Notre Dame and Me – 52 Ancestors #235

Not only is the week preceding Easter a religiously significant week for Christianity, it is as well for Jews who celebrate Passover, the root of Christendom’s Good Friday. The Sunni sect of Islam also fasts in observance of Passover. These religions all have their roots in the same place, just as we are all related to each other.

If Easter, Passover and their associated rites in the various religions that mark these days as Holy are emotion-filled in their own right, this past week has been exponentially so.

Notre Dame fire

By LeLaisserPasserA38 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A few days ago, on April 15th, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, not quite to the ground, but was extremely damaged in the inferno. The attic of the cathedral, known as “the forest” because of the extremely long old-growth oak trees that were harvested about the year 1160 for beams went up like tender. The walls and towers remain, along with the famous medieval rose stained-glass windows.

Notre Dame rose windows

By Julie Anne Workman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As fate would have it, many of the statues on the roof and spire had been removed due to ongoing renovation. The treasures inside were passed, hand to hand, through a chain of firefighters to remove them as the fire burned through the roof and before the flames engulfed the upper reaches of the cathedral.

A stunned world watched Notre Dame burn for hours, staring breathlessly as night fell and the fire moved along the roofline, consuming everything in its path, like a hungry monster. The spire flamed dramatically, like a torch, then toppled, falling through the roof into the church, leaving skeletal scaffolding surrounding a black hole.

The fire photo above is the only one that I’m sure is copyright-free, being found on Wikipedia, but the images below are the result of a Google search.

Notre Dame google fire.png

One of the images, the third row from the top, third photo from the left, is horribly beautiful. God, Mother Nature or whatever name you call the Deity, created fire, and man created Notre Dame. The fire illuminated the cathedral and backlit the oldest Rose Window, the one without stained glass. Later images show the fire burning through the round window, licking the stones above.

Je Suis Dévastée

I spent the summer of 1970 traveling and living in Switzerland, studying French and culminating with a trip to Paris where we took up residence in a youth hostel for a week or two. We enjoyed a combination of student and tourist activities.

The midwestern city where I grew up supported a large Catholic church and school along with many smaller Protestant churches, but I never realized the differences between Catholicism and the Methodist and Baptist churches that I attended. The extent of my consciousness was that every church had their own “rules.” My perception was that “God” was entirely the same regardless and only man’s “church rules” varied. Therefore, I paid little mind to those differences.

I mention this because it sets the stage for my visit to Notre Dame.


Paris in August is stiflingly hot. Air conditioning in Europe is rare and was nonexistent in 1970. That didn’t matter, because nothing was air-conditioned in Indiana either.

As students, we noticed the heat, but it didn’t slow us down.

We spent our days on foot, exploring beautiful Paris and her architectural wonders. I distinctly remember feeling immediately at home in Paris, as if I had been there before – long before. I seemed to remember my way along streets that hadn’t changed much since Medieval times to places I’d never been.

I had no way of knowing that my ancestor, Jacques de Bonnevie, was born in Paris about 1660 and was probably baptized in Notre Dame.

I made my way to the Eiffel Tower, the L’Eglise de Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the Church at Les Invalides and many parks and historic buildings.

As had been my practice during my trip, I found a local church of some description and slipped into the back row on Sunday mornings. Generally, I managed to slip out again, unnoticed, just as the services ended. My interest was as much cultural as religious, but I enjoyed the wide variety of experiences that were beyond what could be found at home.

My time in Paris was drawing to a close. I had one day left. I decided to go on one final walk-about in the city, knowing with certainty that some wonderful adventure awaited. Not one student in my group was interested in accompanying me, but another young man also staying in the hostel, Jon, wanted to go.

Jon and I set out, walking the streets of Paris in the early morning mist, before the city was quite awake. We marveled at wrought iron gates and old limestone buildings with their guardian gargoyles. If there had been selfies back then, we would have taken several as we laughed, talked and walked.

Eventually, we held hands, not as lovers but as fast friends, enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience that no one else in the world would ever have. Just the two of us on that last, wonderful, day in Paris.

We walked towards the oldest, most historic part of town with the intention of strolling along the Seine River, land of artists, students, peace, love and happiness. The next day, we would forever be parted, so today would be filled with nothing but joy.


As Jon and I approached the Seine and began to cross the bridge, Pont de la Tournelle, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was Notre Dame, “Our Lady,” standing sentry on Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine which is also the middle of both historical and contemporary Paris.

1970 Paris Notre Dame

As we stood on the bridge, I took this photo. I didn’t realize at that point in time that the building I was staring at intently was indeed the famous Notre Dame. Jon knew.

What I did know beyond a doubt was that I absolutely HAD to go inside that building. Jon mentioned that it probably wasn’t free, so he and I began counting our money to see how much we had between us.

My status as a student meant that anything requiring an entrance fee was beyond my means. Furthermore, I had spent every last dime of discretionary funds, given that it was my last day in Europe and the money I brought had been rationed across months, day by day.

Jon and I enjoyed our walk along the Seine, from the bridge to Notre Dame, drinking in the ambiance of the lovely day. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was oppressive, but we didn’t care. We found shade along the banks of the river, sitting and talking about our dreams for the future amid the background chatter of others.

Notre Dame is massive and has the effect of making one feel minuscule and inconsequential. I hadn’t yet learned that the cathedral was 800 years old, give or take a few years, but it was obviously enormous, exquisite in every detail and wonderfully historic.

Notre Dame buttresses.jpg

The flying buttresses were fascinating and incredible. I knew nothing of architecture or engineering, but I knew enough to appreciate the uniqueness of Notre Dame. At that time, I had no idea just how extraordinary the cathedral actually was.

I had developed an affinity for gargoyles during my stay in Europe, which I retain to this day.

Notre Dame strix.jpg

Jon and I enjoyed spying the gargoyles and other stone carved figures, making up stories about what they were thinking or doing, then laughing at our silliness.

Notre Dame gargoyles.jpg

That day could have lasted forever.

Finally, we approached the gargantuan doors of the cathedral, our tone becoming a bit more somber.

Notre Dame cathedral

By GuidoR – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We were relieved to discover that admission to the cathedral itself was free although access to some features required payment.

Grateful, we crossed the threshold, leaving the hubbub of the city behind as we entered a cool, tranquil sanctum. The stone walls absorbed any noise and the cavernous interior transported us back in time before the era of cars and horns. We left 1970 behind.

Our eyes needed time to adjust to the darkness. It seemed that in those moments, we had entered another world and found ourselves transported to the past when our vision cleared.

I remember the opulence of the interior, and that Notre Dame was unquestionably the largest church I’d ever seen or been inside of – staggering in its enormity.

I didn’t understand the significance of the Catholic symbols, icons or relics, but I certainly understood the historical importance and unparalleled beauty of the building.

I understood, felt in my bones, the deep silence and peace – the respite within those ancient sheltering walls.

As my vision adapted to the darkness, the light entering through the rose window at the end of the nave was what my eye was immediately drawn towards.

Notre Dame nave.jpg

The people here did not seem like tourists, or at least not like the tourists I was used to. They were quiet, subdued and respectful, and I think of them as my co-pilgrims on a journey of discovery and enlightenment.

It’s just that many of us had no idea we were on any such journey.

While the rose windows were not the only stained-glass windows, their position, centered in the distance meant that your eye, and in my case, my body was drawn intensely towards them.

Like a moth to a flame.

As I walked towards the windows, I passed a small table where pilgrims could purchase a candle. Not the votive candles of today, but a tall, thin hand-dipped imperfect candle, maybe 10 or 12 inches long.

The candles weren’t free. I purchased one for a few coins and started to walk, with my unlit candle, towards the rose window, entirely mesmerized. A priest who was selling the candles and helping the pilgrims light them with another candle motioned me to do the same.

I looked confused, and then the Priest looked confused too. Not being Catholic, I didn’t understand the meaning of prayer candles. I did, however, comprehend the fact that a ritual was taking place, and I very much wanted to be a part of the community of ritual in this sacred space.

It didn’t seem as much religious as it did spiritual and inclusive. A human experience.

I lit my candle, but I didn’t cross myself which also served to confuse the Priest. Apparently, he wasn’t used to unschooled non-Catholic teenagers purchasing and lighting candles.

However, even though I lit my candle, I still wanted a candle as my souvenir, so I purchased a second one. Now the Priest was thoroughly confused, especially as I left the group surrounding the candle altars and began walking, alone, carrying my candle, transfixed, towards the rose window.

Notre Dame rose window.jpg

There are no words to describe what I felt.

The window transported my spirit to another time and place, not of this world. I was entranced, hypnotically drawn into the surreal beauty that seemed ethereal.

The darkness of the church seemed to allow the window, the light and the color to illuminate my soul, opening it like a flower, a rose, to the wonder of beauty, contrast and color that would endure for the rest of my life. A divine seed was being sewn in fertile soil that I didn’t understand existed.

Even today, this window has a trance-like spellbinding effect on me, as do other mandalas, including the labyrinth I constructed in my yard.

This life-defining experience initiated a chain reaction of events that won’t end until I “walk on” at the end of my life.

I don’t know how long I spent in Notre Dame that day. I have very little recollection of anything inside except for the transformative experience with the candle and the window. I kept looking for and at the rose window, from every angle, as if it were an ever-present peaceful anchor beckoning in a sea of turmoil.

If you’re lost, just look for the orienting window to find your way. It’s always there.

Jon and I left when the cathedral closed and they shooed us out.

That candle remained among my possessions for many years and life-chapters, even though it broke and cracked. Eventually, life’s events consumed the candle itself, but never the effects of Notre Dame on my life. Notre Dame infused me with my love of history, and more, much more.

Far beyond a building or a church and having nothing to do with a specific religion, Notre Dame was, to me, a place of transition or metamorphosis, a portal from this world finding passage into the infinite beauty of the eternal soul.

My experience in Notre Dame was more a nearly-invisible signal than an epiphany. I had no idea at the time what was so subtly occurring and would only connect the dots, slowly, decades later – in part as I watched Notre Dame burn. Many times a well-placed pebble sets us on our life-path.

So yes, as I sat, horrified, watching the flames consume Notre Dame, I truly was devastated. A little part of me died too as I desperately sought to see my beloved rose window in the footage as the fire burned.

I, along with the rest of the digitally-connected world watched helplessly, and to some extent, hopelessly.


I was torn between the stark contrast of devastating loss and the surreal beauty of the fire itself. Torn between agonizing loss and hope that not all would be lost. Torn between knowing that Notre Dame is just a building, and that it’s much more.

These are the thoughts that, in no particular order, raced through my mind at various times as I watched throughout the day, and night:




Witness to history




National symbol



Ave Maria




What happened to Jon?

Rose windows

Shared sorrow

World history







Slow agony









Can’t rebuild the past











Holy Week



Crown of Thorns



Beyond Catholic


Beyond Religious

800 years

32 lifetimes












Human chain

Stab in our collective hearts



Everyone’s past


Not permanent

World heritage








This too shall pass

And there I stopped, because I realized that yes, this too shall pass. Just like Passover in the Jewish faith and Good Friday with the story of the Resurrection in the Christian faith. The end is not necessarily the end. There can be hope, resurrection and salvation even after torturous trials. Notre Dame is metaphorical for all of humanities’ struggles.

Notre Dame is but a building, albeit an incredibly iconic historic one. Buildings can be restored and rebuilt. The heart and soul of Notre Dame is the heights that she inspires people to achieve, the good that she invests in the human condition and the light she shines on the future. Her value is not the building itself, but what she represents, the values she embodies and the inspiration she provides.

Indeed, this dark chapter too shall pass, perhaps uniting and unifying disparate people. Maybe there is a larger lesson in her destruction and rebirth – one for all of humanity. Perhaps this too is a seed of renewal. I hope we comprehend and internalize the message in our current generation and ones that follow.

If so, the hope, inspiration and beauty that Notre Dame infused in me and the seeds she yet holds to plant will live on immortally to guide others and cradle them eternally in her rose-colored, transcendent, illuminating light.

DNA Day Sale at Family Tree DNA

Family-Tree-DNA logo

Every year we look forward to Family Tree DNA’s DNA Day sale which starts today and ends April 25th.

This year, virtually everything is on sale – single tests, bundles of different tests, upgrades and even SNP packs for Y DNA testers.

For those who need a primer on the different kinds of tests, the article 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a quick read.

DNA Day 2019 single tests

Bundles are great values.

DNA Day 2019 bundles.png

If you’ve already taken a Y DNA test, now’s the time to upgrade!

DNA Day 2019 upgrades.png

I wrote about the Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 upgrade and what to expect here.

Know what you want already?

Click here to order!

If you’re a new customer, purchase from the main page.

If you already have an account, sign in and click on “Add Ons and Upgrades” at the top right above the banner on your personal page.

DNA Day 2019 upgrade button.png

Even SNP Packs for Advanced Y Testers are on Sale

Please note that if you have taken or upgrade to the Big Y test, you don’t need to purchase a SNP pack.

SNP packs are an upgrade for those men who have already tested Y DNA STR panels 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 who seek to verify haplogroup branches on the Y tree without taking the Big Y test. The good news is that SNP packs are less expensive than the Big Y. The bad news is that SNP packs test only a fraction of the available SNPs and they make no new discoveries. If you’re uncertain about what to purchase, I would recommend talking to your surname or haplogroup administrator about your goals for testing.

My personal preference is for the Big Y-700 because of the advanced testing capabilities, the additional STR markers, additional matches and the fact that discoveries can be made with the Big Y test. In other words, new SNPs, meaning potential new haplogroups can be discovered with the Big Y, while SNP packs test existing SNPs to place a person further down on the tree.

If you’re interested in SNP packs, they are almost never on sale, but they are now.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack.png

If you want to order a SNP pack, click here to sign on to your account, then click on the blue upgrade button beside your Y DNA results.

DNA Day 2019 Y upgrade button.png

Next, you’ll see several selections, so click on “Buy Now” under Advanced Tests.

DNA Day 2019 advanced test.png

Next, select SNP Pack.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack select.png

Then choose the appropriate SNP pack for your haplogroup and testing goals.

No matter which tests you select, you’ll be enjoying the results and new matches soon!



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Thank you so much.

Using Ancestry’s New Match Grouping Dots aka “MyMatchDots”

I’d like to say that yesterday’s article titled “Using Ancestry’s Tree Tags” was a little test to see if you were paying attention, but it wasn’t.

I conflated two different new features, and today, I’d like to straighten that out.

First, a shout out to Paula Williams for catching this. Thank you.

What Happened?

Flat out – I messed up. Mea culpa.

Ancestry introduced several new beta features at the same time. Cumulatively, it’s a big change. The functionality is interconnected AND they don’t all work reliably or consistently, so it’s more than a little confusing, or at least it obviously was for me. There is also no “i” information button describing the new features or providing instructions. However, I did find information on MyTreeTags in Ancestry Support here and grouping of matches using colored dots here.

Grouping matches using colored dots also doesn’t have a “name” like MyTreeTags, so it was easy to conflate with the tags. I wish they had named the grouping dots something like “MyMatchDots” to clearly differentiate the function from MyTreeTags, especially since they were released at the same time. Therefore, I’m referring to them at “MyMatchDots” because that’s a lot easier than “grouping matches using colored dots.”

I wasn’t just flying blind. I did watch the training video and thought I understood, but clearly I didn’t have all the moving pieces and parts straight. Maybe you don’t either, and this will help.

There is no graceful recovery here, except to apologize and fix the issue by publishing the correct information.

The good news is that I described the functionality of the colored dots for grouping matches (MyMatchDots) accurately.

The bad news is that I called it by the wrong name in the title and I referred to the colored grouping dots as “tags.” Seemed like a perfectly fitting name to me. Somehow, now I need to bleach that out of my mind. MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots…

The error, or course, HAD to be obvious AND in the title – a publishing sin that’s simply non-recoverable. Just like the tool you drop will roll to dead center under the table, bed or the vehicle where you can’t possible reach it. In case anyone had any doubt, Murphy lives!

So, from time to time, those of us who publish just get to suck it up and issue a correction. Today it’s my turn. Thank you for your tolerance and understanding.

One positive aspect – I’ve included additional information about MyMatchDots as well, based on questions and comments from the earlier article.

Groups (MyMatchDots) and MyTreeTags – the Difference

There are now two methods of grouping at Ancestry.

Groups (MyMatchDots) – Colored grouping dots that I described in the original article and am republishing below. I have deleted the earlier article with the incorrect title. The instructions for how to use match grouping dots in that article were and are accurate, but I’ve updated here.

MyMatchDots and MyTreeTags are different in that grouping dots (MyMatchDots) allow you to select up to 24 colored dots to append to and tag YOUR DNA MATCHES on your match list.

MyTreeTags – Tree tags allow you to tag people IN YOUR TREE, living or deceased, with predefined or custom tags.

Here’s a quick screenshot of examples of MyTreeTags as part of a new beta Workspace. In the next few days, I’ll publish an article with examples of how to activate and use MyTreeTags and more about the beta Workspace.

MyTreeTags beta workspace

What follows is the re-publication of yesterday’s instructions for defining and using the colored grouping dots, plus, how to sort and filter using the colored groupings (MyMatchDots.)

Using Ancestry’s New Color Grouping Dots (MyMatchDots)

One of Ancestry’s new beta features is their grouping feature using colored dots that’s I’m referring to as MyMatchDots – my name, not theirs. To enable, you need to click on “Extras” on the top black menu bar, then “Ancestry Lab” on the dropdown, then enable both MyTreeTags and New and Improved DNA Matches.

Ancestry lab.png

No, I don’t know what happens if you only enable one of the features, or turn them off and on. These features seem to be pretty tightly coupled. Feel free to experiment, but I haven’t.

Your DNA Matches

Everyone utilizes matching differently, for different purposes. Your goal should be to devise a grouping methodology that will support the way you are using DNA matching.

I’m showing you how I’m utilizing the colored dots for grouping my matches, and why, but your preferred method and mine may not be at all the same.

Next, click on DNA Matches.

Ancestry matches with tags.png

This shows my closest 2nd cousin matches. You’ll notice that many don’t have trees, or have unlinked trees, but since these are second cousin matches, it was relatively easy for me to figure out quickly which lines they descend from based on who I match in common with them. You can see my comments just below “Add/edit groups” and the little colored dots.

The little colored dots (MyMatchDots) are the group identifiers that I’ve added to each match.

By clicking on the “Add/edit groups” to the right of the colored dots, you can view the legend, meaning the groups you’ve defined. This is what you’ll see every time you want to group someone.

Ancestry tags.png

Notice that the first person, which is my own V2 (version 2) kit, is showing with a green dot, meaning I’ve identified the common ancestor. I could select any number of dots that I’ve defined, or I could define more dots by creating a custom group.

Ancestry custom groups.png

You have 24 colors to select from. I know that sounds like a lot, but you’ll need to do some planning.

MyMatchDots Grouping Strategy

I thought about creating a maternal and paternal match group, but that seemed like a waste of colored dots, so for now, I haven’t. The only way I have to identify maternal and paternal at Ancestry, because neither parent is available to test there, is via known ancestors – and that information is immediately evident to me by the comment indicating the common ancestor.

I tried to think about how I would use the colored dots for sorting.

I decided on the stop light analogy. A green dot for “identified ancestor,” yellow for either “probably identified” or darker yellow for “speculative,” and red for “I’m working on this but it’s tough.” In other words, red means not yet identified. No colored dot means I haven’t worked on that match.

I made both “messaged” and “private” both darker red dots, because often those are used together when I have a show stopper. I want to revisit matches in both of those categories, so I’ll want to be able to sort for them to see if:

  • trees have become public
  • more helpful shared matches exist
  • messages have been answered and I didn’t notice

What’s Missing?

Did you notice what’s missing? That little green leaf on your match list indicating that this person is a DNA match AND has a shared ancestor.

Ancestry common ancestors dropdown.png

While Ancestry just recently re-indexed the trees, the Shared Ancestor Hint “Common Ancestors” leaf is still missing on the matches page where it used to be displayed. I’m hopeful that it will be back as an icon on the match list.

Worse yet, when you click on the “Common Ancestors” filter to display only common ancestors, this error message appears.

Ancestry common matches.png

I do have common ancestor matches – 704 of them to be exact.

Let’s hope that this is a temporary glitch that will be fixed soon.

For me, being able to see the green leaf on my full match list is extremely important because I want to be able to quickly discern which of those matches have shared ancestors.

Fortunately, I made a note for each shared ancestor previously identified, so I sorted for “Notes” in order to group appropriately.

Ancestry notes.png

However, if you haven’t already made those notes, then sorting for notes isn’t useful.

If your account displays Common Ancestors when you select that option, skip to the “Ideas for Using MyMatchDot Groups” section of this article.

If your account does NOT display Common Ancestors, read the Work-Around section, next.


Utilizing my “regular” kit, which does NOT have ThruLines because I have two kits attached to “me” on the same tree, I can group by color (as you’ve seen), but Common Ancestors green leaf function is broken.

Utilizing my second kit V2 kit, which DOES have ThruLines, I can click on “704 Shared Ancestor Hints” from my main DNA Summary page or select the “Common Ancestors” dropdown.

Ancestry shared ancestor links.png

This works.

Ancestry common ancestor leaf.png

I understand that you can “force” common ancestors sorting to work on kits without ThruLines by toggling the Beta option for Advanced Matching to off, but after all the work I just did grouping all 704 of my shared matches, I’m not willing to risk losing all of those dots to test this workaround. The Beta “off” or “on” is for the entire account, not for each individual kit on the account.

What I will do, shortly, is to create a “twin” in my tree and connect my kit that doesn’t have ThruLines to that twin so both kits aren’t attached to “me.” That may or may not solve the problem.

If you do NOT have ThruLines yet, and you want to retain any existing New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), you must do so before you make a change that enables ThruLines, because NADs are gone on my account that HAS ThruLines, but they exist on the account without ThruLines. NADs have not been updated in many months, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to retain the existing information. I wrote about how to archive both your Circles and NAD information in this article. My account with ThruLines did retain the Circles. You can toggle back and forth from having ThruLines to not having Thrulines to view your NADs, but eventually, I’m sure they will disappear.

Sorting MyMatchDots

Now that you have matches grouped by color, how do you sort for those clusters? On your matches page, the dropdown for “All matches” shows the groups as well as reports how many people are in each group.

Ancestry groups sort

Ideas for MyMatchDot Groups 

I’ve shared my MyMatchDot grouping strategy, but I’ve kind of stumbled around playing with what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything.

One person mentioned to me that they are using dots to identify Leeds clusters. I wrote about the Leeds Method in this article which includes links to several articles by Dana Leeds who developed the methodology. She has also written this update. I may group based on Leeds clusters as well as the group dots I’ve already defined.

The great news is that you can assign any number of colored dots, through 24, for groups associated with any individual match.

Someone else mentioned that they were initially grouping based on Genetic Affairs clusters, but matches can change clusters, especially if the thresholds change, so that might not be such a good idea.

In the next article, we’ll talk about how to activate and use MyTreeTags.

Nicholas Speaks (1782-1852), Founder of Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church – 52 Ancestors #234

Nicholas Speak, Speake or Speaks, depending on who was spelling it when, was an ancestor who reunited a family some 200 years after his birth on March 3, 1782 in Charles County, Maryland.

In the 1980s, when I first connected to the Speak line, I found my wonderful cousins, Dolores Ham and Lola-Margaret Hall.

Lola Margaret at church door cropped

Lola-Margaret assembled a great deal of research in order to portray Sarah Faires, Nicholas’s wife. Lola-Margaret above and shown here presenting “Sarah’s likeness” in the very church established by Nicholas.

Nicholas Speaks Dolores Ham.jpg

When I began researching Nicholas, cousin Dolores had already been on his trail for years. I am greatly indebted to both of my cousins for their diligent research and for sharing so freely. Nicholas has not been an easy ancestor to research.

Thank you.

Nicholas’s Birth

Nicholas was born to Charles Beckworth or Beckwith Speak and his wife whose identity remains unknown, in Charles County Maryland.

Nicholas Speaks birth.png

You’d never guess by the fact that Nicholas eventually established a Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia, but Nicholas was born Catholic. Someplace between Charles County, Maryland and Lee County, Virginia about 1820, Nicholas not only converted, he became a minister in the Methodist faith.

We don’t know much about Nicholas’s young years, but we do know that by 1787, his father, Charles, appears on a tax list in Rowan County, NC. Nicholas would have been about 5. Nicholas probably remembered little, if anything, about Maryland. We don’t know how long the family had lived in North Carolina prior to 1787.

Nicholas’s mother died sometime between his birth and July 16, 1789 when his father remarried to Jane or Jean Conners in Rowan County. If I had to guess, and I do, I would surmise that Nicholas’s mother died in North Carolina not terribly long before his father remarried, because raising children alone for a father in frontier North Carolina would have been next to impossible.

In 1789, Nicholas would have been 7 years old.

By 1793, Charles had purchased land in Iredell County, NC, which is located just east of the Appalachian mountain range.

Nicholas Speaks Iredell County.png

We don’t know exactly what, but something unfortunate happened, and Charles died before September 1794 when his estate was sold.

At this time, Nicholas would have been all of 12 years old, an orphan in a location with little family.

In May of 1795, guardianship of Nicholas and his siblings, Joseph, Thomas, John and James was assigned to one Richard Speaks for the boys and one Elizabeth Speaks for Nicholas’s sister, Elizabeth Speaks. Who are Richard and Elizabeth Speaks? How are they related to each other? We have no idea, but they were clearly kin of some description. We also have no idea what happened to any of Nicholas’s siblings.

What became of Nicholas’s step-mother, Jane or Jean? We don’t have the answer to that either – however – given the fact that the guardianship was not made until probably nearly a year after Charles death, I wonder if the children were living with Jane/Jean and something happened to her too during this time period.

Nicholas and his 4 brothers went to live with Richard who apparently lived in Rowan County on Bear Creek which intersects with the Yadkin River through the South Yadkin.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek.png

Bear Creek originates about 15 miles north of the Yadkin in a lake near 398 Log Cabin Road today.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek length.png

Nicholas lived someplace along this wooded creek which essentially parallels the road, above.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek near mountains.png

By 1797, Richard Speaks sold land in Rowan County on Bear Creek as a resident of Washington County, Tennessee – so apparently Nicholas, now 15, moved with his guardian, because that’s where we find Nicholas first appearing in the records a few years later.

Nicholas Speaks Washington County.png

It would be here that Nicholas met Sarah Faires or Farris whose father, Gideon, is noted in Survey Book I in 1781 as being entitled to 250 acres and stating that actual settlement was made in 1768. Sarah grew up on the frontier.

Washington County was the land of land and opportunity. Nicholas was probably relieved to stay in one place for a few years. His journey from Zachia Manor in Maryland to Rowan County, to Iredell County, back to Rowan and then to Washington County, Virginia, combined with the deaths of his mother, father and step-mother had to be unnerving for a young man. Perhaps they would have destroyed a lesser man, but they may have served to forge Nicholas’s personality and steel him for the future.

Nicholas Speaks Maryland to Washington Co.png

Yes, Nicholas needed to settle down for awhile and stay put.

Wedding Bells

Seven years after arriving in Washington County, Virginia, on August 12, 1804, at the age of 22, Nicholas Speaks married Sarah Faires.

NIcholas Speaks marriage.jpg

The marriage was performed by the Rev. Charles Cummings, a Presbyterian minister reflecting the faith of Sarah’s family. Rev. Cummings is buried at Sinking Springs, one of the churches where he preached.

Sarah and Nicholas probably attended either the Ebbing Springs Church (now the Glade Spring Church), or Sinking Springs Presbyterian church in Abington, Washington County, both of which were served by the fiery Reverend Cummings.

Let’s face it, even if Charles Speak and his wife were both practicing Catholics, there were no Catholic churches in the wilderness of the frontier. By the time Nicholas arrived in Washington County with his guardian, the family would have worshiped at whatever local churches existed.

As one of my minister friends so succinctly put it years ago, people attended the “church of opportunity” where they lived. Worshiping God was more important to them than the trappings and specific sect rules put in place by different versions of Christianity.

By 1804, Nicholas was a practicing Presbyterian.

The First Hint of Methodism

The first hint of how Nicholas might have become Methodist is held in the journal of Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury stating that he had visited in the home of Gideon Faires.

Asbury was one of the first Methodist Bishops in America, volunteering to travel the colonies, then the frontier, on horseback serving in essence as a horseback-riding missionary.

This suggests that it’s likely that Gideon embraced the faith of this new religion of Methodism, probably sometime after his daughter married in 1804, and possibly after Reverend Cummings death in 1816. Perhaps Sarah and Nicholas were also inspired by this new faith as Methodist circuit riders traveled the area evangelizing the new settlers.

The Revival of 1800, a series of evangelical “Camp Meetings” in Kentucky and Tennessee combined both Presbyterian and Methodist communion observances and impressed Asbury deeply. The Camp Meetings in which settlers’ entire families would travel sometimes for days by wagon to “camp” at a meeting house (church) or even in a field to hear evangelical preachers became a staple of the frontier social and religious life. These meetings continued into the 1900s in the area of Virginia and Tennessee where Nicholas established the Speaks Methodist Church.

Wikipedia tells us that Asbury preached in myriad places: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, wherever a crowd assembled to hear him. Beginning in 1784 with his ordination and for the remainder of his life he rode an average of 6,000 miles each year, preaching virtually every day and conducting meetings and conferences. Under his direction, the Methodist church grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members and 700 ordained preachers. Nicholas would become be one of them.

According to cousin Dolores:

Nicholas Speak and his family participated in the camp meetings held at the Jonesville Campground, today the site of the Jonesville Campground Methodist Church. The first Camp Meeting was held about 1810, under a brush arbor. In 1827, a shed or tabernacle was constructed in the center of the grounds and covered with clapboards. The original camps were mostly built of logs inside the enclosure of the rock wall. Crude beds, tables and seats were built and left with the camp from year to year. These camps were burned during the Civil War when the Confederate troops camping there left hurriedly without extinguishing their fires.

“In the early days the people came from far and near, by wagon drawn by oxen or horses, by horseback, or walked to worship at the annual camp meeting. They brought with them enough food, bedding, and cooking utensils for their families and friends, also feed for their livestock, to last the duration of the meeting, a week or ten days.” (Early Settlers of Lee County, VA and Adjacent Areas, Volume I, 1977, Anne W. Laningham, pp. 9-10).

Our ancestor, Nicholas Speak, is listed as a participant in the early church minutes pertaining to this campground. In another reference to the camp meeting held at the Jonesville Camp Ground beginning Aug. 13, 1836 (also the time of a “Quarterly Conference”), Nicholas Speak is listed as a L.E. (local elder) and John Speak (son of Nicholas) is listed as a Classleader. (Ibid., pp. 9-10)

Dola Queener, then of Jacksboro, TN, sent me this explanation of Local Elder, since I am not familiar with Methodism. “Elders are ministers who have completed their formal preparation for the ministry of word, sacrament and order; have been elected itinerant members in full connection with an annual conference; and have been ordained elders in accordance with the order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” This comes from “The Book of Discipline 1984, page 219, Article 432-1.”

Elsewhere, I found reference to Nicholas as a “located minister,” which leads me to believe that Nicholas was the pastor of Speaks Chapel Church and did not preach at other churches on a regular basis.

Nicholas Speaks Jonesville campground.jpg

Photo courtesy Dolores Ham.

Life in Washington County, VA

Like Francis Asbury, Nicholas may have traveled to attend Camp Meetings in Tennessee and Kentucky, but he and Sarah lived in Washington County, VA where 9 of their children were born between 1804 and 1822. The last two children were born after the family moved to Lee County, VA about 1823.

Nicholas and Sarah owned land in Washington County, VA. In deed book 4, pages 231-232, we find that on October 17, 1809 William Brown and Elizabeth his wife of Washington County conveyed 60 acres lying on the south side of the Holston River. Unfortunately, the Holston has three branches in present day Washington County, so without running the deeds forward in time, it’s impossible to know which of the three branches hosted Nicholas’s land.

Then, on December 18, 1810, on page 396 of the same book, Nicholas Speak purchased 28 acres from Robert and Jane Caldwell lying on the north side of Little Stone Mountain, adjacent to William Hickenbottom’s land and also to the corner of Mifflin’s land, also in Washington County.

Little Stone Mountain is on the Powell River in present day Wise County, VA, bordering the Jefferson National Forest. This is rough terrain, and no place close to the Holston River. It’s possible that I’ve misidentified this location, but I don’t find another Little Stone Mountain and Wise County was taken from Washington County.

Nicholas Speaks Little Stone Mountain.png

Then, in deed book 5, pages 61 and 170, on February 16, 1813, Nicholas and Sarah sold both tracts to Christopher Ketring of Washington County, Virginia.

Where they lived from 1813 until 1822 when their last child was born in Virginia is a mystery.

Regardless of where they lived, the War of 1812 interrupted their lives.

War of 1812

Nicholas was drafted to served in the War of 1812 on August 15, 1814 and served in the 7th Regiment of the Virginia Militia in the Company of Abram Fulkerson, serving at Fort Barbour at Norfolk, VA.

Fort Barbour

Nicholas was honorably discharged from Fort Barbour (above) on February 22, 1815, making his way the 380+ miles to home, crossing a mountain range, probably on foot.

NIcholas Speaks Norfolk to Washington Co.png

Nicholas’s military file indicates that he was drafted in Virginia August 15, 1814 and served for 6 months and was honorably discharged at Fort Barbour on February 22, 1815.

Thankfully, even though Nicholas had lost his original discharge papers, in 1850, he petitioned for bounty land.

Nicholas Speaks War of 1812 petition.jpg

Nicholas’s petition from the National Archives packet carries his original signature!

Nicholas Speaks War of 1812 petition Sarah.jpg

Following Nicholas’s death in 1852, in May of 1855, Sarah petitioned for another bounty land grant, adding more information. Sarah and says Nicholas was discharged at Norfolk, VA and that he was drafted in Washington Co., VA She also states that they were married in Washington Co., VA in 1803 by Rev. Cummings, the Presbyterian minister. She provides Nicholas death date as well, June 2, 1852. Sarah signed with her mark.

The Move to Lee County, VA

In the 1820 census, Nicholas and family are living in Washington County, VA, but they moved to Lee County before the 1830 census.

Nicholas Speaks is in the 1830 Lee. Co. Va. census age 40-50, wife 30-40, 2 males 5-10, 1 male 10-15, 2 males 15-20, 1 female under 5, 1 female 5-10, 1 female 10-15. Three people were participating in agriculture.

We know the family moved about 1823 when the first land transaction occurred listing Nicholas as living in Washington County. Since the land was purchased in November 1823, did they move yet that winter, or did they wait until warmer weather?

Nicholas Speaks from Robert Cumings, November 29, 1823 – Lee County Deed book 5, page 145.

Nicholas bought another piece of land in 1837.

Nicholas Speaks from Samuel Ewing April 11, 1837 – Lee County Deed book 7, page 302.

We don’t know what motivated the move to Lee County. It appears that Nicholas and Sarah did not own land in Washington County, so the move to Lee County would not have been complicated by land ownership.

By 1824, Nicholas was on the Lee County, VA tax list, photo courtesy either Dolores or Lola-Margaret.

nicholas land entry

The Early Settlers of Lee County, Virginia book features Nicholas Speak on page 947, providing the following information:

Nicholas Speak of Washington Co., VA, on 29 Nov. 1823, purchased a tract of land lying in Lee, Virginia, USA on the head of a small east branch of Martins Creek (now known as Speaks Branch) containing 520 acres, from Robert E. &Mary Cummings of Washington Co. for $780 (DBK 5, 145).

After the purchase of this land, Nicholas Speak removed with his family to Lee Co., and settled on his newly acquired land where he became a well-known citizen and a leader in the County and the community. Nicholas Speak was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was the founder and a piller of the Church bearing his name–Speaks Chapel.

In deed book 8, p. 216A, Nicholas Speak conveyed the land for the Methodist Episcopal Church to Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, of Claiborne Co., TN, and Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs of Lee, Virginia, USA, for one dollar, and specifies that it shall be used for the said church.

Martin’s Creek, Now Speaks Branch

Over time, Martin’s Creek became known as Speak’s Branch.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Branch.jpg

Speaks Branch, the beautiful little spring that sustained Nicholas and family.

Today, this property is located on Speaks Branch Road.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Branch Rd.jpg

Speaks Methodist Church

In 1839, Nicholas insured his legacy, and his church, would last what I’m sure he hoped was forever.

Again, from the Early Settlers book under the title of “A Brief History of Speaks Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church:”

In the year 1839, Nicholas SPEAK, Sr., deed to the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church for their use, a tract of land or lot of land, as shown by deed DBK 8, p. 216A, recorded in Lee, Virginia, USA. The deed is the only written evidence I have been able to find in regard to the church. There is no written evidence in existence telling when the church was organized or by whom.

The original building was a large log structure, with seats made by split logs, with holes bored in them with pins inserted for legs. The heating equipment was made by two box like frames about 5 by 5 feet square, and 12 inches high, which were placed on the floor and filled with earth. In the center of these squares was heaped large piles of charcoal, which served as fuel and heated the building nicely, the smoke passing out through the roof as there was no overhead ceiling. The original building was used to teach school in for many years. I attended my first school there 75 years ago. (M. M. SPEAK) (Note by writer: No date is given for the compilation).

After the Civil War when the “division” came in the church, both branches of the Church used this building for worship for many years. Finally a misunderstanding arose in regard to who was the legal owners of the property. Most of the M.E’s withdrew their membership, and built a church over by Powell River. The church is known as the Fairview M.E. Church. This upheaval became near being the undoing of the two branches of the church in this community as neither has been very prosperous since, but, thankful to a ‘faithful few,’ Speaks Chapel is still functioning.

I am not a member of the Methodist Church but I have always been interested in Speaks Chapel and always will be. My parents and all their people were members of this church. “My sincere hope and prayer is: That God in his mercy and wisdom will help the church at Speaks Chapel to become strong again and once again become a ‘Power for God,’ as it was when I was a boy.

Names of some of the original members: Nicholas Speak, Sr. and wife; Jonathan Haynes & wife; James Bartley and wife; John Speak, Sr. and wife; Tandy Welsh; William Morgan; Adam Yeary; Charles Speak; Nathan Hobbs; Fanny Speak Rosenbaum; Rebecca Speak Rosenbaum; Henderson Rosenbaum; Samuel Speak & wife; William Hardee (Hardy) & wife.

Names of some of the present members now living near Speaks Chapel: Lillie Davis, Susie Levins, Mary Fee, James Rosenbaum, Charlie Ball, J. A. Rosenbaum, Vola King, Charlie Rosenbaum, John Ball, Mrs. Robert Saylor,Emma Edds, Roy DeBusk, Mae DeBusk, Sheffie Rosenbaum.” (Note: Mr. Robert L. Rosenbaum, a descendant of the Speak family, contributed the History of Speaks Chapel by M. M. Speak.)

This account given on pp. 951-952 of “Early Settlers of Lee, Virginia, USA”, as was the following deed. “Deed Book 17, p. 215, 30 May 1874: Samuel Speak, John Speak, James A. Speak, Fanny J. Rosenbalm; to John Speak, Stokely Dagley, Tilman T. Ball, John Botner, William H. Speak, James A. Speak, James Bartley, George Baumgardner, Jonathan Haynes, Fi[e]lding Speak, trustees, grant trustees and their successors…west side of Glade Branch, for the benefit of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church South joingly…free from ourselves, heirs….William A. Speak a justice acknowledged deed, etc.

In a letter to his daughter, Fannie Speak Parrott, Marion Mitchell Speak (b 1866) says, “It was the first church I attended preaching and Sunday School at.” Also, “I attended my first school at the old church house – as there was no school house in the neighborhood when I became school age.

Today, an old school or church bell is installed beside the church although the provenance is unknown.

nicholas church bell

Nicholas assuredly wanted to guarantee that the church would remain viable, which prompted him to deed the acre of land where the church stood to the church trustees, which included his son, Charles Speak.

Cousin Dolores transcribed the deed:

To Tandy Welch, Trustee of Speaks Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church

This Indenture made this ____ day of ____ in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine Between Nicholas Speak of Lee County and State of Virginia of one part and Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs, trustees in trust for the use and purpose herein after mentioned all of the County of Lee and State aforesaid (Morgan, Welch and Yeary of Claiborne County and State of Tennessee) Witnesseth that the said Nicholas Speak for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar in specie to him in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged hath given granted bargained and sold and by these presents doth grant bargain and sell unto the said Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs and their successors (trustees) a certain lot or parcel of land containing one acre and 9 poles lying and being in the county and State aforesaid and bounded as follows Beginning at a white oak on the west side of Glade branch S 150 W 13 poles crossing the branch to a white oak near rocks N700 E 13 poles to a double dogwood & white oak N 150 E 13 poles to a white oak thence a strait line to the Beginning to have and to hold the said tract of land with all appurtenances, and privileges thereunto belonging, or in any ways appertaining unto the said Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs and their successors in office forever for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States according to the rules and disciplin which from time to time may be agreed upon and adopted by the ministers and preachers of the said Church, at their general Conference in the United States. And in further trust and confidence that they shall at all times permit such ministers and preachers, belonging to said M. E. Church to preach and expound the word of God therein. And the said Nicholas Speak doth by these presents warrant and forever defend the before mentioned piece of land with the appurtenances thereto belong unto the before mentioned trustees and their successors in office forever against the claim of all persons whomsoever. In testimony whereof the said Nicholas Speak has hereunto set his hand and seal the day and year aforesaid.

Nicholas Speak {Seal}

At a court of quarter sessions continued and held for Lee County at the courthouse thereof on the 19th day of June 1839 This Indenture of bargain and sale for land between Nicholas Speak of the one part, and Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs of the other part, was acknowledged in open court and ordered to be recorded.

During this time, people came from a significant distance to attend church. Both Tandy Welch and Charles Speak lived in the 4 Mile Creek/Slanting Misery area of Claiborne (now Hancock) County, Tennessee on the Powell River, yet they were obviously faithful members.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Chapel Slanting Misery.png

The earliest known picture of the Speaks Methodist Church is this one taken about 1910. I wonder if the bell was housed in the little steeple structure on top of the church.

Speaks chapel 1910

Another view, judging from the ladder, taken at the same time, photo provided by Dolores Ham.

Nicholas Speaks church 1910.png

The church is small and one room. This photo would have been taken 50 years after the “division” occurred. I can’t help but wonder if the division was precipitated by the Civil War.

This entire region was terribly torn, some fighting and dying for the South, and some for the North. Emotions ran high, not just during the war but for the following half century. Just about everyone had a family member who died in service and some families had members who died fighting for opposite sides. No one was ambivalent.

Nicholas’s son-in-law, William Rosenbalm, died in a Northern Prison Camp and Nicholas’s granddaughter’s husband, Samuel Claxton, died as a result of fighting for the Union. Those are only two examples. These families were ripped apart during and the generation following the Civil War.

Within the family, there is also a persistent rumor of a fire burning the church at one time, but no one seems to have any further information.

speaks chapel 1 cropped

The current church building is this same structure, with a couple of additions, so if a fire occurred, it would have been before roughly 1910. The building in the 1910 photo does not look new, so probably before 1900 if it happened at all. It could possibly have occurred during the Civil War when much unrest occurred in this region and troops from both sides moved through.

Nicholas Speaks church interior 2009

The interior of the church today probably doesn’t look much like the original. You can see more photos by reading the article about when I was baptized in this very church. What a special way to bond with Nicholas with my wonderful cousins in attendance. I felt Nicholas’s presence that day.

For many years, there were less than a dozen church members with a wonderful volunteer minister who could only preach every few weeks. Today many of those members have passed away and the minister is no longer regularly available for the few who are left. I believe the congregation has been combined with another church, and Speaks Chapel is now vacant – which pains my heart terribly.

The future of this historic church and building is uncertain. Currently the Speaks Family Association (SFA) provides some funding for maintenance and upkeep, but without a minister and members, the future may not be as a church.

Nicholas Speaks church commemorative stone.jpg

The Speaks Family Association erected this marker to commemorate the church.

The Cabin

Speaks old cabin cropped

Nicholas’s cabin was abandoned and in grave disrepair in the 1970s. In fact, the family today thought it had simply fallen down and disintegrated, but that wasn’t the case.

Nicholas Speaks cabin 1970s.jpg

The color photo was taken just before what was left of the cabin was disassembled and removed.

Seeing how tiny this cabin actually is, consider that Nicholas and Sarah raised 11 children here, along with several grandchildren.

This is the “mansion house,” Nicholas left in his will for his daughters, Fanny and Rebecca who were not married at the time of his death, which they were to receive after the death of Sarah. “Mansion house” at that time doesn’t have the same connotation that it does today. Mansion house was the primary home on a property. Many mansion houses were referenced as being about 12 by 16 feet, similar to what we see, above.

In the 1970s, a history teacher purchased Nicholas Speak’s cabin for the wood and subsequently, lovingly, integrated it with another cabin left to him by his grandfather.

Nicholas Speaks cabin reconstruction.jpg

The cabin was under re-construction, above.

Nicholas Speaks cabin dovetail corner.jpg

This beautiful building still stands today a few miles away, near Cumberland Gap.

NIcholas Speaks cabin porch.jpg

Not only were the owners extremely gracious and welcoming, inviting us to visit, the view of the Appalachian mountain woodlands is stunning. I could live right here on the porch. I can see myself quilting forever.

NIcholas Speaks cabin welcome.jpg

The owner was extremely generous, inviting me, Lola-Margaret and Dolores to visit and offering us a tour several years ago.

Nicholas Speaks cabin Dolores on porch.jpg

Actually, truth be told, I kidnapped both Lola-Margaret and Dolores and in essence, told them that they both urgently needed to come with me, “right now.” This was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was a now-or-never situation. They hurriedly told their spouses they were leaving the hotel with me, leaving the spouses quite befuddled, and we excitedly got into the car, with me explaining on the way. That conversation started out with, “Well, you’re never going to believe this, but….”

To say this visit seemed surreal is an understatement.

Nicholas Speaks cabin winter.jpg

This little cabin is stunningly beautiful. The downstairs is living area, with a contemporary kitchen added, out of sight in the rear. The owners sleep upstairs in a loft.

Nicholas Speaks cabin fall.jpg

Nicholas would love that Christmas is still celebrated inside his cabin with children’s voices echoing through the years .

Nicholas Speaks cabin Christmas.jpg

The boards on the rear wall are Nicholas’s. The owner cataloged each board, so he knows which sections are his grandfather’s and which are Nicholas’s.

NIcholas Speaks cabin hearth.jpg

The hearth and chimney stones were salvaged as well, although don’t recall if this hearth was either partly or totally from Nicholas’s cabin. I do know the current owner salvaged everything outside and inside, so if there were stones, they are here now.

NIcholas Speaks cabin Dolores Ham.jpg

Dolores sitting in the corner by the fireplace which is certainly the main focus of the room.

Nicholas Speaks cabin open door.jpg

It’s dark inside the cabin, even when it’s bright outside. The photo of Dolores and the one above were taken just minutes apart.

Nicholas Speaks cabin corner.jpg

The opposite corner. The doors to the right lead to a contemporary adjoined kitchen.

Nicholas Speaks cabin window.jpg

The cabin is actually very small.

Nicholas Speaks cabin Lola-Margaret Hall.jpg

This is a terribly out-of-focus photo, but it’s Lola-Margaret in a corner of Nicholas’s cabin just the same and smiling like crazy.

Not only did this wonderful man salvage Nicholas’s cabin, barely saving it in the nick of time, he also saved Nicholas’s stepping stone from the front door into the cabin. He told me he just couldn’t leave it behind, abandoned.

NIcholas Speaks cabin step garden.jpg

He put the front step stone in his garden, until I visited when he asked me if I wanted the stone.


Are you kidding me?

The stone several of my ancestors trod, and some every single day of their lives?

Of course I want the stone!!!

We hoisted the stone into the back of my Jeep with much effort. That one rock made that entire trip worthwhile.

Nicholas Speaks cabin step here.jpg

The stone today that Nicholas’s descendants continue to utilize on a daily basis.

Nicholas Speaks cabin step my door.jpg

Outside my door. Eight generations and counting!

I was also gifted with these metal fireplace frames that came out of the cabin, but weren’t original to Nicholas’s time.

NIcholas Speaks cabin fireplace frame.jpg

I’m not sure what to do with these, so if anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.

The Barn

Nicholas clearly farmed in addition to preaching. Many preachers, especially of small churches were never paid. In the 1840 census, Nicholas still had 3 people participating in agriculture. He had 3 males plus himself. Two were older males. The identity of the second man aged between 60-69 is a mystery, but Nicholas and the two younger males were probably the ones engaged in farming.

An old barn remaining on what was the original property, near the church, retains the notches of yesteryear.

Nicholas Speaks barn.jpg

Did Nicholas hew these boards and strip the bark with an adze? They are clearly not milled, as you can see the individual adze marks.

This could well have been the barn that accompanied Nicholas’s cabin. In many of the earliest mountain homes, the barn was larger than the house. That was true on the farm I grew up on more than a hundred years later.

As we’ll see in a minute that Nicholas had lots of livestock.

The 1850 Agricultural Census

I expected with a small cabin, a large family and being a minister that the family struggled. In 1850, Nicholas is shown on the regular census as age 68, Sarah age 64, two unmarried daughters and a laborer living with them. At that age, Nicholas surely needed help with the farm.

Nicholas Speaks 1850 census.png

I thought they would have probably been poor, and that everyone in that geography was probably equally as poor. However, Nicholas listed the value of his real estate as $4000, substantially more than many of his neighbors.

Looking at the 1850 agricultural census for Lee County, VA shows something surprising. Compared to other families, Nicholas was doing quite well, by comparison to his neighbors.

Category Nicholas’s Answer
Improved acres of land 150
Unimproved acres of land 463 (can’t read the middle number well)
Cash value 4000
Value of farming implements and machinery 150
Horses 14
Asses and mules 0
Milk cows 18
Working oxen 0
Sheep 80
Swine 80
Value of livestock 800
Wheat bushels 150
Rye bushels 0
Indian corn bushels 2000
Oats bushels 700
Rice, pounds 0
Tobacco, pounds 10
Finned colon bales of 400 0
Wool, pounds 160
Peas and beans, bushels 15
Irish Potatoes (white), bushels 5
Sweet potatoes, bushels 100
Barley, bushels 0
Buckwheat, bushels 0
Value or orchard products 0
Wine, gallons 0
Value of produce in market gardens 0
Butter, pounds 100 (or 600, can’t read)
Cheese, pounds 0
Hay, tons 1
Clover seed, bushels 5
Other grass seeds 0
Hops 0
Hemp, dew rotted 0
Hemp, water rotted 0
Flax, pounds 200
Flaxseed, pounds 25
Silk cocoons 0
Maple sugar, pounds 15
Cane sugar 0
Molasses 0
Beeswax and honey, pounds 30
Value of home-made manufactures 150
Value of animas slaughtered 300

What can we take away from this? Nicholas had a lot of livestock, which probably explains the large barn, or maybe he even built more than one barn. Perhaps his children and their families were helping him farm. That’s likely, because James, John and Joseph Speaks were all neighbors and none of them owned property. They were probably all living in cabins on Nicholas’s land and the family shared the farm’s produce.

One thing seems to be assured – no one was going hungry.

Somebody was weaving and churning butter. I’d guessing that would have been the two unmarried daughters who were 23 and 25. In a farm economy, everyone worked from as soon as they were big enough until they died or became disabled.

Nicholas’s Will

According to Sarah, Nicholas died on June 2, 1852. He apparently knew he was gravely ill, because he wrote his will on April 22nd, and the will was subsequently probated on June 21, 1852. Men during that time didn’t write their will until it seemed a foregone conclusion that they were going to need one – and soon. That’s why there are so many intestate deaths.

Given the date the will was executed provides us some hint as to how long Nicholas was ill before he died. By late April, the handwriting was on the wall, so to speak, and 6 weeks later, Nicholas was gone.

I can’t help but wonder, given that he was a minister, if Nicholas was looking forward to passing over to what he perceived was his just reward. He would joyfully reunite with the people who had gone on before and wait for the people who would follow. Death might not have been frightening at all – at least not to Nicholas. But Sarah, who probably sat by his side as be became gravely ill, then held his hand as he passed over, was probably devastated, lonely and wondered how she was ever going to manage that farm alone, with only two daughters left at home to help. As Lola-Margaret says when she “channels” Sarah – she was surely grateful for her grown sons who lived close by.

I, Nicholas Speak a citizen of Lee County, in the State of Virginia being of sound mind and memory, do make, ordain, and publish this, as, and for my last will and testament hereby all former wills by me made.

Firstly, I give and bequeath to my beloved wife, Sarah Speak all my estate, both real and personal, during her natural life, if she during that period remain a widow, but if she marry then it is my will that my said wife be endowed of my estate as though I had made no will.

Secondly, it is my will that, at the death of my said wife Sarah Speak, one hundred fifty acres of land be laid off so as to include the mansion house, outbuildings and spring of the tract on which I now reside for my daughters Fanny Speak and Rebecca Speak and give and bequeath the said one hundred fifty acres of land to my said daughters Fanny and Rebecca and to their heirs forever a moiety to each.

Thirdly, at the termination of the estate of my wife Sarah in my land as herein before provided I give and bequeath to each of my sons Samuel Speak, John Speak and James A. Speak and to their several heirs one hundred fifty acres not herein before disposed of, to Jesse C. Speak (my son) I give and bequeath ninety three acres of my land to him and his heirs forever.

It is my will that, if my before mentioned sons Samuel, John, James A. and Jesse cannot agree upon lines of division between them as regards the lands I have herein bequeathed to them then I desire the Court of Lee County to appoint three Commissioners to lay off the said lands in lots as nearly equal in value as may be, quality and quantity being considered and then for my sons to decide the ownership of the several tracts by lots.

The condition upon which I give and bequeath the herein before mentioned lands to my sons Samuel Speak, Johns Speak, James A. Speak and Jesse C. Speak and their several heirs, is that my sons pay jointly and in proportion of the value of their respective lots of lands the sum of seven hundred and fifty dollars as follows, to wit, one hundred fifty dollars to Sarah Bartlet, the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to my daughter Jane Ball, and the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to the six children of my deceased son Charles Speak to be equally divided between them the said children, the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to the eight children of my decd son Joseph to be equally divided between them, and the remaining one hundred fifty dollars to the five children of my decd son Thomas, to be equally divided between them the said children and I direct that the herein before mentioned payments of money to be made by my said sons Samuel, John, James A. and Jesse C. shall be made at the expiration of one year after the death of my wife Sarah Speak to such of the children herein indicated as shall then be of the age of twenty one years or more and then to all the other children as they respectively arrive at the age of twenty one years.

I also give and bequeath to each of my daughters Fanny and Rebecca a horse worth sixty dollars to be delivered to them at the death of my wife Sarah Speak. It is my will that the remaining portion of my estate not otherwise disposed of by my wife at her death, be equally distributed among my heirs at law.

I hereby constitute and appoint my son John Speak Executor of this my last will and testament of which I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 22nd day of April in the year 1852.

Nicholas Speak (SEAL)

The foregoing instrument of writing was signed and acknowledged _in our presence by Nicholas Speak and declared by him as his last will and Testament, and we have subscribed our names thereto at his request as witnesses. Emuel Stafford, John M. Crockett

Nicholas seems to have forgotten about a land warrant, because he added a codicil on My 25th.

Whereas I, Nicholas Speak of the County of Lee and State of Virginia have made my last will and testament in writing bearing the date 22nd day of April eighteen hundred fifty two and have hereby made a disposition of all my land and personal property as will be seen by Reference thereto except my land warrant, which land warrant, now I do by this my writing which I declare to be codicil to my said will to be part thereof will and direct that said land warrant be given to the heirs of Joseph Speak they be eight in number four neffues and four nieces with all its appurtenances as theirs to have and to hold forever and lastly it is my desire that this my present codicil be annexed to and made a part of my last will and testament to all intents and purposes in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the 25th day of May in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred fifty two.

Nicholas Speak (SEAL)

The above instrument of one sheet was at the date thereof …to us by the testator Nicholas Speak to be a codicil to be annexed to his last will and testament and he achnowledged to each of us that he had subscribed the same and we at his request sign our names hereto as witnesses

Emuel Stafford (SEAL)

Samuel Speak (SEAL)Virginia

At a court of quarter sessions begun and held for Lee County at the Courthouse on Monday the 21st day of June 1852.

The last will and testament of Nicholas Speak deed was proved by the oaths of Emanuel Stafford and John M. Crockett witnesses thereto…and the codicil to the last will was proved by Emanuel Stafford and Samuel Speak and on motion of John Speak Executor therein named together with Cavender N. Robinson, William Collin and William S. Ely his security entered into bond in the penalty of $1000….


Will Book No. 2, Page 209 – Sale Bill of property sold by Robert M. Bales Committee for Sarah Speaks on the 12th day of February 1859.

Admitted to record Monday 20th June 1859 – H.J. Morgan CC

From time to time property of Sarah Speak was sold by Robert M. Bales, Committee.

Sarah Faires Speaks died February 20, 1865.

April 1, 1865 – We the undersigned after being duly sworn have appraised or valued the following articles or species of property belonging to the Estate of Sarah Speak deceased (to wit) Stephen X. Bales Vincent Bales Appraisers Jos. A. Hardy

Admitted to record 28th March 1866

Dolores Ham tells us:

In Sept. 1866, John Speak filed suit for the sale of lands of Nicholas Speak and a division of proceeds or if that cannot be done, then a division of lands. The land was ultimately divided. Many descendants are mentioned in this document, including several who lived out of state.

Children of Sarah Faires and Nicholas Speak

It’s likely that Nicholas and Sarah had one child that that did not survive. They were married in August 1804, and their first child was born in November 1805. Children arrived every 18 months to two years, except for a 3 year span between Samuel and John, both born during the month of January in 1809 and 1812, respectively. A child likely arrived and died about mid-1810. Given the high infant mortality rate at that time, Nicholas and Sarah probably felt God was watching over them and considered themselves lucky to have lost “only one.”

  • Charles Speak, b. November 19, 1805 in Washington County, VA, married 27 Feb. 1823 to Ann McKee in Washington County, Va., died in Lee County, VA between 1840 and 1850.
  • Sarah Jane Speak, b. May 23, 1807 in Washington County, VA. married 1829 in Lee County, VA to James Bartley and died in 1859.
  • Samuel Patton Speak, b. January 29, 1809 in Washington Co. VA; married in Lee County, VA about 1827 to Sarah Hardy. He died March 20, 1861.
  • John Speak, b January 2, 1812 in Washington County, VA; m. Mary Dean and second to Susannah Callahan in 1870. He died after that but before February 27, 1896.
  • Joseph Speak, b. July 20, 1813 in Washington County, VA, died after the 1850 census and before his father wrote his will in April 1852. He was married to Leah Carnes in 1832 by his father.
  • Thomas Speak, b. November 26, 1815 in Washington County, VA, died possibly in 1843, but assuredly before his father wrote his will in April 1852, married Mary “Polly” possibly Ball.
  • Jane V. Speak, b. February 12. 1818 in Washington County, VA; m. January 15. 1855 to George W. Ball, II and died in 1878.
  • Jesse C. Speak, b. 3 July 1820 in Washington County, VA; m. in 1842 to Mary Haynes and died on July 26, 1878 in Laurel Co. KY.
  • James Allen Speak, b. June 15. 1822 in Washington County, VA; d. 9 January 1894 in Lee County, VA. m. about 1844 to Mary Jane Kelly.
  • Fanny J. Speak, b. June 25, 1824 in Lee County, VA, d. May 11, 1906.  Married 2 Nov. 1859 to William Henderson Rosenbaum, as his second wife. Fanny’s sister, Rebecca was his first wife. Rosenbaum died September 26 1864 at Camp Douglas, IL as a prisoner during the Civil War.
  • Rebecca Speak, b. July 12, 1826 in Lee County, VA, d. February 9, 1859, m.  February 9, 1854 William Henderson Rosenbaum as his first wife.

The Cemetery

Across the road from the Speaks Methodist Church is the family cemetery. Based on Nicholas’s will, there were probably at least three sons buried there before he joined them.

NIcholas Speaks cemetery door.jpg

In fact, you can see the cemetery as you look out the door of the church. Did Nicholas think about his departed children as he preached?

Assuredly, Nicholas had preached their funerals and probably laid them to rest as well as several unknown grandchildren.

Did Nicholas think about this every time he saw the cemetery, or did the cemetery provide him comfort to feel that in some way, they were still close?

Nicholas Speaks church from cemetery.jpg

The view of the church from the cemetery. This little white church in the wildwood, at the base of the mountain feels so soul-soothing to me. They ghosts of my ancestors embrace their descendants who visit.

Nicholas and Sarah are assuredly buried here, but their graves, along with many others are unmarked or marked only with now-anonymous field stones. Of course, during the lifetimes of his children and grandchildren, no one needed to mark the location of graves. Everyone simply knew, but that knowledge was lost over time.

Nicholas Speaks cemetery stones.jpg

Several years ago, the Speaks Family Association purchased a memorial stone and placed it in the cemetery.

Nicholas Speaks stone.jpg

The back lists their children.

NIcholas Speaks stone back.jpg

The stone is clearly close to Nicholas and Sarah and many of their children, grandchildren and descendants. The cemetery is small, on a hill overlooking the church.

Nicholas Speaks church from stone.jpg

Perhaps Nicholas has listened to the sermons every Sunday for the past 167 years – over 8500 messages delivered to the faithful in the church left for posterity by Nicholas.

Have subsequent ministers felt his gentle hand and unknown influence?

Nicholas Speaks unmarked stones.jpg

Does Nicholas rest under one of these stones? Does his son, Charles, my ancestor, along with his wife, Ann McKee? Surely so.

They are here.

NIcholas Speaks cemetery 2.jpg

It’s difficult for me to walk away from these places so loaded with the history and bones of my ancestors. They draw me back, again and again.

I always have to take one last painful look backward as I leave, sometimes knowing I’ll never return.

This land is infused with their DNA, and mine.

Nicholas’s DNA

The Speaks Family Association funded several DNA tests for known Speaks direct male linear descendants several years ago. Men inherit the Y chromosome from their fathers intact, so the Y chromosome  would be passed from Nicholas to his sons, and them to their sons, to Speaks males today – intact. The goal was to confirm a connection to the Lancashire “Gisburn” Speaks line, which was successfully achieved.

The good news is that the Speaks Y DNA is rather rare, meaning that 8 out of 11 matches at 111 markers are to other Speaks men, some of which are from the Twiston and Gisburn area of Lancashire. There’s no question that the US Speaks line descends from a common ancestor with those gentlemen.

Unfortunately, many early records are missing and the best we can offer today are approximations as to when that common ancestor lived. We know for sure that it was before 1633 when our immigrant ancestor. Thomas Speake was born, and probably before 1600, but beyond that, we can’t say. In fact, trying to solve this mystery is why we engaged in DNA testing. Some questions have been answered, but not all.

NIcholas Speaks Y DNA.png

From the Speaks DNA Project, open to all descendants, Nicholas’s branch is haplogroup I-BY14004, which is separated slightly from the Twiston group whose haplogroup is I-BY14009.

Nicholas Speaks block tree.png

The Y DNA block tree shows these two brother branches side by side.

The potential intersection of these two branches could be as long ago as 800 years, which would put the common ancestor in the 1200s. Once the private variants are resolved and potentially placed upstream in the tree, the SNP generations could be reduced by 300 or 400 years, so the 1500s or 1600s which would place the common ancestor not long before the records end.

We do know that the surname exists before the records begin in the churches in the area, so the year 1200, give or take, might not be as far-fetched as we might think. On the other hand, if the average SNP generation is 80 years instead of 100, then we’re dealing with 640 years which is approximately the year 1360. Of course, we’re dealing with averages, and who is exactly average?

Other matching surnames on the Big Y test are Carey, Hutchinson, Holmes, Hudson and Ashby, but these men are not STR matches which means that they are more distantly related than the Speaks men are to each other, but still within about 1500 years.

Moving up the haplotree, the first SNP that shows a cluster is I-BY1183, confirming the rarity of the Speak Y DNA.

Nicholas Speaks I-BY1183 SNP cluster.png

The two locations where clusters are found are dead center in England and in Germany as well, which could indicate that the testers knew the country where their ancestor was found, but not the more specific location.

This SNP looks to be about 3500 years old, roughly, and since it’s also found in Germany, one of our ancestors might have migrated from this region, or both groups of men could have migrated from another common region.

NIcholas Speaks I-S2606 SNP cluster.png

One branch further up the tree, meaning further back in time, S2606, between 4000 and 4500 years of age, shows a scattering across Europe as well as the Lancashire region of England, meaning of course that’s where the ancestors of those testers are found. This causes me to wonder how men carrying those SNPs managed to arrive in Lancashire, and no place else in England. Haven’t enough men yet tested, or is there a story there waiting to be discovered?

Did our line develop additional mutations, while their line didn’t? Or have they simply not tested as deeply as our line has?

It’s important to note that while these clusters show the location of the most distant ancestors of people who carry this terminal SNP, those ancestral lines may not have always lived there.

We know that haplogroup I migrated from the Near East into Europe at some point after the last ice age which occurred about 12,000 years ago and that by about 5,000 years ago, the parent haplogroup of our ancestors was found in El Mirador, Spain, having been discovered in an archaeological dig.

Did Nicholas’s ancestor migrate to Europe via the Mediterranean or through the Caucasus? We don’t know yet, but hopefully with the increasing number of people testing and ancient DNA remains being sequenced, more will be revealed in the next few months and years.

Further complicating analysis, the Y chromosome of ancient DNA is not analyzed to the level that we are able to analyze contemporary testers. Once the original academic analysis of ancient DNA is complete, it’s seldom updated as technology improves.

Nicholas’s Autosomal DNA

The Y DNA of Nicholas applies directly to all Speaks surname males. The historical information that the Y DNA conveys applies to all Speaks descendants, females and males who are related but don’t carry the Speak surname. Thankfully, autosomal DNA can be inherited by all descendants.

Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch all three provide segment information to testers that can be compared with other descendants to see which DNA segments carried by descendants today originated with Nicholas and Sarah. The Speaks DNA Project is at Family Tree DNA and welcomes everyone.

Using DNAPainter, I paint segments that descend from a couple, because unless you have the ability to match against the descendants of both sets of the couple’s parents, you can’t tell whether the segment came from Nicholas or Sarah.

NIcholas Speaks DNAPainter.png

I carry pieces of DNA from Nicholas or Sarah on chromosomes 4, 6 and 10. My favorite shared segment, though, is the large 18.2 cM, 4496 SNP segment that I share with cousin Lola-Margaret. That nice juicy large segment seals my special bond with Lola-Margaret.

There’s just something I love about looking at the pictures of Lola-Margaret and me, along with other cousins on our various adventures and knowing that our crazy sense of both adventure and humor might just have been inherited from Nicholas himself.

NIcholas Speaks cousins Charles County MD.jpg

Lola-Margaret, me and cousin Susan standing in “Speaks Meadow,” the land of Bowling Speaks, Nicholas’s great-grandfather, in Charles County, Maryland a few years ago on a great adventure.

NIcholas Speaks Lola-Margaret and me.jpg

Lola-Margaret and me searching for our common love, rocks, on our ancestral land. You might just say we’re the same kind of crazy😊

There’s just nothing like roaming ancestral lands, making discoveries and celebrating ancestors with a DNA-sharing, adventure-loving bonded cousin! Without Nicholas, I would never have found Lola-Margaret, Dolores, Susan, and my other very special cousins. I wonder if Nicholas is watching, laughing and chuckling, or maybe being horrified at our escapades.

Regardless, I am eternally grateful for them, all because of him!

Smarmy Upstart DNA Websites – Just Say NO!

Twice now in the last month or so, new websites that promise to provide customers with a different “better” view of their ethnicity, including ancient DNA, have popped up.

I’m not providing the links to these sites, because I do NOT want to drive any curiosity traffic there.

In both cases, the pages about the website or supposed “company” did not provide any information about the individuals behind the service.

Neither did a google search of their supposed name or LLC name.

In one case, the physical address given was illegitimate. In the newest case, this week, no address, not even a country, was disclosed.

A check of the website registration shows that it’s new and the owner’s ID is hidden.

In both cases, an e-mail sent to the address provided asking about who was behind the company and where they were located remains unanswered.

Please keep in mind that these omissions are violations of GDPR in Europe, yet there was no caveat about not accepting clients whose results fall under GDPR auspices which suggests these companies willfully disrespect regulations.

Of course, the first thing that happened was that people saw these new attractive-looking “tests” and uploaded their data immediately – then excitedly reported the results on Facebook, encouraging others to do the same.

Please, please, put the brakes on and think first.

Think, Please

Let’s look at this objectively.

The first thing the newest site does is require your e-mail address to sign up.

Off the bat, they’ve harvested that information.

Then, you upload your DNA file to some unknown person, in some unknown place.

Now they’ve also harvested your DNA.

What are they going to do with your DNA file, ultimately?

Is it going to China? Is it being sold to unknown entities? How would you know and what recourse would you have?

no free lunch

Seriously, what anonymous person would do this “for free, for fun”?

Without knowing who is behind this type of product, how would you as a consumer ever begin to evaluate their competence to provide this service? Why would you even begin to trust them if they hide their identity? This should be your first clue that something isn’t right.

Next, you discover that to see the “analysis” that you have to pay.

You’re sending your credit card number to someone you don’t know.

Now, they’ve harvested your credit card. So far, they have your e-mail, your DNA and your credit card information.

With that, you are entirely identifiable and scammable.

Those “Nigerian Princes” of yesteryear have stepped up their game with much better bait.

But, It’s Safe Because of the Lock…

No, a little lock in the url only means that communications to and from the site is encrypted, it’s not an endorsement or commentary on the legitimacy of what you are purchasing or the website owner.

If something goes wrong, you don’t even have a legitimate business name, address or identity of a person. You have no idea who to complain about, which is most likely the entire goal. If they are offshore, out of the reach of the law where you live, you can complain all day long and there’s nothing that can be done.

Nothing. NADA. You’re toast.


Just stop.



Before providing any information to a company, do your homework. Take a few minutes and research before jumping into the fire.

Stay with the major testing companies that are known and respected entities in the community. A new, anonymous, overnight upstart isn’t going to provide a better analysis than a company with population geneticists working to provide a quality user experience.

Any legitimate startup is going to be telling you WHO they are and WHY they are qualified – not intentionally remaining in the shade.

Unfortunately, bad experiences tend to tar good companies providing similar products with the same brush and we clearly don’t want that to happen.

Don’t set yourself up to become victimized, parted with both your money and your DNA due to your curiosity and love of genetic genealogy.

Please, stop and think.

If it sounds too good to be true, especially if it’s coming from an anonymous knight in shining armor from an unknown kingdom, it probably is.

DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy?

The landscape of genetic genealogy is forever morphing.

I’m providing a quick update as to which vendors support file transfers from which other vendors in a handy matrix.

Come join in the fun!

Testing and Transfer Strategy

Using the following chart, you can easily plan a testing and transfer strategy.

DNA Vendor Transfer Chart 2019

Click on image to enlarge.

Caveats and footnotes as follows:

1. After May 2016, the Ancestry test is only partly compatible, meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, Ancestry files are receiving all matches.

2. The 23andMe December 2010 (V3) version is fully compatible. December 2013-August 2017 (V4) and August 2017 (V5) tests are partly compatible meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, 23andMe V4 and V5 files are receiving all matches.
3. GedMatch has been working to resolve autosomal matching issues between vendor’s chips. Patience is a key word.
4. LivingDNA does not yet have full blown matching (I have one match), which has been in the testing phase for months, and has recently changed chip vendors.
5. Customer must extract the file using a file utility before it can be uploaded. LivingDNA indicates that they are working on a simpler solution.
6. Files transferred to LivingDNA must be in build 37 format.
4-12-2019 update – please note that MyHeritage does not accept 23andMe V2 files, only V3, V4 and V5.


My recommendations are as follows, and why:

Transfer Costs

Autosomal transfers and matching are free at the vendors who accept transfers, but payment for advanced tools is required.

  • Family Tree DNA – $19 one-time unlock fee for advanced tools
  • MyHeritage – $29 one-time fee for advanced tools
  • GedMatch – many tools free, but for Tier 1 advanced tools, $10 per month

All great values!

Please note that as vendors change testing chips and file formats, other vendors who accept transfers will need time to adapt. I know it’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s a sign that technology is moving forward. The good news is that after the wait, if there is one, you’ll have a brand new group of genealogy matches – many holding clues for you to decipher.

I’m in all of the databases, so see you there.


I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

Elijah Vannoy: For Want of $12.58 – 52 Ancestors #233

Recently, I’ve been reading the Claiborne County, Tennessee court minutes 1829-1843 page by page at FamilySearch. Not because I really WANT to, but because I need to and there is no every-name index available for the years in question. As genealogists desperate to discover information about our ancestors, we do what we need to do and there are lots of buried goodies here!

The court minutes are full of all kinds of routine proceedings which include a great deal of both evident and hidden information.

  • Men are assigned to road crews which tells you who their neighbors are and what road they live on.
  • Men are assigned to collect taxes in their districts, which tells you which district they live in and who was the head of the volunteer militia in that district. Both tax collectors and militia leaders are men clearly in good standing and healthy.
  • Residents who were insolvent and could not pay their taxes. These notes state that some had left the state or county.
  • Men were summoned for jury duty and served as commissioners which tells you that they were white, owned land and were considered upstanding citizens.
  • Wills were recorded, probated and estates managed. Supplies for the widows were portioned while the estate was in probate, which means the widow was named.
  • People, mostly but not always men, were arrested and their families or neighbors posted bond, assuring they would show up in court. Not a lot different than today.
  • Poor people were cared for in the homes of neighbors or other residents and the county paid for their care. A lot different than today.
  • Guardians were appointed for orphans and the orphans ages were given.
  • People were sued by their neighbors for trespass, which generally meant a disputed property line.
  • Registration of livestock earmarks.
  • Payment for wolf scalps, after which the sheriff burned the scalp so they couldn’t be claimed a second time by someone else
  • “Juries” were assigned to survey and lay out roads, “the best way,” with as little damage to property as possible. Often property owners adjacent the road were named.
  • A jailer was paid for each prisoner who was named, but there generally weren’t many.

Every now and then, something really scandalous happened – although most of the time the trials were financial in nature. In one case, three men were tried for fighting within sight of the court. I’d love to know what that was about.

One of the most common types of cases was debt. If the debtor had no personal property that could be sold, then their land was attached and sold for the amount of the debt in question. Generally, these transactions provided a description of the property in question, including location, landmarks and neighbors, which can be a godsend when the deed books in question have been destroyed or disappeared as is the case with some Claiborne County records.

Court ordered sales were often not recorded from the previous owner to the new owner, but from the sheriff or constable to the new owner, making tracking the land forward or backward using deeds impossible. The court records provide that missing link.

I’ve been looking for three things in particular dealing with two ancestors and one of their children. Mind you, none of which I’ve found so far which begets many questions and so far, no answers. But them, I’m only through page 360 of 736, which means I have a lot more opportunity to find something.

Plus, I’ve discovered that reading these court notes cures insomnia, but only as long as you are sitting in front of your computer😊

I did discover something about another ancestor, quite unexpected and heartbreaking.

Elijah Vannoy’s Trouble

Elijah Vannoy was born about 1784 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. I wrote about Elijah’s life, but when reading the court minutes, I discovered a chapter I didn’t know before.

Elijah was in Claiborne County by 1817 and obtained two land grants, one in 1826 and one in 1829. The land grant process took several years from the time a grant was applied for, the land surveyed, and the actual land was patented and registered with the county clerk – although the men were living on and farming the land that entire time. There were costs involved too; the filing fees, the surveyor and the recording fees. Many times grants weren’t actually recorded for many years, some descending to heirs without having been properly recorded.

On Elijah’s two land grants, his name is spelled Elijah Venoy and it’s spelled the same way in the court record as well. This makes me wonder if Venoy is how Elijah actually spelled his surname – although we know from his deeds that he didn’t write later in his life. However, in 1817, it appears that he did sign his signature and it was Vannoy.

Elijah makes a few other appearances in the records. In 1818, Elisha Venoy was assigned to a road crew. He was called for jury duty once in 1820, but never again. Many men were called repeatedly. Then, there’s a long gap.

On image 351, page 224 in the actual minute book, at the court session taking place on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 1834, I found the following suit which I’ve transcribed in summary:

Thomas R. McClary vs Elijah Venoy. Found for plaintiff against defendant for the sum of $12.58… no (personal) property found, debt levied against two tracts of land. 125 acres lying on the waters of Mulberry Creek, beginning on an oak and hickory, corner of my twenty five (should say 125) acre survey and survey of John Rays beginning with John Rays chestnut corner bounded by J. Coles and Bakers, this entry number 549 (difficult to read but verified with the actual entry) and 100 acres entry no 272 lying on the north side of Big Mulberry creek beginning at a white oak and maple near a branch and running due west and various other courses for ? so as to include the improvement he (Elijah) lives on. November 19, 1834. Court ordered the sale together with costs.

Elijah Vannoy 1834

Elijah Vannoy 1834 2

On November 19th, the sheriff had gone to Elijah’s and surveyed what property he had, culminating with the recommendation that he had nothing to sell, which meant no cattle, horses, pigs, corn, wagon, nothing. The sheriff’s recommendation was to sell not one, but both of Elijah’s tracts of land – which included the one Elijah lived on.

That’s Brutal

While I certainly understand that’s how the legal system worked, it’s brutal. Why take both of Elijah’s pieces of land? Why not sell one, the one without his home, and see if the debt was covered before selling the second one? 100 acres of land was selling for a lot more than $12.58 in Claiborne County at that time, especially with “improvements.”

In 1834, Elijah was 50 years old. His wife, Lois McNiel either had died since 1830, or would die before 1840. In the 1830 census, Elijah still had 9 children at home – 3 males and 6 females. At 50 years of age, Elijah had no prayer of starting over AND he had children to raise. By 1840, Elijah still had 4 children at home and Lois was assuredly gone.

It is the greatest of ironies that the property owner a few years ago still had Elijah’s original land grant for the property. Few of these State-issued grants remain nearly 200 years later, so this is a rare document indeed. These were the documents shown for the land to be registered, then retained by the property owner. And now, Elijah was losing this land.

Elijah Vannoy original grant

What was Elijah to do? Where would he live? How would he support his family without a farm or any resources?

Joel Tries to Help

As it turns out, in 1833, Elijah’s son, Joel, also obtained a land grant. Joel was young, just 20 in 1833, but Joel tried to help his father by putting a mortgage on his own adjacent land to prevent his father’s land from being sold.

In 1836, both Joel and Elijah are listed on the tax list, but by 1839, only Joel and his younger brother, Elijah Jr. who owned no land but paid a poll tax appeared.

The elder Elijah is missing on the tax list entirely, probably indicating that he is living with another person and had no personal property or real estate. He was not listed as a head of household, but he was a year later in the 1840 census, suggesting perhaps that he was still living in his house on land that someone else, namely Joel, owned.

A Poll Tax had to be paid by and for every while male age 21-50 in order to be eligible to vote. Elijah Sr. would have been 55 in 1839, so he would have been exempt from Poll Tax, but if he owned land or other taxable goods, he would still have had to pay the other taxes due.

Joel, however, is listed with 225 acres total worth $500. It appears that Joel probably owns his own 100 acre tract as well as his father’s 125 acre tract, which is probably where Elijah is living. It appears that Elijah’s 100 acre tract with the house is gone, although later deeds raise confusion about which property was actually retained.

Chickens Come Home to Roost

By 1841 the chickens had come home to roost. Joel and Elijah were refinancing, in today’s vernacular. Both men signed a joint deed of trust because they owed merchants more than they could pay. Elijah signed a mortgage against his wagon and team of oxen, Three months later, two more debts were filed and now both Elijah and Joel are signing deeds of trust for their land. Elijah was indebted to William Houston, merchant in Tazewell, for $33.08, plus interest and to William Fugate for $62.50.

Then, Elijah sells land for $5 to Walter Evans in a deed of trust, stating that if he doesn’t make payments, Walter can sell the land on the courthouse steps in Tazewell.

Elijah also sells land to William Cole for $50.

In October 1845, 11 years after the original Claiborne County suit, both Elijah and Joel, probably very weary of the battle, jointly sold Elijah’s land, signing together, for $250, half of Joel’s land value on the 1839 tax list. The debt being paid was probably to William Fugate because he witnessed the deed, probably anxious to walk out of the room with his funds.

These debts had probably been accumulating and increasing with each refinancing since before 1834. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, until that pattern was no longer sustainable.

By 1845, Joel was 33 years old and had lived with this problem his entire adult life. In January, he had married Phoebe Crumley and I’m sure they wanted to start a life of their own, unencumbered by the behemoth that was clearly not going to resolve itself.

Was There More to the Story?

In 1845, at more than 60 years of age, Elijah went to live with his daughter, Sarah and her husband Joseph Adams, probably a broken man.

Elijah died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, his burial location lost to time.

Joel remained in Hancock County (upper right, below) until after 1860 according to the census, but sometime during or after the Civil War, in which Joel was reported to be a Rebel sympathizer, he moved down the valley a few miles to the Little Sycamore community in Claiborne County to start over on what would become Vannoy Road.

Joel Vannoy Mulberry to Little Sycamore

This part of Hancock County saw families torn between the Union and the Confederacy, and not only was there fighting between the north and south, there was infighting between family members. Joel’s wife’s niece and family were murdered for being northern sympathizers.

By 1870, Joel was living in Claiborne County in the Little Sycamore community where his children were marrying neighbors. He apparently owned land, according to the census, but things began not adding up. First, just hints of trouble and oddities, then clear indications.

While Joel Vannoy did “purchase” land again, his life was haunted by the demons of mental illness. By 1872, in Claiborne County, land was deeded to Joel’s wife, Phoebe, instead of to Joel. Deeding land to a wife when the husband was living simply did not happen in that day, time and place. It became impossible to ignore these “irregularities.”

Apparently, by age 50, Joel’s mental health had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer conduct business. No one seemed to question why his wife owned the land instead of Joel, so Joe’s condition was clearly known as a fact and not disputed within the community or by the court.

Fourteen years later, Joel was transported to the “hospital for the insane” in Knoxville, not long after it first opened. According to records of the now-closed facility, obtained in the 1980s, other Vannoy family members were treated in the same facility some years later.

Fifty years of age is the exact age of Elijah in 1834 when the Claiborne County court ordered both of his pieces of property sold for a debt of $12.58 which is equivalent to about $360 today.

Maybe there was more going on than Elijah simply needing $12.58. Had Elisha been suffering from the same creeping and intensifying mental illness that Joel eventually suffered from too? According to family members, Joel’s condition worsened throughout his life. In the end, he had to be “watched” 24X7 and could never be left alone given that he was disconnected from reality. Based on what the family said and his behaviors, I would guess that Joel had a form of schizophrenia, which can be hereditary, and Elijah may have suffered from the same disease.

Any of these problems, unmanageable debt, possible mental illness, or raising children alone is bad enough. However, combined, they may have snowballed on both Elijah and Joel as well. How kind of Joel to attempt to help his father and how sad that it didn’t work, especially after such a long battle, approaching a dozen years.

I can see the two saddened men, father and son, walking together along this creek perhaps, on Elijah’s land, by then owned by Joel, perhaps trying to make it through until they could at least harvest the crops. Maybe, just maybe those crops would bring enough to pay the debt? Maybe this year?

Elijah Vannoy creek and entrance

But the fall of 1845 was no different and they had to make that final, agonizing decision to sell the last piece of Elijah’s land, acquiescing to the fact that they had reached the end of the road. The inevitable had arrived and there was nothing left for them to do. They had fought a long, losing battle and Elijah would have to leave the idyllic little valley and the land he had cleared and farmed along Mulberry Creek, for more than two decades, yet he would live close enough to watch another man farm the land for the rest of his life.

Elijah Vannoy Mulberry Creek

Still, Elijah handed his cherished grant paper for the land he had struggled so long to keep to the next owner. Elijah didn’t have to do that. The deed had already been registered. Thank goodness he did though, because it’s how we verified that indeed, we had found Elijah’s land. A gift to future generations that he didn’t know he was making.

Knowing that Elijah was raising children alone, having lost his wife, farm, home and resources is both tragic and heartbreaking, especially understanding that there may have been yet another health issue complicating factors. All for the lack of $12.58 in 1834.

But that I could send $12.58 back through time and perhaps change the final chapters of Elijah’s life.

Things That Need To Be Said: Adoption, Adultery, Coercion, Rape and DNA

doesn't add up

What happens when DNA results don’t add up?

Recently I wrote about how to distinguish genetically if two people are full or half siblings. Sometimes people who thought they were full siblings turn out only to be half siblings, and it’s a painful discovery.

What do people immediately assume when a father turns out not to be who he’s expected to be?

What’s the first thought that jumped into your head?

Somebody was cheating, yes?!!

And that somebody was obviously the female who became pregnant, right?

Now she’s caught thanks to DNA.

Hold on.

Not so fast.

Mis-attributed Parentage

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about NPEs, Non-Parental Events, also known as mis-attributed paternity (MPE,) undocumented adoptions and probably other terms too.

In essence, when the expected father turns out not to be the biological father. I suspect that the uptick in discussion is a direct result of the significant number of people DNA testing today.

For the most part, when there were few autosomal testers, unless someone failed to match against the known close family members who had already tested, the situation remained largely undiscovered.

However, today with more and more testers, it’s common for people to have several close matches, which makes the absence of a first or second cousin, aunt, uncle, sibling or parent match stand out like a sore thumb – throbbing painfully and demanding answers.

And of course, when a child and parent don’t match, it’s immediately evident to all parties concerned. And, it’s excruciating.

When DNA test results arrive and reveal unexpected surprises, it can be quite uncomfortable and will throw your world into a tailspin. And that’s, um, let’s just say putting it mildly.

It’s disconcerting enough when you don’t match to a couple – which implies an adoption of some sort. When you match half of the couple, that’s a horse of a different color.

Typically, a half match will mean that you match the female’s side of the family, but not the male’s.

It’s particularly difficult when a father or grandfather is not who the family believes that person to be. You probably knew them and if not, other family members did.

The first thing that springs to mind is that someone was “cheating” on their spouse. And that someone was your mother or grandmother – another person you know and love.

To make matters even more awkward, one or both of the couple involved may still be living.


Infidelity is probably not the first thing that should be considered in situations like these. Let’s look at this from the other perspective. How might this have happened if the female wasn’t unfaithful?

I’ve worked with genetic genealogy cases, including these types of surprises for 19 years now, and the truth is sometimes quite different.

Aside from infidelity which is really the last possibility we should consider, there other scenarios that are at least as likely, in no particular order:

  • Infertility/sperm donation
  • Adoption, either legal (through the courts) or someone, possibly a family member, taking a child to raise
  • Sexual Assault – meaning rape
  • Coercion
  • Agreed-upon lifestyle

Furthermore, even if the event that led to the pregnancy was consensual, people can and do make what they later consider to be errors in judgement, especially when alcohol is involved. Anyone here never make a mistake? Didn’t think so.

Looking back, it’s difficult to be too harsh because you wouldn’t be who you are and your siblings wouldn’t be who they are if those long-ago events had unfolded differently. Our ancestors, including our parents, weren’t saints. Many women stayed in “bad” marriages which may have made an emotional respite look particularly attractive.

I try very hard to stay away from moral judgement without knowing the full story – and most of the time – that’s something we will never know for one of many reasons.

Let’s start out by looking at some potential reasons for a parental mismatch that don’t involve infidelity, meaning deception.

Infertility, Sperm Donation, Lifestyle and Adoption

Fertility issues have plagued couples ever since there have been couples. Adoption speaks for itself, but many adoptions were hidden from children and family members -and often remain so until a DNA result exposes the secret.

If the father that raised the person isn’t the biological father, the mother may or may not be the biological mother.

Some adoptions are uni-parental, meaning a step-father adopts the child. This happened often. Historically, this is especially prevalent in situations where the mother had the first child without being married and the family was attempting to protect both the mother and the child from the social condemnation and stigma of illegitimacy, or “bastardry” as it was called in the legal records at one time. It’s no wonder that no one talked about this and the situation was treated as a dark secret. Conversely, in some historical cases, I think that at the time “everyone knew,” but didn’t discuss it, and there was no reason to record the information.

However, when working with more contemporary adoption records, it may appear that both parents adopted the child, when in fact only one was not the biological parent. Michigan is one of those states. In order for the step-father to adopt a child, the mother must give up her parental rights and the couple adopts the child together. If you’re thinking this is going to play havoc with future genealogists, you’re right, it is.

Without that legal adoption information, genetically it “looks” like the mother is the mother, but the father isn’t the father – and a uni-parental adoption is NOT the first thing that comes to mind. Infidelity is.

If DNA results indicate that the mother is the mother but the man she was married to at the time is not the biological father, it’s certainly possible that sperm donation was utilized. The first successful pregnancy from frozen semen occurred in 1953, meaning the resulting children could be retirement age today.

Before “official” sperm donation, let’s just say that sometimes couples took care of the issue themselves, in the old-fashioned way. You may discover evidence of the result without understanding the situation. That’s just not something couples shared with other people for a wide variety of reasons – but I know of at least two separate situations where this occurred and was known within the immediate family. In one case, the mutually agreed upon “donor” was the man’s brother.

This also touches upon an open lifestyle situation – meaning that the couple agreed to have an non-monogamous sexual relationship of some form. “Key parties” in my parent’s generation are legendary – a form of adult spin-the-bottle. In my circle of friends, someone discovered this “recreational event” was occurring at their parents’ parties and let’s just say we teens discussed it endlessly. We vacillated between being horrified and entranced. Don’t expect to find grandma discussing this at the holiday table – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Our ancestors were human too. Customs and taboos revolving around sexual relationships are cultural and vary by time and place. “Rules” are created by people, and people are always breaking the rules. Some things never change.

The above scenarios represent a range of perfectly legitimate reasons why a DNA result may not reflect the parent of record but don’t represent wrongdoing or betrayal by either party. It’s just that today, we don’t have that background information – our only view is through the genetic results and we have to infer the rest.

Of course, there are other much more unpleasant scenarios that need to be considered too.


Rape is pretty straightforward, or at least it seems so on the surface, but even rape may hold darker secrets. Rape can be a violent crime, meaning the “in the alley” type of rape where a woman doesn’t know her assailant. However, that’s not the most common rape scenario.

In the majority of cases the female knows her rapist. He might be a boyfriend, or even more disconcerting, a family member. And she may not have been old enough to consent, even if the assault wasn’t overtly violent.

She may never have “told” because of fear, misplaced shame, she didn’t think she would be believed or for fear that her situation would become worse, not better. She may also have been threatened, implicitly or explicitly.

She may have been too young or naïve to understand that while she was “seduced,” she was not responsible and she was not able at her young age to give consent. Many adult seducers tell their underage victims that they love them and if they tell, they will both get in trouble for their “love.” Often the seducer aka rapist inflicts guilt on the young female for “enjoying it.” Often the rapist will “treat” their victim to make them feel special. Oprah Winfrey’s rapist, her 19 year old cousin, bought 9 year old Oprah an ice cream cone afterwards.

If just reading these words makes you uncomfortable, welcome to a peek inside the world of being a victim.


A middle ground is coercion, where the female doesn’t really have the ability to say no, or she was deceived or pressured into doing something she didn’t freely want, understand or consent to do.

The most poignant example I can think of is a slave woman. Could a slave realistically say “no”? If not, maybe she simply didn’t physically resist because resistance was futile and would only result in her being whipped as well. “Not resisting” under these circumstances is not at all the same as freely given consent.

I know women personally that have yielded or “agreed” to sexual relationships to keep their jobs, especially if they were raising children alone. That’s coercion, plain and simple, where one person holds power over the other. Most women (and some men) have experienced something similar.

In my own case, I refused the advances of an older male supervisor when I was in my 90-day probationary period at a well-paying civil service job (post office) when I was in college. The result is exactly what you might expect, I was let go before my 90 day probationary period ended.

Did I regret my decision? Not one bit, but I was also furious with no possible recourse. I did report the fact that the supervisor arrived uninvited and unwelcome at my home when my husband was working, along with his behavior, but of course, nothing at all was done – except me being punished by being let go. The supervisor denied everything. To be clear, I was not raped, but it was either “put out or lose your job.”

I was married with a child. I needed that job, but I was not entirely dependent on it for the family income. Not to mention, I’m incredibly tenacious (nice word for stubborn) and threatening me is exactly how NOT to get what you want.

What would have happened to an unmarried woman with a child who was entirely dependent on that job? This situation is not the exception and vulnerable women are often targeted and preyed upon.

Women also know and knew then that victims were often blamed, so women didn’t and don’t volunteer for a second humiliation on top of what has already happened. Justice is and was seldom served.


I know these are uncomfortable thoughts and rape is an incredibly ugly word, but the conclusion that your ancestor, a woman you know and love, “cheated” shouldn’t be considered simply because it’s easier to ponder than the fact that she might have been raped, coerced or been intoxicated.

Setting aside the topic of rape and coercion for a minute, the reality is that women drank socially – our mothers and our grandmothers. Even being raised Baptist, I did and drank too much more than once.

Men/boys know/knew that a woman who had a few drinks was much easier to seduce that one that was stone cold sober. The mother and grandmother you knew years later may have been somewhat different than a younger version of that person. Children are often a driving motivation to “settle down.”

When sexual relationships occur that result in pregnancy, whether it’s consensual or not, it’s always the female who physically carries the evidence in an undeniable way, and the associated societal burden as well. How many times have you hear about “fallen women” but never about “fallen men.” The stigma is unfairly place on women, and often women alone. For example, men are forgiven for being drunk and no one even gives it a second thought, but women are cast as harlots – especially if they carry the evidence publicly by being pregnant and then having an illegitimate child. That evidence lasts forever and is a daily reminder for all who would condemn and shame her.

Retrospectively, we should never, ever assume that a female chose to “cheat” as the first presumption. If anything, it should be our last consideration.

We need to approach the memory of our ancestors, including our parents, with the presumption of innocence and an attitude of compassion. We also need to consider the distinct possibility of sexual assault. Rape.

Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault

The incidence of sexual assault is notoriously difficult to measure. Many times the shame or other surrounding circumstances prevent or highly discourage females from reporting rapes.

Before recent years when it was sometimes possible for a female to obtain work that paid enough to support herself and children, an unmarried or divorced woman was assured of both social rejection and devastating poverty.

To report a rape was to be ostracized from family, from church, and possibly from your spouse. People asked if you encouraged the rape or “asked for it,” perhaps by drinking or dressing “provocatively” – and what was deemed to be provocative varied with the culture and times.

1920s bathing suit

For example, this swimsuit was considered very provocative in the 1920s. Today, this outfit doesn’t even merit a second look in America, but in some parts of the world, women still can’t reveal their faces for fear of “provoking” men. In other words, if a man raped a woman who wore this outfit, it was HER fault for tempting him, not his fault for raping her.

Was this woman advertising that she wanted sex or “asking to be raped?” If she was advertising for sex, then why would a man even need to rape her? The logic fails here, but sometimes provocation is the justification for rape. That insulting to women and men both.

Victorian swimsuits

Here’s the google result for “provocative swimsuit in Victorian times.” While styles that are considered provocative have changed, the way women are perceived who would dare to be “provocative” hasn’t. There is no excuse for rape.

Full stop.

A Second Victimization

If you are raped and report the incident, you are interviewed (often by men) about the intimate details, asked if you enjoyed it and if you climaxed. The woman is always suspect.

Both spoken and unspoken words twice victimize the woman – then and now.

Until and unless you report the rape, no one but you and the rapist knows about the first victimization. After a woman reports a rape, everyone knows about the public humiliation – forever – that public humiliation and its aftereffects never go away. Once out of the bottle, that stinking genie is permanently affixed to the female. The males often go un-apprehended and when apprehended, only minimally punished. By way of example, hundreds of thousands of rape kits lay unprocessed in police departments around the country. Many have been misplaced and lost. If this doesn’t say, “We don’t care,” I don’t know what does.

In my own personal circle, a female child, and I mean a pre-teen, was blamed when her rapist lost his job in the school system as a result of her reporting the rape to the police and to the school. The rapist’s wife, amazingly, didn’t leave him, even though they had children the same age. It was widely known in the community that the rape had been reported. As a result, THE CHILD RAPE VICTIM WAS BLAMED by the rapist’s family and bullied by his and other children in the neighborhood and at school!

Then, to add insult to injury, the rapist wasn’t even convicted because the young victim became too terrified to testify after what happened to her at school, even though there was conclusive medical evidence. The rape victim’s family wound up selling their home and moving in order to protect the child from further damage.

If you think this is rare, it isn’t.

Another person told me about their step-father who raped them beginning when they were pre-kindergarten and continuing the entire time they were in grade school. He then began to rape his kindergarten age biological daughter as well. What did the mother do when the older child repeatedly told her what was happening? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This story isn’t rare either as I’ve personally heard various permutations from MANY women, not just one or two – although most are too embarrassed and humiliated even years later to discuss this topic with other than a trusted friend – if even then. I’m truly stunned at the overwhelming number of women (and some men) with horrible secrets like this in their past – and also at how they have survived and thrived in spite of what happened. Care to guess how many rapists of the many women who have shared their experiences with me were prosecuted? One. Just one.

It’s no wonder why adult women were and are very hesitant to come forth following sexual assault. A rape is humiliating and demeaning. The victim is physically forced into doing something they don’t want to do, don’t understand, or they are for some reason unable to consent to or refuse, such as being underage or drugged. They feel filthy and vile after the rapist is done with them. Unclean, unworthy. Sometimes the male thinks her humiliation is funny. Sometimes they take pictures and tell their friends, who think it’s funny too.

Rapists are seldom prosecuted and convicted and whey they are, the process is extremely traumatic for an adult, let alone a terrified child. When men are convicted, they often receive slap-on-the-wrist sentences, such as Brock Turner, a college student who received a 6 month sentence for 3 separate charges stemming from a violent sexual assault, but only served 3 months jail time – this as his father complained about the length of the sentence by saying that it was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of fun.” Seriously?

And that’s today, not half a century or more ago when sexuality was much more of a taboo subject. I distinctly remember being told that “nice women” only had sex to reproduce and that if you had sex before marriage, you were “tarnished goods” and no one would ever want you. Nice boys only married virgins. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Any of this sound familiar?

Elizabeth Smart – “Better to be Dead”

Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, held and repeatedly raped for 9 months, said that she didn’t attempt an escape for multiple reasons. First, survival mode kicked in, but on a John Hopkins University panel on May 6, 2016, Elizabeth said that one of the factors deterring her from escaping was that she felt so utterly worthless after being raped. She told the panel members:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who is going to want you after that?”

As a result, Elizabeth considered suicide after rape, because, “I felt it would be better to be dead than to continue living being a rape victim.”

On CBS News in 2018, Elizabeth said, “For years after I was rescued, I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened. … Truthfully, I think I was ashamed and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know that I’d been raped.”

And this was in the 2000s, not a generation ago, or two, or three or more.

For rape victims, there’s no undoing what happened. Just press forward and make the best of things. The only decision left is whether or not to subject yourself to either private or public scrutiny, possible rejection, disbelief and ridicule. If it’s bad today, it was worse when your mother or grandmother was of reproductive age. Women didn’t even have the right to vote a century ago, and very few if any women were able to support themselves without a man – either their father or husband. They needed to protect their relationships with men and their families, regardless of the personal cost. Many still do today.

When I asked a (now-deceased) women who endured repeated rapes by a close male relative in the 1940s and 50s why she never spoke out, she said, “What choice did I have? I had 5 children that needed to eat. My husband would have divorced me and I had no skills to get a job. He (the rapist) knew that and laughed about it. He delighted in the fact that I could do nothing and tortured me with it until he finally died.” I hope she danced on his grave.

If one of those children turned out to be the child of the rapist, the woman would never have known then because she was having sex with her husband as well. If discovered genetically today, it would look like she cheated on her husband – but she didn’t.

If you think this can’t possibly be your family, think again.

Sexual Assault is More Common Than You Might Think

Consider the following statistics:

  • RAINN, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of rape, abuse and incest states that 90% of rape victim are female. For purposes of genealogy, of course, males who are raped don’t become pregnant with the rapist’s child.
  • RAINN’s statistics don’t include children under 12, but they report that in 1993, 4.3 assaults per 1000 people occurred. If you extrapolate this to the 1990 census where the US population was 248,709,873, that means that 1,069,452 rapes occurred in the US that year, and of those, just under 1 million rapes occurred to women. According to the census bureau, in 1990, the US had 127,470,455 females of all ages. Looking at the distribution, it appears that if you subtracted both females under 15 and over 55, about half of the female population would have been between 15 and 55, or the prime rape ages. Assuming then that about 60 million women were the primary rape targets, and of those, 1.5 million or one 3% are raped every year, that means every women 15-55 has a 3% chance of being raped each year, assuming there are no women raped more than once. If you’re at risk from age 15 to 55, or roughly 40 years, at 3% chance per year, it’s no wonder that the rape statistics are so high. However, if rapes of females under 15 were included, the numbers would be much higher.
  • RAINN also reports that of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, so rapists remain free to rape again – and do.
  • RAINN says that sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years, meaning that before 1998, women were even more likely to be assaulted.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NDVRC) says that one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Look around at 4 of your female friends or co-workers. If it’s not you, it’s one of them – and that’s just the women who report the rapes. Most don’t.
  • 80% of women know the rapist. That means that reporting the incident is going to cause drama within their family or social circle.
  • It’s even worse for children. Yes, I said worse. One in four girls will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years of age.
  • According to the NSVRC, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to FiveThirtyEight, 77% are not reported to police. A 1992 report titled Rape in America, A Report to the Nation reported that 84% of rapes are not reported. Personally, from discussions recently among women friends, I’d say it’s well into the 90% range, which means the estimates of how many women are actually raped, extrapolated from the reported statistics, are significantly low.
  • This paper from February 2018 on the National Study of Sexual Harassment and Assault states that 51% of women report being sexually touched in an unwelcome way. 81% of women report some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18.3% of US woman have been raped and 19% of college women have experienced sexual assault or rape. In Native American tribes the incidence is much higher. In 2012, the New York Times reported that in a report by the Alaskan Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages is as much as 12 times the national rate. Women in Alaska and among other tribes suggest that few, if any, female relatives or friends have escaped sexual violence.
  • The Justice Department reports in 2016 that 1 in 5 college women report sexual assault, with half being rape. 21% of female graduates have been sexually assaulted while in college. Of course, this doesn’t speak to anytime before or after college.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Assault Survey from the CDC surveys in 2010 and 2011 states that about 19% of women have been a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.
  • The Department of Justice says that from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of unreported rape was 65%.
  • This article provides statistics about on-campus rapes and this article about rape frequency in general.

If you’re feeling a bit uneasy now, and you’re thinking of your own mother and grandmother and sister and aunt – and you’ve just realized that of those 4 women, chances are that at least one of them has been raped, and possibly more, you’re probably right. Just because they never told you, or anyone, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, if it did happen, it’s unlikely you ever heard about it, because they probably told NO ONE. Not then and they won’t now.

No one wants to think about that possibility. But if you wonder why a child was placed for adoption, why a child was raised by grandparents, or why a Y DNA test doesn’t match the paternal surname line, especially if the mother seemed so normal and there was no hint of a domestic or relationship issue – sexual assault in one form or another may well be the answer.

Sometimes a rape is the reason behind an adoption, and rekindling that trauma may be why some biological mothers don’t welcome contact with children. Those that do may not be willing to divulge the identity, if known, of the rapist for fear of being victimized yet again by the adult child being anxious to connect with the rapist. The rapist of course would deny the rape, so the mother once again has to risk disbelief and relive the trauma and issues she thought she put behind her decades ago. Who wants to know anything about a man that violated you decades ago – and very likely got away with it. Mothers who are not forthcoming aren’t always simply being obstinate – they may have very legitimate reasons.

Adoption wasn’t always the solution women sought. Many women raised those children inside of marriages, never revealing (at least not to the child) that they were not the biological child of their husband.

Today, with more and more people taking autosomal DNA tests, a biologically unrelated father or grandfather becomes painfully obvious pretty quickly to a genealogist.

While it’s extremely unpleasant to think what might have happened to your mother or your gray-haired loving grandmother when she was younger, it’s also wrong, dead wrong, to presume that she willfully cheated. Chances are at least equal that she had no or little choice in the matter. Many, many women who weren’t actually forcibly raped were heavily coerced or drugged.

What Do We Say?

So full siblings aren’t full siblings after all or the expected father isn’t the father.

Now that the secret has been revealed, at least to you, what do you say, and to whom?

There is no single answer, and no easy one either.

In part, what you say to whom depends of the level of investment of the person or people who tested. If they aren’t interested in the results, in essence, having tested “for you,” you may decide that in the interest of causing no pain and doing no damage, not to reveal the discrepancy.

Often people who ask someone to test will inform the tester in advance that the results can hold surprises – although no one ever expects they will be the one. Asking in advance if they want to know if “surprises” are discovered may also help direct your actions.

I never disclosed the information when I discovered that my half-brother was not my biological brother when he was terminally ill. Revealing that information would only have caused him pain, and there was absolutely no reason to do that.

I invested in genealogy, including genetic genealogy for fun, not to hurt anyone. My own personal guiding creed is “do no harm.”

Every situation is different and you will simply have to let the individual circumstances and your heart be your guide.

Having said that, how do YOU process this information which has the potential to be disturbing on several levels – not the least of which is that as a genealogist, you may have invested years in researching the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for that either. Some people reach out for counseling to help them over the rough patch.

The Benefit of the Doubt

I would suggest taking the high road and giving the female in question the benefit of the doubt unless you have actual evidence to suggest otherwise.

Please don’t pass judgement on her morality or character from the distance of decades when you can’t understand the circumstances, don’t have all of the information and she can’t defend herself.

If I have to make an error in judgement, let it be on the side of assuming the best, not the worst. Choices were few and none of them good for rape survivors. Our mothers, grandmothers and female ancestors did the best they could in the time when they lived and with the resources available to them at that time.

What she did or did not do then bears no reflection whatsoever on her love for her children, or you.

What your ancestors did or didn’t do also bears no reflection on you, today. Their actions and choices are not a curse that travels through generations.

If you loved them before, they haven’t changed. Continue to love them, with perhaps renewed or increased appreciation for their pain and the trials they faced in their lifetime.

What you discovered changed, not them. Be sure to place that discovery into historical and societal context and practice genealogical benevolence and kindness. What appear to be “lies” today may have been protection for the vulnerable then. Never assume and certainly not the worst.

Remember, you would not be here or would not be who you are if history had taken a different turn. And you’re awesome!

You, my friend, ARE the rest of their story.

Full or Half Siblings?

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Everyday on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re in shock. Staring at a computer screen in stunned disbelief.

Conversely, sometimes that surprise involves people we already know, love and believe to be full siblings – but autosomal DNA testing casts doubt.

If your sibling doesn’t match at all, download your DNA files and upload to another company to verify. This step can be done quickly.

Often people will retest, from scratch, with another company just for the peace of mind of confirming that a sample didn’t get swapped. If a sample was swapped, then another unknown person will match you at the sibling level, because they would be the one with your sibling’s kit. It’s extremely rare, but it has happened.

If the two siblings aren’t biologically related at all, we need to consider that one or both might have been adopted, but if the siblings do match but are predicted as half siblings, the cold fingers of panic wrap themselves around your heart because the ramifications are immediately obvious.

Your full sibling might not be your full sibling. But how can you tell? For sure? Especially when minutes seem like an eternity and your thoughts are riveted on finding the answer.

This article focuses on two tools to resolve the question of half versus full siblingship, plus a third safeguard.

Half Siblings Versus Step-Siblings

For purposes of clarification, a half sibling is a sibling you share only one parent with, while a step-sibling is your step-parent’s child from a relationship with someone other than your parent. Your step-parent marries your parent but is not your parent. You are not genetically related to your step-siblings unless your parent is related to your step-parent.

Parental Testing

Ideally two people who would like to know if they are full or half siblings would have both parents, or both “assumed” parents to compare their results with. However, life is seldom ideal and parents aren’t always available. Not to mention that parents in a situation where there was some doubt might be reluctant to test.

Furthermore, you may elect NOT to have your parents test if your test with your sibling casts doubt on the biological connections within your family. Think long and hard before exposing family secrets that may devastate people and potentially destroy existing relationships. However, this article is about the science of confirming full versus half siblings, not the ethics of what to do with that information. Let your conscience be your guide, because there is no “undo” button.

Ranges Aren’t Perfect

The good news is that autosomal DNA testing gives us the ability to tell full from half-siblings by comparing the siblings to each other, without any parent’s involvement.

Before we have this discussion, let me be very clear that we are NOT talking about using these tools to attempt to discern a relationship between two more distant unknown people. This is only for people who know, or think they know or suspect themselves to be either full or half siblings.


Because the ranges of the amount of DNA found in people sharing close family relationships varies and can overlap. In other words, different degrees of relationships can be expected to share the same amounts of DNA. Furthermore, except for parents with whom you share exactly 50% of your autosomal DNA (except males don’t share their father’s X chromosome), there is no hard and fast amount of DNA that you share with any relative. It varies and sometimes rather dramatically.

The first few lines of this Relationship Chart, from the 2016 article Concepts – Relationship Predictions, shows both first and second degree relationships (far right column).

Sibling shared cM chart 2016.png

You can see that first degree relations can be parent/child, or full siblings. Second degree relationships can be half siblings, grandparents, aunt/uncle or niece/nephew.

Today’s article is not about how to discern an unknown relation with someone, but how to determine ONLY if two people are half or full siblings to each other. In other words, we’re only trying to discern between rows two and three, above.

As more data was submitted to Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, the ranges changed as we continued to learn. Blaine’s 2017 results were combined into a useful visual tool at DNAPainter, showing various relationships.

Sibling shared cM DNAPainter.png

Note that in the 2017 version of the Shared cM Project, the high end of the half sibling range of 2312 overlaps with the low end of the full sibling range of 2209 – and that’s before we consider that the people involved might actually be statistical outliers. Outliers, by their very definition are rare, but they do occur. I have seen them, but not often. Blaine wrote about outliers here and here.

Full or Half Siblings?

So, how to we tell the difference, genetically, between full and half siblings?

There are two parts to this equation, plus an optional third safeguard:

  1. Total number of shared cM (centiMorgans)
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) versus Half Identical Regions (HIR)

You can generally get a good idea just from the first part of the equation, but if there is any question, I prefer to download the results to GedMatch so I can confirm using the second part of the equation too.

The answer to this question is NOT something you want to be wrong about.

Total Number of Shared cM

Each child inherits half of each parent’s DNA, but not the same half. Therefore, full siblings will share approximately 50% of the same DNA, and half siblings will share approximately 25% when compared to each other.

You can see the differences on these charts where percentages are converted into cM (centiMorgans) and on the 2017 combined chart here.

I’ve summarized full and half siblings’ shared cMs of DNA from the 2017 chart, below.

Relationship Average Shared cM Range of Shared cM
Half Siblings 1,783 1,317 – 2,312
Full Siblings 2,629 2,209 – 3,394

Fully Identical and Half Identical Regions

Part of the DNA that full siblings inherit will be the exact same DNA from Mom and Dad, meaning that the siblings will match at the same location on their DNA on both Mom’s strand of DNA and Dad’s strand of DNA. These sections are called Fully Identical Regions, or FIR.

Half siblings won’t fully match, except for very small slivers where the nucleotides just happen to be the same (identical by chance) and that will only be for very short segments.

Half siblings will match each other, but only one parent’s side, called Half Identical Regions or HIR.

Roughly, we expect to see about 25% of the DNA of full siblings be fully identical, which means roughly half of their shared DNA is inherited identically from both parents.

Understanding the Concept of Half Identical Versus Fully Identical

To help understand this concept, every person has two strands of DNA, one from each parent. Think of two sides of a street but with the same addresses on both sides. A segment can “live” from 100-150 Main Street, er, I mean chromosome 1 – but you can’t tell just from the address if it’s on Mom’s side of the street or Dad’s.

However, when you match other people, you’ll be able to differentiate which side is which based on family members from that line and who you match in common with your sibling. This an example of why it’s so important to have close family members test.

Any one segment on either strand being compared between between full siblings can:

  • Not match at all, meaning the siblings inherited different DNA from both parents at this location
  • Match on one strand but not the other, meaning the siblings inherited the same DNA from one parent, but different DNA from the other. (Half identical.)
  • Match identically on both, meaning the siblings inherited exactly the same DNA in that location from both parents. (Fully identical.)

I created this chart to show this concept visually, reflecting the random “heads and tails” combination of DNA segments by comparing 4 sets of full siblings with one another.

Sibling full vs half 8 siblings arrows

This chart illustrates the concept of matching where siblings share:

  • No DNA on this segment (red arrow for child 1 and 2, for example)
  • Half identical regions (HIR) where siblings share the DNA from one parent OR the other (green arrow for child 1 and 2, for example, where the siblings share brown from mother)
  • Fully identical regions (FIR) where they share the same segment from BOTH parents so their DNA matches exactly on both strands (black boxed regions)

If a region isn’t either half or fully identical, it means the siblings don’t match on that piece of DNA at all. That’s to be expected in roughly 50% of the time for full siblings, and 75% of the time for half siblings. That’s no problem, unless the siblings don’t match at all, and that’s entirely different, of course.

Let’s look at how the various vendors address half versus full siblings and what tools we have to determine which is which.


Ancestry predicts a relationship range and provides the amount of shared DNA, but offers no tools for customers to differentiate between half versus full siblings. Ancestry has no chromosome browser to facilitate viewing DNA matches but shared matches can sometimes be useful, especially if other close family members have tested.

Sibling Ancestry.png

Update 4-4-2019 – I was contacted by a colleague who works for an Ancestry company, who provided this information: Ancestry is using “Close Family” to designate avuncular, grandparent/grandchild and half-sibling relationships. If you see “Immediate Family “the relationship is a full sibling.

Customers are not able to view the results for ourselves, but according to my colleague, Ancestry is using FIRs and HIRs behind the scenes to make this designation. The Ancestry Matching White Paper is here, dating from 2016.

If Ancestry changes their current labeling in the future, this may not longer be exactly accurate. Hopefully new labeling would provide more clarity. The good news is that you can verify for yourself at GedMatch.

A big thank you to my colleague!


MyHeritage provides estimated relationships, a chromosome browser and the amount of shared DNA along with triangulation but no specific tool to determine whether another tester is a full or half sibling. One clue can be if one of the siblings has a proven second cousin or closer match that is absent for the other sibling, meaning the siblings and the second cousin (or closer) do not all match with each other.

Sibling MyHeritage.png

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, you can see the amount of shared DNA. They also they predict a relationship range, include a chromosome browser, in common matching and family phasing, also called bucketing which sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides. They offer additional Y DNA testing which can be extremely useful for males.

Sibling FamilyTreeDNA.png

If the two siblings in question are male, a Y DNA test will shed light on the question of whether or not they share the same father (unless the two fathers are half brothers or otherwise closely related on the direct paternal line).

Sibling advanced matches.png

FamilyTreeDNA provides Advanced Matching tools that facilitate combined matching between Y and autosomal DNA.

Sibling bucketing both.png

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder maternal/paternal bucketing tool is helpful because full siblings should be assigned to “both” parents, shown in purple, not just one parent, assuming any third cousins or closer have tested on both sides, or at least on the side in question.

As you can see, on the test above, the tester matches her sister at a level that could be either a high half sibling match, or a low full sibling match. In this case, it’s a full sibling, not only because both parents tested and she matched, but because even before her parents tested, she was already bucketed to both sides based on cousins who had tested on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family.


GedMatch, an upload site, shows the amount of shared DNA as well. Select the One-to-One matching and the “Graph and Position” option, letting the rest of the settings default.

Sibling GedMatch menu.png

GedMatch doesn’t provide predicted relationship ranges as such, but instead estimates the number of generations to the most recent common ancestor – in this case, the parents.

Sibling GedMatch total.png

However, GedMatch does offer an important feature through their chromosome browser that shows fully identical regions.

To illustrate, first, I’m showing two kits below that are known to be full siblings.

The green areas are FIR or Fully Identical Regions which are easy to spot because of the bright green coloring. Yellow indicate half identical matching regions and red means there is no match.

Sibling GedMatch legend.png

Please note that this legend varies slightly between the legacy GedMatch and GedMatch Genesis, but yellow, green, purple and red thankfully remain the same. The blue base indicates an entire region that matches, while the grey indicates an entire region not considered a match..

Sibling GedMatch FIR.png

Fully identical green regions (FIR) above are easy to differentiate when compared with half siblings who share only half identical regions (HIR).

The second example, below, shows two half-siblings that share one parent.

Sibling GedMatch HIR.png

As you can see, there are slivers of green where the nucleotides that both parents contributed to the respective children just happen to be the same for a very short distance on each chromosome. Compared to the full sibling chart, the green looks very different.

The half-sibling small green segments are fully identical by chance or by population, but not identical by descent which would mean the segments are identical because the individuals share both parents. These two people don’t share both parents.

The fully identical regions for full siblings are much more pronounced, in addition to full siblings generally sharing more total DNA.

GedMatch is the easiest and most useful site to work with for determining half versus full siblings by comparing HIR/FIR. I wrote instructions for downloading your DNA from each of the testing vendors at the links below:


Fraternal twins are the same as regular siblings. They share the same space for 9 months but are genetically siblings. Identical twins, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to tell apart genetically, and for all intents and purposes cannot be distinguished in this type of testing.

Sibling GedMatch identical twin.png

Here’s the same chart for identical twins.


23andMe also provides relationship estimates, along with the amount of shared DNA, a chromosome browser that includes triangulation (although they don’t call it that) and a tool to identify full versus half identical regions. 23andMe does not support trees, a critical tool for genealogists.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has become the “last” company that people use for genealogy. Most of their testers seem to be seeking health information today.

If you just happen to have already tested at 23andMe with your siblings, great, because you can use these tools. If you have not tested at 23andMe, simply upload your results from any vendor to GedMatch.

At 23andMe, under the Ancestry, then DNA Relatives tabs, click on your sibling’s match to view genetic information, assuming you both have opted into matching. If you don’t match your sibling, PLEASE be sure you BOTH have completely opted in for matching. I can’t tell you how many panic stricken siblings I’ve coached who weren’t both opted in to matching. If you’re experiencing difficulty, don’t panic. Simply download both people’s files to GedMatch for an easier comparison. You can find 23andMe download instructions here.

Sibling 23andMe HIR.png

Scrolling down, you can see the options for both half and completely identical segments on your chromosomes as compared to your match. Above,  my child matches me completely on half identical regions. This makes perfect sense, of course, because my father and my child’s father are not the same person and are not related.

Conversely, this next match is my identical twin whom I match completely identically on all segments.

Sibling 23andMe FIR.png

Confession – I don’t have an identical twin. This is actually my V3 test compared with my V4 test, but these two tests are in essence identical twin tests.

Unusual Circumstances

The combination of these two tools, DNA matching and half versus fully identical regions generally provides a relatively conclusive answer as to whether two individuals are half or full siblings. Note the words generally and relatively.

There are circumstances that aren’t as clear cut, such as when the father of the second child is a brother or other close relative of the first child’s father – assuming that both children share the same mother. These people are sometimes called three quarters siblings or niblings.

In other situations, the parents are related, sometimes closely, complicating the genetics.

These cases tend to be quite messy and should be unraveled with the help of a professional. I recommend (free unknown parent search specialists) or Legacy Tree Genealogists (professional genealogists.)

The Final SafeGuard – Just in Case

A third check, should any doubt remain about full versus half siblings, would be to find a relative that is a second cousin or closer on the presumed mother’s side and one on the presumed father’s side, and compare autosomal results of both relatives to both siblings.

There has never been a documented case of second cousins or closer NOT matching each other. I’m unclear about second cousins once removed, or half second cousins, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match. To date, second cousins (or closer) who didn’t match, didn’t match because they weren’t really biological second cousins.

If the two children are full siblings meaning the biological children of both the presumed parents, both siblings will match the 2nd cousin or closer on the mother’s side AND the 2nd cousin or closer on the father’s side as well. If they are not full siblings, one will match only on the second cousin on the common parent’s side.

You can see in the example below that Child 1 and Child 2, full siblings, match both Hezekiah (green), a second cousin from the father’s side, as well as Susan (pink), a second cousin from the mother’s side.

Sibling both sides matching.png

If one of the two children only matches one cousin, and not the other, then the person who doesn’t match the cousin from the father’s side, for example, is not related to the father – although depending on the distance of the relationship, I would seek an additional cousin to test through a different child – just in case.

You can see in the example below that Child 2 matches both Hezekiah (green) and Susan (pink), but Child 1 only matches Susan (pink), from the mother’s side, meaning that Child 1 does not descend from John, so isn’t the child of the Presumed Father (green).
Sibling both sides not matching.png

If neither child matches Hezekiah, that’s a different story. You need to consider the possibility of one of the following:

  • Neither child is the child of the Presumed Father, and could potentially be fathered by different men
  • A break occurred in the genetic line someplace between John and Hezekiah or between John and the Presumed Father.

In other words, the only way this safeguard works as a final check is if at least ONE of the children matches both presumed parents’ lines with a second cousin or closer.

And yes, these types of “biological lineage disruptions” do occur and much more frequently that first believed.

In the End

You may not need this safeguard check when the first and second methodologies, separately or together, are relatively conclusive. Sometimes these decisions about half versus full siblings incorporate non-genetic situational information, but be careful about tainting your scientific information with confirmation bias – meaning unintentionally skewing the information to produce the result that you might desperately want.

When I’m working with a question as emotionally loaded as trying to determine whether people are half or full siblings, I want every extra check and safeguard available – and you will too. I utilize every tool at my disposal so that I don’t inadvertently draw the wrong conclusion.

I want to make sure I’ve looked under every possible rock for evidence. I try to disprove as much as I try to prove. The question of full versus half siblingship is one of the most common topics of the Quick Consults that I offer. Even when people think they know the answer, it’s not uncommon to ask an expert to take a look to confirm. It’s a very emotional topic and sometimes we are just too close to the subject to be rational and objective.

Regardless of the genetic outcome, I hope that you’ll remember that your siblings are your siblings, your parents are your parents (genetic or otherwise) and love is love – regardless of biology. Please don’t lose the compassionate, human aspect of genealogy in the fervor of the hunt.



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Thank you so much.