2021 Favorite Articles

It’s that time of the year again when we welcome the next year.

2021 was markedly different than anything that came before. (Is that ever an understatement!)

Maybe you had more time for genealogy and spent time researching!

So, what did we read in 2021? Which of my blog articles were the most popular?

In reverse order, beginning with number 10, we have:

This timeless article published in 2015 explains how to calculate the amount of any specific heritage you carry based on your ancestors.

Just something fun that’s like your regular pedigree chart, except color coded locations instead of ancestors. Here’s mine

The Autosegment Triangulation Cluster Tool is a brand new tool introduced in October 2021. Created by Genetic Affairs for GEDmatch, this tool combines autoclusters and triangulation.

Many people don’t realize that we actually don’t inherit exactly 25% of our DNA from each grandparent, nor why.

This enlightening article co-authored with statistician Philip Gammon explains how this works, and why it affects all of your matches.

Who doesn’t love learning about ancient DNA and the messages it conveys. Does your Y or mitochondrial DNA match any of these burials? Take a look. You might be surprised.

How can you tell if you are full or half siblings with another person? You might think this is a really straightforward question with an easy answer, but it isn’t. And trust me, if you EVER find yourself in a position of needing to know, you really need to know urgently.

Using simple match, it’s easy to figure how much of your ancestor’s DNA you “should” have, but that’s now how inheritance actually works. This article explains why and shows different inheritance scenarios.

That 28 day timer has expired, but the article can still be useful in terms of educating yourself. This should also be read in conjunction with Ancestry Retreats, by Judy Russell.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say that their ethnicity percentages were “wrong,” I’d be a rich woman, living in a villa in sun-drenched Tuscany😊

This extremely popular article has either been first or second every year since it was published. Ethnicity is both exciting and perplexing.

As genealogists, the first thing we need to do is to calculate what, according to our genealogy, we would expect those percentages to be. Of course, we also need to factor in the fact that we don’t inherit exactly the same amount of DNA from each grandparent. I explain how I calculated my “expected” percentages of ethnicity based on my known tree. That’s the best place to start.

Please note that I am no longer updating the vendor comparison charts in the article. Some vendors no longer release updates to the entire database at the same time, and some “tweak” results periodically without making an announcement. You’ll need to compare your own results at the different vendors at the same point in time to avoid comparing apples and oranges.

The #1 Article for 2021 is…

  1. Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

This article has either been first (7 times) or second (twice) for 9 years running. Now you know why I chose this topic for my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy.

If you’re searching for your Native American ancestry, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions, both with and without some percentage of Native showing in your autosomal DNA percentages.

Make 2022 a Great Year!

Here’s wishing you the best in 2022. I hope your brick walls cave. What are you doing to help that along? Do you have a strategy in mind?


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Help Out, Please

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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Register for RootsTech 2022 Now – It’s Free!

Just the good news we need to end the year. RootsTech 2022, sponsored by FamilySearch, is entirely virtual and completely free – again.

In 2021, over a million people “attended” RootsTech and you can be one of those lucky people in March 2022 too.

In 2022, there will be more than 1500 sessions presented by hundreds of speakers from around the globe in many languages. Of course, that’s in addition to the vendor Expo booths, which I love, and the DNA Basics Learning Center.

The 2022 sessions and speakers aren’t listed yet, but this would be a good time to view any of the 2021 sessions that you never got a chance to. What better thing could you be doing for New Year’s Eve😊

Sign Up!

You can sign up for RootsTech 2022 here, for free.

I’ll let you know as soon as the 2022 sessions are added. The sessions showing are the 2021 classes which RootsTech has graciously made available for the entire year. I don’t know how long they will be viewable, so if you want to watch, please do so now.

As you might imagine, the 2022 speakers are busily (should I say crazily) designing and recording their content. You’ll be seeing me in both recorded sessions (about my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy,) sharing success-story testimonials, and in several live sessions too.

Yes, some sessions will be live this time and the live sessions will be recorded for later playback. I like to interact with people, so I’ve decided to cross my fingers that the internet gremlins don’t visit me those days! I have seven exciting sessions under construction.

Be sure to test your Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA and upload your autosomal DNA to multiple locations in advance so you are prepared to benefit from all of the DNA track presentations and a multitude of wonderful speakers. There’s still time today and tomorrow to take advantage of end-of-the year sales.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish an article by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

Help Out, Please

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

The Holidays and Coping With Grief – 52 Ancestors #346

First, let me say that I wish you a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, something else or no specific holiday at all.

This season is traditionally a time of family gathering.

That also means that it can be a time of grief when family members are no longer available to gather with.

I hope you are not grieving. If you are, this article might help. If you’re not, chances are very good that people around you are, whether you’re aware of it or not.

These Past Two Years

These past two years have surpassed anything any of us have ever lived through in terms of death and grief. Yes, I’m talking about the worldwide pandemic, which has now moved from epidemic to pandemic to endemic. I’m of course referring to Covid in all of its variant forms.

Initially, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 was compared to Covid, and also WWII in terms of deaths, but Covid is different than both.

In the US, only soldiers died during WWII. Other people were safe. Not so in parts of Europe and elsewhere though.

Covid infects and affects everyone, indiscriminately.

Now, almost two years in, I don’t know anyone whose family is untouched, and most of us have lost multiple people. That doesn’t count the one quarter to one third of Covid-infected people who recover that carry long-haul symptoms. We don’t know if they will ever fully recover.

The Holidays

Anyone who has ever lost someone they love knows all too well how difficult the holidays can be – especially the first set of holidays following their passing. Everything changes. Traditions cease to exist or are hollow shells of what they were before.

Some people go through the motions for the sake of others. Others don’t have anyone left to go through the motions for. Or they simply can’t or don’t want to.

I get it.

The Tsunami

These past two years have seen the “normal” deaths that would have occurred regardless, PLUS an exorbitant number of Covid deaths. More than 815,000 in the US alone, 5.3+ million worldwide, and rapidly rising.

Add to that the fact that for at least the first year, including this time last year, most people didn’t gather with their families. Even so, the worst Covid spike we saw followed the holiday season.

Since that time, we’ve had a slight reprieve, followed by Delta and now by the Omicron variant which propagates 70 times faster than Delta which, as we know, was more than twice as contagious as the original unmutated Covid-19.

This article isn’t about Covid itself, but the effects of Covid on families, which likely includes yours.

This Holiday Season

Some families have cancelled or curtailed holiday gatherings for a second year in a row.

That alone causes grief. Not everyone who was present two years ago is here this year, and some of the people here this year won’t be here next year. Life simply doesn’t stand still.

The good news is that various forms of electronic communications exist, like Zoom. Zoom has become a staple.

While Zoom is nice, it’s not the same and can’t replace a hug.

The Blame Game

If someone died in 2020 or 2021 from Covid, or has long-haul which causes disability, it’s all too easy to play the blame game.

Did they not take proper precautions and paid the ultimate price?

If you think for one minute death only affects the person who died, think again. Not only is an entire family grieving, someone has to pay for a HUGE medical bill. My cousin is losing her home because her spouse died of Covid after refusing to believe it is real and act accordingly. He left her with a ginormous medical bill after weeks in ICU.

Did someone else not take proper precautions and infected a family member who died? How does the rest of the family feel about that person? How do they feel about their actions? How do people cope with that?

Was someone untruthful about their vaccination or isolation status before a gathering, or refused to wear a mask, transmitting the disease to someone who became ill or died? Yep, that happened to one of my cousins too. Needless to say, that family isn’t gathering together this holiday season.

In these situations, family members not only lost the person who died and are dealing with some level of fallout from that, but may well have “lost” other family members one way or another in the process too.

They may be grieving a death and also angry with the person who died (or other people) because their death was needless.

Regardless of right or wrong, grief is grief and has a cascading effect.

The Walking Dead

These other lost family members are the people I’ll refer to as “the walking dead.” They are still alive, but the family is so fractured that family members have become completely estranged.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again these past few months. Repeatedly. One friend’s wedding caused a huge rift because they insisted all of the guests be vaccinated.

Another friend lost 4, yes 4, siblings and yet other family members wanted to attend the in-person funeral(s) without masks. Big rift in that family now too.

Yet in other cases, the politics behind various beliefs surrounding all-things-Covid has cleaved families clean in half. (Please, no political comments.)

While all of that that sounds awful in general, think of this in more individual terms.

Perhaps this is your brother and his family, or your parents, or one of your parents but not the other, or God-forbid, your children.

How would you be feeling this holiday season, with some family members actually dead, and others among the walking dead because they have chosen estrangement?

I can tell you how you’d feel. Utterly and completely miserable.

Life has changed entirely in the past two years, and it’s never going back to the way it was.

The pandemic may end one day, or enough people may contract Covid or be vaccinated that we reach herd immunity one way or another, or we may learn to live with Covid in some weakened form. Regardless, the accumulated damage and grief will never be repaired

This has not been a pause which we hoped it would be initially. It has been a slow-motion train wreck that’s still occurring.


Studies show that at least 27% of people in the US are estranged from a close family member. You can read about that here and here. Most of these studies are pre-Covid, and I guarantee you that estrangement has increased dramatically over the past two years.

Furthermore, an estrangement with one person often has a ripple effect. For example, if you are estranged from a specific family member who has children, you’ve in essence lost them as well since the parent controls the children.

If you’re a parent/grandparent in this circumstance, this is agonizing. It’s like they died but only to you, and by choice.

Truthfully, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any family who has had a relative that died of Covid who has managed to escape estrangement.

The “I Don’t Care About You” Message

Estrangement says very clearly that one person doesn’t care if the other person lives or dies, literally – or anything in-between.

That’s a horribly bitter pill to swallow – especially if the estrangement was the result of ghosting or unspoken issues surrounding the parameters of engagement, like vaccinations or political beliefs.

And that message is unmistakable.

Fractured Families

This article in Psychology Today discusses the estrangement epidemic with suggestions for how to understand and deal with fractured families.

If you’re one of the more than 67 million people suffering from estrangement, there are tips and hints here for you.

You can also reach out to others. Often, helping someone else who is in need or suffering makes both people feel better. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently and it helps a great deal.

What Can You Do?

The holiday season isn’t just about wishing someone happy holidays or purchasing a gift. Sometimes it’s about reaching out. It’s about a human connection.

Do you know someone who has endured a Covid or non-Covid related death during the past couple of years? Funerals have not been normal and a situation that is already extremely stressful has become even more so with grieving routines and traditions disrupted and family disagreements boiling over. Reach out and make sure your friend knows you care. Invite them if you are gathering. Don’t simply assume they’ve been invited elsewhere or that their family traditions haven’t changed.

Alone, if you don’t want to be alone, is awful.

The holidays are hard enough for some people without all of the additional stressors we have now.

Do you know someone who is estranged from a family member?

Have you heard the phrase “family of heart?” Family-of-heart is who we choose to be our family members. Some of the people I’m closest to are my “chosen family,” my “family of heart.”

Ask how someone is doing, and listen without judgement.

Be generous with kind words. I’ve told many people I love them these past few days. I do love them and I want to be absolutely positive they know that.

Tell people that you love them and how much you appreciate them while you can.

Estrangement Is Embarrassing

Estrangement, in particular, is embarrassing. When someone dies, everyone gathers the next holiday season and talks about how wonderful the dearly departed was. Not so with estrangement.

Estrangement is the dirty little secret no one wants to discuss. It’s painful and there is always the scent of guilt. “Why would they do that to you?” is easy to interpret as “What did you do to deserve that?”

If you can do so gracefully, share you own estrangement story with your friend. Let them know they really are not alone. Estrangement or abandonment happens to good, wonderful people. People who don’t deserve to be hurt. But it happens quite frequently, nonetheless.

When your friend shares with you, be sensitive how you form questions. Questions that begin with “Have you tried…” might suggest that you think they bear the responsibility for not resolving an issue that is not in their power to resolve. I guarantee, they’ve probably asked themselves every possible question over and over.

Estrangement combines betrayal and abandonment and causes the victim to wonder why as well.

I do feel compelled to add that some estrangement is entirely warranted such as abuse. Those aren’t the situations I’m referring to.

Tough Time of Year

It’s a tough time of year under normal circumstances, and this is anything but.

If you have a friend who is withdrawn, depressed, grouchy or just not acting themselves, grief may well have something to do with it. You may not realize they are grieving. They may have lost multiple relatives or close friends in one way or another – and often the loss of the walking dead is actually more painful that someone who physically died.

The person who died had no choice in the end – the walking dead make and continue that dagger-in-the-heart choice every single day.

Grief Never Ends

Regardless the source of grief, it never ends. In time, we often learn to deal with grief in a more productive or less painful way – but that’s not always the case with a series of grief events in close proximity.

Be caring and respectful of those who are grieving, which is pretty much everyone this year, whether they’ve told you or not.

They are likely NOT going to post that information on social media.

Depending on the situation, grief may extend to a job, one’s health or other factors.

Grief can include anything that affects your life negatively.


This has been a tough year for me in multiple ways. I’ve lost more than 9 relatives to Covid – depending on how you count. For example, my cousin lost both of her parents a few days apart. One of her parents is my cousin by blood and one by marriage. How do I count that? Is the couple one family member or two?

Furthermore, I’ve lost additional close family members to estrangement.

My husband’s longest friend died, and that family is fractured too.

Covid, death and estrangement isn’t just an isolated story now, but one shared by almost everyone one way or another.

I’m extremely, extremely grateful for my family members that I’m close to, although my family is shrinking.

I’m also incredibly grateful to my friends and family-of-heart. For example, within the last week or so, one friend has come to help me at least 4 times with something particularly difficult. Then, just this evening, Christmas Eve, my husband and I were included in a non-traditional family gathering.

Perhaps we are forming new traditions this year – ones to sustain us in the future since going back to the way things were in the past is simply not possible.

Wishing You Peace

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.

I hope you are happy wherever you are.

Personally, I’ve adopted the Icelandic strategy where you go to bed with a good book and eat chocolate. Yep, I have my book waiting here for me, as soon as I’m finished with this article. My 72% dark chocolate awaits too, as does a hot bath, comforting quilts and my three fur-children.

If celebrating is not in the cards for you this year, I wish you a good book, a good movie, good food and lots of sleep.

Please know that I care about you. Let me know how you’re doing!

$9 Family Finder Unlock at FamilyTreeDNA + Last Minute Gifts

Today, when I signed on to FamilyTreeDNA, I noticed that the transfer unlock is on sale for just $9. If you’ve transferred your DNA file from another vendor, you will receive all the DNA features at FamilyTreeDNA for just $9 right now. That’s a fantastic value. A new test costs $49 on sale.

If you haven’t transferred, you can use these step-by-step instructions to transfer for free and take advantage of the unlock price.

Matching and some features are free with a transfer of course, but the $9 unlock gives you access to all of the premium autosomal features, including:

  • Chromosome browser
  • myOrigins (ethnicity)
  • myOrigins chromosome painting – I wrote about that recently here
  • AncientOrigins

If you transfer your DNA file and want to add either a Y DNA or mitochondrial test, FamilyTreeDNA will send you a free swab kit when you order that add-on product.

New Orders

Everything is on sale right now for the holidays, through the 31st. It’s a perfect time to order tests for family members.

The new bundled offering of the autosomal Family Finder test plus the myDNA Wellness product is a great value at $69.

I wrote about the Wellness product, here.

Important Hint

It’s very important to upload a tree to or create one at FamilyTreeDNA. Of course, your matches will want to view your tree – but it’s even more important than that because of what trees allow FamilyTreeDNA to do for you.

  1. You link your kit to your profile in your tree.
  2. Then link your matches with people you recognize or relationships you figure out to their proper place in your tree.
  3. FamilyTreeDNA then utilizes that information and triangulates segments for you to determine who is a maternal and who is a paternal match to you, and buckets them accordingly.


Trust me, I didn’t figure out all 3199 paternal and 1423 maternal matches individually. I simply linked known relatives, some of whom I purchased tests for, to their proper places in my tree and FamilyTreeDNA did the rest for me.

You can unlock results by signing on to your account or order tests by clicking here.

Have a wonderful, joyous holiday season!


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish an article by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

Help Out, Please

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research


My Heritage Celebrates One Million Subscriber Milestone

I received an email this week from MyHeritage celebrating their one millionth subscriber.

Congratulations MyHeritage and the MyHeritage team!

This is indeed a landmark – from a garage startup by Gilad Japhet in 2003 to international genealogical juggernaut in just a few years. MyHeritage is one of only two genealogy companies that combines DNA testing with research subscription services.

According to MyHeritage:

Today, we are trusted by 96 million users worldwide. Our site is available in 42 languages and is home to 82 million family trees, 16.1 billion historical records, and 5.6 million DNA kits in our DNA database.

That’s incredible and we genealogists are the beneficiaries.

Why does this matter?

Genealogy is a Team Sport

Every person who subscribes and researches, meaning both traditional records or combined with DNA results, is one more person who might, just might, make a breakthrough on one of my ancestral lines.

They might be someone who has, and posts, photos of my ancestors that I don’t have.

They might know stories and snippets of information about my ancestor’s lives that never made it down my side of the tree.

And, of course, that’s one more person to test (or upload) their DNA. I’ve found close cousins there who don’t have their DNA anyplace else.

All of these things have happened to/for me at MyHeritage, and in turn, I’ve provided a lot of information for other people too.

DNA Plus Records

It’s not necessary to be a subscriber to utilize DNA at MyHeritage. DNA matching, a 250 person tree or less and some features are free, However, there are definite benefits to subscribing in addition to having DNA results and using the free services at MyHeritage.

  • Unlimited tree building
  • Record Matches
  • SuperSearches
  • Instant Discoveries
  • Smart Matches
  • Photo Enhancer

Subscribers receive all of the basic and advanced DNA tools including;

It’s worth noting that MyHeritage has many European DNA testers along with a plethora European research records. In fact, they just added a huge number of French records which I’m methodically sifting through looking for my Acadian and Huguenot ancestors. 

Take a look at the MyHeritage research collections catalog, here. I particularly appreciate the digitized newspaper collection. I can’t tell you how much I’ve found there that isn’t available elsewhere. Which collections would be the most useful to you?

You can try the MyHeritage complete subscription for free for 14 days, here. The complete subscription gives you all the research benefits and tools that MyHeritage has available. That’s the subscription I have. I love it and use it almost daily.

Your genealogical arsenal isn’t complete without it.

If you’ve never used MyHeritage before, they provide a free, searchable Knowledge Base, here, to get you started. You can even get started with a Basics tutorial, here.


5.6 million people have either tested their DNA at MyHeritage or uploaded their DNA to MyHeritage from another vendor.

Let me know what you find!


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish an article by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

Help Out, Please

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Sending Treasures Home for the Holidays – 52 Ancestors #345

Recently, I’ve been focused on sending things, items that I consider treasures, to where I eventually want them to live.

Downsizing aka Swedish Death Cleaning causes one to think about things differently. My frame of reference has shifted.

Space becomes a premium, and if we own something that would be better placed elsewhere, especially eventually, maybe now’s a good time to share the love.

Add to this the fact that Covid has also forced us to pause and reflect. We’ve had to seriously consider our own mortality in more immediate terms. We’ve learned what we can live without and perhaps reassessed a number of things in our life. This particular mix of factors has led me to rehome several items.

I’m not rehoming them because I don’t love them – but exactly because I do. I want them to continue to be loved by someone, the right someone, after I can no longer do that. I’ve realized you don’t have to physically possess something to love it.

The holidays is the perfect time to do this as well. It might be for you too. What better gift to give and receive than a wonderful heirloom filled with love.

I’ve shipped several packages recently. Let me tell you about one.

My Paternal Half-Sister

I haven’t yet written about my paternal half-sister, Edna, although I will soon, I promise.

Edna and I are a generation offset. She was actually two years older than my mother.

My Mom knew Edna, although not well, because they lived distantly. Edna was not close to our father. After Mom and Dad parted company, and Dad died, Mom and Edna kept in touch via occasional letter. I think over time that dwindled, then eventually trickled to a stop.

I didn’t meet Edna until I was an adult. In fact, I didn’t even know she existed except through vague references.

I suspect that my mother didn’t want to have to explain “life” surrounding my father – and trust me – I would have had questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I surely did when I finally met Edna.

A New Sister

I was over-the-moon ecstatic to have a sister. I was a young mother myself when that accidental discovery occurred.

From the day we met, we bonded like two cups of water in a bucket.

We wrote letters, talked on the phone most every Sunday and traveled to see one another. In many ways, it was like we had never NOT known each other. Perhaps we were trying to make up for lost time.

I had young children, but Edna and her husband had just retired and were in the process of moving to Arizona.

As my career developed, I often had to fly to the west coast. I arranged for a flight that landed in Phoenix so I could visit with her and catch the next travel leg the following day.

Edna’s children, who were my age and older, called me their “Baby Aunt.” I was the same age as Edna’s youngest daughter. We looked a great deal alike too as children.

This photo of our father with Edna’s children was taken about 1960.

50th Anniversary

For Edna and Cliff’s 50th wedding anniversary, I cross-stitched a celebratory sampler as a gift.

Edna and Cliff often came home to the north country and lived in their 5th wheel in the summer. It might be a “dry heat,” but it was still beastly hot in Arizona at that time of year.

They often set up the 5th wheel under a large shady tree on the farm that they used to own, then owned by one of their children.

To celebrate their anniversary, their grandson hosted a picnic. The entire family attended.

To prove I really was accepted fully as family – let me explain that they loved to tease me. Especially Edna’s grandchildren, some of whom were nearly my age.

The Volleyball Game

Picnic attendees were playing volleyball in the yard in the July heat at Edna’s golden wedding anniversary party. Everyone took a break, me included.

I moseyed over to the drink tent and spotted some lovely red fruit punch in a bowl full of ice. That looked so good. I dipped myself a nice large cup full. It was wonderfully cold, I was sweating and very thirsty – so I gulped the entire thing and filled my cup again.

We walked back out to the volleyball area and I leaped to spike a ball. I was invigorated and felt like I leaped higher than ever before. Wow, that punch was amazing!

The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see everyone circled above me. All staring down at me.

I was flat on my back in the grass. Apparently, somehow that grass had gotten slippery. I had absolutely no recollection of how I got there or why people were staring at me. Things were a bit fuzzy and very funny.

The hosting grandson said to another grandson, “I think she drank some of the punch.’

“Well, that explains that,” someone said. Everyone started laughing uproariously. 

As for me, I was still laying there happily confused. Man, that punch was lusciously good.

And what did me drinking punch have to do with anything, anyway?

White Lightening

Turns out, that was special white lightening moonshine punch. The fruit juice masked the taste.

And I had gulped a huge cupful.

I was feeling absolutely no pain.

I don’t remember a lot more about the rest of that day. But trust me, I never lived it down.

What glorious memories.

A Dozen Short Years

It truly never occurred to me that Edna might die.

Of course, I conceptually knew that SOMEDAY that would happen, but no time soon so it wasn’t anything I needed to think about.


A dozen years after I met Edna for the first time, she left the earthly realm. Just a couple years after the anniversary party, Edna was gone. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

Everyone was stunned. Grief stricken. She was the matriarch of her rather large family and greatly loved.

I was shell-shocked.

It felt like a cruel joke. I grieved her passing deeply and still do. It was like part of me died too.

Given and taken away all too soon. Without warning.

Creative Artistry

Edna possessed a great many talents and never failed to amaze me.

Among other things, Edna was a woodcarver.

My favorite carving was a spiritual piece. Three or four people of clearly different races standing closely together, looking upwards, suggesting to a higher power. This spoke of brotherhood, unity and peace without saying an actual word. It touched me profoundly. I wish I had a photo of that carving to share with you, but I don’t.

Not only did Edna meticulously carve the shapes, she also burned and sometimes selectively stained the wood to achieve depth and color.

After Edna passed over, her husband called and asked for my address. He mentioned that he was selling the Arizona property and moving back North in his 5th wheel, permanently. In other words, he didn’t have space for the gift I had made them.

I was very grateful for his candor and the fact that he returned the sampler to me so lovingly. He said that’s what Edna would have wanted.

He asked if there was anything else of Edna’s that I wanted. I told him I wanted one of her carvings, if there were enough to go around.

The Box

The box arrived with two items – the sampler and a bird wood carving. For all these years, her carving has been within sight in my office. I felt close to her, like she was watching over me.

The birds sometimes gathered outside the window near the carving. I guess it was one bird communing with another.

For three decades, the sampler and wood carving have been my silent sentinels, connecting me to her. What we had and was ripped from us.

I have moved from sadness and grief to joyful recollections, at least most of the time. That’s not to say I don’t still miss her. I do, of course. That gaping hole will never be filled. But I wouldn’t trade the absence of pain because that would have meant that I missed the joy and love.

Grief is but one manifestation of love.


As the family genealogist, it’s important to me to be sure that these two pieces ultimately reside in her family line. They belong with her children or grandchildren and their descendants. They are her legacy, her story, not mine.

I waited to the last day to wrap these. I wanted them with me as long as possible. It was difficult.

I knew that sending them off, or ”back home” as I prefer to think about it was absolutely the right thing to do, and that Edna would 100% approve. That still didn’t mean it was easy.

I don’t want Edna’s things to wind up in some rummage sale, or worse, after I’m gone, not that my daughter would do that. But at some point, down the line, someone WILL do that. ‘

I packed those two pieces up again, smiling as I thought of the day oh-so-many years ago that I opened the box from Cliff.

I released them and blessed them on their way.


A few days later, Edna’s grandson’s wife messaged me to let me know the box had arrived. She told me that she already had incorporated them into their family and hung them in a place of honor.

My heart was gladdened, and I was thrilled to know how much they love them.

Of course, this particular grandson was one of those white-lightening-punch culprits. He says he remembers that day when I gave Edna and Cliff the sampler. They must have opened their gifts after I drank that fateful punch😊

I’m so very glad to know these two heirloom pieces are now on a path of descent in Edna’s own direct line. I loved them every single day. They connected me to her. I know she loved them too. They were made by her hands and mine. But it’s time now for them to make their way among her descendants – not mine.

Seeing the picture of the two pieces, hung together in their beautiful home among their festive decorations assured me that I had done exactly the right thing. I’m so grateful she sent the photo to me. It removed whatever tinge of sadness I had about their departure.

The sampler and Edna’s the wood carving have made it home in time for the holidays!

Bon voyage.


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Y DNA Tree of Mankind Reaches 50,000 Branches

Today is a really, REALLY big day in the genetic genealogy world.

The Y DNA tree of mankind at FamilyTreeDNA has reached 50,000 branches. That’s quite a milestone!

There’s been remarkably rapid growth in the past three years, as shown below.

From the FamilyTreeDNA blog article announcing this milestone event, we see the growth from 2018 to present cumulatively and within each haplogroup. Of course, haplogroup R, present in very high frequencies in Europe, forms the base of this mountain, but every haplogroup has achieved significant gains – which benefits all testers.

Who is Branch 50,000?

Michael Sager, the phylogeneticist at FamilyTreeDNA just added branch 50,000.

Drum roll please! Who is it? Surprisingly, it’s NOT found in haplogroup R, but a man from Vanuatu, a country in Oceania.

The new branch is a member of haplogroup S – specifically S-FTC416, immediately downstream of S-P315. Haplogroup S is found in Indonesia, Micronesia and other Pacific Island nations, including Australia and New Zealand.

This man was a new customer who joins a couple of Aboriginal samples found in academic papers from Kuranda (Queensland, Australia) and 3 ancient samples from Vanuatu.

How cool is that!!!

We’ve Come a LONG Way!

The Y DNA phylogenetic tree has been growing like wildfire.

  • Back in 2002, there were 153 branches on the Y-DNA tree, and a total of 243 known SNPs. (Some SNPs were either duplicates or not yet placed on the tree which explains the difference.)
  • In 2008, six years later, the tree had doubled to 311 branches and 600 SNPs. At the FamilyTreeDNA International Conference that year, attendees received this poster. I remember the project administrators marveling about how large the tree had grown.
  • In 2010, two years later, the tree was comprised of 440 branches and 800 SNPs. That poster was even larger, and it was the last year that the phylotree would fit onto a poster.
  • By 2012, when the Genographic Project V2 was announced, that bombshell announcement included information that the Genographic project was testing for 12,000 SNP locations on their chip, not all of which had been classified.
  • In 2014, when FamilyTreeDNA and Genographic jointly released their new Y tree to celebrate DNA Day, the Y tree had grown to more than 6200 SNPS, of which, more than 1200 were end-of-branch terminal SNPs. If this had been a poster, it would have been more than 62 feet long.

From that point on, the trajectory was unstoppable.

The earliest SNP-seeking product called Walk the Y had been introduced followed by the first-generation powerful Big Y NGS DNA scanning product.

That’s 1300% growth, or said another way, the database increased by 13 times in four years.

In the three years since, many of those SNPs, plus private variants that had not yet been named at that point have been added to the tree.

In January 2019, the Big Y-700 was announced and many people upgraded. The Big Y-700 provided dramatically increased resolution, meaning that test could find more mutations or SNPs. The effect of this granularity is that the Big Y-700 is discovering mutations and new SNPs in a genealogical timeframe, where the original haplogroups a few years ago could only piece together deeper ancestry.

The Big Y-700 has made a HUGE difference for genealogists.

  • Today, in December of 2021, the tree hit 50,000 branches. That poster would be more than 500 feet long, almost twice the length of a football field.

I have to wonder how many more branches are out there just waiting to be found? How many will we find in the next year? Or the next?

The pace doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, that’s for sure. Adding academic and ancient samples to the tree helps a great deal in terms of adding context to our knowledge.

What gems does your family’s Y DNA hold?

How Does a SNP or Variant Get Added to the Tree?

You might be wondering how all of this happens.

A SNP, which becomes a haplogroup has three states of “being,” following discovery.

  1. When the mutation, termed a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), pronounced “snip” is found in the first male, it’s simply called a variant. In other words, it varies from the nucleotide that is normally found in that position in that one man.
  2. When the SNP is found in multiple men, assuming it’s found consistently in multiple scans, and it’s in an area that is “clean” and not genetically “noisy,” then the SNP is given a name like R-ZS3700 or R-BY154784, and the SNP is placed on the tree in its correct position. From my article last week about using Y DNA STR and SNP markers for genealogy, you can see that both of those haplogroups have multiple men who have been found with those mutations.
  3. Some SNPs are equivalent SNPs. For example, in the image below, the SNP FT702 today is equivalent to R-ZS3700, meaning it’s found in the same men that carry R-ZS3700. Eventually, many equivalent SNPs form a separate tree branch.

One day, some man may test that does have R-ZS3700 but does NOT have FT702, which means that a new branch will be formed.

When men tested that had R-BY154784, that new branch was added to the left of R-ZS3700, because not all men with R-ZS3700 have the mutation R-BY154784.

You’ll notice that the teal blocks indicate the number of private variants which are mutations that have not yet been found in other men in this same branch structure, and those variants are therefore not yet named SNPs.

If You’ve Already Tested, How Do You Receive a New Haplogroup?

It’s worth noting here that none of the terminal SNPs that define these branches were available using the older Big Y tests which illustrates clearly why it’s important to upgrade from the Big Y or Big Y-500 to the Big Y-700.

In my Estes line, the terminal SNP in the Big Y-500 was R-BY490. These same men upgraded to the Big Y-700 and have now been assigned to four different, distinct, genealogically significant lineages based on SNPs discovered after they upgraded. Some men have three new SNPs that weren’t available in earlier tests. In real terms, that’s the difference between the common ancestor born in 1495 and descendants of John R. Estes who died in the 1880s. Genealogically speaking, that’s night and day.

If you haven’t taken a Big Y test, I heartily recommend it – even if you don’t have STR matches. I talked about why, here. Men can purchase the Big Y initially, or sign on to your account and upgrade if you’ve already taken another test.

In a nutshell, the Big Y-700 test provides testers with two types of tools that work both together and separately to provide genealogically relevant information.

Not to mention – you may be responsible for growing the tree of mankind, one branch at a time. What’s waiting for you?


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

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STRs and SNPs – Are STR Markers Still Useful for Y DNA?

Some time back, I wrote an article titled, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities, which you can read, here. In that article, I explained the difference between STR and SNP markers.

Y DNA is extremely useful for men to track their direct paternal line via the Y chromosome that they inherited from their father. You can see how various types of DNA are inherited, here. By way of comparison, mitochondrial DNA (red) is inherited from your matrilineal line, and autosomal DNA (green) is inherited from all lines.

The Y chromosome, shown in blue above, is passed from father to son without mixing with the DNA of the mother, so it is in essence tracked intact for generations – with the exception of occasional mutations.

Two kinds of mutations make Y DNA genealogically useful. They are STRs, short tandem repeat markers and SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced as “snips.” If you’re looking for in-depth information about Y DNA, I have provided a Y DNA resource guide here.

How is Y DNA Useful?

For Estes males, we have identified several genetic lineages using these markers that show us where testers fit into the tree of Estes males, which of course in turn fits into the larger tree of mankind.

In some cases, Y DNA is the only clue people have as to their genealogy. In other situations, these tests confirm and further refine both the genetic tree and genealogy.

Let’s look at how these two types of Y DNA markers work, separately and together at FamilyTreeDNA.

STR Markers, Results and Matching

Y DNA STR results are returned in panels when men take Y DNA tests.

Every man who takes a Y DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA receives STR results, shown above. How many marker results he receives depends on the level of the test he orders. In the past, 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker tests were available to purchase individually. Men could also upgrade to higher level tests. 500 and 700 STR marker results are only available when the Big Y test has been purchased.

Today, men can order the entry level 37 Y DNA test or a 111 marker test individually. However, a minimum of 700 STR markers are included in the Big Y-700 test, in addition to SNP results, which we will talk about in a minute.

Matching is Key

However, the benefit isn’t in the STR markers themselves, but in matching to other men. The markers are just the tool used – but the more information you have, the better the result.

STR results are used to match all Y DNA testers against each other. Matches are shown at each marker level.

My Estes male cousin has tested at the Big Y 700 level. He is matched against all other men who have taken a Y DNA test. He can see who he matches at 12 through 111 markers separately. For each man that he matches, if they have taken the Big Y test, he can see how closely he matches at the 500 or 700 marker level too.

This Estes match to my Estes cousin, shown above, has tested at 111 markers, but has not taken the Big Y test, so he has no STR markers above 111. He mismatches my cousin with 1 STR marker difference at 111 markers. That’s pretty close.

Additionally, we can see that the match’s haplogroup has been estimated as R-M269 based on STR results. For a more specific haplogroup, either individual SNP markers must be tested, or an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test can be ordered. I don’t recommend individual SNP marker testing anymore because the Big Y gives you so much more for your money by scanning for all Y DNA mutations.

Big Y-700 and SNPs

The only way to obtain the most detailed Y DNA haplogroup is to take a Big Y test. The Big Y test scans the Y chromosome to search for SNP mutations. The Big Y test doesn’t test any one specific location, like STRs or individual SNP tests, but scans for all mutations – currently known and previously unknown. That’s the beauty. You don’t have to tell it what to look for. The Big Y test scans and looks for everything useful.

More than 200,000 men in the FamilyTreeDNA database have been SNP tested and more than 450,000 variants, or mutations, have been found in Big Y tests. The database grows every single day. Sometimes DNA matching is a waiting game, with your DNA available for matching 24X7. When your DNA is working for you, you just never know when that critical match will be forthcoming.

The Big Y test keeps giving over time, because new variants (mutations) are discovered and eventually named as haplogroups. Many new haplogroups are based on what can best be called family line mutations.

Initially, SNP results and haplogroups were so far up the tree that often, they weren’t genealogically relevant, but that’s NOT the case anymore.

Today, SNP results from the Big Y-700 test are sometimes MORE relevant and dependable than STR results.

Each man receives a very refined personal haplogroup, known colloquially as their terminal SNP, often FAR down the tree from the estimated haplogroup provided with STR testing alone.

After Big Y testing, my cousin is now haplogroup R-ZS3700 instead of R-M269. R-M269 was accurate as far as it went, but only the Big Y test can provide this level of detail which is quite useful.

The Block Tree Divides Lines for You

The Block Tree is provided for all Big Y testers.

Looking at the Block Tree for my cousin, you can see that he and several other primarily Estes men either share the same haplogroup or parent/child haplogroups.

My cousin in R-ZS3700, while R-BY490 is the parent haplogroup of R-ZS3700, and R-BY154784 is a child haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

R-M269 is more than 15 haplogroup branches upstream of my cousin’s R-ZS3700.

You can also easily see that Estes men fall onto different “twigs” of the tree, and those twigs are very genealogically significant. Each column above is a twig, representing a distinct genealogical lineage. Taking the Big Y test separates men into their ancestral branches which can be genealogically associated with specific men.

My cousin is R-ZS3700, along with one other man. Two more men form R-BY154784, a subgroup of R-ZS3700, which means they descend from a specific man who descends from Moses Estes. All of these men descend from R-BY490 and all of those men descend from R-BY482, the parent of R-BY490, as shown on the public haplotree, here.

Men who take the Big Y test ALSO receive separate SNP matching – meaning they have BOTH STR and SNP matching which provides testers with two separate tools to use.

Of course, the only men who will be shown as SNP matches are the men who have taken the Big Y test.

Ok, how is this information useful?

Project View

Looking at the Estes DNA project, you can see that two men who have joined the project carry haplogroup R-ZS3700. Several others descend from that same genealogical line according to their paper trail, and STR matches, but have not taken the Big Y-700 test.

As the project administrator, I’ve grouped these men by their known ancestor, and then, in some cases, I’ve used their terminal SNP to further group them. For example, one man, kit 491887, doesn’t know which Estes line he descends from, but I can confidently group him in Estes Group 4 based on his haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

I can also use STR matching and autosomal matching to further refine his match group if needed for the project. But guaranteed, he’ll need to use both of those additional tools to figure out who his Estes ancestors are.

He was absolutely thrilled to be grouped under Moses Estes, because at least now he has something to work his paper trail backwards towards.

Test Summary

Men who take STR tests alone, meaning 12-111 only, receive STR matching and an estimated haplogroup.

Men who take the Big Y test receive STR results and matches, PLUS the most refined haplogroup possible, many additional STR markers, separate SNP matches and block tree placement.

STR 12-111 Tests Only Big Y-700 Test
STR markers through 111 Yes, depending on test level purchased Yes
STR marker matching with other men Yes Yes
STR markers from 112-700 Only if the tester purchases a Big Y upgrade Yes
Estimated haplogroup Yes Haplogroup is fully tested, not estimated
Tested, most refined haplogroup Not without an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test Yes
SNP Matching No Yes
Block Tree No Yes


Recently, someone asked me how to use these tools separately and together. That’s a great question.

First, if there is a data conflict, SNP results are much more stable than STRs. STRs mutate much more often and sometimes back mutate to the original value which in essence looks like a mutation never happened. Furthermore, sometimes STR markers mutate to the same value independently, meaning that two men share the same mutation – making it look like they descend from the same line – but they don’t.

Before the Big Y tests were available, the only Y DNA tools we had were STR matches and individual SNP mutations. From time to time, one of the STR markers would mutate back to the original value which caused me, as a project administrator, to conclude that men without that specific line-marker mutation were not descended from that line, when in fact, that man’s line had experienced a back-mutation.

How do I know that? When the men involved both took the Big Y-700 test, they have a lineage defining haplogroup that proved that there had been a back-mutation in the STR data and the men in question were in fact from the line originally thought.

Thank goodness for the Big Y test.

STRs and SNPs Working in Tandem

Click any image to enlarge

Looking at the Estes project again, the R-ZS3700 SNP defines the Moses Estes (born 1711) line, a son of the immigrant, Abraham Estes. The men grouped together above are descendants of Moses’s great-grandson. You can see that if I were to use STR markers alone, I would have divided this group into two based on the values of the two bottom kits. However, both genealogy and SNP/haplogroups prove that indeed, the genealogy is accurate.

STR markers alone are inconclusive at best and potentially deceptive if we used only those markers without additional information.

However, we don’t always have the luxury of upgrading every man to the right and Big Y-700 test. Some testers are deceased, some don’t have enough DNA left and cannot submit a new swab, and some simply aren’t interesting.

When we don’t have the more refined Big Y test, the STR markers and matches are certainly valuable.

Furthermore, STR markers can sometimes provide lineages WITHIN haplogroups.

For example, let’s say that in the example above the two men at the bottom were a distinct line of men descended from one specific descendant of Moses Estes. If that were the case, then the STR markers would be very valuable within the R-ZS3700 haplogroup. Maybe I need to reevaluate their genealogy and see if there are any new clues available now that were not available before.

STRs Within Match Groups

Using a different example, I can’t group these Estes men any more closely based on their genealogy or SNP results.

Only two men in this group have taken a Big Y test – those with haplogroup R-BY490. Unfortunately, this haplogroup only confirms that these men descend from the Estes lineage that immigrated to America and that they are NOT from the Moses Estes line. That’s useful, but not enough.

Two other men have taken individual SNP tests, R-DF49 and R-L21 which are not useful in this context. They don’t reach far enough down the tree.

We need more information. Fortunately, we have some.

We have two clusters of STR markers. We can see that three men have a purple grouping of 24 at marker DYS390 (the header with STR marker names is not shown in the screen shot) and a grouping of men that share a mutation of 12 at marker DYS391.

It’s likely, but not a given, that the men clustered together at the bottom with the 12 value descend from the same Estes male common ancestor. The men at the top with a value of both 12 and 24 could belong to that same cluster, with an additional small cluster of 24 further delineating their ancestor – OR – the mutation to 12 at location DYS391 could have arisen independently in two separate lines.

It’s also possible that back-mutations have occurred in some of the other men. We just don’t know.

If I were to advise these men, I’d strongly suggest that they all upgrade to the Big Y-700 with the hope that at least some of them would have SNPs that define existing or new haplogroups that would positively sort their lines.

Then, within those haplogroup groups, I’d focus on STR groupings, genealogy and possibly, autosomal results.

Evaluate All Three, Separately and Together

We have three separate tools (plus autosomal) that need to be considered together as well as separately.

  1. The first, of course, is known genealogy. However, Y DNA testing works well even without genealogy.
  2. Big Y haplogroup information combined with the block tree should be evaluated to define genetic lineages.
  3. STR groupings need to be evaluated separately from and within haplogroups and allow us to add people to the SNP-defined groups of testers. Known genealogy is important when using STR markers.

As a bonus, if the men have also taken the Family Finder test, some men may match each other autosomally as well as Y DNA, if the connection is close enough in time. Of course, Y DNA matches reach much further back in time than autosomal matching because Y DNA is never divided or combined with any DNA from the other parent.

Confirm or Refute

Genealogy can be either confirmed or refuted by either STR or SNP tests, independently or together.

Looking again at the public Estes DNA project, you can see that the first person in that group provided his genealogy as descending from the same Moses Estes line as the other men. However, the STR mutations clearly show that indeed, his genealogy is incorrect for some reason. He does not match any of the other men descended from Moses’s grandson or the rest of the Estes lineage.

This man’s haplogroup is estimated as R-M269, but were he to take the Big Y test, he would assuredly not be R-ZS3700. In fact, his STR markers match two men who have taken the Big Y-700 test and those two men share an entirely different haplogroup, not in the Estes or related branches at all. If this man were to take the Big Y-700 test, he would likely match that haplogroup.

Both STRs and SNPs can disprove a lineage relationship. As I mentioned earlier, of the two, SNPs are more reliable. Often SNPs are required to conclusively divide a group of men descended from a common ancestor.

STRs may or may not be useful, or correct, either without SNP-defined haplogroups, or within those haplogroups.

However, STRs, even alone, are a tool that should not be ignored, especially when we don’t have SNP data or it’s not conclusive.p

A Different View

To literally look at this a different way, I prepared a pedigree type Y DNA haplogroup spreadsheet for the Estes Project at WikiTree. I’ve divided the information by ancestor and included haplogroups. You can view that spreadsheet, here, and you can then compare the colored groups with the Estes DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA which are grouped by ancestral line.

This is only a small portion of that pedigree showing the Moses lineage. The image is large, but you can see the entire spreadsheet (as of August 2020) here.

Of note, R-BY490 defines the entire Abraham Estes line (green above). Within that line, other SNP lineages have been defined, including R-ZS3700 and R-BY154784.

However, many lines have additional STR motifs that define or suggest associations with specific genealogical ancestral lines, as you can see in the Estes FamilyTreeDNA project, here. I’ve included only a snippet above.

Bottom Line

To answer the original question – yes you can and should use STR and SNP markers both separately and together. If you don’t have enough SNP data, use STR matches along with genealogy information and Family Finder results to augment what you do have.

The more Y DNA information you have in hand, the better prepared you are to analyze and utilize that information for genealogical purposes.

Do you have genealogical questions that Y DNA could potentially solve? What are they and can you find someone to test?


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