Ethnicity – Far More than Percentages!

Since ethnicity results have been in the news recently, I thought this might be a good time to talk about how to squeeze more out of your ethnicity results than just percentages.

You do know there’s more, right? You can tell a lot more about where your ethnicity came from by who you match, and how. Vendors provide that information too, but you need to know where to look. Plus, I have some tips about how to use this information effectively.

Genealogists are always trying to squeeze every last drop of information out of every DNA test, so I’d like to illustrate how I use ethnicity in combination with shared matches at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe. Each vendor has a few unique features and tools as well, plus people in their databases that other vendors don’t have.

Come along and see what you might discover!


Ancestry recently introduced a new ethnicity comparison feature so let’s start there. Ancestry’s new tool:

  • Compares the ethnicity of you and a match side by side.
  • Shows Shared Migrations
  • Shows you common matches with that person.

At Ancestry, I have a V1 (older) and a V2 (newer) test, so I’m comparing my own V1 to my own V2 test for purposes of illustration.

To start, click on DNA Matches. You’ll see a new blue compare button, beneath the green View Match button, at right.

Clink on any image to enlarge

Click on the blue Compare button. You’ll see a side by side display, shown below.

My V1, at left, compared to my V2 test, at right. My V2 test results do not have a photo uploaded, so you just see my initials. It’s interesting to note that even though these are both me, just tested on different chips, that my ethnicity doesn’t match exactly, although it’s mighty close.

Next, you’ll see the shared migrations between the two people being compared. This helps determine where your common ancestor might be found.

Last, you’ll see the shared matches between you and the other person. This means that those people match both you and the person you’re comparing against, suggesting a potential common ancestor.

On your matches page, you can also sort your matches by your regions.

Where Did Your Ethnicity Come From?

Ethnicity comparisons can be helpful, especially if you’re a person who carries DNA from different continents. I do not suggest trying to compare intra-continental estimates in the same way. It’s simply too difficult for vendors to separate DNA from locations that all border each other where countries are the size of states in the US, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland for example.

As I’ve said before, ethnicity results are only estimates, but they are relatively accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish, as illustrated below.

To be specific, these regions are the easiest for vendors to tell apart from the other regions:

  • European
  • African
  • Native American (North American, South American, Central American and Siberian in conjunction with the Americas)
  • Asian
  • Jewish

For example, if you are 30% African, 35% Native American and 35% European, you could use this information to form a hypothesis about how you match a particular individual or group of individuals.

If the person you match is 50% Asian and 50% African, it’s most likely that the region you match them on is the common African side.

Of course, the next step would be to look at the shared matches to see if those matches include your known relatives with African heritage. This is one reason I always encourage testing of relatives. Who you and your known relative both match tells you a lot about where the common ancestor of a matching group of individuals is found in your tree. For example, if someone matches you and a first cousin, then the common ancestor of the three people is on the side of your tree that you share with the first cousin.

Not exactly sure, or dealing with smaller amounts of continental ethnicity? There’s another way to work with ethnicity.

Ethnicity Match Chart

Make an Ethnicity Match Chart that includes the ethnicity of each person in the match group, as follows.

In this example, the only category in which all people fall is African, so that’s where I’d look in my tree first for a family connection.

Keep in mind that you match person 1, and people 2-4 match both you and person 1.

That does NOT mean that:

  • Person 2, 3 or 4 match each other.
  • Any of those people share the same ancestor with each other. Yes, you can match due to different ancestors that might not have anything to do with each other.
  • These people match on any of the same segments. You can’t view segments at Ancestry. You’ll have to transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch to do that.

Next, look at the trees for each person in the common match group and see if you can discern any common genealogy or even common geography. The best hints of course, at Ancestry, are those green leaf Shared Ancestor Hints. If you find a common ancestor or line, you’re well on your way to identifying how those people are related to you and potentially your match as well.

You could also use this methodology as an adaptation of or in tandem with the Leeds Method that I wrote about here.

Comparing Segments – Yes, You’ll Need To

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser, but Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch all do, allowing you to view segments and triangulate. I always suggest uploading Ancestry results to GedMatch, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage. 23andMe does not accept uploads.

You’ll find instructions for downloading from Ancestry here, uploading to Family Tree DNA here, and to MyHeritage here.

Other Vendors

Each vendor offers their own version of ethnicity comparison. All vendors offer in common with (ICW) and shared match tools too, so you can create your Ethnicity Match Chart for a specific group of people from any vendor’s results – although I don’t mix vendor results on one chart. Plus, every vendor has people in their matching database that no other vendor has, so fish in every pond.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA offers shared ethnicity information on the myOrigins map. To view, click on MyOrigins, then on View MyOrigins Map.

Testers who opt in can view their ethnicity as compared to their matches’ ethnicity. You can also sort by ethnicity as well as use the pin function at bottom right to drop Y and mtDNA most distant ancestor pins on the map.

Please note that this is NOT where your match lives, but is the location of their most distant matrilineal (mtDNA) or patrilineal (surname) known individual.

If you’re looking for Native American matches, for example, you might look for someone with some percentage of Native American autosomal DNA and/or Native American Y or mitochondrial haplogroups. Click on any pin to view that person and their ethnicity that matches yours. You can also search for a specific individual to see how your ethnicity lines up.

On your match list, look for common surnames with those matches, see who you match in common and check your matches’ trees.

Linking your DNA matches to their location in your tree enables you to participate in Phased Family Matching, meaning you can then select people that are assigned to your maternal or paternal sides to view in the chromosome browser.

When viewing all maternal (red icon) or all paternal (blue icon) matches together on the chromosome browser, the segments are automatically mathematically triangulated. All you need to do is identify the common ancestor!

I love Phased Family Matches. Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to offer this feature and to incorporate Y and mitochondrial DNA.


MyHeritage provides multiple avenues for comparison, allowing users to select matches by their ethnicity, country or to simply compare their ethnicity to each other. To view matches by ethnicity, click on the Filter button, but note that not all ethnicity locations are included. You can also combine options, such as looking for anyone from the Netherlands with Nigerian DNA.

To view your matches ethnicity as compared to yours, click on the match and scroll down.

Look for people you match in common as well as the triangulation icon, shown at right, below. Another feature, SmartMatches (a filter option) sort for people who have common ancestors with you in trees.

I love triangulation and DNA SmartMatches and MyHeritage is the only vendor to offer this combination of tools!


At 23andMe, you can see your ethnicity beside that of your match by clicking on DNA Relatives, on the Ancestry tab, then click on the person you wish to compare to. In my case, I’ve also taken the V3 and V4 test at 23andMe, so I’m comparing to myself.

At 23andMe, you can view which portions of your segments are attributed to which ethnicity. Under the Ancestry tab, click Ancestry Composition and scroll down to view your Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting.

You can see my Native American segments on chromosomes 1 and 2.

Click on Scientific Details, then scroll to the bottom to download your ethnicity raw data that includes the segment detail for the location of those specific segments.

Utilizing these chromosome and segment locations with any other vendor who supports a chromosome browser, and determining which side that ethnicity descends through allows you to identify matches who should also carry segments of that same ethnicity at that same location.

Here’s my Native segment on chromosome 2 from the download file. Remember, you have two copies of every chromosome – and in my case, only one of those copies on Chromosome 2 is Native. I know it’s from my mother, so anyone matching me on my maternal side at this location on chromosome 2 should also have a Native segment, and our common ancestor is the source of our common Native American heritage.

23andMe is the only vendor to identify ethnicity segments.

23andMe does show matches in common and common matching segments on the chromosome browser, but they don’t support trees.

Your Turn!

If you carry ethnicity from multiple continents (plus Jewish), what hints can you derive from using your ethnicity as a match tool?



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Thank you so much.

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MyHeritage LIVE Livestreamed Sessions to be Recorded

If you are interested in the free livestreamed sessions from MyHeritage LIVE from Oslo, Norway, but the time difference is problematic for you – there’s great news.

Many of the sessions will be recorded for later replay. I’m very glad to hear this from MyHeritage, because I want to watch the sessions in the tracks that I can’t attend. There are three tracks total, Genealogy and DNA, which will be recorded, and the workshops, which will not be recorded.

A total of 14 sessions are listed in the Genealogy and DNA tracks. Seldom do we receive the contents of an entire conference free – so a big thank you to the MyHeritage team.

MyHeritage is finalizing the details about when and where the recorded sessions will be available, so stay tuned for details. I don’t think they will be online immediately, as some processing time is required.

Also, the sessions will be conducted in English, but (at least the handouts) will be translated to Norwegian.

Please keep in mind that session schedule changes are still occurring as final preparations take place in Oslo. Be sure to check for last minute schedule changes if you’re planning to watch live.

There is a time zone converter and other information in my article here.

The schedule as well as the link to tune in for free session livestreams during the conference is here.

I’m participating in panel discussions as follows:

  • 3:30 PM (Oslo time) on Saturday with Thomas MacEntee and Prof. Yaniv Erlich where we will be discussing DNA, Genealogy and Privacy
  • 3:30 PM (Oslo time) on Sunday with Dick Eastman and Prof. Yaniv Erlich where we will be discussing What’s Next for Genetic Genealogy

Hope to see you there live, livestreamed or later, in recordings!

T minus 4 days and counting!



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

Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755 – after 1817), Peasant Life in Beutelsbach – 52 Ancestors #214

Dorothea Catharina Wolflin’s life started out normal enough – just like any other baby in the German village of Beutelsbach, Germany in 1755.

The daughter of Johann Ludwig Wolfin or Wolflin and Dorothea Heubach, Dorothea Catharina was born on August 10th and baptized in the local church. According to the customs of the time, she was probably called by her middle name, Catharina, at least within the family.

This translation is courtesy of my friend and cousin, Tom. Note that the minister went back and noted years later on her birth entry that she emigrated.

August 1755

Child: Dorothea Catharina, emigrated

Mother: Dorothea Heubach(in), former citizen and vinedresser in Endersbach, surviving legitimate daughter of Jerg Heubach?

Joh. Ludwig Wolflin, son of the late Martin Wolflin, Chevallier?

Godparents: Jacob Rühle, farrier here; Anna Catharina, Georg Leonhard Rehmüller, citizen and butcher and Anna Maria, wife of Georg Friedrich ?, citizen and butcher.

Hmmm, that’s really odd to list an occupation for a female. Dorothea’s mother was a vinedresser, meaning that she worked in the vineyards. I don’t recall ever seeing that before.

In addition to the actual baptism records, the Beutelsbach church book maintained family pages.

Tom translated this page, as follows:

Family Page Beutelsbach

Page 599

Johann Adam Rühle, born in Schnait, the 30th of Jan 1764, Father is Michael Rühle, citizen and joiner (carpenter) in Schnait; Mother is Barbara nee Lenz(in). Has been trained and brought up in Schnait.  ? 4 years served in Schnait.

Married 5 June 1787 with

Dorothea Catharina, born 18 August 1755. Father Joh. Ludwig Wölfle, page 757. Mother Dorothea nee Heubach(in). See page 116.  Was previously married with Georg Friedrich Brauning, vinedresser and from this marriage, 3 children were born, with 2 now living:

Jacob Christian, born 8 June 1783

Johanna Dorothea, born 5 Nov 1785; Died 25 Jan 1790.

Liberi? 2nd Marriage (From Dorothea Catharina’s )

14 March 1788 Fridrica, had an illegitimate child Jacob Fried. Lenz, born 25 Nov 1806.

3 June 1790 Johann Ludwig

5 Mar 1793 Johanna Dorothea; died 8 Mar 1793

25 Apr 1794 Johann Georg

20 Mar 1797 Catarina Margareta +

20 Jan 1800 Johanna Margaretha

Ah, But There’s a Hitch

Vorehelich geboren. War vorher verheiratet mit Georg Friedrich Breuning, Weingärtner. Hat in dieser Ehe 3 Kinder geboren, davon noch 2 am Leben.
Wanderte 1817 nach Nordamerika aus

On the Beutelsbach Heritage page, Dorothea’s entry says that she was born before her parents were married.

Premarital born. Was married before with Georg Friedrich Breuning, vinedresser. Has born in this marriage 3 children, of it another to 2 still alive.

Emigrated in 1817 to North America

There’s More to That Story

Dorothea’s father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was taken away as a soldier in 1755, and he served for 15 years. He returned in 1770 and the couple was married on May 4, 1770. Two years later, Dorothea’s only sibling, a brother, Johann George Wolflin was born and died the following year, in 1773.

Dorothea’s mother, Dorothea Heubach, would have raised her daughter, Dorothea, alone, although I do wonder how Dorothea’s mother managed to do that. Dorothea Heubach’s parents lived in Endersbach, so who was she living with in Beutelsbach while pregnant, when Dorothea was born and during the 15 years she was waiting on Dorothea’s father to return? Normally, I would have though Dorothea and her daughter would have lived with her parents, but if that were the case, then Dorothea would have been born and baptized in Endersbach and the reference to Dorothea Heubach would not have said “former citizen” of Endersbach, although Endersbach was only a mile or so away.

Dorothea couldn’t have lived with Adam’s parents, because they had already died. We know little about her parents, but she is listed as a former resident of Endersbach, so unlikely that she was living with them.

Of course, this situation explains Dorothea Heubach’s occupation noted as a vinedresser. She worked, but who cared for little Dorothea while her mother was in the fields and vineyards?

Dorothea Wolflin’s First Marriage

On September 19, 1780, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin married Georg Friedrich Breuning, born May 24, 1752.

The heritage page, through a German/English translator, says the following about Georg Friedrich: “He had been trained and raised here, but always remained with his parents for some time with the retired court clerk Reinhardtin.”

With George Friedrich Breuning, Dorothea Wolflin had three children:

  • Johanna Elisabetha Breuning born January 27, 1781 and died two years later, in 1783.
  • Jakob Christian Breuning born June 8, 1783. He would subsequently emigrate with his mother and step-father to America in 1817.
  • Johanna Dorothea Breuning born November 5, 1785 and died January 5, 1790.

Dorothea was having a tough time. Her husband, Georg Friedrich Breuning died on October 31, 1786.

In January 1790, Dorothea’s 4 year old daughter died in January and on September 1, 1790, her mother died.

By the end of 1790, Dorothea, then 35 years old had born 3 children, buried 2 children, her husband and her mother.

Deaths in 1783 and 1786 and two in 1790.

Dorothea was due for some good luck.

Remarriage – A Second Start

On June 5, 1787, eight months after her husband’s death, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, a man 9 years her junior. Yes, her junior. She was 32 and he was 23.

The age difference is somewhat startling. It’s very unusual for the male to be that much younger than the female. I surely wonder at the motivation for both people. It could have been love, or it could have been pragmatic expedience. Or, maybe it was something else. Did Dorothea have money? Did he? An inheritance? Never fear – the Germans had methodologies developed to insure protection, fairness and equity.

Second Marriages and Property Inventories

I learned a lot about second marriages in Germany in the late 1700s thanks to Dorothea and Adam. To begin with, I didn’t realize there was anything to learn. I know that sounds somehwhat ridiculous, but we don’t know what we don’t know. I thought they just went down to the church and got married. Not so fast!

From the paper, Household Debt in the Seventeenth-Century Wurttemberg: Evidence from Personal Inventories by Sheilagh Ogilvie, Markus Kupker and Janine Maegraith published in July 2011, I learned that the “peasant economy” of rural Wurttemberg was not as backwards or laissez-faire as one might think. This article examined death, marriage and remarriage inventories. I didn’t know there were marriage inventories.

The authors studied a small German village, Wildberg, who had about 1000 inhabitants in 1600. The population rose to about 1400 by the mid 1670s, but again reduced to 1200 by 1700. Residents in Wildberg paid taxes (of course) and owned land, which I didn’t think was possible for peasants. Land ownership, other than gardens, declined from about 70% to 50% in 1614 and 1629, but rose again to about 60% by 1700. Wildberg, about 40 miles distant, probably wasn’t too different from Beutelsbach.

In Wildberg, most inhabitants were somehow engaged in farming with about 40% of the residents also engaged in weaving after 1580, with spinning being the mainstay of the female inhabitants. Weaving, dyeing and exporting of hand-made worsted were controlled by regional rural-urban guilds which maintained entry barriers, fixed wages and prices, and excluded women, migrants, Jews, laborers and many others. The courts, councils and assemblies closely monitored and administered settlements, marriage, migration, inheritance, land transactions, prices, wages – that is to say pretty much all financial transactions.

While the Beutelsbach economy revolved around winegrowing, with residents working in the vineyards, everything else would have applied to Beutelsbach as well.

Given that women were excluded above, it’s surprising that Wurttemberg had a partible inheritance system in which spouses retained rights over property brought into a marriage and daughters inherited equally with sons. Death inventories were mandated from 1551. From 1610, widowhood, marriage and remarriage inventories were compulsory, as well as in other special circumstances such as crime, indebtedness, desertion, etc.

Inventories were created by specially appointed community officials to value estates, typically with actual recorded prices or values in that community. Properly drawn and executed documents were critical to avoiding inheritance conflicts. Many records indicate who originally paid for a specific item, especially in the case of a marriage or remarriage.

If there’s one thing German’s love, it’s orderliness and records. I love my German ancestors. I wish I had inherited that orderliness trait. I didn’t:(

According to Wurttemberg law, a person or couple was not legally obliged to be inventoried if they:

  • Left a will
  • Agreed to marital community of property
  • Obtained the district court’s approval
  • Drew up a private inventory
  • Had only one heir
  • Obtained agreement from all heirs

This group of exempted individuals included high status families such as royalty, bureaucrats and clergymen. Truly destitute people who had nothing more than the clothes they were wearing were also not inventoried. A fee had to be paid and not only could they not pay the inventory fee, there was no point, so they were simply administratively ignored.

Of course, administrative negligence or corruption at the time or loss of documents since can prevent us from obtaining those inventories today. Inventories were generally considered desirable because they served to protect the interest of the individuals involved, from each other and from future debtors that might attempt to retroactively establish a claim. However, never-married individuals were seldom inventoried at marriage and often if they had never been married, were not inventoried at death either.

These inventories, when available and legible are goldmines and apparently were relatively common. In the nearby village of Laichingen between 1766 and 1799, 94% of remarriages had inventories, 87% of the spouses of the one of remarrying individuals had inventories, 31% of the widowers had inventories and 57% of the widows.

The inventory document was structured into five sections.

The introduction includes the location, date and personal details of the individual or individuals involved, their offspring, any other heirs, parents and former spouses.

In the second section, real estate, including buildings, gardens, fields, pastures, woods and fishing waters was listed.

A third section included moveable goods, including those worth only one Heller, the smallest unit of currency, in specific categories such as cash, ornaments, jewelry, silver, men’s and women’s clothing, books, bedding, household linen, household vessels of different types, furniture, general household goods, farm and craft tools, animals, food, grain, business wares and anything else not falling into the above categories.

The fourth section included debts and financial assets. Debts were not allowed to be incurred without the prior approval of the village or town council as well as district-level bureaucrats. These individuals monitored the behavior of villagers to assure that they didn’t borrow excessively and controlled them by penalties. Repeat offenders could be declared “mundtot,” a now obsolete 17th century word meaning legally incapable, dead in the eyes of the law, or civilly dead. Basically, they were declared incompetent.

Furthermore, these community “courts” could veto any loan secured by property. Not only that, but fees had to be paid in order to apply for permission to obtain a loan. It’s no wonder that Germans wanted to emigrate.

Despite all of that bureaucratic red tape, roughly 25% of people with inventories had some type of debt, but one third had assets as well. The debt rate of widows was much higher.

The fifth and final section of the inventory balanced the debts against the assets, divided the proceeds among heirs (although did not necessarily distribute the assets) and recorded the signatures of the involved parties.

Inventory of Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning and Johann Adam Ruhle

However, I knew none of this when my distant cousin, Niclas Witt, stumbled across the marital inventory of Dorothea and Adam in the archives of Weinstadt. Niclas has graciously allowed me to include the images. My thanks to Niclas for finding this document and copying it for me. Cousins are so cool!!!

Tom and Chris struggled mightily with translating these pages. They did successfully translate some words. Personally, I look at these crinkled pages, 231 years old, and revel in the thought that Dorothea and her beau joyfully listed their belongings in anticipation of their upcoming wedding – even if we can’t read many of the words today. They listed items, reviewed the lists after they were compiled, then they and their families signed those lists. I’m sure the young couple smiled at each other – one step closer to their wedding day. Maybe the entire group celebrated with a glass of wine.

Perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me today is the fact that there are signatures at the end of the document.

This document is very old and fragile, and the script is in many places undecipherable.

Johann Adam Ruhle’s inventory starts on the page above.

Next, on the above page, his land property (house and vineyards) is listed.

On the above pages, men’s clothes and so forth.

The list of Johann Adam Rühle`s property ends, above, on the left page.

Starting on the right page, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning`s property is listed, again with subheaders for different property classes.

On page 138, on the right side, we have a partial translation.

Tom and Chris translate documents by first attempting to decipher the letters individually. That text is shown at left, below. Then they attempt to figure out the actual German words. That text is shown at right, below. Then, I used a German to English translator to list the English equivalent in parenthesis. As you might imagine from these results, Chris and Tom were both very frustrated. (I felt really, really bad. They are such good guys.)

This was an extremely difficult document.

“Hierauf nun folgt des Weibs                       Hieraus (from this)
Leibeigen und bestehet in                         Beibringen (teach)
Häußern und [gebau ?]                                  gebaud

die […] von einer                                              helstt in von Einen
Behaußung Scheunen
und Keller bei der […]                                    Eigel
[…][…] 11 ½ […]                                                 rüthen
garttens vorbei, neben
dem […][…]                                                         Weng, und
[…] [zinnßt?] […]                                              lenschler zümstt
… 600 […]                                                           Stistts Pflug (plow)

Acker [?]
[Jelly Eiselfeld“ ?!]                                           Zelly Lizelfeld
[…][…][…]                                                            27 rüthen eine
[…] neben                                                           Ereschdobel neben (next)
Johannes […] und                                             Johannes Schuh in und
Bernhard Schwegler […]   150 […]
vor die blum                         4 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, left side

„acker                                                                   Acken

[…] hinter […]                                                     Zelly Ginter verhneb
[…][…] einen                                                      3 rüthen einen
[…], zwischen adam                                     döbelen zwischen Adam (? between Adam)
Haffner und alt Ludwig
[Schwaden?] [zinnßt?] […] 125…              Schmaden zümsst
vor die blum                   9…30

[…] hinter […][…][…] neben                         Zelly hinter den (? behind the)
[…][…]                                                                   ½ luth? und Schlut. neben
wittib und den […]                                           Joseph Hüebschneider
zinnßten                             15 […]             wittib und den …zümstt… (widow and the…)

Viertel […][…]                                                    14 & ½ rüthen
[…] neben                                                           schlath neben
Jacob […]                                                             Jacob Vollmer
und Johannes Eckert
eigen                               45 […]
194 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, right side


1 viertel […] in                                   23 rüthen
der Wein[…] zwischen
Hannß Jerg Haffner                         Häffner
und Jacob Hellerich
eigen                       50 […]

[…] ½ […] in                                         ?rüthen 5 & ½ rüthen in

Der Wein[…] neben
Daniel Lenzen und dem
[…][…]                            160 […]


1 Viertel im […]                                 Stemeng…r
neben Hannß Jerg […]
und Michael […]
zinnßten                     140 […]

Die […][…][…]
15 […][…][…]             350 […]“      15 & ½ rüthen in Saug….

Page 140, left side


Zwischen mathes […]                      friderich
[…] und
Jacob […]                         100 […]   Vollmer

Die […] von 1 Viertel                       helsttin
17 ½ […] in Bartenbach                    rüthen
neben Jacob Randern                 (next Jacob Randern)

und […][…]                                             Hanss Jerg Bretung (Breuning?)
gibt […]                                                    derkelleri verkelleri.
[…]                             60 […]               bodenrin.

Chris provided some general guidance, below.


und das Ihrige […] rubriquen […] […]
[…], und zwar

= men`s clothes
weibskleider  = women`s clothes
bettgewand = sleeping clothes
Leinwand = linnen
[…]geschirr  = some sort of tableware/dishes
Eißernes = “iron things”

[right side]

Blechgeschirr = tin dishes
Goltennes = golden [?]
Schneidwerck = cutlery
[…] und […]geschirr
Gemeiner […]       – “gemeiner” here in the meaning of “normal/usual”
Führ und Bauerngeschirr  = In this case, “Geschirr” is most likely the other meaning in German for this word: harness for horses, cattle etc.
Vieh  = Cattle
[..] […]

allerlei Vorrath = all kinds of storage/stock

On the right hand side of this page, at the bottom, below a statement indicating something in the sense of “this list is complete and nothing is missing,- 13 Febr 1788”, there are several signatures:

The married couple
Adam Rühle
Dorothea Rühlerin
der Kinde Pfleger (guardian of the child)
Bernhard Breuning (probably Dorothea’s deceased husband’s brother Jacob Bernhard Breuning, guardian of the surviving children)

Father of the woman/wife
Johann Ludwig Wolflin (Dorothea’s father)

I’m so grateful to have found this inventory and for Chris and Tom struggling to translate the old script. We may not have every word, but I can savor the essence. It looks like they had harnesses and bedding and the normal things one would expect to find. And Dorothea had a plow. What woman wouldn’t want a plow:) And what man wouldn’t want to marry a woman with a plow!

The fact that this document exists also begs the question of what other documents might exist as well. Hmmm…..

Beginning a New Family

Johann Adam Ruhle, called Adam, became an instant father given that when they married, two of Dorothea’s children were living. At the age of 23, Adam became the father of a 5 year old and a 3 year old.

It didn’t take long for the young couple to begin a family of their own, with my ancestor, daughter Fredericka arriving in March of 1788.

  • Johanna Frederika Ruhle was born March 14, 1788 and died in 1866 near Dayton in Montgomery County, Ohio.
  • Johann Ludwig Ruhle was born June 3, 1790 and died April 17, 1847 in Beutelsbach. He was a vine tender in the vineyards and died of a stroke. His first wife was Sabine Mayerle with whom he had no children. His second wife was Maria Magdalena Vollner with whom he had one child, Johann Ludwig Ruhle, born in 1846 in Beutelsbach and died in 1893 in Stuttgart.
  • Johanna Dorothea Ruhle was born March 5, 1793 and died three days later.
  • Johann Georg Ruhle was born April 25, 1794 and died sometime after emigrating to America.
  • Catharina Margaretha Ruhle was born March 20, 1797 and died October 23, 1797, just 3 days past 7 months of age.
  • Johanna Margareta Ruhle was born January 20, 1800 and died sometime after emigrating to America.

Winds of Change

In 1800, when Dorothea was having her last child, she was 45 years old and her first child, born in 1781, would have been 19 years old and could have already blessed her with grandchildren, had that daughter lived.

Dorothea had buried 5 of her 9 children, 4 remained living.

Her eldest living child was Jakob Christian Breuning, age 17 and still living at home. He would have been learning a trade, probably something related to the vineyards that grew on the hillsides surrounding the village.

Dorothea’s next oldest, Fredericka, not quite 12 years old probably helped a lot with her new baby sister. Fredericka would already have been quite experienced because the new baby, Johanna Margaretha, made 5 younger siblings for Fredericka, although Fredericka had stood by the graveside as two were buried in the churchyard.

By 1800, Dorothea and Adam were the quintessential German village couple, working the vineyards, going to church on Sunday, welcoming babies and burying about half that they welcomed. They went about their lives simply; plowing the earth, growing food, harvesting grapes, tending to family and village affairs.

Dorothea, at 45, by any measure had already achieved a good age. Many, especially women, weren’t fortunate enough to live that long. Dorothea would have hoped to survive long enough to see her children marry and begin families of their own, but 45 is late to have a final child.

Dorothea’s life would have revolved around the never-ending cycle of the sun, the seasons and the grapes in the vineyard. Life was centered around their livelihood, family and the church, of course, which was as important socially as it was religiously. Church attendance was mandated by the government, so it’s not likely they would have missed services often.

Dorothea’s father, who had been absent the first 15 years of her life serving as a conscripted soldier was still living. Dorothea’s mother had died in 1790, but in 1800, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was a ripe old age of 68. He surely doted on Dorothea, his only living child, and her children. His only other child, Dorothea’s brother, Johann Georg Wolflin, born in 1772, died at 16 months of age, a few days after Christmas in 1773. Dorothea and her family were all he had left, and vice versa.

Photo provided by Martin Goll

On July 31, 1805, perhaps on a hot summer day, Dorothea walked outside the church that overlooked the hillside vineyards and stood in the little cemetery as her father was lowered into his final resting place, probably beside her mother and her brother. She may also have wandered over to visit the 4 small graves of her own children, and maybe her grandparents as well, although her father’s parents had both died before she was born. Her father had joined them now. Perhaps she whispered softly, asking the grandparents she had never met to welcome their son.

Now, Dorothea was alone in a village full of people.

Dorothea’s last close family ties, other than her husband and children, were gone, buried in the churchyard. Now, she couldn’t talk to them anymore in person, but she would pass by their graves in silent greeting every Sunday morning. Was that comforting to Dorothea, or painful?

Births, deaths, christenings, sermons, field work, trimming vines, picking grapes, pressing wine, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime, then birthing more babies. The rhythmic cycle of birth, life and death in the bucolic village of Beutelsbach.

As Dorothea turned to walk the few steps to her home, after saying goodbye to her father one last time, she perhaps lifted her face to the sun and asked the Lord what was in store. She herself was 50. How long would it be before her children stepped through the doorway of that same church and stood by her graveside?

The answer was, “never.” They would never stand by her grave in this cemetery.

Dorothea couldn’t possibly have anticipated on that midsummer day in 1805 what the future held – that the most adventurous chapter of her life wouldn’t begin for another 11 years.

Change may have been coming, but it was only a scant scent on the distant winds that melancholy July day in our sun-kissed vineyard hamlet.

A foreshadowing of events yet to come.



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MyHeritage LIVE Conference to be Livestreamed – FREE

What are you doing next weekend, November 3 and 4? Want to attend a conference – free – and without even leaving home? Well, you’re in luck! You can even attend in your jammies!

I just received an e-mail from MyHeritage stating that the DNA and genealogy sessions in Oslo at MyHeritage LIVE on Saturday and Sunday, November 3rd and 4th will be livestreamed free.

The workshops, of course, won’t be livestreamed, but you really need to be present in person to benefit from a workshop.

How cool is that – a free two-day genealogy and DNA conference, but you might have to get up early, depending on where you live.

Here’s the relevant part of the MyHeritage e-mail.

We are making the final arrangements to live stream the genealogy and DNA tracks online on our website.

The schedule is available at with the local Oslo times listed.

If you need help calculating the time difference to your local time zone, you can use

Make sure to visit at the time of the lecture to watch the live stream.

If you’re planning on viewing the livestreams, be sure to account properly for the time difference. Please also check the schedule closer to time for the sessions you want to view, because conference schedules can and do change, sometimes rather unexpectedly.

You can also check social media using the hashtag #MHLIVE2018 to keep up with what’s happening at the conference.

Daniel Horowitz, the MyHeritage genealogy expert will be posting on the following platforms, and of course, I’ll be blogging which also posts to my twitter feed.

Also, Dan has been answering questions in the comments of my previous article about the conference, here.



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Ancestry Displays City/State Where You Live on Map to Your DNA Matches

A new Ancestry feature, in beta mode, has been rolled out to many, if not most, users. Truthfully, I was quite surprised to discover that Ancestry is displaying the location where I currently live to my DNA matches through fourth cousins.

I never intentionally gave permission for this, meaning I never expected the location where I live to be utilized in this fashion. I’ve been an Ancestry subscriber for many years, and while I may have entered my location information originally, I certainly would never have done that today. We live in a different “privacy breach,” “identity theft” and otherwise unpleasant world than we did a few years ago.

The potential ramifications of this mapping tool are mind-boggling – both negative and positive, depending on your perspective.

For people searching for unknown parents or not terribly distant ancestors, the location information is awesome. Ancestry clearly knows this, which is why your matches to 4th cousins are shown. They are your genealogically most useful matches.

For those more concerned with privacy, this feature could open the door to a number of dangerous or at least unpleasant situations – from dangerously crazy people to family stalkers to unknown children/parent situations resulting in someone landing unexpectedly on your doorstep. I may not want to meet a previously unknown sibling, especially not at my house. And certainly not without some amount of preparation first – including a criminal background check. And yes, I’ve been there and done that, in case you were wondering.

Seeing where I live on a map, displayed to my genetic matches brought me face to face with the realization of how careful we need to be with what we choose, even inadvertently, to share. It’s also important to review your past selections to be sure they are still what you want.

So, here’s how to use the tool and how to change your location if you wish to do so.

Ancestry Matches Map

On your matches tab, beside the blue Search Matches button, click on Matches Map.

Next, you’ll see the map with what appears to only be your matches through 4th cousins, although I can’t verify that exactly. I know 4th cousin matches are included and I didn’t see any more distant.

You can see your own pin, in red.

You can click on any of these pins to view the city and state where that person lives based on the information they provided in their profile.

Here’s how to change your location.

Changing Your Location

To change the location, click on your pin on the map.

You’ll see this popup.

I tried to simply remove the information, but I was not allowed to save. A location is required in this tab, but if you go directly to your Profile, accessible from your user ID on your main page, you can remove the location entirely and save.

Before I discovered that selecting my profile directly allowed me to remove my location entirely, I entered the location where I’d love to live. I now live in Bergen, Norway:)

If you’re not comfortable with the city being displayed, but the state is fine, then you can make that modification as well. If you no longer live where you were born, your birth location might be more useful genealogically.

However, even though the new location is displayed to you on the map when you change to a new location, it is NOT CHANGED on the Ancestry map site at the same time. I signed out, signed in again, and the map pin is still displaying my previous location, even though my profile now reflects the new location. It took a few hours for the change to take effect.

Safety and Privacy Considerations

I would strongly prefer that Ancestry provide an opt-in option for people to have their location displayed to their matches, or for that matter, to anyone – especially since a location is required on the map tab when you attempt to make a change. This would avoid the surprise factor of seeing your location revealed on a map. I’m fine with ancestral locations, but not with where I currently live.

As a genealogist, I can certainly see how this feature would be useful. If you’re fine with having the city/state where you live revealed to your matches and other Ancestry users who view your profile, then this is a great tool and you don’t need to change anything.

Do be aware that your location information combined with your name and a search tool like Intellus or BeenVerified can/will reveal your address, phone, e-mail, family members names and more.

Now is a good time to review your profile. Consider what you are willing to reveal and make any changes accordingly.



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Blogging, Rules and Mom’s Motto

I know that everyone is awaiting a follow-up article on how to utilize ethnicity results more fully for genealogy, and obviously, this article isn’t it. You know that saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans?” Well, that’s last week, this week and maybe next week, so please, just bear with me.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to have a bit of a fireside chat about blogging, how it works, my blog rules, and civility.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, once said, “my turf, my rules,” in her Rules of my Road series, and she was right.

People follow blogs because the content resonates with them for any number of reasons.

Genetic genealogy is the intersection of my two great loves, science and genealogy. It’s my passion, but I’m guessing I didn’t need to tell you that. Why else would someone spent thousands of hours writing and educating others, on a paid platform, as a volunteer effort?


Blogging can be lots of fun. In many cases, I “take you along with me” as I try out new methodologies, or I share my successes…and failures. In my 52 Ancestors series that runs every weekend (ok, most weekends when I can,) I share my research methodologies with everyone with the secret hope that someday, somehow, new cousins will find me, and those articles, even after I’m gone.

I hope you’ll find inspiration and new ways through genetics to find your ancestors too. I love to hear your success stories and to have participated or encouraged you in some small way. You inspire me!

Blogging is also exhausting. I didn’t realize when I started that it’s a 24X7X365 commitment – and I’ve passed my 6th blogiversary.

Why is blogging exhausting?

Aside from researching and writing articles, questions and comments arrive all the time. With 1057 articles and over 35,000 comments posted on those articles, I’m sure you can imagine the scope of the commitment required. I read and authorized every single one of those comments.

Why do I read every comment? I only allow accurate, civil, non-spam comments to post.

Now for the shocker.

The number of spam comments in that same time is…are you ready…1,253,012, with another 1300+ in the spam queue waiting for review. And no, I’m not going to review all 1300 of those. Not to mention, the spam queue doesn’t catch all of them. That’s up to me. That also doesn’t count the number of comments that aren’t actually spam, but that I haven’t allowed to post for any one of several reasons.

Let that soak in for a minute.

One and a quarter million spam messages tried to take advantage of my blog and your readership. The gateway or filter between them and you is the WordPress spam filter, and me. That’s 208,000 per year, or 570 nasty spammy things per day. Needless to say, I hate spam.

So, I monitor the blog on my PC, on my laptop, on my phone, and I do my best wherever I am. It takes a huge, huge amount of time and level of commitment. More than I ever imagined – and I don’t have a staff. I’m it.

Dollars and Cents

Blogging isn’t free, at least not for me.

WordPress does offer a free platform, but the requirements for this blog far surpasses what they provide to hobbyists for free. I love WordPress and would recommend it for anyone who is interested. In fact, I wrote about how to blog here.

Many bloggers and free web sites monetize their sites. The ads you see are a way for the blogger or site creator to recoup some of the money being spent as well as their time and effort. I don’t do that and I actually pay WordPress so no ads will appear.

Bloggers create new content for consumers. Some blogs and newsletters require subscriptions. I’ve never embraced that model although that is not a criticism of anyone who does. In fact, I subscribe to several.

Everyone has to eat, and if a someone values an expert opinion, it’s entirely valid for the person who has educated themselves, and maintains that education, to expect some form of compensation for their expertise.

In my case, I wanted education for every genealogist about how to utilize DNA effectively to remain free in order to reach the maximum amount of people possible. Education about the genetic aspects of genealogy benefits all genealogists.

I may in the future add a donation button for those who wish to contribute, although many of you have gifted me in numerous ways, for which I’m exceedingly grateful.

I do have an affiliate relationship with a few companies, which is disclosed at the bottom of each article that has any links to those companies. I’ve included the standard disclosure at the bottom of this article for reference.

I am also occasionally under non-disclosure agreements with some companies when they discuss future development of products. I’m glad to be able to (hopefully) influence future development of products for genealogists from time to time.

For those who are wondering, blogging and affiliate links, at least for me, is not a “living.” It’s more like Starbucks and dinner on a good month. Other months, it’s a big goose egg.

The Rules

To state the obvious, I work more than full time, providing Y and mitochondrial DNA reports for customers. I also provide Quick Consults, speak at conferences and consult in this field. I write, I quilt, I do my own genealogy, and I have a family.

I don’t have any time nor desire to deal with conflict or drama of any nature.

Having written for public consumption, on my blog and in my professional career, I realize that sometimes what one writes and intends to convey is not exactly what the other person reads. For example, humor sometimes, often, doesn’t come across as humor in the written word. I’ve penned numerous things that I’ve been taken to task for without intending what was perceived. I’ve learned to be more careful.

What I’m saying is that I know how easily that can unintentionally happen.

Having said that, my number one rule for this blog is civility.


  • Don’t be rude.
  • No name calling.
  • No flaming.
  • No trolling.
  • No drama.
  • No politics.
  • No racism.
  • No discrimination of any sort.
  • No disparaging comments.
  • No religion unless there is a genetic or genealogical aspect to the discussion, such as Jewish DNA or endogamy among the Mennonite, etc.
  • Do not attempt to bait people. I will not allow it to post whether it’s focused towards me or others – whether I agree with the comment or not.
  • Do not make sweeping generalizations.
  • Do not say, even in gest, something akin to “all XXX are stupid,” whether you are speaking of consumers, vendors, etc.
  • That doesn’t mean a comment can’t be critical of a vendor’s product. Just stick with non-emotional facts and discussion.
  • That doesn’t mean a commenter can’t disagree with me or another commenter. However, if the words are personally denigrating, condescending, offensive, hurtful or patronizing, the comment won’t be approved.

I have a limited time when reading each comment to decide thumbs up or thumbs down and if I have to ponder if it’s appropriate, the answer is thumbs down.

I may also not be approving on a computer at home. I could be on a phone laying in bed, in the airport, or in the hospital. Yes, I’ve done that.

And while you may think I’m too restrictive, remember, it may be you that I’ve protected, and you’ll never know because the offending comment was not allowed to post.

Conversely, anyone who has strong opinions and wants to voice them can do the same thing I have. Start a blog, write, educate, provide valuable content.

Genetic genealogy is intended to be fun and this blog is intended to be educational in nature – not a platform for conflict. The bottom line, like Judy said, my blog, my rules.

Mother’s Motto

When I was a teenager and was perfecting the fine art of being sassy and learning how to debate, which Mother accurately perceived as arguing – she taped something to the bathroom mirror, which I absolutely hated at the time. But she was right.

And did I ever need to hear it.  When I edit my own articles for the blog, I often have to consider her directive, especially if I’m upset about something. In fact, don’t laugh, but I can hear her say this, even yet today.

I often struggle with word choices, meaning exactly how to convey what I’m intending to convey – and not something else. I also have an “anger rule.” If I’m angry when I write something, I have to wait at least 24 hours to publish it. If I’m still angry, another 24. Needless to say, after cooling down, the word choices tend to change.

In this challenging time, the last thing we need is harshness. Please do comment on articles, but write with caring and consideration in your heart. I would ask you to think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of the words you wrote.

Words are powerful tools. They can teach, they can be thought provoking, or that can intentionally or unintentionally declare war. People won’t listen if they feel they are being attacked or challenged, whether that was the intention or not, so the best way to get a point across is to make the other person feel good about listening to what you have to say.

Here’s a wonderful little vignette that I love about the power of word choices.

Thanks for subscribing and engaging. I value each and every one of you.

Have a great day, check your DNA matches, find some ancestors and I’ll be back with you soon.



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.

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John Whitney Ferverda: Morse Code, Telegraphs and Trains – 52 Ancestors #213

My Grandfather, John Whitney Ferverda (1882-1962) worked for the railroad for several years. In fact, it was the railroad that was responsible for John meeting my grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore.

Born in 1882 and trained as a teacher, John Ferverda instead went to work for the Big Four railroad in 1904 as a station agent and telegraph operator in Silver Lake, Indiana, near where his family lived. By 1907, John had accepted a position in Rushville, Indiana as station agent where he would meet Edith who was destined to become his wife – and my grandmother.

A station agent, especially in smaller stations, was responsible for everything. People, cargo, schedules and especially telegraph communications known as telegraphy which kept everyone on time and safe.

On their marriage application on November 16, 1908, John lists his occupation as a telegraph operator.

In January 1910, Edith and John returned to Silver Lake where he became the station agent. They purchased the house next door to the depot.

John’s brother, Roscoe Ferverda bought the house across the street and he too eventually became the station agent after my grandfather resigned the position. In the 1930 census, Roscoe was the station agent at Silver Lake.

In 1913, based on newspaper articles, it appears that John was assigned to Markleville, just north of Rushville, perhaps only temporarily.

He was back in Silver Lake before 1915 when, according to the November 13th edition of the Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper, another agent was sent as a relief agent for “John at the Big 4” while he had surgery on his eye in Cincinnati. Hmmm, I didn’t know my grandfather had surgery on his eyes. I wonder why. Photos in later years show a droopy eyelid. I also wonder if either the condition or the surgery had anything to do with what happened in January 1916.

John was apparently back at work by November 27th, when the newspaper announced that the stork had left a baby boy at the home of ” John Ferverda, our genial agent at the Big Four station” and his wife.

On January 8, 1916, the Rushville Republican newspaper carried an article stating that John Ferverda, “the Big Four Agent at Silver Lake,” had resigned his position with the railroad and had purchased a hardware store with a partner.

The History of Kosciusko County, Indiana, published in 1919, provides us with a little more information about John Ferverda.

Having mastered the art of telegraphy, he entered the service of the Big Four Railway as an operator, was assigned at different stations along that system and remained in that service about 10 years.

The Big 4 Railroad

I had never heard of The Big 4 before, and as it turns out, there are two Big 4s, also written as Big Four. The one that interests us is the railroad company that operated across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

This map shows the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four) drawn on the New York Central system as of 1918.

In 1906, the Big 4 was acquired by the New York Central Railway which operated it independently until 1930. In 1968, the line was incorporated into Penn Central and later into Conrail, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Telegraph Operator

How or why John Ferverda learned to operate a telegraph machine is lost to history. The local history book indicated that he lived at home until he was 22. John attended a teacher’s academy, was credentialed to teach, but never did. In 1904, he would have been 22 and finished with his classes.

Given that the article in the Kosciusko County History book states clearly that he had mastered the art of telegraphy, then entered the Big Four Railroad service as an operator, we know that he didn’t learn on the job. This causes me to wonder where he practiced, given that his parents were Brethren, lived in the country, and assuredly did not have electricity in their home.

One cannot learn Morse code, the “language” of the telegraph without practicing and becoming proficient. Proficiency using Morse code is measured by either words per minute or characters per minute, and a telegraph operator for a railroad had to be proficient and speedy, which means he had to have practiced regularly using a unit to both send and receive.

I’ve been curious for some time – what, exactly, did a telegraph operator for a railroad do? How did they communicate before the remote areas were entirely wired for electricity? According to my mother, their house didn’t have electricity initially, so the depot next door probably didn’t either. John worked at this profession for a dozen years, a significant amount of his life.

I wanted to know more. Genealogists always want to know more!

By the time I came along, telegraph operators were either obsolete, or at least I had never come across one. The Big Four was gone, and my grandfather died before I could ask him any questions at all.

My mother wasn’t born until 1922, several years after John had resigned the position, so she wouldn’t have been able to answer many questions either.

However, I do have a secret weapon resource at my disposal.

My husband, Jim.

No, Jim didn’t know my grandfather, but Jim is a super bright geeky “radio guy,” meaning an amateur radio operator, known colloquially as a “ham,” and has been for about 50 years. Literally since he was a kid. He was licensed by the FCC to operate a radio before he was old enough to drive! And, he’s proficient at Morse code. Sends, receives and understands it. Plus, he’s a history buff. My lucky day!

If you have a question about radio, or anything to do with radio or electronics, just ask Jim, because if he doesn’t know the answer, guaranteed, he’ll find it for you. And he’ll enjoy it to boot.

Jim and the ARRL

Jim (call sign K8JK) just happens to be the Michigan section manager for the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League, headquartered in Newington, CT.

Recently, Jim attended training at the ARRL headquarters and invited me along. While Newington, in and of itself, unless you’re a “ham” isn’t any sort of Mecca, I like to support his endeavors AND I’m a ham myself, just barely.

I am also extremely interested in genealogy and history, which I know comes as a shock to my readers, and when I discovered that I had ancestors that settled within an hour’s drive, I was all in. Oh yea!

Each day I dropped Jim off at ARRL headquarters, and at the end of the day, picked him up again.

On the last day, the class attendees really did get to go to “ham Mecca” and entered the sacred ground of the small house located in front of the current ARRL building. That initial house had been the location purchased by the founder of the ARRL, Hiram Percy Maxim, whose “rig” has been preserved with its original call sign of W1AW.

The building includes several operator booths, along with antique radios and telegraph keys. Each class attendee was able to spend time transmitting in the original W1AW “ham shack” as a guest operator.

Now you know where this is going, right?

Amateur radio operators still use Morse code at times to communicate, and telegraph keys were created and used for exactly that purpose – in train stations and depots. My grandfather clearly knew how to use this equipment and did daily for a dozen years. I’d still love to know why he decided to take up telegraphy, because aside from trains, I don’t know why or who else in northern Indiana would have a need for a telegraph operator. Perhaps he saw an opportunity and embraced it.

Thank goodness he did, or I wouldn’t be here. So you could say I’m in eternal debt to Morse code for my very existence.

Who knew?

Questions – So Many Questions

I really enjoyed visiting the museum in the W1AW building – and peppered Jim with questions.

What is that?

How does it work?

Which one of these keys, the device used by telegraph operators to transmit Morse code, would have been used by the railroads?

Between 1904 and 1916?

How about on the Big 4 Lines?

How did the keys work?

What is that lever?

How do these connectors work?

What’s this?

Why is there air?

Morse Code, Telegraphs and Why There’s Air

Jim very graciously agreed to explain all this, in technical terms, but not too technical. Just technical enough. I get the idea somehow that he made the offer in self-defense, because by that time, I was digging through his boxes of “sacred antique stuff” (also referred to as “junk”) hoping to find an old telegraph key that might have been used in a Big 4 depot.

I allowed myself to be shooed out of his office when he offered up the article:)

Jim’s guest article begins here:

Hi, my name is Jim Kvochick (K8JK), or Mr. Estes as I’m called at genealogy and DNA conferences. My lovely wife, who is also a ham operator (K8RJE), has asked me to explain what life was like for a telegraph operator when her grandfather, John Ferverda, was working for the Big 4 Railroad in Indiana between 1904 and 1916. It’s hard to believe that was a century ago. Morse code was invented in 1836 by Samuel Morse and is still used in various formats today. In many ways, Morse code as a language is universal and timeless.

Ever since the beginnings of time, people have been trying to communicate over distances greater than the human voice could reach. Early attempts included the use of smoke signals, signal fires, waving flags, and the moving arms of semaphores, shown below.

Mirrors were also used to flash the image of the sun to distant observers.

Railroads had a need for communications as well and clearly their requirement extended beyond the range of visual communications. Early attempts involved a method for attaching hand written messages called “train orders” on a large hook extending from the station. As the train slowly approached the train depot, the conductor on the moving train would reach out to grab the incoming messages, and “hook” the messages or mail destined for that location. If the conductor missed, the station operator had to run alongside the moving train with the messages on a long pole, reaching towards the conductor.

Train orders advised the locomotive engineer of changes in schedule, planned stops, or any other details needed to complete their run. Harnessing electricity was a welcome innovation but adapting that technology to long distances was challenging.

Utilizing electricity, wires were stretched from one point to another and an electric current was either allowed to flow through the wires or broken by a switch called a telegraph key. The key below dates from about 1900.

By Hp.Baumeler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The electric current was first used to make marks on a paper tape and later, it was used activate a “sounder” which made clicking sounds. The short and long times between the clicks could be decoded into letters from the alphabet.

By Sanjay Acharya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The round discs on the sounder key above are electromagnets and the sounder portion is the spring lever with the tab on the left, shown with the red arrow. The lever gets pulled up against the large metal bar to its right, between the sounder and the electromagnets and makes an audible click when the two pieces of metal touch.

By the early 1900’s most train stops utilized mechanical sounder devices and trained the station operators on sending and receiving Morse code.

The schematic shown above is the design of a typical station telegraph, like what would have been on John’s desk.

This revolutionary discovery allowed people to communicate instantly over distances that had required days or weeks for horse or train-carried messages.

Telegraph stations were set up along railroads first because the right-of-way had already been cleared and it was easy to set up poles to carry the telegraph wires, although unexpected challenges arose. For example, while curved train tracks weren’t problematic, it took several failed attempts before learning that poles located on curves needed to be braced or they fell over due to the weight of the wires. Copper wires stretched, steel wires rusted and broke. Eventually, through trial and error, the right combination was achieved of braced poles and copper coated steel wire.

Railroad dispatchers sent messages via telegraph to control the movement of trains and the wires also began to carry messages telling of news events and business transactions.

Of course, this also meant that the telegraph operator knew everything within the community, and in particular, was the first to receive messages deemed important enough to be telegraphed to the recipient.

It has been said that the “electric telegraph” was the most significant invention of the 19th century. At the very end of the 19th century, it became possible to communicate by telegraph without using wires. This ‘wireless’ telegraph system paved the way for all of today’s complex wireless communications systems.

Although telephone communication began in the 1880’s within a local geography and expanded into long distances beginning in the 1890’s; telegraph signaling held the advantage due to lower costs and minimal infrastructure required. Radio communications was beginning to come into popular usage, but the cost per unit was too prohibitive to deploy widely. To further reduce the cost of installing the telegraph system, only a single wire was used, with reference to an earth ground to complete the circuit.

Many of the stops along the train tracks did not have electric power, so to successfully operate the telegraph stations at that time required the use of batteries.

Batteries in the 1900’s were large open jars containing electrodes and acid, requirimg constant attention by the station operator. Remember too that in many cases there was no commercial power available to charge these batteries. John Ferverda would most likely start out each day with a check of the battery condition and perform the required maintenance to keep his telegraph station running.

Early batteries used highly toxic chemicals which were stored in the station agent’s office. These batteries and their chemicals including sulfuric acid, zinc and copper, created toxic gasses which were eventually vented outside the agent’s office. Perhaps it’s a good thing that John Ferverda only worked as a station agent for a dozen years.

Early telegraph operators would have used the American Morse code, a predecessor to the more widely used International Morse code of today. While the American version relied heavily on the specific timing between the dots and dashes, the International version was far more forgiving, in trade for making some of the letters and numbers slightly longer.

There were numerous styles and variants of older telegraph keys and many are still being used by amateur radio operators today.

Telegraph key collection at the ARRL W1AW building

Most likely John Ferverda used a variant that looked similar to the model below from the ARRL collection.

The telegraph operator was still in demand and used for information at depots or stations well past the 1950’s. Although many train lines experimented with two-way voice radio during the 1930’s, a truly practical solution wasn’t installed in volume until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Today, radio and satellite communication dominate tracking and routing our modern railways.

The humble telegraph paved the way for the wireless communications that all phone “operators” today utilize – those small electronic boxes that we carry in our pockets and love. John Ferverda was a very, very early adopter of the predecessors to cell phones of today.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone happens to run across the telegraph key from the station in Silver Lake or Rushville, Indiana, or any of the Big 4 depots in that region, perhaps at an auction or antique mall, please let me know because I’ve love to surprise my wife. (Shamelessly added to this article by said wife.)


My thanks to the ARRL for their hospitality and to Jim Kvochick for explaining the history of telegraphy and why there’s air, or least why there’s Morse code.

And seriously, if you do run across a telegraph key from the early 1900s in Northern Indiana, I really do want one and would be forever grateful. I sure wish I had John Ferverda’s original equipment.

What’s the history of radio or railroads in your family?



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Family Tree DNA’s New Chromosome Browser

Family Tree DNA has released their new, updated chromosome browser with a completely new look and feel. It’s quite different from the previous version, so let’s take a test drive.

The first thing you notice is a new link on your personal page in the Family Finder section.

You can access the chromosome browser in one of two ways.

  • Matches button
  • Clicking on the Chromosome Browser button

Either way, you eventually get to the same place.


By viewing your matches, you can now select a total of 7 people, increased from 5 previously, to compare to you in the chromosome browser.

After selecting the people you want to view in the chromosome browser, click on the Chromosome Brower button above your matches, just like before.

Note that on your Matches page, the other tools, such as In Common With (ICW), Not In Common With (NICW), Search by name, Search by ancestral surname, the list of ancestral surnames for each match and other information is exactly where it has always been located. Nothing else changed on the Match page except your ability to select 7 people instead of just 5.

The Chromosome Browser

The new chromosome browser tool looks different. A lot different. It’s also much more intuitive.

If you make match selections on your match page and click the chromosome browser button, you see the following page reflecting your choices. The link no longer immediately compares the individuals in the chromosome browser.

Your match list is shown to the right of the selected individuals, shown at left.

This is also the page where you land if you click the Chromosome Browser button on your dashboard.

From Your Dashboard

If you don’t click on your Matches button first, and click directly on the Chromosome Browser button, this is what you’ll see.

Your matches are shown at right, and when you select them, they will appear on the list at left.

Select as many as 7. You’ll see them appear to the left as you make your selections.


To aid in your selection, you can utilize the filter above the matches to view only specific levels of matches.

The “name search,” at upper right, searches for an individual match with that first or last name.

However, if you enter the full name, it finds that individual person, so if you know you want to compare Uncle Rex Doe’s kit, you just search for his name as Rex, Doe or Rex Doe.

This page does NOT search the ancestral surnames. If you want to do that, you need to work from the matches page which does search for people with that ancestral surname in their Ancestral Surname List.

I’m very glad to see this new search feature for matches at the browser level. It makes searching for a particular match a LOT easier.

Notice that not all of the match information is available on this page. X matching, match date, linked relationships and ancestral surnames are only available on the Matches page.

The icons for contacting matches, notes and the tree are also only available on the Matches page.

However, a new field is available here, the number of shared segments. This number includes segments to the 1cM level so long as they are 500 SNPs or larger. For most (nonresearch) purposes, I generally use segments of 7cM or larger, although I do sometimes want to see smaller segments.

At right, the In Common With and Not In Common With functions are available by clicking on the three dots:

In Common With and Not In Common With

The In Common With (ICW) and Not In Common With (NICW) features have been greatly improved.

By selecting an individual, such as William Sterling Estes in this example, then clicking the In Common With (ICW) link, I see all of the people I match in common with William Sterling Estes. Furthermore, the system now automatically puts William Sterling Estes into my match list. By making additional selections from that ICW list and adding them to the list, I can then easily compare my DNA, that of William Sterling Estes and the people that we both match to determine if we have common matching chromosome segments.

The Not In Common With feature works exactly the same way.


To view the new chromosome browser, click on the orange compare button at the bottom of the list. It’s so large you can’t miss it!

Chromosome Browser Format

The new chromosome browser itself looks a LOT different. To begin with, the color and design of the chromosomes themselves has changed. There is now space for 7 people in the comparison on each chromosome, plus you as the “background” person that those 7 are being compared to.

Chromosomes 1-5 with 7 matches being compared to me are shown below. At the top of the page, the colors of the segments are coded by the colors at the top of the profile placards of the matches I selected.

You can view information about any individual by clicking on their profile button.

By clicking on the Update Selected Matches button, at right above the chromosomes, you can change the individuals being compared.

Now, let’s take a look at how to interpret these matches.

Reading the Results

As before, the centromere is notated by the little white “waists” in each chromosome, and the light grey represents regions not tested, so you won’t see matches there.

Please note that you can click any image to enlarge.

Notice Charlene, the navy blue person match on my chromosome 1.

Reading left to right, we have:

  • At the beginning of the chromosome, dark grey tested region with no match
  • Beginning with the red box, navy blue match region
  • Light grey untested region, crossing centromere and continuing until small navy blue region
  • The entire small tested region is navy blue, indicating a match
  • Small light grey untested region
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match
  • Navy blue region that does match to the end of the red box
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match to the end of the chromosome

We would read this as 2 matching segments, not 3, with the first large navy segment and the tiny middle navy segment forming one contiguous segment across the centromere and untested regions. The third navy part of that chromosome is a separate matching segment, because it’s separated from the first two by a darker grey area that is tested but does not match.

By positioning your cursor over the colored portions of the chromosome, and waiting for a second or so, the information about that specific segment will appear.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

Downloading Just These Matching Segments

Clicking on Download Segments, the blue link at right just above chromosome 1 downloads just the information in a csv file for the people currently being compared in the browser. It does not download all of your matches. That feature is elsewhere.


The default minimum centiMorgans display view is still 5, and you can select 1, 5, 7 or 10. All matches displayed are 500 SNPs or larger.

Detailed Segment Data

Another new feature is the Detailed Segment Data tab. Click to view.

In essence, this is the same information as the csv download file, except you don’t have to download the file and you don’t have to know anything about Excel. However, you can’t sort this data by chromosome like you can in a spreadsheet.

You can select which DNA match you wish to view, one by one.

I hope that Family Tree DNA will add the feature of being able to sort each column.

Downloading All Matches

For those interested in downloading all matches, not just the matches displayed, you can perform that function at the bottom of your matches page:

Or at the bottom of the initial Chromosome Browser selection page, but BEFORE you click on compare.

Quick Reference Feature Navigation Chart

I’m always grateful for new features and updates, but sometimes new features feel a bit like someone rearranged the furniture in the room while you were sleeping. I’ve created a quick reference chart to show you what’s available where and to help you navigate.


I like the updated chromosome browser as well as the new In Common With feature. The new browser facilitates 7 comparisons at once and is a LOT more user friend with new ease-of-use features. The new ICW page eliminates several steps and confusion that exists when trying to use the function from the Matches page.

I’m hoping that this update is a new skin in preparation for more nifty new features, such as triangulation. Hint, hint, Family Tree DNA. Christmas is coming😊



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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Countdown: MyHeritage LIVE in Oslo or Bust

Just two weeks, and you know what is happening?

If you said the MyHeritage LIVE User Conference in Oslo, you would be right.

I’m so excited! I can hardly wait!


This promises to be a wonderful conference with 20 speakers and panelists presenting over 2 days.

You can take a look here for yourself and then scroll down for the schedule.


The only hard part will be choosing which sessions to attend!

Three tracks are offered: Genealogy, DNA and Workshops.

For some reason, I’m partial to the DNA track. Just sayin’😊

If you’re attending MyHeritage LIVE, I’ll see you in the DNA track at 4:30 on Saturday for the panel discussion DNA, Genealogy and Privacy which is MCed by Thomas MacEntee with Prof. Yaniv Erlich and yours truly.

Yes, I said MCed. If you know Thomas, well, you’ll appreciate why I said that. If you don’t know Thomas, please come and get to know all of us.

Here’s a picture of Thomas MacEntee from Rootstech. You just know looking at him how much fun he is!

On Sunday at 3:30, I’ll be with Prof. Yaniv Erlich again along with Dick Eastman discussing What’s Next for Genetic Genealogy?

As you might guess, this is one of my favorite topics.


There are still a few tickets for MyHeritage LIVE available for 100 Euro, about $115 US, which is a great value. Your all-inclusive ticket provides:

  • Reception with drinks on Friday night
  • Choice of lectures and workshops on Saturday and Sunday
  • Lunches on both Saturday and Sunday
  • Party with live band on Saturday night

That’s some bargain!

To register, keep scrolling to the bottom until you see the registration form.

I just checked airfares and there are some great deals out there. It’s not too late.

Have you ever been to Oslo? Me either, and I’m going to treat myself to Norwegian culture after the conference. Food, chocolate, museums, how can any of that be bad?

My Heritage did me the favor of detailing the Top 5 Destinations You Should Visit in Oslo over MyHeritage LIVE.

Registration Discount for My Friends

I received an e-mail from MyHeritage saying if I referred a friend, the friend would receive a 25% discount upon registration if they use the following code at checkout.

All my blog followers are my friends, so here you go:


Now, the deal is even sweeter. Please friends, in Oslo, make a point of introducing yourself and tell me you’re a blog follower!

Excuse Me, Did You Say Party?

Not that a party would influence you one way or another. Right? Of course not, but let’s just say that the MyHeritage parties are legendary.

At Rootstech, earlier this year, this photo was taken of me with Gilad Japhet, the Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. If you’re wondering about the orange feather bouquet, it was a flapper theme party with many people in full costume.

Gilad, of course, will be our host in Oslo, and you’ll see him at all of the events. He’s opening with the keynote and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find him speaking at one or both lunches and the closing session. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Gilad speak, it’s the equivalent of going to a genealogy revival. You leave unbelievably stoked and inspired!

Can’t Go?

Bummer. I’m really sorry.

However, since I’m attending, I’ll see what I can do to help out. Is there something in particular you want to learn? I don’t mean a question about your own personal genealogy, but a more general question.

Let me give you an example.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out which features and functions are included with each subscription level or package. I just can’t get it straight, so one of my goals is to come back with an answer and if a chart doesn’t exist, to make one for you.

Is there something in particular that you’d like to understand better about MyHeritage DNA or products? I’m not making any promises, but I’ll do my best on your behalf.

If so, post your question in the blog comments.

Social Media – #MHLIVE2018

If you follow any type of social media, including Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, follow the hashtag #MHLIVE2018 during the conference.

Daniel Horowitz, the MyHeritage Genealogy Expert will be posting on all 3, as will other attendees.

I’ll be blogging from the conference daily, assuming of course that I have decent Wi-Fi. Don’t forget that you can subscribe to this blog for free (if you don’t already) by clicking on the grey “follow” button in the upper right hand corner and every article will automatically come directly to your email inbox.

Harnessing the Power

We’ve never had more or better tools!

In order to fully harness the power of genealogical research today, it’s essential to test your DNA and let the gift of your ancestors work for you to find them. The MyHeritage combination of DNA, trees and records is second to none and I would encourage you to order DNA kits for yourself and family members by clicking here.

If you have already tested at either Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, LivingDNA or 23andMe, you can upload your results for FREE between now and December 1st. The upload will always be free, as will matching, but after December 1, some of the advanced tools will require payment. So, upload today.



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

Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.


Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.



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