies reach back to Michael Jr.  There is no other McDowell match at that level.

This leads to a couple of questions.

First, is the historical surname really McDowell? In other words, why aren’t their more McDowell matches, and some matches with genealogy reaching further back in time.

My McDowell male was originally only tested to 25 markers, and we’ve recently ordered an upgrade to his Y DNA to see what kinds of matches we retain at 37 markers and above.  Unfortunately, many McDowell testers tested early and haven’t upgraded.  Neither do they have trees online today.

Second, if the historical surname is McDowell, is my tester really descended from or related to Michael McDowell Jr. on the paternal line? Fate is sometimes a jokester and might just have put Michael McDowell beside his known son John, plus Luke and Edward, on the 1810 Lee County tax list just to mess with me.  Could happen.  Stranger things have happened before.

One of the best indicators of Luke being related to Michael McDowell Jr. will be if the McDowell male tester also matches people who descend from Michael McDowell Jr. through autosomal testing.  The autosomal test, known as Family Finder, is underway at Family Tree DNA.

Third, if we knew of other sons of Michael McDowell Sr., we could simply (and I say simply like it really is) test a McDowell male descendant of a different son.

Some things are simpler than others, and this isn’t one of them. We don’t know the identities of any of Michael McDowell Sr.’s other children, assuming he had them and they lived.

We will likely never be able to find additional sons of Michael McDowell Sr., at least not through paper trail genealogy, barring that miracle Bible discovery.  However, in time, if we find enough McDowell males who match this line through Y DNA as well as match at some level utilizing autosomal DNA, we may be able to find people who we think may be descended from Michael Sr.

Notice the weasel-wording, “if”, “may” and “think,” because success proving additional children of Michael McDowell Sr. is not assured – ever.  One of my life-long mottoes is, “if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed!”  This is no different. So much progress has been made in the past few years utilizing DNA testing that who knows what tools will be available to us in the future.

The answers to the questions we can answer today reside with the descendants of Michael McDowell – proven or otherwise.

Is it YOU?

  • If you are male or female and descended from Michael McDowell Jr. born in 1747 and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, Tennessee (now Hancock County), please contact me.
  • If you are male or female and descended from Edward McDowell who married Lucy Harris in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1858 there, please contact me.
  • If you are male or female descended from Luke McDowell born in 1791 who married Frances Field in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1879 in Dekalb County, TN, please contact me.
  • If you are a male McDowell descended from Michael McDowell Jr.’s proven son, John McDowell or William McDowell from Claiborne (now Hancock) County, Tennessee, or John’s line that settled in Lee County, VA, please contact me.

The only way to prove Michael Sr.’s line is to first prove Michael Jr.’s line, and to do that, I specifically need to find a male McDowell, meaning a male who carries the surname today, from a proven son of Michael Jr.

In the meantime, if we can prove that either a group of people, either males or females proven to descend from Michael Jr., through autosomal DNA testing, matches our McDowell Y DNA tester descended through Edward, especially on the same segments, that too is pretty compelling evidence.

The only way to compile that evidence is for descendants to test.

Is that you?  If so, please contact me and let’s discuss how we can get that done, or maybe you’ve already DNA tested someplace. Regardless, I’d love to hear from you.  It’s always fun to meet cousins and exchange information!



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Did that just strike terror in your heart?  Is your pulse racing right now? It should be.

Fire has played a transformative role in the lives of our ancestors, especially since they built houses and tried to heat them, meaning their home could burn to the ground, killing the occupants or best case, rendering them helpless and reliant on other community members for food, clothes and other sustenance.

And sometimes, fire strikes very close to home – or at home.

Yesterday, my friend nearly lost her home.  She lit an advent candle on her kitchen table that was surrounded by evergreen boughs.  Then she forgot about it and went to bed.  Her religious devotional tribute combined with fatigue nearly cost her dearly.

Thankfully, due to a WORKING SMOKE DETECTOR, she is alive today and her house only needs a thorough cleaning and new carpet – not to mention a new kitchen table, of course and a few other items that burned.

Candles look so innocent and beautiful, but they aren’t.

Another friend lost her son, house, pets and all belongings except for the clothes she was wearing to escape and her car in the driveway a year ago August.  I can’t even begin to explain the devastation to this woman.  And the great irony – she was (and is) a firefighter.

Fires move so quickly, once they start.  There is often no prayer of containing the fire or for escape.

I’m a third generation fire daughter, wife and mother.

Being third generation, and having had a house fire of my own about 25 years ago, let me share with you my house rules:

House Fire Prevention Rules

  1. No open flames in the house. Nada.  Not ever.  No candles.  Period. Yes, my kids hated me, right up until one of them became a firefighter himself. Try these flickering battery-operated candles instead.  You can find them at places like WalMart. They are beautiful and much safer.
  2. My fireplace does not burn logs, which create chimney residue. My fireplaces are gas and the flame is always contained behind a glass door. Never go to sleep or leave with the fireplace burning.  Keep your emergency shutoff key in the valve.
  3. No real Christmas trees. If I was going to have a real tree, and I did for awhile, no lights.  Lights get hot and electronics short out.  Ever see how quickly a dry tree goes up in flames?  Is it really worth the risk?  My mother tells of when my grandfather grabbed their burning Christmas tree and ran out the door with it, throwing it in the snow outside.  Everyone was lucky in their case.  No so for others.
  4. Fire extinguisher resides in the corner in the kitchen. If you need it, you don’t have time to hunt for it.  Mine is in view, not terribly stylish, but safe.
  5. No leaving things cooking in the house unattended. That means no oven autotimer meals, no crock pots when an adult isn’t home.  Nada.  It can’t burn or malfunction if it’s not turned on.
  6. No cars starting in the garage for warmup, or running inside even for a couple minutes, EVER.  My neighbors accidentally killed three family members this way and it’s a sight I never forgot.  This includes, by the way, remote start. Remote starts should require two separate buttons to be pushed simultaneously or some safety feature that does not allow you to accidentally start the vehicle without being aware that the vehicle was started. Never, ever, remote start a vehicle in a garage.  Why?  Ever get distracted? Me neither!
  7. Battery replacement and testing of smoke alarms every Easter. See the here for information about a new type of 10-year smoke alarm with a sealed battery compartment.
  8. Carbon monoxide sensors/alarms. Preferably in both the furnace area and the sleeping areas. These make great, if not exciting, Christmas gifts.  What better way to say “I love you and want you around.”
  9. Irons should have auto-shutoffs. I personally hate this because I’m a quilter.  But I want to be a quilter with a house and without my quilts going up in flames because I forgot to turn the iron off and the cat knocked it on the floor.
  10. Matches are secured. That means from kids and from pets. One of my husband’s acquaintances’ young grandsons was fascinated by matches, took them to bed and hid under the covers while playing with them…and you’ve already guessed the rest. They wound up filing bankruptcy in addition to the loss of their home and pets.
  11. No smoking on the property. That means anywhere on the property, not just in the house. Why?  Guess what happened a few years ago when a well-intentioned smoker put their cigarette “out” and threw the butt in the trash that was sitting beside the house.
  12. No outside fires close to the house, and none without a hose close by, just in case.
  13. No outside fires at all when it’s dry – like a drought in the summer or the early spring before things turn green.
  14. Unplug appliances not in use. They can’t short out if they aren’t plugged in.
  15. Be very vigilant of dust near extension cords and such. If an electrical short should occur, dust, as in dust bunnies or lint near an outlet combusts immediately. This is actually what caused my own house fire back in the 1990s. Fortunately, I was home at the time and the fire started in the basement laundry room which had a concrete floor. You don’t have any dust bunnies, right???
  16. Clean out the dryer vents and vent pipes. If you have a plastic vent pipe, replace it with metal.. Lint combusts too, and dryers involve a heating element. Yes, I have another family member whose college-age son came home to do laundry and the dryer caught fire.  The apartment did burn, but not to the ground and the people and pets escaped with only about 6 months of inconvenience.  Of course, his laundry escapades are now the family joke that he will never outlive – but that’s only funny because no one died. (See you Christmas Eve, Firebug.  Trying to find a smoke alarm ornament for your Christmas tree.  Just sayin…)
  17. No going to bed or leaving with the clothes dryer running. By the time you realize there’s a problem, it’s too late.
  18. No plug-in type air fresheners.  They heat up, which is how they dissipate that lovely smell, but sometimes they catch fire and burn.
  19. Have your furnace checked and serviced regularly. Change the filters twice a year.  Not only does this protect you, it saves money on heating too.
  20. Do not grill, as in BBQ grill, right beside the house.  Yes, I know this should be intuitive, but sometimes it’s just not.  You don’t really want “grilled house,” melted siding or worse, now do you?

Call me paranoid if you want – but I’d prefer the term alive and vigilant😊

I want you to be too.

I don’t want fire to be your legacy.

Fire – A Sad Family Legacy

My father’s Camp Custer military record during WWI refers to him as a fireman.  When I saw that detail, I couldn’t help but wonder if my father remembered the house fire that took his brother’s life when he was a mere child?

Did my father remember running terrified from the flames that consumed everything? Of course he did. How could you ever forget that?

Was I named for the memory of that child?

Robbie, whose name was Robert, was born in June of 1898 while the family was living in Arkansas.  By 1900, they had moved back to Tennessee, to Estes Holler, in Claiborne County.  The census tells us that my grandfather had fallen on hard times and not worked for 6 months of the previous census year, meaning from June 1, 1899 to May 31, 1900, according to the census instructions.

Did this have something to do with why they moved back from Arkansas?  Possibly.  The family story was that William George Estes, my grandfather, was a hard-drinking man who loved to fish but who didn’t much care to work.  In Springdale, Arkansas, Ollie Bolton Estes, his wife, ran a boarding house and Will fished.

By 1900, Ollie was probably pregnant again, and if not, would be shortly. In any case, my father was born in October of 1901.

After returning to Claiborne County, Will, Ollie and family lived in a cabin along the little creek that ran through Estes Holler.  A holler, for those not from Appalachia, is the little valley between two small ridges.  The entire area IS hills and hollers.

Sometime around 1907, the cabin caught fire.  Some people said Ollie was outside in the yard.  Some said she was at a party.  Oddly, no one commented about where William George might have been, only the mother.

This is a picture of Ollie, whose son had recently burned to death in that fire.  The look of sorrow on her face is palpable. We know the photo was taken between the births of her two daughters, Margaret born in 1906, in arms, and Minnie who was born in 1908 and not in the photo.  We know that the boys are Estel, the oldest, my father in front, about 5 years old, and Joseph Dode, two years younger than my father.  Robbie was dead by this time, so the fire happened before this 1907 photo.

Reportedly, the family Bible was also burned in this fire. Along with any other records and photos.

Everything burned, including Robbie.

Surely Robbie was buried in the family or the church cemetery, but there is no stone, at least not one that is carved, to mark his short life.

His little body lays here someplace in an unmarked grave, probably near his brother, Sammie who died in 1893.

Estel, the oldest child, was about 9 or 10 at the time, and he tried his best to get Robbie out, but Robbie crawled under the bed to hide, where he burned to death.

The family said that Ollie in particular, was never right after the fire, never the same. She was probably pregnant at the time with Minnie, born in 1908.

I know the fire and Robbie’s death haunted Estel as well throughout his life, in various ways, none of them good. He blamed himself.  Estel drank throughout his life, affecting his entire family – a truly sad story told by his daughter.

My father would have been about 5 at the time and surely remembered that horror.  He escaped those flames, but I don’t think he truly ever escaped entirely.

Years later, Uncle George (who was really a cousin) would come to own the land where the cabin that burned once stood.

George planted a willow to honor the child who died four years before he was born.

When Uncle George told me the story of Robbie’s death, standing on this very spot about 1990, I stared, transfixed, at this willow, fallen, it’s life spent too soon.  It too was dead.  Was nothing to ever live here?  Is this land cursed?

I realized that in that moment, in that place, my family’s life was forever transformed here. The horrible reality sunk in, like swampwater seeping into my soul with icy fingers.

I felt sick.

Sick for Robbie, for my grandparents but especially my grandmother who was blamed by at least some, for Estel, and for my father.

My uncle died here, a child who suffered a horrific death, on that very spot. Right where that willow lay.

My father ran out of the door, but never, ever discussed that day.

The family left the area not long after.

This fire also killed what was left of my grandparent’s already ailing marriage. Escaping the geography couldn’t cure the pain.

That fire was a fork in the road, in so many ways, sending the survivors on paths they had never anticipated and surely didn’t want to travel.

My father drowned his sorrows with alcohol as well, many times, creating new problems. He also drowned his marriages, as did my grandfather, and eventually – he drowned himself. I was 7 and heartbroken.

Grief kills over and over again.

A generation later, my (former) husband would be a volunteer firefighter, with me being known at the station as 928 and a half.  That’s the nod to the wife (or spouse – some public servants are females) for her important but often nearly invisible role in supporting the firefighters.

Fire is quick – much quicker than you are.  One tiny misstep can have devastating and deadly consequences.

Forever is forever. The results trickle down through generations.

Please, please be vigilant this holiday season.

No open flames.

Share the word!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Insitome Podcast with Spencer Wells and Razib Khan: Insight – The Neolithic Revolution

Spencer Wells e-mailed me a few days ago to let me know that he and Razib Khan were jointly producing a podcast that is free for the listening and focused on education.  You know me, I’ll all about education, especially relative to genetics, genomics and human migration.

For those who haven’t met Spencer Wells, he is the founder of Insitome, a genomics based startup developing genetics applications for people to gain insight into themselves and their personal history. More about that in a minute. In 2005, Spencer founded and subsequently directed the Genographic Project for many years, as well as being National Geographic’s Scientist in Residence during that time.

Razib Khan, a population geneticist who is Insitome’s Director of Content joins Spencer in the Podcast. At Razib’s WordPress site, you can see all of his contributions along the right-hand sidebar.

Today, the first Insitome podcast, The Neolithic Revolution, is ready for prime-time and you get to be one of the first to enjoy. Spencer promises there will be more podcasts soon.

This first podcast about the Neolithic is focused on human prehistory and genetics, and it’s not rushed by an interviewer looking for a few quick soundbites.  Instead, it offers listeners nearly a full hour of opportunity.  Hearing Spencer speak had always been a wonderful experience and this is no exception. If you’re having a snow day where you are, like I’m having here – make yourself a nice hot cup of java, put your feet up by the fireplace, and savor the experience.

For those of you who don’t know, a podcast is like a radio program that you can listen to at your convenience.  Insitome has opted to utilize the iTunes store (the podcast is free,) so you can download to your computer or to your smart device and listen wherever you are. Spencer says they will eventually be making this podcast available at YouTube as well, but first things first.

The Neolithic

The Neolithic Revolution represented a massive change in how people lived.  It didn’t happen all at once around the world, but at different times in different locations, meaning the revolution sort of crept along.  The age of the Neolithic was marked by a change from a hunter-gatherer subsistence type of lifestyle to a farming community. Along with that came the introduction of both art and religion.

By Jean Housen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11749260

These Neolithic artifacts found at the Ain Ghazal Neolithic archaeological site in Amman, Jordan are considered to be one of the earliest large-scale representations of the human form dating back to around 9200 years ago.  The descendants of the people who created these also eventually populated Europe, assimilating with and in some cases replacing hunter-gatherer populations.

The change in lifestyle associated with farming and domestication of livestock produced some unexpected results (you’ll have to listen to the podcast to learn what they were) and the farmers slowly migrated throughout Europe and Asia, beginning about 10,000 years ago.

Independent but similar changes were also taking place in Africa, southern and eastern Asia, and Japan.

Ultimately, all of those people begat all of us, so just think of Neolithic people as ancient ancestors – because they were.

You can enjoy an hour of hearing Spencer and Razib telling you about your ancestors and their lives. When was the last time someone offered to do that, and for free no less?

  • Have you ever wondered about hunter-gatherers and farmers?
  • Maybe you’ve wondered about the Neolithic and the Mesolithic periods? When were those ages – besides ages ago?
  • Who are those people?  Where did they come from and where are they today?
  • What did they leave behind?
  • What stories do they tell through their archaeological artifacts and the most wondrous artifact of all, their DNA?
  • Are they in you and me?
  • How do we know?
  • Why do we care?

Who better to tell their story than Spencer and Razib?!

The Podcast

Here’s the link to the podcast in the iTunes store:


After you click on this link, you’ll see the following screen.

Just click on the little blue “Podcast Website” at the bottom left, and listen up!.

If you want to download the podcast to your computer, you may need to install iTunes software, but that’s easy. ITunes will direct you as to what is needed.




I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Promethease Is Free Until the End of 2017

And not only is Promethease free until the end of the year, if you upload your data now, you’ll have access to updated reports for perpetuity. So Promethease is free forever for people who take advantage of this opportunity before year end.

Promethease provides a very valuable service for people who have taken autosomal DNA tests and want to obtain information about mutations that may (or may not) have medical consequences, both positive and negative.

I’ve written about Promethease before, using my own results, here and I used the Promethease site for an analysis here. While the second article isn’t specifically about Promethease, it gives you an idea about how you might utilize your own results and why Promethease is seeking to improve the user’s results, especially when multiple vendors are involved. 

I use and enjoy Promethease, but it isn’t for everyone. Promethease provides information about health and traits, along with citations to the medical literature in SNPedia from which that information was derived. If you are inclined to worry or have anxiety, Promethease and testing for medical genetic information might not be for you.

However, if you do want to know, Promethease is a wonderful tool. Remember, having a mutation does NOT mean you will develop a disease or have the specific trait.  Many times, multiple mutations combine to produce a specific effect, not to mention environmental factors, epigenetics and things we don’t yet understand come into play.

Keep in mind that published literature doesn’t always agree, and that we are still in the infancy of the genetic revolution. In other words, we learn every single day and sometimes what we thought we knew was wrong.  Other times, the information is accurate, prompting us perhaps to be vigilant or alert our physicians to possibilities they should be aware of.

I want to know. I feel that knowledge empowers.  Not everyone agrees or wants to know, and that’s just fine.

I recently received the following e-mail from Promethease:

As someone who has purchased Promethease reports before, we thought you’d be interested in a new opportunity to get up-to-date reports for free.

In the past, we always deleted your raw data within 24 hours. That meant you had to re-upload (and pay again) for every updated report. We now have improved infrastructure in place that allows you to upload your data once and then generate updated reports free of charge, whenever you want.

We added this infrastructure so we could use de-identified stored data to better assess the accuracy of the raw data produced by different companies, platforms and technologies. This will also allow us to provide the best, independent assessment of true vs. false data in future Promethease reports and add new features.

As a Promethease user you’re probably familiar with the value of getting updated reports from time to time. SNPedia’s content, upon which Promethease reports are based, doubles almost every year, and Promethease’s interface is always improving to enable better searching, filtering and exporting options.

To support this new capability, we are now allowing free data uploads until December 31, as a holiday gift to our users. We invite you to re-upload DNA data for free now and receive a new report. You will be able to generate updated reports in the future without uploading or paying. To take advantage of this opportunity follow the simple steps below:

  1. Go to https://www.promethease.com
  2. Check all the checkboxes and click “I agree”
  3. Click “Upload raw data” or “Import” it again.
  4. When prompted, click the “Get free report” button.
  5. If you want to get free updates in the future, enable the storage option which allows us to save your data and generate updated reports for you.
  6. Pick a password for your account.
  7. Wait about 5 minutes to receive your first report.

From then on, you’ll be able to visit Promethease.com whenever you want, login to your account, and generate up-to-date reports for free. You can also delete your stored DNA data from the same page, at any time.

It’s as easy as that.

Get started at https://www.promethease.com

Have more questions? Check out the FAQs.


Mike Cariaso & Greg Lennon

Personally, I’m very pleased with this development which provides Promethease the ability to analyze and evaluate what the vendors are doing well, and not so well.  In other words, are there areas of DNA that are prone to misreporting or inconsistencies on specific chips?  Should Promethease provide additional cautions for those regions?  If Promethease doesn’t have your permission to utilize your DNA for analysis, they can never answer those questions with the confidence generated by having compared thousands of DNA results over time. In the end, customers are the winner, because your results will be more accurate and relevant.

However, like all DNA related companies, be sure to read all of the information available before uploading so that you are clear and comfortable with what is being done with your DNA results.

Judy Russell also wrote about the new Promethease capability here.

I’ve worked with Promethease before, and I’ll certainly be uploading my information from every vendor where I’ve tested. Each vendor’s chip tests a somewhat different region.  I want updated information periodically and I certainly want Promethease to be able to improve their product and results for everyone.

Thank you Promethease!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Jacob Kirsch’s Deposition and The Abandoned Wife – 52 Ancestors #174

Over time, tidbits continue to trickle in about Jacob Kirsch, the infamous one-eyed lynching saloon keeper from Aurora, Indiana. And yes, he just happens to be my ancestor.  I love them colorful!

Recently, a gentleman, David, contacted me inquiring about Jacob and asked if perhaps I knew anything about Jacob’s relationship with his ancestor, Henry Hahn (Haun).

Henry, it seems, had served in the Civil War, came home to Aurora, Indiana and lived with his wife, Barbara, until sometime after the 1880 census.

Henry subsequently left, abandoning his wife and children.  In 1911, after Henry died and was buried, his wife, who had never in the ensuing 25 years divorced her deadbeat husband, filed to collect a widow’s pension based on Henry’s Civil War service.

The Deposition

In Henry’s pension file was a deposition from Jacob Kirsch given on January 11, 1911 that Henry’s descendant very generously offered to share with me.

Not only is the deposition in and of itself very interesting, but it also contained Jacob’s signature – a wonderful find!

This deposition is the only existing narrative in Jacob’s own words. I’m presuming that his deposition in the 1887 lawsuit that stemmed from Jacob’s role in the lynching of an itinerant bricklayer that brutally murdered a man in Aurora was actually written by his attorneys.  The preamble of that deposition says, “Now comes Jacob Kirsch…by his attorneys, and answer to said plaintiff’s complaints says that he denies every allegation…”

So, while that 1887 deposition clearly states Jacob’s position, I doubt seriously if it’s Jacob’s own “voice.” It sounds like “lawyer speak” to me.

However, the 1911 deposition given for Barbara Vogel Hahn reads differently.

I am 69 years of age.  I am a hotel keeper by occupation.  My post office address is Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana.  I have resided in the City continuously for the last 45 years.  I first became acquainted with the soldier, Henry Haun, late in the sixties, and knew him intimately from that time until he left here.  He left here a little more than 25 years ago.  I have not seen him since he left.  I also knew his widow, the claimant, Barbara Haun, before their marriage.  Neither one of them had been married before their marriage to each other.  I know this from having have known them both intimately before they were married.  I knew the families of both of them.  She was a Vogel before her marriage, and I knew her father well.  From the time of their marriage until he left they lived here as man and wife.  During that time I would see him as often as nearly every day.  He was in business just a few doors below me and we were great friends.  I have known and seen Barbara often since he went away.  I know that she has lived by herself with her three daughters and that she has remained a good, true wife to him during all the time of his absence.  She worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together.  She has been highly respected in this community as an honorable, hard working woman.  She has had a mighty hard time of it, and deserves credit for the struggle she has made.  I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife.  I remember the occasion of his body being brought home here for burial last July.  The body was taken to the house of her son-in-law, Louis Baker, where she now lives and has for a number of years.  From there it was buried in Riverview Cemetery here.  I have known her since that time and know and believe that she has remained and is today his widow. 

You have just shown me B.J. #6.  The signature is mine.  You have read it to me.  It is absolutely true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it.

I am not related or interested.

I have heard this statement read.  I understand it.  You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.

Jacob Kirsch (signature)

Lending further credence to the fact that this is Jacob’s actual narrative is the statement at the end that says “You have read it to me.  It is true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it.  I have heard this statement read.  I understand it.  You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.”

And one last tidbit, just in case there was any doubt. “I am not related or interested,” meaning of course, a financial interest.

After rereading this a number of times, the realization finally dawned on me that while Jacob could clearly speak English, he couldn’t read English.  That’s why the document had to be read to him.  His native language, of course, was German.

Jacob’s signature.  Be still my heart.

Seeing my ancestor’s actual signature just takes my breath away.  Signatures are so intimately personal – a last vestige of their presence on this earth.

As a bonus, Henry’s descendant also included a second signature where Jacob signed in addition to two other witnesses to another deposition given the same day.

For me, Jacob’s signature is the Holy Grail.  It’s personally his, he wrote it, and it still exists today – the only thing of his personally that remains. Except of course for the DNA carried by his descendants. I’m still trying to find someone who descends from this line to test in order to determine which pieces of my DNA came from Jacob.

I know that Jacob touched this paper when he signed it, and part of me wonders if there isn’t just a smidgen of his DNA someplace, still lurking.  Of course, even if there was, there would be no way to separate it from the DNA of the other people who handled this document. Nor would the National Archives be willing to let me do anything destructive to the paper – nor would I want to.  But it’s a nice fantasy for a minute. 

It seems like we’ve been so tantalizingly close to Jacob’s signature so many times, but never managed to capture one.  Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, even provided a “likeness” when trying to collect her own widow’s pension, after Jacob’s death, but we don’t know what that “likeness” looked like, because it wasn’t included in his file that was sent from the National Archives. For all we know, she might have traced this signature, although she would only have had access to this signature if a copy of this deposition was retained locally. 

This deposition provides other valuable tidbits waiting to be excavated by the archaeologist in every genealogist. 

It tells us that Jacob lived in Aurora continuously for 45 years, dating to 1866, after his own service in the Civil War.  In May of that year, Jacob married Barbara Drechsel who lived in Aurora, and apparently, they never left.  The couple and their young family were living in Aurora in 1870 and purchased a home there in 1871.  Now, thanks to this deposition, we know that they lived in the City from the time they married in 1866 until the 1870 census catches up with them. 

Friends and Abandonment

This deposition states that Henry was Jacob’s friend. Jacob refers to Henry as having “left” and “went away,” with no mention of stronger words like abandonment.  I wonder why. Clearly Jacob understand the ramifications of Henry’s actions on Barbara and their children.

It’s interesting that Jacob painted longsuffering Barbara with a different brush, suggesting that she did what a “good wife” should do by not divorcing Henry after he “left.”

Jacob did say that Barbara lived by herself and “worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together.” Also that “she has had a mighty hard time of it.”

However, Jacob also says that, “I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife.”

True and honorable wife?  Is that how a woman betrayed by her husband is supposed to act, or was between 1885 and 1910? What about Henry? But then, this deposition really wasn’t about Henry, but about Barbara’s behavior. What did Barbara’s behavior after he left have to do with his pension and her ability to receive it?

My next question, of course, is why the heck she didn’t divorce the scoundrel?  Perhaps she would have been vilified for the divorce while he got somewhat of a free pass for “leaving.” Times were different 132 years ago, and Jacob may have been answering questions in a way such that there was no doubt about Barbara’s fidelity.  Jacob surely would not have wanted any stray rumors, if there were any, to cost Barbara that valued pension.  Henry may have abandoned her in life, but in death, there was at least some amount of value left in the relationship.  Barbara assuredly deserved that, even if it was nothing more than a consolation prize.  At least she had the pension to help her through her elder years even though she appears to have sacrificed any possibility of happiness with a second husband or even a comforting relationship. Small consolation, I know, but certainly better than nothing.

What Happened to Henry? 

Out of curiosity, I dug a little deeper and discovered exactly why Jacob testified as he did.  It turns out that Henry Hahn was a resident at the US National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1909, just a few months before his death, where he is listed as both currently single and divorced. He listed his daughter as his next of kin, so he clearly knew she had married. He might have been absent, but he wasn’t entirely disconnected.

Barbara was probably required to provide proof that indeed, they were not divorced. 

Had Henry not already been dead, she probably wanted to kill him, several times over, but I don’t think that counts. 

Henry’s Leavenworth record also notes that he was discharged to Oklahoma, a long way to ship a body back to Aurora, Indiana.  I wonder why Henry went to Oklahoma, who cared for him there and why he wasn’t just buried in Oklahoma.

Why Did Henry Leave?

Jacob testified that he met Henry in the late 60s, which of course meant 1860s, and that Henry “left more than 25 years before,” so before 1886.  This suggests that Henry and Jacob were friends for about 20 years, owning similar establishments just a few doors apart on the main street of Aurora for approaching two decades. No wonder they were in Jacob’s words, “great friends.”  It must have pained Jacob for Henry to run off and leave his family destitute. Did Jacob know more than he was telling?  I’d guess so.

This surely begs the question of what happened to Henry Hahn to cause him to leave.

Yes, yes I know that Henry isn’t my ancestor, but I just can’t keep myself from digging.  There’s a lot to be said for researching your ancestors acquaintances and neighbors, because you just never know what you will find, plus it allows you for just a few brief moments to become part of the neighborhood microcosmic environment where your ancestor interacted day to day.

“Hello Henry, how’s it going today?” 

“Not so good Jacob.” 

“Sorry to hear that.  What happened?” 

“Those danged well-drillers from Pennsylvania drank too much again.  Barbara is cleaning up the mess now.  I sure hope they pay their bill. It’s a whopper!” 

“Ahhh, the joys of being an innkeeper.  I sure hope they don’t come to my place.”

“I saw one of them flirting with your daughter…”

Note that in 1888, one of the danged Pennsylvania well-drillers would become Jacob’s son-in-law while still married to a wife in Pennsylvania, but that’s another story. Neighborhoods and the people in them are intertwined like vines.

While digging, I did find some hints as to why Henry might have left – and no, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with another women – just in case you were wondering.

A tree on Ancestry carries a note that says, “March 4, 1885 – Left after losing everything.  He was in saloon business. Left to find work as a cooper, his trade.  Lived with his brother Charles and his wife Minnie in Louisville, KY for a few months.” 

A few months apparently stretched to years, because Henry is still living In Louisville in 1891 and in Nelson County, KY in 1900 as a fisherman, although I’m not quite sure where he’d be fishing as a profession in Nelson County.  

Henry’s parents died in Aurora in 1892 and 1893, and I wonder if he returned for their funeral and to see his family.  Were his wife and children glad to see him, or angry? What about his siblings? What did his parents think of him leaving his wife to fend for herself with 3 small children? Was Henry shunned by the community, or welcomed as a prodigal son returned?  Why did he leave again, assuming he returned for his parents funerals?

Did Henry send money home to Barbara as he could?  It doesn’t seem like he was making any effort to hide if he lived with his brother. Louisville isn’t terribly distant – about 90 miles by road and both Aurora and Louisville are on the Ohio River.

Ironically, Henry may have been gone, but was still closely enough connected for his body to be brought back from Tulsa County, Oklahoma to his daughter’s home, which included his wife, and buried in Aurora after his July 1910 death. This just seems odd.

These various tidbits of information cumulatively make me wonder if Henry didn’t scheme to maliciously leave, but was suffering and perhaps unstable.  Maybe he never intended to be gone forever.  Maybe Barbara prayed for years that he would get better and return.  Maybe the situation was simply sad, not intentional abandonment. Maybe that’s why she never divorced him, and he never remarried or had another family. Maybe Barbara loved him regardless and never entirely gave up hope.

Maybe that’s the Barbara that Jacob knew. Not angry, just sad – and maybe Jacob was simply sad for his friends too.

No matter how damning things appear at first glance, it’s always best to reserve harsh judgement of our ancestors, and their neighbors.  By now, I simply feel sympathy for all involved and a little guilty about what I first thought of Henry.  Of course, he still might be a scoundrel, but that jury is still out.

The Neighborhood   

Curious, I was able to reconstruct some of the neighborhood and residents living in the various houses listed on the 1880 census in-between Henry Hahn and Jacob Kirsch.  Next to Henry, we found Nelson, the photographer, then a railroad conductor, which makes sense since the depot was adjacent the Kirsch House.  Next, we found a laborer, a cooper, a woman who kept a rather large boarding house, another cooper and a night watchman.  Finally, we have Jacob Kirsch.

We also have a map of the area from about that time.

On this map, the French House is what would be renamed as the Kirsch House, beside the Depot, and I believe that Henry Hahn’s might have been lot 33 on Second Street, just a few properties south of Jacob Kirsch’s residence.  Today, I think that’s the library.

An 1880 Indiana Gazetteer and Business Directory has this to say about Aurora:

AURORA. Pleasantly located on the Ohio river, in Center township, Dearborn county, 4 miles below Lawrenceburgh, the county seat, 25 below Cincinnati, and 90 southeast of Indianapolis. The place was laid out in 1819, was incorporated in 1848, and is now a flourishing business city, traversed by the O. & M. Ry. Owing to its superior transportation facilities, Aurora is quite an extensive manufacturing place, having the largest distillery in Indiana, and that, together with a large brewery, nail factory, brickyard, two saw mills, one furniture factory, two flour mills, a stave and heading factory, chair factory, and one foundry, comprise the principal manufacturing interests. Among the chief features of the place are its ten churches of different denominations, two handsome school buildings, seven hotels, a national bank, two weekly newspapers—the Independent and Saturday News—and a handsome opera house. The city, from its beautiful location, is very attractive and has an excellent fire department, is well lighted by gas, patrolled by police, and is, in fact, a very pleasant, thrifty place. Population 5,441. Liquors, hay, furniture, iron, nails, chairs and grain are the leading exports. Express, Adams and O. & M. Telegraph, Western Union. Mail received 8 times per day by rail, and 3 times by boat. John Walker, postmaster.

Among a long list of businesses we find:

  • Epicurian Hotel, Henry Hahm (sic), proprietor
  • Kirsch, Jacob, saloon and hotel

In the 1884 Gazetteer, Henry’s business isn’t listed, but Jacob’s is.

I wonder if Jacob felt badly that his hotel succeeded while his friend, Henry’s, didn’t.

The 1890 census is missing of course, but in 1900, we find Lewis Baker, the husband of Henry Hahn’s now-married daughter living what appears to be just 4 doors away from Jacob Kirsch, and next door to Jacob’s son, Edward Kirsch.  I’m betting that Barbara Hahn tried to run the saloon and hotel herself until her daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1894 and then her new son-in-law moved in to help with the hotel.  Barbara must have been relieved after trying to handle everything herself for more than 9 years. Being a single Mom is difficult under the best of circumstances, and Barbara’s clearly weren’t. Jacob obviously saw that, based on his deposition.

By 1910, the Louis Baker family had moved to another part of town and Barbara Hahn was living with them. I’d bet she was incredibly relieved to leave the innkeeper/saloon days behind her. Enough cooking and cleaning sunup to bedtime day after day with no end in sight. 

Back to The Civil War

One last piece of information that did not prove terribly useful, but is interesting nonetheless, is that while both Henry Hahn and ostensibly Jacob Kirsch both served in the Civil War, they did not serve in the same unit. 

According to Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, he served in the Indiana 137th and Henry Hahn, according to his Fold3 index card served in the 134th.

There was a method to my research madness.  While Barbara Kirsch claimed that Jacob Kirsch served, and she should have known, her pension application was denied.  It appears that two different Jacob Kirsch’s Civil War records may have been combined, so some doubt about Jacob’s service still remains. 

Therefore, if Henry Hahn had indeed served in the 137th, the unit Jacob supposedly served in, it would tell us that very likely our Jacob Kirsch had not.  Why?  Because in his deposition for Barbara Hahn, Jacob says that he met Henry in the late 60s, not in 1864 when Henry Hahn and presumably Jacob both served in the Civil War. Had Jacob served in the same unit with Henry, he would surely have said so. However, since the units in which they are reported to have served are different, it proves exactly nothing at all. Still, it’s a path I had to tread in search of those fantastic tidbits!

However, finding Jacob’s deposition for Barbara Hahn does give me hope that maybe there are other depositions yet waiting to be scanned and indexed at the National Archives, and someday the juicy tidbit that we need may yet surface to prove Jacob’s military service beyond any doubt. That would certain vindicate Barbara Kirsch’s denied pension application and allow me to honor Jacob appropriately for his service.

Today, I’m just incredibly grateful for Henry Hahn’s descendant, David, who was gracious enough to share Jacob’s deposition and signatures with me. David and I both learned things about our ancestors by combining our efforts that we would never have learned individually.



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