The Golden State Killer and DNA

Joseph DeAngelo, 2018 mugshot, alleged Golden State Killer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you already know that the Golden State Killer has, it appears, been apprehended by:

  1. Sequencing DNA from the original crime scene
  2. Uploading those results to a genealogy data base to utilize techniques currently used for unknown parent searches to suggest or identify the killer
  3. Then, to confirm that they had identified the right person, discarded DNA from the suspect was sequenced which apparently matched the original DNA from the crime scene

I say “it appears” because remember, until he’s convicted, Joseph DeAngelo is still a suspect.

I have received more messages, texts and e-mails about this one topic than any other, ever. My phone has been buzzing like an angry bee with too much caffeine for days.

Unfortunately, in many news articles, the topic suffers from dramatic over-simplification at best and significant errors at worst. This combined with lots of fear stirs a toxic brew.

In almost all cases, the author writing the article clearly didn’t understand the subject matter at hand. Many leaders in the genetic genealogy community have been asked for comment. Having had more than one situation in which I was misquoted or my quote was taken out of context, I am discussing the issue in this article, where my comments aren’t boiled down to a one sentence sound bite. I don’t want anyone making a knee-jerk reaction with partial information. This topic deserves, and must receive much more discussion in a calm, informed manner.

There is a great deal of concern, curiosity, misinformation and incorrect assumptions in the genetic genealogy community as well as the media, along with emotions running at high tide.

I think it’s important to do three things:

  1. Discuss what actually happened.
  2. Discuss how genealogy versus both unknown parent and forensic searching differs from genealogy searching.
  3. Discuss associated concerns.

The Case

The Golden State Killer has been accused of at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes and many burglaries primarily from June 1975 through May 1986. DNA evidence was collected, but DNA testing at that time had not progressed to the point where the culprit was able to be identified by utilizing his DNA.

A lot has changed, both in terms of DNA technology and other resources available since that time.

Last week, on April 25th, Joseph DeAngelo, now in his 70s, was arrested after DNA matching implicated him as the Golden State Killer. The news is ripe with stories, but this NPR article is a good summary as are the references at that bottom of the wiki article linked above.

Initial Concerns

Initially, two questions were being asked.

  • Which genetic genealogy company “cooperated” with law enforcement?
  • Did law enforcement have a search warrant?

As it turns out, the answer is that no testing companies “cooperated” and that no  search warrant was needed.

The next question was, “How safe is my DNA?”

Let’s talk about what happened, how it was done and how it affects each of us.


I was not involved with this or any similar case in any capacity, although I have been working the past few days to ferret out what actually happened, including discussing this privately and in public forums.

However, I am familiar with the techniques used as a result of my involvement with archaeological digs and ancient DNA, and I’d like to discuss what actually happened, as best we can unravel to date.

DNA Collection

At the time of the rapes and murders committed by the Golden State Killer, one police officer froze extra samples of the evidence, just in case, for the future. That future has arrived.

In the past few years, whole genome sequencing of ancient DNA and degraded samples has become possible. Probably the most notable are the Neanderthal and Denisovan genome reconstructions, beginning in 2010, but sequencing of forensic samples has become commonplace in the past few years.

From those ancient sequences, as long ago as September 2014, whole genome sequences were being reduced to just the DNA locations supported by GedMatch and the resulting compatible files uploaded there for comparison to other testers. This was possible because the raw data files are made available to testers by testing companies, so testers can modify the files in any way they see fit without the cooperation or involvement of any lab or company.

More ancient samples were added to GedMatch in the following months, and the ancient DNA comparison feature continues to be quite popular. No one ever thought much about it, but there is absolutely no reason that same technique couldn’t be used for other samples, and indeed, now it has.

Just 13 days before the arrest of DeAngelo, another homicide was solved by DNA sequencing. A murder victim, known as Buckskin Girl, found in 1981 was identified as Marcia Lenore King.

According to the non-profit Doe project, whole genome sequencing was performed, the file reduced to a format needed for GedMatch, and the file uploaded.

Again, there was no public outcry – possibly because a victim had been identified and not a criminal suspect, and because the event was not as widely publicized. However, it’s also possible that if the Buckskin Girl’s murderer left DNA evidence on the body, that sequencing could have identified both the victim and the murderer.

The identification of Buckskin Girl, however, did spur non-public debate within the leadership of the genetic genealogy field. Little did we know that the next case would follow dramatically in just two weeks.

GedMatch Matching

GedMatch is an open data base created in 2011 by two individuals in order to facilitate open sharing of autosomal matching between people, even if they tested at different companies.

Of the DNA testing companies, at that time, only 23andMe and Family Tree DNA provided centiMorgan information, recently joined by MyHeritage. Ancestry does not provide this information to their clients, so if an Ancestry client wants to see how they match other individuals in terms of actual chromosome locations and centiMorgans, they must transfer to either Family Tree DNA, GedMatch or now, MyHeritage.

Because GedMatch, with few exceptions during periods of change, matches customers from every vendor against customers from every other vendor, at least partially, they have become the clearing house for many people, especially Ancestry customers who don’t have the chromosome comparison option natively at Ancestry.

I want to be VERY clear about what you can and cannot see and do at GedMatch.

You can see your matches by the name they have entered, which can be an alias, along with their e-mail and how you match them. You CANNOT see the information of anyone you don’t match, unless you utilize another person’s kit number to see who they match. This has always been how GedMatch functions.

GedMatch users do NOT have access to your actual DNA file – ever. They can see who they match, and if they have your kit number, they can see who you match as well. Here’s an example of my own match screen.

Note – typically when showing GedMatch screen shots, I would blur the kit numbers and names in keeping with good privacy practices. However, since the point is to show you what one can actually see, I haven’t, because the top two matches are my own kits from Ancestry and 23andMe, and the third kit is that of my deceased mother whose kit I now manage. I also want to demonstrate that truly, there is nothing frightening or threatening about the information your matches see about you.

Best Matches

From a genealogist’s perspective, your “best matches” are to known close relatives, because when you match that relative and another person, especially on the same DNA segment, it’s a good indication that you share a common ancestor further back in time.

Genealogists build “clusters” of those types of matches in order to prove a relationship to a common ancestor. This is the heart and soul of DNA matching for genealogy.

For example, someone who matches you and your first cousin, both, on the same rather large segment assuredly shares a common ancestor with you and your cousin someplace in the past. The genealogical goal, of course, is to identify that long-deceased ancestor.

For example, if you match a first cousin, you know that your most recent common ancestor is one of your two sets of grandparents. Most genealogy matches are further back in time than either first or second cousins, making the identification of the common ancestor more challenging. Discovering that common ancestor is the goal of the game – because these matches to people with the same ancestor in their tree (generally) confirm that your ancestor is accurately identified. Some matches solve long-time family mysteries and break down brick walls.

However, not all brick walls are in the past.

Adoptee and Parental Search Matching

A few years ago, genealogists attempting to find unknown parents for adoptees and people with unknown fathers noticed that there were matching patterns to be followed successfully.

With millions of people having tested today, it’s much easier than it was a few years ago to find that key match (or matches) that reveals or confirms the identity of either an ancestor or an unknown parent.

While both genealogists and unknown parent searches look for close matches, the techniques diverge at that point.

Genealogists use a first or second cousin match to move backwards in time, looking for common distant ancestors.

In unknown parent searches, the same genealogical technique is used, EXCEPT, the person doing the searching could care less about older ancestors, such as great-grandparents. They are looking for their immediate ancestors – their parents.

Therefore, when an adoptee finds that critical first cousin match, they aren’t interested in figuring out a common ancestor for genealogy, meaning going backward in time. They covet that first cousin match for the purpose of coming forward in time, meaning towards the present in order to identify parents.

If you match to someone as a first cousin, you share a common set of grandparents. You can’t tell, without additional information, which set of grandparents, but given that you do match as a first cousin, there are only two positions the match can have in your family – either the pink or blue person above. This means that either your father or mother was a sibling to your first cousin’s parent.

You either share your father’s parents with your first cousin, or your mother’s parents, but you don’t know which – at least not yet.

With that much information, it’s fairly easy to uncover the rest. After all, you only have two sets of grandparents and anyone who is your first cousin will point to one of those two sets of grandparents.

You need to figure out who else matches you AND your first cousin, and then look at the genealogy of everyone who matches in that group until you discover the name of common family members/ancestors that you recognize, meaning an ancestor on either your maternal or paternal side to confirm that your first cousin matches you on that line.

Of course, for people who know their parents, figuring out first cousins is easy and takes about 2 seconds – but not so much for adoptees. Adoptees look to see how people who match them also match each other. For example, does the same couple or ancestor appear in the trees of multiple matches? In the example below, if the tester matches all three blue people as first cousins, the name of the blue cousins’ grandparents would be the same, suggesting that the tester’s grandparents were that same couple.

Next, it’s necessary to figure out which people who descend from the common set of grandparents might be candidates to be the parent the tester is seeking. In the example below, we’ve expanded the side of the three blue first cousin matches, adding their parents’ siblings as parent candidates for our tester. Factors such as age and location at the time of conception are taken into consideration when focusing on parent candidates.

If the tester doesn’t know who their parents are, they would be VERY interested in determining ALL of the children of the grandparents of their first cousin. Because one of the children of their first cousin’s grandparents IS THEIR PARENT.

In our example above, let’s just look at one of the grandparent pairs of the blue first cousins. The first cousins know who their grandparents are. The tester does not. In this case either the father or mother of the tester is the child of the first cousin’s grandfather and grandmother. Meaning that the red mother is the female child of the grandparents, or the green father is the male child of the grandparents.

We know that the grey parents of the first cousin matches can be eliminated as the tester’s parent. If the first cousin’s parent was also the parent of the tester, then the first cousin wouldn’t be a first cousin, but would be a full or half sibling.

However, the matching first cousins’ parents have three siblings who have not DNA tested, nor have their children, shown in pink and green. One of those three siblings IS either the father or mother of the tester. Of course, if the grandparents didn’t have any female children, then the tester’s father is one of the green male children of the grandparents, and vice versa.

In the example shown below, the tester’s mother IS the female child of the grandfather/grandmother pair and has been moved into place. This would be determined either by direct testing of the pink or green people, or their descendants, or by process of elimination through DNA tests of the other siblings or utilizing other pieces of information such as age and proximity.

Some adoptees are lucky enough to test and discover that a parent has tested and is waiting for them. Sometimes an unsuspected half sibling appears. Sometimes, there is no close match and the adoptee has to do more research work, including tracking people through social media and other means to find candidate family members to DNA test or to see if they know who might have been the much-sought-after parent.

Search Techniques

This type of research work has been taking place for years, individually, through groups like DNAadoption and DNADetectives who utilize volunteer search angels, as well as by several researchers who make a living doing this type of personal search. My focus is not on adoption search cases.

No one has seemed to consider this unethical, even though some of this work, especially when a parent isn’t immediately evident, involves utilizing the DNA of the tester’s matches and their matches’ relatives, connecting the family dots through social media, specifically Facebook pages, to discover the identify of someone who may not welcome that discovery. However, like GedMatch, Facebook, while not intended for this purpose is public and is heavily utilized by adoption searchers.

Some adoption search cases end very well – with heartfelt beautiful reunions welcomed by all parties. Others not so much, potentially upending the life of the biological parent that was established after the adoption took place which leads to a rejection that devastates the adoptee. Much of the damage can be done by the search process itself, meaning that the biological parent is “outed” by the process of people working through relatives who have tested and match in various ways. Of course, they ask questions to identify the biological parent – meaning that by the time the parent is identified they have no say about their own privacy.

Once DNA is uploaded to a data base, the search techniques for biological parent searches and to identify Buckskin Girl and DeAngelo, are exactly the same.

These searches all utilize matches to others, and the matches’ trees, to move forward in time to current to search for contemporary people, not ancestors further back in time.

Back to the Golden State Killer

Ok, back to the Golden State Killer.

We have the killer’s DNA sequence from the original crime scene and the file reduced to the number of DNA locations utilized by GedMatch.

Someone, presumably one of the investigators working on the case, uploaded that file to GedMatch, which appears to be entirely permissible because the police have legal custody of that DNA sample.

Let’s say the investigator, just like a genealogist, found a first cousin match, or even more distant (read difficult) matches further back – and they did exactly what people searching for unknown parents do. The investigator eventually worked through all of the possibilities based on common matches – then looked at age, location, opportunity and factors that might exclude some candidates. In this case, because it’s a rape case with the criminal obviously a male, females would be excluded, for example.

Evidence from DNA matches to the biological sample of the Golden State Killer caused the police to focus on DeAngelo.

After DeAngelo was identified through matches as a suspect, the police obtained his discarded DNA. Discarded DNA could be anything from a coffee cup thrown away to a cigarette butt or something from the trash.

That discarded DNA was sequenced, and a few days before his arrest, uploaded to GedMatch as well. The discarded DNA apparently matched the earlier sample from the killer as “himself” and the other people that the killer matched in the same way – establishing the fact that the Golden State Killer and DeAngelo were one and the same person.

You can see that I match my own 23andme and Ancestry kits as my closest matches in the GedMatch example I showed.

In essence, what the DNA of “the killer” obtained from the crime scene did was to generate leads through matching that allowed the police to identify DeAngelo and obtain a sample of his discarded DNA in order to verify that DeAngelo was the same person as the killer. Of course, he’s still a suspect today, not yet convicted.

Cooperation or Search Warrant

The police, in this case, didn’t need to ask for anyone’s cooperation. They already had the sample from the killer, they did what hundreds of thousands of others have done and simply uploaded the file to GedMatch.

The investigators didn’t need a search warrant because they weren’t asking for anything from GedMatch not already freely given, meaning matches to anyone who has already uploaded their information.

The investigators only used that matching information to generate tips for further investigation. They repeated the entire process with the discarded DNA sample to verify the earlier results obtained with DNA from the crime scene.

It bears noting here that if DeAngelo’s DNA had NOT matched that of the killer and the other people in the same way the killer’s DNA had matched them, then the discarded DNA would have eliminated DeAngelo as a suspect.

So, no genealogy testing company had to cooperate with anyone, nor was a search warrant necessary.

What’s the Rub?

We now have a monster about to be brought to justice. Two weeks earlier, Buckskin Girl, a murder victim, was identified and the family will finally have closure, 37 years later. Both of these are unquestionably wonderful outcomes.

So why are some people upset?

In some cases, people are simply confused about the process involved, and they will be relieved when they understand what actually happened – that their DNA was not “handed over” to anyone.

Some people have broader reaching concerns about privacy.

It appears that the word “police” combined with the word “criminal” caused a great deal of fear and trepidation, especially since a suspect was identified this time, not a victim and not someone’s biological parents.

Some people don’t want their DNA utilized to identify a family member, no matter what that person has done. And yes, that’s very nearly an exact quote from an e-mail I received.

Others are simply uncomfortable with their DNA being used in any kind of a potential criminal setting – even to identify a victim like Buckskin Girl.

One person says that it just makes her feel “creepy.” Oddly enough, that’s how I feel about Facebook now.

If you think it’s fine for adoptees to identify parents using these techniques, but you don’t think it’s alright for victims or criminals to be identified, I’d like to ask you to consider the following scenario.

A underage female is raped and becomes pregnant. She reports the rape to police at the time. She opts to have the child instead of having an abortion, and the child is placed for adoption. The rapist is never caught, and the young woman goes on to establish a new life and marry, not telling her husband or children born to the marriage about the rape, or the child placed for adoption. The expectation of the mother at that time was certainly that “no one would ever know,” whether those words were ever in an adoption contract or not. The fact that adoptions were (and still remain in many places) closed speaks to the expectations set for the mother.

Years pass, and today the adopted child, now an adult, tests. Both of the adoptee’s biological parents are identified through matches to relatives of the adoptee’s parents who have tested, such as first cousins in our earlier example. The adoptees parents themselves did not test.

Results were:

  • The life of the mother, a victim who did nothing wrong or illegal, and who chose to give the child life, is upended through the process of being identified.
  • The father who is a rapist, a criminal, is also identified.
  • The adoptee is subsequently very unhappy with both results for different reasons, but cannot press “undo.”

I’m NOT inferring that these data bases shouldn’t be used for identifying parents. I AM saying that we need to consider that the techniques for identifying parents, victims and criminals are the same. The outcomes are not always positive in parent searches AND these areas are or can be incredibly intertwined. Unraveling or prohibiting one effectively prohibits others. How do we treat everyone fairly and how are those rules, whatever they might be, enforced, and by whom?

In other words, how do we “do no harm”? After all, this started out to be genealogy, a fun hobby, and has now progressed gradually through a slow crawl to something else. Here we sit today.


In the example rape case above, neither the biological mother nor the father had tested, but their family members had – just like in the Buckskin Girl and the Golden State Killer cases.

Today, relative to the Golden State Killer, people are upset because the database, GedMatch, into which they uploaded their DNA file for genealogy was used for other purposes – specifically to apprehend the Golden State Killer. They feel that isn’t the purpose for which they uploaded their DNA.

Any one of us could have been one of the matches to the Golden State Killer and some people obviously were. It bears repeating here that no one’s DNA or results were “handed over,” and the only people affected in any way was someone that matched DeAngelo, and probably then only the closest matches. Many time people’s trees are utilized and their cousins never contact them, so it’s certainly possible that people who match DeAngelo have no idea still to this day.

The usage evolution for GedMatch from genealogy to other functions has been a slippery slope, although clearly no one realized at the time, when several years ago uploads began with modified ancient sample kits. Later, people began to use the GedMatch database (among others) to identify biological parents, then victims and now criminals.

Other people feel that searching for parents is genealogy, but identifying criminals is not – even though the search techniques are exactly the same. In our rape example, the mother who was a victim was identified and the criminal rapist father was identified as well by the same DNA test. The tester’s intent was only to reveal their biological parents – hoping for a loving, tear-filled reunion. That’s not what happened. The process of finding their parents also revealed the associated circumstances.

You can’t separate these usages into separate “boxes” anymore, because they overlap in unexpected says. That rape case wasn’t hypothetical.

I have absolutely no sympathy for the rapist, in fact, quite the opposite – but I feel incredibly bad for the young mother who has now been twice victimized. First by the rapist and second by the process used to track her, through relatives who began asking lots of difficult questions.

Last fall, in a Facebook group I follow, I was utterly horrified to see someone post that in the adoption cases she works, she encourages the adoptee, when they feel they are “close” to identifying a parent, to send registered letters to all of the family members, asking them to test, hoping that those who aren’t the parent quickly test to absolve themselves and as a way to flush the parent out.

It’s Not Just Your DNA

In either case, the DNA of the RELATIVES of the person being sought, be it a parent, a victim or a criminal, is what is used to find or identify the desired person. People who have uploaded to GedMatch are now concerned that they might be that relative whose DNA is used in a way they did not originally anticipate. They are right, and not just about this particular criminal case – but about the many types of usages other than strictly genealogical that looks backwards in time.

Perhaps the people who uploaded never thought about the fact that their DNA is/was being used for adoption or missing parent searches – or perhaps they are supportive of that activity. Maybe they thought that identifying victims, such as Buckskin Girl was a great use of the data base by investigators. Maybe they never thought about the fact that searching for criminals who leave DNA specimens behind uses exactly the same research and matching techniques as adoptees’ parent searched.  Perhaps no one stopped to think  that the same search can identify both parents, a victim and a criminal at the same time.

Maybe they were naïve and never thought about it at all or didn’t read the GedMatch statement that said (and says):

In today’s world, there are real dangers of identity theft, credit fraud, etc. We try to strike a balance between these conflicting realities and the need to share information with other users. In the end, if you require absolute privacy and security, we must ask that you do not upload your data to GEDmatch. If you already have it here, please delete it.

I can’t tell you how many of the posts and e-mails I’ve seen about this topic include the word “assume,” and we all know about assume, right?

Maybe, like me, some people have thought about that potential situation and want criminals, regardless of whether they are relatives or not off the streets. If they are relatives, so much the better, keeping my own family safer.

Some people may have been uploading their relatives’ DNA samples to GedMatch or any other site other than where the relative originally tested without the relative’s permission. If that’s the case, the person either needs to obtain permission, pronto, or delete the person’s DNA they uploaded without permission.

GedMatch’s Statement

GedMatch has posted the following statement.

Testing in the Future

Another concern voiced this week is that people, especially relatives that we want to test, will be much more reticent to test in the future if they think the police can “take” or “access” their DNA. That’s probably true, so we need to be prepared to explain what actually happened, and how, to eliminate misconceptions

However, it is true that DNA in these databases has been and is being used for things other than genealogy. This is also the purpose of informed consent – with an emphasis on informed. Bottom line – the cat’s out of the bag now. Perhaps these incidents together, meaning parent searches, the identification of Buckskin Girl and the arrest of the Golden State Killer, will bring home the warning that was previously noted on GedMatch.

If you’re not comfortable – don’t upload. This also means that people MUST STOP simply telling other people to upload to GedMatch as a cure-all for everything that ails genealogists. If you are making the recommendation, you also bear the responsibility for full disclosure or at least a caveat statement.

“GedMatch is great for genealogy matching to each other across vendor platforms <or words of your choosing>. It’s also used for adoptees searching for their parents, was used to identify Buckskin Girl and played an important role in the apprehension of the Golden State Killer.”

As a result, GedMatch now provides a way to remove your entire account, if you so wish. GedMatch needed to do that for GDPR anyway. As long as we are on the topic, GDPR, which goes into effect on May 25th tightens privacy significantly for any vendor or company that includes records of any UK/EU resident. You can read about that in my articles here and here.

Every (major) testing company, along with GedMatch provides the option of removing your DNA results if you are so inclined.

As for people being hesitant to test, certainly some already were and some will be. But there will also be others that only first heard about genetic genealogy this past week and this notoriety won’t deter them one bit. Some people will actively choose to participate, knowing that they can later change their mind if they so choose. I notice the GedMatch site has been busier than ever.

In summary, the police did not “take” or even ask for anyone’s DNA. They simply uploaded the DNA results of a criminal, taken from the crime scene, and looked at the matches generated in order to make an ID, at which time they obtained the DNA of the suspect which matched the DNA from the crime scene.

Just like genetic genealogy, DNA without supporting evidence won’t be much good, but now they have someone identified to work with, collecting other evidence. Where was he? Does the DNA at multiple scenes match his? I would think in terms of a prosecution that these matches and arrest is only the beginning, not the end of the process.

Given that none of the major genealogy companies cooperate with law enforcement without a search warrant, it’s a WHOLE LOT easier to obtain your discarded DNA than to obtain a search warrant. Furthermore, there is no chain of custody with DNA from a genealogy data base, but there certainly is from a rape and from a discarded cup. If the DNA of the criminal from the scene, and the suspect’s DNA from a discarded item match as the same person, that’s pretty conclusive and damning evidence.

Of course, fear begets fear and the old questions of government access and other issues bubble up again.

Another question I’ve received is about whether the usage of GedMatch for the Golden State Killer case opens the door for DNA to be obtained by insurance companies. First, you’d have to test and upload something. There is nothing to “get” if you don’t – and the insurance company would need a search warrant (and probable cause of a crime) to retrieve your DNA from any testing company.

GINA legislation protects American’s today from discrimination when obtaining health insurance, but it doesn’t extend to life and other types of insurance. However, when I applied for life insurance some years ago, they took a blood sample and if I wanted life insurance, I had to authorize whatever it was they wanted to test in that sample. I’d wager that today, they would run a DNA test in addition to checking for other health indicators. No GedMatch or testing company is needed or desired – in fact – an insurance company requires chain of custody which is why they send someone to your house to draw your blood.

What To Do?

What you do with your DNA sample is entirely up to you. Everyone will make their own decision based on their own circumstances and preferences.

Some people have removed their DNA from the various databases and in essence, have stopped participating in genetic genealogy.

Some have made their kits at GedMatch either research or private. Research means that you can run the kit and see matches, but others can’t see you. That certainly defeats the spirit of collaborative genealogy.

Some people have evaluated the evidence at hand and have made the decision to continue as normal – just more aware of other uses that can, have and may occur.

This story and others similar will continue to arise and unravel, and many questions will likely be asked and hotly debated over the next many months and years, both within and outside of this community. I would not be surprised to see legislation of some type follow – which has been one of the biggest fears within the genetic genealogy community for years. Legislation by people unfamiliar with the topic at hand will likely be overreaching and extremely restrictive. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Like many others, I’m concerned that the genetic genealogy field will become a victim of its own success. I hope that doesn’t happen, but at this point, the cow has left the barn and that door really can’t be effectively shut. All we can do is to be transparent, make informed choices, assure that we have the consent of anyone whose kit we manage and to advocate for sanity.

My Decision

I’ve made my personal decision and my thought process worked like this:

  1. I haven’t done anything that I need to worry about.
  2. If a family member does something they need to be arrested for, I hope my DNA helps.
  3. If I were the family of the victims, I would want them identified AND their murderer/rapist put away forever. (Disclosure, I have had a family member raped and a different family member murdered.)
  4. As a citizen, I want criminals such as rapists and murderers identified and removed from society through any legal means possible.
  5. DNA testing also exonerates people who were wrongfully convicted through advocacy groups like the Innocence Project.
  6. DNA eliminates potential criminal candidates as well as pointing the finger directly at others.
  7. Using the techniques utilized for unknown parent searches, an identification is seldom made as a result of ONE match only, unless it’s immediate family. Therefore, if you remove your own DNA from the data base(s) for matching, your cousin and their cousins are still there – so your criminal family member’s goose is still cooked. It might just take a little longer in the stew pot.

My DNA stays online and I continue to support all of the major DNA testing companies that provide matching and accept transfers, including GedMatch.



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Mother and Barbara Bush – 52 Ancestors #192

Barbara Bush (1925-2018)

Barbara Bush’s passing this past week at age 92 brought back such bittersweet memories for me. Barbara was an amazing lady in her own right as a President’s wife and another President’s mother, but she was also a warm and approachable human, separate from those historic roles – strong and resilient but with no condescending air about her. She was genuine, someone you just couldn’t help but respect and like.

Barbara was the consummate lady and this world is a poorer place without her. As I wrote this article, Houston, and this nation buried Barbara, but I am remembering a happier time.

I’m sure Barbara’s family grieved at her funeral, but what a legacy she left with such an incredible life to celebrate. I have but one personal memory of Barbara, but my mother, also named Barbara, had more.

Barbara Jean Ferverda (1922-2006)

Louisville, Kentucky

I think the year was 1988. I have pictures buried someplace that would reveal the exact year, but those kinds of details have blurred into a comfortable memory with only important details that stand out.

I was attending the opening of a fiber art exhibit at the beautifully restored historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, where the headquarters of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA) was located.

One of my fiber art pieces had won an award of distinction, and I was to be presented with that and two additional awards at the banquet accompanying the opening of the exhibit.

While you may not be impressed today, hearing about my artistic achievement 30 years ago, in the EGA world, any ONE of those three awards was quite coveted, and three at the same time was unheard of. Not only that, but I was especially proud, because let’s just say that I was working in a very untraditional way in a very conservative environment, for which I had been soundly criticized. Simply having my work in that exhibit represented vindication and acceptance, along with the dawning of embroidery as a valid contemporary fiber art form.

No one in my immediate family, other than my mother, noticed with any more than a yawn, even when my pieces graced the covers of magazines. Translated, I didn’t have anyone to go with me to the black-tie gala awards dinner – so I asked the one person on earth who was even more impressed than I was.

My mother, of course. Who else!

The Art Gallery Exhibit

Mother and I had been planning for weeks. What would we wear? How many outfits do we each need? What color? Do we need to change clothes between the afternoon and evening events? What kind of makeup? Hair – what about hair?

I think I purchased at least three outfits and took all three along so that I could change my mind if need be, or, God forbid, I spilled something. OK, spilled two somethings. I should be safe with three outfits, right?

No, I wasn’t the least bit nervous – whatever gave you that idea?

Of course, in my professional life, I had managed to obtain two graduate degrees, work in a think tank, then for a highly respected computer company in research, then start a business – none of which made me even half as nervous as this exhibit, reception and dinner. I don’t exactly know why, but perhaps because I was way outside of my comfort zone, having exactly zero training in art.

My mother wasn’t nearly as impressed with my various degrees and the many years of hard work as she was about my EGA awards. I laugh today remembering the dichotomy.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a “artist” gene someplace, because my great-grandmother exhibited her quilt in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, representing the State of Indiana.

My mother won her own fair share of awards and ribbons over the years as well, so the women in our family were no strangers to some level of textile-related success.

Mom and I arrived at the elegant Brown Hotel early, with several hours to change clothes, apply makeup and then repeat the process over and over until mother determined we were appropriately coiffed and could make our appearance.

I remember laughing and thinking that she was enjoying this way more than I was – and I was so very glad I could offer her this opportunity. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in more than one way.


We had been told that there were several dignitaries invited, including the Governor of Kentucky, several other politicians and benefactors of the EGA which was a nonprofit organization. I lived in another state, Mom was from Indiana and politicians didn’t impress me in the first place. I didn’t even know the names of any politicians from Kentucky, so I was rather disinterested, figuring they were somewhat of a necessary evil. Kentucky’s horses interested me a lot more than politicians. Had they managed to arrange for Secretariat to attend, THAT would have impressed me.

I was glad dignitaries were attending though, and wanted to make a good impression, because I wanted the EGA to be well funded. I cared a great deal about continuing the educational and other outreach services – not to mention that lovely building that housed the EGA offices and gallery for the exhibit.

I wasn’t surprised to find that there were several areas roped off at the hotel.

That wasn’t uncommon during this type of event, but the level of restrictive security did seem a bit over the top.

We were told where to be at what time, with ID. Mother began fussing all over again because her small purse wasn’t large enough for her billfold with her ID. I suggested that she simply tuck her ID in her bra. Mother, the consummate lady, was utterly mortified.

At the appointed time and place, we waited in line and were checked off of a list of pre-approved attendees, with our pre-approved one permitted guest, and ushered into the gallery. We seemed to be restricted to a relatively small area and there was an awful lot of “protocol” in terms of where we could and could not go and what we could and could not do.


I noticed a small display case very prominently positioned with two dolls and several certificates. Curious, given that traditional dolls were not generally part of an embroidery or fiber art exhibit, I wanted to take a closer look. Obviously they were remarkable for some reason! This case was not positioned inside the exhibit, but in a location near the entrance behind the security barrier.

The dolls, which were clearly handmade, including their clothes, were similar in style to Raggety Ann and Andy dolls, and according to the display, had been donated by Barbara Bush. I remember thinking that I never knew that Barbara Bush did handwork and how kind it was to donate her handmade dolls to the EGA. I wondered if she was a member.

I wish I had taken a picture, but cell phones hadn’t even been invented yet and I certainly wasn’t sporting a camera in my tiny “formal” purse that mother insisted that I carry with nothing but my ID, lipstick and the ever-Mother-required Kleenex and dime to make a phone call in an emergency tucked inside. Besides that, cameras were prohibited inside the exhibit.

Visitors were not to be admitted until a specific time, and the line was forming outside the building. I was amazed and somewhat baffled at the number of people who were obviously waiting to attend this event.

A few minutes later, after we were all positioned at our stations beside our respective artworks, a few people who obviously weren’t embroiderers arrived and were being given a VIP tour of the exhibit by EGA officials. Mostly men with an entourage, they seemed cordial and mildly interested. A few paused by various pieces and one or two asked polite questions of the artists. Little did I know at the time, but my then-unknown half-brother was very probably among them – a fact that I desperately wish I had known at the time. I have no recollection of Lee, if he attended the event. Given his philanthropic work and involvement in Louisville social circles at the time, and the political nature of the opening event, I would be surprised if he wasn’t in attendance.

The gallery area was fairly large, resembling a museum with different rooms.

Following the VIP tour, other people began to flow into the gallery. I got the distinct impression that there were VIPs remaining in some areas, because visitors seemed to be clustered in groups around people in the middle of rooms, not around art pieces hung on the walls and the respective artists. The thought popped into my mind that maybe those lines of people weren’t there to see our art, but to meet the VIPs. We really couldn’t see well enough to tell. I was near the back and the artists in that room were hoping that attendees would eventually find their way to where the winning pieces were hung at the rear of the exhibit. Same trick as putting milk at the rear of the grocery – you have to walk through everything else to get there.

We were all more than happy to chat with anyone who showed even mild interest in our work. Believe me, no one wanted to be “that person” who no one talked to, so we nervously awaited interested patrons, concerned that there would be none – that we would stand there feeling miserable and looking painfully uncomfortable for the entire reception.

As people gradually began to filter into our area, the room soon became crowded and much to our collective relief, there were lots of people. Many seemed to be genuinely interested – or maybe that’s just how we wanted to perceive them.

Mother’s Disappearance

Rather than time dragging by as it had earlier, it flew by until I realized that I had not seen my mother in quite some time.

Eventually, I began to get worried. Mom wasn’t elderly, but she also wasn’t a spring chicken and it wasn’t like her to be entirely AWOL for so long. The last time I saw her, she was having a lively discussion and obviously enjoying herself.

Where the heck was she?

I excused myself from the crush of people and made my way through the gallery.

No Mom.

I stepped outside the exhibit area, looking in the restrooms and up and down that hallway.

No Mom.

I wondered if she had gone back to the hotel room, which I would have found even more worrisome, since she was so looking forward to the open house. Something would have to have been very wrong – and she likely wouldn’t have told me because she would not have wanted to interfere with my enjoyment of the moment at hand.

I couldn’t check, because Mom had the one and only hotel room key in her purse. I was just getting ready to go to the front desk of the hotel and ask them to let me into the room, when I noticed a large room across the hallway and slightly down the hall from the exhibit. That room, furnished as a parlor, was roped off and looked entirely vacant, but I decided to check it out anyway.

I couldn’t help but think of the board game, Clue, that mother and I used to play on the kitchen table in the old farmhouse at home. I was extremely irritated with myself for thinking that the butler did it with the candlestick in the parlor. Who even had parlors anymore?

The Parlor

There were men in suits standing near the doorway, looking entirely disinterested, so I began to unhook the rope barrier to go inside the parlor to check to see if for some strange reason, mother was there.

Suddenly, the men descended on me. They respectfully but firmly told me that I couldn’t go in that room. I explained that I was rather frantically hunting for my mother. They asked me what my mother looked like. I described her and what she was wearing, when one of them took ahold of my arm, and stepped with me firmly in tow slightly inside the forbidden parlor room entrance so that I could see the other side of the room.

That action alone was rather disconcerting, because it was evident who was in charge of the moment and it wasn’t me. Who were these men anyway? And why was he touching me? I suddenly wished maybe I hadn’t been quite so anxious to step into that room, but it was too late now.

On the far side of the room, at a small table with a couple Victorian style chairs sat two women, leaning back, and relaxed. They were far enough away that I couldn’t hear their voices, but I saw a teapot and presumed that they were chatting over tea.

I recognized what I could see of mother’s clothes immediately, smiled at the man, heaved a huge sigh of relief and said, “Yes, that’s her, thank you,” and began to walk towards Mom. The man did not release my arm, where he had a death grip, and said, “You can’t go over there.” I asked why not, more than a little indignant and borderline disorderly, when he simply said, “Because she’s with Barbara Bush.”

Because She’s With Barbara Bush


With Barbara Bush?

THAT Barbara Bush?

Incredulous and shocked, that’s exactly what came out of my mouth.

The men started laughing and assured me yes indeed, THAT Barbara Bush.

Utterly astonished and somewhat unbelieving, I stammered, “What is my mother doing with Barbara Bush?” to which they replied, “Apparently having tea,” and shrugged.

And then added, “But you still can’t go over there.”

I took a closer look, and I could only see Barbara’s head at a back angle, but given her hair and well-known profile, along with what I quickly figured out was the secret service security detail, I had no doubt that indeed, my mother was sitting with Barbara Bush who was at the time, I believe, the Vice-President’s wife.

At this point, it was all I could do to not burst out laughing uncontrollably, between the pent-up nervous energy and excitement of the exhibit itself, the worry about my missing mother and the irony of the two Barbaras having slipped off to have a quiet cup of tea in the corner of the parlor. They may have escaped me, but they clearly didn’t escape the secret service although the agents were staying respectfully distant.

I looked at the men who were clearly somewhat amused, probably at the entire scenario, and said that I supposed mother couldn’t be any safer. I asked if they would be sure that mother returned back into the gallery, when finished with tea, and not naughtily escape anyplace else without telling me first. I knew that if she tried to escape again, Mr. Iron Fingers could shepherd her right where he wanted her to go.

When mother (finally) returned, she was no longer nervous and didn’t seem to think anything about the fact that she had just had a very long pot of tea with Barbara Bush. She just smiled and said absolutely NOTHING as I looked at her quizzically!

Later, I asked her what she and Barbara discussed, and Mom said that they talked about crocheting, dolls, grandchildren and their beloved dogs. I asked why she didn’t bring Barbara to meet me and she said that Barbara didn’t want to distract from the artists during the reception and would meet the rest of the artists later.

Mother said they never discussed politics or anything else in that vein. In other words, they truly were just two nice older ladies, about the same age, having a cup of tea, discussing the things near and dear to their hearts and escaping for a moment from busy crowds and prodding eyes.

Christmas Cards

Women of that generation kept address books and Christmas card lists. If you received a card from a person, they stayed on your list. If not, there was a strikethrough, sometimes with a note about having moved, divorced, died, or whatever.

Every year mother received a card from Barbara Bush, and every year she sent one, although I didn’t realize that at that time. Sometimes they would exchange other correspondence as well. For some reason, even after I found out, it never struck me as unusual – Mom had so many friends.

Nearly two decades later, when mother died, I went through her address book notifying people. I paused seeing Barbara’s name, with no strikethrough, and thought that I really didn’t need to call Barbara Bush who probably didn’t remember mother anyway. Then I recalled the Christmas cards with the personal notes that were taped to the wood trim on the farmhouse doorway each year with the other cards – just like any other friend. So I decided to treat Barbara just like any other of mother’s friends. I called and left a message that mother had passed away, never expecting Barbara to even receive the message. It was my way of closure for Mom and a final courtesy she would have wanted me to perform.

This week, after Barbara Bush’s death, I spoke with a person who lives in Houston, Barbara’s home. He said that Barbara had a Christmas card list that was more 10,000 names long. I don’t doubt it for one minute, and while I would initially assume from that staggering number that most of her correspondence was through a secretary, looking back, I’m not so sure.

The Funeral

A few days after Mom passed away, at the funeral home, I walked in, as ready as I would ever be for mother’s funeral visitation – which is to say I was dreading the event with an intensity one can never understand until they have stood in those shoes. I’m sure Barbara Bush’s family experienced that exact same thing this week.

I saw several floral displays surrounding the casket and throughout the room, and for lack of anything else to do, I walked around and looked at the names on the cards. Anything to avoid looking IN the casket. Anything but that.

On a white spray that the funeral director had put on an easel due to its size, I saw a card, with a note to the family – from Barbara Bush. I thought about how kind it was of Barbara, but I also knew it was probably from Barbara’s secretary. Surely Barbara didn’t remember mother.

A few days later, the family received a hand-written condolence card, sent to Mom’s address where she had moved only 18 months or so earlier. Based on the fact that Barbara Bush had Mom’s current address and based on the contents of the message in the card, it was clear that either Barbara had written the card herself, or dictated the message, because it was a lovely, thoughtful message that left no question that those two women were friends who had exchanged correspondence in the past.

I was grateful and Barbara’s note made me smile, through my tears of course, as I remember the two Barbaras, one a Hoosier Avon-lady farmer’s wife on a great adventure and one a Texan Vice-President’s wife, escaping the confines of the crowd to have tea in the corner of the parlor. Watching them that day, they didn’t seem very different at all.

Both beautiful Barbara’s have now escaped their mortal bodies and the cares of earth, leaving behind one-of-a-kind inspirational legacies and families who are eternally grateful to have had been blessed with their presence. I’m just sure that in a parlor someplace, they are catching up – chatting about the dogs with whom they’ve now been reunited and the grandkids they love, over a nice pot of tea.




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Family Tree DNA’s Y-500 is Free for Big Y Customers

Did you notice something new on your Y DNA results page at Family Tree DNA this week? If not quite yet, you will soon if you have taken the Big Y test. There’s a surprise waiting for you. You can sign in here to take a look.

The first thing you might notice is that the Big Y has been renamed to the Big Y500. However, the results I want you to take a look at aren’t under the Big Y500 tab, but on your regular Y DNA Y-STR Results tab. Click to take a look

In the past, 5 panels of Y DNA STR markers have been available:

  • Panel 1 – 1-12 markers
  • Panel 2 – 13-25 markers
  • Panel 3 – 26-37 markers
  • Panel 4 – 38-67 markers
  • Panel 5 – 68-111 markers

Now, a 6th panel has been added:

  • Panel 6 – 112-550 markers

However, there is a difference between the first 5 panels and the 6th panel.

Why is it Called the Y500?

If there is a total of 550 markers reported, why is this product called the Y500?

That’s a great question with an even greater answer.

Family Tree DNA actually tests for a total of 550 markers. Values for markers between 112 and 550 are provided FOR FREE when you take a Big Y test.

Family Tree DNA guarantees that you will receive at least a total of 500 markers, or they will rerun your Big Y test at no cost to you to obtain enough additional markers to reach 500. (The 500 number assumes that you have all 111 STR markers. If you have not tested all of the STR panels, the number will be lower by the number of STR values you haven’t tested. This means that if you took the Y67, but not the Y111, your 500 guarantee number would be 500-44, where 44 is the number of markers in the Y111 panel that you have not yet ordered.)

The best part?

The markers above 111 are ENTIRELY FREE with a Big Y test – for both existing customers who have already taken that test, and all future customers too. Yes, you read that right. If you took the Big Y previously, you are receiving the markers in panel 6, 112-550 absolutely free.

How does it get better than free?

The Big Y Uses a Different Technology

There is a difference between the first 111 markers and the markers from 112-550, meaning that they are read using different technologies

The results for the first 111 STR markers are produced using a technology that targets these specific areas and is very accurate.

The results for the 112-550 markers is produced using next generation sequencing (NGS) on a different testing platform than the Y-111 results. NGS, utilized for the Big Y, scans the Y chromosome rather than targeting specific locations. This scanning process is repeated several times, with values at specific locations recorded.


Using NGS technology, your DNA is scanned multiple times, with the number of scans, such as 25 or 30, referred to as the coverage level. The goal is for multiple/most/all scans to find the same value at the same location consistently. Because of the nature of scanning technology, this sometimes doesn’t happen, for various reasons, including “no-calls” which is when for some reason, the scans simply can’t get a reliable read at that location in your DNA. No calls are typical and occur at low levels in everyone’s scan.

Here’s an example from a Big Y scan viewing the actual results using the Big Y chromosome browser.

The blue bars are forward reads and the green bars are reverse reads. Dark blue and dark green bars indicate high quality scans. Medium blue and green are medium quality scans and faintly colored bars indicate poor quality. If you take a look at where the little black arrow at the top is pointing, you can see that a T is the expected value at that location.

When the expected value as determined in the human reference genome is found at that location, nothing is recorded in that column. However, when a different result is discovered, like A in this case, it’s noted and highlighted with pink. We can see that there are 5 As on forward and reverse strands of high quality, then a low quality read, 6 more high quality reads, followed by two reads that show the expected value (nothing recorded) and then three more high quality A reads.

The goal is to determine what actual value resides at that location, and when that value is determined, it’s referred to as a “call.”

For a “call” to be made, meaning the determination of the actual value in that position, the person or software making the call must take several quality factors into consideration.

In this case, the number of high quality reads indicating the derived (mutation) value of “A” allows this location to be definitively called as “A.” Because several other men previously tested have A at this location, a SNP name has already been assigned to this mutation – in this case, A126 in haplogroup R.

However, if you look to the right and left of the arrow to the next two browser locations that contain mutations, you can see in both cases that there are less than half of the column locations that are marked as pink with derived values (mutations), meaning those not expected when compared to the reference model.

These types of locations which are neither clearly ancestral (reference model) nor derived values are when value judgements come into play in terms of deciding which value, the ancestral or derived, is actually present in the DNA of the person being tested.

Some people will call a SNP with only one mutation reported out of 20 or 30 scans. Some people will call a SNP with 2 scans; some with 5, and so forth. Generally, Family Tree DNA uses a minimum threshold of 5 high quality scans to call a mutation value.

Now, let’s talk about how STR values, meaning results displayed in those locations between 112-550, are found in your Big Y NGS data file. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs in the article, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities.


Short tandem repeats, known as STR values, are the numbers reported in your STR panels. These are stutters of DNA, kind of like the copy machine got stuck in that one area for a few copies.

For example, in haplogroup R, for this person, the value of 13, meaning 13 repeats of a particular sequence, is found at marker DYS393.

Repeated sequences are in essence inserted in-between SNPs in some DNA regions, and the number of repeats reported in STR marker panels is the number of stutters, or repeats, of a particular repeated sequence.

That sounds simpler than it is, because how to count a sequence isn’t always the same. Let’s look at an example showing 20 consecutive DNA positions.

The actual values are shown in the value row. However, these values can be counted in a number of different ways. I’ve also added a “stray read” at location 13 which causes confusion.

At location 13, we show a value of G which does not fit into the repeat pattern. How do we interpret that, and what do we do with it?

The repeat pattern itself is a matter of where you start counting, and how you count.

I’ve color coded the repeats with blue and yellow. Incomplete repeats are red. The stray G in location 13 is green, because it breaks the repeat sequence.

In example 1, we start counting with T in position 1, and there are clearly 3 repeated groups of TACG before we hit our stray G in position 13, which stops the repeat pattern. However, after the stray G, there is one more full repeat sequence of TACG. Do we ignore the G and count the 4th TACG as part of the group, or do we count only the first 3 complete TACG sequences? The total number of repeats could be counted as either 3 or 4, depending on how we interpret the stray G in location 13.

In example 2, we start counting with the GTAC, because I was simulating a reverse read where we start at the end and work backwards. In this case, we clearly have 2 reads, then our stray G which occurs in the middle of a read. Do we ignore that stray G and call the rest of the blue GTAC surrounding the G as a repeat? That blue repeat group is followed by another yellow group. Do we count it at all, or do we simply stop with the marker count of 2 because the G is in the way and breaks the sequence? This repeat sequence could be counted as either 2, 3 or 4, depending on what you do with the G and the following sequence group, both.

Examples 3 and 4 follow the same concept and have the same questions.

All STR sequences face the issue of where to start reading. Where you begin reading can affect the number of repeat counts you wind up with, even without our stray G in position 13.

STR markers obtained from NGS sequencing face this same challenge, but it’s complicated by the issue of no-reads and the call variance that we saw in the chromosome browser where the same location is sometimes called differently on different scans, meaning we really can’t tell which is the actual value. What do we do with those?

All of this is complicated by the fact that some regions of the Y chromosome simply do not produce valid or reliable information. Different (groups of) people define this unreliable region as starting and ending in different locations. Therefore different people analyzing the same information often arrive at different answers to the same question or use marker locations that others don’t.

I suspect all of this may fall into the category of trivia you never wanted to know, but now you’ll understand why you may find different (sometimes strongly held) opinions of what is “right” when two geeky types are arguing strongly about a particular STR value as your eyes glaze over…

Here’s the bottom line – if you’re using results called by the same vendor, you don’t have to worry about whether you and someone else are being accurately compared. You and everyone else at that vendor will have your results reported using the same technology and calling methodology.

Family Tree DNA has always taken a more conservative approach, because they only want to report to customers what they know to be accurate.

You will not see low confidence values on your reports, nor calls from an unreliable region. Genealogists cannot reach reliable genealogical conclusions using unreliable data.

The Big Y 500

Because of the nature of scanned STR results, Family Tree DNA can’t guarantee that you will have a reliable read at every location. In fact, few people will have values at every location. The technology for the Y-111 markers provides a very high level of accuracy and Family Tree DNA will provide results for every 1-111 location unless you actually have a deletion, meaning no DNA in that location. However, the values of markers 112-550 are taken from the Big Y NGS scan.

Therefore, some Big Y customers will have a few markers above 111 that show a “-“ instead of results, such as FTY945 and FTY1025, shown below. A value of “0” found in markers 1-111 means that there is actually no DNA in that location, and it’s not a read error. No DNA at a specific location is heritable, meaning it can serve as a line-marker mutation, while a “no call” means that the scan couldn’t read that genetic address. No calls cannot be compared to others and should be ignored.

Before someone starts to complain about having markers with “no reads,” remember that Family Tree DNA is providing up to 439 additional markers available FOR FREE to customers who have taken (or will take) the Big Y test.

That’s right, there is no charge for these new markers. You are guaranteed 389 additional markers, but you may actually receive as many as 439, depending on how well your DNA reads. The kits I’ve checked have only been missing a couple of marker values, so these kits received 437 additional markers, far above the guaranteed 389.

Right now, matching is not included for the 112-550 markers. Matching above 111 markers may be challenging because while Family Tree DNA does guarantee that you’ll have at least 389 new marker values, those won’t be the same markers above 111 for everyone. In a worst-case scenario, you could mismatch with someone on as many as 100 markers above 111 panel, simply because both you and the person you are matching against are both missing 50 different markers each, for a total of 100 markers mismatching.

Additionally, not everyone has tested all 111 STR markers, and you will receive your 112-550 values if you have taken the Big Y test regardless of whether or not you’ve tested all 111 STR markers.


Matching on the first 111 markers is reliable because you will have an accurate value, even if the value is 0. Having no DNA at a specific location is a valid result and can be compared to other testers.

With different markers between 112 and 550 missing for different men, matching becomes very tricky. Specifically, how do we interpret mismatches? How many mismatches to we allow to still be considered a reasonable match?

Matching is an entirely different prospect when integrating the markers between 112 and 550 into the equation with a potential of up to 100 mismatching locations in that range simply from no-reads.

I had presumed that Family Tree DNA would offer matching on these additional markers. Presume is a dangerous word, I know. Matching is not offered right now, and given the complexities, I don’t know if matching as we know it will be the future or not, how reliable it would be, or how Family Tree DNA would compensate for the missing STR information that differs with each person’s test.

Furthermore, I’m not quite sure what they would do with two men who haven’t both tested to the same STR level, meaning panels 1-5, but have taken the Big Y so have values for 112-550.

Big Y Purchases

Here’s the status of Big Y tests, today:

  • New Big Y purchase if you have done no Y DNA testing at all – you will now be able to purchase a Big Y without having to previously purchase any STR markers. The 111 STR markers are now bundled into the Big Y purchase, which makes the Big Y appear more expensive than before when the STR markers had to be purchased separately before you could order a Big Y test. The Big Y plus all 111 STR markers is now $649 during the DNA Day Sale, regularly $799.
  • Already tested through 111 STRs – the Big Y is only $349 on sale right now, and $449 regularly, both significantly discounted from just a few months ago.
  • Existing customers who have taken some level of Y STR test but not the Big Y – will have to upgrade their STR test to the 111 level when ordering the Big Y. Those tests are discounted appropriately, shown in the table below.
  • Existing customers who have not tested their STR markers to 111, but have already taken the Big Y – will receive marker values from 112-550. However, they will only receive the Y STR markers below 112 for panels they have paid for. This means that if you have only tested to 37 markers, you will have results for locations 1-37, not for 38-111, but will have results for locations that read from 112-550. This would be the perfect time to upgrade so that you have a complete marker set.

Right now, Family Tree DNA is having their DNA Day Sale and it’s a great time to purchase a Big Y or to upgrade your STR markers if you don’t have the full 111. The sale pricing shown is valid through April 28th. You can click here to order.



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

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Common Sense and GDPR

Recently, I wrote an article titled, GDPR – It’s a Train and It’s a Comin’ wherein I discussed exactly what GDPR is, and why companies have to comply or risk massive fines. If you’re thinking of the recent Facebook fiasco right about now, that’s exactly where this type of legislation is focused, and why.

That said, this European legislation affects genetic genealogy in ways that weren’t anticipated and in ways that may require changes on the part of our providers and ourselves. Every company has to comply, meaning all of the companies that provide services if they have any EU or UK clients, so GDPR affects anyone in this industry – vendor, project administrator and/or customer. Needless to say, it affects you too, one way or another.

One of the most difficult aspects of GDPR is that the true effect is unknown. There is no case law yet to unravel the confusion. And yes, there is confusion. Lots of confusion.

There will be life after GDPR, and there will be genetic genealogy too – although it may look a bit different in some ways.

Many vendors have been preparing for some time now, so we have knowingly or unknowingly already seen many changes that were either required or perhaps bumped up the priority list by GDPR legislation.

First and foremost, the companies MUST comply to protect themselves, or we, as their customers who have invested not just in our own tests, but often tests for many family members will suffer greatly. If the companies go out of business – and yes, the GDPR fines are potentially severe enough at 20 million euros to bankrupt companies – we could all be impacted in a devastating fashion.

No matter what pain-in-the-patoot changes the vendors feel required to make, it’s far more preferable to adapt and retain access to our investment and genetic genealogy tools. The alternative isn’t pretty and the vendors aren’t making the changes because they woke up one morning and decided to make our lives (and theirs) difficult – they are making the necessary changes to protect themselves and our investment in their products along with our DNA results.

The four guiding principles of GDPR in combination are:

  • Transparency
  • Simplicity
  • Privacy
  • Consent

I am very grateful to the testing companies for stepping up and taking care of business, even though the “solution” sometimes makes life more inconvenient for me personally. That’s life right now and we just have to suck it up and get used to the changes.

Therefore, those of us who work in various ways with DNA and genetic genealogy, especially the DNA of others, need to be aware of GDPR requirements. I’ve seen a lot of misinformation fueled by fear circulating, so I’d like to discuss what is required, along with what we do and don’t know.

I’m going to say this now and again at the end of this article, so please, please take special note.

In other words, your mileage may vary. Not to mention, it’s certainly possible that I’ve misinterpreted something. You will see a lot of “weasel words” like “seems to be” and “I think,” because in many cases, we really don’t know.

Yes, change is uncomfortable, but I will get through this and so will you. No need to hit the panic button and the sky is not falling although there is some rumbling.

How Do You Work With DNA?

You may work with DNA in a variety of ways:

  • Your own results in any or all of the commercial data bases, or a public database like GedMatch
  • Results of family members or friends whose accounts you manage in any of the commercial data bases or at GedMatch
  • Results of Family Tree DNA project members as a project administrator at Family Tree DNA
  • Results of Family Tree DNA project members on a private or third-party website
  • As a search angel helping others as a volunteer
  • As a paid researcher or professional in this field in some capacity

Different Situations

GDPR speaks to a variety of situations, so let’s take a look at some of the provisions and how they might affect you and others.

Dead People

Deceased individuals are explicitly exempted from GDPR.


Volunteers and unpaid individuals are explicitly NOT exempted from GDPR regulations simply because they are volunteers or unpaid. GDPR applies to volunteers and unpaid individuals in the same way as those who are compensated unless other exemptions apply.

Attempting to Uniquely Identify a Person

If you are working with your own DNA results, and only your own results, GDPR probably affects you less than others – unless you are trying to uniquely identify a living person.

GDPR contains the following verbiage:

“Processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, and the processing of genetic data, biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person, data concerning health or data concerning a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.”

To me, the most relevant part of this paragraph is, “for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person,” because I feel this relates to people searching for unknown biological parents.

Although GDPR does not apply to deceased people, you don’t know if your parent is deceased until you identify them. If the parent has submitted their own DNA for testing, this wouldn’t seem to be an issue, because the parent(s) intentionally, consensually, tested, entering their DNA into a genetic genealogy data base with the intention of matching and being seen by matches. In other words, you don’t have to “do” anything other than test to identify your parent – because that match is already waiting for you.

However, if an individual tests and then subsequently uses DNA results and other tools and techniques with the intention of uniquely identifying the parent, that seems to be “processing” that is prohibited.

I will not be attempting to track down and personally identify any person who could be living today, meaning certainly no one born within the last 100 years. That doesn’t mean I don’t think people searching for birth family shouldn’t test – I think the process of searching after testing could be problematic under GDPR.

Processors vs Controllers

In the GDPR documentation, controllers are very clearly companies doing the DNA tests and making decisions. Processors, however, are people or companies that perform additional functions as determined by the controllers. The definition and relationship of people who do genetic genealogy work is unclear. Certainly no one working on the GDPR legislation considered genetic genealogy whose intention IS to SHARE information.

If one is working with an individual’s DNA in a professional capacity, the argument that the professional is “processing the information” and making decisions about that processing would seem to be pretty convincing, especially if they were uploading information, or working with matches to identify someone.

You be your own judge, but processors are bound in most cases by the same rules as controllers – and controllers are required to be sure that processors know what is expected of them if they are in any way involved in the transfer of information from the controller to the processor. Another category, “third parties” is largely undefined, as are their responsibilities.

To be safe, I’m presuming worst case here, meaning that all regulations apply, because I don’t want to be caught in an uncomfortable or even ugly situation.

GDPR Does Not Apply To

  • GDPR does not apply to “a natural person in the course of a purely personal or household activity and thus with no connection to a commercial activity.”
  • Clearly, the verbiage here suggests that individuals working with family data might not be subject to GDPR, but the verbiage about not uniquely identifying individuals would seem to pertain regardless.
  • Yes, these two provisions might well be in conflict with each other. I have absolutely no idea which would be determined to be accurate nor under what circumstances. Nor do I know how people administering larger projects, such as regional or haplogroup projects would be viewed since their interest is beyond the “household” but is not connected to a commercial activity.


  • While GDPR applies to European residents, you may not be aware that someone is a European resident. I’m going to assume that everyone is a European resident and that way there is no possible mistake.
  • GDPR does not appear to apply to European citizens living outside of the EU/UK.


  • I would suggest that people not represent to others that they can be anonymous in data bases if or when they test. People are being identified daily based on autosomal tests by comparing the trees and genealogy information of who they match, especially related to parent search cases. That “anonymous” cow left the barn long ago.


Permission, also termed consent in GDPR, was always important, but is now even more so.

  • Do not do anything with anyone’s information, meaning DNA information or other information they have provided without their express WRITTEN permission. I’m viewing e-mail as written permission, but that might not be strong enough, especially not for anyone doing research on behalf of others.
  • People can only give consent for their own information, or the information for someone they have legal authority to given consent for (child, etc.) or someone whose permission they have obtained.
  • You must inform someone whose information you have access to or that they have provided that they have the right to ask for their data to be corrected or removed and of the relevant address where to complain, and how, if they are not happy with a controller or processor.
  • Do not expose anyone’s information, including their GedMatch or Family Tree DNA kit number, on a presentation slide, on Facebook or anyplace else without the person’s explicit permission.


  • GDPR says that one can’t continue to hold data longer than necessary to finish the processing for which the person has agreed.
  • My personal assumption would be that this means that I would delete client reports when they are complete. However, I have in the past kept reports handy, because many clients have asked for a copy, even years later, after losing the original. This also begs the question, relative to DNA and genealogy projects, when is “done?”
  • My interpretation would be that one would need permission to maintain the data or information in any format after you have “finished.” However, as we all know, genealogy is never finished, and our genealogical “best practices” are focused on retaining information, not disposing of it.
  • GDPR isn’t about just genetic data. If other information is gathered, such as through a blog or newsletter, be sure that your usages are GDPR compliant, as are any tools that people utilize for your applications such as blogging platforms, website providers, etc.


  • Controllers and processors must store contact information separately from “results.” I’m presuming this means in a separate spreadsheet for project administrators and people working with other people’s (genetic) information.
  • Controllers and processors may be required to track when they are “processing” and what they are doing. Fortunately, for Group Project Administrators, Family Tree DNA provides a logging function which will help immensely.
  • If a controller/processor receives a request to provide an individual with all of the information the controller/processor holds on the individual, the processor must comply in a reasonable time – mentioned in the GDPR documentation as within 30 days.
  • Project administrators may want to post a privacy policy on their project website at FTDNA and/or elsewhere, especially if any project information is posted outside of the FTDNA project structure. Your project members will need to know that your project is separate from Family Tree DNA, and that they need to contact you directly for modification/removal of both posted data and anything they have personally sent you.
  • Never release the names or e-mails of project members, or any other individual, without their express consent for every request. I tell the requesting person if they will compose an e-mail, I will simply forward it to the project member they are asking about. That removes the entire issue and leaves it in the hands of the project member.
  • If a personal data breach occurs that results in either loss of or exposure of records, the controller or processor must report the breach within 72 hours to the supervisory authority. However, reporting is not required if the breach is “unlikely to result in risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.”

Right to Erasure aka Right to be Forgotten

  • If an individual asks you to delete any information they have previously provided to you, it should be done within 30 days. There is some leeway, but minimally the person can expect timely communication from you.
  • I would think this would be particularly important for project administrators, especially if the project website is maintained outside of the Family Tree DNA structure where the administrator has created a separate website.
  • If a project member changes their privacy setting from a public to a project-only setting, that change is reflected in the project display automatically at Family Tree DNA. If an administrator maintains a separate website, they will need to devise a way to routinely coordinate the privacy settings of project members to reflect new changes. I’m very glad that I don’t maintain any projects outside of the Family Tree DNA structure. It’s still possible to miss some text you’ve put on a separate results page perhaps, but the former project member’s results will automatically be deleted from the project and social media feed, both, by Family Tree DNA.
  • If a person has provided you with any information, and they request you to remove or correct it, do so quickly and thoroughly, within the 30 day window. This applies to both paper and computer files.
  • In GDPR, there is no provision, consideration or discussion of situations where websites become abandoned over time. In my opinion, GDPR never considered a hobby type of environment where someone posting informational content might not have a registered domain name that would disappear if not paid for. Furthermore, information that has been posted to the web in reality cannot be entirely removed given tools like WayBackMachine. Nothing that has been published is ever really “deleted” from the internet or is entirely “forgotten,” regardless of GDPR.
  • Be sure when obsoleting your computer to reformat or destroy your disk drive in a manner in which the data cannot be recovered by the next owner.

Guiding Principles

  • I am not going to be providing any information to anyone about living people as a result of genetic or genealogy research beyond matches provided by a testing company. People can view their own matches for themselves, so that’s not information I need to provide.
  • I am not going to recommend uploading to GedMatch or other “open” platform, should one exist, without a commensurate statement that the data base is open, and anyone whom the person matches and sees their kit number can also see whom they match, along with their ethnicity, etc. I’m personally fine with that scenario, but blanket recommendations to upload to GedMatch don’t take into consideration the informed consent necessary for people unfamiliar with the platform, especially relative to “sensitive information” that can identify someone’s racial makeup or religion.
  • Do not change anyone’s anything unless you have explicit consent. This means not restricting what others can see or do and not making decisions for them unless you have been specifically designated/authorized to do so. Family Tree DNA has a methodology for a tester to explicitly grant a project administrator full access in order for that individual to grant an administrator more than read/view access. Ancestry also has provisions to allow others to manage a kit or share additional information.
  • Do not share anyone else’s GedMatch kit number, especially not in any public forum.
  • Do not add living people to your tree(s) and allow them to be seen publicly without their express consent.
  • Never expose a minor’s information.
  • I would suggest that it is unethical to attempt to “recreate” an autosomal kit representing the DNA of a living person who has declined to DNA test by utilizing the DNA of their other family members, in particular, their children. This does not apply to recreating the DNA profile of deceased family members – only living people who have exercised their right to refuse DNA testing.
  • Do not order, transfer, upgrade or otherwise “process” the DNA of anyone without their permission unless it is your DNA, you are their legal guardian or they have granted you permission to do so.

In essence, kindergarten rules apply – do unto others, treat others respectfully and how you would want to be treated.

There’s a lot we don’t know about how GDPR will be interpreted in the long run. I don’t believe GDPR is targeting people like project administrators, unless they are incredibly negligent or intentionally violate the privacy of others. I suspect that, for the most part, being careful with other people’s information, respectful and perhaps more aware than in the past will keep us all safe.

And yes, I know…all it would really take is that one vindictive bad apple that might make your life miserable – especially given that we really don’t know how genetic genealogists will be viewed under GDPR.

I know the changes within projects at Family Tree DNA have upset some group project administrators, and while I don’t like change any better than the next person, I’m actually grateful that Family Tree DNA has implemented modifications that will prevent me (and others) from making errors in judgement or simply getting too busy to delete someone’s information.

I don’t host any projects outside of the Family Tree DNA framework, and if I did, I would revert at this point to Family Tree DNA hosted projects since they have invested the effort into modifications for GDPR compliance. I think that so long as I stay within their framework, and follow the rules, I should be fine.

If you have personal concerns, I would suggest that you read the GDPR documentation for yourself, view the ISOGGG slide presentation listed below, or contact your own lawyer, because as I said before:

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Backpedaling: Irene Charitas is a Heitz, not a Schlosser – 52 Ancestors #191

You have no idea how much it pains me to write a – dare I say the ugly word – retraction.  Ugh☹

However, when I’ve reached an incorrect conclusion, no matter what the reason, I feel morally obligated to set the record straight. In addition to this article, I’m also posting links to this article in the previous Irene Charitas articles, along with the articles about Conrad Schlosser and his wife, Anna Ursula. Those articles can be found here, here, here and here.

Why am I doing that instead of removing the articles?  Simple enough. That erroneous information about Schlosser existed “in the wild” before I came along. My articles haven’t been out long, but they made that situation at least somewhat worse, AND, if I don’t leave the original articles, when new researchers come across the same information themselves, they’ll fall into the very same tar pits that I fell into.

So, I guess you could say I’m leaving them in place as a skull and crossbones warning, or more charitably (to me), to use as a learning experience. Yes, I’m really irritated with myself.

Remember what your Mom used to say: “Well, at least “they” can serve as a bad example!”

Well, this time, “they” is me.

You know, if you can’t laugh at yourself, after you get done crying over the spilt milk, then you’ve missed a great deal of life’s available humor!

And so it goes…

The Bad Example

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

Tom and I determined months ago that Irene Charitas is a very rare name. Not only is Irene rare individually, but so is Charitas. Combine Irene and Charitas into one name together and its chicken’s teeth rare.

Need proof?

Using the Family Search “Search Records” function from 1550-1800, we find exactly one listed.

There are Anna Charitas, Maria Charitas, Joanna Charitas and plain Charitas, but no other Irene Charitas, at least not that have been indexed to date.

Based on that information, and knowing the Johann Michael Mueller and his wife, Irene Charitas <some surname> began having children in Steinwenden, Germany in 1685, it made sense when we discovered the confirmation records of Conrad Schlosser’s two daughters, Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula in the same small town that we would put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. We concluded that Irene Charitas Schlosser is the wife of Johann Michael Mueller.

Except we were wrong. And by the way, I’m taking full credit for the wrongness. I would be entirely lost without Tom then and now the dynamic duo of Tom and Chris together.

Three Heads are Better than One or Two

Sometimes two heads are better than one and three are better yet.

Remember my German friend Chris?  He is newer to research about this family than either Tom or me who have been working with these records for years.

Chris and Tom make a great pair. Tom has years of experience with German records and script, and Chris is a Native German speaker and sniffs out the most wonderful rabbits in obtuse rabbit holes.

That’s an amazing attribute, because recently Chris e-mailed and asked how we had determined that Irene Charitas was a Schlosser.

I pointed Chris to the article about Irene Charitas wherein I was ecstatic to identify her as the daughter of Conrad Schlosser through a 1689 christening records for Conrad Schlosser’s two daughters, Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula.

Bingo, we had it! We had found Johann Michael Muller’s wife who was named Irene Charitas.

Except we hadn’t.

What Went Wrong?

One thing bugged me, but sometimes old records are “weird” for a variety of reasons.

The thing that bothered me was that Irene Charitas, wife of Johann Michael Muller, was married and having children by 1685. This 1689 Schlosser confirmation record, 4 years later, doesn’t’ say anything about Muller.

In fact, Irene Charitas’ age is the reason we originally thought that Irene was simply standing up with her sister, Anna Ursula Schlosser, not being confirmed herself. An adult confirmation would be highly unusual. However, given that records are often incomplete, and that many of the settlers were Swiss and could have been on the road or otherwise displaced when Irene should have been confirmed – this adult confirmation didn’t seem so unusual after all. We took it at face value.

Given the rarity of the combined names of Irene with Charitas, the chances of finding another Irene Charitas in the same small village was miniscule. I mean, the chances of lightning striking twice or winning the lottery are much better.

I should have bought a lottery ticket!

As it turns out, based on further information from Chris about the typical German confirmation at about age 13 or 14, Irene Charitas Schlosser who actually WAS being confirmed would have been born about 1676, far too young to have been married and having a child by 1685. We now know that Conrad Schlosser was living in close proximity by 1660, so there is no possibility that Irene’s confirmation was delayed because they were in transit at the time. However, we didn’t yet know that at the time.

Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion available with the additional information is that Irene Charitas Schlosser was not married in the 1689 confirmation record and was far too young.

Meaning that the Irene Charitas married to Johann Michael Muller by sometime in 1684 when she conceived a child had to be someone else!

Oh, Come On!!!

I can hear you saying out loud to yourself, “Right, Roberta, you’re going to try to convince me that there were two Irene Charitas’ in a population of 6 households and 25 people?”

No, I’m not actually.

I’m going to tell you that there were 3.

Yes, seriously.

How on earth can that be?

Let me explain.

Enter Samuel Hoffman

A few years earlier, Samuel Hoffman, probably the first minister of the church in Steinwenden, had a wife named Irene Charitas Buether.

According to a Geneanet site by R. K. Morgenthaler, Samuel Hofmann, husband of Irene Charitas born Beuther, was a priest in Weilersbach, close to Steinwenden, from 1657 onwards. We also know that Samuel Hofmann and Irene Charitas Beuther married in 1657 in Weilersbach, since this is stated in the 1684 burial record of Irene Charitas Buether Hofmann.

In addition, we have the 1684 Steinwenden tax list that includes Samuel Hofmann residing in Steinwenden as well. In conclusion, we may assume that Samuel Hofmann was a minister in Steinwenden in at least 1683-1684, and perhaps earlier. He may thus have been the first minister in Steinwenden after the war.

Furthermore, Irene Charitas Beuther was important in her own right.

Irene Charitas Hoffmann born Beuther had a father who was not just anybody. Her father Dr. theol. Michael Philipp Beuther was superintendent of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, that is, he was responsible for the church of the entire district. In this function, he was an important person in the so-called “second Zweibrücken reformation,” which was the change from Lutheran to Calvinist belief.

Irene Charitas Beuther Hoffman died in of July 1684, as recorded in the church book.  Given her husband’s position in the church, she probably stood up as a godparent for a lot of babies that were baptized.  As it turns out, it appears that at least two of those children were named for her.

Irene Charitas Schlosser and Irene Heitz, also called Irene Charitas in later records were probably both named for Irene Charitas Beuther – making a total of at least 3.

Yea, I know.  What are the chances? Now multiple Irene Charitas’ make sense.

The New Record

Chris, through his meticulously detailed research, threw a grenade into my nice neat story.

Chris happened across this Muller-Familien site in German by Dr. Hermann Muller, and followed a reference to the unindexed church records in nearby Miesau which began in 1681, 4 years before the Steinwenden church records began.

This is the website that drew Chris to the Muller-Heitz marriage.  A hearty thank you to Dr. Hermann Muller for the records and Chris for finding this important item.

Two things stand out as important about these records.

First, apparently Miesau is the church where people living in Steinwenden before 1684 attended, because that’s where Chris found the records for Bernhardt/Gerhardt Schlosser, believed to be either the father or brother of Conrad Schlosser.

Secondly, the Miseau records are not yet indexed, which is why we don’t find them at Family Search or elsewhere, nor have they been transcribed and translated. You have to read through the book page by page.

I use the term “read” quietly loosely here, because ”reading” German script is much more of a pattern matching exercize than reading in the context that we read today, and exponentially more difficult.

However, Chris found the following record for Johann Michael Mueller of Steinwenden marrying an Irene in 1684.

Michael Muller, widower, son of Heinsmann Muller, resident in “Schwartz Matt in the Bern area” (Switzerland), married 17 April 1684 in Steinwenden to Irene Liesabetha Heitz, daughter of Conrad Heitz.”

This is the record that rocked the Irene Charitas Schlosser boat – badly.  You might say that Schlosser boat hit an iceberg, capsized and sunk like the Titanic.

Thrilled or Mortified?

I was utterly shocked, and I didn’t know whether to be thrilled or mortified.

I was in disbelief for a few days, as was Tom, and it took Tom a bit of “proving” to convince himself, and therefore me, that indeed there is enough evidence that Irene Liesabetha Heitz is indeed the same person who married Johann Michael Muller and was later referred to as Irene Charitas.

Was it possible that there were two Johann Michael Mullers in the small village?

Ok, two different Irenes married to two different Michael Mullers from Switzerland in a village with a population of 6 families and 25 people?

Sorry, but I’m just not believing that.

Nope, nada, not going to happen.

But what additional evidence do we have?


Remember the FAN club.  Friends and neighbors.  People didn’t live in a vacuum.

Another thing about Irene Charitas and Johann Michael Muller is that the Schlosser family does not appear with them in any records in the church. This is highly unusual, especially with so few families to choose from.

Looking through the records, we find the following additional pieces of evidence.

Tax Records

It sure seems to me, looking at the church records, like there were more people in Steinwenden than the 6 families consisting of 25 people recorded on the tax records.

I voiced my frustration and the seeming inconsistencies, and Chris found answers to that too.

It seems that in order to entice people to immigrate from Switzerland and settle in depopulated Germany after the 30 Years War, the Germans, consummately realistic, promised the Swiss land and made them tax exempt.

From Chris:

Roberta, you wondered why the families Müller, Stutzmann and so on of Swiss origin are not listed in the tax lists of 1684. I think it does not necessarily mean they had not been there yet and it is not the only possible explanation that Michael Müller stayed in with somebody else in Steinwenden. My assumption is that the Swiss immigrants were exempted from the tax during their first years in Germany.

I own the book “Schweizer im Odenwald” from 2017 and therein lies the source of my assumption:

The Odenwald region is located in the South of Hesse in Germany. Since my ancestors come mainly from Hesse including the Odenwald and I have some Swiss immigrants among them as well, I was interested in the topic. Of course, I know that Hesse is not the region we are searching for here. But nonetheless, the book contains some interesting general chapters on Swiss immigration to Germany after the 30 Years War, including about the Palatinate region next to the Odenwald.

On page 25 of the book, there is the following translated note:
“Elector Karl Ludwig of Palatinate (1617-1689), the son of “Winterkönig” Friedrich V., who had returned to Heidelberg, after the 30 Years War invited with a call people from the protestant countries spared by the war, to come to his devastated land. These people were assured land and tax exemption.”

Therefore, the only people listed on the early tax lists were non-Swiss immigrants. That is EXTREMELY useful information to know. We would not expect to find the Swiss settlers on the tax lists, but we would expect them to be found in the church records.

Therefore, if you extracted and translated all of the 1684 and 1685 records and compared them with the tax lists, I’d wager the list of families and surnames would be at least double what shows on the tax lists.

This explains an awful lot.

Conrad Heitz was missing from the 1684/1685 tax list, so this suggests that he was indeed Swiss.

But What About Irene?

The emergence of this new information held in a never-before-found record is exciting and unexpected, but it’s also very frustrating because it adds to the list of confusing items about Irene, the wife of Johann Michael Muller.

For example, her actual name is elusive too. What?

Given what I just told you, I know you’re left wondering if I’ve evaluated too much DNA and I’ve gone off my rocker entirely.

Turns out, I haven’t. The following records detail all of the occurrences of Irene in the Steinwenden area records beginning with Irene’s marriage and then the baptisms of Irene’s children. If Irene occurred in other records as a godmother, we’d have to translate all of the records for everyone to find those records. Turns out, Tom did just that. The following compilation is what was found:

Marriage record:

  • Michael MÜLLER, widower, son of Heinsmann MÜLLER, resident in “Schwartz Matt in the Bern area” (Switzerland), married 17 April 1684 in Steinwenden to Irene Liesabetha Heitz, daughter of Conrad Heitz.”

Followed by the baptisms of their children:

  • June 5, 1685 – Johann Nicholas, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene from Steinwenden”, Godparents: Hanns Georg Scheimocher; Nickel Stahl; Hans Georg ?, wife.
  • July 9, 1686 – Johann Abraham, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene from Steinwenden”, Godparents: Abraham Wochner, tailor; Hans Bergter from Krotelbach; Mar. Magd., H.
  • April 30, 1687 – Samuel Müller, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene from Steinwenden”, H Samuel Hoffman and his wife. (Irene Charitas Hoffman died in 1684.)
  • June 7, 1688 – Catharina Barbara, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene Charitas from Steinwenden”, Godparents: Maria Catharina, wife of Jonas Schror ………..Samuel Lo.., the tailor
  • April 24, 1691 – Eva Catharina, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene Charitas from Steinwenden”, Godparents: Eva, wife of Hans Ulrich? Berny, Catharina, wife of Hans Georg Dreysinger; Kilian ?, Michael Frey.
  • October 5, 1692 – Johann Michael, parents: “Michael Müller, Irene from Steinwenden”, Godparents: Johann Michael Schumacher; Balthasar Jolage; Christina, wife of Hans Bergter (Bergtol) from Krodelbach (Krottelbach).

The next record is not Irene’s child, but Irene was a godparent.

  • On January 25, 1690, the child Irene Elisabeth born to Tobias Scholl & Catharina from Miersbach was baptized in Steinwenden. Godparents: Irene Charitas, wife of Michael Muller; ? from Miersbach

At this point, the records become somewhat “odd” again, but extremely important.

There is no death record for Irene any time after the birth of Johann Michael in 1692.  There are also no missing sections or pages of death records from the church books. Tom checked specifically. We don’t need any more surprises.  One retraction is bad enough.

Johann Michael Muller died in January of 1695.

  • Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche Steinwenden, Bavaria Church records: 31 January 1695: From Steinwenden buried Michael Muller, born in Switzerland, his age 40 years.

In November of 1696, a year and 10 months later, Hanss Jacob Stutzman married Johann Michael Muller’s widow.

  • In Konken, the couple being from Krotelbach, Hanss Jacob Stützman, surviving son of Jacob Stützman from Switzerland with Loysa Regina, surviving widow of Michael Müller from Stenweil (Steinwenden)…. Married on the 29th of November 1696 in Ohmbach.

Michael Muller’s widow of course would be Irene Charitas. Right?

You’d think so. So where did Loysa Regina come from?

Therefore, one must conclude that Irene had died and Michael had remarried sometime between October 1692 and January 1695 to Loysa Regina, at which point, Michael died.

Makes sense.

Except, where is Irene’s death and where is Michael’s second marriage to Regina?

Ok, somehow two pieces of vital information didn’t get recorded – and they both had to do with the same family.

Getting stranger and stranger.

The next records that involve Jacob Stutzman’s wife, the former widow of Michael Muller, are as follows:

  • February 3,1697, Irene Elisabeth baptized, Parents: H. Samuel Hoffmann, Maria Magdalena from Steinwenden, Godparents: Irene, Jacob Stutzman’s wife from Krodelbach (Krottelbach); Elisabetha, Balthasar Jolage wife and Dominicus Stutzman, unmarried.

Three months after they are married, Jacob Stutzman’s wife is called Irene, not Regina Loysa, AND she is for the third time paired with Samuel Hoffman in some way.

Note that this couple has moved by this time to Krottelbach, so a different minister is recording events. Is Regina Loysa Muller Stutzman really Irene Elizabetha Heitz?

Let’s look at the evidence.

  • October 22, 1697, Hanss Peter baptized, Parents Hanss Jacob Stutzman & Regina Loysa, his lawfully wed wife from Crottelbach. Godparents were: Pet. Mellinger, censor, Hans Pfauer, a Swiss, and Anna Elisabetha, surviving legitimate daughter of Jacob Stutzman of Switzerland.

Again, she is called Regina Loysa, the reverse of Loysa Regina earlier. The next records are found in 1699, in Kallstadt.

  • Page 136 Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Tuesday, the 21st of November, Hanss Jacob Sturtzmann, farm administrator (steward) for the most gracious Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) in Weilach and his legitimately wed wife, Regina Elisabetha, a young daughter came into the world and on the following 25th Sunday after Trinity, the 26th of November (1699) received Holy Baptism. The Godparents were Maria Catharina, wife of Peter Clonstt??, co-farm administrator for the Manor in Weilach; Maria Eva, wife of Johannes Rauscher?, citizen in Turckh(eim) (Bad Dürkheim);Hanss Jacob Bernhard, citizen of Asselheim. The child received the name: Maria Catharina.
  • Baptism: page 146 Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Monday, the 12th of June (1702), Hanss Jacob Stotzmann, farm administrator (steward) at Weilach and Regina Elisabetha, his lawfully wed wife, was born to them a young son who was baptized on the 1st Sunday post Trinity, the 18th of June (1702). The godparents were: Joh. Michael Be…(margin), citizen from Asselheim, Samuel H..(Heitz?)(margin) from Stenweiler (Steinwenden) im Westrich; Elisabeth, wife of Hanss Michael Schum..(margin) from Ramsen. The Christian name of Johann Samuel was given.
  • Baptism: page 150 Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Thursday evening, the 31st of January 1704, Hanss Jacob Stotzmannen, farm administrator (steward) for the most gracious Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) and his lawfully wed wife, Regina Elisabetha, a young son was born and was baptized on Sunday Estomihi (Quinquagesima Sunday), the 3rd of February 1704 at Weilach. Godparents were: Johann Christian Stotzmann and Matthaeus Krauss from Ungstein and Joh. Daniel Schumacher, citizen from Ungstein and wife, Anna Margretha. The Christian name given was Johann Matthaeus.
  • Baptism: page 156 of the Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Friday, the 1st of January in the year 1706 of the new year, Johann Jacob Stotzmannen, farm administrator (steward) of the most gracious Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) at Weylach and his lawfully wed wife, Regina Elisabetha, a young son was born which on Tuesday, the 5th of January 1706 was baptized. The godparents were: Johann Jacob Schick; son of the honorable master, Johann Georg Schicken, butcher and citizen in Durckheim; Anna Elisabeth Beerin, legitimate daughter of the late Johann Martin Beer.  The Christian name given was Johannes Jacobus.
  • Anna Regina Stutzmann. Christened, 27 Feb 1706/7, in Asselheim, Grunstadt. Godparents of Anna: Anna Catharina, wife of Johann Nicolaus Trommer; Regina, wife of Johann Jacob Stutzmann, “Hofmann at Weylach”; Zacharias Stein, inhabitant in Albsheim, “married since 1702 to Margaretha Jacobea Bernhardt,”
  • Baptism: page 189; Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Friday morning the 17th of January 1716, Nicolaus Schumacher, cow herder at the Weilach Farm and from his lawfully wed wife, Catharina, a young daughter was born which on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, the 19th of January was baptized at Weilach. The godparents were: Regina Elisabetha, legitimate wife of the farm administrator (steward) of the most esteemed Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor), Jacob Stozmann; Susanna, wife of Hans Michael Muller, the farm administrator (steward) (refers to Jacob Stozmann above mentioned), son in Weilach; the master Johann Daniel ?, citizen and tailor in Callstadt (Kallstadt). The Christian name of Susanna Elisabetha was given.
  • Baptism: page 190; 26 May 1716; Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: On Wednesday, the 20th of May 1716 was born a young son to Johann Michael M(uller), the co-steward at Weilach and his legitimate wife, Susanna. The son was baptized on Exaudi Sunday (24th May) at Weilach. Godparents: Johann Ja(cob) Stotzmann, steward for the gracious Lord of the Manor at Weilach, the child’s grandfather; Nicolaus Leist from Wachenheim an der Hardt; Catharina, legitimate wife of Andreas Neuer.burger? from Callstadt (Kallstadt). The child was named: Johann Jacob.

This may be important, because in this record, Jacob Stutzman is referred to as the grandfather of the child.  Clearly, that’s his social position, but technically, there is absolutely no question that he is not the biological grandfather, he is the step-grandfather.

  • Baptism: page 198 of the Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Monday, the 24th of April 1719, Michal Muller, farm administrator (steward) for the most gracious Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) in Weilach and his lawfully wed wife, Susanna Agnesa, a son was born and baptized on the 27th of April. The Godparents were: Regina (margin), legitimate wife of Jacob Stotzmann, Sr., the old steward and the fathers mother(!); Johannes Schumacher, cow herder; Anna Eva, legitimate wife of Daniel ?, smith in Callstadt (Kallstadt); and Johannes (Christian) Stotzmann from Asselheim. The child was given the Christian name of Johannes Michael.

In this record, Regina is referred to as the father’s mother, meaning the father is Michael Muller (the second).  If Irene Charitas had actually died between 1692 and 1695 and for some reason, Jacob Stutzman and his wife took the child in 1696 to raise, this would make some level of sense. However, if Jacob married Michael’s mother, then this would maker perfect since.  Michael Muller’s mother is actually his biological mother and his step-father, Jacob Stutzman, who raised him from the age of about 4 is the only father he ever knew.

  • Baptism: page 204 of the Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria: Saturday, the 5th of April 1721, Johann Michal Muller, farm administrator (steward) for the most esteemed Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) in Weilach and his lawfully wed wife, Susanna Agnesa, a young son was born and on the following Thursday, the 10th of April 1721 was baptized. Godparents: Johann Samuel Stozmann, legitimate son of Johann Jacob Stozmann, farm administrator (steward) for the most esteemed Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) at Weilach; Ludwich Stozmann, legitimate son of Philip Stozmann, farm administrator (steward) on the Kohlhoffin, Nassau; Eva Catharina, legitimate daughter of Samuel Heitzen, citizen in Stannweiler.  The child was given the name: Johann Ludwig.

Heitzen is another form of Heitz. Chris mentions that the adding of en on the end of a name is very common, and this record connects the Heitz family with the Muller family once again.

  • Baptism: page 206; Kallstadt Evangelische Kirche, Bavaria:Thursday evening, the 15th of January 1722, J(ohann) Schumacher, cow herder for the Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) estate in W(eilach) and from his legitimately married wife, Anna Catharina, a young son was born and which on the 20th of January at Weilach was baptized. The godparents were: Hans Michael Muller, b(….) at Lam(b)sheim, son of Joh(ann) Jac(ob) Stozmann, Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor) farm administrator (steward) at Weilach; Justina Margreth, legitimately wed wife of Master Joh(ann) Ja(cob) Schmiddt, citizen and shoemaker from here; Eva Barbara, legitimate daughter of Joh(ann) Conr(ad) Brül, laborer, and the local ziegelscheder? here, a Catholic. The child was given the name: Johann Mich(ael).

Again, Jacob Stutzman is referred to as the father of Johann Michael Muller who has now moved to Lambsheim.

Anna Regina’s Death

  • Laetare Sunday, the 27th of March 1729 died in Weilach as a result of consumption, Anna Regina, lawfully wed wife of Johann Jacob Stotzmann, farm administrator (steward) of the esteemed Herrschaft (Lord of the Manor). Aged 75 years and was buried at Callstadt (Kallstadt) with the ringing of (church bells); hymns and a funeral sermon.

I just love these details, “with the ringing of church bells.” I can almost hear them, chiming so that all in the village could hear their somber musical message. Of course, most of those people would have been in the church attending Irene/Regina’s funeral anyway, because everyone knew everyone and was probably related in one way or another, either by blood, marriage or by heart.

Those bells – filled with sadness for her passing, but also celebrating her life.  Her heart filled with sorrow as she buried her first 5 children, then with trepidation as she delivered Johann Michael Muller (the second.) Would he live, or would he lay as the sixth grave in that cemetery row? Baby Michael lived, but death would follow just a few months later, snatching not the baby, but Irene’s husband instead.

Her one surviving child, my ancestor, Johann Michael Muller (the second) must have been her only source of joy during that horrifically dark time.  After Irene, or Regina, or whatever her name really was, remarried to Jacob Stutzman, it would appear from what few hints we have that her life might have become somewhat easier as the wife of the farm administrator. And of course, her she bore children that lived long enough to hear those church bells themselves, adding grandchildren as sources of joy for the woman born as Irene and buried as Anna Regina.

This does cause me to wonder, though, how she felt when Johann Michael Muller (the second) and his wife left in 1727 for America.  Did she encourage him to go, knowing full well that would be the last time that she ever set eyes on him – her eldest’s and only surviving child of her first 6 pregnancies and her first marriage? Or was she devastated.  Torn perhaps, between the two?

In July 1730, Jacob remarried to a Louysa and lived for several more years.

What was Irene/Regina’s Name?

In these records, in order, we have Irene’s name or identification shown as:

The only time that Irene Liesabetha was used was in the Miesau church records.  In Steinwenden it was always Irene or Irene Charitas. However, I’m often inclined to give more weight to the earliest records, especially if the parents are present as well as others who knew the person. Due to illiteracy, however, it’s impossible to know if what the priest or minister heard was what was meant to be conveyed. If the person was married in the same church where they were baptized, the person recording the marriage could check with earlier records.  However, the Miesau records, today, don’t extend back that far, nor do we know where Irene Liesabetha was born or baptized.

We do know that there is a consistent link to Heitz and Hoffman family members through all records, across her life.

I notice that her name changed from Irene or Irene Charitas to Loysa Regina, Regina Elisabetha or simply Regina when the family moved to Krottelbach.  However, there was one Irene record after she married Stutzman, and it was in the Steinwenden church records, not the Krottelbach/Konken church records. So, it would certainly appear that Irene and Regina are the same person, given that they are married at the same time to Johann Jacob Stutzman.

This name change is what threw me, and every other researcher in this line before Chris and Tom.  It’s unlikely that a name would “change” entirely, but in this case, the evidence is very convincing when combined in total that indeed, Irene Liesabetha is Irene Charitas is Regina Loysa, Loysa Regina, Regina Elisabetha and finally, Anna Regina.

Was Charitas only a “pet name” used about the time that the Elder Irene Charitas Hofmann born Beuther passed away? Was Irene Charitas Schlosser named after Irene Charitas Hofmann born Beuther as well?

If you thought you were confused before, you’re probably even more so now. I was, until we looked at every single record and weighed evidence including when the names changes, with moves, when and where she stood up as a godmother – and the fact that she was still called Irene in her home church of Steinwende as Jacob Stutzman’s wife after “Regina,” identified as Michael Muller’s widow had married Jacob Stutzman.  And then, of course, she is identified in the margin, no less, as the mother of Johann Michael Muller the second, “the father’s mother” many years later when Michael’s child was baptized.

Of course, Jacob Stutzman is also referred to Johann Michael Muller’s father, and he wasn’t. Jacob was Michael’s step-father, but the only father he had ever known.

So many twists and turns in this labyrinth.

I’ve given up entirely identifying Michael’s mother’s “actual” name, but I’m satisfied that I’ve determined that this woman of many names is actually the same person.

Will the Real Irene Charitas or Regina Loysa or Whomever, Please Stand Up?

How can the same woman’s name vacillate back and forth so much?

And just when I had come to the conclusion (which I’ve changed my mind about umpteen times now) that Irene, the mother of Johann Michael Mueller (the second) had clearly died between 1692 and 1696 – Jacob Stutzman’s wife is referred to as the MOTHER of Johann Michael Muller in 1719.


The one thing we do know beyond any doubt is who Michael’s mother actually is – and she’s Irene as recorded his 1692 birth record.

So, if the woman in 1719 was Michael’s mother, then she had to have been Irene and none other.

So, why is Irene’s name changing, in some cases, entirely?

My only possible explanation for this might be that Irene’s name was actually heavily concatenated. Something like Irene Charitas Elisabetha Regina Loysa with Anna thrown in there someplace too. Yes, that’s bizarre, but no more bizarre than any other explanation.

Furthermore, if she had several sponsors at her baptism, including Samuel Hoffman’s wife, Irene Charitas, and other important patrons, the family may simply have included all names. In that case, the subsequent minister selected the name or names that he wanted to use.

One other possibility is that “Irena,” if said that way, and “Regina” sounded somewhat similar.

Chris suggests that there was some kind of mis-hearing involved here.

“Peasants were often illiterate at that time and more so, women. I would assume Irene Liesabetha was, too. So the minister at her new parish in Konken asked her for her name, which she could not write. Hence, the minister could only refer to what he heard from her. The sound of “Irene” and “Regina” is not too far from each other – especially if you have not ever heard the name “Irene” many times before. Along similar lines “Liesabetha” à “Loysa” could be explained. Yes, it is a vague hypothesis. But I think one that could be added here.”

Having looked at the order of these records, I think the most probable explanation for her name change is that it occurred when she changed churches. I now believe that Irene is really Regina and that she did live as first Michael Muller’s and then Jacob Stutzman’s wife until her death in 1729.

One last sanity check is related to her age in her death record – 75.  This would give us an approximate birth year of 1654 if she had already had her birthday in March when she died.  If not, then she would have been born in 1653.

That means she would have been age 52 when she gave birth to Johann Jacob Stutzman (the second) in 1706.  Not impossible, but also not terribly likely.  Ages were often fluid in death records, unless a very specific age is recorded, like 75 years, 11 months and 2 days. That tells us that the family actually knew a birth date.

Irene Lisabetha married in 1684 to Michael Muller. He was born about 1655, so it’s conceivable that she was about the same age, although 30 would have been older than normal for a female to marry at that time. If she were 20 instead of 30 when she married, that would put her last child born at age 42 instead of 52, and would fit much more reasonably.

Regardless of which year she was actually born, her birth was right after the end of the 30 years war when much of Europe, and in particular Germany, was ravaged and abandoned. Her parents would have lived through at last part of this horrible event. I have to wonder at the circumstances surrounding Irene/Regina’s early life. Was her family burned out of their home? Where did they live? Did they have to move multiple times? Were they essentially vagabonds, subsisting? And where?

Did she have siblings? The only hint we find to answer that question is her continued interaction with Samuel Heitz who was married to Catharina Appollonia and lived in Steinwenden. Records show at least one child, Eva Catharina born in 1721 to this couple.  If Irene had additional siblings, which she surely did, the records stand stubbornly mute.

Questions that we will never likely have answers to.

Mitochondrial DNA

Now that we know that Regina is Michael Muller’s mother, not his step-mother as originally thought, her mitochondrial DNA becomes important in Michael Muller’s genealogy.  She contributed her mitochondrial DNA to her son, but since mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by females, Michael would not have passed this to his children.  Therefore, to find Irene or Regina’s mitochondrial DNA, we have to find someone living today that descends through all females from one of her daughters.

We know that all of her children by Michael Muller (the first) died, but she did have one daughter by Jacob Stutzman; Anna Catharina born in 1699 and who married Johann Adam Schmidt in Konken in 1721.

We know that Maria Catharina Stutzman and Johann Adam Schmidt had a daughter, Johanna Regina, probably not long after their marriage, although the year is obscured in the Kallstadt church book. My “educated guess” would be in 1722 or so. Our Regina was her godmother.

I find no additional records for this family, but if Maria Catharina lived, it’s certainly likely that she had more children, and hopefully, more daughters.

If you descend from Maria Catharina Stutzman Schmidt through all females, I have a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship for you. Just leave a comment on the blog or drop me an e-mail. Your mitochondrial DNA could provide us with even more insight into the ancestors of Regina that we can obtain in no other way!

Final Thoughts

We finally (I think) have proper parents for Irene Charitas, or at least her father – Conrad Heitz. Her mother is entirely unknown.

I’m so eternally grateful to Chris for finding that record and raising these difficult questions, even if they did cost me and Tom several nights sleep. Working with those two is literally a dream team!

And while this article has been anything BUT fun to write, keep in mind that it was the fact that the record for Bernhardt Schlosser was first found on the tax list, then in the church in Miesau. Had it not been for the combination of events, meaning the tax list with the Schlosser record, the Miller family site and that pointer to Miesau, Chris might never have hunted for, and found, the marriage records for Irene Heitz and Johann Michael Muller. Indeed, this has been a trail of very convoluted bread crumbs! And the birds ate a few along the way.

So, in essence, further digging in the incorrect records (in the same geography) for the wrong family led us to the right family. Genealogical synchronicity, a meaningful or meant to be coincidence? Sometimes, I think the ancestors “help us” as much as they can from the other side. Other times, I think they have a wicked sense of humor and torture us!

I don’t have any regrets about publishing either, even though I was wrong. (Small caveat – there had been A LOT of original work done AND the name had changed, so I didn’t publish rumors.) If I hadn’t published, Chris would never have asked those difficult questions and we would not have found the puzzle pieces we didn’t even know were missing.

Besides that, if you wait until absolutely every rock has been turned, you’ll suffer from analysis paralysis and do nothing. Of course, I’m not advocating the copy/paste type of genealogy – but I am advocating for reasonable research, documentation of the research path, sources and stating why you came to the conclusions you did. That way, there are breadcrumbs for someone in the future, or God forbid, if you have to backtrack on your own work.

Yes, I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons – but sometimes, other than serving as a learning experience, that’s all there is left to do!

Enjoy some lemonade…on me😊



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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Genealogy Research

National Siblings Day – Love Them While You Can

Wow – talk about mixed emotions today.

Did you know there was a National Siblings Day?  Well, neither did I.

I woke up this morning to make that discovery which left me with an entire range of emotions.

Fittingly, I received and a special “wave” from my brother Dave whose DNA results confirming his relationship to his biological family were posted at Family Tree DNA overnight.

Yea, he’s the brother that turned out not to be my biological brother – but I don’t know how I could have loved him more. “Blood” made and makes no difference at all. You can read about my journey with Dave and finding his family here, here and here.

Family of heart is every bit as important as family of biology. 

Yes, love them while you can.


Every. Single. Day.

Because we never know when it will be our last opportunity.

To hug them.

To tell them.

To look them in the eye.

To laugh, carefree.

They can be gone in an instant.

The blink of an eye.

I know very personally and I bet you do too. 

Tragic, shocking, numbing loss.

After they move to the other side of the veil, they would want you to remember them joyfully.


That’s why it’s so very important to love them fully while you can.

Hug them.

At every opportunity.

Someday, it will be those memories that sustain you.

Or them.

In case you’re having a weepy moment, here’s an article to brighten your day and remind you of just what siblingship means! Enjoy the laugh!

PS – Test the autosomal DNA of all of your siblings, now:) DNA results are an everlasting legacy that continues to contribute long after you, or them, can no longer give in quite that same way.



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

DNAPainter – Mining Vendor Matches to Paint Your Chromosomes

This isn’t quite the same as when my mother used to talk about painting the town, but in genetic genealogy terms, it’s better.

This is the second of 4 articles that will describe how to use DNA Painter.

Today, I’d like to talk about how I utilize the various vendor testing tools combined with DNAPainter to “mine my DNA,” or better put, to mine my ancestor’s DNA which is now mine, pun intended.

To review instructions for how to set up and use the DNA Painter tool, please read DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts and then come back here to proceed.

I’m going to discuss each vendor’s tools and how I’ve used them, sometimes in combination.

57% Painted

Please note that you can click on any image to enlarge

Is this not a beautiful thing to behold? That’s my ancestors, in loving color, looking back at me, on MY chromosomes.

I’m completely thrilled that I have managed to paint 57% of my chromosomes. I’m a visual person, and while I’ve worked with spreadsheets now for years, I’ve officially abandoned them. Ok, mostly.

Yes, you heard me right – I’ve abandoned the spreadsheets in favor of DNA Painter, at least for segments where I can positively identify an ancestral couple. In other words, those segments that can be reliably mapped.

That 57% is made up of 445 segments in total, split between my maternal and paternal sides. That’s without counting my mother’s DNA. While I do utilize matching to my mother in order to be sure that a match is really a valid match, I didn’t paint her DNA. Obviously, I’m going to match her 100%, and DNA painter already breaks chromosomes into my pink maternal and blue paternal sides.

Key Elements

  1. The single best thing you can do in order to paint your chromosomes is to have known family members and cousins test. You can then paint their DNA that matches yours, attributing it to their identified family line.
  2. The second best thing you can do is to work with your matches using their trees to identify your common ancestor.

Now, you’re ready to begin painting.

I’m going to step through the process I used at each vendor to identify paintable segments.

I did not paint segments that I could not identify to an ancestral line, except for my endogamous Acadian line which I labeled simply as Acadian to mark those segments that I can identify as Acadian, but I can’t identify a specific ancestor, or ancestors. When I can identify the Acadian ancestor, I paint that segment using the ancestors’ names.

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, I begin with my closest matches that are not immediate family – meaning not my parents, children or grandchildren. I’m looking for aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I don’t paint siblings, but often half siblings are extremely useful because they can help you identify which paternal side other matches are related to.

In the first DNA Painter article, I explained how to utilize the Family Tree DNA chromosome browser to select an individual whose matching DNA can be displayed so that you can copy and paste that segment into the painting feature of DNA Painter.

On your results page, your “bucketed individuals” who have been assigned as maternal (pink icon above) or paternal (blue icon not shown) can be a huge clue when used in conjunction with the in-common-with (ICW) tool and the matrix.

You can also search by ancestral surname and then evaluate each match through common surnames, trees and other resources. If you’re not familiar with how to use the tools at Family Tree DNA, here’s a quick run-through.

Select the individual whose DNA you wish to paint, view in the chromosome browser, then copy and paste from the grid below to the DNAPainter tool.

I painted the matching DNA of all the people whose common ancestor with me I could positively identify before moving on to the next vendor.

Who Have I Painted?

As you begin to paint segments from multiple vendors, you may wonder if you’re finding duplicates. It’s easy to tell. At DNA Painter, click on “All segment data,” below the legend in the bottom right corner.

This displays the entire list of matches whose DNA you have painted, in spreadsheet format. You can sort by match name or simply do a browser search. (CTRL+F)

You can also download this data into a cvs (Excel compatible) file at the top left of this page.

Avoiding Duplicates

As you view and paint your matches at the various vendors, you may discover that you have already found a match with that person at another vendor, either because they tested there or uploaded their autosomal file. When possible, avoid duplicate painting. It won’t help anything and will just clutter your chromosomes. You may not always be able to identify a match as a duplicate, especially if the tester utilizes a pseudonym at various locations. Don’t’ worry though, because you can always easily delete it later and a duplicate person/segment certainly won’t hurt anything.

Ok, now to our next vendor! Let’s find more segments to paint.


At MyHeritage, click on DNA matches.

At the right of the search box, fly over the little pink key (or funnel) looking thing and you’ll see the option for “Has Smart Matches.” That’s what you’re looking for.

Click on the key icon.

Smart Matches mean that your DNA matches and you have a common ancestor in your trees. Click on the purple button to review this DNA match.

For each match, scroll all the way down to the bottom where your matching chromosome segments will be colored.

At the right, above the chromosome browser, click on “advanced options” which will allow you to select “download shared DNA info.” You need to download to your system so that you can copy and paste the matching segment information to DNA Painter.

MyHeritage has a few more columns than necessary, and DNA Painter can’t utilize them. Delete the columns for Name, Match Name, RSID beginning and end, and also eliminate SNPs due to an overestimation issue. In many cases, the SNPs at MyHeritage are twice or more than the number of SNPs when comparing the same segment at other vendors.

Now that your segment is cleaned up, copy the entire group shown above, minus the yellow columns which you’ve deleted, and paste into the DNA Painter spreadsheet.

MyHeritage has recently added a triangulation feature, shown at the far right, below, indicating that these two people individually triangulate with me and Alberta. The icon at far right of “5th cousin” indicates triangulation.

By clicking on the triangulation icon, you then see how that person triangulates with both your match and you – in this case, me, Alberta, and Chandler.

You may choose to paint triangulated segments, BUT, the size of the triangulated segment is often going to be smaller than the amount of DNA than you match individually to either one or both people.

In the example above, you can see that you match the pink person on a significantly longer segment than you match the tan person. The amount of DNA where you match both the pink and tan person is smaller yet, because the area where you match the tan person extends beyond where you match the pink person and vice versa. If you were going to paint ONLY the triangulated segments, you would paint only the portion that is both pink and tan, “boxed” above.

I don’t recommend painting ONLY triangulated segments, because you’ll be depriving yourself of the ability for each person to match others on the portions of the segments on which they match you, but not the other person in question.

In this example, utilizing DNA Painter, you’ll see that people in fact match you AND the pink person on several segments. The segment shown in pink, at MyHeritage, above, is shown on chromosome 5 in DNA Painter as the long mustard colored segment. Look at how many people match you on that segment. This is why we don’t paint only the triangulated portions of the chromosome. That long mustard segment match will triangulate with many people on smaller portions of that mustard segment, as evidenced by the yellow, grey, blue, cinnamon, purple and red segment matches..

DNA Painter helps you triangulate, so there is no reason to restrict your painting to triangulated segments.

Triangulation is a great tool, but don’t mix triangulated segments with matching segments in the same profile, at least not until you get the hang of the tool and using the multiple vendor’s results.


Unfortunately, 23andMe doesn’t have tools like tree matching (MyHeritage) or maternal/paternal phasing (Family Tree DNA,) but they do allow testers to enter common surnames.

Looking at closer matches, meaning first, second or third cousins, if they list even a few surnames, you may well be able to identify the common genealogical line, especially in conjunction with ancestral locations and the other people you match in common.

Sometimes you can glean enough information to identify your common ancestor. In this case, even if I didn’t know Cheryl, the surname would have identified the ancestor. If that didn’t do it, the “in common” list below would!

Once you’ve identified the common ancestor and decide you’re ready to paint, click on the Tools tab at the top of your page and select DNA Relatives.

On the DNA Relatives tab, click on the relative whose DNA you wish to paint. I’m selecting my cousin, Cheryl.

Click on the blue DNA Comparison, in the upper right hand corner.

On the comparison screen, you will select yourself as one person and Cheryl as the other.

At the top you’ll see the two individuals and their overlapping segments painted onto chromosomes. Scroll down and you’ll see the segment detail, below.

Highlight the rows (they’ll turn blue, like above) and right click to copy the segment information.

The next step is to drop the results into a spreadsheet, just long enough to delete the first and last columns, shown in red below, then copy the remaining rows and paste into the DNA Painter tool.

Mining Ancestry Data at GedMatch

GedMatch is somewhat of a special case, because GedMatch doesn’t do DNA testing, but provides an open sharing platform by facilitating uploads of raw autosomal files from multiple other vendors. Therefore, anyone with results at GedMatch tested elsewhere. If you tested at all of the other vendors, it’s probable that you find people at GedMatch as a match that match you at other vendors too.

Because 23andMe does not support the uploading of Gedcom files, if your match has uploaded a Gedcom file to GedMatch, or connected to Geni or WikiTree, then you may be able to identify your common ancestor at GedMatch that you were not able to identify at 23andMe.

Conversely, if you match at Ancestry, you won’t be able to paint from Ancestry, because Ancestry does not provide segment information. We will talk about Ancestry as a special case next, but for now, let’s focus on how to utilize GedMatch.

At GedMatch, you’ll work in steps after setting your account up and uploading your raw data file from either:

If you tested elsewhere, or after August of 2017 at 23andMe, you will have to upload to a special section called GedMatch Genesis. GedMatch Genesis provides a sandbox area for files other than the ones listed above that are generally incompatible with those files and with each other. Genesis files often have few SNP locations in common and not enough to match reliably.

I do not recommend DNA painting utilizing segments from GedMatch Genesis.

GedMatch is currently merging their regular GedMatch service with the Genesis service, so I’m not entirely clear how you will tell the difference between the kits known to match reliably, mentioned above, and others after the merge.

Currently, kits with T prefix (Family Tree DNA), A (Ancestry) and M (23andMe) show version levels in the type field when you match in regular GedMatch. MyHeritage kits are processed by the Family Tree DNA lab. G kits used a generic upload, so you can’t tell where they originated.

Kits uploaded in the Genesis sandbox seem to be assigned double alpha letter kit prefixes at random. Genesis includes a “Testing Company” field which does not include a version number. Today, just stay with the regular GedMatch one-to many and one-to-one matching for DNA Painter.

First, you’ll want to perform a one-to-many match.

This page shows your closest 2000 results. In my case, truncating my matches at 12.7cM. This means if I want to see my results below 12.7 cM, I must subscribe to the Tier 1 Utilities in order to be able to display over 2000 matches.

We’ll discuss how to utilize Tier 1 matching in the Ancestry portion, next, but for now, we’ll just be working with the regular one-to-many matches report.

Of course, trusty cousin Cheryl has results here as well.

In order to compare Cheryl’s results to my own, I need to do two separate things:

  • Click on the A link under the Autosomal Details column (above) and/or
  • Click on the X link under the X DNA column

These two results, both of which are paintable, do not display together so must be selected separately.

By clicking on the A or X, GedMatch will display a one-to-one comparison. I leave this page (below) at the default values and simply click submit.

Your next screen will be a match grid.

Once again, select and copy the results, then paste into DNA Painter. If you also have an X match with this individual, return to the one-to-many match page and then click on the X link to repeat the same process for the X chromosome.

Ancestry Through GedMatch

As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about Ancestry matches is DNA shared ancestor hints (SAH) – meaning those green leaves visible near the green “view match” button which indicate that you share both DNA and a common ancestor(s) in your trees.

Followed immediately by the worst thing which is that Ancestry provides no segment data. However, pairing Ancestry with GedMatch can provide you with some segment information, although you do have to dig. That digging was certainly worthwhile for me, as I found several readily identifiable matches.

When I find a green leaf shared ancestor hint at Ancestry, I record as much information about that match as I can in a spreadsheet. The reason is twofold.

  • Ancestry hints tend to come and go, rather inexplicable, and I want to have that information someplace besides at Ancestry
  • I want to be able to view how many matches I have through specific ancestors which I can do in a spreadsheet by sorting.
  • I want to be able to mine GedMatch for segment information for people at Ancestry who have uploaded to GedMatch.

Note the RJE V2 results, a 6th cousin who I match at 6.6 cM, as we’ll be using that at GedMatch.

I maintain several columns in my Ancestry Match spreadsheet, as shown above. I track people who might be good Y or mitochondrial DNA candidates, as well as GedMatch numbers or other useful information.

I don’t utilize segments smaller than 7 cM for DNA Painter, BUT, Ancestry almost always under-reports the matching segment size due to their internal process which removes some segments that do match. Therefore, I search for all Ancestry matches in GedMatch and paint them if they are 7cM or over at GedMatch. You will match at Ancestry down to 6 cM. Since 7cM is the default GedMatch threshold, that works out well. I don’t find them if they are under 7cM at GedMatch, and I don’t care.

In my case to obtain segments smaller than 12.7 cM, because that is the cutoff where the free one-to-many GedMatch tool reaches the 2000 match threshold (for me,) I need to utilize the Tier 1 subscription utilities which are well worth every dollar.

The one-to-many match looks quite different for the Tier 1 tool.

You’ll need to play with this a bit to determine how high you need to set the limit to see all of your 7cM matches. In my case, I had to set it to 20,000.

I utilize two monitors, so I display my Ancestry spreadsheet on the first monitor and the GedMatch one-to-many match table on the second monitor.

Then, utilizing the browser’s search function, I search for any identifiable portion of the information for the Ancestry match at GedMatch.

In the first example, the user’s name is RJE V2. I search at GedMatch for “RJE” using “ctrl+F” which is the browser’s find function.

You can see that the search found a total of 3 different “RJE” entries. Looking at the first 2, you can see that one is labeled V4 and one is labeled V2. Typically, I would look at this and decide that the RJE V2 is the right match based on the user name at Ancestry.

However, look closer.

The RJE V2 at GedMatch has a much higher amount of shared DNA at 3587.1 cM total than the RJE V2 at Ancestry with a total of 6.6 cM. Clearly, this is not the same person, even though the user name is the same.

For all we know, a different person may have used the same user name, which is clearly an alias, noted by the “*”. Or the same person may have multiple kits at GedMatch.

However, in this case, the RJE V2 is not the same match.

However, let’s say that it is the same person and we’ve been able to reasonably identify the match. In order to compare one-to-one, click on the highlighted blue “largest segment” in the autosomal category, shown below.

If you want to compare the X one-to-one, click on the blue largest segment in that column.

From this point, the matching will look the same as the one-to-one GedMatch matching shown in the previous section – so copy and paste as normal.

While this certainly isn’t the most effective way of working with Ancestry matches, it’s really the only hope we have, unless your match has also uploaded to either Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage.

However, in my experience, I generally stand a better chance of identifying Ancestry matches at GedMatch because their user name or the user name of the person managing their account can be found much more readily. People sometimes tend to utilize the same abbreviations, names or nicknames in multiple locations.


While each vendor has unique strengths and weaknesses today, and GedMatch provides a platform used by some but not all, the best way to effectively paint your chromosomes is to utilize all of the tools available, and sometimes together. I strongly suggest that you test at or upload to each vendor, because you will find matches at each vendor that aren’t elsewhere.

How many segments can you paint on your chromosomes, and what will those segments tell you?

In the next article, I’ll be walking through my chromosome painting gallery to take a look at the hidden messages there! I hope you’ll come along so you can find some hidden messages of your own.




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Baptized in Nicholas Speak’s Church – 52 Ancestors #190

It was a beautiful fall day in the mountains of Lee County, Virginia that October 10th in 2009. Basket sized fall Mums were in bloom, it was still warm and the leaves hadn’t yet begun to turn paintbrush hues that would soon cover the mountainsides.

Descendants of Nicholas Speak, founding minister of the Speak Methodist Church almost 190 years earlier gathered in Middlesboro, Kentucky, a few miles away, for a family reunion.

The highlight would be returning to worship together in the small nearly-abandoned country church NIcholas founded about 1822, as it always was when the reunion was held near the the home of our family. The humble white church sits nestled in the hollow across Speaks Branch Road from the cemetery where our Nicholas is buried with his wife, Sarah Faires, along with many of their children and grandchildren.

The Speak Cemetery isn’t much to speak of, graves marked mostly with field stones of humble settlers who probably had all they could do to clear enough land for a “burying ground.” Tombstones weren’t for poor frontier folk in the wilderness.

Field stones stand eternal sentry over beloved family members; parents, husbands, wives, children, babies – all departed too soon. They would be sorely grieved – for the rest of the lives of the people who now lay in adjacent graves. Joined together forever in the now-anonymous field of stones.

Back then, everyone knew where each person was buried. They had all dug the graves, gathered round as the final sermon was preached, first by Nicholas, and then one day – for Nicholas. Tears streaming down their faces as they sang the song that was sung for every occasion – Amazing Grace – then lowering the casket into the ground and closing the grave. Each person symbolically dropping one handful of dirt onto the coffin, full well knowing that hollow thud meant forever gone.

No one would ever forget that day. No marker with a name was needed.

Want to visit with Nicholas? Just walk across the road after church and sit a spell.

The Speak cousins, more than 100 years after Nicholas’s death in 1852 and Sarah’s in 1865, bought a memorial stone for Nicholas and Sarah, although by this time no one knew where in the cemetery they were actually buried. Their blood and that of generations of family members was scattered everyplace here.

Nicholas and Sarah’s cabin remained across the road until in the 1970s, when it was disassembled, before it fell completely down, and combined with another log cabin into a lovely log home near Middlesboro.

Nicholas and family would have walked a short distance to the church every Sunday morning for Nicholas to preach to his ever-expanding congregation of family, friends and neighbors, some of whom came quite some distance from the northern part of then-Claiborne, now-Hancock County, Tennessee.

How do we know this? Nicholas deeded the land where the church was built to church trustees, some of whom were neighbors in Claiborne County to the family of the young man, Samuel Claxton, who would marry Nicholas’s granddaughter in 1832. You can’t marry who you don’t see. In fact, Nicholas probably married the couple right in this very church, about 78 years before the picture below was taken around 1910. This building is believed to be the third church building which doubled as a school, but the first two were in the same location.

Our church service was held on Saturday during the reunion, because the volunteer minister, Tracy McPherson, worked full-time in the coal mines during the week as well as volunteered to preach in two other small churches. Speaks Chapel only had a preacher every third Sunday. With a whopping attendance of 6 people, the pews in this quaint country church were mostly empty.

They wouldn’t be today!

We filled the pews and breathed joy-filled life back into that church so cherished by our family!

The cousins who so graciously organized the reunion assembled a keepsake program.

How many remember the fans from before churches had air conditioning?  When I was a kid, they were wedged in the back of every pew, along with the hymnals. Most of us didn’t need the hymnals, but everyone needed fans!

All southern church services MUST have a program, so ours did too. Not only that, our lovely cousin, Dolores, prepared a history. Others assembled a worship service song book too. Most of us knew the words by heart anyway.

Led by Bill Hall, we began with Church in the Wildwood and ended with Amazing Grace, all sung without musical accompaniment. Our melded voices, echoing off the mountains in the distance, drifting up the hollers, were music enough. I hope Nicholas could hear the choir of his descendants, come home one last time.

Indeed, we raised our voices and made a joyful noise, well…at least noise.

How fitting this hymn, given where Nicholas decided to settle.

My wonderful cousin, Lola-Margaret Hall, twice descended from Nicholas and his wife, Sarah Faires Speaks paid us a visit in the persona of Sarah. “Sarah” mesmerized us that day with the story of her life; married to Nicholas, settling in the wilderness, carving out a home and founding the church. Her voice, transporting us all back to the early 1800s as she rocked, reminisced and read from the Bible, sitting near the pulpit where Nicholas would have preached his version of Salvation. We rode along in the wagon with “Sarah” as she and Nicholas left Washington County, crossing mountains, headed into an uncertain future and untamed frontier in Lee County, transcending time into the misty past, sharing experiences.

Although most of us were “returning home,” not all of Nicholas’s descendants left for greener pastures. Jewell Davis, now deceased, and her family lived next door and cared for the church and cemetery for many decades – including preparing a lunch for the reunion that day.

Dolores Hamm, on behalf of the family presented Jewel with a plaque and a Bible of course, what else? Jewel now rests with Nicholas.

Preacher Tracy, Bible in hand, delivered a special message.

Then, it seems that Preacher Tracy had a few questions for me.

Anyone know what the pitcher and bowl are for?

For those who aren’t aware, Methodists don’t practice full immersion baptisms. We fondly call them “sprinklings.” Or maybe that’s the Baptists that call Methodist baptisms sprinklings.

Regardless, somehow as a child I think I managed to escape being baptized, but I’m not entirely sure. For some reason, I always thought I was baptized as a child in the Methodist church my mother and grandmother attended. If so, I have no memory of the baptism, just fond memories of belting out “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of my pre-school lungs.

I always presumed that I had been baptized as an infant or young child, because I wasn’t baptized when I was older in a subsequent Methodist church we attended, and by the time we moved again and I attended a Baptist church, I think there was an assumption that I had previously been baptized because I was allowed to take communion.

Then, one day, many years later, someone asked me when I had been baptized? It occurred to me that I really didn’t know. It wasn’t written in mother’s Bible, or in either of the Bibles that I had received from the church, and by that time, there was no one left to ask.

Regardless of the circumstances, I felt that there was no better time or place on this earth, literally, than in the very church where Nicholas would have baptized so many, and in the embrace of my loving family. I had more relatives gathered that day with me in this small country church that I’ve had any time or place since.

Thank you to one of my wonderful cousins for this photo collage of an incredibly emotional event, for all kinds of reasons, to Preacher McPherson, and to Nicholas. Little did Nicholas know his legacy would reach 6 generations and almost 200 years into the future, and still counting.

What better way to honor Nicholas than to be baptized in his church and to share the story with you this Easter Sunday.

I have yet in my lifetime to get through Amazing Grace dry-eyed. Literally, it is the universal hymn played for every emotional event of my lifetime, including the funerals of my mother, step-father and siblings.



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